The Extra’s Academy Survival Guide Chapter 76

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Surviving Winter (9)

There’s a saying that to see the true nature of a person, you should give them power. Tanya had lived her life agreeing with that saying hundreds of times over.

Until Arwen Rothtaylor, the eldest daughter, was the heir to the family, the Rothtaylor mansion was always a place of peace.

Everybody at the mansion watched for Arwen’s lead since she was the next head of the family, but she remained neither arrogant nor intimidated.

She lost none of her noble elegance, seemingly unshaken by the minuscule amount of power she held in her hands, focusing only on honing herself. In her, one could see the essence of grace that isn’t swayed by trivial power.

Under the overwhelming brilliance of Arwen, who seemed perfect in every way, lived Ed Rothtaylor who was only the second child in the mansion. Up till that point, he seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary.

But after the death of Arwen Rothtaylor, Ed, as the heir, reigned over the Rothtaylor mansion. The kind of person he turned out to be—a tyrant who, with that little bit of successor’s power, acted as if the whole world belonged to him… This was the real Ed Rothtaylor that Tanya saw.

How despairing it was that a man who could be so corrupted by a smidgen of power was the heir responsible for the family. She could not just let it be.

That’s why Tanya had to bring Ed down.

To assert her will, she had to prevent Ed from becoming the head of the family by any means necessary.

Should she kill him?

If solving everything with a single dagger stab was possible, she wouldn’t have agonized this much. The weight of the title “heir to the Rothtaylor family” was immense.

Plunging a dagger into Ed’s chest would guarantee Tanya’s own demise as well—a fact clear to anyone, and besides, Tanya was then just a young girl who had only begun to awaken to her magical powers.

It was too much to expect such a young girl with freshly held dagger to boldly stab or to slyly plot someone’s death without anyone knowing. Such expectations were unreasonable.

In the end, there was only one path set before Tanya.

Lurking in the dark shadows, she clenched her teeth, training herself, waiting for the right time.

She spent nights studying, diligently practicing etiquette and honing her magic, patiently enduring until dawn broke.

Ed did not lay a finger on Tanya, his sibling who shared his blood.

But what kind of life was that for Tanya, who had to spend her years under the thumb of such a pitiable man?

She bit back her anger and played the role of the compliant sister.

She persisted amidst the suffering people of the mansion, sympathizing with their pleas but living as a powerless being unable to resolve their problems.

She often spoke of her noble lineage, but never did she raise her voice in assertion.

– Puff

At the end of a long day, Tanya, buried in her bed in Ophelius Hall’s private room, took a deep breath.

So many things had happened in just one day. The number of things unknown was just as vast.

Yet, there were still more tasks ahead.

She had lived half her life under the oppressive rule of a brother akin to a despot.

What value had she found in her life, refining herself as the possible next head of the family, some may ask?

Quietly to herself, Tanya would reply:

‘I survived, pretending to be dead.’

She had no doubt that her opportunity would come.

With Ed expelled, all that was left was to prove herself.

To Tanya, the upcoming student council president election felt like an opportunity of a lifetime.

“But before that… I must do well on the class allocation exams… The assembly is three days from now, at the entrance of Mount Orun… Hmmm, I need to prepare…”

Her words trailed off as she quickly succumbed to sleep, overwhelmed by fatigue.

It was a deep slumber she hadn’t experienced in a long time.

*

“Please introduce me to a man.”

For head maid Belle, her connections outside Ophelius Hall were very valuable.

Most of them were people she had known since her days as a senior maid, so they were comfortable to deal with, and for Belle, who rarely ventured outside Ophelius Hall, they were important sources of external information.

Among them, Anis, Yenika’s closest friend, was one of the welcome visitors who often sought her out. Their visits were mostly to exchange opinions on Yenika’s love life.

As Belle was Yenika’s maid during her time at Ophelius Hall, she knew her well, and with her keen eyesight, she could quickly understand the essence of interpersonal relationships.

Belle had hoped to hear of some progress between Yenika and Ed when Anis visited this time.

As curious as any human could be, Belle was all ears, ready to listen, especially since Anis had come to her so actively seeking advice—it must have been something significant…

“If possible, someone good-looking, tall, and talented would be nice.”

With casual determination, Anis spoke as if Yenika didn’t even matter to her.

“So sudden, what do you mean?”

“Belle, you’ve been working in Ophelius Hall for a long time, so you must know many outstanding male students without lovers, right?”

“I cannot reveal personal details about the students…”

“It’s okay. Just introduce me to a nice guy, that’s all.”

It was early morning in the rose garden of Ophelius Hall.

Belle was there, tidying up the rose branches that had grown onto the walkways, to prevent the new students from getting pricked by the thorns.

Anis looked peculiarly tired, as if she had lost sleep, but that wasn’t unusual.

She was always burdened with multiple responsibilities, juggling various scholarship duties with her academic work, and solely managing Professor Claire’s research room as the head assistant.

An average person with ordinary organizational skills and time management couldn’t handle such workload.

“But, Miss Anis, you surprise me. I wouldn’t have thought you’d be concerned with matters of love.”

“I have every right to experience love. Even if he’s a bit annoying, I still want someone tall, someone who you can tell is well-bred at first glance.”

“You’re not the type to meet men so carelessly, are you? Or, do you even have any experience in love…?”

“…”

“I, I apologize. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Belle, uncharacteristically, misspoke. It was a rare occurrence, maybe once a year. Even Belle was flustered amidst her own confusion.

“You’ve always been so busy, always doing your utmost to take care of yourself. So naturally, I assumed romance wasn’t on your agenda. Like… like young Master Ed, who’ll be in his third year soon. You two share some uncanny resemblances…”

“Ahem…”

Anis awkwardly grabbed her chin, turning her gaze to the side with a hesitant look that didn’t sit well.

Ed Rothtaylor—who else but the man Yenika Faelover was hopelessly in love with?

And Anis, Yenika’s trusted best friend without a shadow of a doubt… Such a relationship graph was already clearly mapped in Belle’s mind.

Belle cautiously probed Anis, quick to catch the nuances.

“Per, perhaps…”

Anis’ gaze veered to the roses, oddly evasive for no apparent reason.

Belle involuntarily held her breath for a moment.

“Regardless, you’re so astute, Belle, I won’t bother hiding it. Yes, it’s exactly as you think.”

“How did it come to this…?”

“Well, it’s quite a funny story… That man had a pretty bad reputation, you know. He’s notoriously known for his relationships with women. While I did hear most of them were just rumors… I thought I should check for myself.”

“So… what then?”

“Well… getting involved like this, things happen… and that’s where it went. More in common than expected, conversations that click, a man with a certain solidity… It just was like that…”

From halfway through, Anis mumbled, trailing off, turning her head while letting her words disappear into the air. Yet to Belle, her keen eyes were quick to catch the blush on her ears.

What kind of large event was this? Belle was left stunned, barely holding onto her senses.

“There’s no need to hide it. I’m self-aware. I don’t dabble in self-deception or futile attempts at hiding my feelings.”

“So eventually with Master Ed you…?”

“Fine, I’ll admit it refreshingly. I felt some attraction towards him as a man. That’s possible, right? I’m a woman. Now that things have come to this, I’ll admit it and plan accordingly. Right?”

Anis’ keen problem-solving skills, resolution ability, and drive were highly commendable.

But love between people isn’t something that can be handled as straightforwardly as other tasks.

Yet it was none of Anis’ concern. For her, it was easier to deal with things cut and dry.

“Belle. Yenika is a dear friend who means a lot to me. If anything, this is good news. If a man of true substance can attract me, it means Yenika really found the right match. What other cause for celebration could there be?”

“Umm… Miss Anis.”

“If I quickly sort out my own feelings, then there’s no more cause for concern. It’s fortunate that I noticed early. Emotions, after all, are part of the mind’s chemical interactions, right? If you think of them as a malignant tumor, it’s quite fortunate. I found it out early.”

It’s fortunate that I have the habit of objectifying myself and adopting an objective viewpoint, Anis reasoned.

Expressing this, Anis took a deep breath and quietly sat down in the rose garden’s gazebo. Even without doing much, she looked tired, which Belle saw as rather concerning.

“I’ve recognized the problem and have an idea for a solution. Now, if the treatment goes well, everything will be settled. It would’ve been worse if it was discovered too late to manage…”

Consider the state it’s in. How dreadful it is. The fact that it was discovered so early on is truly a cause of celebration.”

“Even calling it ‘treatment’ is a bit…”

“After all, life is a series of connections, and even for a man, it’s not as if there’s only one man in the world… Just meet a new connection and fall in love properly, right?”

“You make it sound so easy…”

“Even issues that seem complicated become simple once they’re systemized, don’t you think?”

Anis places the bundle of documents she was holding onto the gazebo’s table with a thud, then briskly begins writing something with her quill pen.

Belle sneakily lifts her head to glance at the paperwork.

Through the twisted gap, the lower page reveals all manner of mind maps concerning Ed Rothtaylor, with various strategies and impressions for future handling. There are plenty of crossed-out parts and overly detailed sections, suggesting considerable effort was put into it.

Though she appears relaxed on the outside, she is waging a war inside her mind.

“Regardless, attraction can be covered with even greater attraction. Meet a better, wholesome man, have a lovely love affair in my own way, and everything resolves well, right? Now, if only we could find a man to replace him and start spreading the rumor that we’re lovers…”

“I have two opinions I’d like to share.”

It’s unlike Belle to interrupt Anis, but she halts her mid-sentence, and Anis tenses, listening attentively.

“Firstly, asking to be introduced to ‘a substitute man’… that’s a great offense to the person in question. At the very least, I cannot arrange a meeting with someone in such a manner.”

Her ability to deliver her straightforward opinion without offending is indeed why she is called a veteran maid.

“No matter how high-ranking Miss Anis is, there have never been instances where you’ve lacked such consideration for others. And even if you are seeking new connections, there is no need to hastily stamp a relationship status. It seems to me… Miss Anis is acting quite desperately…”

“…”

“Could it be… Miss Yenika has noticed Miss Anis’ affection?”

Anis gasps and takes a deep breath.

“If so, that explains why you are rushing to create a romance for yourself.”

Belle’s perception is something Anis is well aware of, which is why she often sought Belle out to discuss Yenika’s love life without hesitation.

Anis likely never imagined that sharp perception turning on herself.

“Regardless, my heart already belongs elsewhere… The cleanest way to prove that innocence is to find a new lover… Miss Anis… you really do value Miss Yenika, don’t you?”

Before her own feelings, Anis is more afraid of Yenika getting hurt, hence, she quickly sets out to find a solution.

At Anis’ words, Belle hesitates for a moment, but then confidently smiles as if to show off.

“Such packaging makes it sound more plausible, doesn’t it?”

Anis then clears her throat a few times and continues,

“As grand as you make it sound, I believe that ultimately, human emotions are nothing more than collections of organic reactions that can be adjusted. It’s not as grand a consideration as all that. It’s still early, so we can adjust slowly…”

“Have you met Miss Yenika?”

Ignoring all of Anis’ words, Belle’s cutting question silences Anis again.

She then slowly admits, as if in confession,

“Yes… I passed by the teacher’s hall the day before yesterday… We didn’t greet each other and parted ways… Something was awkward between us… She seemed gloomy…”

“I see.”

“And… Next week I have to proctor the class assignments with Ed… I don’t know how I’ll face him…”

After speaking, Anis lowers her head, lost for words.

Belle sighs deeply, rests her chin on her hand, and falls into contemplation.

In a corner of the rose garden, where sparrows chirp in the morning sunlight, silence passes by for a long time.

“It may not be as grave as you think. It could even have a positive effect…?”

At last, Belle offers an unexpected conclusion.

“Pardon?”

“If you think about Miss Yenika… she cannot remain forever like an unblemished canvas.”

Belle ponders until she finds a way to wrap up the conversation without hurting anyone. There’s one person who might become an even bigger headache, but for now, there’s no helping it. Belle mentally sends a deep prayer of apology to Ed.

“You know as well as I do, Miss Anis, that Miss Yenika is always kind and sincere to others. While that is surely a good thing… people sometimes break down much more easily than expected if they don’t dispel negative emotions.”

Belle sits down next to Anis and slowly continues.

“Perhaps, it could be a good opportunity for Miss Yenika. To become angry, to speak up about dislikes, to grumble. It might be difficult at first, but releasing emotions in such a manner can be surprisingly helpful.”

“Really…?”

“Moreover, jealousy is one of the emotions that best stimulates such responses. Since Miss Yenika is truly altruistic, she likely has little experience harboring deep jealousy towards others. And becoming confused by such feelings could certainly weaken her heart. She will struggle quite a bit.”

Isn’t that exactly what Anis was concerned about? Before Anis could point out that nothing has been resolved, Belle beats her to the punch.

“Wasn’t the problem initially that Miss Yenika was too perfect?”

Anis is speechless once more at Belle’s poignant words.

“Now, follow my lead. Protectiveness.”

Reminded of a past conversation with Claire… Anis is suddenly at a loss for words.

Belle already knew.

Where else would Yenika go when her heart became troubled?

Belle quietly sits there, gently patting Anis’ back.

She comforts as if to say there’s no need for guilt.

*

“What’s this, when did you arrive?”

“…”

I had just placed the magic engineering supplies near the entrance of the library, covering them with a tarp to keep the snow off.

The time to prepare materials for warehouse construction was drawing near.

Practice in magic engineering skills was on track, but I shouldn’t get lazy with training.

Especially since I felt we needed to expand the internal space of the cabin.

Most magic engineering training would happen at the library, but it would be convenient to perform simple chores or processes at the cabin.

I’m considering punching out one side of the wall for storage space and maybe another side for a living space. I contemplate whether that would be too much work… I’ll have to find a balance with the holiday schedule.

Returning to camp, thinking about the production schedule, it was quite chilly. Just wearing a blanket over my shoulder, I approached the blazing bonfire where Yenika was sitting, hugging her knees.

She didn’t have her usual lively aura, and her expression looked downcast.

“Cold. Want a cup of tea?”

Upon my offer, she nods quietly, resting her chin on her knees.

The usually chatty Yenika was silent, holding something heavy in mind.

I fill the last herb into the cup, dry the leaves, take two cups, and sit down beside Yenika, handing her one.

She takes the large mug carefully with her small hands.

Quietly sipping the tea, we sit side by side in front of the fire.

“Snow again. Seems like it’s coming every two days now.”

Soft snowflakes fall, settling atop the already accumulated snow.

Evergreen trees retain their colors even in winter, but against this blanket of white, they have no choice.

All around, the world is draped in white, making the sharp brightness of the fire even more noticeable.

Glancing at Yenika, she’s still holding her knees, watching a few tea leaves float in her cup.

Such a disheartened Yenika is rare.

She knows too well how discomforting it is for others when she’s not her cheerful self.

“If you’re troubled, you can talk about it.”

At this, Yenika suddenly lifts her head, looks at me… but then stops speaking.

Instead, she says with particularly sad eyes,

“I’m sorry. I can’t talk about it.”

“Then no need to force it.”

What is often forgotten is that even Yenika has her limits.

Her downcast gaze and hunched posture likened her to a small cornered animal… eliciting an inexplicable protective instinct.

I casually wrap my arm around her other shoulder… and gently pat it. Sharing the warmth of the thick blanket.

I worried she would flinch and pull away, but instead, Yenika lifts her head like a mole peeking out and tries to speak again before falling silent, her energy visibly drained.

Finally, Yenika buries her head on my shoulder.

We sit in silence watching the fire for a while.

Winter persists.

The cold harsh enough to make a single blanket and fire barely bearable.

But spring is approaching, step by step.

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