It's the middle of the night, a time of day when most well-behaved students would normally be asleep.
But Katarina has been sleeping for days already, and time is of the essence. And thanks to a talk with a dear old friend, she knows exactly where to find Maria now.
"To the student council storage building!" shouts Katarina, pointing her hand at the window. (She's actually not sure what direction the building is from here, but whatever!)
Her friends are gathered around her bed (were they worried about her? awww, that's really sweet of them), and they're all staring at her with expressions ranging somewhere between surprise, concern, and confusion.
Geordo is the first to speak up. "There's a building that matches that description out in the woods, not too far from the main school building." He nods, a grim expression on her face. "Very well. We shall check out that building, then."
Sophia is very fast to chime in with her agreement. "I'll come too!"
All of Katarina's other friends—Keith, Mary, Alan, and Nicol—quickly agree as well.
"Isn't it a bit late?" asks Anne, sighing the sigh of someone who's used to dealing with Katarina's antics.
"I've been sleeping for days, I'm wide awake now!" says Katarina, throwing off her covers and jumping out of bed. "More importantly, we need to go save Maria! I'll explain everything on the way."
And as they walk through the dark forest towards the storage building in question, she explains as much as she can. (She leaves out the parts involving Acchan though, of course. Even in a world with magic, reincarnation might be a bit too much for the others to swallow.)
"I can't believe it," mutters Geordo. "Sirius? He's always been such a nice person."
"How dare he do such wretched things to Katarina-sama and also Maria-san!" shouts Mary, clenching her hands into fists. "I won't forgive him!"
"Well," says Katarina, rubbing the back of her head. "I'm sure there were circumstances."
"Circumstances?" asks Mary. "Really, circumstances that would justify kidnapping a student from our school and putting another student from our school into a coma?"
"Well, when you put it like that…" Katarina frowns.
To be honest, Katarina didn't have a lot of time to talk with Acchan, so she only got the vague gist of things. Something about a tortured soul who was the secret conquerable target of Fortune Lover, the route Katarina never managed to finish before she died? The only things she had really had time to learn from Acchan was the President's true name, and one or two vague details about his tragic backstory. She'll figure something out, though. She'll have to improvise.
So, Katarina smiles at Mary. "…Well, maybe."
"That was a long pause," says Mary, raising an eyebrow. She sighs. "Sometimes I think you're too forgiving with people at times." She smiles at Katarina. "Well, that's one of the reasons I love you, I guess."
"Gee, thanks," says Katarina, feeling flattered. Gosh, Mary's such a nice friend.
"It's up ahead," says Geordo, lifting up his torch.
The abandoned student council storage building comes into sight in the distance.
Inside a dusty, murky room somewhere unknown, Maria lets out a sigh.
She supposes she's made better decisions than going alone to confront the person she very strongly suspects of being under the influence of some weird kind of… shady, dark magic.
But the student council president, Sirius Dieke, has always been such a friendly, kind person, so Maria thought he deserved the chance to explain himself in private. After all, it could have all been a misunderstanding, and Maria could save them both from an awkward situation if that happened to be the case.
But no, her suspicions were correct, and sure enough, Sirius Dieke actually was the mastermind behind the attempts at framing Katarina for those heinous acts. In retrospect, the meticulously organized documents should have tipped them all off (after all, Sirius is well-known for his paperwork skills), but hindsight is 20-20, as the saying goes.
Maria was fairly confident that she could handle any magic the young man could throw at her (her magic's never failed her before), but he took her off guard with that cheap trick—some kind of aromatic substance that knocked her unconscious. Unfortunately, she let her guard down.
And when she woke up, she was here in this dusty, damp, unfamiliar room, her ankle chained to the bed.
That's not good.
After that, the President stopped by a few times a day to give her things to eat and drink. At the very least, he did go through the bare minimum of getting her some basic things like a toothbrush and toothpaste.
But he seemed strangely distant throughout all this. He'd just leave the items on the table and then walk out without a word, ignoring any of Maria's attempts at starting conversation.
(Maria noticed the distinct clicking sound of a lock from the door to the room as the President left. So, even if she managed to get out of these chains, she'd also have to find a way out through that lock.)
At least he seems willing to keep her alive for the time being? Hopefully that should buy her enough time to escape, or for help to arrive.
But the problem is she doesn't even know where this place is.
Though, if the President can still visit her multiple times a day during a school day, it might not be too far from the school grounds. Unless the President decided to abandon school out of fear of being found out. In which case, they could be hundreds of miles away from home at this point. Maria doesn't know how long she was unconscious, after all.
She tries prodding the shackle on her ankle, but it's very firmly stuck on there.
That's not good at all.
Perhaps she can try unscrewing it.
That would be very difficult without any tools, though.
In any case, it's at least somewhat fortunate that those concerning dark wisps of magic continue to surround the President, because it makes it very easy for Maria to sense when he's close. This gives her plenty of warning to hide her escape attempts before he arrives.
Maria sighs, munching on the slightly stale bread that the President apparently grabbed from the school cafeteria some time prior. (How old is this bread? It feels like it's been sitting out in the open for days.)
If Maria had wind magic or earth magic or water magic or any other kind of magic, really, she could probably break her way out using brute force. But her light magic is only really good for healing. Not that she dislikes that or anything. It's just that, well, her light magic happens to be not very useful for her current predicament.
She'll have to make do with what she has, though.
Over the next several days, she does manage to make some decent progress on loosening the screws on her ankle bindings, using some improvised tools from her hairpins, all the while puzzling over what on earth the president's motives are.
He clearly has something against Katarina. But he's been really good at covering that animosity up, because up until now, Maria never would have guessed that he harboured such hateful feelings against the girl, from his good-natured demeanour.
What on earth is his problem?
The thoughts swirl around in her head, the dots not connecting. It doesn't make any sense.
But all of that becomes moot because one night, her rescue party comes breaking through the door with a loud BAM.
"Maria!" shouts Katarina, her eyes brightening up the moment she sees Maria sitting on the bed. "Are you all right!?"
"Katarina-sama?" says Maria, surprised. Unexpected, but welcome all the same. She's never been so happy to see Katarina in her life.
As soon as her rescue party gets Maria out of her chains, Katarina throws her arms around her. Maria allows herself a brief moment to let herself sink into the warm embrace.
"The president didn't hurt you anywhere, did he?" asks Katarina, looking into Maria's eyes, deeply concerned.
Maria blinks. "You already know about the president?"
Katarina nods. "Well, not the full picture, but the gist of things."
"Then, you know the horrible things Sirius has done to besmirch your name…"
"Well, about that," says Katarina, her expression unusually serious. "There were some details I still want to clear up with him. That's why I want to talk with him one more time."
The others quickly get Maria caught up on what she missed.
"Dark magic," murmurs Maria, frowning. "I can't believe such a thing exists."
"As far as the public is concerned, it doesn't," says Geordo, a serious expression on his face. "And we'd like to keep it that way."
Maria nods. "I understand." Magic that requires the sacrifice of a life certainly isn't something that should be known to the public. In the wrong hands, such a power would be frightful.
"He's here, isn't he," asks Katarina, glancing over at the wall.
When the President is this close, it's hard to miss that presence of dark magic, for someone as attuned to light magic as Maria. Now that she has a name she can place to this particular kind of magic, it's easier for her to sense than ever. That magical aura just feels so wrong, so chilling, so unpleasant. Maria shudders.
Actually, that cluster of dark magic is in the exact opposite direction from where Katarina is looking right now, but that doesn't matter. Maria nods.
"Take me to him," says Katarina.
Perhaps it can be considered a bit macabre, preserving the very same dark chamber that was used to sacrifice Sirius's mother as part of that forbidden ritual. But he keeps this room exactly as it was that day—candles, magic circles, dimly lit atmosphere, everything—as a reminder to himself.
A reminder of what he lost, and what he still needs to do to get revenge.
Actually, his mind has been a quite a mess lately, so he's been spending his nights here to try and clear up his thoughts a bit.
You need to kill them, a voice whispers in his ear. They're getting in your way.
"No," snaps Sirius, gritting his teeth. What's going on? He's been getting more of these intrusive thoughts than usual.
The door to the chamber slams open, and two young women walk in: A certain blonde-haired commoner, and a certain the most infuriating person on the planet in the history of ever.
"You!" snaps Sirius, clutching his head. Those thoughts in his head are getting stronger. Kill. Kill. Kill.
"Yes," says Katarina, carefully shutting the door behind her, and then taking a step closer. "Me."
Sirius notices the blonde commoner, Maria, taking a guarded stance just a step behind Katarina, not taking her eyes off of Sirius. Of course, this commoner would be defending her.
"You're supposed to be asleep," says Sirius.
"The spell to keep me asleep wore off," says Katarina.
Sirius's eye twitches. "That's not how it works."
"Well, I'm awake now, aren't I?" says Katarina, spreading her arms.
Sirius grips his head. This headache is really starting to get annoying. Okay, skip that line of questioning. That's not going anywhere. "How did you find this place?" he asks.
"Intuition," says Katarina.
Sirius's eye twitches again. He's definitely going to have to take something for this headache afterwards. He sneers. "Fine, whatever. You found this place, you found Maria and freed her, the cat's clearly out of the bag."
Sirius spreads his arms, laughing. "Yes, I'm the one who framed you so that you would be exiled. I'm the one who abducted Maria and kept her trapped here! And you were dumb enough to waltz right in here after freeing her instead of running away?" He allows the dark magic to rush through his body, filling the air around him. He laughs maniacally.
Maria responds by summoning her own magic, surrounding herself and that annoying Katarina with the bright telltale aura of light magic.
Impressive, really, but Sirius's been on a bit of a roll lately with his dark magic. With Katarina in a coma, Maria kidnapped, and everyone left and right stressing out about the situation, the level of negative emotions has never been higher. And those are just fuel for his dark magic.
Maria grits her teeth. "Katarina-sama, he's even stronger than before. I'm not sure if I can—"
Katarina puts a hand on Maria's shoulder. "It's fine." She smiles at Sirius. "We're not here to fight. We're just here to talk." She takes several steps forward, not seeming to care at all about the torrent of dark magic flying directly into her face.
Really, any ordinary person should be pissing their pants right now at his display of dark magic, something most people in the kingdom have never faced in their lives. The fact that Katarina is treating his dark magic like it's some kind of relaxing, pleasant spring day breeze is honestly so infuriating.
"Enough of this charade, Katarina," says Sirius, smirking. "I can sense those other friends of yours, just waiting outside the door. I know you're just distracting me until they can rush in to overpower me. Let's just get this over with."
"Huh?" says Katarina, looking genuinely confused. She suddenly looks annoyed. "Darn it, I told those guys to wait back at the room!"
"You realize, Katarina-sama, there's no way they would let you go into this confrontation on your own," says Maria.
"But I thought they were convinced when I told them that I had a plan and that they'd only get in my way if they were here," says Katarina, looking pensive.
"Oh gosh, the ever brilliant Katarina has a plan," says Sirius, rolling his eyes. "How quaint."
"I really do have a plan!" says Katarina, looking indignant. "I'm gonna talk with you!"
"Oh, you're going to talk with me?" says Sirius. "You're going to befriend me and then you're going to have me wrapped all around your thumb like the other members of your harem?" He laughs. "Like hell."
"I want to know," says Katarina, taking another step closer, looking Sirius directly in the eyes. "Why do you look so sad?"
"Who's sad?" asks Sirius. He shakes his head. "Not me. In fact, I feel great!" The words feel hollow coming out of his mouth, but he doesn't want to concede anything at all to this infuriating person.
Katarina huffs. "I have a really hard time believing that someone who can make such a beautiful, gentle flavour of tea could be evil. I think there's something else going on here, and I want to get to the bottom of it."
A gentle flavour. Those words… "Shut up!" shouts Sirius. "I hate you, I hate you! I tried to kill you, you know! Just die already!"
"I don't think you wanted to kill me at all," says Katarina, tilting her head. "Otherwise, you would have done it back there, when there was no one around to see." She smiles, taking another step closer. "I'm alive now, aren't I?"
"You absolute complete dumbass—" Sirius takes a step backwards, coughing. "Don't get closer!" he shouts, waving his arm wildly. She's in the way. Kill her.
Katarina stops a short distance in front of Sirius, still looking him in the eye with that… really, really infuriating expression of trust and belief on her face. What the hell. She's so stupid. So dumb. How can someone be this dumb. It boggles the mind.
You know what?
Screw it. Screw everything.
Sirius laughs loudly. "You really wanna know? You really wanna know what this is all about?" This girl's known nothing but sunshine and happiness and unicorns all her life. He wants to knock that innocent expression right off her face.
He wants to see how she reacts to his truly dark past.
And so Sirius's entire tragic backstory comes tumbling out. Everything about how that woman kidnapped him and his mother and horrifically had her murdered right in front of his eyes in some twisted ritual to transfer the soul of her sickly son, the original Sirius Dieke, into his own body.
"But the transfer failed," Sirius says, gritting his teeth. "None of the real Sirius's memories and feelings came through; only facts and information. In my mother's last moments—not Sirius's mother, my real mother—she pleaded for me to avenge her death. And so that's what I've been doing all this time. Biding my time, pretending to be Sirius Dieke, so that I can inherit the Dieke family name. All the while plotting the downfall of that Marchioness and her entire family!" He laughs loudly. "I'm going to destroy everything she holds dear. I will savour her despair. Surprised, are you?"
Katarina and Maria both look horrified. Maria more so than Katarina. In Katarina's expression, she looks more… sympathetic?
"That must have been hard," says Katarina, shaking her head sadly. She takes a step forward, resting a hand on Sirius's shoulder. "That must have been why you were in so much pain. You were dealing with this burden all on your own." She closes her eyes. "I'm so sorry."
Okay, wait a minute. Why did he end up spilling his heart and soul and entire life story to this girl? Sirius had been planning to just kill everyone here to hide the evidence, but he just… ended up… spilling everything?... He clutches his head. Holy hell, this headache is getting even worse.
Kill her. Kill them all.
"But uh…" Katarina smiles. "I don't see how that explains why you hate me?"
"…The way you prance about all happily, without a care in the world, with all those friends of yours," mutters Sirius. He glares at her. "While I'm suffering here on my own. It's so unfair."
"But you're not alone," says Katarina, staring intently into his eyes. "I consider you my friend, you know. I know you were suffering all alone now, and I'm sorry for not noticing. I want to help fix that."
What the hell.
Sirius grits his teeth. Is he… crying? He is crying. What is it with this dumbass?... He wipes his eyes furtively. "…My mother," he murmurs. "You remind me of my mother."
Katarina makes an "o" with her mouth.
"She told me that my tea had a gentle flavour too," says Sirius, smiling what must be a really ugly smile with all the tears running down his face.
Katarina smiles, patting his shoulder, again. "I think darkness doesn't suit you, president. And I might not have known her personally, but I do think your mother wouldn't want you to fall down this path of darkness, either. She would have wanted you to live life to the fullest." She spreads her arms. "So don't cry, Raphael."
This girl. She's dumb, but he has to admit, she really knows the right things to say, sometimes. He wipes a tear from his eye.
Wait a second.
Sirius stares at the infuriating girl standing in front of her, who's currently sporting the most angelic smile he thinks he's ever seen on his life. For a moment there, Katarina looked like was glowing. "How do you know my…" No one should know his real name. What the hell.
He clutches his head. Wait, those words.
With the suddenness of a bolt of lightning, he recalls with startling clarity the events of that day. As if a fog had just lifted, the memories of that day flood into his mind.
His mother didn't tell him to get revenge.
She told him to live on, live on happily, for the both of them.
How on earth could he have remembered something so vital so incorrectly?
That's right… He isn't Sirius. He's Raphael.
And then his headache spikes, his head pounding.
"President?" asks Katarina, her hand still outstretched to Sirius—no, Raphael, looking concerned.
Raphael drops to his knees, his hands clutching his head. What the hell is with this headache? This migraine is the worst he's ever had. It feels like his head is splitting apart.
Che, a dark voice rumbles in his head. So you remembered.
Katarina's face pales as the temperature in the room suddenly drops 10 degrees.
"Katarina-sama!" shouts Maria, suddenly running forward. "The dark magic suddenly got stronger!"
An explosion of dark magic erupts from Raphael's body. No, scratch that measly little headache from a few seconds ago, this is the worst head-splitting headache he's ever felt. It feels like someone took a sharp, jagged nail and just jammed it right through his head. He hears a scream of pain a brief moment before he realizes that it's his own voice.
"It seems like I have to do all the work myself around here," says an ominous, grizzly sounding voice, as the darkness around Sirius slowly coalesces into the form of a man with a dark hood concealing most of his face, with the only visible feature on his face being his goatee.
Cold sweat appears all over Raphael's body as he cranes his head back to look the figure. "You…" he says. "Y-You're the dark magician who killed my mother!"
"You're not the only one who lost things," growls the dark figure. "As soon as the ceremony was finished, that accursed woman betrayed me and stabbed me in the back. But in my final moments, I managed to cast a spell, sending my spirit into your body, all for the sake of revenge!"
Raphael's eyes widen. "You're the reason why I have dark magic?"
"Oh!" says Katarina, as if suddenly realizing something. She smiles, pointing at the dark ghostly figure. "So you're the reason why president's been doing all sorts of shady things lately! I knew something seemed off!"
"Katarina-sama, please step back!" says Maria, fighting her way forwards against the raging winds in the room. "It's dangerous!"
"I see," says Katarina, her expression unreadable. She looks up at the dark ghostly figure. "So that Marchioness betrayed you, too…" She crosses her arms, huffing. "Seriously, what is up with that lady? She sounds like a real villainess! I mean, if I were a villainess—and I'm not saying I am—but if I were a villainess, I would treat all of my allies with trust and respect! That's not how you win friends and influence people!"
The dark ghostly figure hovers in the air, his hands hovering menacingly over the other people in the room. "You understand why I have to get rid of you, then," says the dark figure, the dark magic swirling around him like a hurricane. "I've spent years nurturing the feelings of revenge in this young boy. But by spending time around you, all of those feelings have been vanishing."
He glances down at Raphael. "The lady killed your mother, young boy. Yet I felt you reconsidering your plans of vengeance many times of late, after your interactions with this young lady. Are you really going to let the Marchioness get away with what she did?"
"Sh-shut up," snaps Raphael, clutching his head. "I hate her for what she did, but I don't want to kill my friends to get back at her." He pauses for a moment. "And don't you think you can tell me what to do." He points at the ghost. "You're the one who actually shoved the knife into my mother's body! Why should I listen to you!?"
"The past is the past," says the vengeful ghost. "The Marchioness wronged the both of us, so we share a common enemy."
"I mean," says Katarina, raising her hand. "Considering what you did to Raphael's mother, I think he's totally justified in not forgiving you. But that Marchioness lady sounds pretty nasty, so it's not like we're not on completely different sides here? I can help you guys make sure that lady gets properly arrested for her crimes and all that."
"No," snarls the dark ghost. "That's not enough. For slighting me, she deserves to have every single thing torn from her very eyes; her entire family, every single thing she holds dear; EVERYTHING."
"Is that really fair?" asks Katarina, frowning. "What if there are people close to her who had nothing to do with her crimes? Do they deserve whatever long con you're planning for them? I mean, that style of punishment sounds overly cruel, doesn't it? Ugh. No thank you. Too North Korea-like for me."
"North wha?" says the dark ghost, sounding confused. He quickly regains his composure, snarling. "It does not matter if it is fair or not. Life is unfair. She deserves what's coming to her, and anyone else deserves it too, just by virtue of being associated with her."
"I think putting the Marchioness in jail would be plenty punishment," says Katarina, a thoughtful expression on her face. "If you're worried about if she'll get away with it, then we, the other members of the student council, will fully stand behind you and support you and the President." She smiles. "I can promise you that."
"You will?..." says Raphael, his thoughts swirling. To be honest, he's been having trouble keeping up with the conversation. He's been kind of busy having an existential crisis here, thinking back on all of his actions and thoughts over the last 8 years, and realizing he's no longer sure which of his thoughts were his own and which of his thoughts were placed there by the vengeful dark ghost.
"I mean," mutters Katarina, staring at Raphael. "It doesn't excuse what the Marchioness did, but from what you said, it sounded like the she did all that for the sake of her son. So I think just finding out that her son actually isn't her son would really destroy her…"
"That's enough," snaps the dark ghost, glaring at Katarina. "I need this boy here to inherit the Dieke family name so that he has the power to really wreck havoc to every single thing that wretched woman holds dear. And I won't have you interfering."
"You…" says Katarina, glancing at the dark ghost, a sympathetic expression on her face. "You really hate the Marchioness, huh."
"What kind of question is that?" snarls the dark ghost. The dark magic swirls faster, the sound of the wind in the room rising to a crescendo. "Enough of this. Begone."
"But it's not just hate," murmurs Katarina, staring intently at the dark ghostly figure. "Why do you look so… sad?"
There's a long pause, filled only with the sound of dark magic swirling about in the room.
And then, simultaneously, two people interject.
"Katarina, NO." Maria stares at the eccentric girl, an incredulous expression on her face.
"Katarina, what the hell." Raphael stares incredulously at the idiot standing in front of her.
Because Raphael recognizes those words. Those were the words she said to him that day out on the school grounds, just before he knocked her unconscious and sent her into a coma for days.
"Katarina." Raphael stares at Katarina. "What are you doing? Are you seriously—" He grabs his hair in frustration. "Oh my god. There's no way your usual words about feelings and friendship will work on something like this monster!" Damn this girl. Why is she so stupid.
"In the story Raphael told us just now," says Katarina, "after the dark magician finished the ritual, he asked the Marchioness if he could return to his family."
There's another long pause, dark magic still swirling around in his room.
"Family," the dark ghost repeats incredulously.
Raphael stares blankly at Katarina. Why on earth is she bringing this up now? What does this have to do with anything?
"I was thinking," says Katarina, "why you might have done such a horrific thing for the Marchioness. For power? For glory? Because she ordered you? But, after you finished, you asked the Marchioness if you could return to your family. That was the first thing you asked. Not a reward, or anything else. So, I want to ask you, what does your family mean to you?"
There's another long silence, the dark magic winds starting to die down slightly.
Sirius notices some tiny wet droplets dripping down from the dark vengeful ghost's chin.
Is the dark vengeful ghost… crying?
Sirius's eyes widen. What the actual fuck.
"My family…" repeats the dark ghost, an unreadable expression on his face.
"Yes, your family," Katarina says kindly. "What were they like?"
"I…I'd forgotten..." The dark ghost wipes his face with his sleeve. "My family," he repeats. He pauses for a moment to regather his composure, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Then, he continues talking. "My family was always been stricken by poverty, weighed down by debt left behind by my wife's brother who had a gambling addiction and ended up falling into the wrong crowd and was stabbed in the back and murdered by someone he trusted over a dispute over a few measly coins, so to try and pull up the funds to repay that debt, I ended up resorting to learning the dark arts…"
Oh dear god. Raphael covers his face with his hand in exasperation. And now his entire tragic backstory is spilling out. I hate this.
"I don't even remember their faces anymore," says the ghost, sounding dismayed. "It's been so long…"
"Hey, hey, it's all cool," says Katarina, reaching forward and patting the ghost's shoulder. "It looked like you did this soul possession thing all at the last minute, so obviously it couldn't be perfect. Some things just didn't make it over."
"But to have forgotten such important things!..." says the ghost. "I was so carried away by my desire for vengeance that I've forgotten nearly everything!"
"But it's not too late," says Katarina. "You're still here. And you remember now. I'm sure if we put our minds together, we can find your family."
"I must have vanished without a word, too," says the ghost. "My wife and daughter must have been worried sick about me. And I'll bet that wretched Marchioness covered up the details of my death, too, and…" The ghost starts sounding more dismayed, breathing more rapidly.
"Hey, now," says Katarina, reaching forward and taking off the dark ghost's hood, staring him directly in the eye. "Deep breaths. In and out. In and out."
The ghost follows Katarina's instructions.
Raphael and Maria stare blankly at the dark ghost. Come to think of it, throughout that entire ritual, the man's hood had been on, obscuring his face. Raphael has never seen the man's face in full before. But now that Katarina took off the ghost's hood, his entire face is visible now. So this is what he looks like.
"Tell me about your family," says Katarina, looking the dark ghost directly in the eyes. "You said you had a wife? And a daughter? Where did you live? What were their names?"
"I… I don't even remember," the vengeful spirit says sadly. "I don't even remember my own name."
"Mm, that sucks," Katarina says sympathetically. "Your name is such a key part of your identity! It's really such a horrible situation to be in where you don't even remember your own—" She suddenly stops, a certain expression momentarily appearing on her face.
"…Katarina-sama?" asks Maria, concerned.
And then as quickly as it appeared, that expression quickly vanishes off her face, as Katarina smoothly continues on with her talk as if nothing were the matter. "…Any memories at all, any tiny detail, and we can go from there," says Katarina.
Raphael blinks, having trouble keeping up with the flow of the conversation.
Just a minute ago, he found out that the vengeful spirit of the dark magician who had killed Raphael's mother had been controlling Raphael this entire time, and was about to kill both Katarina and Maria so that they won't interfere with his ambition to get revenge on the Marchioness.
And now… they're trying to find the lost family of this ghost, who apparently now has amnesia?
Raphael clutches his forehead. He's going to need a realllllly long drink after this. (He's never had any alcohol before, but he thinks this would be an excellent time to start. Even though he's not of legal age yet.)
"I just remember… I really loved my wife and daughter," says the vengeful ghost, smiling wistfully. "We didn't have much, but we made do with what we could. My daughter really loved cooking. We'd make these cookies with those cute little cookie cutters of different shapes."
"That sounds nice," says Katarina, nodding.
"You were pretty absent-minded about it, too," says Maria. "One time you went to take the pan out of the oven without putting on the gloves first, and you burned your hands pretty badly."
"Oh right, that," says the dark ghost, smiling wistfully. "Well, at least I never made the same mistake twice."
"Good for you, then!" says Katarina, smiling cheerfully.
Wait a second.
Wait a goddamned second.
He glances at the ghost, and then at Maria. On closer inspection, there is a slight resemblance, if he squints.
Maria is staring at the ghost with a completely blank expression on her face. Her eyes look completely dead inside. Meanwhile, Katarina is just smiling cheerfully, as if she could just will more memories into existence just by being upbeat about it.
Maria glances over at Raphael, and they make eye contact for a brief moment.
"Uhhh," says Raphael. "Did you just—"
Maria just nods slightly, her expression still completely blank.
"Ah, okay," says Raphael.
Katarina blinks, as if sensing a change in the atmosphere. She glances at Raphael and Maria, who are both feeling pretty uneasy right now. "Hm? Is something wrong, you two?"
Maria takes a deep breath, and then lets it out. She pinches the bridge of her nose. "I know this man," she says.
Katarina looks surprised. "Oh! That's great!" She smiles, turning to the dark ghost. "What are the odds? Thanks Maria! With this, we can find more clues about who you were that much more quickly!"
Maria smiles blankly, her eyes looking completely dead inside. "This man's name," she says, "is Kevin Campbell."
"K-Kevin?" repeats the dark ghost, sounding shocked. He pauses, looking contemplative. "It… It does sound familiar. I… I think that must be right."
"Wow, Kevin Campbell!" says Katarina, sounding encouraging. "What a wonderful name! Very bold and regal sounding! That's great, you have your name again!" She suddenly pauses. "Huh, Campbell? Why does that name sound familiar?"
"So this is where you went off to," says Maria, her face unreadable. "Father."
There's a long pause.
You could hear a pin drop in the silence.
"Huh?" says Katarina.
"Huh?" says the dark ghost.
Raphael closes his eyes. After this, he's going to grab the first bottle of wine he can find, and he's going to down the whole thing, and he's going to be so drunk.
"I…" says Katarina, rapidly looking back and forth between Maria and the dark ghost. "Uh…" She laughs sheepishly. "Sorry, I think I spaced out for a moment there. Could, er, could you say that again?"
"You…" says the dark ghost, staring at Maria with a flood of conflicting emotions all over his face. "Oh god, I remember now. Maria, it's you! And you're all grown up! The last time I saw you, you were…" He gestures with his hands. "You were this short!"
"Y…Yes, Father," says Maria, her face still unreadable. "It's been a while, hasn't it."
Raphael takes a deep breath in, holds it, and then lets it out.
"I'm so, so sorry that my father has been haunting you like this," says Maria, giving Raphael an apologetic look. "And for what he did to your mother, too. I heard he's the one who actually stabbed her? I expected better from him."
"No, no, it's not your fault," says Raphael, pinching the bridge of his nose. "A child should not be blamed for the sins and crimes of their parent. The fault lies solely in the parent themselves."
"But still," says Maria, a dismayed expression appearing on her face. "How on earth could this have happened? My father was always such a nice and friendly man. For him to have fallen to such lows… What happened to you, father? How did you become like this?"
The dark ghost's expression falters. "I… er…" He suddenly looks a lot more guilty now. He rubs the back of his head. "I did it to protect you and your mother, Maria. I was desperate. The debt…"
"That is no excuse for murdering people!" says Maria, stamping her foot. She makes a stern face. "Really, Father. I should have hoped that you of all people would have known better than this."
The dark ghost wilts. "I-I'm sorry. I won't expect you or your mother to forgive me. I just did what I had to do… I had no other choice."
"There's always another choice!" says Maria. "If you're clever enough to wield dark magic, surely you could have come up with something else? Murder is inexcusable!"
The dark ghost visibly trembles in fear at Maria's harsh words.
Raphael blinks. Okayyy, so now his commoner classmate is… scolding the dark murderous murderer of a dark wizard ghost that's haunting him?
What the hell is this weird fever dream.
He makes eye contact with Katarina.
The girl looks like her brain is still in the middle of processing what his going on at the moment. She looks back and forth between Maria and the dark ghost and then looks at Raphael again, making a really, really confused face. "Huh?" she says.
For once, Raphael feels just as clueless as Katarina does.
A moment of solidarity.
Katarina… really isn't that bad of a person.
"Um…" Katarina claps her hands. "Okay, I think I understand what's going on here? It's a family reunion! Yayyyy! That means we're all on the same side here, and no one has to kill anyone!"
The dark ghost glances at Katarina, smiling sheepishly. "That's true," he says.
"Honestly," says Maria, her arms crossed. "Considering what he did, I'm considering it."
"Maria!" says Katarina, a horrified look on her face.
"Considering," says Maria, frowning. "I obviously would never go through with it, but I'm considering it."
"How would you even kill a ghost, anyway?" asks Raphael.
"Exorcism?" suggests Maria. "Anyway, Father, you've been haunting this poor boy for far too long, and I think you've far overstayed your welcome. As happy am I to see you again, I don't think… I don't think you should stay. You're already dead, and… It hurts me seeing you like this."
Raphael notices the tears in Maria's eyes. "Uh…" He scratches his head awkwardly. "I mean, as long as he agrees not to stir up any trouble again, I don't mind if the ghost hangs around? I mean, I'm sure you and your father have a lot to catch up on…"
Because as upset as he is about the ghost basically gaslighting him this entire time, he knows what it's like to lose a dearly loved parent.
If he had the chance to meet his mother again…
Even if she were just a shadow of her former self, trapped in the mind of some random classmate…
He would do anything, even for the chance to talk to her again for just a brief little while.
Maria shakes her head. "No. No, it's fine. I appreciate the thought, but it's not fair to you, President."
The dark ghost wilts, a guilty look on his face. "But Maria…" He grimaces, but then straightens up again. He closes his eyes. "No, my daughter is right. She's always been a smart one." He chuckles, furtively wiping his eyes. He turns to Raphael. "I've caused you so much trouble, young one. I should… I should pass on. My revenge…"
"Revenge isn't worth it," says Maria, her eyes cold. "We'll make sure the Marchioness meets the consequences of her crime, but not out of a desire for vengeance. Merely to ensure that she won't harm anyone else ever again."
Well, Raphael still kinda wants the Marchioness to suffer horrifically for the crimes she committed, but just putting her through the legal system would be enough, wouldn't it? He closes his eyes, letting out a deep breath. He supposes he should try to sort his thoughts on the matter out, too.
"True," says the dark ghost. He smiles. "If my daughter's handling it, I'm sure it'll be done. She's reliable like that." The outline of his ghostly figure starts glowing, blurring around the edges. "Oh," he says, looking at himself in confusion.
The aura around the ghost is changing? Raphael blinks in confusion. It's changing from dark to light…
"It seems that my time has come," says the dark ghost, glancing at his fading hands. "Now that I know the matter is in trustworthy hands, I can pass on in peace. Thank you." He smiles gracefully. He glances at Raphael. "And young one, I apologize once again."
"Apology not accepted," says Raphael, still feeling slightly upset at the whole killing-his-mother-and-trying-to-kill-his-friends thing.
The dark ghost laughs sheepishly. "That's entirely fair."
"Wait," says Maria, running forward and grabbing onto her father's hand. "What do I tell Mother?"
The dark ghost looks briefly panicked for a moment. "Uhhhh. Please don't tell her? She doesn't need to know. And there's no point in digging up old skeletons in the closet. I'm already dead, after all." He laughs sheepishly.
Maria nods. "I will tell her. She deserves to know."
The dark ghost looks briefly alarmed, and then wilts, with a look of acceptance on his face. "Ah. That's fair."
There's a brief moment of silence. The ghost continues to fade, the dark ghostly wisps flying around and clashing with Maria's aura of light magic.
"Maria, my sweet daughter," murmurs the dark ghost, looking into her eyes. "Are you doing all right? I see you have some friends now. School doing all right?"
"For the most part," says Maria. "Some rough bits, but my friends backed me up where it counts."
The dark ghost smiles. "I'm happy you have friends who truly care for you."
"They're honestly more than I deserve," says Maria, glancing at Katarina for a brief moment.
The dark ghost pats her head. "Live on for me, will you?"
Maria nods, wiping her eyes quickly. "I will."
Raphael wipes his eyes as well. A touching, last farewell between a daughter and her father.
…The latter of whom who happens to also be a dark ghost who has been haunting for Raphael years, and until mere minutes ago had been trying to spur Raphael into killing his classmates, which includes the ghost's (former?) daughter?
God, that's so messed up.
He's going to have so much to unpack after this, what the fuck.
The dark ghost is almost entirely transparent now. He glances at Katarina. "And you." He smiles. "If you hadn't stepped in when you did, I would have done things I would have regretted. I thank you for that."
"Er… you're welcome?" says Katarina. She smiles. "As long as you're on the right path now, it's all good!"
The dark ghost smiles. "I'm truly grateful you are a friend to my daughter."
And finally, with those words, the ghost finally disappears.
Raphael, Katarina, and Maria stare at the empty spot in the air where the ghost had been just a moment prior.
"Well," says Raphael, not really sure what he should be feeling now. Happy? Relieved? Guilty? Sad? Confused? "That happened."
"Indeed," says Maria, equally conflicting feelings playing out on her face.
"Huh," says Katarina. She shrugs. "Well I dunno what just happened, but it seems like everything worked out!" She grins.
There's a long moment where they just stand there, as if still in disbelief about what just happened.
But then Katarina remembers their friends waiting outside, so they should probably get a move on. So she turns and starts leading the way out.
After a brief delay, Raphael and Maria follow after her.
"By the way," Maria mutters, leaning in slightly closer to Raphael. "I can't believe she didn't react to your mention of her 'harem'."
"Huh?" Raphael blinks, confused for a moment. And then he remembers the words that came out of his mouth a long while ago, back when his thoughts were still twisted with rage and vengeance. "Oh, that's right, I did mention that earlier, didn't I." He feels his face heat up with embarrassment. "Please excuse my rudeness, I wasn't in my right mind when I said that."
Maria just vaguely looks amused. "It's all right."
"What're you guys whispering about back there?" asks Katarina, glancing back at the two.
"Nothing," Maria says quickly. She pauses, and then adds, "Er… just comparing notes, I suppose."
Katarina nods. "Ahhh, okay."
Geordo is not a fan of Katarina's plan.
Honestly, they outnumber the guy like, 8-to-1, so he would really rather rush in and overpower him as quickly as possible.
But both Maria and Sophia were both adamantly in support of Katarina's plan for negotiations.
In particular, Maria points out that the President's dark magic capabilities are still largely unknown, and there's a chance that if they all go in unprepared, the President could possibly use his magic to take control of everyone and use their strength against Katarina.
"I may be able to shield at most one person with my light magic," says Maria, glancing at Katarina. "Any more than that, I can't guarantee."
As much as Geordo hates the idea of Katarina and Maria walking in to confront the dangerous dark magic user without the others backing them up, he hates the possibility of him being forcibly controlled to attack his fiancée even more.
So, despite his reservations, he reluctantly lets Maria and Katarina go on ahead.
Of course, he's not going to stick exactly to their plans.
After waiting a brief moment to make sure they have a decent head start, he sneaks out of the room and starts tailing them.
He'll keep an eye on the confrontation from afar and if anything fishy happens, he'll jump in right away.
After a short delay, everyone else in the room starts following after him without raising any objections, so it seems like they have the same idea.
Fortunately, there's a small crack in the door to the very creepy-looking room that Sirius seems to be content with spending his time in, so Geordo can keep on eye on the happenings inside the room without revealing his presence.
Katarina and Maria and Sirius are too far away from the door for Geordo to hear what they're saying, though.
And so begins an almost hour-long endurance of all of them crouching in front of the door and squinting through the tiny gap in the door.
Well, almost all of them. Nicol seems content to just stand against the wall with his arms crossed, closing his eyes.
Several times, including when Sirius's dark magic flares up, and when that weird… ghostly-like figure appears, Geordo almost loses his composure and is about to fling the doors open and rush in.
But every time, as if noticing what's on Geordo's mind, Sophia grabs onto his wrist and gives him a stern look.
"But!—" Geordo would hiss.
But Sophia would shake her head and say, "Trust her. She has things under control."
It isn't until almost half an hour into the confrontation that Geordo realizes Sophia can actually hear what's going on in the room.
Damn wind magic!
He wants to know what's going on too!
He shakes Sophia's shoulder, and when she turns to look at him, he points at his ear, makes a vague wind gesture with his hands, and levels a very harsh accusatory glare at her.
"I'll catch you up on what's happening later," Sophia whispers to Geordo, only glancing at him for a brief moment before returning her attention to squinting through the gap in the door. "I need to focus on my wind magic for it to work."
Reluctantly, Geordo lets Sophia off the hook. For now.
He glances sharply at Nicol, who's still standing with his back against the wall next to the door, his eyes closed.
He's probably using his wind magic to listen in, too.
Why did Geordo have be born a fire user?
Unfortunate. No matter, he'll just ask them for the details later.
But the way Sophia keeps muttering under her breath. Things like "Huh?" and "I don't remember this happening in the VN" and "What the heck?".
The curiosity is biting away at Geordo.
Finally things calm down inside the room, and the three people inside start making their way towards the exit.
Everyone just barely remembers to back away from the door in time before Katarina flings them open.
"Oh, you guys are already here?" Katarina says. She grins. "Excellent!"
"Katarina, are you okay!?" demands Geordo, rushing forward and inspecting her closely. "You weren't hurt anywhere, were you?"
"No. no, we just talked," says Katarina, She smiles, gesturing towards the President. "It's a long story, but it was all a misunderstanding and Raphael's on our side now."
The red-haired boy bows deeply. "I'm deeply sorry for the horrible things I've done. I have no excuse. I don't expect forgiveness."
"No, no, it wasn't your fault, President!" says Katarina, patting the boy on the back. "Don't be so hard on yourself!"
Maria nods, gently placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. "The circumstances were out of your control. I forgive you."
"Nevertheless," says the red-haired boy. "I will take full responsibility for my actions."
Katarina claps her hands together. "Anyway, we have a Marchioness to track down! Let's go!" And with that, she starts walking away.
Geordo blinks. Huh?
Wait, who the hell is Raphael?
Geordo is so confused.
He turns sharply to Sophia, whom he knows heard the entire conversation.
A panicked expression appears on the white-haired girl's face as soon as she notices his gaze. "Look," she says, waving her hands frantically. "I don't even know how to begin to explain this."
Geordo turns his sharp gaze to Nicol.
After a moment, the boy glances away, tugging nervously on his collar, an uneasy expression appearing on his face.
Sophia coughs. "It's a bit of a delicate matter, so perhaps it would be best if you heard it from Raphael directly."
Geordo blinks, rubbing his head.
What the heck went on in that room???