“You arrived early, Anika Flora.”
Eugene greeted with a smile as she approached Flora.
As soon as she saw Flora, a memory of her impostor struck her. It was of the impostor Jin formally addressing Flora as ‘Anika Flora’.
Eugene assumed that her impostor and Flora addressed each other with formality only in public because she had seen a memory of them speaking without reserve when they were alone. However, based on Flora’s expression, she couldn’t help but think she was mistaken. She was not glad to see her at all.
“… Welcome, Anika Jin.” Flora responded belatedly with a forced smile. There was a slight tremor at the corner of her lips as she drew them up into a smile.
Fortunately, everyone’s attention was on Eugene; otherwise, there would have been some gossip about Flora’s reaction. Flora, on the other hand, was so taken aback that she didn’t realize she hadn’t maintained her usual level of cool.
Jin, in fact, appeared to be a completely different person than when she last saw her at the manor.
Flora used to spend a lot of time with Jin when they were younger, and she always had the impression that Jin wasn’t at all like someone born and raised in a refined family. It wasn’t entirely out of jealousy that she thought Jin, despite being the spitting image of Lady Arse, bore no resemblance to her mother.
Jin’s appearance today, however, leaves no doubt that she is Lady Arse’s daughter. In fact, she exuded the same aura as her mother. Flora couldn’t help but feel as if she’d taken a direct blow to the head.
‘My imposter must have given me a bad name.’ After noticing the tense atmosphere in the hall and Flora’s reaction, Eugene assumed that everyone in the hall was uncomfortable with her appearance. She had no specific memories of her imposter’s wrongdoing that caused her to lose her reputation, but she wasn’t particularly curious to know either.
In any case, she had no intention of bowing to speculative assumptions. She has established a standard for how she should behave in accordance with her mother’s advice.
[There is no reason for you to demonstrate that you have changed in comparison to your past. If someone thinks you’re a bad person, let them.]
[Are you saying I should act the same way the imposter did?]
[I’m not suggesting that you intentionally harm your reputation. It’s just that you’re not required to be nice.]
[But… If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to socialize with good people.]
[You must learn to distinguish between a social gathering and a meeting where you can make genuine friends. You could consider the gathering to be a small battlefield. People will judge you based on your social standing rather than your temperament.]
[My social standing…]
[You are not only my daughter, but also the queen of a kingdom. Never, under any circumstances, yield or condescend. When someone who has no reason to be modest acts modestly, people begin to suspect that you are attempting to conceal your weakness.]
Eugene, therefore, has decided to put the past behind her unless someone comes up to her and demands an apology. As for no apparent reason, she will most likely be disliked by at least three out of ten people in her surroundings.
“Do you have a seat available for me?” Eugene asked one of the Anikas who was staring at her blankly. And as soon as she saw Anika’s face, her mind flashed back to her imposter addressing her as ‘Anika Emily.’
Anika Emily leapt from her seat, surprised to hear her name called. “O-of course. Please take a seat here, Anika Jin.”
Emily pointed to a sofa across from Flora’s seat as she spoke. But when she noticed that the seat was already occupied, she grimaced and motioned for Anika to make room. Unknowingly, people have begun to move closer together in response to Emily’s instructions to make room for Eugene.
Eugene sat in the seat that had been cleared for her as if it had always been her seat in the first place. The Anikas appeared to have formed a circle, with Eugene and Flora in the center. Eugene then took up the teacup that had been placed on the table by a serving maid in order to read the room and adjusted herself to the group of Anikas.
A few Anikas eyed Flora askance since whenever the two of them attended the gathering in the past, Flora was always the one who led the conversation, while Jin just sat and listened with lofty air. But when Jin voiced an opinion or two, Flora would turn it into the main topic of conversation to discuss. Some people dislike Flora because of this.
Flora, on the other hand, remained silent in her seat, contrary to everyone’s expectations. Emily was the one who finally broke the silence.
“Anika Jin, it’s been a long time. I heard about your visit to the Holy City.”
The Anikas have all begun to greet Eugene, with Emily as the catalyst. In fact, the Anikas appear to have noticed that Flora and Jin’s relationship wasn’t what it used to be. If that was the case, they wouldn’t want to miss out on the chance of becoming Jin’s new best friends.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again. You don’t appear to have changed at all in the last three years.”
“Everyone wondered how you were doing in the kingdom.”
While responding to the greetings out of politeness, Eugene couldn’t help but be perplexed because their tone of voice and countenance didn’t seem to indicate that they were only asking after her out of politeness.
‘I suppose not all of them are hostile… However, it’s odd to see so many Anikas gathered.’
Until recently, Eugene was mostly surrounded by people with brown hair. Hence, seeing only women with black hair and eyes made her feel as if she’d landed on a different planet.
The ten or so Anika seated near her appeared to be in their early twenties, if not younger. And among them was a particularly young Anika, who couldn’t be more than a girl.
Eugene was looking at the girl sitting among the adults when they locked gazes. Befuddled by being stared at, the girl quickly lowered her gaze, her face turning crimson. Eugene couldn’t help but smile back, finding the girl’s reaction endearing.
When Emily noticed Eugene’s gaze was fixed on the girl, she spoke up.