「 That exam was tough. How the hell was I supposed to know about the evolution of dragons in becoming dragonkin?! 」Elras says, seemingly pissed.
「 I agree, Reinhardt-sama, 」Aaron continues, 「 I don’t think we went over that material in rather deep detail over his lectures. What do you think, Alderhide-sama? 」
I feel dead inside…
「 Renald? 」
「 Huh, yes? 」
「 Like I was saying Alderhide-sama, 」Aaron patiently says,「 what do you think about the materials in the exam? 」
「 It was alright I guess… 」I mindlessly say,「 I was able to answer almost all of the questions. 」
「 No way, 」Elras astonished,「 even that weird question about the huge possibilities of the existence of races or sub-races that the historians couldn’t discover? 」
「 Yeah… It was quite simple. I just list down several insights on key historians regarding the matter and use it as the basis of my conclusion. 」
「 How about the question regarding the first appearance of humans coming to the surface and establishing itself? 」Aaron asks.
「 I think… Explaining the foundation and the early days of the Shiford kingdom should be enough… As you might know, Shiford was one of the earliest human kingdoms. 」
「 As expected for Renald, 」Elras bemused, 「 Truly the only Mayer Professor’s true student. 」
「 Yeah… yeah… yeah… 」
「 By the way, what will all of you do for the vacation period? 」Aaron asks.
「 Going back to my territory of course. Who knows what those damn elves are up to these days. 」
「 I’m not sure… 」I chime in with Elras response.
「 Sounds nice, I likely will be staying here, my territory isn’t that far from the capital anyway and I still have some things to do in the cathedral headquarter. 」
「 Anyway… Since we just finished the [History & Politics] exam, how about we celebrate it over a scrumptious and luxurious lunch? 」Elras happily suggests.
「 That sounds wonderful. 」Aaron replies.
「 I’ll skip this one. 」
「 What? 」Elras eyes darts over to me concerned,「 Why? 」
「 I… I have some studying to do… 」I come up with an excuse.
「 Aren’t all of your exams already over, same as us? 」Aaron asks.
「 I still have to work on one of my《School of Wits Magic》spells. 」Just please let me go.
「 Are you alright Renald? 」Elras ask, worriness more visible in his eyes.
「 What are you talking about Elras? 」I say, mustering the best smile I possibly can,「 Of course, I’m alright, you know how hard it is to master that school of magic. 」I end with laughter.
「 If you say so Renald, 」Elras hesitantly says,「 Are you still up for the idea Aaron? 」
「 Fine by me, as long as I’m not late to attend my weekly cathedral meetings. 」
「 Alright then, I’ll see you later then Renald. 」
「 Take care, Alderhide-sama. I wish you great fortune in your study. 」
「 Bye-bye. 」
Then Elras and Aaron went off to the other way, leaving me behind on my way to my room in the dorm housing. My sole solace.
Do you see how powerful words and acting is? Simply say “I’m fine” and with the right smile, nobody would bat an eye. Nobody would notice what’s happening beneath the facade I put on. It’s necessary, however, I need to put on a strong will. Being weak and fragile won’t solve anything. A fake smile has always been plastered throughout my lifetime, frozen in place.
I feel dead inside.
I make my way through the lavishly furnished lounge, dreading the ascent of the stairs, enter my room, and finally leap towards my bed to curl on my blanket. These same thoughts play over and over again.
This black hole within me — it’s eating me up. The world no longer seems magical. The sky no longer seems limitless. The tears want to splash down in a torrent of misery, but they’re too stubborn. They just… wouldn’t come.
Hope. It’s gone. For she is the reason for its materialization.
It’s always there. It was only until now that it grew much worse. I always cling to the hope that one day, after all of my suffering, pushing myself to the limit, withstanding all sorts of abuse, then everything will be worth it. That I will finally find somebody who would simply love me for who I am.
But the reality is always harsh. Like a slap in the face, it pulls me to the ground from my dream. Reminding me of my failures.
My failed admission to the famed schools of magic, both《School of Assault Magic》and《School of Aegis Magic》
The failure of knowing the existence and learning the proper, noble, and superior art of magic. Instead, learn the common and inferior way of magic.
And most importantly, the utterly degrading experience from her strike at my lowest point…
Was it really bad, foolish, illegal for me to just dream of being with her?
It was just an aspiration of mine. But yet…
If only I worked harder. If only I focused more. If only I do this and that instead. Regrets piling up more and more.
What will be my next step now I know I truly fucked up this time?
I don’t know…
I truly don’t know…
「 Excuse me, young lord. Are you there, young lord?! 」
Normally, I would ignore it, but there’s something about her voice that draws me in. A sense of urgency and panic within it.
The distance to the front door never felt this far before. The small warmth and comfort from my only solace, blanket that I hold dearly to, are now gone. I opened the door. The maid’s eyes before me widen, shock clearly plastered on her face. She immediately bows down.
「 This maid is deeply sorry for raising her voice. This maid knocked several times and didn’t receive any response from the young lord. 」She says nervously.
「 So, what is it? 」I reply without holding back the annoyance I felt.
「 Lady Heva-sama, your mother, is waiting for you in the lounge. 」
「 I see… 」today is the day she comes huh… I forgot about that,「 tell her to wait a few more minutes. I need to prepare. 」
「 Understood, young lord. 」
I close the door, strangely slower than I expected. Everything happens in slow-motion as I prepare myself to head out, and select what clothes to wear even with the minimal clothes that I have. Which doesn’t even amount to one-tenth of the closet’s humongous capacity.
As soon as I’m in the lounge, I immediately take notice of Mother — of course — the way she sits alone as she looks outside the windows with that nostalgic smile of hers she always puts on, are way more charming than the fancy housing. She wears a beautiful blue gown that compliments her hair, flower patterns embedded on the gown’s waistline, the fabric looks smooth and gives out a luxurious feel. I never saw my mother wear this gown before, is this new? However, my mother’s favorite black pillbox hat is apparent.
「 There you are, my boy! I missed you so much. 」
Unbeknownst to me, she somehow covered the distance in a flash. By the time I became aware of her eager voice, she leaped towards me and hugged me. Very tightly. Her gown will be ruined, wrinkles formed with how she presses me very hard as if she never wants to let me go again. It’s to the point of discomfort and a hard time breathing.
But that’s very like her.
My breathing becomes slower, melting to my mother’s grasp as I can feel every muscle fiber lose its tension. In this moment of feeling mother so close I am more awake somehow, more alive than I have been in so very long. The heart slowly rejuvenates back.
「 H-hi mother… 」
「 I miss you so… so… so much Renald. 」She says as she rains kisses on both of my cheeks.
「 Yeah… 」I mutter,「 I miss you too mother. 」
She pulls away. The comfortable warmth is no more.
「 I’m glad to hear that my sweetie. Oh, how much you’ve grown taller! I remember when we hugged, your head was bound to my chest, now I’m the one who has her head on your chest. Fufufu… 」
「 Y-yes mother… 」
I swear I wasn’t that short. Oh, I see… She must be talking about it before I got transmigrated to Renald’s body…
「 I wish to talk more with you Renald. But we don’t have time. I already reserved an amazing restaurant I’m sure you’ll love it! There are more surprises over there too. 」
「 Alright mother. 」
She grabs my hand and pulls me towards her as she drags me outside.
The sun shines way too bright for my scruffy eyes. The carriage with the authentic Alderhide insignia is ready in front of us. I let mother go first before my turn, noble etiquette as always.
「 How long have you been taking a nap Renald? 」
「 Quite a while, I guess… an hour or two. You know, the university is very tough so I’ve been relaxing for some time after it’s all over. 」
「 I see… 」Mother says slowly,「 So how’s university Renald? 」
「 It’s alright… Learned a lot about《School of Wits Magic》arcane runes and spells. There’s also the [Logistical Warfare] class I took which is interesting. And I’ll probably take a class in [Business and Territory Management] and further my studies in [History & Politics] after the vacation period. 」
「 That’s interesting… I thought you are going to take more warfare-based classes such as [Horsemanship] or [Magic Swordsmanship]. What happened to that? 」
「 What’s the point when I’m not even in one of the combat schools of magic? 」
「 That makes sense… But how come you’ve taken an interest in [History & Politics]? 」Mother says after a moment of shocked silence,「 I remember it was such a boring class. This is quite unlike you Renald. 」
What…? The fascination of learning this world’s ancient history is priceless. The wonders of the Verum Shihi Era, where real dragons roamed the sky, the time where humans hide underground is very interesting. How come mother didn’t know this? That’s right… The “Renald” beforehand hates, disgusted with the mere idea of reading books.
The conversation then quickly turns into mindless chatter, with me simply answering with “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know”. My lackluster response somehow doesn’t ruin mother’s mood as she seems to be impatiently waiting for something. I guess she’s pretty excited about this restaurant of hers.
The carriage stops. That’s quite quick.
From the luxurious decoration this restaurant has, it seems to not be the kind of place you can get a table on impulse; large mullion windows, long embroidered curtains, dark walnut tables, flower pots on each table, and it even has a delicate live music performance.
A table is somehow empty amidst the almost full restaurant just near the large mullion window, giving a great view of the vibrant city. By the time we sit on that table, a butler immediately serves us tea from silver trays in white ceramic teapots. She whispered something to the butler, a wide grin clearly plastered on her face as she did that. Looks like mother already planned everything out.
「 Do you like everything so far Renald? 」
「 Yes mother. I rarely go out and see what the city has to offer during my study. So experiencing this wonderful place is pretty exciting and I’ve been greatly enjoying it 」
「 That’s quite a surprise, 」mother eyes slightly widen,「 I would’ve assumed you explored every nook and corner of the city? What happened, sweetie? 」
「 I just never thought about doing that, mother. 」
「 You’ve really changed huh sweetie… 」
I’ve changed? I’m always like this, I didn’t have much time left from studying night and day. Why does mother think this way?
「 Ohh! Here it is! 」
The butler placed a gigantic white cake in the middle of the table. Lit candles placed on top.
「 Happy 18th birthday Renald! Just another year and you’ll be a noble adult! 」
Wait, today is my birthday…? Whatever, it just means another year before I’ll get kicked out from the Alderhide family. Although, I still have some extra time to finish university first before I’m officially kicked out. Mother definitely didn’t know about the unwritten or unspoken agreement between me and father.
I don’t like cakes… I took a bite and the sweetness overloads my taste receptors to the point of sickening. Numerous weird and exotic dishes such as frogs, smelly chunks of cheese, and others then come to the table. These are not my favorites… Aren’t these the former Renald’s favorite? I hate these dishes. How come she didn’t know this? I clearly told her from time to time when I still live with her.
It was supposed to be my special day… But these dishes completely ruined my mood.
「 Are you alright Renald? 」Mother says worryingly.
「 I’m fine. Thank you for the great surprise Mother, 」I say, mustering the happiest smile I possibly can.
「 Ohh, 」She replied sweetly,「 You’re very welcome Renald. Now go ahead and feast to your heart content my healthy young boy. 」
I’m not in the mood to eat. But I must force myself to eat this lest I make mother worried again. I try to eat the dishes provided at the table. Each bite makes me more and more tempted to take smaller bites, pausing to take more. The taste is so unappetizing that I’m careful to not allow the food to touch my lips.
「 Have you tried getting along with your siblings in the university? 」
「 Noo… mother. 」
「 You know that Cefre-san is currently in university too right? 」
F-fuck… It’s that cursed name. I can’t believe a sister can hold such malice towards her younger brother…
「 What’s the matter Renald? 」
「 Ohh… I was just quite shocked… I didn’t know she was studying here too, considering how most of my brothers and sisters are way older than me. 」
「 It’s alright… You always have been such a shy boy. Ohh here it comes! 」
Mother says, her eyes dart to somewhere behind her. I follow her. The restaurant’s butler comes to us holding a box. A present. It’s perfectly decorated with its sparkling ribbons and colorful palette. Is that… going to be my birthday present?
Mother’s eyes sparkle as the butler place the gift near my still quite full plate. I wonder what kind of gift I will receive. The box is quite small, just a little bit bigger than my plate. Perhaps a book? I’m not used to receiving any gifts… When was the last time I ever received one? I never even celebrate my birthday at all, this is the first time I think.
「 What are you waiting for, Renald? Go open it! 」
I untie the ribbon and pry open the lid of the box. Looking inside, what greeted me was something unexpected, something that I wouldn’t think of in any way. I didn’t even know what to say. Why does she remotely even think this sort of gift is for me? No matter what you think about the contents. This isn’t for me. This is for someone else.
The gift mocked me as if it’s laughing at my current situation.
W̶h̶o̴ ̶a̶r̶e̴ ̵y̵o̴u̴?̶ ̶Y̶o̶u̷’̵r̶e̴ ̵a̵n̷ ̴i̷m̶p̵o̴s̶t̸e̸r̷.̸ ̸Y̷o̸u̷ ̵a̸l̴r̸e̵a̴d̵y̸ ̷d̸i̸e̷d̶ ̸o̴n̷c̵e̴ ̵–̸ ̵b̸y̵ ̴y̷o̴u̷r̸ ̶o̵w̶n̷ ̷w̷i̵l̷l̶.̸ ̸T̶h̷i̸s̵ ̷i̶s̵ ̸y̴o̵u̶r̴ ̴i̵d̸e̵a̷ ̸o̴f̶ ̵b̶e̸i̸n̶g̶ ̴h̶a̶p̸p̴y̶?̶ ̶T̵o̴ ̴f̸e̷e̷l̴ ̴l̷o̶v̴e̶ ̸b̴y̸ ̶r̷e̸p̴l̶a̶c̴i̴n̵g̷ ̴s̶o̶m̶e̷o̸n̵e̶’̷s̴ ̶s̵o̶n̴?̶ ̷Y̶o̷u̸ ̵d̷o̴n̸’̷t̸ ̴d̵e̶s̷e̶r̷v̶e̴ ̴t̵h̵i̸s̷.̴ ̵Y̴o̴u̸ ̸d̴o̷n̴’̴t̵ ̵d̶e̴s̸e̸r̴v̶e̴ ̴t̶h̶i̸s̴ ̴g̴i̷f̶t̵.̷ ̶T̸h̸i̷s̴ ̸g̵i̸f̵t̶ ̷w̴e̵r̴e̷ ̶s̸u̷p̴p̸o̵s̴e̴d̷ ̵t̴o̵ ̸b̷e̷ ̵f̴o̶r̷ ̴h̸e̵r̸ ̴s̸o̶n̸.̸ ̵N̸o̴t̷ ̷f̸o̸r̷ ̷y̴o̵u̸.̸
I can’t help but feel that her once beautiful and cheerful smile right now holds something spiteful. That’s right… I’m not her son. Why would she love me? She didn’t even know her son was replaced with another person. I’ve been lying this whole time.
「 What’s wrong Renald? 」
「 I… l… I love this gift mother… Thank you, 」I say putting up another bright smile, holding off my sheer disappointment.
「 You’re very welcome Renald! 」
Renald this. Renald that. At first, I didn’t pay any heed to that name, I just thought of it as my new identity. But now I realize it’s… not my name… It’s somebody else’s. This gift is for the Renald of the past, I’m not the person to who she’s giving the gift for. It’s for Renald.
「 M-mother, is it okay if we leave pretty quickly? I… I forgot that I have an appointment with one of the professors pretty soon 」
I need to get away. I’m not feeling well.
「 Are you sure Renald? 」Mother asks confused,「 Can’t you postpone it? 」
「 I’m so… sorry mother… I didn’t know you were coming. I would’ve not set up a meeting if you were coming… 」I lie as naturally as I can.
「 Oh don’t be Renald, it’s my fault anyway for meeting with you so suddenly. 」
We didn’t talk much as we get out of the restaurant and even then in the carriage. Everything feels surreal.
「 Sweetie, 」mother says, breaking the silence,「 will you join me to the Alderhide estate in this city after the meeting with your professor? It’s much bigger and luxurious than our private house in Quondartz. Your father will be there too. 」
「 No mother… I’m good. 」
「 Okay then… Oh and also Renald, do you want to come back to our home in Quondartz for your vacation period? 」
「 I-I’ll… think about it. 」
Definitely not around Renald’s mother or family. The carriage becomes silent once more with only the outside voice filling our eardrums. I swear I counted almost every second passing by. At the very least her mood hasn’t changed at all, she still exhibits her cheerful aura. That’s good. I would’ve been more guilty if she notices my behavior.
「 Okay then. Oh, we already arrived. I miss you so much but I cannot hold you back, right? Bye-bye Sweetie. 」
And off she goes along with the carriage. She looks very happy as she says those words while simultaneously waving her hands. She doesn’t need me.
How come I forgot?
It’s not me that she loves and puts her heart into. It’s the former me — Renald. She loves her son, not the one who replaced him. She mistook me as Renald. And I’m not the real Renald Alderhide.
I’m Yoshinobu Ryo.
True love does exist — it’s just not for the likes of me.
She’s… She’s not my mother. I never had a mother since the very beginning.
My life will always be devoid of love, even in this second life of mine, my undeniable fate.
I’m the worst. I truly am an imposter. And I don’t deserve love.
I just want to get out of this nightmarish place. But how am I supposed to do so?
「 Hey Renald, I thought you were supposed to be studying. What were you doing? 」
Unknowingly Elras is in the lounge, sitting relax-fully, and drinking tea like he always loves to do.
「 Ehh… Hey Elras… 」I say whatever I could think of,「 where’s Aaron? 」
「 Huh? Ohh… Aaron is in the cathedral as always. 」
「 I see… By the way Elras, you are going back to your family’s territory, right? 」
「 Of course, what’s wrong Renald? 」
Maybe getting away from mother or this place wasn’t so hard after all. The Reinhardt territory should be far away from the Alderhide territory.
「 Can I follow you to your family’s territory? 」