It happens much sooner than in the original timeline.
But that was intentional, wasn’t it?
“You! It was you, wasn’t it?”
Livia mouth the words as the crown prince spits them out.
Her eyes dimly look down to the unconscious body in the prince's arms. Her face was no longer blue, and her chest could be seen rising and falling. Amelia wasn’t dead.
Good. I got the dosage right.
The fact that she was coldly proud of that and not moved in the least by the fact that she might have accidentally killed the girl should have alarmed her. It should have soured her stomach.
'Livia is too shocked to speak,' Is what the text had said across her screen as she had watched with unimpressed eyes at the familiar scene. Almost without thought, she falls into her role.
Livia blinks rapidly to shake the image. She suddenly feels a chill all the way down to her bones. What was wrong with her? What was happening? The pictures didn’t stop. They just kept coming. She wanted to push them back, to deny it all, but she couldn’t.
In the meantime, Crown Prince Rodale's royal guards are standing at his side. Beside them is the second prince, Orin, arriving at the party later than usual.
“I had thought the rumors going around that you were bullying a fellow student to be false. I had assured myself that no fiancé of mine would ever conduct herself in such a barbaric manner. But this, this I cannot turn a blind eye on. Livia Katrina Valentina, you went too far.” The tone was harsh and boomed across the now quiet ballroom.
Amelia is gently handed over to the second prince to look after before the crown prince gets to his feet and stalks forward. His expression is thunderous, and golden magic can be seen flickering to life around him.
The crowd parts and a path between him and the still collapsed form of Livia opens up. Liliana, bless that girl, doesn’t move from her side. She falls to her knees with her sister and throws her arms around her even as the crown prince towers over them.
“T-There has to be s-s-some misunderstanding! My sister is innocent!” Liliana says fiercely, though Livia can feel the great tremble of her body.
She wants to reach out and comfort her sister. Her fear was understandable. The crown prince could be likened to a demon on a warpath at the moment. But it was taking all of her energy not to just collapse on the spot.
“Your highness, I would never do something like this,” Livia says as delicately, even as the pain in her head threatened to return, “Please, let's just take a moment to calm ourselves and-”
“I saw her!” the voice was from one of her own servants. A young girl who had been hired not too long ago. Mimi, was it? She steps forward with a raised chin.
The crown prince's glare moves from Livia to the servant, “Saw what?” He snaps.
The servant flinches a bit, but answers anyway, “I saw her by the wine glasses just before the party started. Lady Livia stood by them for a minute or so before she left.”
Livia scowls. What a stupid thing. Her proof was only that she saw her standing by something? That was not enough to convict her.
She completely ignores the perfectly clear vision in her head of her tampering with the glass somehow early in the day. It must be some sort of illusion or trick.
It was impossible, after all.
Livia was unfortunately not gifted when it came to magic. She had very little of it, and that meager amount was nowhere near enough to create even a small spark of light. No, it couldn’t be her. The glass must have moved all on its own somehow. She wasn't the culprit.
Livia recoiled away from the part of her that was growing steadily colder. She fought off the bizarre illusions in her head with fierceness.
It couldn’t be true.
Livia would never stoop to that level.
So, she defended herself as if she hadn’t. As if she was completely innocent and not guilty to the core.
Hmm, maybe poison was overkill? I was simply sticking to the script though.
“I stood near a table and that is enough to accuse me of such a horrid crime?” Livia says, her tone barely even.
Liliana pushes closer to her, nodding in agreement as she glares at the servant, “How could you? I thought you were so nice!”
The prince is silent, his eyes dark and his jaw tense.
The crowd around them murmur among themselves as they watch with avid eyes, hungry for the entertainment. Not a single person bothers to speak out. It was not their place to interfere in royal business, not unless they risk the spotlight shifting onto them. It was better to stand and watch. Even the ladies who spoke up in favor of Livia remain silent. Her friends all but shrink into the crowd. They could be seen as accomplices, after all.
Plus, all who have been invited to the debutante were loyal to the crown prince. There has been a steadily growing rift between the nobles that have formed over the years since the first prince stepped down. The crown prince faction and the third prince faction were the most vocal of the groups.
If the party had been hosted at the Valentina estate at the core of the Kingdom like originally planned, things no doubt wouldn’t have ever escalated so far.
But Livia had the sudden idea of hosting it at the academy. Away from the king's influence, away from strict justice and order. Aster Academy also had a ballroom that rivaled the ones at the White Castle. Aster Academy was also the one place where Crown Prince Rodale didn’t need to glance over his shoulder. It was the one place where he could safely call his own. It seemed like an utterly brilliant idea.
Of course, it was. If one wishes to trigger an event early, one must set the scene.
Now, surrounded on all sides by those who seek out their own ambitions, it seemed she might have miscalculated. Indeed, Livia was rather alone. Even her own parents were distinctly absent.
Surely, even mother wouldn’t sit by and watch all her hard work go to waste before her eyes, right?
Surely father wouldn’t just let his own daughter be condemned without interfering?
But both of her parents remained scarce, even as Livia scanned the crowd for them.
Feeling outnumbered but unable to show it, Livia tries to smile, “Your highness, please. Why don’t we take this to a more private area? I’m sure all of this can be resolved-”
“If not you, then who else?”
Livia's smile freezes.
Surely the prince could not be serious.
But he was.
He turns to the crowd, his expression one of soft somber, “To all who gather here today, I wish to impose on you a heavy request. Today, a fellow classmate of mine has been poisoned, and it seems Lady Livia is the main culprit. I, as the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Wisteria, shall judge if Lady Livia is guilty or innocent of her accused crime. If anyone wishes to defend Lady Livia against such an offense, please step forward.”
Not one person moved.
Livia couldn’t even muster up a false sense of surprise, instead, her eyes turned to daggers as she glared at one of her friends who squeaks and duck behind someone. Her skull felt like it was on the verge of collapse, and she could feel another wave of pain building up behind her eyes. She tried to string together her thoughts, to come up with some kind of plan, but it all washed away.
No one would go against the crown prince. In fact, after Crown Prince Rodale's announcement, the nobles will no doubt make a great effort to stay in his favor or gain his favor.
It was a calculated move.
The murmurs in the crowd grow louder, and Livia can feel the weight of eyes looking her over.
Contempt slowly starts to fill the air.
“Poor Miss Amelia. I heard her mother died just this year. Just when things seem to be looking up for the girl, this happens.”
“Lady Livia has always been jealous of Miss Amelia.”
“Honestly, to see one of our own stoops to such a low level is sickening. How could she poison a fellow classmate?”
“Lady Livia did disappear during her own debutante. Maybe she did something then?”
“Miss Amelia has only been kind to Lady Livia. How evil must you be to do something so horrible to someone so lovely?”
“No doubt Lady Livia only invited Miss Amalia for this reason.”
Liliana stirs by her side, looking at the crowd with wide, confused eyes.
If she stays by my side, she will be dragged into this as well, Livia thinks, but before she can move away. The pain is back and this time it refuses to be ignored. She doesn’t scream and claw at her head, but it is a very near thing. Instead, her hand clenches into the fabric of her dress, her sharp nails almost ripping into it, as she bites off a yell of pain. Her sight goes blurry and she almost faints.
While she is distracted, Liliana is removed from her side.
Faintly, she hears her sister's voice frantically calling her name, but soon that is gone too.
When her vision clears, she is alone. Her sister's absence is felt instantly. Above her, the crown prince continues to egg the crowd on. He implores someone to step up and defend her, but of course, the nobles do the exact opposite.
“I saw Lady Livia push Miss Amelia down the stairs!”
“She put needles in Miss Amelia's shoes!”
“She berated and mocked Miss Amelia in broad daylight!”
“Lady Livia once slapped Miss Amelia in the library! The poor girl cried while running away!”
“Miss Amelia has always been a nice girl.”
“Lady Livia plotted to cut Miss Amelia's clothes!”
“Lady Livia is so vile! How could a woman of her standing let jealousy cloud her judgment?”
“She did poison, Lady Amelia!”
“She is guilty!”
The weird visions come back, but this time the scenes flash by too fast to really register them all. There was no need to, though. They weren’t bizarre illusions or some sort of trick. They were much too familiar to be. She knew that odd room and those odd devices.
No, these weren’t illusions at all.
They were memories. Her memories. As the voices around her continue to praise Amelia and throw dirt on Livia, she was swept up in a tide of memories she no longer wishes to escape from. The pain in her head recedes as the visions pour in. As she accepts them with open arms.
Livia was back in that room. She remembers now. It had been her sanctuary, the one place in the world she could just be herself, where she could relax and enjoy her time alone. That stormy night, she had decided to replay all of her favorite games. As the rain pelted her window and the thunder rumbled outside, she had immersed herself in the latest installment of the Ethetia franchise.
It had been a dating sim called Aster Academy: The Feuding Houses. The game starts when the heroine, Amelia Margarete Reeve, is invited to the academy by her father, who happens to be a Baron. The heroine enters the academy just as the tension between nobles and the royal family starts to rise. Originally, there were only four targets, but the game, due to its popularity, has since largely expanded beyond them.
It was that game that she was currently in.
As the villainess Livia Katrina Valentia. She was the character in the game who always met a terrible fate for her cruel deeds against the heroine. To be exiled or killed were the two fates Livia ever met in the game. And both were at the hands of Crown Prince Rodale.
As the fiancée of the crown prince, Livia was an obstacle that the heroine must overcome if she wished to be with him. And to make it so one does not feel bad about being a homewrecker, Livia Katrina Valentia was made to be the most unlikable character.
She had no good traits. Livia was as cruel and arrogant as they come. The moment the heroine appeared in her line of sight, Livia sought to make Amelia's life a living hell, fueled by jealousy and rage. She threatened Amelia, ruined her belongings, humiliated her in public, slapped her that one time, and pushed her down the stairs that other time. Livia was a true irredeemable menace to Amelia.
It would be more correct to say that she was the menace. She was the one who had bullied Amelia this time around.
Sure, one could definitely argue that she had the right to be upset. The crown prince was her fiancée, after all. Anyone would have been upset if someone who was promised to them went around with another girl in broad daylight. The gossip that went around the school had not helped matters either. It had gotten so bad that her mother even confronted her about the topic, furious.
Yes, it would be easy to paint a picture of her being the victim.
But she wasn’t...was she?
There was no misunderstanding. There was nothing false about it.
She, like Livia, had bullied Amelia just like in the original story. No. Even worse.
Maybe it was the fact that she was reborn as the villainess, but just like Livia, she had also hated Amelia on sight. It also could be the fact that she held no fondness for saint-like characters. The type that could literally do nothing wrong. Even if their actions were directly responsible for someone else’s downfall. Everyone around them would still praise them.
She absolutely despised those types of characters. They were so alien and unrealistic. They chafed at her very being.
To witness firsthand just how Amelia warped those around her was unnerving.
The power of the heroine was nothing to joke about. It wouldn’t be long before she would have all of the captured targets wrapped around her fingers and fighting over who gets to have her in the happily ever after.
The once uptight and rigid crown prince Rodale who took his role much too seriously had been willing to throw all of that away for a girl he barely met. From keeping everyone at a strict, professional distance, to letting a young woman he met only days ago call him by his first name.
It was bizarre.
Though not as bizarre as suddenly becoming aware of being a character she once thought was entirely fictional. Livia was still in the middle of processing it all.
She was suddenly fully aware that this was not her first life. That at some point, she died and came to be reborn in a world she thought was only imaginary. Not only that, she realizes quickly that for some unknown reason she had also been unconsciously trying to trigger the event of her own downfall since the moment she met the crown prince during her childhood.
And now she had completely succeeded.