"Those were his exact words, honored father."
"How dares he talk like that to the Lady!"
"Be silent, Akihira-kun. The Starborn is right. I have not yet been surrounded by yes-men for so long that I believe I am the most powerful person in the world. Anita Starborn is. And after her, her son. As it is, we are their vassals at best. The only hope for our family to gain lasting power is through the Starborn. The young man is right: We are begging for a great favor. We are asking him to share his future equally with us, as he hinted. Do you realize this now, my daughter?"
"We underestimated the young man. We thought he was just a boy and would be flattered by the attention of a beautiful girl. But he is already playing our game, and playing it well. We will have to take a completely different approach from now on. But fear not. This only makes it more interesting. A game of Go is never lost after two stones, no matter where on the board they lie."
"Excellent! Our rival is already disgraced. She moved too fast, not taking the time to learn the local customs."
"Besides, she's a slant-eyed shrimp."
"Don't get too proud, Katharina. Before the winter, a dozen more rivals will appear. They are less resourceful, which is why they have not arrived on the scene yet. But men's tastes are always a bit random. While they are unlikely to choose an ugly and stupid girl, they will not always go for the smartest and most beautiful. We must take care."
"But we are already using them for our own ends, are we not, father? I noticed at school today that two of the locals are already being removed."
"Yes. The principal and the real estate agent are being most appreciative of our private contributions. I gave them your list and encouraged them to start from the top where applicable."
"Two of the Starborn's three best friends already leaving the class. And the one that remains is a farmer. A farmer! Can you imagine?"
"How utterly inappropriate!"
"Disgusting! A boy who works with dirt and unwashed animals!"
"It beggars belief that a man of angelic descent would mingle with such creatures, the lowest of the low in the civilized world. In so far as this backwater village can even be called civilized."
"The farmer is strong and well built. Some of the local girls tell me that they find him attractive, in an animal kind of way."
"Surely you do not imply that a son of angels would follow the path of the men of Sodom!"
"Father! Of course not! I just meant that this lowly creature enjoys some degree of popularity among the locals."
"That makes sense. These cold lands were never part of the Holy Roman Empire, after all. Rather it was the womb from which countless barbarian tribes were spawned. It stands to reason that civilization does not very deep here! I am truly sorry that you have to spend the years of your first bloom in such a wilderness, my dear. But the Cause goes before everything."
"I will do whatever is required of me, father."
"Good! I expected nothing less. And we are ahead. In a game of chess, the right opening move is the key to victory."
Tom has informed his sister of the latest developments, and draws the logical conclusion: "Mark my words, some nefarious plot is being, uhm, plotted."
"That's horrible! Who knows where they will strike next!"
"Well, that would probably be me."
"Well, Jonas and Andrea and I used to hang out with Ben every day at lunch. It can not be a coincidence that they both are leaving class before anyone else."
"That's really horrible! Perhaps they will strike at you through me!"
"OK, that's over the top. Nobody knows that you even exist, and even fewer care."
"There can't be fewer than nobody!"
"Anyway, you're just an underage girl. You are of no interest to Ben, and therefore to his enemies."
"And you are just an ugly farm boy. Why would anyone be interested in you?"
"Pinch me if I know. The teacher just plopped Ben down on the desk next to mine, OK? It all started from there."
"Perhaps the criminal syndicate will kidnap me and hide me in a forest cabin and threaten me with knives while an evil actress impersonates me at school and when you find out and try to rescue me you are captured too but then Ben shows up and beats the bad guys one by one and rescues us both from a fate worse than death!"
"That's the stupidest plot I've ever heard! You got that from one of your books, right?"
knew it! I just knew it! You read why too much of the stuff. I bet
it is one of those tenderloin books, right?"
"Tenderloin books, that's what I call them. You know, 'he stroked her tenderloin' and stuff."
"That's ridiculous! Do you even know what tenderloin means?"
"Well, not really, but that's because I'm not into that kind of thing!"
"That's for sure! It's meat!"
"Well, something like that anyway. I'm sure I have seen it with my own eyes. I bet I would find it somewhere among all those books of yours."
"It's meat I tell you! Food!"
"Well, if anything happens to me, be sure to marry a good farmer who can take over the farm, OK?"
"Tom! Don't talk like that! Besides, it's not like Jonas is dead. He is just rich. It is not the same thing."
"Pretty close, though."
"And Andrea is just over in the other class."
"As long as she doesn't make any trouble, at least."
"You are not going to change classes too, are you?"
"Nope." He answers without even thinking, although he can't say why.
"Good, because it would totally ruin my chance of ever meeting Ben."