Prologue: Part 1
“What is this!? This hair and those eyes… How repugnant!”
The first words of that new mother were full of scorn, her face twisting as if she had just seen a hideous monster.
From a Hero who wields a saintly sword to the dragon who rules an entire continent by fear, from the unparalleled geniuses who built up an entire nation’s economy with a shrewd invention to vampires who ruled the streets at night, many myths and legends have shaped this world. But to the aristocracy of the empire, nothing is more ominous than the legend surrounding the White-Haired Demon.
Three centuries prior, a revolution against the excesses and cruelty of the noble classes spread across the land, at one point holding two-thirds of the country under its sway. Its leader wore a frightening visage; hair as white as snow and eyes of differing colour.
This Hero of the common folk forced the nobility to come to terms in a harsh peace. This White-Haired Demon forced the aristocrats to give up many of their ancient rights and privileges.
Although the aristocracy may have survived the revolt, they never forget the humiliation of defeat. To this day, anyone with white hair or heterochromia was treated like a viper in the crib, no matter what their true ability or personality may be.
It was into one of the largest noble families in the Empire, the House of Earlgrey, a child was born. With red and blue eyes and white hair, her name was Shirley Earlgrey. To possess not one but both of those hated features made Shirley a cursed child from the beginning, treated like a snake despite her status as a high ranking noblewoman.
Even nobles well below her station mocked and ridiculed Shirley. A long time ago, the aristocracy would simply abandon any child who was sickly, ugly or simply did not strike their fancy. However, since the revolution, nobles were now beholden to the same laws as the commons.
But for Shirley, perhaps being cut off from the nobility would have been a blessing in disguise.
She was never called by name, only ever called a White-Haired Demon or Monster. Afforded none of the privileges of other noble girls, she was dressed in rags and was always given scraps to eat, far away from the family’s dining room. If she committed a mistake, she would be beaten mercilessly. If she caught the eye of someone in a bad mood, she would be scorned or kicked at. Members of families that were supposed to be vassals to Shirley’s treated her as if she were an animal, and the family servants never interfered in this treatment.
Even though she grew up in such conditions, every day she somehow only became more beautiful, as if it were inversely proportioned to the cruel treatment she received.
Her white hair bore the radiance of fresh snowfall, and those red and blue eyes gleamed as if they were precious gemstones. Perhaps because of the depressing future she inevitably faced, her beauty was like a transient moon, something fantastical that seemed like it could shatter at the slightest touch.
It was Alice poured insults on her appearance the most, but in reality, she burned with jealousy for how beautiful her older sister Shirley was growing up to be. Although also fairly pretty herself, her beauty paled in comparison to Shirley’s. Despite being born from the same parents, Alice was the one who took the opportunities to torment her.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry ‘Onee-sama’. I seem to have dropped your meal.”
Day after day, Alice’s violence and cruelty towards her only sister only became ever bolder as Shirley grew ever more comely. She would constantly commit petty acts like forcing Shirley to eat off the floor after ‘accidentally’ dropping her meal, or attacking her with a wooden sword under the excuse of ‘practicing swordsmanship’. Such things that went far beyond mere pranks.
It was the definition of malice, to constantly inflict such cruelty on someone who had done no wrong and had no means of defense. This only intensified as there was no one to remonstrate with Alice.
The youngest daughter who received all the love her family could give, and the cursed child that was the object of all enmity. Even if it was cruel, those strange eyes and white hair were treated as a testimony of guilt, and whatever Alice decided to do was indulged.
Shirley was already tired of life at the tender age of eleven.
One day, as Shirley cradled her knees quietly in the corner of the gardens hoping to simply disappear, she heard the voice of an unfamiliar boy overhead.
“Hey, you, what are you doing in such a place?”
The Crown Prince, Albert Ragdoll. That was this boy’s name and station.
Also eleven years old like Shirley, at the time he was visiting the Duke alongside his father the Emperor, and as he was exploring the mansion he spotted her completely by chance.
The boy was immediately taken in by her stunning beauty the moment she lifted her head to look at him. And upon learning the true reasons behind her bedraggled appearance, the ostracization inflicted upon her by her own family for her hair and eyes, he took Shirley’s hand and rushed to the Emperor.
“Father! I have decided to take Shirley as my fiancée!”
It was thus, on the momentum of love at first sight, that the engagement was unexpectedly accepted. Those features that were hated by the aristocracy, the Emperor viewed them favorably. Before the Revolution, the Emperor was merely a puppet in the hands of oligarchic nobles. When that Hero with white hair took the country, he restored the Emperor to true power.
Although her lack of noble etiquette and education would be a problem at her age, Shirley was willing to practice to the point of bleeding in order to master such things for the first person to ever show her love and kindness since the day she was born.
For eight whole years… she was happy.
As the fiancée to the Crown Prince, she was well out of reach of the tormenting hands of her family and especially her sister, and Shirley grew up to be a lady of both intelligence and almost unreal beauty.
She also understood ‘pain’ better than anyone in the royal family, as she had gone through such ‘pain’ her whole life before coming to the capital. Her philanthropic nature and reputation of being kind to commoners and castle servants made her incredibly popular, and she became trusted by both the Emperor and Empress implicitly. Her relationship with Albert also stayed strong, and when they consummated the night before the marriage ceremony, she felt happier than she ever had been.
However, this Cinderella story was about to be torn apart under the cruel auspices of malice.
After eight long years, Alice’s envy had become similar to a maddening obsession.
Such a beautiful older sister, she couldn’t acknowledge its existence.
That older sister who had always secretly looked down on her, and now she was to be a member of the royal family?
And worst of all, she was an older sister full of vile and low cunning, who stole Albert away from her, even though she had loved him first.
“I hereby annul my engagement to Shirley Earlgrey, and announce my new engagement to her sister, Alice Earlgrey!”
Due to various circumstances, Alberto and Shirley had spent less and less time together as the years went on. Although Shirley didn’t feel any anxiety about not being constantly at Albert’s side, as they were already formally engaged and she considered their relationship to be good, Alice’s plot had already taken root.
“On that day eight years ago, you cried crocodile tears and acted your best to fool me! And not only have you been utterly unfaithful to me with untold numbers of men, but you are also a disgraceful woman who has been tormenting Alice since the day of her birth and then accusing her falsely of doing such things to you!”
As she was restrained on the ground Alberto’s knight and close confidant, she simply couldn’t understand what Albert was saying. As she looked up at him, she saw Alice tightly hugging one of his arms.
“I… I don’t understand, Albert-sama…? These things you say, I have no memory of eve-”
“Don’t call me by my name! Truly, every time I think of the love I thought we shared, it leaves me feeling sick!”
The most beloved man in her world spat such words at her from the bottom of his heart.
“If you’re so insistent on feigning innocence, then so be it! I will tell you your crimes in detail!”
Guilty of tormenting Alice from a young age.
Guilty of adultery with an uncountable number of men.
Guilty of leaking state secrets to a neighbouring power.
Guilty of corruption and embezzlement of the national budget.
No proof of any accusation, all baseless claims.
“Such a thing… it fills my heart with sorrow, Onee-sama. Even though such unfortunate things happened when we were children, I hoped that one day we could live hand in hand as true sisters.”
Albert feels true compassion for Alice, whose tears streak down her face. It was only when Albert hugged her that Shirley was shown a vicious and ugly face of malicious triumph, that only she caught a glimpse of.
“Despite having such a gentle and noble girl as Alice for a sister…! The likes of you should never be Queen! Alice, more kind-hearted than any, is my one and true destiny!”
Shirley’s fiancée embraced her little sister with passion. Alice looked down on her with a sense of gleeful superiority in those tear-soaked eyes. For all those eight years, Alice’s harboured grudge had finally blossomed into this scene.
Shirley does not understand how this came to be. It wasn’t just Albert that had been snatched away by Alice, she had somehow turned all those trustworthy allies looking on against her as well.
“Besides, these past few years, I’ve been completely unable to stand the sight of you! Despite starting so late, you’ve already developed a sense of swordsmanship, letters, and magic that go far beyond anyone else’s! What kind of man would people think me to be, with such a woman at my side!? It kept me awake at night!”
It was those words that truly tore at Shirley’s heart. All that effort that she made to support her Prince, hoping one day to stand alongside him and serve him when he was Emperor… Tears finally began to drop from those differing jeweled eyes.
“Th-that kind of… There must be some kind of mistake…! Please, see reason and look at the facts again…! I beg of you…! Please… Please believe me…! Alberto-sama…!”
“Silence! I don’t want to hear your poisoned words! Guards! Take this woman to a cell at once!!”
As her protests are swallowed up by the taunts and jeers of the people she considered friends and allies in the hall, she is roughly dragged out by the palace guards. Whatever pleas she made to the men carrying her away fell on deaf ears, and the dazzling dress she wore was swapped for a loose and torn rag worn by prisoners. Shirley was imprisoned.