Camille stared blankly after Claire's disappearing figure. The door was still creaking on its hinges. Claire had arrived abruptly and left even quicker.
After a while, Camille finally came back to his senses. "Claire, you come right back! Pay for my door!" he yelled after her painfully.
But already far away, Claire could not hear him.
She walked through the streets, gazing up at the clouds, feeling enlightened. All her vexation had disappeared. The fallen knight and the girl had already died and feeling sorry would not bring them back. Claire knew what to do now. She had almost forgotten her original goal: becoming strong. Who cares about the goddess of Light? If she could become strong enough to become a goddess, why couldn't Claire do that too?
Claire let out a long breath, then started making her way to Hill manor.
As soon as she entered, the guards at the entrance saluted her deferentially, then hurried in to announce her arrival.
Claire's status was now different from before; she was now also a Reverend of the Temple of Light!
The moment Claire entered the hall, Katherine and Lashia greeted her.
"Claire!" Katherine beamed with a smile as she hurried over and clasped Claire's hand.
"Elder sis! You're finally back!" Lashia ran over excitedly, playfully grabbing Claire's arm.
"Hello, Mother, Lashia." Claire smiled, her heart warm.
"Elder sister, you're so not fair! You did so many cool things behind our backs!" Lashia tugged on her arm.
"What?" Claire looked at Lashia with confusion. Suddenly, she noticed that Katherine's hand was trembling slightly.
"Still pretending!" Lashia's words tumbled out as she said in a rush, "You fought for the Li clan at Lagark and defeated that Hua-something-something brilliantly! Making you famous! Grandfather knew about it a while back. Even the emperor is aware." Then she said regretfully, "What a shame, I wasn't there to see it."
Claire finally understood what Lashia was talking about. She smiled faintly.
"It was nothing. I decided to fight on their behalf when I became aware of Mother's relationship with them. In the end, it was only because the Feng and Shui clans forfeited that I was able to win."
Katherine's grip tightened.
"Claire, I, I.... Thank you." Katherine was so moved that although she did not know what to say, her heart was unusually warm. From the corner of her eye, something glimmered.
"Mother, there's no need to say thank you. They are your family, so they are my family." Claire also gripped Katherine's hand tightly in response. Katherine was choked with emotions, sobbing, but smiling.
Claire's father, Roger, had been standing next to the door at the side quietly the entire time, looking on. Katherine had made such a large sacrifice for him, and he had always felt guilt, but was unable to do anything for her. However, what he had always wanted to do had been fulfilled by Claire. As he watched the merry three, Roger's emotions were extremely ambivalent.
"Elder sister, Grandfather has still not returned yet. If he knew you were back, he would be so happy. Oh right, Second Brother will be back too today, yay! Tonight, we can all eat together!" Lashia said happily.
Second Brother? Claire paused. Only then did she remember that she seemed to have a second brother who was the captain of the Griffin Squad. She had seen him once at the student exchange competition and once at her birthday. She barely had any memories of him. The only impression she had of him was the cold and despising gaze he always gave her.
"Oh right, Mother, how are you home today?" Claire recalled that her mother was already the head lady in waiting of Princess Maurice.
"She heard you was coming back, so Mother specially asked for the day off!" Lashia tilted her head and said playfully. "After Jean returned and reported, Father sent servants to inform Mother and Grandfather."
"Oh," Claire responded indifferently at the mention of her father.
"Oh, also, Lashia, where is little leopard? And Jean?" Claire asked.
"In the rear courtyard. Elder sister, let's go and see your little leopard. I raised him well. That little fellow sure can eat! Every day he eats loads of fresh meat." Lashia pulled Claire by the arm impatiently, then winked playfully at Katherine. "Mother, elder sis and I will be in the rear courtyard. Call us when second brother is home."
Katherine nodded lovingly, her eyes full of warmth. Seeing the two previously antagonistic sisters now so harmonious, of course she would feel this way.
Lashia pulled Claire to the door, facing Roger who was full of conflicted emotions.
"Father," Lashia greeted him, smiling.
But Claire was completely cold, passing by Roger without even a single glance as she walked to the rear courtyard.
Lashia revealed a somewhat embarrassed expression as she hurried after Claire.
Roger slowly turned around, watching Claire as she left. After some time, he sighed. Who would have thought the most disappointing child would suddenly become the most brilliant of the family.
"Roger..." Katherine's voice came softly from behind Roger.
"Katherine, I understand. I have no right to complain of Claire's attitude towards me. It was completely my fault." Roger turned to his wife, smiling bitterly.
Katherine sighed gently. "Claire is still young. Be patient, she will treat you differently in the end. After all, you had not cared for her nearly enough."
"Yes, I owe her too much..." Roger let out a long sigh. He reached out and pulled Katherine into his embrace. "And I owe you even more. I have made these years unhappy for you, and I have not seen you smile like this for so many years. It is Claire who allows you to smile like this."
"I too did not expect Claire to go to Lagark and revive the Li clan." A brilliant smile emerged on Katherine's lips.
Roger let out a long sigh, his expression complex.
Claire was not a foolish male-chaser anymore, but a dazzling star.
This was not expected by anyone, including him, her father.
When Katherine sent servants to bring Claire to the hall, Claire did not expect what she would see next to be so complicated.
Duke Gordan had returned along with the second prince and princess Maurice. However, her "second brother", Eric, and the crown prince, Euler, had come together!
The atmosphere in the hall was exceptionally strange...
"Greetings, your highnesses." Claire and Lashia curtsied.
"No need," the three said at the same time.
"Greetings, Grandfather, second brother," Lashia happily called to Duke Gordan and Eric.
"Grandfather, I've returned," Claire said to Duke Gordan quietly.
"Haha," Duke Gordan laughed. "Good. Let's sit." He directed them towards some nearby seats.
Claire did not give so much as a glance to Eric. This "second brother" of her had left no impressions in her memory other than his continuously disdainful looks and haughtiness.
"Claire, when the his highness, the second prince, and her highness learned you had returned, they insisted on coming to visit, haha," Duke Gordan laughed. "They treat you so well." His mood was visibly good. "Also, my child, you made such great achievements in Lagark but didn't tell me! It was such a large surprise."
Claire gave a slight nod to the second prince and princess. "It is my pleasure, your highnesses." The second prince and princess visiting her was reasonable, but why was the crown prince here too?
Eric observed this younger sister of his, frowning slightly. It was try she had grown much stronger, but this entire time, she had never given him so much as a glance, as if he were a complete stranger. The crown prince, on the other hand, maintained a smile as he listened without a word.
"Claire, it's been some time since we last saw each other and you have grown strong again." Nancy smiled at Claire.
"You flatter me, your highness. However, Master Cliff has broken through to the sorcerer stage," Claire announced. She did not want the attention to be focused on her.
Low exclamations reverberated throughout the hall, astonished.
"Why have we not heard of this?" Roger asked, frowning.
"Master's breakthrough has not been made public yet. He went to the Temple to find sir Lawrence the moment her returned." Claire had not even looked at Roger, her gaze focused on Duke Gordan instead. Roger's eyes flashed with slight embarrassment. Seeing this exchange, Eric's frown deepened.
"Really? If this is true, then this is worthy of celebration! The empire's first sorcerer! I must report to his majesty as soon as possible." Duke Gordan was now not just happy, but delighted. A sorcerer, the only sorcerer in the entire continent, was his granddaughter's master! How could he not be excited?
The grand hall soon became lively, the strange atmosphere from before gone. Everybody was discussing this topic. Lashia latched onto Claire's arm, asking this and that. Claire smiled, patiently relaying the events that had occurred, but of course, she hid a few things, such as the young master and the treasure.
Naturally, Duke Gordon invited everyone to stay for a meal.
The princes and princess praised the sumptuous meal, lavish with wine and delicacies.
After lunch, no one had the intention of leaving, so Duke Gordan invited everyone to the greenhouse to enjoy the flowers and drink tea. Claire left using the excuse of checking on her mount. She leaned on a pillar in the rear courtyard, watching on as Duke Gordan led everyone in, sighing. What was the current status of the power struggle between the "crown" prince and second prince? Grandfather had secretly sent Jean to assist the second prince. However, wasn't her second brother, Eric, too close to the crown prince? Was it okay that the clan was split?