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Sonia let them fuss over her, whispering, "Lois, you've really gone to a lot of trouble this time. I don't even know how to thank you."
"Hmm?" Lois, while meticulously drawing Sonia's eyebrows with a pencil, replied, "Didn't you ask for my help because you knew my family makes battle garments?"
"Ah? I didn't know that."
"Well, you really did a number there, casually asking a roommate to find a battle garment—wait, did you actually just want me to go to 'Blossom' and rent one for you?"
Sonia didn't answer, instead, she looked at Lois with innocent and slightly dry eyes.
Lois sighed, "Turns out I was just being sentimental and busy for nothing..."
"No, you gave me a 120% surprise," Sonia smiled. "I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness."
"Don't flatter yourself," Lois said as she held Sonia's face and dropped eye solution into her eyes. "I just wanted to use you as a billboard to promote our family's battle garments—if you win beautifully tonight, Garlean University might just choose us as their supplier. So, if you want to thank me, you know what to do, right?"
"I know," Sonia said, unaccustomed to the eye drops, she blinked rapidly, letting the solution seep in. "Just watch me tonight—though you might be disappointed because everyone will be looking at me, not your family's battle garment."
"Hmph," Lois chuckled. "We'll see if you can still say that later."
The battle garments they mentioned were a special kind of attire in the world of the Artificers. Since battles between Artificers could easily damage clothes, it was necessary to wear garments that wouldn't tear easily, especially in the spotlight—exposing oneself would be utterly embarrassing, and for many Artificers of noble birth, losing face was akin to suicide.
There had been numerous 'Naked Earls' and 'Bare-Bottomed Marquises' who took their own lives due to the spread of such shameful rumors.
Thus, more protective and stronger battle garments came into existence. Initially, they were just armor for noble Artificers, but with the advancement of alchemical and material sciences, the cumbersome steel armor gradually fell out of favor, replaced by tough fabrics with various resistances.
While these fabrics still couldn't withstand Artificer attacks, they at least wouldn't tear apart, ensuring that any damage was localized and didn't lead to clothes falling off.
However, as times changed, battle garments became more luxurious and dazzling, even a fashion statement among the nobility. Especially in the high school league, it was essentially a fashion show of battle garments with the added factor of 'combat power'—only the victor's garment earned the right to be admired, while the loser's aesthetics were defeated along with them.
Obviously, anything associated with Artificers wasn't cheap, let alone battle garments that were positioned as luxury items. Sonia, a farm woman, certainly couldn't afford them—or rather, it was too extravagant to buy a battle garment for occasional wear.
But Garlean University had a facility called "Blossom" that rented out battle garments. Any student qualified to compete could rent a suitable garment at a low price, and Blossom would even repair it for free if it got damaged.
In truth, Sonia had lied.
She knew Lois's family made battle garments; after all, they had bitten each other deeply before, and Sonia had to know her enemy—had Lois been someone she couldn't afford to provoke, Sonia would have backed down long ago.
But she hadn't expected Lois to rush a family garment to her as emergency gear. Sonia's original intention was just to rely on Lois's good taste to choose a suitable battle garment, as she needed to complete her evening sword training in the afternoon—she had tested it before, if she finished training early, she wouldn't be forced to train at night—she didn't have much time to prepare her own clothes for the evening, so she had to ask Lois for help.
After a full half-hour, Lois finally finished Sonia's makeup, setting it with the 'Sunset' Sorcery Spirit. The senior students helped Sonia into her battle garment, buttoning each button and attaching every accessory.
Everyone stepped back in unison, Lois pulled Sonia to her feet, turned her around to face the only full-length mirror in the dormitory, "Tell me, is it you or my battle garment that's beautiful?"
Seeing the beauty in the mirror, Sonia instinctively held her breath.
She had thought she had already maximized her potential beauty, that she couldn't get any prettier, but Lois made her realize she had set her sights too low—she had never worn expensive clothes, those that truly suited her, so there was still room for improvement!
Many things in this world are inexplicable, but the expensive surely have their reasons.
The battle garment still had the blue and white skirt base of Garlean University, but it was tailored to better accentuate Sonia's slender waist; a double-breasted coat with white edges and red velvet was draped over her shoulders, the vivid colors creating a rich visual impact; gloves, short boots, and skirt edges all had silver accessories, making the outfit highlight Sonia's youthful vivacity and her dignified elegance.
Sonia could only describe herself in such terms—she felt her beauty now rivaled even Daidalos's.
Lois combed Sonia's red hair, then picked up 'Meteor's Tears', and under everyone's pained gazes, sprayed it on Sonia's outer arms, neck, and waist.
"Mission accomplished," Lois said, looking at Sonia in the mirror as if admiring a freshly finished piece of art, shaking her head with emotion, "What a waste, just for a social evening... It would have been more fitting for the finals of the league."
"There will be a chance," Sonia said. "Tonight is my first battle against students from other schools, and my first step to becoming a star."
"To become a star, huh?" Lois said with a hint of irritation. "You should aim to become a sensation in Garlean first."
"I think it's close," Ingurite chimed in. "As long as Sonia wins beautifully tonight, she'll immediately become the top seed player for the league."
"I see," Adair nodded in understanding. "No wonder Sonia asked Lois for a battle garment, she wanted to use it to boost her presence and make a lasting impression on the audience..."
Sonia shook her head gently, looking at her reflection, adjusting the details on her outfit, "I just like wearing beautiful clothes."
"I actually like swordsmanship, too, and many other things. I like singing, acting, winning. And also, I like..."
She paused, "To let the city folk of Garlean watch as a country girl like me lives a life more splendid than legends, shines brighter than the stars, and is happier than anyone else!"
The red-haired Sword Girl turned around, placing a finger to her lips and winking mischievously at the stunned crowd, "Don't tell anyone, okay?"
Yes, Sonia Seway was hopelessly, vulgarly, vainly, a girl.
She needed to feast on the admiration of those who yearned, digest the envy of the incompetent, and relish the attention of the masses to feel truly happy.
She wanted lots of money, the best house, the finest food, the most expensive clothes, and even the most prestigious noble title. Only when she had everything better than others could she feel that life was meaningful.
So, Sonia couldn't miss the opportunity to be the star of the social evening; on the contrary, she had to seize this moment to take the most important step towards her vulgar and vain dreams.
And she knew, most Artificer activities took place at night, like the high school league which was held under the gaze of the stars. So, as long as she continued down this path, she would inevitably miss out on exploring the Virtual Realm.
Was the observer in the Virtual Realm more important, or the opportunities in reality?
This wasn't a multiple-choice question, at least not for Sonia, who would strive to make it one. She indeed hated the idea of the team changing without her knowledge, but she hated her current weak and suspicious self even more!
There was only one right choice from the start.
That was to trust the observer, and...
Trust that even without the observer, she could still bloom with pride!
Sonia Seway would live only for herself!
Neither her mother nor the observer could dictate her life!
Why did she work so hard to leave that small town? Why did she diligently study to earn scholarships? Why did she learn makeup and even spend money on cosmetic adjustments?
She was here to enjoy the best things in the world, and no one could stop her!
"Although there's still time, you should head over early," Lois suggested. "We're not eligible to attend the social, but there should be a live stream. You're wearing my dress now, remember to win beautifully."
"Mhm." Sonia waved to everyone, "See you all tomorrow, I'm off to make Garlean University my stepping stone."
"I've already written your victory announcement, I'll post it on the school forum the moment you win!"
With everyone's blessings, the red-haired Sword Girl briskly walked out the door, only to suddenly rush back to Lois, "Oh, I almost forgot to answer your question."
"What?" Sonia's face suddenly came close, causing Lois to instinctively step back.
"Your pupils are focused on my face," Sonia said proudly, tilting her chin up. "See, even you admit I'm prettier than the dress."
"Of course I'm going to look at your face if you suddenly lean in!"
"Mhm, mhm, you're right," Sonia nodded agreeably, "Hehe, that's what I like about you, Lois, you're quite cute."
"What did you say!" Lois bristled, feeling like the Sonia from a month ago had returned.
Amidst the laughter, Sonia took the sword bag handed to her by Ingurite, glancing at the corner where the observer first appeared.
"Hey, I'm taking the night off."
Sonia was startled, rubbed her eyes, and Lois slapped her hand away, "Don't smudge my makeup!"
"I used the Sunset Sorcery Spirit, it's fine."
She looked again, making sure there was no one in the corner, then huffed and strode out of the dormitory with her head held high.
But after a few steps, she suddenly dashed back, and everyone looked at her curiously, "What's wrong? Did you forget something?"
"No..." Sonia's gaze swept every corner of the room, her face showing confusion, and this time she truly left.
Listening to Sonia's footsteps fade away, the observer lying on the bed yawned, "This is an unexpected accident, do you think we need to intervene?"
"But it's a logical development," the Sword Girl sitting on another bed said as she sat up. "Let them handle it themselves, we'll just take care of her leave. Besides, we can't intervene, Sonia has made up her mind, unless Asho appears in the Star Realm right now, no one can shake her rational choice."
"Not to mention, I'm actually pleased with Sonia's decision, after all, it means Sonia and I still share the same attitude towards love."
"Not to fall in love."
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