Chastel and her knights had retreated. The three were unable to fight, so he had repaired the bounded fields against intruders, and thrown them out. Chastel could deal with the rest.
“I’m sorry. I got someone unrelated involved with this.”
The girl had finally said that apologetically.
They then returned to the castle, and Nephie treated Zagan’s injuries. Zagan questioned the girl as she skillfully wound bandages around them, perhaps she was used to doing so?
“Nephie, I thought you couldn’t use magic?”
Nephie gave a shudder.
“It’s… not magic.”
“Then what is it?”
Nephie’s face darkened severely. Her expression didn’t change particularly much, but her pointed ears drooped right to their tips. Zagan shrugged.
“Well, whatever. It doesn’t have anything to do with me what kind of power you may or may not have.”
Of course, he didn’t know if it was magic or what, but there was a maelstrom of thoughts whirling around his head, like if she had that power, why didn’t she resist when she was captured, why couldn’t she break the collar herself, hadn’t she thought of running away from him? But it wouldn’t change the fact that she was herself.
…Or that’s what he wanted to tell her.
Damn it! That sounded just like I was saying I didn’t care about her, didn’t it!?
“You’re Nephie. No one else. Whatever power you have.”
I managed to say it!
He had an impression that it was still in an oddly hard to understand way, but even so, Nephie opened her eyes wide in surprise.
Her drooping ears began to shiver. It seemed that he’d managed to ease her feelings… but it was questionable whether he had managed to convey what he wanted to.
While they were talking like that, she finished bandaging him. It hurt, but not so much as to immobilise him. There should be no obstacle to his daily life like this, and he should be able to stand fighting to a certain extent too.
Once the holy sword’s power — though he didn’t know if it was appropriate to call it that — had faded, they would be wounds that could be treated quickly, but Nephie’s first aid was perfect.
“Hmm. Not bad. Well done.”
“…No, it’s because… it was my fault.”
He’d thought he had managed to properly thank her this time, but she hung her head in shame.
Zagan really wanted someone to tell him some appropriate words for this kind of situation. He felt it so seriously that he wondered about plucking Barbarus’ tongue and transplanting it in place of his own. He worried so much that his brain was boiling, and wrung these words out.
“Ahh… Were you… scared?”
“You’re… asking me that?”
She looked at him in further disbelief. He was groaning, thinking that he’d mistaken something again, when Nephie hesitantly opened her mouth.
“Master… don’t you find me… ghastly?”
Recently, she’d been growing closer and closer to having something like an expression, and becoming even more fascinating. What was ghastly about that?
He shook his head seriously and Nephie repeatedly looked up at him and dropped her head again. Even so, she mustered her courage and murmured.
“Why…? Because… that was my power.”
“Yeah, it’s a type of power I’ve never seen. I’m interested in it.”
Perhaps that was why the Demon Lord Marchosias had wanted her. As he showed his agreement like that, Nephie spoke confusedly.
“Is that… it?”
“Hm? I’ve already said I won’t put you on the lab table, haven’t I?”
“I… know that… but that’s not what I…”
It seemed she’d finally believed him about that. He was honestly happy about that, but Nephie’s discomfort seemed to grow all the deeper. Finally seeming to accept she had to settle it.
“That power isn’t magic, it seems to be called ‘sorcery’.”
It was knowledge that Zagan had heard about. They weren’t techniques like magic that caused phenomena through the accumulation of logic and definitions, it interfered in all things through mere wishes, and it was said, that depending on the situation, it could even revive the dead.
Truly, miracles from gods that surpassed human knowledge.
Zagan had never thought that the day would come where he would witness it firsthand, and his eyes widened into circles.
“It actually exists? Can all elves use that power?”
However, Nephie shook her head.
“No. It is because… I am a cursed child.” That was the name that she had hesitated to give herself when they first met. Zagan waited motionlessly for her next words. “I have this power. But it seems this power is something you should not have. White-haired elves that have this power shouldn’t have been born, so…”
There was not a hint of emotion in her deep blue eyes. No hint of tears. They were the eyes of someone that had been told they were not a person, not allowed to have even free will.
You’ve been through a lot, huh…?
Zagan didn’t know what kind of words to say at a time like this. Nephie continued speaking, like an expressionless doll.
“Our village was attacked by humans… and I was ordered to use that power to protect the village, but…” She gulped, and confessed, even as she went completely pale. “They said it was to return the favour for allowing me to live until then, and I felt something snap.” With a shaking voice, she continued. “I didn’t resist at all, and was captured by the humans. That… was my revenge on the villagers.”
He thought that was natural, who would protect those that had persecuted them? In fact, why had the ones that ordered her thought she would protect them? They were so naive that he pitied them.
“Everyone ran frantically. There weren’t many that were caught like me, everyone was cut with swords, and burned with magic, I don’t think there were any that escaped. Apparently, even elves’ corpses are useful.” Nephie’s mouth curved into a smile.
“I saw that, and I thought ‘serves you right’.”
Her voice shook. “It’s awful, isn’t it? I saw everyone curse me and die, and I smiled from my heart. Laughed that it was their turn to suffer.” When she got that far, it was like a thread had snapped, and her face returned to a blank mask. “Afterwards, I noticed what I had done. I realised I was someone that had watched someone die and smiled calmly.”
Zagan let out a sigh of understanding.
So… is that why she never has an expression…?
She came to hate herself for smiling there, and came to deny even her own emotions.
He thought that alone was proof of her inherent goodness.
Having laid everything bare, Nephie sank to the floor in despondency.
“I’m sorry… you… hate me now, right?”
Nephie seemed like she didn’t believe her ears at Zagan’s utterly confused question.
“E-eh? No, but I…”
“That much is normal, right? I would have massacred the villagers. Of course, I’d have done the same to the invading humans. I think you’re truly compassionate, not doing that.”
It was probably perfectly likely for Zagan to do so. No, he’d actually do it. He’d even kill cute girls like Chastel if he had to. It would have been hard for him to find a reason to allow those that had made him suffer live. He’d have gladly killed them all.
And if they had hurt Nephie, he’d have thrown in the torture for free. Nephie seemed even more troubled.
“Is that… the case?”
“Yeah. You speaking so sharply to those knights earlier would have been much worse, right? If you can do that much, then while I don’t know how much power elves have, defeating someone after your head should be easy.” So saying, Zagan pointed a finger at Nephie. “But, Nephie, you seem to be working under a misunderstanding.”
“That’s right. It looks like you think of your ‘sorcery’ as a bad thing, but power is neither good nor evil. Are there idiots who assign good and evil to blades? It’s just the people that take them up and wield them like that.”
Perhaps overwhelmed by the force, Nephie nodded over and over again.
But even so, her ears remained down.
“But… I think what I did… was unforgivable.”
“B-by the villagers…”
“They’re dead, right? Then leave it be. I’m sure they don’t have the willpower to complain after they’re dead.” Nephie’s mouth dropped open. “Listen, Nephie. People can’t just live a lovely life. If you have power, live strongly. To do otherwise is blasphemy to the weak that died.”
Nephie held her chest, as if she was chewing over the words.
“It’s okay… for me to have power?”
“Then I’ll ask you, is it evil to have power? To want strength?”
Zagan spoke kindly, like an affectionate father, to Nephie, who couldn’t answer.
“Incidentally, I have been said to be evil.”
At the far beyond excessive answer, Nephie stiffened.
Zagan answered the surprised girl, seeming to be looking back on nostalgic memories.
“I forget who it was, but someone told me, someone that could do anything alone, that I couldn’t understand their feelings. That the strong could not understand the weak’s feelings.”
He was sure it was an extremely pitiful girl that had been caught in one of Zagan’s traps when running into his territory from bandits. That sight, beautiful in its own way, had been when Zagan had started to gather power as a mage. He had felt lonely, and thought that if he helped her, they might get along. Even so, he’d thought it was virtuous to save her. He had driven off the bandits and saved her from the trap, but these were the words she replied with.
“Are the weak not even allowed to live? Is displaying your power that great?”
He regretted it, thinking he shouldn’t have saved her. Even as he set her free he felt sick.
Now that he thought of it, she could have lashed out in anger, he knew there was nothing to incite her hatred towards him.
Even so, Zagan had plenty of reason to be disappointed in other people. Pity and kindness were only a poison that corrupted people. It was because she had been bathed in that, that the girl had been spoilt.
Saving people held no meaning other than personal satisfaction. The weak being trampled was only natural, they were worthless creatures.
There’s no way I could understand their feelings.
“Of course, because I didn’t want to become like that pathetic lot, I became strong.”
The weak relied on others. Having someone to help was a dream. Someone who had been abandoned even by their parents would just be asking to be taken advantage of. So Zagan relentlessly sought strength.
Well, there’s nothing at the end of that.
Being called superior sounded and felt good, but it was all in vain. Even so, he could believe himself. It was enough for him to simply live on. He snorted at himself.
And, being like that, I’m so caught up when Nephie alone is saddened?
Even he found it amusing. Regardless, even if it meant denying his life until now, he couldn’t help but love the girl before him.
Even as he decried things like love, he was aware that he himself loved someone else from his heart. It was a first for him. This contradiction may one day destroy him, but even so, Zagan wanted to accept those feelings. So he frantically, clumsily, continued to speak.
“So, Nephie, don’t worry about other people.” He touched her pale cheek, doing his best to show the feelings he didn’t know how to word. “So don’t make that face. I said I needed you, didn’t I?”
Her deep blue eyes shuddered, and her thin fingers returned the grip on Zagan’s hand.
“I can… be here?”
“Of course you can. You made such delicious food, I already can’t imagine a life without you.”
Even as he wondered if he should bring up food there, his thoughts were soon far from there.
Tears ran along Nephie’s cheeks.
“U-uu… ue…” Zagan let out her name in confusion, and she pressed herself to his chest. “Uwaaaaaaaahhh.”
And then raised her voice into cries.
Zagan didn’t say a word, just stroked her head until she stopped crying.
Before long, she regained her calm, and bowed her head while she fiddled with her pure-white apron.
“…Um, I showed… such an embarrassing side of me.”
“I don’t mind. It’s the first time I’ve seen you talk so much.”
As he said that in payback for the day, the tips of Nephie’s ears reddened.
“Master, you’re mean.”
And then, her gaze fell to his hand. His hand that was even now stroking her.
“Master, does your hand… hurt?”
“Hm? Ah, it does, now you mention it.”
At some point, he’d stopped feeling the pain. It wasn’t that he had lost the sensation in it, so why?
As he tilted his head, Nephie took that hand.
“Excuse me, master.”
She said, then began unwinding the bandages that she had applied. And then, for some reason, though there were traces of blood, the wound where the spearhead had passed completely through his hand, was nowhere to be seen.
Even Zagan was surprised at that.
“Did you do that, Nephie?”
“I don’t know… But, probably.”
Her lack of confidence was no doubt because she herself had done it unconsciously. In the first place, after being persecuted by her own race, she’d probably never wished to heal another’s wounds.
“That’s a surprise.” It seemed that sorcery surpassed even the mana from a holy sword. “This is amazing.”
“Is that… so…?”
“Yeah, thanks, Nephie.”
He honestly gave his thanks, and Nephie’s eyes widened in shock.
“That’s… the first time you’ve said those words… to me, master.”
At those words, Zagan held his head.
I haven’t even said ‘thanks’ to her until now?
Even though Nephie had been looking after him and preparing his food.
“…Ahh, I’m uh, sorry.”
Zagan said, and her ears shook in apparent happiness.
“It’s because I am yours, master.”
He was sure that any happiness he heard in her voice at that was his imagination.
The feelings of emptiness that had once spread within him, were now nowhere to be found.
Night was a time that had until now been dedicated to research, but had recently been used to sleep. Nephie had a regular lifestyle so had grown used to it as he matched it.
It was just as he put an elbow on his throne and surrendered himself to sleep that there came a knock at the door.
“Nephie, huh? What is it, at this time of night?”
Nephie was normally already asleep by now. Maybe she was thirsty, but this was the first time she had come all the way down to the throne-room from the spire.
She entered, and her white sleepwear let him guess that she had already been to bed once. She looked so lovely that he might lose his mind, carrying a fluffy pillow in both arms.
Still holding that pillow, she timidly opened her mouth.
At her fairly formal manner, Zagan straightened himself.
Finally, Nephie spoke decisively.
“Can we… sleep together?”
It wasn’t just her ears, but her entire face that went red when she said that. Zagan’s face stiffened too.
I’m a man, and Nephie is a woman, so sleeping together means…!
Zagan swallowed his saliva with a gulp. Even he was a man, after all, there were several times when he thought of ravishing the soft skin of such a beautiful girl. However, if he let himself go in the moment and hurt Nephie, he wouldn’t be able to recover. So he had controlled himself.
Then Nephie had come to entrust her body to him!?
Taking into account that he might have heard wrong, or she may have said it wrongly, he calmed himself and asked back.
“Nephie, do you know the meaning behind what you’re saying?”
She was probably nervous too. Then, with tears gathering in her eyes, she spoke.
“It’s because there is only one bed in this castle.”
As he felt like shouting in joy, Zagan tilted his head.
Hm? But isn’t that a weird way of putting it?
Certainly, the only bed in this castle would be in the room Nephie was using. All the others were so worn out and dirty they wouldn’t work as bedding, and Nephie had worked to tidy them all away.
Of course, he had no qualms about bringing their bodies together in her room, but he had a feeling that that might not have been what she was talking about. After thinking it over for several seconds, he understood that it was not a problem he could solve on his own, and asked back, as if he had been outlasted.
Nephie seemed to have noticed she hadn’t said enough as well, and after a short silence of embarrassment, spoke once more.
“You’re always sleeping while sitting, master.”
“I thought… lying down, might be easier on you.”
But even if he lay down, there was only Nephie’s bed.
So it’s… that? Wanting me to be easier on my body?
At Zagan’s still uncomprehending face, Nephie said.
“So, if you would… sleep together…”
Her face was so red it seemed like she might burst into flames. Zagan thought he might have a similar expression.
She’s too pure…
So she wasn’t saying that she wanted to have sex, she was purely saying that she wanted to sleep together. That was a slow death in itself though…
He had been encouraged this much, so was torn between the desire to push her down anyway, and to keep her pure. At the end of his deliberations, the answer he derived was.
“Nephie, I’m grateful for the consideration, but this is the focal point of the bounded fields. Being able to move quickly when there are intruders is convenient.”
It felt like he would cry blood. However, that was the truth.
And the holy knights just came today.
He wouldn’t have normally been so fussy, but he couldn’t let his guard down now. It was easy to let your guard slip after an attack, and there was a distinct possibility that a second squad would aim for that. So he had to stay in this room, to be able to react quickly if something happened. However, Nephie nodded as if she had predicted that answer.
“I thought… that might be the case, so…”
Nephie sat atop the carpet, and spread her arms.
“Please, use my lap.”
A… lap pillow?
He couldn’t have predicted this. And from the fact that she’d even brought a pillow with her, she intended to do so for the whole night. He was so happy he thought he might die.
Nephie waved her arms to Zagan, who couldn’t decide immediately. It was like she was saying that it was embarrassing to say twice, and to hurry up.
There’s no way I could refuse that invitation…!
He wanted to look at her like that for a little longer, but he soon broke down and stood from the throne.
“R-right, then, thank you.”
Haltingly, he lay on the floor, and entrusted his head to Nephie’s lap.
It was carpet, walked on with shoes, but thanks to Nephie cleaning it, it was softer than a blanket. The warmth between her soft thighs, rather than arousal, made him feel strangely at peace. Nephie stared steadily at him.
“How… is it?”
“I-it’s not bad.”
Looking up from beneath, about half of Nephie’s face was hidden behind her surprisingly large chest. He was amazingly lost on where to look.
Nephie stiffly stroked his head. It was embarrassing, but nice, and his gaze wandered all the more.
Attempting to feign calm, Zagan cleared his throat.
“But what brought this up all of a sudden?”
Nephie looked away once, troubled, and then murmured.
“Even though you know about my sorcery… you said I could stay here, master. So, I wanted to thank you…”
It was the first time she had put that into words. Knowing that it had made her that happy, somehow made Zagan happy as well. Still lying down, he reached a hand out to her cheek.
“You’re always doing so well, but I’ve never said it again.”
Nephie nodded shyly.
He remembered something he had forgotten to ask her. He hadn’t been able to because of the holy knights coming.
Zagan said this to the blankly nodding girl.
“Do you want to try learning magic?”
Nephie blinked twice in puzzlement.
“Me… learn magic?”
“Yeah, you’ve got the sense for it. Besides, you couldn’t control the ‘sorcery’ well earlier, could you?”
Sealed by the collar, she couldn’t use magic now. However, she had manifested ‘sorcery’ even with the collar.
If he’d not interfered, Nephie would have torn the knight apart. Treating Zagan’s wounds was the same. If she didn’t learn to use it more consciously, she herself might end up hurt.
“It’s a different power. And you won’t necessarily be able to control the ‘sorcery’ because you learnt magic, but you should be able to protect yourself.”
Even if it would take a little while, Zagan hadn’t given up on removing her collar. Nephie’s eyes shook, as if she couldn’t hide her confusion.
“W-will I be able to…?”
“You will, I’m sure you’ll be an even stronger mage than me.”
Elves were ordinarily strong in magic. And with Nephie’s sense, she might even make it to the throne of a Demon Lord.
Nephie held her chest tightly.
“Will I be able to be helpful to you, master?”
“You’ve already been plenty of help.”
Not just looking after his general needs. Just in showing more and more of her emotions, being able to talk to her every day. He truly felt that she had given him something irreplaceable.
“Will I be able to be like you, master?”
“Ahh… with power? I’d like you to be even stronger if you can.”
He wanted to teach her magic, but he didn’t want her to become a villain like him. He wanted to see lots more of her expressions, but Zagan wanted Nephie to stay as she was.
“Will I be able… to protect you too, master?”
“You already have, from the holy knights, right?”
He felt a little pathetic, being protected by a girl, but he was honestly glad for those feelings.
Nephie’s ears vibrated.
“I’ll do it. For you, master, I’ll try to learn magic.”
I’d have liked for you to say it was for yourself, but…
Even so, it was another step closer to a desire for something for her. So Zagan smiled in praise.
“Then, Nephie, you’re now my student.”
Her expression now looked happy.
My student, huh…
He hadn’t actually thought of it until he had said it. That he would be sharing his knowledge and power. But even so, he thought he’d give it to Nephie with no strings attached.
They both remained silent for a while. And then, Nephie suddenly spoke up in a comforting tone of voice.
“About this evening…” That would probably be when she cared for him after driving the knights off. “You said that you were a person that could do anything alone, and you didn’t understand weak people’s feelings.”
“Yeah, I did.”
That was one of the things he’d talked about with Nephie, after she had open-heartedly shared her secrets with him. It was a boring memory, but he’d needed to tell her to not worry about other people’s thoughts and words. Nephie lovingly stroked his head.
“You said it like it was nothing, but it was really hard, wasn’t it?”
Zagan’s eyes opened wide.
“Why… do you think so?”
Nephie’s snow-white hair swayed as she shook her head.
“I don’t know, but…” she clutched at her chest as if it was her own pain, “you looked… very sad then, master.”
Nephie curled up, as though to hug Zagan. The soft swell lay on his face, and he went red.
Without paying mind to his agitation, Nephie said this.
“You aren’t evil, master. You may not say a lot, but I will never forget your kindness.”
Even unconsciously, he felt like those words may make him cry. With a shaking voice, he could only return with.
But even so, Nephie’s ears trembled in happiness.
He could feel her heartbeat from where her chest rested on him. Whether she was nervous or ashamed, or feeling something else entirely, it was a fast beat. He felt as if all of the stress up until now had been released, and he slumped.
He’d called out to her, but couldn’t think of a single thing to say. He just wanted to call her name.
“This kind of thing… isn’t bad at all.”
Nephie nodded like always. He was sure that if he asked for her body, she wouldn’t refuse him. But her lap was too comfortable, and before he knew it, Zagan had fallen asleep.
It had been a long time since he had slept and felt this at ease.
“Oi, oi, oi, oi. I heard you were attacked by holy knights, but you’re not hurt at all?”
It was the next day, in the throne-room. It was Barbarus that would say that, while destroying someone’s bounded fields and invading.
It had been about a week, but he was always like this. Zagan waved a hand in irritation. Honestly, he was never there when he wanted help the most, and him turning up now was just him getting in the way.
“Who cares, maybe it’s ‘cause they were just weak?”
“‘Weak’, I heard they even sent a holy sword wielder?”
“A holy sword? Ah yeah, there was one of those.”
That was Chastel, honestly, with Nephie’s ‘sorcery’ afterwards had completely thrown that from his memories. And though she was a holy knight, she didn’t seem to be hostile. If she’d wielded the holy sword seriously, she would have probably been able to fight on equal footing with Zagan. So he hadn’t really acknowledged her as an enemy.
“Huh, even the Maiden of The Holy Sword isn’t a match for you!?”
“Nah, she was strong in her own way, you know? She broke a lot of the fields on the castle.”
Zagan still hadn’t finished restoring them, so he’d rather fix them than talk to this man.
As they were talking about this, Nephie arrived carrying a tray of tea and snacks. She placed the tray, prepared at some point, on the table, and gave a courteous bow.
“Please, add milk and sugar to your liking.”
Seeing Nephie say that and stand behind Zagan, Barbarus’ mouth dropped open.
“O-oi, that’s the elf from before, isn’t it? It is, right?”
“Yeah, this is the same girl as before.”
“You still haven’t sacrificed her? Or is it that? In exchange for sparing her life, she’s to serve you? Nice, that’s a good pastime.”
Nephie clung to Zagan’s sleeve in fear at Barbarus’ unbelievable fantasies.
“Don’t lump me together with you. Nephie is, you know… my uh, student.”
Barbarus’ face twitched, and then cried out as if being faced with an unreasonable reality.
“Huuuh? Your student? You said student, right? So by student, you mean? That you’ll teach her your magic? You did?”
“Got a problem with that?”
Zagan pushed back his partner in crime with distaste, as he’d approached so close that his spit flecked onto Zagan’s face. However, it was hard to say that he’d fallen for her and bought her. So after worrying for a while, he gave that as an excuse.
“There’s magic you can’t use alone. I’m sure Nephie will be useful.”
It was again speaking of her like a tool, but it was the best he could do to praise her.
Even with magic, there are things you can’t get alone.
He thought what Nephie had given him was one of those things. She was probably used to his roundabout manner, and gave a refined curtsy.
“I give my thanks.”
Barbarus slapped a hand to his forehead in apparent bewilderment.
“Damn, I see… Together with an elf, there’s not much magic you can’t use. I hadn’t thought of using her like that.” At Nephie being spoken of like a tool, Zagan knew his face had grown harsh. It was similar to what he had said, but allowing other people to say that was another matter. Barbarus made a sudden expression of understanding. “Could it be, that was the power that defeated those holy knights?”
“Well, it was certainly Nephie’s power.”
Nephie had certainly defeated one of the holy knights, it probably wasn’t inaccurate to say he had borrowed her power.
Barbarus muttered with a thoughtful expression.
“Then, that’s what that destruction by the entrance is?” That’s right, he hadn’t fixed the remnants of Nephie controlling the forest. By his expression, Barbarus had seen those traces. It was certainly destruction of a different quality than magic. Taking Zagan’s expression as an affirmative, Barbarus let out a groan. “Are you seriously aiming for the Demon Lord’s throne?”
Hearing that phrase, Zagan remembered. Both he, and Barbarus had been chosen as candidates to be Demon Lords. His head was honestly occupied with Nephie, so he hadn’t remembered that for the past few days. Because, Zagan was aiming for something other than a position.
Even without the throne of a Demon Lord, if only I could get ‘that’.
It wasn’t that he had been so focused on Nephie that he had lost his interest in the Demon Lords. If anything, Zagan was the mage that most adhered to the Demon Lords. To put it correctly, he needed a ‘certain thing’ that Demon Lords had. Even so, he thought.
If I was a Demon Lord, would mages that would lay their hands on Nephie disappear?
Nephie had become his student, if Zagan were to become a Demon Lord, she would be a Demon Lord’s student, and not only that, she would become much closer to being the next Demon Lord. No matter how confident a mage was in their abilities, there weren’t any idiots that would pick a fight with someone like this. So, Zagan gave a ferocious smile in return.
“Is there a reason not to?”
Honestly, he didn’t think he would be chosen at his level. It wasn’t humility or self-abasement, it was that it would be hard for an eighteen-year-old to defeat other mages that lived for hundreds of years. Zagan had only started along the path of mages a mere decade ago, other mages had spent centuries on that path. With the accumulation of knowledge and experience over time, there was no way to win, no matter how much he struggled.
Even so, if I lived, I could aim to be the next Demon Lord.
The passing of the mantle didn’t happen much for Demon Lords, but if he lived for centuries, he was sure the next would come.
Zagan took a cup of tea in his hand, he savoured the refreshing scent, and then brought it to his mouth. He didn’t know the brand, but it had an elegant flavour, and went well with the snacks.
“Hmm, a good flavour.”
“I am delighted to hear so, master.”
Barbarus watched that exchange in surprise.
“Zagan, I hesitate to think it, but have you got feelings for her?”
“It’s nothing strange to treasure your student, is it?”
Saying that, he thought that the word student was convenient. His worries about how to disguise his falling for her had been solved with a single word. Barbarus raised his voice in laughter.
“Kaka, I see, so that’s how it is… So you’ve still got a human-like side to you.”
“Bugger off.” Barbarus downed his tea in a single gulp and stood. “What, already leaving?”
“Yeah, ‘cause I ain’t leaving the Demon Lord’s throne to you. And there’s been an unforeseen harvest.”
Ignoring Zagan’s questioning look, Barbarus really left.
“What’d he come here for…?”
He let out a disgusting sigh, as Nephie asked questioningly.
“Is he not your friend?”
“Don’t mess with me, friends just bring disadvantages unless you choose them well.”
“But, master, you looked like you were enjoying yourself.”
He didn’t want to admit it, but Nephie nodded with surety.
Speaking with that guy is ‘fun’?
He thought it was trivial, that Nephie was mistaken. And yet, for some reason, there was a part of him that couldn’t deny it. Just because Zagan himself might have been unaware of it, it wasn’t like that made him unfortunate by any means.
Washing down the feelings he didn’t want to accept with tea, Zagan stood from his throne.
“Well then, let’s start fixing the bounded fields the holy knights destroyed. You can come too, Nephie. We’ll be starting from the basics of the magic circles.”
If he called, he was answered. Time spent with another, was surprisingly sweet.
It had been half a month since Zagan had bought Nephie. She had diligently studied the basics of magic, and if the collar had been removed, she had come to a point where she could use a fair amount.
On the ‘sorcery’ front, it was still hard for her to control. And it seemed like it was not an omnipotent power, it had a lot of restrictions. The road for her to improve that still seemed to be long.
Even so, their life together seemed fulfilling, and at that point, Zagan received a summons from the Demon Lords.
Now then, what on Earth do they want with me?
And at the appointed place, twelve silhouettes awaited him. They had all hidden their faces, and taken positions in shadow around him, so he couldn’t confirm their faces. However, there probably wasn’t any meaning in concealing themselves like that. The difference in the order of magnitude of mana he could feel from them showed their identities itself.
He knew that there was sweat on his forehead. Their gaze alone gave an intimidating air that penetrated right to his bones. The atmosphere itself seemed to have thickened into a slurry from the clinging menace. Simply standing there made his stomach churn. Were they really the same living things as him?
It wasn’t the unrest of a frog being stared at by a snake, it was the feeling of a frog already in the snake’s stomach.
The twelve current Demon Lords were gathered in this place.
They were the pinnacle of mages. Would a mage become one of their number, or would they wither and decay without reaching that pinnacle, there were no other destinations for mages.
Finally, one solemnly opened their mouth.
“So thou art Zagan.” And from there, a woman’s voice resounded.
“I hadst heard of his youth, yet he is practically a child.”
Another voice continued.
“Intriguing, the record for the youngest.”
The Demon Lords gazed at Zagan and raised their voices in amusement. It didn’t feel good, being made a show of. They were people to respect, but Zagan had no time to go along with the pastimes of the elderly.
If I don’t hurry home, I won’t make it back for Nephie’s dinner.
And while he was here, Nephie was waiting alone. Though the bounded fields had been repaired, a holy knight with a holy sword class weapon or a mage of the same calibre as Barbarus. On top of Nephie’s sorcery being unstable, he couldn’t afford to leave the castle for long.
So Zagan brusquely declared.
“Did you summon me here to observe a specimen? If you’re satisfied, I’d quite like to return home.”
While it was a complaint that might have his superiors kill him, the Demon Lords, in fact, murmured with pleasure.
“Fufu, how boorish of us.”
“It is simply the first time we have met a mage such as ye. Allow us our triflings of curiosity.”
“And my, how bold, to speak to us so sharply in this place.”
They all laughed in unison, and finally, a silhouette that seemed to be a leader.
“I shalt speak frankly.”
It was an old, cunning voice, and simply hearing it made Zagan think he had been seized. Resisting his cold sweat, Zagan gazed at the silhouette from the front. And then, it proclaimed this.
“Mage Zagan. We have called ye to accept ye as the thirteenth of our group of sworn friends — as a Demon Lord.”
Zagan stiffened at those all-too-sudden words.
Did I hear wrong? To make me a Demon Lord?
Before rejoicing, he first doubted, thinking he may be being deceived. Before he opened his mouth, a huge crest, made of light, rose from behind the Demon Lords. No, it wasn’t light. It was mana. The crest was spun of mana, of an unusually high density and amount. Simply witnessing it made his knees feel weak, it was a mass of overwhelming power. And, he could feel that same power from the twelve here. The lead silhouette spoke.
“It is the Carved Seal of the Demon Lord entrusted to Marchosias. To inherit the title of Demon Lord, is the process of inheriting this crest.”
He let out a gulp.
Being a Demon Lord isn’t just a title?
Inheriting the crest — this power, that would mean that Mages had no way to stand against Demon Lord. The reason mages must obey the Demon Lords was not just a matter of their relationship as superior and subordinate.
Showing him this was, at any rate, something that showed it was no joke they would make him a Demon Lord. Noticing this, his throat went bone dry. Hoarsely, Zagan asked in return.
“You will make me, a Demon Lord?”
“Dost ye disagree?”
“That’s not what I’m saying, I am just baffled. There are mages with more power than I, aren’t there?”
Even Barbarus would be one of them. Mages at the auction he had bought Nephie at had lived longer than him, they should have accumulated vast knowledge and power. And in the first place, Zagan didn’t even have a title.
“A natural question, Zagan. Thy power indeed is weak.”
“Enough so that we may extinguish it with but a breath.”
However, the silhouettes continued.
“Regardless, there is not a mage that may kill ye.”
He mentally clicked his tongue.
So they even saw right through my power.
Zagan’s magic was a power as the silhouettes said.
“The first mage killed by ye was Andras, with the name of Resentment.”
That was the name of the mage that had kidnapped Zagan to sacrifice.
“He had not the level of power that is now thine, but he was not a weak mage.”
“Even on the slimmest chance, he was not so powerless as to fall to an eight-year-old babe.”
“And yet, he was killed by ye, and all of his wisdom was now thine.”
It was a record of treason, yet the Demon Lords extolled it as a great exploit.
“In thine life to that point, ye had not the opportunity to come into contact with magic.”
“The magic seen by ye was only the single instance, thrown by Andras at ye.”
“And how did ye slaughter that mage, a holder of a title?”
Lovingly, one of the silhouettes spoke.
“Ye learnt that magic, seen only once.”
Another silhouette continued in admiration.
“Through that single instance, ye even understood the structure of magic.”
“So through that instance, ye created a unique magic.”
Zagan had only one piece of magic that was unique to him. Neither something stolen from Andras, or learnt in the past. A magic only Zagan could use. It was that first magic that he learnt that brought down Andras.
“An awe-inspiring magic, and—”
“A detestable ability.”
The twelve silhouettes murmured, as if in praise.
“That which if ye chose to plunder, none may stop ye.”
“That which if ye chose to kill, none would survive.”
“If ye desired power, all mages would have to offer all to ye.”
“If ye were to give a single order, all mages would have to obey without question.”
“Truly, a tyrant’s power, fit for a Demon Lord.”
They were unanimously praising him, but in those voices was a confidence that he wouldn’t match up to them. And then they continued, thrusting that before him.
“It is paradoxical, yet ye are diminutive.”
“Yet ye are possessed of a terrifyingly strong ability.”
“There is a possibility with thine ability.”
“Ye will someday become the strongest mage in history.”
“Therefore, we shall dare to make ye, weak as ye are, a Demon Lord.”
“It is all for the heightening of intelligence.”
“It is all for the advancement of magic.”
Their song-like chorus ceased. He realised that he had been taken in by the atmosphere around the silhouettes. Zagan glared back at them to shake that off.
“If those words were true, then I would be able to steal from even you here.”
Of course, Zagan wasn’t so foolish as to challenge them to fight here. However, he asked to find out what kind of existences they were.
“Aye, yet, take care.”
“There may be more to lose, than to gain from taking from us.”
Zagan felt like he had taken a blow.
If they know that much, they know about Nephie.
He could resist the power they held. They wouldn’t settle it with a simple hostage. Even if it had been before he had met Nephie, the result wouldn’t change. They would destroy absolutely everything. Zagan might not be able to be killed by even a Demon Lord, but simply not being killable by them did not mean he could defeat them. Each time he gained something, they would take and destroy it. And eventually, he would be ruined.
It was there that Zagan realised.
I involved Nephie in that kind of thing?
Now, the leader silhouette spoke.
“I would hear thy response.”
“…Before that, there’s something I want. My answer depends on gaining that.”
“Ha ha, a deep greed. Speak it.”
Zagan spoke of what he wanted. The silhouettes nodded in amusement.
“Very well. The legacy of Marchosias is thine to do with as ye will.”
“You said that fairly simply.”
“We have said, have we not? That should ye decide to take, none may stop ye.”
His objective was almost anti-climatically made his.
“Then I humbly accept the position of Demon Lord.”
Then, the leader silhouette spoke.
“Then let us welcome our new sworn friend.”
Unexpectedly, they then applauded Zagan. Even though it didn’t feel like he was talking with people, it was a surprisingly human reaction. Which, on the contrary, made him all the more uneasy. It was like monsters beyond humanity were mimicking humans. He noticed this, and his clenched fists were drenched in sweat.
Even so, somewhat free of the overwhelming pressure, Zagan regained his calm enough to ask unrelated questions.
“There’s something I want to ask you. Do you know of a man that skins people and uses that in magic?”
One amongst them soon opened their mouth.
“Most likely that is the Face Skinner. He is a worthless mage, we had heard that ye hadst already dealt with him?”
It seemed that he was not mistaken as to that mage.
“Was he a skilled mage? Strong enough to break another mage’s bounded fields in their territory.”
“Impossible. He was superlative as a spy, yet his skills with bounded fields did not leave that of a child’s.”
At that answer, Zagan’s mood grew all the more gloomy.
In other words, he had an ally.
And when limited to those that could break Zagan’s bounded fields, that ‘ally’s’ true identity was soon clear. He had thoroughly learnt that mages were a hard type of person to save.
The silhouette tilted its head.
“He should not have been a man to have taken thy interest though?”
“Yeah, exactly right. I asked something worthless, forget about it.”
And then, another silhouette nodded in though.
“Our memories have lapsed.”
“Ye have no title. This shall not do.”
“Yeah, now that you mention it, I don’t.”
It would be unheard of for Zagan to be given the name of Demon Lord.
“Then, shall we decide on thy title?”
“Let us. Though it seems Marchosias already has.”
And thus, Zagan unexpectedly gained the position of Demon Lord.
“Welcome home, master.”
He returned to the castle, and Nephie greeted him. As usual, her expression barely changed, but her ears shivered. A reaction that all but said that she had been anxiously awaiting his return.
“I have prepared dinner, lamb stew for tonight.”
At Nephie’s gentle greeting, he was suddenly filled with feelings of guilt.
Nephie… hasn’t been corrupted yet.
Even with the elves’ village, she simply didn’t do anything, she didn’t kill anyone. Even when she had attacked the holy knights, Zagan had stopped her in the end.
However, Zagan was different. He remembered that he was different.
The strange Demon Lords. They that were what mages aimed for. The destination of all mages. Zagan was the same as them, he had already become the same. Then being with him made Nephie’s destination the same.
Beneath the dark and dirt, with not a glimmer of light.
She might still be able to be pushed back.
It was too late for Zagan, but Nephie still had a future in the light.
“Master? Did something happen?”
As he lowered his head, Nephie looked up worriedly at him. Her ears that had been pointed into the air earlier now drooped, and Zagan knew that someone else sympathised with him from the bottom of their heart.
Was it right to drag such a gallant girl into that darkness?
The unrefined collar was still around her neck, a symbol that she was Zagan’s property.
If only she didn’t have this, Nephie would be free.
Without the collar, people should accept her without prejudice. Kianoides would be good. The people of that town had been kind, even to the mage Zagan and Nephie with her collar. And it was close enough that Zagan could protect her if something happened.
She was bewildered at first, but she had opened her heart when given warmth, enough to trust even Zagan.
Zagan took a key from his pocket.
“Nephie, I have become a Demon Lord.”
“A… Demon Lord?”
“A king of mages, one that other mages follow, the pinnacle of mages.”
The girl’s eyes suddenly widened, and she put her hands together and nodded.
Her expression didn’t change, but he could feel her congratulating him from her heart. It was for precisely that reason that his chest ached unbearably. With thoughts that felt like they would tear him apart, he continued.
“With the inheritance of the title of Demon Lord, I also obtained my predecessor, Marchosias’ legacy. The mage that captured you, Nephie.” The key that Zagan now had in his hand too was part of Marchosias’ legacy. The thing that Zagan had demanded from the twelve Demon Lords. “Nephie, don’t move.”
He said, and inserted the key into the girl’s collar. With a slight clank, the metal collar fell apart.
“Eh…?” With a disbelieving face, Nephie gazed at the ruins of the collar that had fallen to the floor. “M-master, this…”
Zagan nodded at Nephie as she began to break into a smile.
“Yeah. As a Demon Lord, I no longer need you. Get out.”
Zagan coldly announced to the girl he loved more than anyone.
It was the moment the clumsy pair’s life together came to an abrupt end.