The long night broke, and the morning sun rose into the sky. The monster had returned in accordance with Zagan’s order. He didn’t know where it had been summoned from, but they lived somewhere else. The cave had soon begun to collapse after that, and Zagan had taken Nephie, Chastel, Manuela, and even Barbarus, and had to escape. Well, he thought they’d made it in plenty of time.
In truth, they shouldn’t have made it, but when hope seemed lost, the three knights had rushed in, ready to die. Thanks to them taking Chastel and Manuela, they made it. Zagan hadn’t believed they would be useful, but in their last moments, they really had been.
…Well, they’d done it while shouting about how they were doing it because:
“We are just focusing on lady Chastel and the townsperson’s safety, we aren’t overlooking co-operating with an evil mage in the slightest!”
They had taken Chastel like that, and even recovered the holy sword that Barbarus had taken. In the end, he hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to her after she lost consciousness. Manuela also returned home alongside Chastel, leaving these meddling words behind:
“We’ll definitely be talking about this alone, right?”
And thus, the three of them, Zagan, Nephie, and Barbarus were left gazing at the collapsed cave. As they looked at the wreckage of rock, Zagan asked Barbarus.
“Well, what shall we do? Shall we continue?”
“…Huh, what are you on about after facing that monster?”
Somehow or other, Zagan had taken that monster — he still wasn’t sure whether it should be called a ‘demon’ — into his service, and it seemed like that had broken even Barbarus’ enmity.
“So, what was it? You were going to apologise with some tasty booze, right?”
“Yeah, look forward to a top-class drink.”
Barbarus recovered enough that he could stand, and then left for somewhere. He was probably once more planning how to take Zagan’s head. But, that was fine. He was indeed a man like that — but that hardly warranted his death — he had a side to him that was difficult to dislike. And so, he let him live.
And then, Zagan was finally alone with Nephie.
What should I do, how do I bring it up?
In this past half a month, he had become much more capable of a face to face conversation, but he wasn’t sure how to start one again, and at any rate, not even a day had passed since he had hurt Nephie and turned her away. Sweat gathered on his brow, but the first one to speak was Nephie.
“Master, I want to be by your side.”
“…Are you sure? I said that to you, don’t force yourself.”
“You’re fine, master.”
Zagan might have been charmed by her.
What, she’s gotten stronger, hasn’t she?
Much more than Zagan, who fidgeted at telling her a single phrase. He looked back at her, troubled.
“But it won’t be like before.”
“Yeah, it won’t.”
Zagan knelt before her and looked straight into her deep-blue eyes. He had to tell her something. That she wouldn’t be alone anymore. Even if he had to use all his might as a Demon Lord to protect her. So he wanted her to stay by his side, always. And more than anything —
I like Nephie, I love her.
He would beg her to come back after he had sent her away and hurt her once. He had to convey those feelings to her, but couldn’t put them to words. He took a quiet breath, and opened his mouth.
“I want you to call me by my name, not ‘master’.”
Nephie’s eyes went wide.
“Do I have to?”
“Yeah, you do. If you call me master, it will be like you’re always just a slave, and I’m just your owner.” Nephie’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “I don’t want a slave, an attendant, or a student, I want that kind of relationship.”
Her pointed ears shook rapidly. Zagan opened his mouth, and as his voice shook, said.
“The kind where I… l…o…”
“I love you.”
Those simple words caught in his throat, and he couldn’t say them. His throat dried up and he couldn’t speak, and his knees shook, more than Barbarus’ did when he kicked him, more than Zagan had when he faced that demon. At the end of his conflict, what left his mouth were these words.
“You are mine. Always, for our whole lives, until one of us dies, no, even if we die!”
He spoke, and then slumped in dejection.
Why can’t I just tell her that I love her!?
That he had fallen for her when he first lay eyes on her. That he wanted her to like him, and that he had been moving around in a daze for this last fortnight. That he’d hurt her simply because he was a coward. Even though he wanted to lay all those feelings bare, Zagan couldn’t. As tears welled up in his eyes at his own powerlessness, Nephie answered like always.
And nodded like always —
and then gave a smile, like a blooming flower.
It was the first time Zagan had seen that expression. He couldn’t help but be taken in by it, and Nephie took out the remnants of her collar. It had been around her neck until a scant few hours ago. And because the key was used, it hadn’t been destroyed.
“Would you, put this on me again, please?”
“Wait, that’s obviously not okay, that’s a slave’s…”
Nephie placed her index finger against Zagan’s lips as he spoke.
“This is fine. Master…” Nephie stopped, troubled, in the middle of her sentence. “Zagan-sama, this is what first connected us, isn’t it?”
Zagan took the collar he had once removed. He hadn’t been able to tell her his feelings, and yet, Nephie had asked him to replace the collar. Almost like a promise ring.
It was a rather disturbing ring to call an engagement ring though. Yet it was without a doubt ‘proof’ to them.
“Sure, I get it.”
Zagan once more put the collar around her neck. It looked like a disgusting lump of metal, that sealed Nephie’s magic, and enslaved her. But between them both, it held the exact opposite meaning. Then, Nephie tilted her head in question.
“What exactly would a relationship that isn’t a slave, an attendant, or a student be?”
Zagan’s face stiffened.
That’s what I’d like to ask!
Zagan couldn’t just say ‘I want to be lovers’ and suffered silently.
I, a Demon Lord, took a slave elf as my wife, but how do I love her?
He prayed from the bottom of his heart for someone to tell him.