“The Demon Lord’s Seal, huh?”
Zagan murmured, alone in the library that had been newly supplied with books. It was the library in his castle. It had always had a fairly large amount of books itself, but there were now so many that the shelves weren’t enough, and there were piles of books on the floor.
About half a month ago, Zagan had inherited the legacy of the previous Demon Lord, Marchosias. The books gathered here were only a small portion of that. He’d only taken what he was interested in investigating, but it had still ended up like this.
Zagan was an eighteen-year-old youth that tiredly brushed his fringe back. His black hair grew without being cared for, and was tied up at his back. His eyes were silver, and gave him an even more overbearing air. He wore a robe, lined with red cloth.
He was a mage with the title of Demon Lord, and there was something that he needed to do.
“I couldn’t find a single thing on it.”
Something existed in this world, and was given the name ‘demons’. No, they were hiding somehow and existed somewhere. Zagan had encountered one of them the other day.
He was loath to admit it, but it wasn’t something he could defeat. And yet, he still lived like this. He raised his right hand, upon it was a crest in the shape of something like letters. That was the ‘Demon Lord’s Seal’, and the demon had bowed its head to that seal.
I need to know exactly what this is.
It was a power beyond even demons, but it was different from any magic or symbol that Zagan knew. He’d pored over the previous Demon Lord’s legacy, hoping for a clue, but the results were pitiful.
He returned the books he had removed from the shelves over the past few hours. For a mage that could control not only their physical abilities, but their appetite and even need for sleep, the concept of fatigue didn’t really hold. Even so, he was mentally exhausted, if this continued each day, he’d start to get depressed. He let out a sigh, deciding to take a break.
Quietly, he heard the door behind him open.
The name of the single lodger in this castle, his apprentice, his attendant, and the girl who loved Zagan from her heart. She was of the race called elves. They were called the Faeries of Norden, and were a race with pointed ears as their characteristic. Even amongst them, Nephie, with her snow-white hair, had especially potent mana.
That long hair was bound by a crimson ribbon, and her delicate and refined features were contrasted by her large, deep blue eyes. Her dainty body was covered by a maid uniform in the form of a dress and white apron, and her feet were within boots that had magic that eased the fatigue of work, her usual clothing.
When he looked to the sky from the window, he saw that the sun had already passed its zenith. She had most likely come to call him for lunch. But, because Zagan was engrossed in his books, she had remained silent to avoid disturbing him.
However, the presence behind him gradually approached.
Is she trying to surprise me perhaps?
Since a certain series of events, Nephie had begun to call Zagan not ‘Master’, but ‘Zagan-sama’. Since then, perhaps because she had been closer to him, he felt they were somewhat more intimate. There was the possibility that she was going to play a joke on Zagan and surprise him. And of course, Zagan couldn’t be so boorish as to interfere with that disposition.
Now, what shall I do?
Doing his utmost to seem like he hadn’t noticed, he fidgeted, then quietly, the presence right behind him slowly reached out their hand. However, there was a difference in height of about a head between Zagan and Nephie, and on top of that, Zagan was on a step ladder to look for books.
“Whooo’s… Huh? I can’t reach…”
The stretching hand could only reach Zagan’s shoulder. He turned and there was a girl standing tip-toed, embarrassed that she couldn’t reach his face. There was an unrefined collar around her neck. While it didn’t have its original power of sealing magic, it was Zagan and Nephie’s precious promise collar.
Her pointed ears went red to their tips.
“Umm, what should I do…”
She said in puzzlement. Her face seemed as expressionless as always, but her lips were trembling, and tears welled at the corners of her eyes. And above all, the tips of her ears were shaking, all but saying she couldn’t bear the embarrassment.
At that, he couldn’t bear his embarrassment either.
No, what do I do!?
He wanted to hold her tight and nuzzle against her cheek, but Zagan didn’t have the courage to do something so bold to the girl he liked. Nephie twisted her fingers into her apron and muttered as she cast her eyes about the room.
“Um, I thought I could… surprise you now…”
“Surprise me and… then what?”
“Eh? Umm, I hadn’t… thought of that.”
Apparently, she just wanted to for some reason. Zagan wanted to smack his head against the wall as her ears quivered and she answered haltingly.
What are you trying to do to me, being that cute!?
There were many things he wanted to say, like ‘even without that, your cuteness surprised me’ or ‘you surprised me so much I’ll just hug you like that’, but he took a deep breath and calmed himself. And then, with a cough to clear his throat, said.
“Right, food then, Nephie?”
“Right, I have prepared lunch, Zagan-sama.”
With both of them still red-faced, they left the archives.
It was a usual, everyday scene for the two of them.
The dining room was a huge space that could comfortably seat twelve. The floor was carpeted in red, and there was an extravagant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There was a fireplace set into the wall that would be used if it grew a little colder.
A mere month prior, it had been blanketed in cobwebs, a room with torture implements and skeletons strewn about it, but its current cleanliness had changed it beyond recognition, it had all been cleaned by Nephie.
“I can’t even recognise it.”
Zagan couldn’t hold in a murmur, and Nephie nodded bashfully.
“It’s because it’s the room you take your meals in, Zagan-sama.”
“R-right. But it must have been tough to clean it alone, right?”
“No… However, there are still many rooms that I haven’t been able to tend to.”
Sties would have perhaps been more appropriate than rooms. Zagan helped with the heavy lifting, but fundamentally, Nephie was in charge of tending to the castle, and she even dealt with the food too, so it was probably a fair burden on her.
Maybe I should get a familiar or something…
He could also hire someone, but he wanted to enjoy their life together now. However, magic dealing with familiars was outside of his area of expertise. Even as he worried about it, he took his seat.
The table, set with a pure-white tablecloth, had already got their food arranged on it. Next to it was a trolley with a saucepan on it. He reflexively let out a sound of appreciation.
She’s got more recipes again.
There were several things that he hadn’t seen before. As Zagan sat at the table, Nephie began a quiet explanation.
“The bread is rye bread rolls, the appetiser is a tomato and greens salad, with a Caesar dressing and powdered cheese for flavouring.”
Tomatoes were Nephie’s favourite, and she was probably confident using them. Her ears perked somehow pridefully.
Incidentally, Caesar was the name of an ancient mage. He was a unique mage that had a fascination for flavour, not eternal youth, and it was said that the foundation of modern cooking was laid by him.
Following on from that, she continued her explanation as she poured soup into the empty bowls.
“This is an oatmeal consomme soup. I have prepared sauteed lamb for the main course, so please, join me for this meal.” She placed the bowl before Zagan as she spoke. The fragrant scent filled his nose, and she then placed the main meat course next to it. Ordinarily, this would have been everything, but she took out a bowl filled with water. “Finally, I have prepared egg pudding for dessert.”
“What’s egg pudding?”
It was the first time he’d heard the term.
“Manuela-san taught me. It’s a sweet made by steaming egg and fresh cream… Um, it’s very sweet, and tasty.”
Her cheeks flushed slightly as she spoke. Zagan’s face reddened at that happy expression too.
“R-right… But still, that store assistant, huh. She didn’t say anything weird to you, did she?”
Nephie calmly shook her head and answered while putting her hand on her chest.
“It’s okay. She just made me wear some embarrassing clothes.”
“That’s not okay at all, is it?”
“…? Manuela was the only one that saw, so it’s okay, right?”
“That’s not the problem…”
The girl wouldn’t mistrust that person.
Well, it’s probably okay if it’s that woman.
When Nephie had been in trouble, Manuela had followed him without regard to the risk to herself. She probably wouldn’t hurt Nephie. On top of that, he felt awkward meddling in the precious girl’s relationships. He still had misgivings, but Zagan urged Nephie to sit and eat too.
“Well, let’s eat.”
Nephie nodded deeply, and sat next to Zagan. She wore servants’ clothing, but Zagan didn’t think of her as a servant or slave, they took their meals together like this.
He moved the freshly baked bread to his mouth, where the fragrance of the rye and the oil of the butter spread throughout his mouth. His mouth watered as he swallowed it.
“Haaah… The meal is so delicious.”
“You always say that, Zagan-sama.” She may have seemed as expressionless as always, but Zagan didn’t miss the slight curve to her lips. A month had already passed since he bought her, but they had this conversation every time they ate. As she ferried the soup to her own mouth, she asked. “Have you been.. investigating something recently, Zagan-sama?”
“Hmm…? That’s right, the other day, we encountered a ‘demon’ in those events with Barbarus, right? I was investigating that.”
“Is it difficult?”
“It is. Even within Marchosias’ legacy, I couldn’t find anything approaching the core of it. I don’t think for an instant a Demon Lord that had lived for a millennium would not have had any interest in demons.”
Or possibly, precisely because he had approached the core of it, he may have hidden it.
Maybe I should investigate Marchosias’ castle again.
Zagan had inherited Marchosias’ legacy along with the Crest of the Demon Lord. That wasn’t just money, it was also his castle and the knowledge he had. However, Zagan himself would have to investigate if anything was there, and dispel his doubts.
His gaze dropped to his right hand.
I feel like I’ve seen a similar symbol somewhere before though…
And relatively recently too at that.
He tilted his head in worry.
“But this is rare, that you’d ask about it. Are you interested?”
“No, but recently, whatever you have been investigating has made you seem tired, so I was worried…”
Zagan touched his face. It should have been the same as normal, had it really shown on his face that much?
That reminds me, she tried to surprise me earlier.
She was trying to cheer him up in her own way. That consideration filled his heart with warmth, but he hummed.
“He was the Demon Lord before me, everything being clear immediately would be boring. I look forward to the trouble it will give me.”
He was once again spouting meaningless bravado and harsh words, but Nephie answered as if she understood everything.
Why can’t I even say ‘thank you’ at a time like this…?
As he was doing that, the bowls had been emptied, and Nephie arranged the desserts.
The pudding that Nephie had presented shook like jelly, and was covered in a black, caramel sauce.
What kind of food is this?
It was completely unknown to Zagan, who had subsisted on dried meat and milk until he met Nephie. Its sensation was similar to boiled eggs, but it seemed dangerous with it wobbling when the table shook and completely fell apart when nudging it with a spoon. She had called it steamed, but he couldn’t tell if it was steamed or raw. He was at a loss for how to eat it, and Nephie indicated a small spoon to him.
“Here, eat it with that spoon.”
Resolving himself, he scooped out a spoonful from the pudding’s tip. There was barely any resistance, and the light brown, wobbly substance was on top of the spoon. Concerned it would be ruined if he treated it roughly, he carefully, slowly moved it into his mouth, and then—
“Mm, it’s sweet.”
Nephie gave a relieved nod.
The world is a big place, I had no idea there was such a sweet and happy tasting thing.
The corners of his eyes heated up, and it felt like he’d cry as he suddenly looked up. At the same time, he remembered another thing he had to do.
It was at that moment.
The bounded fields protecting the castle collapsed with a crash.
“…Hm? A guest.”
Murmured Zagan, unconcernedly.
Centred on this castle, Zagan had placed bounded fields over his territory. Normal people would not have realised it existed before they approached. If they were to break through that, they would then be subject to vicious traps, but the intruder had broken through them too.
They are rather skilled.
Nephie tilted her head, bird-like, as if she had realised it too.
“Should we greet them?”
“…Nah, it’s fine. We’re eating now, we’ll leave them be.”
The reason he answered so leisurely was that this wasn’t the first time. And this was yet another problem that Zagan had to solve.
It seems that we’ve gotten a ‘guest’ every day since I became a Demon Lord.
Zagan was currently eighteen, but would seem like a novice to mages, who lived for centuries. There were plenty of people who thought he should not have inherited the Demon Lord’s throne. There weren’t many people coming each day, but at least one would come every couple of days. The main invaders were those that misunderstood their power, and the church’s holy knights.
…Incidentally, the first lot of invaders that had come were three knights who not only misunderstood their power, but mistook their enemy’s identity too. Before, he wouldn’t have been concerned about the falling sparks. But it was different now, now, Nephie was here.
The girl Zagan had first fallen in love with, and the one that had taught him happiness. Even the sparks of the masses might burn her.
I have to eradicate those morons.
That was the first step to make sure Nephie could live under the sun. If Zagan made it known just what it meant to trifle with him, the fools that would lay a hand on Nephie would vanish as well. The first thing would be to torment those that challenged him like this, to etch fear and despair into them and turn them away. Because the dead couldn’t spread fear.
Yet, he was eating pudding next to Nephie.
I don’t want to show Nephie the traps and make her look at me like that.
He would rather not be cruel in front of her. As kindhearted as she was, she would probably grieve for the deaths of the masses, and it might even scare her.
If she hated me like that, I don’t think I could recover.
So he didn’t stand, and continued enjoying lunch with Nephie.
But they might make it this far this time.
The current invader had torn through Zagan’s bounded fields without being caught. If they could avoid the rest, they might reach the castle.
He carefully kept eating the pudding that would only need another mouthful. He couldn’t rush eating something this good. The intruder was approaching, but Zagan was wholeheartedly enjoying every mouthful.
“Hmm, this really is delicious.”
“Thank you very much. But, is this okay? That guest is…”
She was probably concerned about the invader, as she spoke restlessly.
“It’s the same as always. Coming during lunch is rude, don’t worry about it.”
Even as she let out a bewildered noise, Nephie said no more. Instead, she broke the bread apart and ate it. Perhaps because her mouth was small, she ate slowly. Watching her hurriedly eat was also something he secretly enjoyed. She ate like that until she had finished about half of her food.
The castle gate broke with the sound of an explosion.
“…What an impatient guest.”
It seemed that they had avoided all of Zagan’s trap bounded fields, and that they knew where Zagan was from his presence. They were coming straight for the dining room.
The door could be fixed with magic, but there would be no stopping the dust from getting on the food.
Reluctantly, Zagan waved a finger through the air, and the door opened. The thing that appeared in the opening was a mysterious, masked figure. The mask was in the shape of a snake or something, and seemed like some tribe’s native wear. Their body was completely covered in a jet-black robe, and a lowered hood concealed their race. Limbs covered in boorish armour showed from under the robe.
Perhaps because they hadn’t expected to be greeted, the figure stood stock still, seemingly wincing.
Zagan was of average height for an adult man, but the figure was another head taller. Finally, the figure murmured with conviction.
“Are you the Demon Lord Zagan?”
It was a mumbling voice that was hard to understand.
“Introduce yourself before you demand someone’s name… But I remember you too, you’re the Apparition Valefar, aren’t you?”
Just seeing such a strange figure once would ensure you wouldn’t forget it. They were definitely one of the mages that had been at the auction he had bought Nephie at. Barbarus had said they were one of the candidates to be Demon Lord at the time. He had ignored them back then, but to think they would meet like this.
Valefar thrust out an armoured finger.
“Demon Lord Zagan, I shall defeat you, and take your power.”
They were honest and clumsy words for a mage. However, Zagan didn’t look at Valefar and spoke with a voice full of bloodlust that would engrave fear upon them.
“I’m eating now. Wait there for a while.”
Valefar stepped back, as if overwhelmed by Zagan’s unusually vigorous declaration.
…And yet, the spoon in Zagan’s hand picked up pudding.
I want to enjoy all of Nephie’s pudding.
It might have sounded like he was being mocking, but Zagan was deadly serious. His meal being interrupted was irritating, and the declaration with the solemnity of a Demon Lord sent Valefar to their knee. Then Nephie murmured uneasily.
“Zagan-sama, if you like it, I can make it again.”
“I’d like that, but whether I’ll put down my spoon here is a different matter.”
When he returned that, Valefar grit their teeth.
“Don’t… belittle me…!”
The masked figure raised an arm, which began to shine with magic. They had come to challenge Zagan, knowing he was a Demon Lord. It was probably their strongest magic.
However, nothing happened.
Suddenly, Zagan could feel a trembling from the other side of the mask.
“If you’re going to attack a mage’s territory, at least research them. My name is the Mage Killer, magic has no effect on me.”
Zagan let out, mixed with a sigh as he spooned up his pudding. He ‘ate’ other people’s magic. Within his own territory, he could suppress magic. However talented a mage this figure was, there was no way they could win, being a mage.
If a titled mage leaves without being able to do anything, that alone will demonstrate my power.
Even lost as he was in the pudding, he hadn’t lost sight of his goal.
However, Valefar spoke in admiration.
“I see, even inexperienced, you’re a Demon Lord.”
As they shouted that, the figure’s arms changed. The steel armour became hard scales, and the fingers turned into stake-like claws. Those claws felt like they would pulverise rock, even without magic.
This isn’t magic…?
Plenty of magic ran through the circle, and nothing happened. They hadn’t changed the incantations or charms, and there was no change in the flow of the magic itself.
There were countless sapient races in this world. Therianthropes with fangs and claws of beasts, winged people. Because those races’ fangs and claws weren’t magic, they weren’t stopped even when magic was sealed. Valefar’s arms’ changing was, therefore, one of those. The figure’s were dragon arms. Dragons were divine creatures, spoken of in the same legends as elves. They too were a race that refused contact with the lower world, and had more intelligence and magic than humans, and boasted of magic that surpassed even that of the elves. They were existences that as they aged took on the title of gods and demons.
Though, it’s fairly weak for a dragon. A mage that gained a dragon’s power?
At any rate, they had a power removed from magic. This was probably their basis for challenging a Demon Lord. Valefar leapt into the dining room and attacked him with those dragon claws.
“I said I’m eating. I’ll deal with you later, so won’t you wait a while?”
However, Zagan stopped them with a single hand. The spoon that should have been in that hand was in his mouth, and he was carefully looking after the pudding in his left hand. He could tell Valefar’s eyes had gone wide behind the mask. Even so, the figure didn’t give up.
“You mock me!”
The mask’s mouth dropped open, and magic light began to gather there.
This was part of the legends, dragons could burn their mana inside them and breathe light. That was exactly what Valefar was doing. And Zagan had no method to seal a dragon’s breath.
Zagan’s face hardened, and he growled.
You fool, I warned you!
“Dust might get on the food, but that’s enough!”
He had a feeling his stance and words were mixed up, but Zagan took his hand from the claws and shot forward with it, forcing the mouth closed. The breath dispersed, and though they were forced back by the palm of his hand, that attack had been right from underneath and it jarred their head, sending the figure’s huge body flying.
Startled, Nephie covered her face. And when she timidly opened her deep blue eyes, the figure had landed with a heavy thump.
The dragonification reverted, and the mask had cracks running through it.
It seemed they had lost consciousness.
Checking that the nuisance had fallen silent, Zagan hummed.
I’ve calmed down too.
Before, he would have massacred an enemy like this, and would never have gone easy on them and just knocked them out, a mere month ago, this would have been unthinkable.
This was solely due to his life with Nephie changing him. Zagan murmured, pondering how miraculous this happiness was.
“Maybe I should strengthen the fields a bit. There’ll probably be more of these annoyances.”
He had defeated them soundly, but Valefar was by no means weak. In the past, Zagan wouldn’t have been certain of victory fighting up front. His ease of winning was because he had grown stronger.
Marchosias’ legacy and the Demon Lord’s Seal. Magic was stronger in proportion to the knowledge someone had. Zagan had rapidly gained power from inheriting the Demon Lord’s throne.
Sighing, Nephie stood from her seat, somewhat pale. Leaving her food, she rushed over to the figure.
“Nephie, leave them be, they won’t wake until we’re done.”
“No, perhaps they’re…”
As Nephie went to pick them up, their limbs rolled across the floor.
Zagan paled at that.
Eh? Wait, I just hit them, right? I didn’t tear their limbs off?
Even though he’d vowed not to massacre people in front of Nephie, it seemed he’d broken that vow.
As he was in a fluster, Nephie murmured “I was right…” as she removed the broken mask.
“Zagan-sama, they are still a child.”
Underneath the mask was a young, possibly ten-year-old, face. And a girl’s at that.
Her hair was the green of spring buds. They couldn’t tell the colour of her eyes past her closed eyelids, but she had long eyelashes. Her lips were a fresh peach colour, and her cheeks were flushed from being within the bulky robe.
The armour’s limbs were fake, and papier-mache. She most likely controlled the hollow armour with magic or something. Now, Zagan realised what he had done.
Did I just knock out a little girl?
He was full of questions, questions like why a child had the power of a dragon, why were they acting like a mage, and whether they were the real Valefar.
However, this wasn’t a situation for him to be calm and gloat. He opened his mouth to hide his shaking.
“Phew… D-don’t panic, Nephie. We can treat her if you’re worried. Umm, that’s right, I should have some cold medicine. She won’t die, right? She’ll live, right? Should we move her to a room with a bed?”
“Calm down please, Zagan-sama. You don’t use cold medicine on injured people.” Nephie admonished Zagan, who had been unable to hide any of his panic whatsoever. Softly placing a hand on her cheek, Nephie nodded. “It’s okay, she’s just unconscious. She doesn’t seem hurt.”
“R-really? Really. She won’t die, right?”
Finally, Zagan calmed down. And at that, Nephie seemed unexpectedly proud.
“It’s just you really are kind, Zagan-sama.”
Zagan’s eyes widened, and Nephie lifted Valefar. She was small, but it seemed difficult for Nephie to lift her, as slight as she was. Even troubled, Zagan lifted her up in Nephie’s place.
“Is this okay?”
“Honestly, what a troublesome invader.”
Grumbling under his breath, he still worried about having hit a child in front of Nephie, and the girl herself huddled in close to him.
This was the first change that was visited upon their life together.