“Chastel Lillqvist, your authority as a captain of the holy knights is hereby indefinitely suspended.”
These events had started about half a month ago, a young mage by the name of Zagan had ascended to the briefly vacant throne of the thirteenth Demon Lord.
Of course, the church had begun to gather manpower to bring him down while he was still inexperienced, and Chastel had rebelled against that.
“I have been saved by the mage Zagan twice, I cannot betray that.”
There was surely a more roundabout way to say it, but even with the vast power of a Demon Lord, Zagan wouldn’t change his way of life.
Chastel silently bowed her head at her direct superior’s words. The holy sword that symbolised her was not at her side. Without an owner, it was enshrined in the church’s treasure vaults.
Chastel was ashamed of herself seeing him.
So I don’t want to yield myself and fight him.
She was one of the church’s greatest assets in battle, a holy sword wielder, and even further, she was the lone woman and was the cause of much of their support from the populace, and had acted in such a way as to renunciate the church.
It had then come to her not eliminating Zagan, and thus came the Cardinal’s proclamation. In other words, even Zagan’s elimination would have no more meaning than a display of power for the church. They simply justified themselves by saying that all mages were evil. So it was a problem that she was more disaffected with her comrades than a powerful mage.
Maybe the church’s decay has gone as far as it will.
Chastel stifled a sigh and the knights behind her raised their voices.
“Please wait, your eminence! This decision is too far.”
“Indeed! Chastel-dono’s achievements up to this point should show enough for the circumstances to be taken into account.”
“Also, losing a holy sword when a new Demon Lord has just appeared will do nought but attract chaos, will it not!”
“Enough, all of you!”
Chastel raised her voice at the knights’ rebellion. The elderly Cardinal looked hard at the now silent knights, and then let out a lamenting sigh.
“Does it appear that I feel nothing at this decision?”
The Cardinal, now looking older than he had before had spoken quietly and mournfully. The knights could do no more than fall silent.
I just… wanted to protect those I could reach, that’s why I became a holy knight…
She had been granted the power of a holy sword, and held pride in protecting the populace from mages’ outrageous persecution.
At some point, it had become that she couldn’t even wield the sword by her own will, and only at the orders of the church.
A simple phrase, that a mage was not evil, had caused this uproar.
But, I can’t even pay Zagan back.
At the least, the formation of the subjugation squad would be greatly delayed. They wouldn’t not take measures against a shrewd mage like him, and it should be something that would give him some time.
Suddenly, she remembered the elf at Zagan’s side. She had taken the position of his attendant, and grown close to Chastel as her friend. She felt that they could be good friends if she wasn’t a holy knight.
She was thinking these things after such a long time, and the Cardinal placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Chastel, do no despair so. As time passes, your punishment may be revoked.”
Chastel’s eyes widened at these words he spoke to give her hope.
“What do you…”
The Cardinal looked at her like a beloved daughter.
“A holy sword chooses its own wielder. Ordinarily, censuring a wielder would be unthinkable. Therefore, endure, these old bones will try and manage something.”
“…I am honoured by your words.”
Chastel quietly replied.
The church is warped, but it might still be salvageable.
At least, there might be someone that Chastel could accept. Her eyes burned, but the Cardinal’s expression was severe.
“However, take heart, Chastel. My being able to protect you is politics.”
“…And what are they saying?”
He let out another grieving sigh and then Cardinal Clavell spoke darkly.
“The one known as the terrifying holy knight captain Raphael Hurandel, a holy sword wielder like you, is heading here.”
Chastel swallowed at that name.
He was well known, adding to his exploits even as he passed fifty. He was, of course, skilled with the blade, but his brutality earned him the moniker of ‘the terrifying’.
Clavell quietly continued.
“I wouldn’t dare to criticise a holy sword wielder but disquieting rumours of him have reached even my ears.”
A man who was known as ‘the terrifying’ was coming to Chastel’s — an apostate’s — location.
A purge. That bloodstained phrase came to mind, but Clavell’s words were different.
“That he gathers like-minded people and is creating a new faction of influence within the church.”
Chastel’s eyes widened at that. She didn’t know how great that influence was, but it was the church that had declared that mages were evil. Even amongst the holy knights and clergy, there should be a reasonable number of sympathisers.
‘The Terrifying’ would gain all the more influence. His approach here, with this timing…
This might be a signal.
An apostate that was also a holy sword wielder would be a blot upon the church. If another wielder were to cut them down, that rumour would resound across the lands like a tremor, and destabilise the church significantly.
But that’s just what I want.
Her own future may be plunged into darkness, but she did not regret it.
The young girl — Valefar murmured as she blearily opened her eyes.
She was in the room of a castle. A little while ago, it had been the location of experiments on mysterious specimens, but it was now a fine guest room.
The only people that would visit Zagan would be those that were aiming to assassinate him or steal his research, and the only others would be those that had unearned enmity for him. He had thought there was no meaning in readying a guest room, but Nephie had said ‘Barbarus-sama will come will he not?’ and neatly put it in order.
He had no intention of letting that scoundrel use the room she had so wonderfully prepared, but there might still be other guests.
Nephie’s friends might come after all.
Like the store assistant in Kianoides whose name had come up earlier, Manuela, or the holy knight she had somehow become acquainted with, Chastel.
If they were to come, not even Zagan would coldly turn them away.
Zagan and Nephie were side by side in that room, watching over Valefar. The girl’s gaze wandered in bewilderment in the small room, so at odds with the ruined appearance that this castle appeared to have from the outside.
Seeing that, Zagan relaxed.
Ah, thank goodness, she’s alive.
Nephie had confirmed she was alive, and she had breathed while she slept, but he was uneasy as to whether she would actually wake.
Zagan fundamentally wouldn’t kill his opponent if he could avoid it.
There was the consideration for Nephie’s sake, but there was also the problem of dealing with the corpses within his territory so he usually just expelled them. Though that said, he didn’t check if they were alive.
There was no need to lack confidence in his allowances.
The girl called Valefar now had the armour and robes removed and was lying down on the bed. She was only wearing an old shirt beneath the papier-mache armour, not even wearing trousers.
She may be a child, but she had probably learnt to not wear anything other than the essentials under the armour.
Her green hair was gathered into three bunches, and two horns jutted backwards from between them. Her eyes, finally exposed, were gold, and she came roughly to Zagan’s waist in terms of height.
As far as looks went, apart from the horns, she was a young human girl.
She seemed to have finally come to her senses, and Valefar’s golden eyes shot open and she leapt fist first at Zagan.
“…Hmm, well if you’re this energetic, you should be fine.”
Zagan unconcernedly halted her fist. It could be called a fist, but being hit by it would be more or less a pleasant tap. However, Zagan could feel power sufficient to turn an average mage’s arm into mincemeat.
Well, she’s a mage after all.
Those that aimed to be mages started by strengthening their body. Extending their lifespan, gaining the power to pulverise rock, and keeping even illness and sleep at bay. Doing this eliminated interference in their own research.
So humans could not win against mages. Even without controlling fire and lightning, their pure strength and speed surpassed human comprehension. If Zagan hadn’t stopped her fist, the room would have suffered greatly.
However, there was an air of difficulty about it somehow. Valefar was a mage that would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Barbarus and Zagan before he succeeded as a Demon Lord. And so, unlike average mages and bandits, she was an enemy to be wary of.
But, she’s a brat.
She was short, and her cheeks looked soft and squishy, she was a genuine child. He didn’t know whether to overpower her or be gentle.
In any case, it was difficult. Even with her fist stopped, Valefar growled menacingly, and Zagan scratched his cheek.
“Hmph, thank Nephie. I wouldn’t have mercy on a brat, if Nephie hadn’t begged for your life, you’d be decapitated and tossed away outside.”
Those words should finally make her understand she was being ‘allowed to live’, and that if he willed it, Zagan could deal with her in an instant.
I wouldn’t do something so cruel in front of Nephie though!
The strength behind the fist finally faded.
Just as her appearance implied, her voice was young and had a slight lisp to it. The muffled voice from earlier was probably due to an ability of that mask, which seemed like something she had made.
Zagan tilted his head at her question.
“I… came here to kill you. Why would you not… kill an enemy?”
Zagan raised his eyebrows in apparent disinterest.
“I told you, didn’t I? Nephie saved you. So I let you live. That’s all.”
Even if he’d killed her in self-defence, he would obviously have some heartache about killing an adorable girl like this. He really was glad they had realised before he killed her.
But I can’t feel any animosity or hatred from her.
She might have been defeated, but surely an enemy would be more violent with resentment or disgrace. It may just have been that she lost her will to fight, but that was unlikely for a mage that had a few moments prior aimed for Zagan’s life.
If anything, Valefar seemed more confused than Zagan. Even in both of their confusion, Zagan threw a question at her.
“So, why did you attack me?”
His receipt of the Demon Lord’s power had been announced, but mages didn’t ordinarily fixate on strength. No, you could probably say that they put a different meaning to strength. The strength that mages wanted was knowledge and techniques, and they showed no interest in strength for fighting others. Because mages simply gained it when they gained knowledge. Strength followed on its own as they gained knowledge. The strength to fight could be used to subjugate others, but it wasn’t too helpful to gain knowledge. Gaining knowledge was equivalent to gaining power, but the converse wasn’t the case. And yet, what Valefar wanted was that power to fight.
A Demon Lord’s power was the immense amount of mana given to them by the Demon Lord’s Seal, not knowledge. There were people that wanted the Demon Lord’s territory and riches, but desiring the ‘power’ was baffling for a mage.
Valefar stiffened in fright at his steady stare.
She really does seem like a child when she does that.
At least, it was incongruous with a mage that could even breathe dragon breath. Nephie was fretfully watching over them, and Valefar opened her mouth with a groan.
“…I wanted power.”
“Hmm, though I don’t think you mean the power a mage is usually after, do you?”
Mages grew strong simply to defend themselves, they had the power to lengthen their lives and to protect their riches. It was a method, not the goal, not something to risk your life for.
Well, there are always exceptions.
Valefar spoke through her shame at Zagan’s statement.
“…I’m weak, so… I need… power.”
“I see, you need power to live after all.”
It contradicted the concept of a mage, but he could understand that answer. In the first place, Zagan had done nothing but refine his power for eternal youth. In other words, Zagan was one of those exceptions that focused on power more than knowledge. So there was no need for Zagan and Nephie to be the opponent, which was the reason she held no ill-will or hatred.
“So why did you target me of all people? Didn’t you think you hadn’t prepared to challenge a Demon Lord?”
“You are a new Demon Lord, and if your title of Mage Killer is true, you should be weak to things other than mages.”
“So you thought you could beat me?”
Valefar nodded at his overwhelming speech, her hands shaking slightly.
It sort of feels like I’m bullying someone weak.
It didn’t feel particularly pleasant. Zagan was the one targeted, but it felt like he was being wicked. How to describe the situation, well the atmosphere was bizarre in any case.
“Well, your thoughts were correct, but you don’t have enough power to kill me.”
Valefar didn’t answer, but she chewed at her lips.
Lacing his fingers behind his head, Zagan leaned back and asked the thing that was more on his mind.
“By the way, you’re a dragon right?”
“So there are still some alive. You grow far stronger than humans just by living, right? So why do you want power so much?”
Their race grew into strength that surpassed human intellect. They didn’t even need to gain knowledge like mages. Dragons were recorded in legends as being able to devour even gods if they lived past ten thousand years. Fighting with such a slim chance of victory was almost the action of a human.
Is she rushing it?
Maybe she had a reason she needed to become strong immediately. Valefar’s eyes welled with tears as she looked down.
She didn’t seem to want to be asked about it. Her frail, hunched position meant that she didn’t even look like a mage, let alone a dragon.
“Ah, that’s right!”
Looking at her, Zagan finally realised what caused his unease.
She’s the same as me when I was caught stealing food!
It was nothing so grand as enmity or hatred. It was simply the same as when he fell into a situation like failing to steal some food, or when he pick-pocketed someone and they turned out to be bandits as a child, and suffered the consequences.
Zagan had countless memories of that himself, so understood all too well. Nephie tilted her head at his understanding.
“Zagan-sama, what is it?”
“Just my past.”
I get it. It’s like she found an easy looking target and took a stab, then got pounded down and is half in tears.
If he replaced her ‘I wanted power’ with ‘I wanted bread’, he really understood.
So the ‘I’m hungry’ eased his anger.
Of course what she’d done was wrong, but rather than shouting and asking why, he should scold her and tell her it was wrong. Because he had been intending to speak to a mage and an enemy, Zagan had ended up caught in the bizarre atmosphere. He had been approaching it wrong from the start.
So that decides how I should treat her.
Suddenly feeling that his harsh posture was ridiculous, Zagan let out a hmph.
“Well, whatever. Thus you came to challenge me, a Demon Lord. You must be punished.”
Nephie spoke up, entreating, but Zagan nodded back in understanding. Whatever horrific act she was imagining, even the tears in Valefar’s eyes began to shake. Zagan’s judgement on that little girl was this:
“For the following week, I order you to be Nephie’s assistant!”
At this, Nephie and Valefar both let out a noise of confusion.
“You need more help with cleaning, right?”
“Eh, ah, yes.”
Zagan nodded arrogantly back at Nephie’s jerky nodding.
“Then, use her as you will.”
If Valefar held no grudge against Zagan, she wouldn’t be fixated on the throne of the Demon Lord. And so, there was no need to go as far to kill her. This much was safe to punish a child with.
And she can be taught right and wrong while she’s helping.
Zagan couldn’t speak high handedly about the concepts of good and evil, but he could teach her the common sense and rules of a villain at least. She was a child, and Zagan was only a step into adulthood.
If she carried on the same way, that was of no concern to Zagan, if she could make the judgement herself that was fine.
Valefar looked at Zagan in disbelief.
“You’re not… going to eat me?”
Zagan felt dizzy at those unexpected words.
“…Wait a minute, why would I be eating you?”
Zagan knew that his face was that of a villain, but he couldn’t accept that it made him seem like he would eat a child whole. Valefar opened her mouth uneasily.
“…I heard… people grow strong if they… can get dragon flesh and blood.”
“Yeah, that is in the legends now I think about it.”
Legends had existed since time immemorial that bathing in dragon blood would make one invulnerable, eating their flesh would give limitless mana, and drinking an infusion of their bones would act as a panacea. Actually, when Valefar’s limbs had been dragonified, he thought that she might have been a mage that had used those techniques.
So that’s why she’s so scared.
Humans were meat eaters, if they caught her for food, even if she could talk they wouldn’t let her live. Just like when Nephie was targeted, that was probably the reason for the papier mache armour and mask.
Even if she was a dragon, Valefar was still a young girl. Maybe young dragon would be more appropriate. She wasn’t someone that a holy knight or a powerful mage couldn’t overcome, so she needed to hide her true nature. Using human magic was to protect herself too.
Thinking along those lines, it was clear that the girl would seek the power to fight. Zagan hummed through his nose.
“Don’t be an idiot. Would I be able to do something like that? Eating a brat like you would, whether you were a dragon or a human, leave a bad aftertaste.”
When he said that, Valefar’s eyes teared up again, perhaps because she was scared again.
This is why I hate kids…
Even so, he remembered when he was chased off to the rubbish dump and looked after by the older children. What would they have done?
He was sure…
Zagan let out a small sigh and opened his mouth.
“Nephie, is there much of lunch left?”
“Yes, there’s bread and soup.”
Nephie answered as her ears wiggled in puzzlement at why he’d ask that. Zagan then bluntly spoke.
“…Bring them here.”
Nephie blinked in surprise and then smiled.
“I will! I’ll heat it up and bring them.”
She left the room with a soft patter of steps, leaving behind Zagan, who had a dissatisfied look on his face, and Valefar, who was taken aback.
“…What… are you going to do?”
“Don’t you know? This is charity, the pity given by the strong to the weak.”
He’d thought of kind and reassuring words, but it was a haughty line that came from Zagan’s mouth.
When Zagan had been a vagrant there was a boy that had shared some bread with him when he was about to starve to death. It had been a rather helpful feeling to him, who wanted power to live.
I can still remember what that bread tasted like.
Valefar wasn’t starving, but he thought giving her food might ease her nervousness. He didn’t particularly care if she liked or hated him, but it was annoying to have her constantly afraid of something that wouldn’t happen, so he thought he would do the same as that boy.
Valefar didn’t know whether to be angry or scared, but Nephie soon returned with food on a trolley.
When Valefar saw the dish that Nephie was holding out, her face finally settled on shame.
“Just to warn you, I hate those that waste food the most. Especially if they waste Nephie’s cooking… I’ll kill them, you know?”
Valefar took the bowl of soup as she trembled at Zagan’s completely honest words, then carefully took the spoon and ladled out some soup.
“Hmph, of course it is.”
Zagan nodded pridefully, and Nephie’s ears went red in embarrassment.
“Thank you very much.”
Zagan was somewhat embarrassed at that and rose.
“Then I will return to the archives. You help Nephie once you are done eating.”
He went to leave the room with that, but Valefar called out in confusion.
“…What is it this time?”
“Don’t you think… I might attack her? Or that I might run away?”
“Do as you will.” Answered Zagan unconcernedly. “If you don’t understand what it would mean to run away from me, with me knowing your secret, that’s fine.”
Valefar had said it herself. A young dragon could be attacked even more easily than an elf if they were careless.
Well, I don’t intend to spread that around though.
But releasing her with no punishment would mean there was no meaning to rebuking invaders. That was the reason the punishment was cleaning. On top of that, Nephie would be able to teach her right and wrong far more gently than he would.
Continuing on, his gaze moved to Nephie. There was another clear answer to her question.
“That, and you seem to be misunderstanding something, Nephie is far stronger than you, you know?”
Her behaviour when they just met aside, Nephie now had the will to live, and if she used ‘Sorcery’ to survive she surpassed even holy knights. And of course, there were bounded fields on the castle to protect Nephie. It would be hard to defeat Nephie in Zagan’s territory, even with a holy sword.
Leaving behind Nephie and the dumbfounded girl, Zagan headed to the archives.
Isn’t it a little dangerous still?
It was several hours later. Even though he had left the room, Zagan was worried about Nephie and Valefar and watched them from afar. He didn’t think Nephie would lose based on strength, but he didn’t know if Valefar would use a surprise attack.
When he thought of that, he wondered if he should check on them and in the end hid his presence and followed them.
They were putting the crockery away and making preparations for dinner it seemed. The larger amount than usual was probably including Valefar’s portion. Valefar herself seemed to have realised that going against them wasn’t wise, and was helping with the cleaning as Nephie asked.
Incidentally, a robe was hanging from her shoulders, apparently, she had used magic to adjust the size to her stature. Or maybe this was its original size and she’d adjusted it to fit with her armour’s size. In any case, it didn’t make him worry about where to look.
“Valefar-san, put this back please.”
“…Fol is fine.” She spoke timidly, apparently, she wasn’t as wary of Nephie as Zagan. And then, she continued on in a murmur. “Umm… did you… make the soup?”
“I did, I make all of the food here.”
“It was… tasty.”
It seemed that allowing Nephie to use a nickname was her way of giving thanks.
“You’re welcome.” Nephie nodded expressionlessly, her ears shivering. “Then, if you would, Fol?”
She might be a dragon, but she looked like a little girl. Watching her small form darting around Nephie’s legs somehow brought a smile to Zagan’s face. As he watched them, Nephie finally asked Valefar a question.
“Are you scared of Zagan-sama?”
“Zagan-sama might have a scary face, but he’s really a kind person, you know?”
Well, Nephie was scared originally too. He was aware he looked like a bad person, so there was no helping people being scared. However, Valefar shook her head back and forth, and the three braids on her back shook like tails.
“His face isn’t scary, I think if his mouth split a little more, he could be called handsome.”
If Zagan’s mouth split further, it really would seem like that of a dragon or demon.
Ah, I guess it’s a difference in aesthetics…
He was called good looking from a dragon’s perspective, but being seen as non-human actually saddened him instead.
Valefar spoke to Nephie as she tilted her head in question.
“What’s scary is… his power. I couldn’t… do a single thing.”
Well, that was a natural reaction.
Yeah, of course you’d be scared of someone that hit you.
It was good that she had realised they wouldn’t eat her. Nephie spoke gently to her.
“It’s okay, Zagan-sama isn’t the type to use his power arbitrarily.”
At this, Zagan tilted his head in wonder.
Huh? Am I not?
He was doing his best not to kill in front of Nephie, but he had still incinerated bandits and a mage that didn’t know his place. However, Valefar nodded.
“…Right, he didn’t even show a fragment… of his true power.”
I’m not going to hit a child at full strength!
He wanted to protest, but he couldn’t say anything to someone he had already hit. If he had known she was such a young girl, he would have thought of something else, but…
Valefar spoke in confusion.
“…He’s a weird human.”
“I think he’s an idiosyncratic person.”
Nephie really did know how to choose her words. As Zagan was rejuvenated by her words, Nephie asked Valefar another question.
“Fol, what will you do now?”
“…I don’t know. I’m too weak to attack other Demon Lords.”
“You really do need power, don’t you?”
She was almost like a lost child… well, she was an actual child. Zagan had an awkward expression at her voice.
I thought dragons were more patient.
They were existences said to live through centuries, millennia, and depending on the circumstances, more than ten millennia. And yet Valefar seemed to be rushing on a human scale.
Why is a young dragon acting like a mage in the first place?
It was baffling. As Zagan wracked his mind over it, Valefar now asked Nephie a question.
“Nephie, why do you follow him?”
“…Zagan-sama bought me, and I came here. But he doesn’t treat me a slave, but as a person. So this is where I belong.”
For some reason, her voice seemed to hold loneliness and envy. Nephie probably noticed that too, because she stopped and crouched down in front of Valefar, meeting her gaze.
“Do you not have anywhere like that, Fol?”
She answered in a lonely, quavering voice.
This is why I hate brats…
Zagan grimaced, finding out something he didn’t want to know.
Several days had passed. Valefar was still sometimes afraid, but had relaxed enough to hold a normal conversation and followed not just Nephie’s commands without complaint, but Zagan’s as well.
Zagan himself didn’t give any extreme orders, so she obediently aided Nephie, and when they were together, Nephie and Valefar would have their own conversations.
Well, it’s good for Nephie to have an assistant that’s the same gender.
So Zagan decided to quietly leave them alone.
He was searching through the books today, but…
“This is the last of the books from Marchosias’ castle.”
He was currently skimming over, and had just finished, the new books he had obtained.
But, there’s nothing about demons or the Demon Lord’s Seal.
It seemed he would indeed need to search through Marchosias’ legacy again, but the last time, he hadn’t found anything more important. If he did so with no forethought, the same thing would happen.
“If there was another mage…”
That was something he wouldn’t have thought in the past. Zagan was a mage with different knowledge and ways of thinking, so this was something that his pupil, Nephie, couldn’t help with.
The first mage other than himself that he thought of was Barbarus, but if Zagan showed him the Demon Lord’s legacy, it wouldn’t end well. Another mage came to mind, but in the end, he wasn’t sure how much he could trust them. And so, he decided to approach it from another direction.
Maybe I should look for information from a sector other than magic?
The first thing that called to mind was the church. They were an organisation that revered something like the One God, and were called natural enemies of mages that wore baptised armour to act against a mage’s physical strength. It was also said that there were twelve holy sword wielders amongst them that with their powers combined could rank equally with a Demon Lord.
It would be natural for them to hold on to information that mages didn’t have, but it wouldn’t be wise for Zagan to act with no preparations even if he was a Demon Lord.
Suddenly, he remembered an awkward girl’s face.
I wonder if she ended up safe?
She was called the Maiden of the Holy Sword, and though she had fought with Zagan, she was Nephie’s friend. He had helped her when she was captured by Barbarus, but didn’t know what had become of her after that.
Well, nothing good will come of a holy knight meeting with a mage.
She was a girl that was too serious in the strangest of ways. It would be for both of their benefit to not meet, but she had done her best to let Zagan go free when they had fought.
If they met again, she might put herself in a dilemma by hesitating to cut Zagan and strangely protecting him. Zagan hadn’t asked her to do anything, but seeing other people ruined due to him wasn’t a good feeling.
I guess I’ll ask Nephie later.
By her position, it would be convenient to have her die, but she wasn’t someone he should hate as a person, and if she were to die without his knowledge, it would leave a bad taste in his mouth. That was the extent of his concern.
“There’s a mountain of problems…”
As he carried on like that, the door to the archives opened soundlessly.
She was alone for once, and stood silently at the door as Zagan looked back at her.
“Is there something you wanted?”
“…Dinner… is prepared.”
She was as wary as ever, but her voice wasn’t hostile.
Zagan closed his book and nodded.
“I see, I’m on my way.”
As he left the archives for the dining room, Valefar was still looking up at him.
“Is there something you wanted to say, Valefar?”
“…Why… haven’t you killed me?”
It seemed she had opened her heart to Nephie slightly, but still thought that Zagan might kill her.
Zagan answered with a shrug.
“I’ve told you, again and again, Nephie took a liking to you, so I spared you.”
“Don’t you… think I might attack you from behind like this.”
Zagan smiled wryly at that. Just the other day he had had a similar conversation with Barbarus.
She might look like a child, but she’s a mage with things like this.
He wondered how human-like dragons were and sighed through his nose.
“Someone else said the same kind of thing, and then I told him to do it whenever he wanted. He knows a lot about alcohol, so every time I defeat him, he’ll have to bring me some.” Zagan finally looked back at her as he answered. “So I’ll say the same to you. Come at me whenever you like. Each time you lose, you’ll work more for Nephie.”
If Nephie looks after her, it’s fine to have her here for a while!
He absolutely wasn’t moved by her loneliness the other day. Fol’s expression turned dangerous at that haughty answer.
“…Don’t… you think I’ll steal your knowledge.”
There were over ten thousand books contained within these archives. Marchosias’ legacy only increased that number and not even Zagan knew the precise number. The accumulated knowledge of a mage was held within these books.
A mage fundamentally increased their power by complicating their magic circles. They could not use chants or tools instead, but the basic mechanism didn’t change. These complications were the symbols called ‘circuits’. These books each contained a circuit, so if you understood the book, you could also be said to have more circuits. Of course, ‘understanding’ was shown in those circuits’ uses in any form, not just in magic circles.
And so, magic could be ‘stolen’.
Valefar herself should have digested a roughly equal amount of books as Zagan had, if she was of similar power.
By that logic, maybe having more than ten thousand tomes is a criterion for being a Demon Lord candidate.
The number of circuits did not necessarily correlate with ability, but it was a rough approximation.
However, Zagan shrugged with a distinct lack of concern.
“I don’t really mind.”
Valefar’s eyes opened wide in shock at Zagan answering as if that were obvious.
“Is it really so surprising?”
“…Do you… think it’s not?”
Her face was that of a person faced with absurdity.
I have no interest in books I’ve already understood.
Zagan did not re-read books he had already obtained circuits from. The books here were all those that he had already read, so he didn’t care a whit if they were stolen, burned, or whatever. Perhaps his comprehension of being able to fully understand a book with a single reading was the main cause of him becoming a Demon Lord.
However, it seemed that Valefar didn’t understand this, and she kept looking up at him in confusion. Scratching his head, Zagan answered tiredly.
“I think that techniques and knowledge are things that are stolen. Even I killed the mage that lived here… I think he was Andras, well, whatever, I killed him and took his knowledge.”
He was kidnapped to be a sacrifice when he was a vagrant, that was when Zagan had turned the tables on Andras and become a mage.
The reason that a normal human like Zagan had been able to kill him was that he had seen Andras’ magic and stolen it. And even now, that technique was the basis of Zagan’s power.
Stolen things are useful when the time comes.
So even if someone appeared that would steal from him, he didn’t feel like he had any reason to stop them.
“Of course, I won’t teach you so carefully and attentively as I do Nephie, but by the same token, I have no intention of stopping you from sneaking into the archives and learning my magic. Well, if you were to take and destroy the books I haven’t read yet, that would be a different matter.”
That said, he had already read all of those that he had brought from Marchosias’ legacy so there weren’t any left that he would be worried about.
And no one would complain about that method to ‘obtain power’.
The reason he went out of his way to tell her this might be because he could see his past self in her. Zagan might have been a worthless nuisance, but there was still the boy that had held out his hand like an older sibling. Surely, he wanted to act like him.
Valefar shook her head.
“…I can’t understand you. You’re hubristic, you could force me to obey. But why don’t you?”
Nephie would be sad if I did that!
Or if not, he had a feeling that she would disapprove. There was no way he could do such a thing in front of Nephie.
Zagan snorted at Valefar, who had no way of knowing that.
“I don’t care how long you will live as a dragon, or how skilled a mage you are, you’re just a child here. Children should just act like children, no one here will take offence at that.”
He didn’t want her to like him.
But he couldn’t ignore her.
Zagan roughly brushed a hand through her hair, as if he was assaulted by a haze that even he couldn’t explain. Surprisingly however, Fol didn’t shake his hand off. He had been prepared for her to snap at him in anger but… far from that…
For some reason, tears welled in her eyes.
Eh? Did? Did I make her cry?
He’d made a young girl — she may be a dragon, but she looked like a girl — cry. That flustered even Zagan.
“H-hey, don’t cry!”
“…I’m… not crying.”
Zagan was at a loss with the girl wiping at her face with both hands as she spoke.
“Kuh, a-anyway, dinner’s done, right? Let’s go, Nephie’s cooking will stop your crying.”
Zagan took Valefar’s hand and headed to the dining room, pretending not to notice her squeezing his hand back.
“Is it tasty, Fol?”
“Yeah, it is.”
Valefar had finished crying as they arrived at the dining room. The three of them then took their lunch at the table. Zagan was sat in the middle, with Nephie on the left and Valefar on his right.
Despite everything, Valefar was sitting there as if she was familiar with everything.
She really is calculating.
Zagan was the one that had said she would stop crying if she ate, but he couldn’t quite reconcile such a drastic change. He let out a sigh and moved his attention to her legs as they swayed, unable to reach the ground.
“What is it this time?”
Valefar suddenly cast her eyes down as Zagan looked at her suspiciously. It seemed she was scared again, but the girl mustered her courage and spoke.
“…I’m sorry, for interrupting dinner before.”
That would be the day she arrived. Zagan’s eyes went wide at this.
“I interrupted, even though you were eating Nephie’s food. Of course you would be angry.”
“H-hmph, as long as you understand.”
He hadn’t thought she would apologise so honestly, and answered loudly to hide his confusion.
At the same time, he made a decision.
Well, it should be fine.
He didn’t intend to create a mutually trusting relationship in a few days, but they should be able to co-operate. At least she should understand that there was nothing to gain by going against him, but things to gain by obeying him. Growing sure of that, Zagan looked at Nephie.
“More importantly, Nephie, I thought I might bring her along tomorrow, do you mind?”
“I don’t, what do you need her for?”
“Hmm, I thought I’d go and investigate Marchosias’ castle, the Demon Lord’s Palace, again.”
Marchosias’ castle didn’t have a set name, but mages called it the Demon Lord’s Palace out of respect.
“The… previous Demon Lord’s castle?”
“Yeah, I investigated it before, but the information I wanted wasn’t in the books I brought back, so I’m going again.”
What he wanted being descriptions of demons and the Demon Lord’s Seal.
It’s beyond strange to find nothing, even though I searched so much.
Marchosias must have wanted to stop the knowledge from spreading.
Valefar spoke warily.
“…Are you sane? This is the same as giving me the Grand Elder’s knowledge.”
Grand Elder was how Marchosias was known, having been called that name at some point because of his life spanning over a millennium. Naturally, he would have amassed vast knowledge. If he investigated the area, he might be able to find hidden books. If Valefar, being a dragon, could gain that knowledge, she might even be able to surpass Zagan or another Demon Lord.
And yet, Zagan nodded as if it was nothing.
“I’ve already said, I don’t care what knowledge you steal.”
Valefar’s face grew all the more confused.
“…I’m your enemy.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true. But well, I’m shorthanded, if you can at least help with my goal, I don’t mind anything else you do.”
In the past days, let alone attacking either him or Nephie, Valefar hadn’t even been hostile, so having her help with the search through Marchosias’ legacy shouldn’t be an issue.
I did want to go alone with Nephie though.
But Valefar was a mage, and a dragon might have knowledge that others wouldn’t. She would definitely be helpful in searching through Marchosias’ legacy.
Besides, he honestly wanted someone that could deal with Marchosias’ castle.
He didn’t think Barbarus would give honest reports, and Nephie’s friend Manuela wasn’t a mage. Her other friend Chastel was a holy knight of the church. So he could just leave the management to Fol if she could use it. That was how much importance Zagan had put on finding out about the true nature of demons and the Demon Lord’s Seal. Zagan then cleared his throat and muttered.
“Besides, following the Demon Lord shouldn’t be a bad thing for you. Nearly everyone already knows not to oppose me, so, well, umm, you know…”
“…? What are you trying to say?”
Zagan answered while looking away from Valefar as she tilted her head at him.
“Whatever your true nature, there aren’t that many fools that would displease me by laying a hand on you.”
Just like Nephie, the title of Demon Lord would protect Valefar. There hadn’t actually been any invaders since Valefar’s attack. There might be lost people and holy knights, but no mages should publicly oppose him anymore.
Well, if I can’t protect her, I can’t say that I will protect Nephie forever.
He was just protecting her incidentally, it wasn’t at all because he was worried about the young girl with nowhere to go. He said it wasn’t, so it wasn’t.
And yet, when he glanced at her, she didn’t seem disbelieving, but was looking back and forwards between Zagan and Nephie. Slowly, Valefar nodded, as if she finally believed his words.
Zagan nodded, and Valefar glared at him in dissatisfaction.
“…But, I’m not ‘you’.”
“Hmm? Ah, your name. Got it, come with me, Valefar.”
However, Valefar moved her mouth to say something that seemed difficult, and then, after her mouth opened, she said.
“…Fol… is fine.”
This was the first time that Vale— no, that Fol compromised with him. Zagan spoke again, scratching at his cheeks.
“Ahh… Then I’ll count on you tomorrow… Fol.”
Zagan and Nephie grew a little closer to the new lodger.
“…Honestly, falling asleep right after eating, kids are kids, dragon or not.”
Zagan lay Fol on the guest room bed even as he cursed. During dinner, while they were all talking happily, Fol had fallen asleep still clutching her spoon. With nothing else he could do, Zagan had carried her on his back.
Nephie had efficiently taken the robe off her and covered her with a sheet, hanging the robe so it wouldn’t crease.
“I think she’s tired. I’m sure it’s the first time it’s happened.
Zagan grimaced at Nephie’s cheerful words.
“Isn’t this enemy territory for her though? Even though she’s sleeping so soundly?”
Fol herself had said that, but Nephie happily shook her head.
“You taught her that you weren’t enemies didn’t you?”
Nephie’s ears shook in happiness.
“She was very wary at first, and scared I think. But because she was reassured that it was okay, she’s sleeping like this.” She then looked up somewhat embarrassedly at Zagan. “I was the same.”
He remembered the days when Nephie had first came here. He hadn’t known how to speak with the girl he liked and dawn had broken while he was flustered. There hadn’t been time to prepare a room for her like she now had, and she had slept curled on the throne room floor.
It seemed that Fol had let her guard down around Zagan that much now.
“W-well, that’s because, you know. You’re mine, you have to take care of your things.”
“You do, thank you.”
Nephie answered happily, even though he called her a ‘thing’ again. Remembering his embarrassment then, and with Nephie’s gaze, now was far too embarrassing again, and he avoided her eyes.
“Are you okay with this though?”
“Bringing Fol, I didn’t ask you at all, but…”
Nephie’s eyes widened in surprise as he began his question, and her pointed ears stiffened, showing just how surprised she was. And then, her mouth curved into a slight smile.
“Yes, just as you wish, Zagan-sama.”
Unable to calm down, his eyes fell on Fol.
“…Honestly, she’s still holding that spoon?”
Fol was sound asleep, with the spoon still clutched in her hand. Zagan took it from her.
And it was at that moment.
For some reason, Fol was holding on to Zagan’s finger.
Her hand was different from Nephie’s slender digits, it was childish and chubby. And then she murmured something, sounding lonely.
She was probably dreaming of her parents. She was speaking feebly, unthinkable for a dragon that had aimed for Zagan’s life. He didn’t know what kind of relationship dragons had with their parents, but she seemed to be remembering hers. And her sleep talking really did sound like that of a young girl.
I’m bad with kids…
Zagan didn’t know what parents were like.
Perhaps his intent to be like a sibling had reminded her of her father, and he actually felt saddened that he might seem that old. However, he couldn’t shake off the hand holding his thin fingers. At this, Nephie had a rare smile.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, it’s just… It’s sort of like we have a child, isn’t it?”
This was different from Zagan calling her a kid, it would mean that it was his child, with him and Nephie as her parents.
A child! Even though we haven’t even kissed!?
Let alone sex, they were still only holding hands. Nephie seemed to realise what she had said at Zagan’s expression, and her face flushed red in an instant.
“T-that’s not what I mean! Um, just that you were protecting her, and protecting a child was like…”
“Ah, r-right. I-I get it. I get it alright? Don’t worry.”
As sweat ran down their heads, neither of them could look the other in the eye. Then, Nephie grabbed Zagan’s cuff and Zagan intertwined his fingers with hers, and she slowly gripped back.
What is this, it’s sort of… warm…
Being held by Fol on his right hand, and Nephie on his left was strangely comfortable.
That was probably the word Nephie wanted to say. Of course they knew about it, there were words that showed those relationships, sibling, spouse, breadwinner. However, neither of them knew what it really was. So they couldn’t put it into words right away.
The first thing that the word family would bring to mind would be a child holding hands with their parents. It hadn’t happened to him, but he had seen it in the town.
I wonder if we will be able to be like that.
Being a mage was synonymous with being a villain. It might be funny for him, who stood at the pinnacle of mages to wish for ordinary happiness, but Zagan had what he wanted.
And then, he vowed to protect it. It might be a meagre desire for a Demon Lord, but the sight of family seemed to shine to Zagan.
It was the next day, and Zagan was leading Nephie and Fol through the town of Kianoides. The Demon Lord’s Palace was hidden under the city. The Grand Elder’s castle was an underground labyrinth.
However, he didn’t immediately return there, and was walking through the streets.
“Zagan, where are we going?”
“A clothes shop.”
“Are you going to walk around in that?”
Nephie was in her usual attendant’s outfit, but Fol was in the same robe as always, and so had only underwear on beneath it. Perhaps because of that, she was looking around restlessly.
I’d like to at least hide her horns too.
They were currently covered by a low hood, but a gust of wind would expose them, a hat or something would be better. Despite that, she looked up at him in dissatisfaction.
“You were the one that told me to leave my armour.”
“Of course I did, people would even run away from Nephie if you were walking around in that.”
Nephie was well liked amongst the townspeople, and there were a fair few people that would talk with her. Driving people away from her wasn’t what Zagan wanted.
However, Nephie was the one that was uneasy then.
“Umm, when you say clothes shop…?”
“Indeed, her shop is familiar, so it’s fine.”
“I think Manuela is good too, but, um, will the clothes… be alright?”
Nephie’s expression remained blank as always, but her ears meant her confusion was evident.
Fol tilted her head at their reactions.
“Is she a mage?”
“No, she’s a normal person. A kind person too.”
Nephie’s words lacked persuasiveness, and Fol clutched Zagan’s robe in fear.
Nephie was friends with her, but she was an eccentric that often used Nephie as a dress-up doll. It was troubling when she gave her clothes she couldn’t look Zagan in the eye while wearing, but she was reliable for whether clothing was good or bad.
Besides, even if she notices that Fol is a dragon, she shouldn’t say anything.
Her thinking of Nephie as a friend was something that meant Zagan could trust her, and he spoke reassuringly.
“Even she wouldn’t make a kid like this wear weird clothes, would she?”
Nephie, don’t be so nervous about that.
Even Zagan worried if they were really friends. Whilst that was going on, they reached the store in question.
An energetic voice greeted them when they opened the door. The greeter was a beautiful, green-winged woman, smiling cheerfully as she wandered the store.
She was twenty, and was Manuela.
Nephie bobbed her head in greeting.
“You came again today, Nephie-chan?”
“Yes, umm, I wanted you to choose some clothes…”
“Of course… Wait, why is your master here?”
Her eyes finally fell on Zagan, and she looked at him as if he was a great nuisance. Zagan looked sullenly back at her.
“Oi, you’ve been making Nephie wear weird things while I’m not here.”
“What on Earth could you be talking about? I only choose our products.”
“This shop has a mountain’s worth of indecent clothes.” Manuela whistled in faux ignorance at Zagan’s glare. “…Honestly. Nephie isn’t the customer today, choose her some suitable clothes.”
Said Zagan, pushing Fol forwards.
“Oh, a new lodger? Let’s see…”
Manuela softly removed the hood from Fol’s head. Her green hair and golden eyes were exposed, and Manuela’s eyes shone brightly.
“My…! She’s cute.”
Perhaps feeling that she would be hard to deal with, Fol went to hide behind Zagan, but Manuela caught her by the arm.
“Hmmm, there’s something different about her than Nephie! Leave it to me, I’ll make her really cute!”
“…Don’t make her wear anything too strange.”
“It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine.”
Fol looked up searching for help, but Manuela pulled her away without mercy.
“…Will it really be fine?”
“Well, it should be, shouldn’t it?”
Their gazes followed her as if she were their own child on their first outing, and they fiddled with the cuffs on their clothes.
After several minutes, the dressing room curtain opened.
When they watched Fol totter out, they both let out a breath. She was wearing something that looked like a tribal dress of some country. It went with her green hair and was based around white and scarlet. While they were a subdued colour, her horns looked like ornaments and went together well with it. There was a robe hung on her shoulders.
“What do you think? The robe goes well with it and brings out her natural adorableness.”
“…If you can do it properly, why don’t you?”
The clothes were brilliantly chosen, but Zagan sighed. Manuela shook her head as if to say he didn’t understand.
“Our job is to show our customers their new selves, isn’t it?”
“Your choices are too new.”
That aside, Zagan looked at Nephie.
“It suits her, doesn’t it? What do you think, Fol?”
“…I don’t know. Human clothes are all the same.”
She said while checking how the hem sat, and her face didn’t seem at all unhappy.
“Isn’t it too eye-catching?”
“I don’t really mind that.”
If anything, she’d want to show she was with Zagan. That would inevitably decrease the number of people that would hurt her. At least when Nephie walked alone no one made a move on her.
However, Zagan muttered.
“But the hood doesn’t fit with it.”
Showing the horns would mean that someone might recognise Valefar as a dragon. They had to show that she was under Zagan’s protection, but going as far as showing that she was a dragon might cause issues. What was also protecting Nephie, who would be targeted for being a white-haired elf, was that her personality was loved by the townspeople, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case for Fol.
Wracking her mind, Manuela soon clapped her hands.
“In that case, what about this robe?”
So saying, she gently hung another robe over Valefar’s shoulders. It was a pure white robe, inlaid with red decoration in parts, but the hood was like a cat costume, and the ears perfectly covered her horns.
“Hmm. Not bad. What do you think, Nephie?”
“It’s very cute, I like it.”
Said Nephie, with her ear tips shivering in happiness.
“Then it’s decided, we’ll take that.”
“Thank you for your patronage!” Then, while she was removing the price tags, Manuela teasingly questioned them. “So, this girl… Fol-chan, right? Did you adopt her?”
“That’s not it, but…” How should he explain it though? If he said she was a mage that attacked his castle, he would be too forgiving to Fol. Having said that, he didn’t know what she was thinking, but what would calling her his adopted child do. As he worried, Zagan answered. “Right… umm, does it look like that?”
“Yeah. You look more like parent and child than siblings… Right, that’s everything.” Manuela fixed the cuffs after cutting the price tags off and stood up. Fol immediately hid herself behind Zagan, as if she had been released. “Well, I won’t pry. As long as Nephie isn’t unhappy, that’s fine.”
“Hmph, a wise decision.”
He really wanted to thank her for her help, but that was the sentence that left his mouth. However, Manuela was used to it, and showed no sign of the ruined atmosphere with a tight smile.
“Come again any time then.”
“We will, thank you, Manuela-san.”
Valefar saw Nephie bob her head, and timidly imitated her.
“…Thank you. I… like the clothes.”
Manuela smiled broadly at her response.
“Damn, you’re so cute! I can keep her, right? Ah, that’s not it in this case, it’d be you leaving her and going?”
“Hey, calm down! She’s not a thing, don’t be so thoughtless!”
Zagan took Fol’s hand and hurriedly left the store.
“…Honestly, this is why it’s such a hassle going to her store.”
Then Nephie murmured happily as he walked angrily.
“But I think it was the right choice.”
As she said that, Zagan looked at where he was leading Fol by the hand.
She was still unsteady on her feet, but it seemed she liked the clothes themselves. She didn’t appear to dislike them and seemed rather happy in fact. She tilted her head, perhaps sensing his gaze.
“Nothing… Do you… like them?”
She nodded surprisingly honestly.
“I see, that’s good.”
“Thank you too, Zagan.”
She was probably thanking him for paying for her clothes. She didn’t smile, but spoke unenthusiastically. Then, Fol used her empty hand to hold Nephie’s. They walked along as a trio, with Fol right in the middle, and Zagan’s breath caught.
What’s this feeling…?
It was strangely warm, and happy, not a bad feeling by any means, but it was an emotion he had never felt before.
He could possibly call it love.
But it was different from his love for Nephie — romantic love.
He remembered Manuela’s earlier words.
“You look more like parent and child than siblings.”
So would this be protectiveness? Zagan shook violently as he realised the truth of the emotions filling him.
Impossible… I want to protect a kid like this?
If someone like Barbarus found out that he still had those feelings, they would probably be seriously worried.
But Zagan, with his wicked appearance, hadn’t had a chance to interact with children before. As he worried through a vague haze in his mind that he couldn’t put into words, a girl walked from in front of him.
She was wearing a silk shirt and a skirt that was decorated with lace. Elegance flowed from her slow stride, and her long, red hair that fell to her waist showed her to be a young noblewoman. She seemed to be thinking of something, as her expression was downcast.
He had the feeling he knew her face, but couldn’t immediately remember. Recently, he had had more chances to exchange a few words in the town, so there were several of those ‘acquaintances’, when the girl saw Zagan, her breath caught.
It seemed that she knew him.
I recognise her voice too, who is she?
As he wondered, the girl relaxed as she saw Nephie, and then stiffened when she saw Fol.
“Y-you… you’ve already had a child…?”
“D-d-d-d-d-don’t say such shameless things! Nephie and I haven’t…”
When he took a glance at Nephie, the tips of her ears had gone red, and when their eyes met, they immediately looked away from each other.
What’s Nephie thinking?
Even Zagan knew roughly how a child was born, but when she had asked for things like sleeping together, she hadn’t really seemed to understand the implication.
Could he really lay his hands on the soft skin of the girl that didn’t understand what night service was?
As Zagan worried himself, Fol looked up at him not following the situation.
“Zagan, who’s that?”
“Hm, ah, that’s right, who are you?”
He knew her from somewhere, but didn’t really know. The girl and Nephie both looked at him in shock at his question.
“D-don’t you even remember me?”
“Zagan-sama, Zagan-sama, it’s Chastel-san!”
The girl’s eyes immediately filled with tears and Nephie frantically told him. The girl’s teary face finally matched with a ‘Chastel’ in his memories.
She wasn’t wearing her armour, had no holy sword, and her red hair was down, so he didn’t recognise her as the same person.
Well, she seems fine.
It was a concern that she wasn’t dressed as a holy knight, but she seemed safe.
“Oh, it’s you. Fol, this is… I suppose you could call her Nephie’s friend?”
When she saw Nephie nod, the girl — Chastel, finally calmed down.
Captain of the holy knights and Maiden of the Holy Sword were her titles. As the names implied, she wore the church’s baptised armour and took on the responsibility of wielding one of only twelve holy swords.
…Well, she had the veneer of that.
“So, what’s with that outfit?”
Chastel hesitated to answer Zagan’s question.
“I’m um… off-duty right now.”
“What, you weren’t fired?”
Chastel panicked as if he’d hit the nail on the head.
Mages and holy knights were antagonistic, but Zagan had helped Chastel before, and she had said she would vouch for him in the church. It was a disgraceful act for a holy knight, and it wouldn’t be unthinkable for her to be excommunicated.
Chastel crossed her arms and looked away with a huff.
“I-it’s not like I matter, is it? More importantly, what’s with this girl? I doubt you kidnapped her, but…”
Zagan avoided her gaze and patted Fol on the head. It made the hood move, but didn’t seem like it would expose her horns.
“She’s a mage too. You can think what you like about our relationship.”
He didn’t know what she was imagining with her confused face, but Zagan didn’t care. As this happened, another voice came from afar.
“Lady Chastel! Walking alone is dangerous!”
“We beg of you, allow us to guard you!”
Three sweating knights rushed up. Zagan noticed them and stood to protect Chastel.
“Mgh, Zagan! What are you doing to Lady Chastel?”
Zagan nodded, able to remember their filth.
“Yeah, and you three are… The three… Morons of the Azure Sky?”
“We’re the three Knights of the Azure Sky!”
“Whatever. You don’t really have any business with…?” As he went to turn them away, a light of blood-lust was lit within Fol’s eyes, and her arms now had the claws of a dragon. “Stop.”
Fol shook in surprise at Zagan’s low remonstration.
Have these idiots had some kind of argument with Fol?
If they saw her as a mage, they would be hostile, and imagine that he had recruited other mages. However, the knights didn’t notice Fol’s hostility and just glared at Zagan. When he thought of her form as ‘Apparition’, it was easy to see why they didn’t connect them. Tiredly, Zagan waved a hand at the three knights.
“If you’ve got no business with me, leave. I’m busy.”
At any rate, a conversation between the mage Zagan and holy knights in such a public space was not a good thing. Zagan wasn’t particularly bothered by it, but it could end poorly for Chastel.
They seem like they’re worried about something.
It was Chastel. However, if Zagan, a Demon Lord, were to offer his hand to a holy knight wielder like Chastel, rather than help her, it would become a source of misfortune.
The knights huffed.
“Regardless, we have no words to exchange with yourself.”
“Let us go, Lady Chastel. Please think of your safety.”
“Eh, a, wai-”
The knights took Chastel away without letting her get a word in. However, Zagan overheard their final words.
“Please think of your safety.”
It seemed like she was in some kind of trouble again. Nephie seemed to have noticed it too, as her eyes were uneasy as she watched them leave.
“I wonder if Chastel-san is okay?”
“I wonder. But it seems like she has a decent amount of popularity, and there are people she can rely on.”
The mage Zagan involving himself would only worsen her position. It would be a lie to say he didn’t care, but he was also worried about Fol’s glare at their backs.
“More importantly, Fol, did they do anything to you?”
“…Is there something strange about a mage disliking holy knights?”
“No? That’s perfectly normal.”
Apparently she didn’t want to talk about it. Her arm had returned to normal, but she avoided a straight answer.
That was clearly hatred though.
It was fundamentally different than the hostility she had shown when she attacked Zagan’s castle. If he had been the target of such hatred, even Zagan wouldn’t have kept her nearby. He shrugged and looked to where they had left.
I hope this doesn’t get annoying.
However, he didn’t notice that he was already being protected from the ‘annoyance’ as he sighed.
“We’re here, this is the Demon Lord’s Palace.”
Marchosias’ castle was old, repaired ruins, in the same space as the underground auction hall he had met Nephie in.
It was mostly underground, but even so, the underground space was filled with shops to its furthest reaches, and the wall of the buried castle left a strong impression. There was a gate leading to the inside in the centre of the wall.
Zagan and Nephie had been there before, but it was the first time Fol had seen it and seemed to be overwhelmed by its scale as she leaned back. It did seem like she wasn’t affected by the disagreement with the holy knights now.
“There’s this kind of structure underground?”
“Yeah, it was originally above ground, then sank. I don’t know if it was a fluctuation of the crust or Marchosias’ magic that caused it though.”
The castle itself was centuries old, so it was hard to find traces of magic. Though if an entire castle had sunk, there should have been records left behind, so it probably was Marchosias’ magic. It was an amazing power, that Zagan couldn’t imitate.
If I’d insisted on going my own way, would I have had to fight with those twelve monsters?
However, they would someday be an obstacle for him protecting Nephie and allowing her to live in the sun. As he once again went over those difficulties, Fol murmured softly.
“It’s kind of familiar.”
Zagan’s eyes widened.
“Have you been here before?”
“No, just the place I used to live had a similar atmosphere.”
Zagan crouched so his gaze was level with Fol’s. The young dragon girl’s eyes were round, but she nodded.
“Yeah. There wasn’t a castle, but it was a similar kind of cave, and the smell was similar too.”
“The smell of magic. A dragon probably lived here in the past.”
Those were words that he hadn’t expected.
The ruins… of a dragon?
If that was the case, she might know things they hadn’t investigated before, because even if she was young, Fol was a dragon.
“Right, tell me if there’s anything related to dragons inside, I don’t care how small it is.”
“Got it. But if there are books I like, can I read them?”
“…I don’t mind if you bring them back, read them later.”
He wondered if she really understood. Fol’s cheeks flushed and she seemed somewhat happy. Was she excited at the traces of her brethren?
Right, those holy knights don’t matter any more then?
Children’s interests really did move quickly. Even with his amazement, Zagan opened the entrance to the castle, causing a blast of cold air filled with the smell of mildew and dust.
There weren’t even any torches inside, and darkness lurked like it led to the underworld. There was a sense of tension in the air, as if the Demon Lord’s mana still remained, even now.
Marchosias didn’t have humans near him, and had familiars and golems take care of his needs. However, even they had either left with his death, or returned to the earth from whence they came. Therefore, there was no one that knew the full story of the castle.
Nephie held tightly to the cuff of Zagan’s robe. Gently squeezing her hand, he walked inside. When he took a step inside, a magic circle sensed the return of its owner and lit candles set into the wall. The darkness was driven away like a ripple on the water, but on the contrary, the mana hanging in the air thickened.
“Zagan, what’s that?”
Fol was pointing at a huge statue that was looking down at them.
“It’s probably a type of creature made by magic, like a golem or a chimaera.”
It could be called a survivor of those that managed the palace. It had completely turned to stone and they couldn’t feel even traces of mana from it. Fol’s eyes opened in surprise at his answer.
“A creature… it’s alive?”
“It seems so. Unfortunately I don’t know how to release it, or employ it.”
There were bounded fields arrayed around the statue and though Zagan knew that they were there for something, he hadn’t determined exactly what they were for.
“Could it be a guard?”
Asked Nephie, tilting her head.
“That’s probably right. It looks like it stopped working when its original master, Marchosias, passed away. It might rampage if you touch it carelessly, so don’t.”
Following Nephie’s example, Fol grabbed Zagan’s cuff as well. His face softened into a smile as if he wanted to sigh as he looked over the hall.
There were strange jewels set into the stairs to the upper floor, and the passageways to the left and right were also lined with decorations. Even the floor was covered in magic circles with so many circuits that the floor itself wasn’t visible. He still hadn’t grasped the full scope of the castle. It would take years to investigate everything and go through the entire library and all of the magic tools.
I really do want a subordinate.
Someone that could manage this castle and collect the information for Zagan.
But a mage that wouldn’t betray him… or more importantly, would answer his demands was hard to find. Fol fulfilled those conditions, but whether she would accept it was another matter.
Zagan had many problems in his mind, but first walked towards the archives.
It was then that Fol spoke up.
“Zagan, is this magic circle good?”
She was pointing at a magic circle on the floor. It was delicately constructed, inlaid with crystals, and was about three or four paces in diameter. He was taken by how the farthest reaches of magic would be so beautiful.
“What do you mean by good?”
Fol spoke as if it was obvious when Zagan questioned her.
“This is a dragon’s formula.”
Apparently there were circuits only passed down by dragons. The circle and the magic’s structure was no different than that which Zagan was used to.
If a Demon Lord lived for over a millennium, it wouldn’t be strange for them to get skilled with dragon’s formulae.
It was a power that he couldn’t possibly hope to comprehend after a mere eighteen years. As Zagan was moved by the new reality becoming clear, Fol looked up at him somewhat proudly.
“Just like you said, I told you.”
Her appearance was nothing like a vicious dragon, and Zagan stroked her hair.
“You did, good girl, Fol.”
Her eyes closed slightly as if she was being tickled, and then she ran over to Nephie.
“Nephie, Zagan praised me.”
“That’s good, Fol.”
Nephie stoked her hair as well, and Fol let out a satisfied sigh. As he watched them, he felt the same feelings when he wanted to protect Nephie.
I don’t want to admit it, but is this protectiveness…?
He had tried to deny it at first, but he had no choice but to admit it now. Even while he was confused at the change within himself, he asked Fol a question.
“Fol, do you know what this is for?”
“It’s probably hiding a door or something.”
A seal that even used dragon formulae? It was no wonder that he hadn’t found anything big last time.
“Can you open it?”
Fol touched the circle and started to investigate it. Zagan watched over her, and Nephie huddled in close with him.
“What is it?”
“It’s nothing, just…”
Nephie mumbled strangely reluctantly as Zagan questioned her. It was like she was embarrassed, and her pointed ears flushed red. Then, she looked at him with upturned eyes, as if asking him to guess.
Is she testing me, a Demon Lord…?
To think that he would have such a test from Nephie. Zagan thought frantically.
Is she teasing me?
It was exceedingly rare that Nephie asserted herself like this, and he wanted to guess somehow. He then remembered Fol’s satisfied face from just a moment ago. It was an easy to understand smile of a child, because she was praised by Zagan and Nephie.
But I try to praise Nephie as much as I can…
Of course, praise was difficult for Zagan, but he still tried to show those feelings as much as he could, and he felt that Nephie understood that.
So it’s something else?
He didn’t think it would be far removed from his conversation with Fol, and then remembered how Fol had closed her eyes in comfort.
I see, it’s that!
Finally, he thought he had the answer and looked back at Nephie with a nervous expression.
“Don’t move, okay?”
She was bewildered to see Zagan seemed deep in thought, as if he was facing an unbeatable enemy, judging by his expression. Then, Zagan carefully reached a hand towards Nephie’s face. A gulp came from her pale white throat, and then, he touched her soft, white hair.
The answer that Zagan had come to from Nephie’s wordless plea was…
To stroke her hair.
Nephie let out a breath and closed her eyes in enjoyment.
I’ve had my hair stroked before as well.
When she had let him sleep on her lap, Nephie had stroked his hair, and it was the happiest moment in his life that far. However, he hadn’t returned the gesture, and it seemed that when she saw him stroke Fol’s hair in front of her, she was somewhat jealous.
Nephie’s ears shivered in satisfaction and she leaned against Zagan.
This… isn’t really bad.
He didn’t put it into words, but those were his thoughts. Nephie hadn’t behaved like this while they were alone, perhaps Fol also being with them had put some kind of desire into Nephie’s heart.
It was a dramatic change from when they had first met and she had given up on life.
His face relaxed at those feelings, and he noticed that Fol had been staring steadily at them. They sprung away from each other.
“W-what is it, Fol?”
Looking in front of the young girl, there was a gaping entrance to stairs that lead even further down.
“Right, good job!”
Quickly, Zagan descended the stairs.
The hidden stairs did indeed lead to a huge library. The ceiling was a whole floor above, and bookcases reached as high as the eye could see throughout the room. Of course, the walls were buried in bookcases too.
A cursory glance showed tens of thousands of books that would take more than a decade to read. There were, of course, many old books stored within the archives, and there were handmade documents as well. Books that Marchosias had collected over more than a millennium.
Zagan looked at Fol.
“Well done, Fol, it looks like this is it.”
There might be other hidden rooms, but this was right in the entranceway sealed using even dragon formulae. It would have been frequently used so there was a high possibility the room was important.
Zagan turned to Nephie and Fol.
“Gather up all of the books which mention demons or the Demon Lord’s seal.”
Even if there was nothing close to the core of the matter, if he could gather related circuits, he would be able to see the full picture. It was always worth it for a mage to read.
Nephie lifted the sides of her skirt and bowed.
He had told her what she needed to know last time, so she should be used to finding things from the title and contents. Next to her, Fol looked up at him as if she was expecting something.
“…Well, I don’t mind you bringing books you’re interested in too.”
Fol nodded and they headed in their own directions. Zagan went to investigate the shelves.
A library of this size should have even more things like hidden stairs.
It was common for a mage’s hideout to have things like mechanisms in the bookcases which would cause stairs to appear. With how large the room was, nothing was immediately visible and he might have to investigate the furthest areas.
He walked around as he skimmed over the spines and happened upon Fol again, apparently they were searching through the same bookcase.
She looked up at him and tilted her head.
“You look happy, Zagan.”
With it pointed out to him, Zagan touched his own face. He didn’t know if he was smiling or anything, but now that she mentioned it, he might have a pleased expression.
“Well, there are so many books all together, it does put you in a good mood.”
“I get that.”
Surprisingly, Fol agreed.
“I… don’t dislike reading books.”
He could imagine the small girl tottering around with a heavy book. He wasn’t Manuela, but he couldn’t help but smile slightly. Fol then looked up at him unhappily and asked him a question.
“Zagan, can you read minds?”
“…? I wonder about that.”
He didn’t understand the meaning of her question, and gave an indirect answer, then Fol looked oddly earnest.
“You knew what Nephie wanted even though she didn’t speak.”
She probably meant when he stroked her hair earlier. It being mentioned again like this made him want to die of embarrassment and scratched his nose to hide that.
“Nephie is always guessing for me, so if I couldn’t get at least a little, I’d be in trouble.”
She had inferred everything and returned even when he hurt her and turned her away, so he wanted to live up to that.
Fol looked down in some kind of loneliness at his answer.
“I’m a little… jealous.”
Zagan frowned in puzzlement.
“Why are you talking about it like it has nothing to do with you?”
“I don’t know how long dragons live, but Marchosias lived for a thousand years.” Fol looked blankly up at him as if she didn’t know what he wanted to say, and Zagan avoided her gaze. “After a millennium, you should be able to infer things without words.”
Of course, Nephie would be there too. Zagan was currently hurrying to gather knowledge to live freely for millennia.
Fol looked up at him in disbelief.
“Will you… go with me…?”
“I won’t stop you from going where you want.”
Said Fol, clinging to his arm.
This doesn’t really work…
But still, he gave up and stroked Fol’s head. Though he wouldn’t always do so. As they searched through the books with Fol still clinging to his arm when she suddenly looked up at him.
Fol took out a book, and her face suddenly grew serious.
The title was The Twelve Holy Swords, and holy swords were a natural enemy of mages, this was a book with information on them.
Fol was flipping through the pages when Zagan let out a gasp.
“Give that for a second.”
Fol glared and groaned, but he didn’t have the time to worry about that.
The book had copies of the symbols engraved on the sword. Zagan then dropped his gaze to his right hand.
Visually comparing them, the Demon Lord’s Seal had a lot of similar characteristics to the crests on the holy swords.
It wasn’t enough to say they resembled each other, but there were many portions which showed that the characters had the same source. Because of the lack of similarity, he hadn’t realised it when he met Chastel, and she didn’t have the holy sword earlier either. However, he was sure of it when he compared it to his memories.
So if I investigate the holy swords, I’ll also find out about the Demon Lord’s Seal.
If they were the same type of crest, then learning about one of them should let him understand the other.
He returned the book to Fol.
“Good job, Fol. Gather up books on holy swords, I’ll investigate too.”
Fol was probably interested in them because she hated holy knights or someone related. But her voice was still thick with anticipation and joy. They told Nephie and the three found several books on the holy swords.