“It is an honour to meet you, Captain Raphael Hurandel, I am Chastel Lillqvist.”
They were in the cathedral of the Kianoides branch of the church, and Chastel was introducing herself with a bow while Zagan and the others were searching the Demon Lord’s Palace.
With her rights as a holy knight suspended, Chastel was denied not only her holy sword, but her baptised armour as well. While she had changed into formal wear since meeting the others, she was still nothing more than an ordinary, human girl. Her three subordinates were arrayed behind her as usual. The holy knight before her didn’t seem aged at all, and instead had an intense aura of intimidation surrounding him.
The first thing to draw the eye was the gouge that extended diagonally from his left cheek up to his forehead. His white hair was cropped short, and his dark-blue eyes seemed to shine with a light that pierced through the object of his gaze. His huge body seemed to be constrained by his baptised armour. He had a pronounced jaw, and a finely chiselled nose, coupled with a brutal expression that would cause the weak-willed to faint.
He carried a large blade on his back.
A holy sword.
The twelve holy swords all had the same form. In other words, it should be the same as the blade that Chastel was bestowed with, but it seemed like a one-handed sword.
This was Raphael, the one that boasted the most mage-kills at four hundred and ninety-nine, a symbol of the church’s might.
The knights behind her could do nothing but stare rigidly up at him. However, there were no others around him.
The Captain is alone, without a guard…?
Precisely because he was the church’s greatest asset in battle, the Captain must be protected. The holy knight captains like Chastel fought on the front lines in subjugations of mages, but they also had subordinates to protect them.
And yet, Raphael had come here alone. He was certainly powerful, but Chastel felt that his actions were rash.
Raphael looked her over from head to toe and smiled, smiled like the cracks running over a mountain-face.
“So you are the rumoured ‘Maiden of the Holy Sword’? I had heard you were serving your penitence for acting contrary to the church, but you have an unexpectedly good look about you.”
Apparently her acting contrary to the church — protecting Zagan — hadn’t been spread. It was most likely Cardinal Clavell’s consideration towards her.
“Your words honour me.”
Chastel quietly returned, and Raphael let a breath out through his nose.
“How many mages have you cut down?”
Chastel’s lips pursed at that being his first question.
“…I do not think it is a number to boast of.”
Raphael’s eyes narrowed with an overpowering air.
“L-Lady Chastel, please mind your choice of words!”
“Even with our worthless lives as a shield, we can only protect you so far.”
“You are disgraceful. We swore to throw down our lives for Lady Chastel!”
The three knights cried out quietly, but were quelled with a shudder when Raphael looked steadily between them.
Is he offended?
He was the knight that had killed the most mages, and most likely wouldn’t hesitate to cut down those that sided with an apostate. Speaking honestly, Chastel had resolved herself to perhaps even losing her head today.
Now that she thought about it, she may have been wandering the town despite needing to greet him because she had wanted to talk to someone one last time.
And I could meet Zagan and Nephie there, it was more than I could hope for.
…Well, she had burst into tears at his lack of remembrance.
Regardless of this, Raphael actually seemed to be entertained by Chastel’s stubbornness and burst into a hearty laugh.
“Ha ha ha! It’s been a while since one could talk like that before me. You might even be the first woman to do so. What a delight. You can boast of that honour in the underworld.”
The atmosphere seemed to tear.
It came to this…!
While she had a ceremonial sword, Chastel was as good as unarmed without her holy sword. Nothing more than a bug to be squashed underfoot by Raphael.
“U-uwaaah, please flee, Lady Chastel!”
The three knights leapt forward, but they were powerless before this titan.
It was at that moment.
“Lord Raphael, what are you doing to my knights!?”
The old Cardinal was the one rebuking the titanic knight. Footsteps from the Cardinal’s office within the cathedral rang out.
“Hmph, Clavell? I have no use for men who have nothing but titles.”
“You may have no use for me, but it is my duty to protect my knights. You will know that you cannot do as you wish here.”
Tears welled up in Chastel’s eyes at those reliable words. Raphael glared back at him without respect.
“More importantly. You are depriving her of her holy sword, correct?”
“It is not a deprivation, it is merely being held in custody.”
“It’s the same thing. Where is it?”
Clavell looked dangerously back at him.
“…And what will you do once you know that?”
“Exactly what you’d think. A sword has value because it is swung, what meaning is there in keeping it as a decoration in its scabbard?”
Clavell spoke quietly, searching for the meaning behind his words.
“Are you saying to return it to Chastel?”
“I won’t go so far as to say it. A holy sword chooses its own wielder. As long as that wielder still lives, none other can use it.” Here, he stared steadily at Chastel to punctuate his words. “As long as she isn’t hanged that is.”
Clavell backed off at Raphael’s smile that seemed to say it was a duty he would be delighted to undertake himself.
“What a repulsive suggestion!”
Clavell crossed himself and glared at him, but Raphael just retorted without a sign of chastisement.
“What are you scared about? It’s the truth, is it not? Besides, you clergy have no right to speak of how wielders use their blade, you just need to think of the cleanup.”
If they were accepted by a holy sword, all kinds of atrocities would be affirmed.
This is the Terrifying Holy Knight Captain…
Scolding herself for her weakness and hesitance, Chastel stepped out in front of Raphael.
“You go too far, Lord Raphael. If we wielders were to use our blades as we wished, we would be nothing more than common thugs.”
Her hands shook in fear. She tightened her fists and glared at him.
“My, to scold me not only once, but twice in fact.” Raphael murmured in apparent joy and then turned back to the Cardinal. “And so, Clavell? The knight you are to protect will lose her life here and now.”
Raphael might actually do so, and so the Cardinal groaned.
But why is he making sure I have my holy sword?
If her execution was his goal, he could just cut her down here. He already had the moral grounds to do so.
Then does he intend to play with an opponent that can resist?
She didn’t want to think that a holy sword would choose such a man, but she couldn’t think of anything else.
“…I understand. Chastel, come with me.”
A red carpet lay behind the door, and several doors were lined up at its sides where clergy and holy knights performed their duties. There was a door flanked by statues modelled on angels, with two knights standing guard.
Of course, neither Raphael or the three knights had followed them. After he made sure of that, Clavell murmured to Chastel.
“I myself do not know if it is right to return the holy sword to you. It may be just to give him a pretext to cut you down.”
She didn’t know Raphael’s true intentions, but it wouldn’t be something Chastel could face without her blade. It might be to show that Clavell had seized her sword, and so she had something to defend herself.
They finally reached the angel door, and the guards blocked their path.
“Your Excellency, what do you require?”
“The time has come to return Chastel’s holy sword, make way if you would.”
The guards looked at each other, but soon separated. He was the chief executive here, so there was no one that would impede him. The cardinal moved forward, and the guards once again stood in Chastel’s way.
“You wait here.”
It was an act that would have usually warranted rudeness, but Chastel waited obediently. Before long, Clavell returned with a sword.
“I believe that you can cut through your problems by your own hand.”
He said and once more handed over the holy sword to Chastel.
It was night time, in a tavern within Kianoides.
“Heehyahyahya! You adopted? Seriously?”
The coarse laughter was coming from Barbarus. After he had obtained the new books from the Demon Lord’s Palace, Zagan had been called out by him and gone right back to the town.
I wonder if Nephie and Fol are finished eating…
He had told Nephie that he didn’t need dinner after Barbarus had called him. He kept asking himself if there was a reason to have sacrificed their dinner together and instead come here as Barbarus guffawed.
Of course, Zagan answered dangerously.
“…Why do you know that?”
“Gehahaha, Zagan, look in a mirror. A guy like you taking a lost lookin’ brat along, people are on about it being a kidnapping!”
He didn’t know how far it had spread, but apparently Zagan walking with Fol around the town had become a rumour throughout Kianoides.
Well, that’ll make fewer people target her…
There were none that would both know of Zagan and willingly invite his displeasure. If there were, they would be mostly confined to the church’s holy knights, but they weren’t so foolish as to attack him without preparation. It would be enough to spread that Fol was under his protection.
Apparently, that was why Barbarus had called him out, to ascertain how true those rumours were.
“…Can I leave?”
“Oi, oi, don’t be so cold. I’m goin’ out of my way to get you that tasty booze you wanted, right? There’s no harm in chattin’ over a drink and some snacks.”
It seemed that Barbarus had already enjoyed himself before Zagan had arrived, his face was flushed from the alcohol as he threw an arm around Zagan’s shoulders.
That aside, the drinks were tasty.
It was the first time Zagan had tasted brandy over ice, and the burning sensation in his throat mixed with its mellow sweetness and made him let out an unintentional sigh.
I wonder if Nephie can drink.
If he was going to be drinking, he’d rather do so with her loveliness rather than Barbarus’ dourness, and he decided to bring a bottle back with him.
He came back to himself at that and jostled Barbarus’ over-familiar arm off of his shoulder.
“…You’re an annoyance. And bring it to the castle next time, I’m busy looking after my apprentice.”
“Hah, that’s right, you’re screwing that slave elf.”
“I-I’m not screwing her!”
Barbarus stuck a finger in his nose and frowned at him.
Can I just punch him and leave?
Barbarus paid no heed to the cold gaze and slapped him on the shoulder again.
“So, about that brat? You ain’t one for sacrifices, right? So’s she a treasured slave? Or you gonna tell me she’s another apprentice?”
“…Well, she should be someone you know.”
“What? So she’s a mage? And a woman?” Barbarus folded his arms and fell into thought. “Well, Seductress Gomory’d be the one to think of? But she’s apparently a real man hater, and ain’t a little girl. So, there’s also…”
Zagan relaxed as he watched Barbarus nod to himself.
If he still hasn’t noticed, then no one should realise Fol is Valefar, and a dragon at that.
It was only a matter of time before Fol was revealed to be a dragon. And seeing her magic… or rather her dragonification, would let people realise that she was Valefar. That was unavoidable, but it was still too early. There were still enemies.
Zagan was already well known as a Demon Lord, and there weren’t many that would attack him without making sure of that. Just as he had aimed for, mages and holy knights alike should think that it wasn’t worth tangling with him.
But even so, it wasn’t perfect. There were still those watching for any slip-ups he made as a new Demon Lord. There were mages with enough power for that, and it would take more time before they gave up. They had to weigh their lives against the title of Demon Lord and the attraction of their legacy.
I might need something else.
Something to make any and all mages not want to challenge him. Because Zagan had two things he absolutely must protect in Nephie and Fol.
As he thought that, Barbarus made a noise of understanding.
“That’s right, Valefar!”
Zagan ground to a halt.
Has he realised who Fol is?
Then, he feigned calm and tilted his head.
“What are you talking about?”
“Just, you got attacked by Valefar, right? That big masked guy.”
“…Yeah, I suppose I did.” Apparently, he’d gotten used to Fol’s current appearance and forgotten they were the same person. “What about it?”
Barbarus made a bored face at Zagan’s questioning.
“You gotta remember it at least. He’s apparently gone missing, but what happened to him, you deal with him?”
“Who knows. You know how I deal with intruders after all.”
Zagan answered evasively, and Barbarus looked up at the ceiling.
“Ach, what a waste. Apparently, he might be a dragon, even his corpse’d make for a good catalyst.”
It was because there were people like this that he had to hide Fol’s identity.
Zagan nodded in apparent disinterest.
“Yeah, I had heard about that now that you mention it.”
“What the hell, you tossed him out even though you knew that? I’ll ask in case, is he dead?”
“He might be alive if he’s lucky.”
He answered with as cool an expression as he could, and Barbarus clicked his tongue and backed off.
He then muttered into his tankard of ale.
“So the same as normal? Whatever, rather than Valefar, who’s that brat you were dragging ‘round?”
He’s not saying he knows, right…?
Zagan resisted a grimace at his exact answer as he shrugged.
“…Who knows. Just think of her as an adopted kid.”
“Gehyahyahya! You adopted… a little girl… puhahahaha!”
He began to seriously consider hitting Barbarus as he rolled around with tears coming from his eyes.
Suddenly, Barbarus’ expression became serious.
“Well, let’s leave the jokes there.”
“…Finally getting to the actual reason?”
Even Barbarus didn’t have the time to call Zagan out for idle chatter.
“There’s a troublesome guy coming to the church apparently. Thought I’d tell you about him.”
“A troublesome guy?”
“A holy sword wielder. Not like the girl from before, a way worse guy.”
So a holy sword wielder other than Chastel had arrived.
Zagan let out a sigh.
“If they’re moving the holy swords, the church itself is moving. Think they’re aiming to take out a new Demon Lord?”
The antagonism between the church and mages was a matter of millennia. Of course, over that time, Demon Lords and the holy swords had clashed many times.
However, even though there were records of the swords removing a Demon Lord, there were none of them being defeated.
So whilst holy swords were a deterrent, they weren’t able to kill Demon Lords. That was the common understanding between mages and the church. It was only natural that the church wished to overthrow this status quo.
However, Barbarus had a conflicted expression.
“I wonder about him. That new captain’s pretty suspicious. He’s the monster with the most mage-kills after all.”
“…He’s not so peaceful.”
“Right. I don’t know what he hates so much about us, but he’s already killed four hundred and ninety-nine mages, it ends up as killing a mage every three days. And he’s chosen you for his five-hundredth celebration!”
Even Zagan frowned at that unusual amount. The church’s announcements might be a little exaggerated, but Barbarus wasn’t the type of person to use those numbers.
Zagan looked down in thought.
“That’s odd. Even though he’s a holy sword wielder, could he kill five hundred alone?”
They were all called mages, but that category could contain everything from novices that only had power, to Demon Lord Candidates, and the difference between the two was Heaven and Earth.
If a Demon Lord candidate had ten-thousand ‘circuits’, a novice would have around one hundred. Even killing a hundred novices would lead to getting utterly destroyed by a Demon Lord Candidate. With five hundred, he had probably fought against a Candidate once or twice.
Going further, even amongst the candidates, Barbarus had over twenty thousand circuits. And in pure skill, Zagan was above even him.
Chastel hadn’t revealed everything in their fight, but even so, he didn’t think she would escape unscathed from fighting a Demon Lord Candidate.
Does he have some secret weapon, other than the holy sword?
Barbarus put down his tankard and smiled as he pondered.
“And, apparently he killed a dragon and ate it.”
Zagan couldn’t help but rise. “Is that true?”
“Yeah. The church don’t approve of preying on dragons, so it’s unofficial info, but he did kill one. If he got its power, killing five hundred mages ain’t unthinkable.”
Shit, it’s him.
Zagan cursed mentally.
“…Is there something strange about a mage disliking holy knights?”
Fol had some kind of grudge against holy knights. And since they had met, she had had an unnatural desire for power for a mage or dragon. And here came a dragon-killing holy knight.
It still wasn’t certain, but he couldn’t believe his luck was good enough for them to be unrelated. Then, he glared at Barbarus.
“You’re being pretty open today.”
“Well, I came here to apologise and give my tribute. Joining together with you’d be better than bein’ at odds.”
“…Have some shame.”
With a wince, he poured brandy into Zagan’s glass.
“I’m pretty capable, right? It ain’t bad for you either.”
“If you were that admirable, maybe I’d trust you a little… So, what do you want?”
Zagan asked with a tilt of his brandy.
“Will you let me manage the legacy of the Grand Elder? He lived more than a thousand years, even calling it a legacy don’t do it justice. You ain’t going to be able to manage it on your own, are you?”
He had been uncomfortably close to what Barbarus wanted, and couldn’t hide his grimace.
However, he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“…You’d just hide stuff you didn’t want me to see.”
“Obviously. Problem with that?”
Barbarus’ eyes widened in surprise at Zagan saying that after all this time.
Why is he such an idiot if he’s so clever…?
If anything, Zagan was uneasy.
“…Haah, I’ll separate out some of the books for you, be satisfied with that.”
“Well, that works. You’re a generous friend.”
So saying, Barbarus tapped his tankard to Zagan’s glass and toasted alone.
Then, the atmosphere in the tavern stilled.
The door opened and a customer walked in. Barbarus had his back to the door and didn’t notice him, and was still talking in high spirits.
“You’ll let me choose which, right? Don’t go givin’ me the worst, even if it is part of the legacy!”
“…By the way, Barbarus.”
Zagan spoke as he raised his glass, looking over it to the figure of the newly arrived customer.
“That dragon-killer holy knight you were on about earlier, what’s he look like?”
“Ahhh, I heard he’s a huge geezer. Oh, and he’s got a massive scar. Apparently, the dragon he killed gave it him.”
“Oh…?” Zagan noised as he looked at the customer. He took another mouthful of brandy and then questioned tiredly. “And would that scar happen to go from his left cheek to his forehead?”
“Yeah, I heard that. You know him?”
“Just a coincidence. I’ve seen someone that looks like him.”
“Oi, oi, your luck’s sure somethin’. He lives for killing mages, you know? If your eyes meet, he’ll cut you down.”
Zagan looked beyond Barbarus as he guffawed.
“Seems he’s here now.”
Apparently, Barbarus had finally noticed his gaze and looked over his shoulder, and then his face drained of colour.
Standing there was a man, with a scarred face and a holy sword.
Barbarus stood, knocking over his chair.
The scarred man didn’t spare him a glance and looked directly down at Zagan.
Has he come for my head all of a sudden?
A holy sword’s power would be a nuisance, but it would be arrogant to assume that he would be able to defeat a Demon Lord alone. A fool like that wouldn’t have lived so long.
As Zagan frowned at not knowing what he was aiming for, Barbarus shouted aggressively.
“W-why are you here, you bastard!?”
The scarred man finally looked at Barbarus, and his craggy face split into a smile. Its implied violence was enough to make the waitress that was unlucky enough to be behind Barbarus to faint. That was how penetrating the gaze was, even without directly meeting his eyes.
The smile felt like a physical weight and Barbarus cried out in resolve.
“U-uoooooh, let’s go!”
Barbarus’ hands shone with mana and the scarred man put a hand on his blade.
Spoke Zagan quietly as he placed his glass down with a clunk.
Suddenly, the mana spouting from his hands vanished. Barbarus hadn’t stopped it, Zagan had ‘devoured’ it. Then he waved a finger through the air and the chair that Barbarus had knocked over righted itself.
“Whatever, sit down. You’ll ruin the taste.”
“What are you so calm for!? You just gonna let him cut you down.”
Zagan tiredly shook his head at Barbarus’ cry which was a mix of fear and anger.
“…He’s not exactly here to fight.”
“Huh!? His hand’s on his sword!”
“And you went to attack him, didn’t you?”
The scarred man had readied his sword because Barbarus had started casting, and Zagan didn’t miss that.
Besides, I can’t feel any bloodthirstiness or hostility.
Both Nephie and Fol weren’t particularly expressive. Actually, with Fol, it was less her expression, and more that she didn’t talk enough. At any rate, there were many things you couldn’t tell from just looking at their faces so Zagan had made a habit of guessing what they were thinking, or what they wanted from the subtle signs.
The scarred man’s smile was like a gash in the earth.
“Seems like this Demon Lord is pretty calm.”
“A Demon Lord wouldn’t get upset about the little issues.”
Though he said that, Zagan couldn’t hide his unease. He looked at the seat he had raised back up using magic. Barbarus probably didn’t feel like going back to drinking, and even when the knight took his hand from his sword, he didn’t sit down.
“Seems like there’s a seat free, want to sit?”
“Oh… You’re an interesting man.”
His scarred face twisted as he sat opposite Zagan, and Barbarus backed away as if to avoid him.
Anyway, you speak. I haven’t spoken to a rough guy like this, you know?
He had gone with the flow and invited him to sit, but that wasn’t really his aim. Besides, he’d lost his time with Nephie, so he at least wanted to enjoy the drink. And yet, as if to deny his involvement, Barbarus was retreating, and then…
“Damn it, why does a mage like me have to do this?”
“M-mister mage, can you help my girl?”
“No idea. Healing magic ain’t my thing, but I’ll do what I can.”
“Ohh… that’s Zagan-sama’s retinue for you.”
“I ain’t his retinue!”
Even as he cursed at the man that looked like a barkeeper, he started tending to the waitress that had fainted earlier. She had only lost consciousness, so he didn’t think he’d have to use magic.
I’d like to go join him…
Nephie was the only girl in his heart, but it went without saying which he’d prefer between a craggy man like this and the waitress.
Regardless, just glaring at Barbarus wouldn’t solve anything and he finally turned back to the holy knight.
“So, what did you want with me, dragon-killer?”
“It’s Raphael,” answered the scarred man — Raphael — as he poured himself a brandy . The bottle seemed like a miniature in his large hand. “I heard about you from my comrade, and came to pay my respects face to face.”
That would be Chastel. Zagan shrugged carelessly.
“And I suppose my face is nothing to yours?”
“Fuhaha, as wicked a face as rumoured.”
He knew himself that he had a wicked face, but he still slumped slightly. To distract from that, he tilted his glass towards Raphael.
“I heard killing mages was your hobby, taking a break today? There are two right in front of you after all.”
Zagan nonchalantly involved Barbarus as he made to leave after finishing with his nursing. He’d put a hand on the door, but sullenly returned.
Raphael downed his brandy and smiled boldly.
“Foolish, it’s just that prevention is better than a cure. That would just cause a commotion in the area.”
At this, Zagan’s head tilted.
Huh, apparently Barbarus was wrong.
He was a maniac that had killed nearly five hundred mages. Zagan had been prepared for him to gleefully go to cut him down, but they were surprisingly able to have a proper conversation.
Maybe he had come to judge Zagan’s strength. As Zagan pondered, he raised his glass to his lips, and now Raphael spoke.
“You fought with Chastel, why did you not kill her?”
Zagan felt uncomfortable at his words and furrowed his brow.
“You say it like she didn’t have a chance.”
Chastel might not have matched up well against him, but he wouldn’t allow himself the conceit to say that a holy sword wielder couldn’t match up with a mage. Zagan wasn’t a Demon Lord then either.
Raphael let out a huff through his nose before returning.
“Then I shall ask this instead. Was she strong enough to fight against you?”
“I wonder… Well, I think she’s about the strongest person I’ve fought against.”
She had been caught by Barbarus, but Zagan had never actually seen her wield her sword seriously. She and Barbarus had fought, but if it was an upfront fight, he was doubtful that Barbarus would beat her. Raphael’s eyes narrowed into blades at that answer.
“I see. Then she will be a threat to the ‘church’.”
“…? I can’t see where you’re coming from, what did you say?”
It sounded like he was calling her an enemy of the church.
“She objected against the elimination of a Demon Lord. That’s enough reason for the church to execute her. They even temporarily seized her holy sword… It’s foolishness, a holy sword cannot be inherited as long as its wielder isn’t killed.”
Zagan’s eyes opened at this.
She’s too careless!
She should have acted in accordance with her situation, and had instead been foolishly honest, even protecting Zagan.
He cradled his head and let out a deep sigh.
“…I thought she wouldn’t live long.”
“Truly. She’s been warned, but won’t listen at all.”
Raphael said, somewhat sympathetically.
Zagan’s eyes then flew open in shock.
Is he planning to kill Chastel?
If killing mages was his hobby, then it stood to reason he would execute holy knights that covered for them.
Zagan finally felt like he had understood why Raphael didn’t seem bloodthirsty when he came here.
He came to check how we were related.
In other words, for the justification to kill Chastel.
It wasn’t Zagan that had the relationship with her, but Nephie. It wouldn’t be strange for his words to be taken like that though.
He let out a sigh of defeat.
“I have no further business with you so I shall be leaving.”
Zagan felt his voice chill.
Raphael looked back at him with a gaze that promised death with a single misstep.
“Chastel is fairly liked in this town. She has friends, and a fair few that would grieve for her.” Nephie and Manuela would certainly do so. And so, Zagan declared forcefully. “This town is my territory. Act out too much and I’ll ruin you.”
It had nothing to do with her being with the church or a holy knight. Chastel lived in Kianoides, so she was his. If she was arbitrarily killed, Zagan would crush them. That was Zagan’s protection.
The reason he didn’t do so now was the multitude of patrons acting as ‘human shields’, enjoying their drinks. The second was that though he could easily repair the building, people weren’t so easy to heal.
However, those were reasons he didn’t want to fight, they weren’t reasons he couldn’t fight.
It’s annoying to hit through a shield.
Raphael’s eyes opened in surprise, as if he had understood the meaning behind those words.
“I wouldn’t have thought a Demon Lord would say that?”
“It’s precisely because I’m a Demon Lord, it’s my pride.”
Raphael laughed heartily at the answer.
“Hahaha, you’re just as I hoped. This is it, that ‘evil’ that drives the church into a frenzy.”
It wasn’t blood-lust that he could feel from Raphael, but exultation.
So he doesn’t even think of mages as human.
It was the same as a hunter. A person didn’t feel blood-lust or enmity towards their prey, just the thrill of the hunt. Raphael left the tavern with a smile that seemed to invite him to attack at will. Released from the tension, the patrons let out a breath.
With a sidelong glance to Barbarus as he slumped into his seat, Zagan murmured.
“…I don’t like him.”
“A mage wouldn’t like a holy knight. Shouldn’t you go kill him?”
Zagan let out a little sigh at Barbarus’ aggravation.
“…Guess so. Off you go then, Barbarus.”
His mouth dropped open in shock.
“You tellin’ me to go die?”
“Nah, it’s true that I want you to die though, don’t misunderstand me.”
“You want me to die?”
“I told you not to misunderstand me, didn’t I? I want you to check on Chastel.”
Barbarus’ title was ‘Purgatory’. Purgatory was said to be a place between heaven and hell, a place born of magic between dimensions. His title was due to his ability to freely enter and exit that place.
His technique when kidnapping Nephie and Chastel, his easy overriding of Zagan’s transportation magic, Barbarus was a mage that excelled at transportation and summoning magics. Hiding himself and watching over Chastel would be nothing to him.
That’s how he managed to summon the demon.
Zagan would struggle greatly to imitate that even now. He could possibly manage it by borrowing the power of the Demon Lord’s Seal.
And yet, Barbarus looked frankly displeased.
“Hah? Why me?”
“I’ll pay you back, so just go.”
Barbarus looked surprised.
“Are you seriously going to save a holy knight?”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Besides, don’t you think it’d be funny having a holy sword wielder owe us?”
“Kch, you’ll definitely regret this.”
Even as he cursed, he didn’t refuse. He continued on, sinking into his own shadow, transporting himself to his namesake of ‘purgatory’, and then to Chastel.
Then, Zagan sighed.
“…He left without paying the tab.”
Zagan was the one to tell him to go, but he felt like he’d been cheated somehow.
When he arrived back at the castle, it was already time for the day to change.
I wonder if they’re already asleep.
Nephie woke up early, so staying up so late would affect her the next day, but it was still somewhat saddening to not hear her greet him as he arrived.
If he just wanted to see her, he could peek into her room, but it was on the highest floor, and the noise of him climbing the stairs might wake her so he walked as quietly as he could to the throne room…
“Welcome back, Zagan-sama.”
Nephie was waiting in her nightclothes in front of the throne.
“Nephie, you’re still awake?”
As Zagan’s eyes widened, Nephie held her finger to her lips, shushing him.
Now that he looked, he could see Fol dozing in her lap. Apparently, they had both waited for him to return.
“You could have just gone to sleep first, you know?”
Zagan said, and Nephie smiled wryly at him.
“Fol insisted on waiting for you.”
And she herself had fallen asleep while doing so. Zagan’s face naturally softened at this.
“And to think she attacked me for the Demon Lord’s power before.”
“You were the one that kept her nearby, weren’t you?”
Nephie gently stroked Fol’s hair as she spoke, and the girl stirred slightly. Zagan slowly sat down next to them.
“Right… What did you have for dinner?”
He wanted to hide after asking that right after returning, but Nephie nodded quietly.
“We left it at lamb stew and salad.”
“Ah, that soup. It’s a shame I missed it.”
“There’s still some left. Shall I heat it up?”
“Hmm… No, I’m fine for now, Fol’s sleeping as well.”
Seeing Fol sleeping peacefully, he didn’t feel like waking her up so Nephie could serve him soup. He’d just warm it himself later. For some reason, Nephie covered her mouth. Her expression didn’t change much, as usual, but her ears perking let him know she was happy.
“Fol worked hard. She took all the books into your library.”
“There were a fair few, weren’t there?”
“Yes, but she wanted to read them quickly, so she made sure you could read them right away.”
He imagined her tottering to and from the library with books, and let out a happy sigh.
Is this what having a family is like…
It felt like he would forget he was a mage and a villain. Then, Nephie’s deep blue eyes faced him.
“Zagan-sama, did something happen with Fol?”
“Eh? I don’t think anything really did, no?”
Fol wasn’t good at showing her emotions, but he didn’t think he had made her sad or angry. He tilted his head as Nephie looked affectionately at Fol’s sleeping face.
“She seemed really happy today, you may not have realised it, but you probably made her happy.”
Made her happy… he didn’t know about that, but he remembered their conversation, and after thinking for a while, remembered her looking happy for an instant.
“Ahh, maybe it was that?”
“Do you have an idea?”
“I don’t think it was anything big, but I said that we’d be able to tell what each of us wanted after a millennium together.”
Nephie blinked blankly, then let out some stifled laughter.
“Anyone would be happy if you told them that.”
Nephie softly leaned against Zagan’s shoulder as he spoke in confusion.
“I think Fol was happy because it was like saying ‘be with me for a millennium’. After all, dragons live longer than humans, and saying that while knowing so…”
Zagan finally felt like he understood. Mythical dragons were said to be able to live for tens of thousands of years. A human lifespan wouldn’t even cover the childhood of a dragon. It was hard to find something that could live with them.
Actually, that might be why her resentment for killing her parents is so strong.
An older dragon spending its offspring’s childhood with it might be different, but would the pain of losing a parent while you needed them be the same for a dragon as a human, or even stronger.
I really do need to deal with Raphael soon.
If she and the man met, it might even devolve into all-out war with the church. That would push them far from his objective to allow Nephie to live under the sun. As he worried, Nephie murmured sadly.
“I wish we could be together for so long, but…”
At that, Zagan’s eyes widened.
“What are you talking about? Of course I’ll be with you.”
Elves, while not on the level of dragons, were a long-lived species. With the power of magic as well, a millennium would be nothing. In that sense, it would be Zagan that would have to put the most effort into lengthening his life.
Nephie’s deep-blue eyes wavered, and she nodded deeply.
“Right! I’ll be with you through it all, Zagan-sama.”
He was taken aback. Before he realised it, Nephie had gotten close enough that the tip of her nose almost touched him.
Uwah… I didn’t know her eyelashes were so long, and she smells so nice!
Changing into her nightwear must mean that she had had a bath, so this would be the smell of soap. Her hair was still damp and cold, but soft. Nephie seemed to have realised their position too and went red from the tips of her ears to her cheeks.
As he whispered her name, Nephie’s eyes swam. His gaze was drawn down to her peach-coloured lips, and he gently put a hand on her cheek.
His cheeks heated at her gasping sigh. He thought she’d let him. He touched her snow-white skin, and moved forwards.
Their lips were about to touch.
“Oi, Zagan! This is bad!”
A magic circle shone in the middle of the room, and the clueless voice of Barbarus echoed out.
Zagan and Nephie sprang apart.
“Oi, at least reply. You… huh?”
Zagan slowly stood and moved in front of Barbarus, his eyes lacking any hint of mercy.
“Come up, Barbarus, I’ll turn you into mincemeat.”
“What you angry for?”
Zagan was really going to kill him, but then saw ‘someone else’ as he lifted from the circle and stopped.
“You were the one that told me to check on her…”
Barbarus was holding the holy knight. Contrary to their meeting that afternoon, she was wearing her armour and sword. However, her face was pallid and her breath rough.
She didn’t seem to be wounded, but wasn’t in a good state. Zagan touched her neck and forehead to check her condition.
Her pulse is high, but she’s awfully cold.
That quickly made the cause clear to him.
“Probably, looks like it was in her drink.”
Zagan looked back at Nephie.
“Nephie, I’ll treat her, help me.”
She didn’t seem to know what was going on, but Nephie quickly and gently put Fol on the floor and stood up. Of course, that woke Fol.
“…Zagan, you’re noisy.”
“My bad, you can just sleep.”
Zagan gave a quick answer to Fol as she rubbed at her eyes and mumbled. Then, Fol took a deep sniff.
“Huh…? That ‘smell’…”
Her eyes then moved to the holy sword on Chastel’s back.
Ah, damn it.
When Zagan noticed, Fol’s golden eyes were filled with blood-lust.
“A holy knight!”
Fol’s arm turned into that of a dragon. She may be a young dragon, but her claws would still rend through steel, and would rank similarly in their destructive nature to Zagan’s fists when he used magic.
“Wha? O-oi, Zagan!”
Barbarus cried out as Fol’s claws stabbed forth.
Zagan somehow grabbed her arm and the wicked claws were stopped on the verge of touching Chastel’s forehead. Fol glared up at him.
“Why did you stop me?”
“She’s my guest, don’t just kill her.”
Fol’s eyes became disappointed at that.
She looked like he had betrayed her. It hurt him to see such an expression on a little girl’s face, a little girl that had waited until now for him.
Chastel’s condition was a race against time, but he couldn’t just leave Fol like that.
He didn’t think that he, a mage, could save anyone, but even so, Fol had become someone he wanted to protect.
“Do you hate holy knights?” he asked quietly.
“…You’ve probably already noticed. I became a mage to take revenge on holy knights.”
Just as Zagan was looking at Fol, she was looking at him.
There’s no way of avoiding this then.
Zagan nodded in resignation.
“Is she your enemy?”
“A holy sword wielder killed my father.”
“They did, but it wasn’t her, was it?”
Fol’s fists tightened, and Zagan earnestly pleaded with her.
“Okay, Fol, indiscriminately taking revenge is a beginner’s mistake. Killing her won’t hurt your enemy. It will just give you more enemies, enemies that will be in the way of your revenge.”
“What do you know?”
Zagan shook his head at Fol as she spoke with a voice shaking with anger and irritation.
“That’s why I’m saying you’re a beginner. That’s not what revenge is, is it?”
He looked at her with a stern, yet affectionate, fatherly gaze.
“Revenge is making them suffer, beating them down into fear and despair, so they beg for death, right?”
At that, it wasn’t just Barbarus that was aghast, but Fol as well.
Zagan continued disinterestedly.
“And then once you’re satisfied, kill them. Just immediately killing them won’t make you feel better. That kind of brief revenge won’t help you.”
She probably realised that he was being serious, a bead of sweat ran down her cheek.
“…Have you taken vengeance, Zagan?”
“Yes, but I just killed them straight away. Just killing them didn’t make me feel any better… So, I’m telling you how to do it properly, Fol.”
The previous owner of this castle had taken Zagan to use as a sacrifice. He had been tortured to raise his effectiveness as a sacrifice, and after that Zagan had taken advantage of an opening and killed him, but he hadn’t been able to relax after surviving that, and hadn’t felt a sense of victory, just felt listless.
I should have made him suffer before I killed him.
He knew how to do things properly now, and there were still torture implements in the castle. He could understand Fol’s desire for revenge. That vigour had maybe overwhelmed her and she nodded jerkily.
Fol’s dragonified arm returned to that of a human.
“…Are you really okay telling your adopted daughter that?”
Barbarus looked at him in shock, but he had no time to worry about that.
When she opened her eyes, she was greeted by an unfamiliar ceiling. It was made of old-looking stone bricks, but they were by no means dirty, and were clearly well cared for. It seemed to still be night-time outside, and the room was lit by a flickering candle.
Where on Earth was she?
As Chastel lay in confusion, she heard a voice from next to her.
“So you’re awake.”
He was a mage with a wicked expression, but a somehow languid gaze. That gaze seemed far softer than the one that she knew, but she was sure it was her imagination. He didn’t look at her, and kept his eyes on a thick book.
“Make sure you thank Nephie, she treated you.”
Her head was still fuzzy, and she couldn’t think properly.
Did I lose to someone…?
In which case, she should have been fighting for someone. She looked around and saw a large sword standing next to the bed. It was her holy sword, unstained by blood or battle.
Zagan couldn’t miss her confusion and spoke.
“You were poisoned, I don’t know the details myself.”
At those words, she remembered something.
That’s right, I was given a written summons.
“The symbiotic faction…?”
That was what the man that had summoned Chastel called himself part of. He kept himself hidden, not showing himself. That was for both of them.
But still, she thought he was also a holy knight. His voice didn’t particularly match that. It was calm, like an ancient sage’s voice. It wasn’t at all a voice that fit with someone taking up arms and killing mages. It was similar to Clavell’s, but more tolerant.
He spoke quietly.
“The war against mages has raged for over a millennium, without end. We are a group that believes that the church should keep mages in check, but not kill them.”
That was the first time she had heard such a thing, and Chastel was at a loss.
That was heresy. When Chastel said so, the man laughed leisurely.
“And what you have done is truly heresy.”
She, a holy knight captain, had objected to the subjugation of a Demon Lord. If that couldn’t be called heresy, what could?
The man then spoke to Chastel, who was lost for words.
“Won’t you join us? You need protection after speaking out against the church. We will protect you, and with your own protection as a holy sword wielder, we can move in public. It’s not a bad deal.”
With a man like Raphael here, Chastel didn’t know what would become of her. She couldn’t be picky if she wanted to live.
So is he one of Clavell’s subordinates?
Clavell had said that he would try and save her, and he could potentially wield that kind of influence.
But, if I live, what should I do?
She couldn’t see a future with the church. But as a holy knight, she was no longer allowed any other way of life. She had nowhere to return to.
The man spoke solemnly to Chastel, who couldn’t answer.
“You do not need to answer immediately, but do not tarry overlong… I know, as proof of our trustworthiness, you may call this name if you ever require aid.”
That was the name the man spoke, and just remembering it made her body heat up.
She asked if that was the man’s name, and the man had given a vague answer.
“You could say that it is, but also that it is not. You can think of it as the name of our head.”
The head, to be called that, they would be a holy knight that was a captain, or close to being so, or around a cardinal in rank. However, Chastel had never heard the name Orobas within the church.
So is it the name of the organisation itself?
At any rate, it was clearly an important name to them.
“That name shall protect you in any kind of situation.”
With those final words, the man’s presence vanished.
Can I believe that…?
He was a strange man. She wanted to believe him, but if it was a trap, it might involve not just Chastel, but her subordinates as well.
When she returned to her room, there was tea readied for her. She should have been wary, but Chastel was in thought and forgot her doubts and drank it.
And then, when she returned to consciousness, she was here.
Chastel recited her experience.
I’m sure I’ve heard that man’s voice before.
But she didn’t know, and rather than not being able to remember, it seemed impossible.
She wondered if Zagan had been listening as he continued silently turning the pages of his book.
A while after Chastel had finished, Zagan spoke disinterestedly.
“Do you have any idea of who poisoned you?”
“Hmm… I wonder?”
Normally thinking, it would be Raphael. If Clavell hadn’t interrupted, it wouldn’t have seemed strange for Raphael to have killed her in that first meeting. He was the one that wanted to kill her the most now.
However, the church was an organisation that made enemies, poisoning someone wasn’t strange. As far as ‘ideas’ went, there was an endless amount.
And yet, Zagan shook his head as if he was reading her mind.
“That man… Raphael? He doesn’t seem the type.”
“Why? Actually, how do you know Lord Raphael?”
Chastel’s eyes widened, and Zagan let out a sigh.
“He got in the way of me enjoying a drink, he pissed me off a little.”
Chastel was a target, and that horrifying man would even level his sword at Zagan.
“He’s cut down nearly five hundred mages. He’s the type that prefers just killing their target there and then rather than using tricks. Rather than poison you, he would execute you fairly with his sword. And apparently, he has a reason to.”
She didn’t really understand, but Zagan didn’t seem likely to tell her. After a while of confusion, Zagan closed his book and stood.
“First of all, because you and Nephie are friends, we’ll look after you until you recover at least. There aren’t any morons that would pick a fight with me.”
Chastel grabbed on to his robe as he turned his back on her.
“…What do you want?”
Chastel then spoke in a minuscule voice at his dissatisfied sounding voice.
“I wondered… if you would stay… with me for a while…?”
She sounded so weak for a holy knight captain.
But, she still doesn’t know when to give in.
She should have known this day would come, but if she was actually killed by poison, she couldn’t have avoided being helpless.
Zagan let out a disgusted sigh.
“…Ask Nephie for that kind of thing.”
And then bluntly denied her. Of course he did. Even Chastel knew from their few meetings that he treasured Nephie from the bottom of his heart. Of course it would be too much to console her here.
However, for some reason, Zagan once more took his seat.
“I can’t wake Nephie up at this time of night.”
“Uhhh, will you… stay?”
“I’m just reading.”
He didn’t look up. But still, he didn’t leave.
She felt pathetic.
What did I want…?
She’d probably wanted him to look at her. Or to stay with her as she left the church.
I don’t think I can get in between them though.
Zagan and Nephie were both people she couldn’t hate, she wanted to see them happy. Surely, she wanted to be involved with them.
But in what way, she herself didn’t know. But still, having someone with her relaxed her more than she would think, and before she knew it, Chastel had fallen asleep.
“Why did it come to this!?”
It was the next day, and Chastel’s angry voice sounded from the kitchen.
She had somehow been saved from the poison last night, and was able to get up in the morning and joined them for breakfast. She was then given a change of clothes, and that had angered her for some reason.
“It suits you, you know.”
Nephie weakly consoled her. Chastel was wearing the same dress and apron outfit as Nephie. The clothes were Nephie’s spares, so there was the comparison to a normal attendant.
“Kuh… I’m the Maiden of the Holy Sword, you know? Why do I have to play servant!?”
“Oi, watch yourself, not even you’re allowed to insult Nephie.”
Calling those clothes servant’s clothes was calling Nephie a servant too, and Zagan wouldn’t allow that. Chastel’s eyes watered at his blunt remonstration.
“…I’m struggling right now, couldn’t you at least be slightly kind?”
“Don’t act spoilt.”
It was Fol that said that, looking coldly at her.
She was staring at her from behind Zagan, but it couldn’t be mistaken for friendliness. Fol had stopped thinking of revenge, but that didn’t mean she accepted Chastel. Zagan had to be careful of this as well.
Chastel smiled kindly.
“Ah, are you Zagan’s adopted…?”
“Don’t just talk to me, tail-head.”
Saying that, Fol quickly left the room.
Chastel fell to the ground at the astounding rejection.
“W-what did I do…?”
“I’m sorry, Chastel-san. I’ll speak to her later.”
“…Uhh, you’re so kind, Nephie.”
Chastel made a face of salvation at Nephie’s pitying words of consolation, even while Nephie was expressionless.
However, Zagan shook his head.
“No, leave her alone for now. She might pester you a little, but won’t kill you.”
“Do you think it’s fine as long as she doesn’t kill?”
Zagan looked seriously at Chastel’s shocked expression.
“Her father was killed by a holy sword wielder.”
Chastel had no words for that, and Zagan continued quietly.
“It’s not as if you’re responsible, but I can’t explain that properly to the brat. I’ll shelter you here, but understand that.”
Having Chastel do menial work was also a form of compromise with Fol. She had left, but treating her like a guest of honour would just invite anger.
Chastel hung her head, as if she felt responsible.
“…Then shouldn’t I leave?”
“I already said, leave her for a while. She’s got a lot of pride, it won’t let her be too bad.”
…That’s what he thought.
It was an hour later.
Chastel’s scream echoed throughout the castle.
“…What is it this time?”
Zagan asked Chastel, who had fallen, pityingly.
“I-I was cleaning and a frog fell on my head…”
Now that he looked, a small frog was indeed resting on her head. It seemed like she had been mopping the floor when a frog had jumped in. It had only been an hour, but this was the third time the frog had appeared.
When that was combined with her teary expression, Zagan couldn’t help but laugh.
“D-don’t laugh! This isn’t what you said.”
It seemed like this was Fol.
“Ah, apparently this is what happens when you’re harassed without using strength.”
“Wasn’t her pride going to stop her from harassing me?”
“She’s a child just like her looks suggest. Well, it’s understandable she’d do this.”
It was much better than his childhood, so he had no intention of finding faults with everything. Chastel glared at him.
“…You’re spoiling her a fair bit. I didn’t think you were the type to raise a hand against a child, but I didn’t think you’d be so soft with her.”
“Am I really being so soft?”
Chastel nodded vigorously at his questioning. Zagan could do nothing but scratch his head and look away.
“When I first met her, I didn’t realise she was a child and hit her hard, so I feel kind of guilty.”
“You hit her… Wait a minute, so she was an enemy at first?”
Zagan answered easily, and Chastel looked at him in astonishment.
“Why do you treat us differently even though we were both enemies!?”
“I didn’t exactly hit you. I don’t make a habit of hitting women.”
“W-women…” Chastel’s face was suffused with red for some reason at that answer. “T-then hit me too. I don’t like pain, but I’ll bear it!”
“…Oi, is that really your hobby?”
“N-no! That’s not it, I just…”
Just what, he wondered as Chastel’s face reddened further and she fell silent.
Looking at her, Zagan had a thought.
Her personal life really is worthless…
It was probably also because of Fol’s pranks, but she could only open her mouth and stutter, and soon started to cry. Zagan couldn’t think of anyone else that couldn’t put what they wanted to words like that.
Besides, because Chastel kept knocking the bucket over and spilling the dirty water, the floor was dirtier than before she mopped. When he faced her as a holy knight, she was much more defined…
However, that worthlessness also relaxed him.
Now Fol shouldn’t actually think to kill her.
She should be questioning herself as she kept on with these pranks. She didn’t think that towards anything but holy sword wielders.
It was possible that Fol might forget her revenge against Chastel.
As he thought that, Zagan let out a hmph.
“I don’t really get it, but are you feeling better?”
“Eh, ah… Were you… worried?”
If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have had Barbarus observe her. But Zagan didn’t have a personality that would let him admit that, and because he didn’t feel the need, he shrugged.
“Who knows.” He glared with that distraction. “More importantly, we need to think of how to deal with whoever poisoned you. There should at least be a motive?”
Chastel’s face stiffened, and her right hand closed and opened searchingly in the empty air.
At that action, Zagan looked to her back.
She doesn’t have her holy sword.
Zagan had no intentions in that respect, but this was enemy territory to Chastel, with her being a holy knight. Fol was being obviously hostile as well, so leaving her method of self-defence was a poor plan, but she had still left her holy sword…
Her issues might be deeper rooted than I thought.
She was a holy sword wielder that had relinquished their blade and was unable to grasp it. Even if she could, a broken-hearted wielder would be unable to cut a mage or a holy knight.
Zagan looked to the corridor and saw Fol peeping through at them.
Should I ask her to ease off a little?
He wasn’t intending to keep her here forever, but he couldn’t just abandon her in this situation. She needed time to recover, so he’d wait that long.
As time went on, even though they were light, Fol’s pranks would grow more frequent, and Chastel’s cries would become a daily feature of the castle.
Maybe this will end up with them getting along.
Whatever the method, something was clearly happening between Fol and Chastel.
After this had continued for several nights, Nephie’s voice resounded through the castle without warning.
“Zagan-sama, it’s awful, Fol is gone!”