“But… why would you do such a thing, Yuuto-sama?”
“… Being locked away in this castle was proving to be a bit suffocating. I merely sought out a change of scenery.”
My response turns out to be pretty straightforward.
“So… that’s what it was. I do suppose that I’ve been concerning myself far too much with your safety, Yuuto-sama. Keeping you from leaving this castle may have been more of a bother to you than I cared to admit…”
The expression accompanying Anri’s words is just a little bitter. If experience has taught me anything, it’s that she’s going down the same old ‘I shall take my life’ route.
“Any follower that can’t guess their Lord’s desires isn’t worth their salt. They’re unneeded. To atone for this heinous crime, I shall take my own life –”
“You really don’t have to. Leaving the castle was a bit of a rash decision on my part. Some fault lies with me; there is no need for you to take full responsibility.”
“T-That’s simply not true! It’s nothing short of absurd!”
“Anri, you always have the best for me in mind. For that, I am thankful. I would even go so far as to ask you to continue serving at my side.”
“I… I… I’m not worthy of such praise…!”
Large teardrops roll down her face. That makes the second time in one day that I’ve seen a girl cry.
“You there. How long do you plan to stand there and gawk? Return to your stations immediately.”
Just that one line is enough to clear the great halls of the demonic congregation, leaving Anri and I to ourselves.
“I forgot to ask, Yuuto-sama. Just what have you been up to?”
Anri’s question makes me flinch back. I certainly can’t tell her anything along the lines of, ‘Oh, I saved some village that was being attacked by bandits and brought a human girl back home with me.’ That’s really not something a High King should be caught doing, is it?
With any legitimate answer practically lodged in my windpipe, Anri just tilts her head to the side in confusion. I suppose I’ll just give some random answer that fits the mood…
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“Oh, what can I say… I just went to shake off some boredom by butchering a few hapless humans. I wanted to be enthralled by the way each of them screamed once the other was done with.”
“Of course, that makes perfect sense! I’ve come to expect nothing less of you, Yuuto-sama!”
Looking at Anri’s brightening face is sort of like looking into the sun. Semantics aside, I had actually killed off a few bandits. Which means that I hadn’t technically lied to her.
“Also, Yuuto-sama… What should we do about that doll?”
Anri’s gaze wanders to the throne. The doll I’d created with my Creation spell is still there, completely untouched. I’d put some real effort into making it an exact, carbon copy of yours truly, but since Anri’s pierced through the deception there really isn’t any meaning in keeping it around.
“Well, it’s certainly become unnecessary. I’ll just have it disposed of.”
“H-How about… Do you at all mind if I were to take it for myself?”
“Hm? Well… No, I suppose I don’t.”
“Thank you so much!”
Anri holds the doll in a tight embrace and, with a particularly sunny expression, gives me a quick bow before leaving the hall. I wonder what she plans to use that for…
“I must apologize. I’ve kept you waiting, haven’t I?”
When I finally make it back to my sleeping chambers, I find Rina, sitting on her knees and quiet as a mouse.
“… Why don’t you just use a chair instead of the floor? Even the bed would have sufficed.”
“O-Oh, I could never… I don’t mind; this is more than enough…!”
Rina shakes her head from side-to-side in a rapid flurry. Being at fault for letting a young girl kneel down on the hard floor pains me a little, but let’s just bury that notion for now.
I lower myself onto my bed and cross my arms.
What now? I mean, I can’t just keep a young, human girl locked away and sheltered in my sleeping chambers forever, can I? Conversely, there’s absolutely no way I can just throw her out to the wolves. And seeing that I’d gone so far as to tell her that I’d watch over her until she was sure of what she wanted to do with herself, I pretty much have a responsibility to keep to my word.
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Isn’t there anything I can do to make this work…?
The sound of someone knocking twice on my door startles me out of my thoughts, and my shoulders jerk in surprise.
Is it Anri? That’s not going to end well… If Anri finds out about Rina, she’ll definitely kill… no, strike that. She’s going to force her to take her own life!
“Rina. Go and hide in there, quickly.”
I speak to her in a hushed tone and point to a closet positioned in the far back of my room. She gives a small nod and rushes to hide herself there without so much as a mild objection.
“I do apologize. Please, just try to be patient for a while.”
I close the doors leading into the closet. Then I tell whoever’s outside to come in, and the door opens silently. My initial hunch hadn’t been off; it really is Anri.
“Yuuto-sama, your trip to the outside world must have left you exhausted. I’ve brought you something to drink.”
“Oh, how convenient. My throat was just getting parched. Very considerate of you, Anri.”
“Such wonderful words, far too wonderful for the likes of myself. As your servant, Yuuto-sama, I have a duty to do all within my power to…”
She stops speaking mid-sentence. Her eyebrows twitch. Her expression becomes more and more austere.
“What’s the matter, Anri?”
“This… wretched scent… It’s the scent of a human. I’d never mistake it.”
Again with the smelling?! Yes, I know that she already told me she managed to differentiate the dummy from me purely by the smell of the damn thing but is her nose really this good?! I have to find a way to trick her, and now…!
“… Hmph. I may have played around with those humans a few moments too long when I went out. My clothes must have become drenched in their smell. I must apologize for the discomfort –”
“Oh, no. It’s quite obviously the scent of an actual human being.”
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Your nose can tell you that much?! What, does that thing work better than a dog’s?!
Anri’s eyes move toward the closet.
“The smell seems to be coming from there.”
“Yuuto-sama. I’m well aware that this may seem disrespectful to you, but may I just take a quick look inside that closet?”
“… N-No, you can’t!”
“But why, Sire?”
“You do understand that you’re talking about the closet of a young man going through puberty, don’t you?! It doesn’t take much to imagine what’s locked up in there!”
“…? I deeply apologize, but I don’t quite understand what you’re saying…”
Oh, that’s right! I’m not actually a young man going through the trepidations of puberty! Actually, hold on… Even if I still were one, having anything like that inside my closet would just raise even more questions!
“I’m ready to accept whatever penalty you wish to enforce after this. But I beg you, please let me take a look inside that closet.”
The silence between us goes on for some time. My Teleportation spell doesn’t have any effect on things that aren’t in direct contact with my person, which means I can’t even use that to offer Rina some sort of temporary method of evacuation.
A flood of sweat begins cascading down my brow. Now, and only for this one moment, the roles Anri and I play had been turned up on their heads.
“Pardon me, Sire.”
Anri makes a beeline for the closet. By the time I can even think to intervene, she’d already opened the door to the closet. Rina is, of course, still inside. She’d curled up into a little ball.
It’s over… It’s all over…