The Demon Sees the True Face of the Villainess
That fine brush lightly passed over Sophie and Tio’s skin, leaving a trail of ruddy brown paint behind it. As Shirley read the instructions from a magic book, with her free hand she painted magic sigils on the back of her daughters’ hands using paint mixed with a small amount of blood from their respective birds.
“Mm… It’s ticklish.”
“I’ll be finished in just a moment, please bear with it.”
Right now, she’s preparing to conduct the ritual for the contracting of a magical familiar.
Although she hasn’t ever conducted this ritual herself before, Shirley knew that it wasn’t too complicated and only required a magical tool and a simple incantation. With this, the two birds will be contracted as familiars to the twins.
“Alright… That should do it for the preparations.”
As she finished drawing those sigils, which were emblazoned with wings that symbolized those spirit birds, Shirley held the two girls’ hands and, after closing her eyes, began to sing in a cool yet slightly cheerful tone of voice.
“《On My Life I Stake This Claim》”
As Shirley’s began to recite the spell of the contract, her magical energies began to flow, causing a gentle wind to begin to flow around the room, centred on the mother and her daughters. Unlike Shirley, who was used to things like magic rituals by now, Sophie and Tio were entranced as their white hair flowed in that breeze.
“《Your Lives Shall Become Their Sword ・ Your Souls Shall Become Their Shield ・ Your Power Shall Become Theirs By The Laws of the Contract》”
The crests on their hands began to shine brightly. Was that beating sound they could hear their own hearts…? No. It was the rhythmic beating of the bird’s hearts, echoing through their shared magical paths, as the contract was completed.
“《Spread Your Wings Wide, Guardians of the Sky》”
And as the spell came to an end, the sigils that were shining so brightly just a minute ago suddenly seeped into their skin. As she watched Sophie and Tio stare at the back of their hands, Shirley knew the ritual was a success.
“Is it finished?”
“Yes. Since a summoning sign was part of the sigil we used for the ritual, so long as you let magic power flow into it and use self-suggestion, you can summon the birds from anywhere at any time.”
Tio’s sleepy eyes seemed confused as she tilted her head. As her sister hesitated over just how to do that, Sophie made up her mind after briefly collecting her thoughts.
“Hmm… Alright… 《Beryl》!”
That very instant, Beryl appeared from a sudden shining blue magic sigil in thin air. The bird must have still been pecking at some of the leftover food back in the toolbox, its cheeks puffed full of feed as it tilted its head. “Where did the food go?” Beryl seemed to ask. This spirit had no dignity.
“Muuu… How did she do that just now?”
“You need to deeply think of the contents of the magic just like a normal spell… For now, just try and concentrate on what Rubeus looks like and imagine him appearing.”
“Mumumumu….” Tio muttered at Shirley’s suggestion, her eyebrows twitched as she kept her eyes closed.
(Like I thought… Tio seems to be having trouble with self-suggestion.)
The hardest part of using magic is the conviction and imagination required in order to visualize and achieve it, just how well people can use the technique of self-suggestion varies from person to person.
Shirley knows that Tio has good intuition and instincts, but perhaps isn’t the strongest when it comes to really working through and wrapping your head around problems to achieve a result.
“Mm~… 《Rubeus・Come Here》.”
But, although it took some time, in the end, Tio managed to successfully summon her bird. Red light formed a magic sigil in the air….. And something flopped onto the floor.
Rubeus, who didn’t show any signs of a bird that had just fallen onto a hard wooden floor, lay half asleep on its back as it lazily scratched at its belly. This spirit didn’t have any dignity either.
“…Mum, is Rubeus really a spirit?”
“They’re a little bit different to what I imagined… I thought they would be a bit more mysterious…”
“Well, I’m sure they’re something close to a spirit, at least.”
Tio looked down at her bird with slightly scornful eyes. Sophie seemed disappointed by the difference between those birds and the spirits in her storybooks. Shirley tried her best to think about the future instead. Meanwhile, not minding the delicate silence as the family looked down on them, those two birds continued to laze about without a care.
“Well, since they’re still cute, it’s fine. If they were too majestic, it might be hard to pet them.”
“Mm. I used magic for the first time too, so I’m happy.”
As she heard Tio’s words, Shirley felt a complicated feeling swirl in her bosom.
Her daughters dreamed of becoming adventurers one day. Although she had intended this contract to just be another crime prevention method, she was a little worried when she thought about Sophie and Tio using magic like this to become an adventurer, but the feeling of joy for her daughters taking another step towards their dreams was also strong in her heart.
(When these children come of age, will they still want to become adventurers…?)
Will those girls find something to convince Shirley that they were ready at that time? When that time came, Shirley still held a conviction in her heart that she would still be the last obstacle standing in their way.
(Hopefully, things can stay peaceful until that day comes.)
Rubeus flapped awake in a panic as Beryl landed on its tummy. As Sophie and Tio giggled at the birds, Shirley watched the two of them with a warm smile.
Meanwhile, amongst the knights… And amongst the commoners as well… Rumours about a certain person were beginning to spread all through the Imperial capital.
“Did you hear? Grandmaster Wolff has been recklessly punishing any criminal he can get his hands on.”
“How can the knights keep order in the country if their leader is doing things like that? Shouldn’t they make the head of the Regnard House the Grandmaster instead?”
“Maybe back in the old days, but he’s probably too old to take the post now.”
Gran, a man well known as a class supremacist, had begun to treat prisoners he had taken under his control like chattel without any human rights or dignity. Since this was so far from what was considered proper behaviour for a knight, bad rumours started to swirl.
And as those rumours spread, as did distrust. Eventually, it became an issue of a noble abusing his privilege to tread on commoners like they did in the old days and, in certain circles of the Imperial government, discussions were beginning about whether or not Gran should be brought to trial to appease the masses.
“So, what did you get up to today, Gran?”
But Alice was completely unaware of the rumours that were beginning to circle and, after growing tired of her trappings at the Earlgrey manor, decided to visit Gran at his villa in the capital after he invited her to stay.
Recently, her husband Albert doesn’t seem to be paying her much attention. In order to relieve her frustration, she had been engaging in trysts with both Gran and the current court magician, but mostly with Gran.
That was because Gran was making time for her by pushing his duties as the Grandmaster onto other people, but that didn’t matter much to Alice. Rather, having Gran devote his all to her whilst her actual husband seemed more interested in politics at the moment only made her favour him all the more.
“Oh, Alice… Your smile is as bright as the sun, but today it seems to cast a shadow. You’re still worrying about that damnable woman in the kingdom, are you not?”
As that topic suddenly reared its head, Alice realized her mood had dropped sharply as of late.
He had hit the bullseye. Ever since the duel, it felt like everything had gone wrong for her, all because of that beautiful older sister of hers in the Kingdom that hadn’t seemed to have aged a day.
“Even though I’m sure that rebuilding the palace is an urgent matter, I’m not convinced that the other issue should be put off forever. That’s why I thought of a way to help you, if only a little.”
“Well! As expected of Gran! I can always rely on you! So, what is your plan?”
This is how a man should be, after all, taking care of business!
Alice’s mood suddenly perked up. Then, as she was wondering just what kind of method he had come up with――――
“It’s simple! Using force, I will secure Her Highness Princess Sophilea and Princess Tionissia who are currently in the Kingdom! I may be a novice when it comes to things like economics and politics, but as a knight, I know how to deal with people.”
Her mask slipped slightly as an incredulous voice leaked from between her lips.
Sophilea and Tionissia. Those were the names that the Imperial government had named the absent princesses, Sophie and Tio, without their permission, but those two were guarded by a monster who had handily defeated the most powerful knight in the Empire, Lumiliana, who herself had completely defeated Gran.
To be sure, if Sophie and Tio could be secured, it would solve the succession crisis and relieve at least one burden from her shoulders. But, the obstacle to that was far too big.
‘This man really is truly a fool with more muscle than brain’, Alice thought to herself, as she once again hid her true feelings and asked Gran a question with the mask of the lovely young lady.
“But Gran, although I don’t understand it too well myself, the ministers said that it would be a problem if such an important person to the Empire entered the Kingdom. If the Grandmaster of the Imperial Knights entered the Kingdom to take back Albert’s daughters, would it truly be okay?”
There isn’t enough security at the borders to completely prevent people from crossing illegally, but if Imperial knights were discovered operating in the Kingdom for a second time, there may be a serious diplomatic crisis.
After the duel, Albert and Alice attempted to still press the Kingdom despite the loss, not caring about the consequences, but it was only after a minister successfully convinced them that they’d risk losing their luxurious lifestyle due to a potential trade embargo that they stopped, since that was something they could actually understand.
“It matters not. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time… Even if the whole world turns against me, I shan’t care… So long as I have this power inside of me, I can make all of your dreams come true.”
Something is wrong. Alice sensed that and tried to call out to Gran, who was beginning to look slightly delirious, but he didn’t seem to hear her as he kept going.
“Just like there is the treasured blade handed down the Regnard family, there’s also the heirloom sword of the Wolff family, given to us by none other than the Emperor in ancient times. With this power, no one can oppose me, not a country and definitely not that foolish woman who calls herself the ‘Demonic White Sword’.”
“Eh!? I-Is that true!?”
She had only been wary for a moment. But after hearing that, Alice’s eyes lit up greedily as she clapped her hands together.
“If there really is such an amazing sword, then Gran, you truly are my knight in shining armour after all!”
“Fufu… You honour me too much, Alice.”
“So, where is that sword? I’d love to see it.”
Looking at Gran, she didn’t see his sword at all. As she thought that perhaps it was kept under lock and key at Gran’s family home, she was surprised by his sudden answer.
“Ahh, I can show it to you right now, if you like.”
Before Alice could truly comprehend what he said, Gran’s right arm writhed and burst into countless flowing shapes like coiling snakes. Tearing off clothing as they went, countless human arms were intertwined like ropes as they hung from Gran’s right shoulder and, at the very tip of that grotesque arm, that simple double-edged blade was held.
It was a monster. As Gran transformed before her very eyes, Alice backed up and tripped over the footrest behind her with a terrified scream, dragging herself back on her hands as she wailed.
“Hahahaha! Behold, this powerful body of mine! Endless power! Do you not agree that your beloved knight should be this strong!?”
Not noticing that the woman he loved was completely overcome with terror and revulsion, Gran announced that proudly as he reached out his hand.
Instead of looking strong, he looked disgusting. Instead of looking powerful, he looked evil. Although Gran seemed positively charmed by his new form, after seeing that horrifying transformation, she was utterly sickened by how aberrant he now looked. In the same way, that’s why the Imperial nobility hated the deviant look of white hair and heterochromia even more than they feared true monsters.
But to Gran, so wrapped up in self-conceit for his newfound power, he deluded himself into thinking that Alice would find his current form beautiful and truly fitting for the knight who would stand at her side.
“Please watch, with my power, I shall grant you the world.”
But, at the very moment that he went down on one knee and tried to kiss the Empress’ hand, ignoring that Alice was squirming away from him in abject disgust――――
“Get your filthy hands off me, you monster!!”
He was stunned by the pain in his cheek, caused by that sudden slap. That face that he believed to be the very picture of kindness and warmth in this world was suddenly twisted in hatred as if she were looking at the very worst type of filth.
It was then that Gran saw Alice’s true face for the first time in his life.