He couldn’t bear to watch, so he ran away. His movements must have been suspicious to the humans.
But of course, he wasn’t composed enough to care about that. He went to a secluded garden at the back of the castle and curled up.
The idea of being hated was scary.
For someone who had been living in the wild, consuming the blood of monsters, not realizing that he was alone in a place where there was not even a single person who could bear him ill will, this was a first for him.
He felt it day after day, from the demons who defined themselves as his people.
Some people would directly ridicule him, wondering if he was really the demon lord chosen by the sigil.
It didn’t matter that he was a demon lord or that he was strong.
He didn’t want anyone to hate him either, and even wanted to be liked somehow, so he did whatever work that came up, but he wasn’t good at conversations and kept to himself. When he did manage to open his mouth, he would come off as intimidating and cold.
He was born with a demonic eye, which he didn’t control since there was no need to control it. It would just make what he sees taste fear.
He would close his eyes since he didn’t want to scare them by looking them in the eye. He would shut his mouth since he would say things without thinking about it, which could also scare them away.
Humans were emotional beings. So how could they live so well?
He felt pathetic, incompetent, and wanted to cry. He couldn’t do that, though. After all, he didn’t want them to find out that the demon lord was intruding.
The demon lord had been living for more than a hundred years, but for the first time, his mind had been stirred by something other than himself.
“Are you crying?”
—Then, a man approached him.
A suspicious-looking man wearing a long, ankle-length black cloak and a hood over his eyes.
Azel was crouched down when he was called out and turned around in surprise.
The man sat with his knees folded to match Azel’s, and a loose smile formed on his mouth that peeked out a little from his hood.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna hurt you. There’s nothing to be sad about. I’ll stay with you until you feel better.”
—No one could tell how much those words meant to Azel, who was hurting and feeling like everything was a chore.
The man patiently waited for his reply. Although Azel tried to hide once he realized the situation he was in, he found himself revealing his weaknesses that he had been holding all alone like a soft scream, despite not knowing how to rely on others.
He was trying to bring together a lot of his people, but he had been living on his own until now, so he didn’t know how to deal with them.
He had been so busy getting used to his job and changing his way of life. Even if he did manage to do it completely, it would already be too late.
He found himself unable to move a step out of his solitude.
Even if he knew that they were scared of him, or that they didn’t like him, he didn’t know how to earn their favor.
When he saw so many humans getting along in the castle, all he could think of was that he was the wrong leader.
But he didn’t know what to do. There was so much he didn’t understand, and he was so tired of it all that he just cowered.
The man listened to Azel’s incomprehensible story in silence, slightly nodding his head.
There were no words. He was quiet, but he was there for certain.
After Azel finished talking, the man whispered gently, his mouth relaxed.
“You’ve worked hard, haven’t you? That’s very remarkable, isn’t it?”
“Ngh… That’s not true. What’re you talking about… You’re wrong. You’re using the wrong words. You can’t say that I’m working hard or remarkable.”
“Nothing’s wrong with it. You’re remarkable.”
His voice was calm and soothing.
It had a slow tempo, as if he was talking to a child throwing a tantrum.
It was a magic that softly unraveled his mask of stubbornness and indifference.
The voice that spoke to him was really awfully gentle, and it was the first time he had ever been made to feel that way… Azel began to cry, miserably.
The man gently embraced the crying Azel.
“You can just be the way you are. I know being hated by others is scary. It’s the same for me. I don’t want to be hated, even by strangers. But you, you’re doing great. That’s what I think.”
“You don’t want people in your heart hating you, right? Then, look around you. Find someone who doesn’t hate you. Look them in the eyes. Look for those who could look back at you. Treasure them. Everything else is fine.”
“Find someone who will listen to your clumsy words to the end. Someone who will act on your behalf. Someone to hold you when you cry. Someone who will laugh with you. If you can’t find meaning behind people’s words, then find someone who is straightforward.”
“—Don’t worry. You’re attractive enough as it is.”
—He learned that the moments when his heart was saved, were the ones when he couldn’t find his voice.
He could still vividly remember the tugging sensation in the back of his throat.
The truth was that he was afraid of losing a place where he belonged. That was why he had to play the role of a good demon lord. No matter how stained with grief he was, he had to continue to endure alone.
He had always, always been—lonely.
He felt like he was being appreciated for all of that.
The man gently stood up as he patted Azel’s trembling back. He quickly reached out for the warmth that was leaving him, but he couldn’t stop it, nor could he speak.
“I’ll inform the king that there was no one suspicious, so you can go home puffed up with pride after crying your eyes out. They call me Shal… I’m a hero, apparently.”
Azel’s eyes were wet and had turned red as he stared at the back of the man who had flipped his cloak and left.
Azel made up his mind.
Just as the hero had said, he didn’t have to be overly afraid of being hated. He just had to be who he was.
He didn’t have to be liked by just anyone. He had to choose people who care about him, and treasure them.
He had to treasure those who were important to him. He had to become so strong that he wouldn’t feel any sadness from those who were not important to him.
So that he could also repay the man who smiled at him, despite being a suspicious stranger.
And, when the day comes for the man to kill him, the demon lord—he would tell him to “stay by his side,” just the way he was.