It didn’t take long for us to get from his office to the throne room.
Nothing particular happened on our way there, and of course, the same went for me.
I would’ve walked in, calm and collected, but Azel, standing in front of the door to the throne room, looked at me restlessly.
Doing a poker face was one of my strong points. But the fact that he looked at me like that meant that he must have sensed my unease.
He was really… looking out for me.
“…What’s wrong? Shal, look at me.”
“Hm? What is it? I’m fine, though… Hehe, I’m not afraid, okay?”
“Are you sure? But, Shal…”
I didn’t even force a smile and just tilted my head in puzzlement, asking him what he was talking about.
I mustn’t avert my eyes from him. If I’m going to conceal it, I must do it confidently.
The tone of my voice and the way I looked at him were flawless. I had to keep in mind that if he finds out, the pain it would cause him would be twice as deep, piercing through his heart.
With moderate blinking and relaxed behavior, I regularized my breathing and showed him a smile that was difficult to read.
“Come now. Let’s welcome the hero.”
So I said, just as I would typically do – plain and simple – for the sake of a single lie.
However, Azel furrowed his brow and returned an imploring gaze, unable to hide his dismay.
…Not good. I’m not doing a good job. I’m making him worry.
I know it would be just better to tell him if I wasn’t hiding it, but… I can’t tell him.
I can’t tell him right now.
“I’ll open it.”
His intuition probably held him back.
He didn’t know how to call out to me other than saying my name, but he still sensed something and tried his best.
I ignored him and opened the tall door with a heavy heart.
I put my hand out in front of me and gestured to him to go ahead like a butler. Azel’s eyes flickered, but he silently stepped into the room.
His eyes were telling me, “See you later,” but I pretended not to notice.
The majestic throne room, with its detailed carvings on the pillars and ceiling, was the place where Azel and I met.
Every time Azel moved forward, I could hear the sound of him stepping on the marble floor.
I followed behind while keeping my distance.
I couldn’t use my skills since my magic was restricted, but I was confident in my ability to stealth. But I wasn’t confident in walking proudly next to him right now.
In the center of the opened hall, a swordsman stood disciplined without commencing a fight, waiting for Azel to arrive.
He was dressed in silver armor, and his short blond hair, blackened at the roots, was tousled and pointed.
His eyes were bright and sharp, and he looked to be in his late teens or early twenties, much younger than me.
The greatsword he was carrying on his back even dazzled me.
Azel stood defenseless about three meters in front of the man who was equipped like a hero.
The man was probably the taller one. Even so, Azel, standing while lightly dressed, looked taller than his armored opponent.
In order not to interfere with them, I stealthily watched them from a pillar near the wall between them.
“What kind of demon lord makes a hero wait for him? Aren’t you the one supposed to be waiting, looking all high and mighty?”
Of the two silently facing each other, the one who spoke up first was the hero.
Azel, the pinnacle of demons – a demon lord – yet eerily hid his magical power, was unfathomable.
He didn’t look intimidated. He was dauntless and fierce, like a final boss.
“Sorry, but I’m not insane enough to look forward to a single intruder.”
“I didn’t come here alone because I wanted to. My comrades were injured before they could reach the castle, so I sent them back first. The cruelty of you, demons.”
“Hah. That’s ‘cause you’re all weak, right?”
The moment Azel scoffed while looking at the hero with ruthless eyes—the hero swung his sword at him as if he were flying, ready to cut Azel down with a single blow.
I had no idea at what point he pulled out his sword, but Azel easily caught it with one hand.
But I knew from the way he swung his sword.
No ordinary swordsman could wield such a heavy sword at that speed without losing their center of gravity.
There was no doubt—of all the swordsmen I had seen in the human realm, this hero was… the strongest.
Two men danced around the large hall, clashing each other’s swords.
It was a battle that left me breathless and disoriented.
Every time their swords met, sparks would fly. Together with a hard, ear-splitting, high-pitched sound.
Unlike me, who could only manage to cut him down by tossing him around with magic and formations, this hero had the ability to challenge Azel with only the strikes of his greatsword.
“Hey, would you look at that! You’re on the defensive, Demon Lord!”
“Shut up. I’m lamenting ‘cause I feel sorry for the sword you’re swinging around.”
The hero continuously attacked, and Azel kept on parrying. Just when I thought the indecisive fight between them would go on forever…
The impatient hero shouted angrily in frustration, agitating Azel.
Azel had only been blocking the hero’s relentless attacks when red vines suddenly stretched out from his hand that was swinging the sword and wielded the sickle on the tip of the vine as if to drown the hero’s attack out.
The hero clicked his tongue and quickly jumped back at the sudden attack.
He jumped back right in front of me.
My magic was restricted, so the effectiveness of my stealth was less than it should be. But my presence should have been quite faint as well, so the hero didn’t notice me.
However, Azel knew I was hiding in there and froze for a bit. He looked anxious and didn’t chase after the hero who had just dodged his attack.
I suddenly realized why he behaved that way.
—He couldn’t attack if I were positioned here.
Azel’s usual attacks were wide-ranged, so he didn’t swing his blades to where I was.
With that kind of attack, he could accidentally hit me.
I would inconvenience him if I were to stay here. He wouldn’t be able to give his all. If I became a nuisance, he wouldn’t need me anymore and get rid of me.
—…But I don’t want to leave him.