I knew kidnapping Mirta was a bad idea! Her grandmother tracked us, and Cain followed her as well. But why is Cain here anyway? It can’t be that those two are together, right? It’d be bad for a demon to associate so closely to the upper echelons of elven society. We may be at peace, but tensions are still running high. There’s tons of unofficial skirmishes happening at our borders in the lawless lands. Then again, anyone will attack anyone in the lawless lands regardless of race.
“Elder Marilyn, Lord Thunderfire,” my father said, rising from his couch. “What brings you to this duke’s humble residence?”
“Mirta!” Marilyn said, ignoring my father while rushing into the room. “Are you alright!?”
“Oh,” Lucia said, stepping behind Mirta and placing her hand on the little girl’s head. “You must be Ily—Mirta’s mother! Mirta wanted to come along with us, so I brought her here and gave her some hot chocolate. We’re close friends.” She smiled at Mirta who was shivering. “Right?”
“R-right,” Mirta said after swallowing her hot chocolate. “Grandma, this is Lucia. And this is Ilya. They’re nice people.”
Marilyn furrowed her brow. “I’m Mirta’s grandmother,” she said to Lucia. “Not her mother. How dare—”
“Not her mother?” Lucia asked, her eyes widening. “But you look so young!”
Oh my lord, Lucia’s trying to trick Mirta’s grandmother like she tricked my father. There’s no way a high elf would fall for such blatant flattery!
Marilyn drew her head back and raised an eyebrow. She smiled at Lucia. “Really? You think so? I do take good care of my skin.”
She fell for it! There really is no god!
“Is she a friend you made during the competition, Mirta?” Marilyn said, crouching by Mirta and patting her head. “I saw her perform. All three of you did very nicely. But you shouldn’t eat tablets just because everyone else is, alright?”
Cain cleared his throat, and everyone turned to look at him. “Sorry for dropping by uninvited,” he said. Was he here because of Lucia? Did she infuriate him that much? He was getting antsy during the competition, especially during that third one with the defense. He almost killed everyone with tenth-circle spells because of Lucia. Wait. Why’s he looking at me!? I’m not the culprit! I’m a victim too. “It’s been a while since I last saw you, Duke Pentorn. You raised an impressive daughter.” He paused and smiled. “And I just happened to be searching for a disciple.”
What? Disciple? Me? Father looks confused as well. “Ilya’s already Rogath Winemark’s disciple,” my father said and rubbed his chin.
“A relic from the past,” Cain said with a snort. “He’s been alive for how many years and still only a magician with eight circles? Ilya’s potential must be nurtured carefully; Rogath can’t do that. I can.”
“A relic from the past?” Marilyn asked and raised an eyebrow. She smiled at Cain and crossed her arms over her chest. “Then what does that make me?”
“An even older relic,” Cain said with a smile. “Perhaps an antique? Or prehistoric even.”
Wow. It seems like Cain and Mirta’s grandmother don’t get along well at all. They just coincidentally arrived in our suite together? I suspected it during the competition, but Cain’s … crass, nothing like the person I thought he’d be. He has a perfectly valid reason to be arrogant since he’s the strongest person in the world, but I expected him to have a more noble character like a hero in a story. With his current personality, isn’t he more attuned to the antagonist’s role?
Mana fluctuated through the room, and I had to take a step back. Were the two going to fight? Why in our inn of all places? Lucia tugged on Mirta’s grandmother’s sleeve, and the pressure in the room disappeared. Lucia’s actually going to mediate between two people? Isn’t she usually the cause of destruction? “Hey, hey,” Lucia said. “If you enchant my stuff, I’ll help you beat him up.”
…I spoke too soon.
“Am I being underestimated?” Cain asked, raising an eyebrow. “This is certainly an unpleasant feeling. I’ve been wanting to teach you a lesson, chipmunk. Give me a reason to.”
“Eh?” Lucia tilted her head. “You want me to be your disciple? No way!”
“Disciple?” Cain asked. “No! That’s not what I mean by teaching you a lesson. Ugh, dealing with idiots is so frustrating. And even if you thought I wanted you to be my disciple, how could you refuse instantly like that?”
“Well, there’s nothing you can teach me,” Lucia said with a nod. I’m pretty sure Cain can teach you a lot, Lucia. Like learning how to read. Or how to distinguish north from south. Lucia raised her hand and pointed her sword at Cain. “And I don’t like you. Your face is too thin for your wide body. It’s weird to look at.”
Mirta’s grandmother snorted before laughing. “Did you hear that, Cain? I may be old, but at least my body’s proportionate.”
Huh, Cain’s face is a little narrow now that I can see him more closely. And his torso is a bit wide in an unflattering way. He’s not fat, but he’s not … normal-looking either? I don’t know if I’ll be able to see him the same way again.
“This is a guest of your house?” Cain asked my father, ignoring the sword in front of his face. “Is she free to be as unbridled as she likes?”
My father’s expression darkened. What a tough decision he has to make, I’m glad I’m not the duchess yet. Should he take Lucia and Mirta’s grandmother’s side, or should he take Cain’s side? What decision would I make? Just how much stronger is a tenth-circle magician compared to one with nine circles? There’s the wall that has to be overcome, but could Cain win if everyone in this room were to turn against him?
Lucia’s an idiot, but she’s not a bad person … as long as she doesn’t mistake someone for a rare spirit beast. Cain’s a genius, but his character’s not that great. But the pressure he could put on my father if he’s offended would be a lot greater than the pressure Lucia could put on. My father could possibly lose the position of duke if Cain complains to the emperor about my father’s behavior. Speaking up for Lucia in this scenario could also be seen as speaking up for Mirta’s grandmother, a high elf. If people learned my father favored an elf over a demon, there wouldn’t be good opinions about him. The obvious choice is to placate Cain and coax Lucia to calm down with sweets.
“I apologize, Lord Thunderfire, but could you please leave?” my father asked. “Right now, I’d like to relax with friends. I’d be happy to accommodate you back at my home in the future.”
…Or I thought about it too much.
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