Since that, Agedilus would be taken along by his foster father to the Adina Estate and left there frequently. Whenever he visited, Filmina would greet him, 「Welcome,」 with a smile different from the one she’d make when anyone else visited.
It seemed the pronunciation of ‘Agedilus’ was difficult for her to articulate, since she was still young. So he told her, 「You can call me Edi.」 He wouldn’t have allowed anyone else to get used to saying that instead of the precious name he received from his foster father, but he’d allow it if it was her.
The time they spent reading together was just calm. He couldn’t help but often be bewildered by her when she sometimes touched his black hair without flinching, that black hair she should’ve been afraid of. But her soft, tender hands felt so comfortable.
Whenever she did that, he would feel her younger brother’s gaze on him – not even in fear or in hatred. If I had to say it, he’d feel a gaze as if full of jealousy towards a man that would steal his beloved older sister. But there was no trouble after that.
Speaking of things they did together, they mostly did nothing except read together, but that was plenty. It was comfortable. It was fun to cram all the knowledge from magical books that weren’t in the Lancent Estate. Bit by bit, he felt like he was catching up with Filmina, and that was fun too. Although she didn’t seem to find that funny at all.
Ah, that’s right. She’d try to be unusually 『grown-up』. In fact, she was the kind of girl that could do that. That’s just why the moments he could see her childishness, she who was somehow more grown-up than him, those moments made him so happy. For instance, when she’d make a mistake while reading out a magical book, or when she’d get stuck in the hem of her dress and trip. And when he couldn’t help but smile at that, she’d amusingly turn away her annoyed face. Both of those actions told him he still had enough time to catch up with her, and that made him happy.
Because those days were so calm and peaceful, he made a mistake. Mistakenly thought that he was not different from everyone else. That he could keep spending his days in peace with his foster father and with Filmina. Yes, he was mistaken. What made him realize that that was a complete mistake was when he ran into one of Filmina’s 『friend』 or something, someone he didn’t know at the Adina Estate.
Usually, they would’ve adjusted things so that wouldn’t happen. But it seemed it was because the other family’s children threw a tantrum, saying they wanted to meet Filmina no matter what. They were reading a book together in the courtyard then. The children shook free from the adults’ controlling voices and barged in. Once they saw him, they yelled. 「Monster!」 And then, he simply watched as they burst out crying and ran away.
That was a word he’d heard often. Devil, demon, monster, he’d all been called those before. It was just that he was a little surprised; since the time his foster father took him in, he stopped being called that to his face. And yet, he couldn’t move.
Why couldn’t he move? At this point, that word shouldn’t even have hurt him. Maybe it was just a shock to be called that in front of Filmina. He thought maybe she’d look at him differently after hearing him called that.
But that wasn’t the case.
Just one word. That was all. Saying that, she took his hand just like the first time they met, and stayed there with him until his foster father or her parents turned up.
I won’t say that saved him. If that was all it’d take to save him, that darkness would’ve brightened up a long time ago, right? If that was all it took, he would’ve forgotten that darkness a deeper black than the black under his eyelids and that pale shining purple light a long time ago. So it wasn’t like that saved him. But even so, that small yet warm hand definitely did touch his heart.
And then, two years passed in the blink of an eye.
The calm days he spent reading with her healed Agedilus’s heart, slowly but surely. At the same time, he had enough knowledge stored in his head like dry sand absorbing water, enough to surprise his foster father. Each time Filmina got a more difficult magical book, Agedilus’s magical power and skill rose too.
And then, that incident happened.
「Agedilus. Open up.」
His foster father’s voice comes from the other side of the door for the umpteenth time. But Agedilus doesn’t respond.
The curtains are shut in his room. He broke the lamp when he returned. After casting countless sealing spells on the door, he crouches on his bed with his sheets covering his head. I think it’s just like that darkness from long ago. The passage of time became uncertain, and he doesn’t know how many days have passed since he shut himself up in his room.
There is nobody, nothing, just himself who isn’t dead. His excessive magical power absorbs mana and ether from the atmosphere to make best use of its host, like a parasite. Thanks to that, if he doesn’t starve he isn’t thirsty either. He isn’t thankful for it. Behind his closed eyelids, what replays in his mind is blazing fire and Filmina, falling over as she tried to cover him. That scene is etched into his eyelids, not leaving.
He clenches his fists hard enough his nails pierce his palm. It does hurt. But there’s no doubt she must’ve been hurt more. Unable to think anything but that, he hates himself more than anything, he who is so irritating and pathetic.
That day, Filmina had brought an advanced magical book with a vivid scarlet cover. 「It was pretty, so I brought it with me!」 She smiled mischievously. Even he knew that that book was far too advanced for them, but his curiosity won in the end.
It looked like she was completely entranced by the beautiful drawings of spirits on each page she turned. 『Magic really is amazing.』 Her smile as she said that was different from her usual grown-up smile……. That’s why he asked, 『Do you want to see it?』 He was such a fool. He hated the jet black hair he was born with, but this time he thought he could do it. He overestimated himself.
Her screaming voice, her body covering him. And then, the sharp claws of the blazing beast that appeared opposite them. It felt like the world turned to white. If it weren’t for her voice whispering, 「It’s okay,」 there was no doubt he would’ve blown away the entire Adina Estate.
Even half unconscious, she was worried over him until the very end. Compared to that, what was he doing? Even when he heard that she’d woken up, he stayed there, unable to move from his room. He only told his foster father that he wanted to go to the Academy of Magic he’d heard him mention before, and stayed shut up in his room, casting sealing spells on the door. His magical power had already exceeded that of his foster father so no one bothered him about it.
He said that – he had to say it – not because he wanted to reprimand himself. More than that, he was just afraid of being called a monster by even her. The fiery beast’s scratches on her back would stay, never disappearing. The only reason was because he knew she would curse at him, saying, 「It’s all your fault!」 with that gentle smile gone from her face.
That’s why he couldn’t meet her let alone apologize to her. But even so, she, Filmina, showed up to the Lancent Estate in her condition severe enough to be called a serious illness.
「How do you do, Sir Agedilus? I, Filmina Veer Adina, have hurried out of my sickbed just to visit you.」
It was extremely shocking. Not believing his own ears, he leaned forward on instinct and tumbled out of bed. It couldn’t be. There was no way something as ridiculous as that could happen. But the voice he’d heard certainly belonged to none other than Filmina Veer Adina.
「……Edi. Are you able to hear me? Please do open the door.」
He couldn’t move, even at the repeated knocks one after another. There were signs the seal on the door was being touched – was she fistfighting with the door? Even though he couldn’t afford that to happen.
‘She has to stop,’ he thought. ‘Quickly, stop. I have to just calm her down no matter what.’ But his body wouldn’t listen, cowering. He didn’t know what to do. He stared at the door dumbfoundedly, still in the same position as when he fell.
Soon, the clattering sounds from the doorknob calmed down. For a second, he thought maybe his foster father had taken her with him, and was relieved.
「I am kindly telling you to just open the door!」
With a thud, the door trembled violently. At the same time, she let out a short scream. At that sound, his mind turned to pure white.
「Filmina?! Filmina, are you okay?! —!?」
「……I’ve caught you.」
His legs felt tangled up; he moved them and shot out of the room to find a small body crouching there. On instinct, he reached out his hand to her. Just as he tried to hold her up, she grabbed his arm.
Even as her face was cramped out of pain, she still tried to show him her usual smile. He couldn’t help but feel ashamed of himself at that. Just what was he forcing her to do? Making her come all the way here even though he’d hurt her, and on top of that making her do the impossible, forcing her to smile for him.
She still said, 「Don’t apologize,」 to someone as pathetic as him. She said, 「I want to play with you again,」 to someone like him. She told someone like him that she liked him.
「Filmina, is this okay with you?」
Then, even as she lost her consciousness, she put on a smile for him. ‘Do you want to play?’ He thought she would never come. Agedilus really thought there was no way she’d say that. That’s why when she did say it for him, he couldn’t do anything but reply, 「Of course.」
His foster father showed up immediately after that and took her home to the Adina Estate, still unconscious. He watched from his room as they left.
It was that day he was called by his foster father. He had poured water and thin porridge into his body that had gone so long without eating or drinking. When he visited his foster father’s library, he asked him, 「Do you still want to go to the Academy of Magic?」
「Your existence has become public once again with this incident, hasn’t it? The university president said it’s too dangerous to leave you be and keep things as they are. We could get by with me holding your power back until now, but that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Good god, I would’ve thought they’d have gotten better as the time passes, but no one’s changed a bit since my time there.」
His foster father let out a sigh as if amazed and worn-out, covering his eyes. The words he’d spit out regretfully were so full of concern that Agedilus felt guilty.
「……Sorry. I couldn’t protect you even when you’re still young.」
「I’ve already been protected more than enough.」
Protected by his foster father too, and by her too. That’s why this time… He thought.
Unable to put it in words, he lowered his head. His foster father patted his head, crumpling his hair, and then embraced him with all his heart. The warmth and strength of his arms pressed against Agedilus’s back. That’s why he asked. About Filmina, about her physical condition.
Just as he asked again, his foster father’s previously calm expression stiffened. That expression he made, opening his mouth to speak as he grasped Agedilus’s shoulders, told him much more clearly that her condition wasn’t good in the slightest than his words could.
「Her life isn’t in danger anymore. But as I said before, the scars on her back will likely never disappear. She may be the young lady of the Adina family, but the world’s reaction towards this won’t be favorable, you know?」
「That’s why I’ll protect Filmina.」
「Is that because you feel guilty towards her? If so, then stop now. She’s not going to be happy if you protect her because you feel obligated towards her or pity her. That’ll just make her miserable. Surely even you know she’s like that.」
As his father continued, Agedilus instinctively raised his voice.
「—That’s not true! It’s not like that!」
It wasn’t like that. If this emotion was just obligation or guilt, it wouldn’t be so painful. If he’d just been basking in nothing but guilt, obligation, it would have been so easy. But that wasn’t it, and that’s why it was so painful.
He had given her an injury that wouldn’t go away her entire life. No matter how sorry he was, it would never be enough. As a woman, as a noble, as a person who engaged in magic, she had received a wound that had to be shunned. Even if he apologized, it wasn’t something he could apologize enough for.
……But. But, when he heard it, he felt, just a little. Agedilus felt, really just a little happy too. He ended up feeling joy.
Well, wasn’t that right? With that wound, she couldn’t go anywhere now. No doubt there was no one who would willingly choose her in this world that shunned wounds and injuries caused by spirits. Definitely no one but him.
Agedilus was made aware of how he was the worst, most disgusting living creature on the planet to be thinking like this. He thought himself unforgivable and detestable. He was so gross for harboring feelings like this. He didn’t know the names of those feelings.
But her smile as she bore that pain told him. It was crooked because of the pain, but Agedilus thought it more beautiful than anything, it was precious to him.
Accepting it was scary. But he had no choice but to accept it. The reason he wanted to protect her. The reason was.
「It’s because I love Filmina.」
Putting it in words, he realized once again that it was true. That was right. In the end, that’s how it was. He, Agedilus Von Lancent, loved Filmina Veer Adina. He was sure he’d loved her from the moment he met her. The second he saw her smile as she said, 「Beautiful,」 to his hair that everyone loathed and those eyes that made everyone uneasy. He had fallen in love with her.
As he told his foster father that, looking straight up at him with his fists clenched, his foster father narrowed his blue eyes and smiled in satisfaction.
「You are my son, my pride.」
The only one in this whole wide world whimsical enough to say that about a parasite like him was surely just his foster father.
And then, the day he was to leave for the Academy of Magic came. Filmina had shown up at the Lancent Estate with her parents and brother especially to see him off. It had been a long while since he’d seen her face, and she looked a little thin. But the smile on her face made him feel incredibly relieved, just as it did before he’d hurt her.
His foster father smiled gently. Her parents seemed to have been told of the news before; her father looked like he was somehow glaring at him, while her mother looked pleased, both watching them.
Surrounded by those gazes on him, Agedilus resolved himself and opened his mouth. The tension then was just as high as the time he first used magic – when Filmina had once got a papercut from a magical book, and he’d used the power of a water spirit to cast healing magic on her finger.
You could say in his short 9 years living, Agedilus had almost never wanted anything. He hadn’t thought about wanting something. But just this time was different. There was something he wanted from the bottom of his heart. He might be rejected. He might be laughed off with a ‘Surely you’re joking?’ But, even so. Even so, he just wanted proof that he was there beside her.
「What is it?」
「Would you wait for me?」
「Yes, of course.」
She replied with a smile in her usual tone. Surely only his foster father knew how happy that response made him.