Having struck the last item off Lyla’s shopping list, I was on the way home. The villagers here have either never seen demons before, or simply can’t recognise them — they don’t bat an eye when seeing her. Knowing this, she reverts to her original form whenever she’s at home. When accompanying me to work, she appears as a cat to avoid attracting attention, but when I’m not around, she’ll go shopping alone or loiter around the streets.
While taking a shortcut, I sensed a presence and stopped.
There was a child lurking in the shadows — a girl, about ten years old. Hugging her knees, she had curled up into a ball.
「What are you doing here?」
Her clothes were barely more than old rags. From that, I had a faint idea about who she was. Even after a while, she still didn’t respond. It reminded me of my past… just a little.
「Aren’t you hungry?」
I took one of the loaves of bread on Lyla’s shopping list and passed it to the girl. She finally noticed me, and looked up at me with an uncertain gaze. As I had thought, there was the mark of a slave on her neck. Where had she escaped from, I wondered. Or maybe she’d been abandoned…?
I said it like an order. The girl started nibbling the bread, then quickly began wolfing it down. Having finished it, her head drooped again.
「Were you thrown out?」
No reaction whatsoever. This could mean that she’s on the run.
「Come with me. I’ll take care of you.」
She didn’t move. Maybe she couldn’t move. I lifted her by the arms, and started piggybacking her. Maybe she hadn’t eaten for a long time. When her strength returned, maybe so would her ability to talk.
「… And that’s how I found this child.」
Lyla snorted loudly after hearing my explanation.
「We’ll take care of her until she’s better.」
「Why would you do something so troublesome? You’re not indebted to anyone.」
「Well… it’s not like we don’t have space for her. It’s not a hassle at all.」
「Eh, suit yourself.」
While Lyla prepared dinner, I helped the girl take a bath. I gave her some clothes that weren’t the right size, but suitable nevertheless. The bath appeared to have made her drowsy, so I left her to sleep on a bed in a spare room.
「Lyla, is there any way to erase the mark of a slave?」
「There is, but I can’t use magic anymore, remember?」
The mark of a slave — an emblem reserved for those condemned to servitude. Those with the mark will follow their masters without question and be unable to harm them. The exact details of a slave contract are decided by slave traders and then handed over to their clients.
「I don’t think a filthy child like that would have fetched a good price.」
「Me too. She’s much cleaner now that she’s had a bath, though.」
She might have even been a lackey for some slave traders. It’s not only aristocrats who buy slaves. Those who need manpower and have some money to spare commonly do so too. While most slaves are young men, this particular girl could have been bought to satisfy her master’s sexual desires.
「At any rate, it’s clear that she was either disposed of, or has run away.」
「For a former assassin, you’re unbelievably kind. Anyway, it might not be possible for us to remove that mark of hers.」
The mark of a slave is created through a slave trader’s ‘binding magic’, and is only erasable by the same means. As such, those without binding magic are unable to interfere with such matters.
「I know that it’s not possible. At least, as far as human magic is concerned.」
「Fufu, your knowledge of the dark arts is profound.」
Humans fear demons not only because of their magical abilities, but also because of the many spells and techniques far beyond their comprehension. Lyla approached the sleeping girl and took a good look at the slave’s mark.
「Hmm… there are many types of binding magic, but among those used by humans, this appears to be the most evil — a ‘demon contract’.」
「Yep. To receive an absurd amount of power in exchange for one’s soul. It appears that someone was playing around with this spell.」
I could roughly make out the details of the contract just by looking at the mark.
「There are laws underpinning irreversible laws… humans can be even scarier than demons. The issue is whether you can harness the magic that I know of. There’s no guarantee that it works.」
「We won’t know until we try. Teach me.」
「The Demon King will now teach you. You’d better be grateful.」
「You’re not a Demon King now, are you?」
Lyla taught me about both the theory and execution, not forgetting the small details. She was an unexpectedly caring and humble teacher.
「I don’t expect a human like you to be able to execute it, though.」
It’s been ages since I last took magic lessons from someone and put it into practice. I did exactly as Lyla taught.
「Oh, I forgot to mention! I don’t need a summoning circle, but you do! You’ll –」
A high-pitched sound reverberated around the house, piercing enough to shatter glass.
「It, it worked…」
「Was it a success?」
The slave’s mark had disappeared.
「Great. We’ll explain everything to her tomorrow.」
「I’m surprised. ‘Dispel’ is a fifth-order cleansing spell. I’d thought it impossible for you, a human, to execute it on the first try. And you didn’t even need a summoning circle!」
「Yeah. Demons have different levels of power just like you humans. The higher your power level, the more varieties of magic are at your disposal. First-order is the highest — nobody else can use it other than me, the Demon King.」
There are exceptions, of course, but power levels are more or less good indicators of one’s actual abilities.
「I simply did as you said.」
「There are only about a hundred demons who can successfully execute a dispel in one attempt, even with a summoning circle. There are only two who can go without; myself and one other.」
「Is that so?」
「Yes. Looks like you’re not only good at assassination. To receive an oral lesson, remember it, and get it right on the first try. I’ve seen it with my own eyes now — your magic sense is a cut above the rest. It can even match demons.」
And that’s how I got my magic endorsed by the Demon King herself.