Translator: Adam Seacord
…I heard a voice. It was impossible. I didn’t want to hear anything anymore.
「…This is why I said you should be mine or sneak away from this town. I respect you, and I thought we would be good friends. I’m not lying, you know.」
I thought I had heard the same voice not long ago, but it was very nostalgic. It sounded like he was talking to me for a long time.
Why? Who is this? Why would you say such a thing?
The compliment was nice. But anything he said seemed pointless.
At that moment, I, who used to be Layla, could sense things again.
It was pitch black. In the first place, I was decapitated. Just like the maid, who I had killed in the same room.
Didn’t I die?
I couldn’t move my body. I didn’t’ even know if I had one. All I knew was that someone was very close to me, talking to me in a very comforting voice.
Who are you? What are you saying?
I didn’t want to stop listening. I wanted to see his face. When I thought about that, I could start to see a blurry outline.
That’s right. Those eyes. That nose. That horn. That voice.
「That’s right. You can call me the devil if you’d like, and I couldn’t refute it. Even though it was for my own survival, I have killed a few people with my hands, and so many more without. I’ve turned countless women into monsters. Daria was a monster too, who you knew very well. …Are you surprised? You couldn’t tell from her looks, did you?」
Daria…? A monster…?
I didn’t really understand what he was saying it. But that seemed to explain her disappearing right in front of my eyes. Come to think of it, Gratina and Lubreo said that Daria was the monster. I didn’t understand it, but I accepted it. Maybe my confusion was showing, as he said:
「…A long time ago. She was attacked by the mercenaries who ransacked her village. She was ravished, and chopped up to pieces. By the time I had run over there, she had nearly bled to death. Those mercenaries were hired by House Lambert… They were after the mining rights. Daria and I are from the mining village of Grandle.」
That’s right. Elliot said that he knew Princess Olivia, a long time ago. Princess Olivia had vanquished the monster…
「Oh, it looks like you’ve figured it out. That’s right. I was the local who ended up saving Olivia, Earl Abram’s niece and paladin. And what you know about the incident is only half true.」
The familiar, teasing grin returned to Elliot’s face. It felt nostalgic, and lonesome… And I didn’t know why. My brain wasn’t working. I still couldn’t feel my body. I was so, so tired.
「You’ve figured it out, haven’t you? The supposedly vanquished master of the Man-Eating Dungeon wasn’t Daria, but me. Well, long story short, Olivy and I made up…」
Elliot was trying very hard to convince me of something. Nunna trying to wake me up, when I was still sleepy in the morning. …All of the sudden, an inexplicable sorrow washed over me.
「She was in danger of being assassinated. Still, she had no place to run to. Just like you didn’t, yesterday. The one who order the assassination was… I don’t have to say it, do I? You know it more than anybody.」
「My master, we’re ready. …Wow, she really…」
I could hear someone in the distance. I had heard of her voice before. Someone was in the corner of my eye… A woman with elongated ears… I couldn’t tell who it was, but she seemed familiar.
「Oh, thank you. …Are you surprised that she’s here? I can’t blame you… Well, it’s a long story.」
I still couldn’t tell. Apparently, I did know her, though.
「And if you don’t understand… Don’t worry about it. All I did was have her set us up. So I could see you… Used, betrayed, and decapitated.」
With those words, something deep in my mind started bubbling back to the surface. Luby, Nunna, Daria disappearing, and…
In the corner of my eye, I could see a headless female body strewn by Elliot’s feet.
That’s me… That’s my body. There’s no head. Where is it? How am I looking at my body?
「You might already know this, but I… The monster of the Man-Eating Dungeon can pour magic into people and turn them into monsters. You were ravished by me, over and over, until you nearly turned into a monster. So, you’re holding to life with a thread. More accurately, you’ve conjured it.」
My world shook. Perhaps I was about to break. Elliot stretched out his hands and cupped my cheeks. His face grew closer, and his eyes were shimmering. I felt like I was being pulled into those powerful eyes.
「So, let me ask you again. This world isn’t pretty. Even in the water gate city of Abram has a sunny side and a dark side. It’s like a spider’s web. You’ve lived your whole life in the sun, and after you involuntarily peeked into the shadows, you were swallowed up.」
He forced a villainous grin, but he still looked lonely, somehow.
「You have a choice. You can be devoured, or join the spider’s team. Those are the only two options I can offer you. If you just want to wait for death to come take you, it would be a shame, but I wouldn’t stop you. Forcing you on to my side doesn’t gain me anything. It would just make me nervous. And, it would probably make you unhappy, too. I’m a villainous monster, after all.」
Why did Elliot say such a thing? Why didn’t he just take what he could?
「But if… You have even the slightest bit of feelings for me… If you believed in me, for even a second… It’s not impossible to take you in. There’s not much time to think, though. So make a decision. I want you to choose me. So, let me say this again. …Be mine, Layla.」
…That was what I had always wanted, but never had. I liked Elliot. I couldn’t conceal that anymore. But…
「Why me? Daria’s dead because of…」
「That doesn’t matter! Daria made her own decision, and stuck to it. No matter how much I wallow in regret, I will never deny that. Besides, I’m a villain. You are worth something to me, and I can’t stand to lose someone like you.」
Maybe I was just looking for a shoulder to lean on. After being forsaken, maybe I was just looking for a branch to rest on. But, if he still wanted someone like me…
「…I’m not a knight, anymore.」
「I heard. And I can’t get you back that title.」
He already knew. I didn’t know who he had heard it from, but I could see that he was holding back, somehow.
「So… I have no one to swear my loyalty to. Will you accept my sword…? Even if it’s just…」
「I will. Say no more.」
Elliot smiled happily, and held my head up in his hands… And kissed me.
「Now… I’m going to bed you, ravish you, and turn you into my monster. Layla, my knight… Welcome to the spider’s web.」
On the day of the spring festival, Princess Olivia was to officially inherit the water gate city of Abram. This day, her fiancé was revealed to be Lord Lubreo, head of House Lambert. Their marriage would take place at the same time. This long awaited cheerful news caused some excitement in the city. There were some subtle incidents that had been taking place in Abram since the parade, shifting the power dynamics of the city nobles and the merchants in the city, as well as Abram’s dynamic with other cities in the nation. Some astute individuals would have noticed the current underground changing.
The small-scale battles between the next-door Rodania were gradually growing, and people were growing more and more anxious of the full-scale war that was to come. Which was precisely why people clung to news more worthy of celebration.
Olivia’s room now had some decorations for a change, and there were more people sleeping in her room. The fact that Olivia was practically living together with her fiancé was an open secret in court.
Lubreo, the head of House Lambert, had been attacked a few days after the parade. While he survived, his entire body had been burned severely. Doctors order him to rest for a considerable time. His home, the manor, had also been attacked. Although most of his men were unharmed, he lost everything sentimental to him. It was at that time that Olivia took Lubreo in, and took care of him in her room.
They had both been attacked, and they each protected the other with their life. It was only natural that they would be attracted to each other.
In the bars of the water gate city, the bards obsessed with competing songs of their love story. Of course, they all sung of the monster of the mining village, spies from enemy nations, and the mad female knight who lost herself in the forbidden lust for her master, all coming between them. No one cared if any part of the song reflected reality.
It was only after their engagement being announced that Lubreo started making public appearances again. Lubreo, who had remained behind doors for over half of a year, had lost a lot of weight form the lengthy recovery, and even looked smaller in stature. In addition, perhaps for the burns, he had bandages all over his body and face. Still, he waved to the crowd to let them know that he was recovering.
That day, a plan to expand the walls of Abram’s New Town, a plan to reconstruct the underground waterways, a tax cut for business, and a new policy to organize the slums outside of the walls, as well as to give the lower class housing and jobs were all proposed under Olivia’s name.
No one believed that all of these would come to fruition, but it was received well that these policies showed the intention to fix the problems that everyone was worried about. They were received as a declaration of Olivia and her husband Lubreo’s political prowess.
One of the policies proposed to combat poverty was the restoration of the mining village of Grandle, as well as the reopening of the steel mines.
The village by the border, which had become a terrifying place full of monsters had been subdued by Olivia, and Lubreo would lead the revitalization.
「Elliot, you’re alive. You lucky bastard.」
He sounded genuinely happy. He didn’t seem to be lying. He could keep things separate in his mind. A chilling night breezes passed the window. It was the night after the parade. Elliot was in a guest room in the castle of the water gate city of Abram. His entire body was covered in bandages, and an ice pack rested on his forehead. The poison that seeped in through his wound was kicking up a storm in his body.
「Using his items, I had Elliot play my double in the parade. I apologize for not informing you beforehand, but…」
Interrupting Olivia on his side, Lubreo bowed.
「No, you made the right call. If I had known, the people of Lambert would have known. I trusted Layla. I couldn’t… See the truth. If I had known, you would have been in danger.」
Lubreo was dressed in black. By this time, he had already been told of the tragedy that took place in Lambert Manor, so he was in mourning. Same for Gratina, the housekeeper who stood by his side like his shadow.
Olivia, the target, came out without a scratch. Even if Elliot, the double, had died, it only meant that he had served his purpose. No matter how one felt personally, a public figure was expected to act under that assumption. So, neither Olivia nor the knights by her said a word about the health of the double. It was out of the ordinary for Lubreo to come check on Elliot in the first place. Elliot seemed conscious, but just barely. He didn’t say a word.
「We’ve shown him to a doctor and a priest. His life was saved, thanks to miracle of the river goddess… But the poison has infected him deeply. It’s too early to know if he’ll make it.」
Lubreo nodded with sincerity as Olivia explained. He had many qualities about him that were unheard of for a future head of a noble house.
「Lady Olivia, I’m afraid we’ll have to ask you to see a doctor, as well.」
A knight spoke at her side, and Olivia replied, annoyed:
「I already did, yesterday. Why must I, again?」
「Just because there were no symptoms yesterday… Apparently, some symptoms might have only appeared today. I was told that regular exams would be required… And, the night is getting darker.」
Lubreo had come at night, no less, right after hearing that Elliot was alive. This in itself was unheard of.
「Right, I apologize for visiting at such a time. I’ll be leaving soon. …It’s peculiar that I had met this man through the traitor Layla… But I highly respect this man. And for him to end up like this…」
「…Excuse me, sir.」
Olivia left, lead by the knight. Her staff followed, leaving a single maid behind, who was stationed there to care for Elliot.
Once the door closed, Gratina spoke to the maid, and charmed her with her Cursing Eyes.
「You will not acknowledge nor remember what is about to happen. It’s all right. Nothing bad is going to happen.」
Leaving the incapacitated attendant, the housekeeper turned back to Lubreo. He nodded silently, and gestured to Elliot, sleeping on the bed.
「Elliot, I’m glad that you’re alive. That being said… You may know too much. I’m not going to kill you, but I have to keep you tied down… An insurance policy, if you will.」
Lubreo spoke as if he was playing a casual prank.
「Besides… It looks like Olivia has the hots for you, too. You’re wanted by my future wife, me, and that monster… You’re quite the stud, you know.」
With that, he left the chair by the bed to Gratina. With her slender fingers, she opened Elliot’s eyes a crack, and stared into his eyes.
「Now, look at me… Now, you will…」
When the attendant came to, the head and housekeeper were leaving the room. It was inexcusable not to notice, and letting them leave without a word would show disrespect. She hurriedly tried to bow, but the Lord Lambert held up a finger to his mouth, ordering her to remain quiet.
「I know you’re tired too, but keep at it. That man is too good to let die.」
The door opened, and the footsteps of the escorting soldier could be heard. After a deep bow, she could hear the door close. In the room, there was only her and the man staring up and lost in thought on top of the bed.