The Black Demon King 475
Chapter 25: Days of Lies
The 31st of the Month of Gloom
Nell’s first lesson in ancient Jujitsu was when she was nine years old. She remembered the day when her brother Nero took her by the hand and brought her to this “Fire Shrine”.
It was summer. She remembered hearing a large chorus of cicadas echoing in the distance while she was puffing and panting under the scorching sun as she climbed a large set of stone stairs.
Rather than an obligation, it was a semi-implicit custom for the Elrod royal family to be taught ancient Jujitsu by Belkrozen. The only reason for the young siblings to stand before her on that day was that their father Miriard, the King of Avalon, thought it was about time they did.
That was the moment when the ten-year-old brother and her nine-year-old sister began their training.
Nero was the first of the two to learn a technique. A mere three months after first entering the shrine’s grounds, he had successfully managed to use “First Form – Wash Away”. Despite anyone else having needed at least a full year before fully learning that technique, Nero had accomplished this in less than a third of that time, which was enough of a feat to regard him as a genius.
Nell, on the other hand, was having a much harder time with her training.
While Nero was already working on the next technique, “Second Form – Return”, Nell was still lagging behind, devoting herself completely to a repetitive training involving tracing the patterns of “First Style – Burst”.
Rather than being untalented, she wasn’t cut out for the job. It was obvious to everyone. Belkrozen had seen that this nine-year-old girl had a gentle nature that didn’t allow her to kill even a single insect, and completely understood that despite learning ancient Jujitsu, she wasn’t the type of person who would use martial art techniques to defeat her opponents.
If Belkrozen could manage to make her see that this training was simply for her to learn the basics of martial arts as well as for building basic physical strength, that alone would be a great victory for her. What she was truly expecting of Nell was to see her foster that healing magic that had already proven to bloom past the level of average talent despite her youth. It was clear as water to her that Nell would be a top-notch Priest in the future.
Then, one year after their training had started had passed. Since Nero had already mastered the first two Forms and Styles, they had decided to go on a half-vacation to the southern coast of Avalon, although it could also be said that it was for the children to get some practical combat experience.
The sea at Avalon’s shores was the Lemurian Sea. On the map, it looked like there was only a huge blue oval in the middle of the continent, but it passed through several channels to the west leading to the open ocean.
The Lemurian Sea, which cut through this continent from its center to the west, had been used for maritime trade since ancient times. The port city of Serene, which was located in the south of Avalon, was still actively doing business with the central city-states and the far west region and was developing on a grand scale.
There was a royal villa on the cape overlooking the huge trading port city of Serene which Avalon was proud of. Of course, there was a private beach under that cape, creating an environment where one could spend the best summer possible.
It was the last day of their vacation, and they had spent it all training and having fun while blessed with perfect weather.
Belkrozen was taking a walk along the beach with Nell. Nero had gone back to the villa for a quick nap.
They went past the beautiful white sandy beach and walked on a rocky shore as the waves wildly crashed against it.
Nell had no aptitude for martial arts, but her athletic ability was as sharp as her brother’s. She had also learned “Air Walker” early on, which enabled stable walking even on this rocky beach, where one could either slip and fall or be struck by the waves, as if she were going on a well-maintained cobblestone road.
Of course, Belkrozen was also there to help just in case.
So at that time, when a large turtle appeared before Nell, Belkrozen didn’t feel like she was in any danger.
That turtle was one of many ordinary sea animals that lived throughout the Lemurian Sea. It wasn’t as dangerous as a monster. Besides, these turtles mainly feed on “aqua elementals” found floating in the sea, so it didn’t need to have a particularly strong bite. It was a rather safe creature that wouldn’t be able to even bite a children’s finger off.
On the other hand, its rock-like shell and the thick skin that covered its entire body were sturdy enough to prevent most half-hearted attacks. While it had no offensive power, it was terrifyingly excellent in defense.
The creature that had appeared before Nell was so big that even though it was standing on all fours, it was about the same height as her due to its enormous build and its large shell. Before such a creature, Nell found herself unable to move as her eyes darted about nervously.
Had Nero been there instead, he would have fallen prey to his own curiosity and tried to poke all over the turtle’s body, but Nell was completely shook up with anxiety.
Seeing her reaction, Belkrozen felt an urge to pull a prank on her, but she couldn’t afford to make the precious Avalon princess, who had been pampered all of her life, cry like that.
She then tried to tell her that the turtle wasn’t a dangerous creature. But at that very moment, perhaps out of its own curious nature, the turtle stretched its neck towards Nell.
Then, right after Nell’s extremely girly shriek– the giant turtle’s body was smashed to smithereens.
What Belkrozen had trouble with was not understanding what had just happened, but accepting it. Her draconic eyes captured exactly what happened without sparing any details.
It had been a fairly simple motion. As the turtle stretched its neck towards Nell, she held her hand forward. That was all.
However, what her hand had unleashed was a “First Style – Burst”, which hadn’t manifested in her even a single time in the entire year she had been in training.
At that moment, Belkrozen finally realized.
It wasn’t that Nell hadn’t been able to learn how to use the ancient Jujitsu technique she had taught her. She simply wouldn’t bring herself to use them.
And even then, Nell had mastered the technique to a point where she had managed to pulverize a giant turtle, which had a defensive power comparable to that of a Rank 3 monster, with a single attack. Belkrozen couldn’t help but compare her power to that of her brother Nero, who still needed at least three clean hits from the same attack to utterly destroy a goblin’s body.
“I’m sorry, Lady Bell… It seems that ancient Jujitsu is not my thing after all…”
However, Nell clipped the wings of her own talent with her gentle personality.
The explosion that surged from her palm and instantly destroyed the giant turtle shocked Nell as well, intensifying her fear of her own power to destroy others.
And Belkrozen considered that to be one of her virtues.
No matter how talented she was with those techniques, it wouldn’t make sense if she had no intention to use them. Belkrozen figured that the gentle Nell should get better at her ability to heal rather than at her ability to kill.
After that, Nell abandoned her training of ancient Jujitsu and dedicated herself purely to the path of the Priest.
Nell’s own self confidence, as well as of course Belkrozen and her father King Miriard, all consented to that choice. She received the blessing of the “Holy Healing Princess Aria” and also demonstrated her worth as an adventurer by quickly becoming a Rank 5 Adventurer while studying abroad in Spada. And her success as a Priest had become something that was acknowledged by the public in general.
“–I’ve made up my mind, Lady Bell. I want to go back to learning ancient Jujutsu!”
And now, eight years after turning down the path of martial arts, the genius who surpassed even her own brother had returned.
Nell’s eager request came on the 23rd of the Month of Gloom, at a time when Belkrozen could see that she was experiencing a severe case of lovesickness.
As they slipped face to face under a strange piece of furniture called “kotatsu”, which was a combination of a low table with a blanket and a heater underneath, Belkrozen listened to Nell’s story while pecking at the “potato chips” made by laying thinly sliced potatoes over oiled hot runes. Nell started by telling her of what she called “a fateful encounter” –In short, she started to tell a story of passionate love starting from the time when she first met Kurono.
“At that time, I was just happy to help anyone who needed me, but… To think that such a trivial event led to that fateful encounter… Kyaaah!”
From the very beginning of Nell’s speech, despite getting a grin on her face and twirling her body, sharing the excitement and suspense over Nell’s future prospects, Belkrozen still demonstrated her transcendental elderness of 250 years old at length. She paid attention and even asked a few questions as she carefully listened carefully to her vague love story despite it being nothing more than a boastful talk about her love affairs that went back and forth between reality and delusion.
“–Hoho, I see, so that’s what you’ve been up to.”
How much time had passed? At the very least, the sun had already gone down and the veil of the night covered the landscape outside the shrine as Nell finished with the final episode of her story, “A Heartbreaking Return”.
“Uh, U-Uhhhh… It’s… It’s so frustrating, Lady Bell!”
Recalling the time when she was defeated by a cruel, cunning, wicked demon who looked a lot like a fairy named Lily, and as a result found herself unable to do anything but cry as Kurono was taken from her, Nell once again started to bawl her eyes out, and Belkrozen gently comforted her.
Even if it was Nell’s own fault that allowed Lily to get the upper hand on her, Belkrozen didn’t blame her.
“Now, now, calm down. It’s not uncommon for someone to get a little extreme when it comes to the person they love.”
“B-But… If he learns about that, I won’t be able to face Kurono ever again…”
“Don’t worry, he’s a man, after all! I’m glad he’s a man and you’re a woman, and not the other way around.”
Belkrozen already heard from Nell about the thing with the spoon… that is, about her embarrassing confession, among other things.
“D-Do you really mean that?”
“Yes. Most men would look at someone as beautiful as you are and get all sorts of wicked thoughts.”
As far as she’s heard from Nell, this Kurono she spoke of didn’t seem to be homosexual. So long as he was straight as an arrow, Belkrozen’s words would be true for Kurono as well.
“Th-Then it’s okay, right? …I’ll keep thinking about Kurono… I’m sure he’ll be happy about that too…”
“But don’t you forget that that kind of thing isn’t something you do around other people, okay?”
Belkrozen warned Nell against letting her brother Nero walk into her room only to find her making faces of impure desire.
“So, Nell, what is it that you want to do?”
“Huh? With what…?”
“About this Kurono person. What is the future you envision with him?”
“Uh, ahh! T-The future… Well, you see, I’d like to be with Kurono forever…”
Since the question caused Nell to writhe so much that she could almost lay eggs right then and there, Belkrozen calmly and coolly rephrased her question.
“No one can live on sweet delusions forever. How about you settle for a student-like romantic relationship for the time being?”
“S-Sure! I may be inexperienced, but I’ll take any advice you have to offer!”
There was a short pause. After finishing the last of the tea in her cup, Belkrozen asked Nell for a refill.
“I-I’m sorry, Lady Bell… I got a little carried away.”
By the time Belkrozen’s teacup was once again filled with hot green tea, Nell had reflected on her reactions and finally regained her composure.
“Now then, even if he is a complete dullard who fails to notice your feelings of love, you’re just standing at the starting line.”
Nell was about to ask “What?”, but there was no need to.
“According to what you’ve said so far, you already have two strong rivals in this battle for love. And you’ve already suffered a painful defeat from one of them.”
“Uhh… Sorry for being such a good-for-nothing…”
“However! The game is far from over!”
Nell’s two rivals were Fiona and Lily, who were members of “Element Masters”, the same adventurer party Kurono was a part of. Neither of them had started a romantic relationship with Kurono yet.
Of course, had a couple already been formed, Belkrozen had no intention to encourage Nell to incur in an affair to steal Kurono away from his partner.
However, if Kurono was available, there would be an actual chance for Nell to begin a relationship with him fair and square. So long as her chances weren’t zero, it was worth a shot.
“But I’ve already returned to Avalon… And Kurono has gone to fight in the Galahad War…”
“Well, I can’t deny the fact that you’ve fallen behind in this race. But it wouldn’t be wise to run off to be with him considering the current circumstances…”
In other words, Belkrozen advised her against rushing to the Galahad Fortress, which was in the midst of a defensive battle.
“Actually, I am familiar with the name Kurono. It’s the name of the hero who saved the children of Spada at the old castle of Iskia and received a medal from King Leonhart. His name is well known in Avalon as well.”
And now, the report of the current situation of the Galahad War had been delivered to Avalon, although it was a few days behind Spada.
“Even if we take away your subjective views on him, he is without a doubt a very capable adventurer. The feats of Kurono and his “Element Masters” are well detailed in this report as well.”
“Ooh, is that so!?”
“Hoho, weren’t you all droopy just a few seconds ago? You’d do well to keep a close watch on that beloved Kurono of yours, or you’re really going to lose some much needed momentum once push comes to shove.”
Belkrozen briefly explained that Kurono and the others were reported to have destroyed some of the ancient weapon “Taurus” used by the Crusaders and even captured some important figures of the enemy forces.
But the thing that pleased Nell the most from that report was that, according to it, Kurono was safe and sound.
“Being as powerful as he is, the battle may soon be over, and he could be returning to us very soon.”
To launch a siege against the Galahad Fortress in the middle of winter was something anyone would consider nothing short of reckless. The Crusaders had relied on “Taurus” and the special abilities of those important people –who ended up being captured by Kurono instead– to bring down the fortress in a short-term decisive battle.
Since both of their main means of offense had been defeated, the Crusaders shouldn’t have much left to threaten the Galahad Fortress with. To think that the war was nearing its end wouldn’t be just wishful thinking.
“Well then, Nell. Your reunion with Kurono will have to wait until you’ve returned to Spada. But you can’t just sit around and pray to the Black Gods for his safe return!”
“Huh? Then what am I supposed to do, Lady Bell…?”
“Why of course, you should train your skills!”
“That’s right! It could hardly be called love if all you do is approach the man you’re interested in with nothing but that pretty face of yours! Since your looks weren’t enough to captivate Kurono by themselves, it’s only natural to think that you’re going to need more weapons at your disposal.”
Nell listened to Belkrozen’s passionate argument as if she were a believer who had just been enlightened.
“Excelling in family-oriented skills such as cooking is something that typically tends to attract men. However, people have different tastes, and what a man looks for in a woman is different for each of them.”
For example, having similar interests would be an easy way to deepen a relationship. Having common topics to talk about would naturally increase communication which would in turn allow for them to talk about each other.
Or, as is often the case with aristocratic men, they may also prefer women with higher education. In other words, they wouldn’t want to talk to some stupid woman.
Though this pattern is a little different, there are many men who are attracted to strong women such as adventurers and knights. When they consider themselves to be strong, they seek a strong woman to have a partner they can see as an equal, and conversely, when they consider themselves to be weak, they would seek the strength they lack in a partner.
And finally, although Belkrozen didn’t dare to say this, the surest way to get a man as a woman would be to simply be good in bed. After all, humans are also animals. Their physical desires and pleasures, which stem from their most basic instincts, cannot be overcome so easily.
That’s what the ancient Demon King Mia Elrod said. “I choose the one with the bigger boobs.” The Avalon royal family earnestly hoped that it would bring them a prosperous and rich future.
“So Nell, what do you think you need in order to win Kurono’s heart? That’s something that you, who has come in contact with him, have to think about.”
“What I need…”
Nell had a meek expression on her face, but unexpectedly came up with an answer rather quickly.
“I… I want to be stronger.”
“Hoho, and why is that?”
“Kurono has an enemy that must be defeated. That is the Crusaders that are now attacking Spada. I don’t know if by turning into a different kind of woman Kurono will even notice me, but I feel that if I’m not strong enough to fight, then I won’t even be on his radar.”
In fact, both Lily and Fiona have thus won the trust of Chrono. While being of the opposite sex, their relationship is that of partners in combat who had conquered many life-or-death situations. Nell felt that she wouldn’t stand a chance to sneak between either of them with half-hearted feelings and actions.
Moreover, according to Belkrozen’s judgment, Kurono didn’t seem to be the simple type of guy that just likes good-looking women. No matter how beautiful Nell was, she couldn’t help but admit that they too have their own beauty of which they ought to be proud.
Having shared so much with such beautiful girls, it would be only natural if he were to look at them and at least think they are cute.
Still, the fact that Kurono didn’t seem to have a relationship with either means that he either has a very rational personality or a very distorted personality. Nell and Belkrozen could only pray that the latter wasn’t the case.
“Hohoho, I see, you need to have the strength to stand side by side with the Nightmare Berserker.”
“I’m going to be the right woman for Kurono this time! Lady Bell, I’ve made up my mind. I’ll start taking ancient Jujitsu lessons again!”
Thus Nell resumed her training in ancient Jujitsu.
Nell started her training for the first time in eight years from the early morning of the 24th, exactly one week ago. Today, the 31st of the dark month, was the last day of the year. Belkrozen and Nell were eating a noodle dish made of wheat called “Soba” which they had kneaded by hand, as if they hadn’t sustained any injuries during their sparring session.
“I’ve heard so much about Kurono and his valiant feats, and yet I don’t know what he looks like. Perhaps I ought to go see him soon.”
“Huuuh? Y-You can’t…”
The moment Belkrozen suggested that, Nell quickly refused the idea with an embarrassed look on her face as she took the noodles she was about to get them into her mouth with the help of her dexterous use of chopsticks.
“Hmm? Why not?”
“B-Because… You’re so cute, Lady Bell, and I fear Kurono may… may fall for your looks…”
Nell put both hands on her cheeks with an anxious expression on her face, as if fully expressing the phrase “Now I’ve gone and done it!” through her body language. It was a reaction more suited for a little girl than for someone who had demonstrated an astonishing fighting ability that could have almost killed her own master after having undergone such rigorous training for an entire week.
She then finally organized her thoughts and started to act like someone with the clear goal of fulfilling her love, although she seemed to still be rather new to love and thus lacked confidence.
Seeing Nell’s reaction, Belkrozen cackled as if she had seen a clown playing the fool, and answered.
“P-Pffft, bahahaha! You have love, love, love written all over your face, Nell. Rest assured, even if Kurono is fascinated by my beauty, I won’t be swayed by him.”
With a wide grin on her face, Belkrozen started to speak up confidently.
“For how long have I pushed aside every man who tried to court me… Ah, how nostalgic. The man who first spoke to me about love was the King Avalon of thirteen generations ago! He came to me and confessed his feelings for me the moment I woke up. Is that what they call love at first sight?”
However, it was thanks to Belkrozen turning him down that Nell was able to be born and the blood of the royal family still existed to this day.
It seemed that Belkrozen, who still looked like a young girl after 250 years, received many confessions from fervent gentlemen and degenerates alike on countless occasions, and she had turned each of them down.
That was precisely how Belkrozen had managed to maintain her position as a shrine maiden, who had to remain pure. The firmness of her determination was evidenced by a history of 250 years.
“But what if you fall in love with him, Lady Bell!?”
“Bahahahah! That simply cannot happen!”
There were surely no small number of good-hearted men that had tried to woo Belkrozen that still remained on good terms with her. Belkrozen’s cheerful, yet broad-minded personality fascinated many people, men and women alike. That’s why Nell was able to speak frankly about her love troubles with her as well.
Belkrozen was a dragon, not a human. However, where was the decisive difference between a human and this dragon that exchanges words and understands the hearts of people?
Not even Nell knew the answer to that question.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I have a predetermined partner, who has been established since ancient times.”
“Eeehh!? What… Who in the world is it!?”
Nell involuntarily jumps out of the kotatsu and throws that question at Belkrozen in response to her previous answer.
“Who indeed…? Not even I know who it’s supposed to be.”
With a lonely smile on her face, she seemed to be feeling a deep melancholy as if she knew she would never meet that person, rather than the joy of thinking about the person she should be in love with.
“What do you mean?”
“The one I am to give my heart and soul to is the one who has the blessing of the Demon King. That is the sole and ultimate mission that I was born with.”
Nell didn’t know what Belkrozen meant by “mission”. However, she could understand this much.
The one has the blessing of the Demon King. It was a legendary being that has never appeared once in all of the history that has passed through this world’s dark age to the present day.
No matter how long Belkrozen’s lifespan was supposed to be, her time will inevitably come. Nell couldn’t help being saddened by the idea of waiting for someone who hadn’t appeared for thousands of years while still living in a mortal body.
“Whoops, if we keep chatting at leisure like this, the Soba is going to get all soggy. It’s the tradition of this “Fire Shrine” to eat it all before the new year comes, so make sure you empty your plate!”
Belkrozen’s cheerful behavior touched Nell’s heart as a human woman who was in love.
Thus the curtain fell on the night of the 31st of the Month of Gloom. A new year started and the calendars would mark the passage of time.
The new year was 1597.
What kind of year would this year be for Avalon? Spending peaceful days together with Kurono in his hometown was Nell’s number one desire on this day of new beginnings.