One year later...
Ryou passed through the empty hallway. The soft, red-wine carpet silenced Ryou’s steps. The beige-colored wallpapers fitted the carpet, giving the impression of a noble’s mansion—which was actually correct. Many doors stood on one side of the wall, while a row of big windows on the other.
Ryou wasn’t walking aimlessly. His destination was the master bedroom at the end of the hallway, with a big breakfast tray on his hand. His hair was well-cut compared to one year ago and he had grown few inches taller. The only major difference was the butler suit he wore and his swift, trained movements.
Ryou had—literally—gone through hellish training for a year. He didn’t only train to use his power, but he also trained to be a perfect butler—just so Kirihime could live comfortably. He still couldn’t—and would never—forgive her for using him like this.
Ryou reached the bedroom and simply opened it, believing that knocking was useless. As he entered the room, Ryou’s eyes wandered around the room. Even though he had been here for a year, he still found it hard to believe that this was the room of a 16-years-old girl. With the same red-wine carpet and beige-colored wallpaper, it didn’t look any different from the guest room.
Two of four sides of the wall were covered with giant bookshelves, which made Ryou wondered whether Kirihime could reach the top of the shelves with her short body, though he’d never say that out loud. On one side of the wall, stood an old fireplace that was only used during winter. Across the fireplace was a king-sized bed with lamp on each side.
Overall, this room wasn’t gloomy or too bright, but one would say that this room lacked any decorations befitting a teenage girl room. The only thing that decorated the wall—aside from bookshelves—was a big window next to the bed. Whoever designed this must have understood the difficulty of waking up in the morning—because sunlight fell exactly on the bed, making Ryou’s job easier.
Ryou approached the bed where Kirihime was still sleeping soundly and put the tray down on the night stand, then he pulled the curtain, letting warm sunlight fell on his mistress’s sleeping face. The sunlight made her silver hair gleamed even brighter, as if reflecting a light of its own. But instead of waking up, Kirihime simply turned around and went back to sleep.
“Kirihime!! You’re the one who told me to wake you up every morning, so why can’t you help me a little?!” Ryou pulled her blanket away.
Just as he hoped, Kirihime’s sleep was disturbed and she unwillingly opened her purple eyes. Instead of answering right away, Kirihime took her time to slowly sit up and stretch her body. The sight of her wearing a sleeping gown had made Ryou very distracted at the beginning, but now he didn’t even bat an eyelid.
“...maybe because I’m not a morning person, like I had told you many times?” Kirihime retorted.
“Geez, what time did you sleep last night?” Ryou muttered as he poured out a cup of tea for Kirihime.
“Hmm...some time past midnight?” Kirihime replied calmly.
“You should take better care of your body. Your research would be halted if you fell sick, you know?” Ryou handed her the cup of tea.
“Yeah, well, I was at the most exciting part of the novel. I couldn’t simply close it and go to sleep—it’ll haunt me all night.” Kirihime defended herself.
Ryou frowned. “Do you really have time to read some novels while it’s been quite a long time since I came here?”
Ryou knew his tone was impatient, even rude, but he couldn’t suppress his anxiety anymore. Ever since he came here, he hadn’t got any clue of the creator he was searching for nor how to get back to normal. At the very least, Ryou was able to identify his creator—a nobleman. Villagers around the lab said that the lab was owned by a noble, and they heard the scientists talking about [that man] with respect and fear.
Instead of giving answer, Kirihime changed the topic. “What is today’s agenda?” She asked while sipping her cup.
Ryou clearly wanted to pursue her on that matter, but he knew that if he pressured Kirihime too much, it’d sour her mood and made her even more childish.
“A letter came this morning. It was addressed to both you and me, from a baron named Akatsu. And he...” Ryou had to suppress the anticipation in his voice. “...asked our help to protect him against artificial Mazoku in his banquet tonight.”
“I don’t want to go.” Kirihime retorted almost at the same time.
“Eh?! But why?!” Ryou was shocked.
“Isn’t it obvious? He’s the same as others, who called for me just because they have some Mazoku-related problem.” Kirihime sulked.
Ryou sighed and took the empty cup of tea from Kirihime, then he sat by her side. “Of course it will be like that. Every commoners and nobles—even kings will come for you if it’s related to Mazoku. Because you’re the Mazoku Princess, the only human who understood Mazoku the most.”
Kirihime frowned. “...I don’t like that nickname. Just because I understood Mazoku doesn’t mean I like them.”
Ryou rolled his eyes. “This isn’t related to like and dislike, you know...”
“Mazoku is a mistake!” Kirihime unconsciously raised her voice. “Mazoku isn’t supposed to exist! Each one of them could only bring misfortune to everyone around them...” Kirihime lowered her face.
Ryou stared at her, surprised. “True, Kirihime never said she liked Mazoku despite her knowledge about them. Even so, she didn’t stop her research about Mazoku. Why? What pushed her to keep doing something she didn’t like even one bit? Is it...related to her deceased parents? Kirihime never said anything about her parents after all. She never even talked about her life before she met me.”
As far as Ryou knew, Kojou Clan was a well-known and rich clan, but also the most mysterious of all nobles’ clan. No one knew anything about it, aside the fact that Kirihime was the current head. Only after incredible persistence that Ryou was told that Kirihime was the sole living member of Kojou Clan.
“Then why don’t you go alone? Everyone recognized you as well.” Kirihime spoke up, interrupting Ryou’s thoughts.
“Don’t be silly.” Ryou sighed. “If I went alone, it’d be like letting loose a hound among rabbits. They were scared of me, if you hadn’t noticed. Kirihime, please reconsider. Maybe we’ll be able to find my creator and you wouldn’t have to put up with me anymore!”
Instead of brightened up, Kirihime’s scowl deepened. “...I’m not putting up with you...” She murmured.
“Hm? What did you say?” Ryou tilted his head.
“I said, I’ll go...”
“Great!! I knew you’d understand, Kirihime!” Ryou leapt to his feet.
“...with one condition.” Kirihime finished her line.
“...eh?” Ryou was stumped. “W-What is it?”
“Parfait.” Kirihime crossed her arms. “I want to eat parfait when we got home.”
Ryou’s face instantly changed. “Don’t joke around with me!! Do you know how long and hard it is to make even a single parfait?! You need to prepare a lot of ingredients, carefully place it to make it look beautiful, not to mention the time needed to freeze the parfait...!”
“Okay, okay, I got it!! Geez, you only got fired up when you talk about housework.” Kirihime stopped him. “Then, ice cream?” She added with wishful eyes.
But Ryou’s glare quickly told her that it was impossible.
“Biscuit!! I won’t accept anything less than that!” Kirihime lowered her demand once again.
Ryou sighed. “Then I’ll make the preparation. We’ll depart once the sun set, Kirihime.” He headed to the door.
“Ryou.” Kirihime called out.
“What is it?” Sensing her serious tone, Ryou turned around.
Kirihime hesitated for a moment, then she smirked. “What about chiffon cake instead?”
“Rejected!!” Ryou slammed the door behind him. “I’m really stupid for thinking that she had something serious to say! What can I expect from a sweet maniac like her anyway?!” He thought furiously.
After much preparation, the sun finally set and both of them went with carriage to Baron Akatsu’s mansion.
“...I want to go home...” Kirihime whined.
“Isn’t this a bit too late for complaining? We’ve gone for few hours.” Ryou chided her.
“But...!” Kirihime pouted.
“Besides, you’ll spoil your pretty dress and makeup.” Ryou added and Kirihime shot him an icy glare.
She was wearing a black short dress with few frills here and there, along with a pair of low-heeled black boots and a pair of black gloves. But instead of looking gloomy like someone had just died, Kirihime looked even more charming. It enhanced the beauty of her silver hair and purple eyes.
“Then, remind me again why did we have to dress in all black?” Ryou looked down at his black party suit that Kirihime bought for him.
“Maybe the color will give us some advantage.” Kirihime answered half-heartedly.
Before Ryou could retort, the carriage stopped in front of a huge mansion made of white granite. In the middle of the woods, the mansion stood out like a sore thumb.
“Whoa...it’s big...” Ryou commented as he opened the door and helped Kirihime stepped off the carriage.
“I thought you wouldn’t be surprised, since you used to clean the mansion everyday by yourself.” Kirihime teased him.
“That’s because there’s no one else in the mansion except for you and me!! Geez, how did you even survive before you met me since you couldn’t even take care of yourself?” Ryou complained.
Kirihime suddenly fell silent.
“Ah, welcome!! You two must be Kirihime-sama and Ryou-dono, correct? I am Baron Akatsu! Thank you for travelling so far!” A voice greeted them and Ryou turned his attention from Kirihime.
A plump middle-aged man, with a neatly combed ginger hair and impressive moustache, along with his red and gold party suit came out from the mansion’s entrance.
“Yes, it sure is a long way.” Kirihime spoke up, while Ryou remained silent like a well-trained butler. “I’m sure glad you could notice such minor details, like how many hours were wasted on the carriage.”
“Kirihime...!” Realizing that Kirihime was lashing out her anger, Ryou quickly elbowed her—though it didn’t quite achieve the effect he desired.
Due to the difference in their height, Ryou hit her ear instead of her arm, resulting in Kirihime directing her venomous glare at Ryou. Fortunately, Ryou was saved from incoming slaughter by Akatsu’s laughter.
“You are indeed unique among nobles, Kirihime-sama. You tend to act as your age implies—you remind me a lot of my grandchildren.” Akatsu said.
Though his words were warm, Kirihime wouldn’t miss that underlying meaning—you act just like a child.
Kirihime straightened herself and wore her cute, innocent smile. “Is that so? You really love your grandchildren, aren’t you? I’d like to play with them someday. Ah, I think I’ll bring Ryou with me as well! He really liked kids, you know?” Kirihime said in cheerful voice.
As she had expected, Akatsu paled and quickly turned around. “A-Ah, it must be cold outside, why don’t we come in?”
Akatsu headed inside, followed by Kirihime and Ryou behind him. Ryou shot her a reprimanding stare.
“Why did you have to threaten his family? He didn’t do anything to you, did he?” Ryou whispered.
Kirihime sighed. “It’s about time you forget such superficial things and pay more attention to the underlying meaning. I’ll crush anyone who thinks they can insult Kojou Clan and get away with it.” She declared in low voice.
As they entered the banquet hall, both Ryou and Kirihime could feel sharp gazes fell upon them from other guests.
“Then, why don’t you two enjoy the party? I must go and greet some of my guests, so please excuse me.” Akatsu quickly disappeared among the guests.
“...said the person who asked us to protect him.” Kirihime sighed. “Well, it’s not like he’ll be attacked in front of these people. Ryou, go get me some food like a good butler.” She ordered.
Ryou frowned. “Are you sure I can leave you alone? Wouldn’t it be better if you...”
“Just do it.” Kirihime cut his words.
Ryou clearly doubted her, but he still went and left Kirihime alone. She let out another sigh and leaned on the pillar, carefully watching other guests.
Though she didn’t intend to, Kirihime could hear other guests’ whispers clearly, especially a group of young women near Kirihime, as if they didn’t care if Kirihime overheard them—they probably even wanted her to hear them.
“Hey, isn’t that Kojou Kirihime? The one they called Mazoku Princess?” One of them started gossiping.
“What a distasteful name. How come her parents let her use such name?”
“Are you stupid? Her parents were already dead! Actually, I think she’s the last of her clan!”
Kirihime flinched upon this comment and she quickly shut her eyes tightly, trying not to hear them. But instead of fading away, their voice was getting louder.
“They died in an accident during an experiment, didn’t they?”
“Eh? I heard it’s because her mother became the subject and went mad!”
Kirihime clenched her fist tightly to prevent her from reacting.
“That’s messed up!!”
“Ssh!! Be quiet! What if she heard you and ordered her dog to bite you?”
They burst into insulting laughter and Kirihime felt her defense slowly crumbled down.
“I heard it from a reliable source.” Another spoke up after they finished laughing. “That Kirihime herself killed her own parents to seize the clan and—”
Kirihime snapped her eyes open and forgot everything about the party, other guests, even the request. She walked to that group with only one thing in her mind—to shut their lies and let them rest for etern—
“Kirihime? Where are you going?”
Suddenly a hand caught her arm and halted her steps. That touch had snapped Kirihime out from her blind rage and she quickly collected herself.
“...nowhere. You were taking so long, I figured that maybe I should go after you.” Kirihime turned her back to the group.
“But the dining table was over there...” Ryou’s voice trailed off as he understood the situation.
Ryou glanced at the group of young women, who quickly averted their curious eyes and continued their whispers, then he directed his gaze at Kirihime’s pale face.
“...I’m going to kill them.” Ryou turned around.
But this time Kirihime clutched his arm. “No.”
“But they were spouting lies about you...!”
“No.” Kirihime’s tone was final. “It’s pointless.”
“How is this different from what you did to Akatsu earlier?!” Ryou forced himself not to shout.
“Because this time you’re not up against one person, but a crowd. If you make a commotion, you’ll only make the situation worse. Just forget it.” Kirihime let Ryou’s arm go and walked away.
Ryou gritted his teeth in frustration, but still followed Kirihime obediently. “Where are you going? What about your food?”
“Settle things up. I don’t have any appetite anymore.” Kirihime replied.
After some time searching, the two of them finally spotted Akatsu speaking to a nobleman. Even though Ryou hesitated to interrupt their conversation, Kirihime had no such restrain and simply walked to them.
The nobleman noticed Kirihime and quickly excused himself before disappearing into the crowds.
“What is the matter, Kirihime-sama? Is the food not to your liking?” Akatsu asked politely.
“I’m not here about the food, and I’m most certainly not here to enjoy the party. You asked me to come here and protect you, yet you give me no details about the Mazoku we’re up against. Do you really want to die that much?” Kirihime purposely raised her voice.
“Ki-Kirihime!! Lower your voice! You might cause a panic!” Ryou scolded her in a low voice.
“Y-Yes, you’re right. How rude of me. Please follow me to my study—I’ll explain everything there.” Akatsu led them away from the hall and into the study.