The next day, when Ryou came to Hanzoku’s house as usual, the old man and Kushu had stood outside the house, ready to send Ryou to the demon realm.
“Have you memorized everything?” Hanzoku asked.
Ryou nodded. “The castle’s layout, the strategy, the tricks, I’m prepared for everything.” He said confidently.
“Remember, I can only bring you as close as possible to the castle wall. It’s protected by Maou’s magic so if you want to come back with Kirihime-sama, you’ll have to get out of the castle first. One hour after I send you in, I’ll open the portal in the same place where I send you. I can only wait for 10 minutes, so if you’re late, you can’t come back.” Hanzoku warned him.
“Yeah, I get it. Thank you so much for your help, Hanzoku, Kushu.” Ryou bowed to both of them.
“Well, that princess did spare my life, so at least I could help her a bit.” Kushu shrugged.
“I simply wished Kirihime-sama would continue to lead on a normal human life like she had been doing all this time. Good luck, Ryou.” Hanzoku said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take Kirihime home.” Ryou promised.
Hanzoku concentrated for a moment, then suddenly a portal appeared before Ryou. Being a Mazoku, Ryou could sense the disruption in the time and space, just like when Maou disappeared. He clenched his fist. He almost could hear Maou’s chuckle and the sound of his footsteps as he took away Kirihime from him.
“Then, wish me luck!!” Ryou jumped into the portal.
For a split second, Ryou could see millions of other space inside that portal, but the next instant, Ryou was standing in front of a giant gray wall. Ryou looked around and immediately frowned.
[Lifeless] was a fitting description for demon world. The land was barren with no plants at all, the sky was blood-red as if it had been torn by something, and the air felt suffocating. Every breath felt like piercing his lungs with thousands of needles.
Ryou shook that thought from his mind and shifted his arms and legs to help him climb better. After making sure there was no demon around, Ryou started climbing. But after about twenty minutes passed, Ryou lifted his face and cursed.
The wall was still spreading above him, as if towering unto the heaven. Ryou immediately realized the trap and scolded himself for forgetting about magic. It would make perfect sense if Maou had put magic on the wall so people couldn’t easily climb over it.
Ryou started climbing down, but it took him only a minute to reach the ground again. Then he walked around the wall, trying to figure out another way in.
Ryou was seriously considered blowing a hole on the wall when he heard the sound of heavy gates being opened. Ryou followed the sound and saw a gigantic gates slowly opened. Apparently some high-rank demon was entering and it gave Ryou the perfect chance to slip in. Ryou took a gamble and transformed into a cockroach, then he slipped inside easily.
Using the map he had memorized, Ryou found a secret passage and transformed back into human.
“I see...the bigger I become, the more energy I used. I wonder if Kirihime knew about this?” Ryou stared at his hand, then quickly remembered his mission.
Ryou followed the path he had determined before and reached the deepest part of the castle, where royalty lived. By changing his skin color, Ryou was able to blend in with the shadow whenever a demon passed by. Sometimes the demon would be suspicious and started sniffing around, but they would immediately left. Ryou guessed that his smell was the same as Kirihime and they had been told to leave her alone.
After checking every possible room, Ryou finally arrived in front of a door leading to a tower. It was pretty weird to see a tower in the middle of a castle, but the door was locked and made Ryou certain that Kirihime was here.
Ryou broke the lock—he was never able to learn lock-picking from Kirihime and Kushu—and quickly entered. He went up an extremely long and tiring flight of stairs until he finally reached the top of the tower. Ryou hesitated in front of the door, but then he lifted his hand and knocked.
For a moment, there was no answer. Ryou kept waiting, but nothing happened. Ryou knocked again and again, but still nothing happened. He almost gave up and turned around when he finally heard the sound of footsteps.
“What do you need—?!” Kirihime snapped when she opened the door, but instantly froze when she recognized Ryou.
Ryou was too stunned to react, and for a brief moment, they only stood there, staring at each other, unable to utter a word.
Then Ryou snapped out of his shock first. “Kiri—”
Ryou was rendered speechless when Kirihime just slammed the door in front of him.
“Open, dang it!!! Did you know how hard it is to get here?! Don’t just slam the door in front of me before I could even say a word!!” Ryou snapped.
“Shut up!! Who asked you to come?! You’re not even supposed to be here, idiot!! You really are a stupid dog, you know?!” Kirihime shouted from the other side of the door.
“Stu—?! Alright, that’s it! Step back from the door, Kirihime! I’m going to break it down and I won’t hold back!” Ryou warned her.
Kirihime didn’t reply, but there was sound of footsteps, so Ryou figured that Kirihime must have at least distanced herself from the door. Ryou took a step back and lunged at the door, right when that door was opened.
“Waahh...!!!” Ryou crashed face-first into the room. “That hurt...!”
“Aah, sorry. I should have said something first, like ‘I’m going to open the door, so wait a second’ or something.” Maou said.
Ryou quickly leapt to his feet and lunged at Maou, who stood few feet in front of him, all smiling and relaxed.
“Kojou Maou!!!” Ryou shifted his hands into Aether swords.
That voice reverberated in Ryou’s mind and he fell to the floor. His body wouldn’t move at all, no matter how hard he forced himself to move.
“You really are naïve, Satomi Ryou.” Maou commented. “How many times has she used this trick to you and you never noticed it?”
“W-What...do you...mean?” Ryou forced his mouth to speak.
“It’s enough, Kirihime. Let him stand.” Maou spoke to someone behind Ryou.
All of the sudden, Ryou leapt to his feet. It felt like he was a puppet and his strings had just been pulled by someone.
To be exact, by his princess.
“Kiri...hime...? Is that...you...?” Ryou tried to turn around, but his body stood motionless.
“Yes. How stupid of you for coming here, Ryou.” Kirihime replied in a cold manner, very contrast to how she spoke a moment before.
“Ah, for your information, it was me who called you ‘stupid dog’ and such.” Maou smiled innocently. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice you coming inside my castle, Satomi Ryou? I needed few moments to recognize you, of course, but then it’s easy enough to trap you. I teleported here the moment Kirihime closed the door and I replaced her. Did that surprise you?”
Ryou glared at him. “This is surprising...I no longer feel the pressure Maou used to generate. I guess I should thank Hanzoku for preparing me to face the demon king.”
“Now...” Suddenly Maou’s smile darkened. “...what should we do to you?”
Ryou felt cold tinge on his neck. “What...?”
“Well, you’ve proven your loyalty by coming all the way here. I should reward you, right? So what do you want to know? Kirihime’s past? My goal? Or your fate?” Maou tilted his head.
“Father, this isn’t what you promised me!” Kirihime interrupted and Ryou felt her control over him weakened a bit.
“Don’t be such a loner, Kirihime—he had gone out of his way to visit you here. Why would you throw him out the moment you saw him?” Maou replied.
“Because I clearly don’t want to see him.” Kirihime spoke between her gritted teeth.
“I’m offended.” Ryou managed to speak, but he immediately regretted it.
Kirihime’s control over him suddenly tightened and he almost couldn’t move at all.
“See? He’s offended by your words. So at least we should reward him before erasing his soul and making him the commander of our army.” Maou suggested.
“WHAT??!!” Ryou broke free from Kirihime’s control and blurted out.
Just by calling his name, once again Ryou lost against Kirihime’s steel will.
“Isn’t that obvious?” Maou shot a puzzled look to Ryou. “After all, that’s the sole reason why you were turned into Mazoku, and the sole reason why I let my daughter alive after I killed her mother.”
Ryou felt shock had weakened Kirihime’s control once again.
“You...You killed her mother...? Why...? She’s a demon, just like...!”
“She’s a human.” Maou said flatly.
Suddenly Ryou felt a sharp pain in his chest when he realized something.
“Hey, Kirihime...did you remember that people always said that you’re the only human who understood Mazoku the most? Or how people would call you [Mazoku Princess]? Are those all...” Ryou forced his head to turn and look at Kirihime. “...the truth?”
Kirihime didn’t utter a single word, but Maou burst out laughing.
“You’ve lived with her for more than a year, and yet you didn’t know?! How naïve can you be, Satomi Ryou?” Maou stared intently at Ryou, his blood-red eyes felt like piercing right through Ryou’s eyes. “If I’m a demon and Emilia was a human, then what does that make Kirihime?”
Ryou felt blood drained from his face as he finally cornered by the single truth that he didn’t want to believe the most. “...true Mazoku.” He whispered.
All this time, Ryou had looked away from the pieces of truth that surrounded Kirihime. He convinced himself many times that he was overthinking it. But now he couldn’t run away any more.
“Correct.” Maou grinned. “And she can even control people’s heart!! Isn’t that simply amazing?”
Ryou clenched his fist. “...what a fitting power for the daughter of the demon king.” He quietly said.
Kirihime looked away, but she didn’t utter a single word to defend herself. Just like when Kushu revealed her identity as their creator. She tried to hide the truth, but in the end, Kirihime could never lie to anyone. Ryou was certain it’s because she knew better than anyone the pain of being lied to.
“Then...at least tell me everything.” Ryou whispered. “If my soul is going to disappear, then it’s fine if you tell me everything, right? You owe me that much... Kirihime.”
“That’s fine for me. Sit down, boy. This is going to be pretty long story after all.” Maou sat before the small dining table and Kirihime controlled Ryou to seat across him while she made some tea.
Ryou glanced around the room, trying to find something to change the situation. But this was a normal, small bedroom compared to Kirihime’s bedroom back home, and even more plain than her old bedroom. There was no sign to show that this was her bedroom. No decoration on the cold, gray stone walls and no carpet to cover the plain wooden floor, as if she didn’t want to leave the proof of her existence in this room.