A few hours had passed since we arrived at my home. I was in my father’s study, reading up on the side effects of consuming engraved bones when I heard a commotion coming from outside. Of course, it had to be Lucia. I left her to her own devices, and it wouldn’t make sense if her withdrawal symptoms didn’t act up. I opened the door and poked my head out. Our chef, Mr. Ei, was storming down the halls, looking like he had run into a mama bear with her cubs.
“Ilya, what’s going on?” my father asked from his seat. He was reading over the information the bandits had provided after a session of interrogation involving water and towels. He didn’t expect the truth to come out of their mouths, so he interrogated them one at a time and was currently looking for differences between their stories.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “But it looks like our head chef’s been mauled by a bear.”
“Duke Pentorn!” a booming voice echoed through the halls as Mr. Ei approached me. He was a demon, but his face wasn’t purple like it should’ve been. It was bright red with anger instead. “Is this how you treat the members of your household? I’ll have you know, my skills are respected amongst even the imperial family—I could’ve chosen to work anywhere I liked, but I was persuaded by your butler to join the Pentorn’s. Never did I imagine that you’d treat me so rudely. I quit!” The chef threw his hat and apron onto the floor before my father could say a word.
“What was that about?” my father finally asked once the chef’s footsteps could no longer be heard echoing through the halls. “Isn’t it almost dinner time?”
“It’s probably Lucia,” I said and hung my head. Good chefs were hard to acquire. A commoner wouldn’t be experienced with handling expensive meat and vegetables while a noble wouldn’t aspire to be a chef unless they were really passionate about food or had no other paths in life. The only exception is Lucia, and I’m not sure if that’s because I hadn’t eaten properly cooked food in a long time or if it was just because Lucia was working with divine beast meat. It’s not like she has divine beast meat to work with right now. I have the corpses in my rings. …My rings? Where’d they go!? Only Lucia knows where I hide them!
“You look like you’re panicking,” my father said. “What’s wrong? Lucia could train you to become a fifth-circle magician; I don’t think she’d do anything without a good reason. I won’t punish her even if she did scare away the chef; you don’t have to worry.”
No! Punish her, please! Before I could say anything, a servant with whiskers and a curved tail appeared at the door to the study. There was a noticeable bump on her head that didn’t look natural. She bowed at me and my father while saying, “Master, the esteemed guest is causing trouble in the kitchen.”
“How so?” my father asked and crossed his arms over his chest. Good! The sterner he looks, the higher the chance of Lucia getting her just deserts.
“She forcibly expelled everyone from the kitchen, claiming she couldn’t trust us to handle her food. When Mr. Ei confronted her, she beat him with a whisk before threatening to cut off his manhood and force it down his throat,” the servant said. “She’s in the kitchen right now. I tried pleading with her, saying we had to make meals for you two as well, but she said she would handle it and threw a pot at my head.”
I glanced at my father. What would he think?
“As expected of a genius,” my father said, causing my mind to blank. “How domineering; I wouldn’t expect anything less from that girl. Allow her to do as she pleases.”
You can’t be serious! How good of an impression did Lucia make on my father!? Who’s the daughter here!?
“I understand. I’ll inform you when the meal is ready,” the servant said before exiting.
“Didn’t you say to never offend Mr. Ei?” I asked my father. “Shouldn’t you throw Lucia into the dungeon for what she’s done?”
“It was my fault for not requesting your teacher to not offend Mr. Ei,” my father said and smiled at me. Lucia’s not my teacher! “Besides, I want to make a good impression on her. If you keep accompanying her on her journeys, just imagine how far you’ll go in your magical studies. You don’t want her to be reluctant in bringing you along.”
“Am I your daughter?” I asked, hanging my head.
“Of course, Ilya.” My father looked at me with an odd expression. “Do you think you’re not?”
“Is Lucia your daughter?” I asked in return.
“No,” my father said, looking even more confused.
“Then if I’m your daughter and Lucia isn’t, shouldn’t my opinions and feelings matter more than hers?” I asked.
“When did I ever neglect your feelings or opinions?” my father asked, tilting his head. Realization dawned on his face. “You really liked Mr. Ei’s cooking, huh?”
That’s not it! I don’t want to journey with Lucia anymore! Wait, I didn’t actually tell my father that though, so he didn’t ignore my feelings or opinions. “No,” I said and shook my head. “That’s not it. I don’t really like traveling with Lucia. In the future, can I, um, not?”
My father’s eyes narrowed, and the air around him fell by a few degrees. “Absolutely not,” he said. “You’re following her until you become a ninth-circle magician.”
What happened to not neglecting my feelings!? “But, father,” I said. “There’s—”
“No buts,” my father said, cutting me off. I could feel tears welling in my eyes. “In life, there are some things you have to do whether you like it or not. Traveling with Lucia is one of them. Eating your vegetables is another.”
So this is what it feels like to have your hopes absolutely crushed. The last time I felt such despair was when I was nearly eaten by a divine beast with three mouths while running after Lucia. At least I can take comfort in the fact that I ate the beast in the end, but it’s not like I can eat Lucia.
“Master,” a voice said from behind me. “The meal is ready.”
My father nodded and stood up. “Let’s go, Ilya.”
I sighed. I can only hope Lucia makes a terrible impression on my father during dinner. Please, lord, let it be so.