Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
“Our preparations have been completed. The two of you may now return to our living quarters.” Lefi called for Nell and I through one of the portal-like doors placed all around the dungeon.
“Took ‘em long enough. Alright Nell, time to go.”
“Mhm. Seems like it.”
I grabbed the cushions we had been sitting on and returned them to the pile situated in the room’s back corner. I then opened the door, waltzed right into the hallway, and began to advance. Ten-odd steps later, I found myself face to face with Lefi, who had her arms crossed and her face adorned with a dauntless smile.
“You may only proceed if you close your eyes.”
“I have to close my eyes?” I raised a brow. I was getting pretty curious.
“Indeed. Now shut them immediately. I am speaking to the both of you.”
“Alright,” I said.
“Mmk,” said Nell.
I followed her instructions and closed my eyes, only to find myself immediately greeted by a cool, comfortable sensation as her hands closed on my own. As I only felt one of her hands, I assumed that Nell had been subject to the exact same circumstances. She soon began to move, so I followed her lead while focusing on my feet and making sure I didn’t trip.
“You may now open your eyes.”
Following a prompt from the dragon girl, I opened my eyes. The first thing I saw was a literal mountain of food. The dishes laid out before me were so extravagant that a glance was enough for me to recognize that an incredible amount of time and effort had gone into each. My nose was just as attracted to the meal as my eyes were. Taking in the many delectable fragrances that had melded into the air was almost enough to make me drool.
My gut seemed to want to tell me that Leila had been responsible for the meal, but a second glance immediately disqualified her as the chef. It simply wasn’t neat enough. That wasn’t to say that the dinner table had been turned into some sort of convoluted mess. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Whoever had arranged the dishes was very clearly taking the would-be consumer into consideration. But unlike Leila’s handiwork, it wasn’t perfect. And that was the giveaway.
Leila possessed a deep understanding of the psyche. She knew exactly where she would need to place each and every dish such that your eyes would be drawn from one to the next without pause. The perfection with which she carried out her kitchen duties was akin to an artist’s signature, a signature that clearly seemed to be missing from the current setup.
After giving dinner a once over, I looked at the people situated around the table. The three of us aside, everyone else was already seated. Even the wraith girls were present in spite of their inability to eat.
“Wow. This looks great.”
“Uhm… is this what I think it is?” asked Nell.
“So you have noticed?” The dragon crossed her arms and grinned.
I gave the table one last scrutinizing glance before turning back towards her. “Did you make all this, Lefi?”
“While I did indeed accept assistance from the children, tonight’s meal is undoubtedly my work,” she said. “What are your impressions? I believe you will find it a far cry from the last meal I prepared you.”
“Definitely. I’m impressed. Really impressed,” I said.
The difference between the meal laid out before me and the last meal she had made me was as vast as the difference between night and day. Oh man, I remember those cookies. They were probably bad enough to kill. This though? This’ll kill for a whole different set of reasons. ‘Cause I’m about to gorge myself enough to catch type 2.
Today’s Lefi brand meal was clearly the result of a near excessive amount of hard work. It was easy for me to imagine her doing her best and continuing to push her best efforts forward without letting her numerous failures get to her.
“Wait. Was this the reason you chose not to come with me to the demon realm?”
“Indeed,” she nodded,” it has been a year since our first encounter. I felt the need to put a foot forward for the sake of our anniversary.”
Woah. The environment doesn’t really seem to change at all with the passing of the seasons, so I’d never actually realized, but now that I think about it, it really has been a whole year already. It’s been a year since Lefi and I met. And a year since I first came to this world.
“I wished to demonstrate that I was capable of growth. I found this the perfect opportunity to put together a celebration,” she said. “As your wife, it is imperative that I endeavor to assist you with the housework to the best of my abili—”
She didn’t get to finish speaking. I followed through on an impulse, picked her up, and started spinning her around before she could. I was simply too overcome with emotion not to.
“Thanks Lefi. You’re the best wife ever, and I love you to bits.”
“C-cease this immediately! We are before all the others!”
She flushed a shade of red and even began hitting my arms to get me to release her, but I absolutely refused. Because I understood. It wasn’t that she wasn’t completely unpossessive. Or that she didn’t care. The Nell situation had bothered her, and she had been a bit anxious. She didn’t not love me. She was doing her best for me. She wanted to become the best wife she could because she wanted my attention. And that alone was enough to send me over the clouds.
It was a silly, roundabout way for her to express her concerns. But one that was adorable nonetheless.
It was just like her.
While she evidently remained a bit anxious, I knew there was no way I would ever lose sight of my affections for her. Because demon lords were incarnations of desire. Greed was a feature built into my system. Every last bit of treasure that I got my hands on would forever remain a part of my trove. And nothing would ever be allowed to escape.
“I-I understand your affections well, but you must release me! Our evening meal will lose its warmth should you continue!”
“Good point. There’s no way I could possibly let the meal my adorably wifey put together for me go cold. That’d be a sin,” I said. “Alrighty then. I’ll save all the hugging and spinning for later.”
“You need not continue,” she grumbled.
The bashful manner in which she conducted herself only made me want to hug her all the more, but I didn’t want dinner to get cold, so I begrudgingly released her and began heading towards my seat. Likewise, Lefi began to do the same, only to come to a sudden halt when she realized that Nell had stopped following her.
“Are you not joining us?” she asked.
“Uhm… I think I’ll pass. I’d rather not get in the way of your first anniversary. It’d probably be best if I stayed at the inn until you guys are done celebrating,” she said, awkwardly.
“I do not see your point. This banquet is one in which you are more than welcome to partake.”
Lefi reacted to the hero’s dumbfounded question was an exasperated sigh.
“My original intent was certainly for this banquet to be dedicated to Yuki alone.” She rapped the back of one of her hands against my chest. “But that is no longer its sole purpose. It is also to serve as a celebration of your arrival, a so called welcome party, if you will.”
The dragon’s tone was almost akin to that of someone speaking to a younger sibling.
“Now come, join us.”
“Yeah, come on. Hurry up and grab a seat already. Don’t make me wait any longer. ‘Cause I really can’t,” I said.
“A-Alright,” stuttered the human.
“You should sit with us, Nell!” said Illuna with a big smile.
“Yeah, with us!” echoed Shii.
“Sure! Thanks, girls,” said Nell.
“Hey Nell, are you gonna be okay without a fork?” asked Lyuu.
“I think I’ll be okay with chopsticks. I’m not really used to them just yet, but I’m sure I’ll get used to them if I use them enough. Thanks, Lyuu!”
Wait a second… Wasn’t she supposed to be terrified of her?
“When did you two suddenly start getting along?” I asked.
“A good while ago, Master,” said the maid. “Nell’s a real nice girl, and she’s got this kinda sisterly feel to her, y’know? I just can’t not make sure she’s taken care of.”
“That’s real rich coming from you, seeing as how you started shaking in your boots the moment you heard she was a hero.”
“T-that’s just because I didn’t know her yet! But now I do. She’s real kind, so I ain’t scared of her one bit no more!”
“T-thanks Lyuu! You’re really nice too,” replied Nell, a bit shyly.
“Enough. I would be best for us to get to eating,” said Lefi. “Yuki, I shall allow you to do the honours.”
“Huh? What? Why am I doing them?”
“Are you not the man of the house?”
“Riiiight, good point,” I said. “Well, uhhhh, alright. Everyone have their cups at the ready?”
“We’ve all been ready, Yuki!” said Illuna.
“Alright. Well, here’s to the first year of many to come. And to give a warm welcome to our newest resident. Cheers!”
And so, the banquet began. The cheerful, noisy atmosphere it carried lasted late into the night.