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Chapter 3 - Astaroth. (1)

Before Astaroth revealed her true identity, the Astira she was pretending to be was a timid and fearful girl.

The fact that she approached me with a completely different attitude, rather than hesitantly speaking to me as she normally would, was a clear sign that the situation I had been aiming for had arrived.

I feigned surprise deliberately and asked her,

“Astira...? What’s the matter?”

“Well, there’s been some talk among the priests lately. Rumors that you stay at the church every night to repent for your sins. I was curious if it was true.”

“I’m surprised you’re interested in such rumors. I’ve heard you don’t usually show interest in anyone or try to get close to them. But this seems quite contrary to the rumors.”

“That was all just an act. And I’m actually very interested in you. To think someone could throw away their reputation out of love! Isn’t that both amusing and absurd?”

Her words were lively, yet there was an unmistakable sharpness to them.

“So, what do you want?”

“Don’t you desire Aris?”

She whispered cunningly. It was a subtle temptation, but I was well aware of her true intentions and chose to ignore them.

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to appear completely taken in by her proposal.

“To obtain Aris?”

“Yes, I could make it happen.”

“And how could you possibly do that? Aris already has feelings for Ruslan.”

“Well, who knows?”

Her smile was enigmatic. I was already well aware of what she was, but there was no need to make it known that I knew her true identity.

After all, the right moment to reveal that I knew would come when she presented a contract to me.

“If you’re just going to play games, then get lost. I’m not in the mood for wordplay with anyone.”

“This is no game. I can make Aris fall head over heels for you.”

“What, can you manipulate people’s hearts at will?”

“Something like that.”

“Then you’re no ordinary human. I’ve never heard of magic that can control people’s hearts.”

“You seem surprisingly calm about it. Yes, I am a demon.”

“For a demon, you seem to move around quite freely in a church filled with consecrated objects.”

“Comparing me to those low-grade beings that burn up at the touch of holy water is rather insulting, don’t you think? I’m a far more formidable demon than you imagine.”

Of course, I know. Formidable indeed. You are none other than the high-ranking demon Astaroth.

“Is that so. Then, can you show me what kind of power you possess? It’s hard to simply take your word for it. It’s not everyday you see a demon walking around openly.”

“You make a fair point. It could seem like madness. Hmm... How about this?”

In an instant, a crimson light leaked from her eyes, hidden behind her bangs. At the same time, an overwhelming magical power began to envelop both her and me.

My body trembled under the wave of her overpowering magic, even though we were in a church, a place notoriously resistant to magic manifestations.

Realizing that my body was shaking, Astira retracted her magic and said,

“How about that? I suppose this should suffice as proof.”

“…Yes.”

“Right?”

“There’s something I’m curious about.”

“What is it? Tell me.”

“Why me? As far as I can tell, there seems to be no reason for a demon of your caliber to take any interest in someone like me.”

“That’s not true. Just considering your background alone makes you quite appealing to demons.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. You’re from one of the most influential families in the empire. To demons, you’re quite the catch.”

“Ha. So, you plan to make a pact with me and then prey on my family? Unfortunately, I’m merely a successor. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t grant you what you desire.”

“I know that much. If it were just for that, I wouldn’t have bothered approaching you. But you see… I’m a bit of an unusual demon.”

“Unusual demon?”

“I feast on emotions.”

“Feast on emotions?”

“Yes. I sensed a very intense emotion from you, one that seemed like it would satisfy me completely, which is why I came to you.”

“What kind of emotion…”

I couldn’t help but rejoice. Despite her words, the situation I had hoped for had unfolded exactly as I had envisioned. It didn’t matter whether it was affection or not.

“Fear and affection. The affection is probably for Aris... I’m not sure what you’re afraid of, but I don’t really need to know. As long as it tastes good, that’s all that matters to me.”

I was slightly puzzled. She sensed affection? For Aris? It was a thought that had never crossed my mind, which only added to my confusion.

However, my confusion didn’t last long. I soon realized why she felt affection coming from me.

In the end, I was the one who had written this novel. Naturally, I couldn’t help but feel attached to its main characters. In essence, my worries about fear or anything else were needless.

Well, as long as everything turned out fine, does it really matter?

As I sighed in relief internally, she licked her lips and asked,

“So, will you make the deal, or not? I can make Aris Winslet fall head over heels for you if you wish. Of course, I can also offer you power beyond your imagination.”

“Aris...”

I deliberately murmured Aris’s name, feigning contemplation. I needed to appear as though I was tempted by Astaroth’s offer.

“What’s it going to be? I don’t have all the time in the world. If you’re not interested, just say so clearly. Of course, I’d have to erase some of your memories then.”

“Alright. I accept your proposal.”

“Good, good. Shall we proceed with the contract then?”

She gestured, and a magical parchment floated in the air.

“The contract...?”

“Everything needs to be made official.”

But I knew all too well that her words were deceitful. Demons are inherently duplicitous beings.

They never inscribe their true names on contracts. Thus, a typical demon’s pact follows this process:

The demon drafts a contract with excessively favorable terms for the contractor, who, mistaking the name the demon has given for its true name, is enticed by the sweet deal, signs their name, and becomes bound by the contract.

Such contracts are essentially scams.

Without the demon’s true name, there’s no obligation for the demon to adhere to the contract’s terms. However, the contractor, having signed with their own name, which validates their existence, is bound to follow the contract.

It’s a scam masquerading as a pact.

Yet, that’s alright. I can turn this contract into an equitable agreement, or even one that’s significantly more advantageous for me. Even the most powerful demon cannot defy a contract that bears their true name.

That’s a rule of the world I created.

A law that states the moment a demon fails to fulfill a contract bearing its true name, its very existence is jeopardized.

A secretive rule I casually incorporated after watching an exorcism movie.

Unsurprisingly, Astaroth was humming while writing the contract with a pen made of magic. It was expected; she thought I had easily fallen for her trap.

“Here, take a look.”

The contract Astaroth floated over to me contained the following terms:

✬✬✬Contract Terms✬✬

- Astira shall not harm the contracting party, Prah Lancel.

- Within one year, Astira shall make Aris Winslet fall in love with Prah Lancel.

- Astira shall immediately transfer a portion of her power to Prah Lancel.

- Astira shall obey the commands of Prah Lancel.

- In return, Prah Lancel shall offer Astira the demanded tribute each month and provide her with a safe haven beyond the church’s reach in the near future.

“The tribute?”

“Oh, it’s nothing much. Just your emotions, as I mentioned.”

“Then make sure it’s clearly written, won’t you? At a glance, this contract seems far from ordinary... If it’s not explicitly stated, wouldn’t that put me at a disadvantage?”

Contracts should always be approached with caution. The term “tribute” could easily be manipulated by Astaroth, so to avoid being controlled by her, I needed to make sure everything was clear.

Moreover, it was crucial to appear thorough. Astaroth wouldn’t want a fool who doesn’t scrutinize the contract details as her contractor. Indeed, in the original story, Prah thoroughly reviewed the contract.

However, the contract itself was a trap, leading to Prah’s enslavement to Astaroth.

“You’re quite thorough, aren’t you? Alright, alright.”

With a smile, she flicked her magical quill and amended the final item.

✬✬✬Contract Terms✬✬

- Astira shall not harm the contracting party, Prah Lancel.

- Within one year, Astira shall make Aris Winslet fall in love with Prah Lancel.

- Astira shall immediately transfer a portion of her power to Prah Lancel.

- Astira shall obey the commands of Prah Lancel.

- In return, Prah Lancel shall offer Astira the ‘emotions’ she desires to consume and provide her with a safe haven beyond the reach of the church’s gaze.

“A safe haven? Aren’t you managing just fine in the dormitory?”

“Well, there’s always a bit of unease, you know? I honestly want to live peacefully among humans, but living in the dorms means the priests call on me whenever they’re bored. There are just too many prayer meetings. It’s suffocating, really. Since it’s not mandatory to stay in the dorms at the academy, I’d prefer to live somewhere comfortable.”

“I suppose that’s fair. But this contract seems heavily in my favor. You’re offering me your power and obedience to my commands?”

“Isn’t that a good deal for you?”

“That’s what makes it suspicious. It’s too favorable for me. I’ve heard demons are cunning creatures.”

It’s probably an empty promise, thrown out carelessly. I was aware, but I was curious about her true intentions.

“Idiot. If you don’t become stronger after the contract and end up dying prematurely, it would be troublesome for me. Good prey like you is rare. And demons are obligated to be loyal to their contractors.”

Really? I doubt it. Even if I were to die suddenly, it wouldn’t be an issue for her. A high demon wouldn’t face any problems over the death of a mere human contractor.

Bluffing should at least be plausible. That was definitely a lie to lure me in.

“Are we all set then? Here.”

Seemingly eager to finalize the contract, she handed me the contract and the quill.

As soon as I took the contract, I pretended to ponder and changed all instances of “Astira” to “Astaroth” and erased the sections about Aris and the tribute she could demand from me.

Aris was meant to be with Ruslan, after all.

Given the contract was a makeshift one with few terms, there wasn’t much to correct.

Above all, it doesn’t matter who writes a demon’s contract.

What’s crucial is the name written on it, and a demon’s contract becomes effective as soon as it’s filled out and signed.

The challenge was how to divert her attention. Even if there wasn’t much to modify, any unnecessary actions with the quill in hand could arouse suspicion.

Though I had set Astaroth’s character to be somewhat careless in odd aspects, it would be absurd to think she wouldn’t be cautious of me with a quill over the contract.

That would not just be careless but outright foolish, unworthy of a high demon’s reputation.

So, I needed to ask her a plausible question. With the quill in hand, I pondered and soon came up with a suitable inquiry.

“There’s something I’d like to ask.”

My hand moved fluidly, lightly touching the contract with the quill. As long as the ink made contact, the rest was inconsequential.

This slight movement shouldn’t raise too much suspicion.

Carefully, I continued altering the contract while engaging her in conversation.

“Hm? What is it?”

“How exactly do you plan to sway Aris’s heart? Is there some sort of enchantment involved?”

“Something like that. There’s a potion that only succubi can concoct. They call it a love potion.”

“A love potion?”

“Yes. Its effects are guaranteed. I’ve had my fun with it on several occasions.”

She seemed delighted as she recounted her adventures with the potion. Honestly, it wasn’t that interesting, as I already knew about it.

While making the contract amendments, I pretended to listen attentively to her stories, interspersing my reactions with nods and the occasional “Oh, I see,” to encourage her to keep talking.

In that brief moment, Astaroth didn’t scrutinize my actions closely... and that was enough time to adjust this pathetically fraudulent contract to my liking.

Cold sweat ran down my back.

Had I been caught, my head would have been on the line... but fortunately, I managed to complete the contract without detection.

As soon as Astaroth’s true name and my name were inscribed in the signing area, the contract glowed and solidified, as if fossilizing, preventing any further alterations.

Astaroth casually took the contract, began to read it slowly... and then, upon seeing her name, froze.

Her movements halted abruptly, robotic in their suddenness, as she turned to me and asked,

“...How?”

“Upset that your deception didn’t work as planned? High-ranking demon Astaroth.”

In an instant, her demeanor changed. Astaroth unleashed a tremendous magical power, attempting to bind me, but her magic dispersed like smoke before me.

The first clause I had written in the contract activated.

- Astaroth shall not harm the contracting party, Prah Lancel.

“What are you... Who are you?”

“Well, who knows?”

I responded vaguely, just as she had. Astaroth’s expression turned increasingly bewildered, and she finally hung her head in defeat. With the contract completed, she had no choice but to comply.

And even if I were to reveal my true identity, would she believe me?

That I am the creator of this world.

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