Sitting on a desolate hill, a castle was encircled by a lush forest. Every corner of this castle had been built from irritatingly cold stone. Rather than a castle, it would be better to call it a fortress.
After spending three days in such an oppressive indoor environment, anyone would be plagued by nightmares of being crushed by stone. The complicated passages here meant that one could very well waste away and die in the labyrinth if one were to get lost. The castle's design evidently showed no consideration at all for the inhabitants, rather, there was a sense of rejection throughout.
The kitchen was not convenient to use at all, always shrouded in a claustrophobic feeling like a dungeon cell.
But even under the pressure of this sort of atmosphere, ingredients were still ingredients after all.
Wearing a butcher's apron, Sena Kaito rolled up the sleeves of his cotton shirt and crossed his arms with displeasure. In front of him was a despairing quantity of innards, piled up in a small mountain. These pieces of flesh, soft and glistening with complicated shapes, were releasing a distinctive odor.
Kaito sighed and decided to chop up the intestines first, so he used a sharp knife to cut open the intestines lengthwise. Next, he removed the white membrane around the heart. While he was taking care of this vast number of entrails silently like an ascetic monk, the kitchen shook violently. Even though stone fragments were falling from above, Kaito ignored the situation, still acting as though nothing had happened.
Even if this castle were to collapse soon, putting an end to his life, he did not want to care at all.
He opened a bottle of expensive-looking wine that he had taken from the wine cellar without permission then poured out of half of it into a silver platter originally dedicated to holding fruit. Then without any hesitation, he marinated several types of innards in the wine together with herbs whose names eluded him.
While he continued with his culinary work with a solemn expression, the entire castle shook again, but Kaito still did not let it bother him. Even if half the castle were to be blown away, all was fine so long as he survived unharmed. The world was peaceful, but an evil voice shattered this peace.
Adhering to the logic that his name was Kaito and not "butler," Kaito decided that he was not the one being called and resolutely ignored the voice. Finally, the manner of address changed.
"Too noisy! I hear you! Coming right away!"
Fearing for his life if he kept ignoring the voice, Kaito dropped the liver he had covered with flour onto the counter then rushed to the corridor. The corridor had several stained glass windows at least, which alleviated the claustrophobic feeling somewhat. But also because of the stained glass, disgusting patterns that creeped Kaito out from the bottom of his heart were also projected onto the floor. Dashing across the colorful corridor, Kaito climbed the spiral staircase and pushed open a massive set of double doors.
A strong gust of wind greeted him. Inside this throne room, on the pedestal was of course, literally a magnificent throne. There were even a few ancient tapestries hanging in the room, filling the space with solemnity. However, a quarter of all this stuff had now been blown away, opening a massive hole in the wall, exposing the sky's refreshing blueness.
It was totally no joke. What was happening right now could very well demolish half the castle.
In front of the remains of this wanton destruction, a girl was standing with her arms crossed, her perfectly shaped legs standing on the rubble, haughtily waiting for Kaito. With a click of her heel contacting the ground, she turned towards Kaito.
Her black and gorgeous hair fluttered in the air while her red eyes pierced Kaito.
Hanging on her peerlessly beautiful face was a smile that was in no way delightful at all. Kaito found her face repugnant. With nails painted black, she pointed outside and spoke in a bird-like voice, like a cat that had eaten her fill.
Kaito complied obediently and looked out the hole. The clear blue sky and the refreshingly green forest were now shrouded by a sticky red color and a rust-like stench, it was nauseating.
In front of him was a nasty scene from hell.
Dozens of iron stakes had sprouted out of the ground, impaling a creepy creature.
With his face frowning to the limit, Kaito scrutinized the pitiful corpse that was a bloody mess.
"What are your thoughts, Kaito?"
"What else can I say...? It's not only creepy but also pitiful."
"Hmph, what an accurate description of your senses. Not only are your words inadequate in expressive ability, but you also lack the wit to please your master. You are such a boring guy."
The girl shrugged. In front of her, the terrifying beast, an amalgamation of human corpses, was already dead. On the surface of the grotesque beast were hundreds of faces, attached to one another by stretching their cheeks and scalps to the limit, giving off groans in abject agony. Instead of a mane, the beast's back featured a line of human arms with a huge number of breasts hanging from its bloated belly.
The girl scoffed at the sacrilegious and grotesque abomination and said:
"Follow me, Kaito. The Knight has declared war on me. Or rather, he has come to pick a fight."
The girl licked her red lips, overjoyed. Surpassing leopards and wolves, she was more like a giant ravenous lion. Suppressing the revulsion in his heart, Kaito turned away from the beast's corpse and sighed.
"I don't mind, but the food will be ready in one hour. Whether you want to fight or to torture, save it for after the meal."
The only reason why Sena Kaito was currently stuck in this absolute mess of a situation was because he had been murdered.
"Since you did not answer, I shall ask again. Pledge your allegiance to me."
Confronted with the haughty demand from the girl calling herself Elisabeth, Kaito refused on the spot. The stranger had suddenly appeared before him, even though he was supposed to have died as a murdered victim just now, asking him to be her servant. Kaito was very confused, but he answered without hesitation. This was due to the mountain of bizarre corpses, the blood lust in the crowd, Elisabeth's sadistic smile... and most crucial of all, the title of "Torturchen."
With all these danger signals gathered in one place, the girl before his eyes was evidently the one responsible for creating that tragedy. Hence, Kaito had no response other than refusal.
Kaito expected Elisabeth's mood to be ruined as a result, but for some reason, she nodded, impressed.
"Oh? What decisiveness. Perhaps you viewed my memories while you were being summoned? Even so, such a decisive answer is still quite unexpected."
"Putting aside whether I'm working for you or not, did you just say 'summoned'? ...Hey, what is this place? Why am I here...? And most importantly, I should be dead."
"Yes, you are completely correct! You are already dead. Pitifully, tragically, brutally, killed like a worthless bug! In spite of that, summoned by me, you have obtained new life through a doll's body. This is a rare act of grace, so rejoice to your fill."
Hearing the word that Elisabeth had said out of the blue, Kaito could not help but touch his own body. Although she called him a doll, he found no difference between the texture of his skin and a human's. Although he did not have a mirror to check his appearance, there was nothing wrong with the height of his eye level, so he did not think his height had changed. He plucked out a hair from the back of his head and it was the brown color he had been born with.
Just as he was examining his body in doubt, Elisabeth spoke in exasperation.
"What are you doing? The vessel for your soul is a golem body created by none other than I. Unlike the ones that would collapse into a pile of dirt as soon as you alter the writing on their foreheads, this is a masterpiece created by yours truly, the great sorcerer and skilled artisan. This is also the reason why my words sound like your own country's language to your ears. Durability guaranteed, your body features all human organs with the same red blood coursing through your veins. However, you will not die even if more than half your body is destroyed. On the other hand, if you were to bleed dry of the blood imbued with my power, your soul would run the risk of disappearing."
"But my physique and hair color haven't changed."
"Your stupidity is truly incurable. As I have already explained, do not compare my masterpiece with those cheap varieties that are not worth mentioning. If a soul were to be placed into a body that differs excessively from the form of its previous life, the dissonance could very well cause a breakdown. This blank body was designed to conform to the soul in the first place. Although external injuries and internal maladies are automatically purged, appearance and physique... be it a face of poverty or a weak and skinny body, everything is consistent with your state when you were alive. Go ahead and express your rapture, grateful for my generosity."
At that moment, Kaito noticed an important difference in his body. He looked at his arm and found that the burns and lacerations covering it densely had disappeared. The constant pain that thoroughly gripped his body over the long years was gone.
(I see... What a shock. This body really isn't mine.)
Kaito understood completely. A body without pain could not possibly be his own body. This painless feeling, one that had been long-absent in his life, was quite comfortable, but at the same time, he could not help thinking he was like an inflated rubber doll.
While Kaito was feeling his arm in a daze, Elisabeth continued.
"To obtain a servant, I summoned an innocent soul. Although nothing prevents me from summoning an evil being to run errands for me, if the Church were to find out, punishment would be unavoidable. Furthermore, the brutality of your murder was beyond proportionate to your sin in life, hence you are perfect... Hmph, this rather strange feeling, could it be that you are from another world? To be drawn here from a parallel dimension, I really have no idea whether your unusual fortune is a blessing or a curse. Whatever, I care not about your original identity. From now on, you shall work for me with sincere loyalty."
Kaito's answer caused Elisabeth to blink her red eyes with delight. She placed her finger, as slender as a blade, on Kaito's forehead, then licking her gorgeous lips, she whispered sweetly.
"You have been killed. Killed pitifully, tragically and brutally like a worthless bug. That low-functioning brain of yours can understand that much at least, yes? Although you are qualified as an 'innocent soul' by the condition that 'your sins from your past life did not deserve a cruel death,' your physiognomy predicts a destination of hell for you. Now that I have said this much, are you still going to give up your second life and seek death like a trampled bug?"
"That's right. I've had enough of living as someone else's plaything. I grew tired of living a long time ago."
Kaito replied firmly. This was how unmentionable his life had been, a fate worse than hell.
He had only attended school for a couple years before moving from place to place, forced to take on illegal jobs to help his father, but it was never appreciated. Whenever his father did not need him for manpower, he would be abused as a tool for venting frustrations. There was no part of this life that Kaito did not find repulsive. He did not even know what his mother looked like, but presumably, subjected to dual suffering from malnutrition and pain, his mother had lost the ability to think normally. Deprived of the will to even run away, she ended up killed.
Kaito wanted a body without pain but he would rather die than cater to another person's whims again, because even if such a shitty life could continue, it would just be a longer and smellier piece of shit.
"I'm tired. I give up. If you want a servant, find someone else."
"Is that so? Then I shall make you my butler against your wishes."
Elisabeth did not heed Kaito's answer at all. Kaito frowned deeply, but she shrugged lightly.
"It would be a hassle if the Church's pointless nose were to get wind of the fact that I summoned a servant. Making a new doll would take substantial trouble, hence it would be utterly ludicrous of me to go through all that sundry work to find a substitute errand boy. I do not have that kind of time, after all, I..."
At that moment, the door behind Elisabeth was blown away with a loud noise.
Like a joke in poor taste, the heavy door simply flew in the air and crashed next to her. Bits of wood flew past her face, but she did not even bat an eye in that direction. Kaito's eyes widened in shock as he looked towards the doorway in trepidation.
Over there was a rider on a giant horse.
The rider was carrying a terrifying spiked chain while straddling a saddle made of bones, but the most bizarre thing about them were their bodies. Whether the horse or the rider, neither had any skin. Like anatomy models, their muscles were exposed, with blood vessels visible on the surface and glistening fat, presenting the pink color of their bloody flesh... Such ugly bodies caused Kaito to instinctively refuse to understand the entities before him. Only after a long while did Elisabeth turn to the entrance, speaking in a laid back manner.
"After all, there are fourteen ranked demons, namely, The Knight, The President, The Grand President, The Earl, The Grand Earl, The Duke, The Grand Duke, The Marquess, The Grand Marquess, The Monarch, The Grand Monarch, The Sovereign, The Grand Sovereign, and The Emperor. And with the exception of The Emperor, who has been captured, I must brutally execute these thirteen demons and their contractors."
The horse neighed and the rider howled. But what came out of those hollow mouths of bare flesh was ear-splitting noise as though a storm was blowing into broken musical instruments. Feeling the unpleasant vibrations on his eardrums, Kaito understood from the bottom of his heart.
Indeed, such a terrifying being could only be described as a demon.
"Hey, what's up with that guy? Is he 'The Knight' you mentioned?"
"You are quite calm for a squashed bug of an imbecile."
"This level of judgment is normal as long as the brain isn't atrophied."
"Unfortunately, this thing is merely The Knight's servant. Rather than the man himself who had entered a contract with a demon, he is someone who volunteered to become a subordinate. In other words, a small fry. But he was formerly human, indeed."
Listening to Elisabeth, Kaito involuntarily looked at the horse and rider again. That this thing was originally human, he could not believe it at all, neither did he want to believe it. If a man volunteered to turn into this as she said, all he could think was that guy must be insane. Presumably guessing Kaito's thoughts, Elisabeth grinned.
"I understand. I understand very well. Very ugly, isn't it? Selling one's soul to a demon merely for the sake of obtaining power beyond human, finally abandoning one's original appearance... There is no greater ugliness than this, is there? Laugh as much as you like, I permit you to laugh. This is more than likely his ultimate wish—A clown's ultimate wish is to make others laugh, wouldn't you agree?"
Even as a taunt, her words were far too tactless. Even sharper howls were emitted from the rider's mouth. The high-pitched sound waves resembled a roar of rage, almost tearing eardrums, making Kaito cover up his ears.
The rider tightened the reins and kicked the horse's belly. The horse proceeded to shatter the floor with its hooves, instantly reaching top speed to close in, trying to smash Elisabeth to death in a direct collision.
"Small potatoes are unworthy of my sword—Iron Maiden."
Elisabeth whispered quietly and raised her hand. Immediately, red petals and darkness were released into the air from her fingertips, swirling in a vortex. With a thunderous crash, as though the vortex had penetrated space itself, a human-sized doll emerged from the floor.
Iron Maiden—was the name Elisabeth had used to call this elegant doll, a name that did not match its appearance.
Long soft hair draped over the doll's back like golden silk. The two eyes glowed blue like gemstones. A smile of tender love on its lips. The doll's arms were outspread in welcome, whereas the rider charged mercilessly.
The maiden's warm embrace was about to be trampled by iron hooves... Just as Kaito made this prediction, he heard the sound of gears turning. The doll's eyes widened, rolling the blue eyes back to become burning red. Her offering of tender love rejected, the doll proceeded to show hatred on its face and opened up its belly suddenly.
Iron arms equipped with sharp claws rushed out from within, hurtling towards the horse and rider, mercilessly breaking their arms and legs with mechanical motions. Unconcerned with the enemy's pitiful screams, the iron arms compressed the horse and rider's body parts that were in the way, crushing them inwards until they were turned into a bloody pulp resembling pieces of caterpillars.
Without even time to resist, the horse and rider were turned into a meatball with heads, then dragged into the doll's belly. And the interior of the doll's belly featured a dense array of countless needles like symbols of maidenhood.
Accompanied by screams of pain, the doll's abdomen slammed shut.
Displaying a smile of tender affection again, the maiden hugged her lower abdomen tightly. One could hear sounds of mad struggling as well as screaming that could drive a listener insane.
"Those embraced by the Iron Maiden are not afforded an immediate death."
Amid the extremely terrifying screaming, Elisabeth commented nonchalantly. Turning her face towards Kaito, she grinned.
"If death is what you seek at all costs, then so be it. I shall generously grant you your wish. However, since I did bring you back from the abyss of death, if I had to kill you again, it must be done according to my methods. What are your thoughts? Make your choice, butler or meat?"
"Please let me be your butler."
"Now that is a rapid change of mind."
Thus, Kaito entered Torturchen's service.
This was how things came to be.
With a soul-wrenching yell, the dish, a fork, and the "roasted heart with aromatic vegetables, paired with fruit sauce" flew into the air. A fatal rain was showered upon the ancient tablecloth.
Next, Elisabeth angrily stomped her foot on the dining table.
"W-What the devil is this? I never thought food could taste bad to this extent. It looked decent in appearance, but the inside of the heart was not cooked thoroughly, whereas the surface was too tough to chew. Rich in the distinct odor of innards, the sauce was strangely sweet and sour, producing an absolutely terrible symphony on the tongue that was impossible to dispel... In a certain way, it was a miracle."
"I'm amazed by your critique."
(I can't believe she gave such a vigorous reaction.)
With dead-looking eyes, Kaito plucked out the fork that was embedded in the wall.
A couple of days had passed since he was coerced into being Elisabeth's butler. Although he started out scared to death of Elisabeth's every move, he had spent a lifetime lingering on the brink of death, after all, so he was pretty much used to this type of interaction.
Dressed in a butler uniform that could hardly be considered a good match for him, Kaito sighed deeply.
"Can you not throw utensils around every chance you get? It's not like you're an old man from the Shouwa period."
"Whether Shouwa or old men, I have no idea what you are talking about. However, how can I not flip the table when the food is this disgusting!? Good grief! Even swine feed would be much better than this! How can your cooking skills be so bad!?"
"You've said the same thing to me countless times already, which is why I used wine to remove the odor today."
"......Hey, don't tell me you used my wine to make this kind of garbage?"
Kaito chose strategic silence. Seeing Kaito's guilt, Elisabeth silently waved her hand.
With a rumble, a chair appeared from under Kaito. As though in a cartoon scene, the chair rammed into his bottom then strapped him to the seat with belts. From its design, one could tell that spikes, spikes, and even more spikes would clearly emerge from the entire surface of the back rest, the seat and the arm rests. Abandoning all measure of composure, Kaito struggled as hard as he could.
"Hold on, wait a sec! Let's talk first! Think about this, don't you think you're asking for the impossible, forcing a novice to start with cooking internal organs right off the bat!?"
"You need not seek excuses. Incidentally, what is with your lack of respect for me, the one known as Torturchen? How brazen of you? Would turning your back into a sieve improve your arrogant attitude?"
"My senses towards fear and danger have numbed after I was killed once! It's my fault, please don't torture me!"
"Hmph, then I shall be merciful... Oops, I almost approved of you. But judging from the tone of your voice, aren't you insinuating indirectly that you have no reason to respect me except out of fear?"
"No, that's not true at all, err... I think?"
"Kaito, you cannot even be bothered to find an excuse now?"
"No, let me rephrase myself!"
Despite crying out, Kaito already knew his fate... Namely, to be turned into a human pincushion. However, Elisabeth apparently changed her mind and dismissed the torture chair with a "hmph."
"Very well, so be it, I am generous and forgiving, so I shall offer you a chance to redeem yourself—Make pudding for me."
Hearing Elisabeth solemnly issue an inexplicable order, Kaito cocked his head in puzzlement.
"Pudding indeed," Elisabeth repeated herself and nodded seriously. Crossing her legs conceitedly, she leaned back against her chair.
"It would be too unrealistic to rely on someone like you who cannot even cook a meal properly, so I was about to give up. However, the possibilities inherent in sweetness are slightly greater, so I shall allow you to make an attempt. If you tell me even this is beyond you, then I shall consider scrapping you as a garbage creating machine."
"Don't say something as frightening as scrapping a human being. You're making the wounds on my soul bleed. By the way, what is pudding? It does sound familiar... Uh, is it something like purin?"
"Purin? I know not of this purin, but judging from the name, is it not the same thing?"
Confronted with this extremely sloppy response, Kaito nodded. In fact, the custard pudding known as purin in Japan was something quite memorable for him.
One day, a woman who was cohabiting with Kaito's father had made pudding for the young Kaito. The woman had smiled shyly in front of the happy Kaito before disappearing the next day. Now that he thought back to the time, Kaito realized she had made the treat to alleviate her guilty conscience in leaving the young Kaito behind to escape on her own. However, to Kaito, his joy from back then remained a vivid memory. He had also memorized the somewhat unusual method of making the dessert.
The ingredients in the kitchen were sufficient to recreate the dish, but he lacked the right cooking utensil, so he asked Elisabeth.
"Hey Elisabeth, since you can use earth to make golems, doesn't that mean you can also make a clay pot?"
"How dare you make demands from the master who is considering to have you scrapped, do you not know your place...? Fine. What is this clay pot?"
"The clay pot is like this, a pot made from heat-resistant clay, it's round."
With clumsy language ability, Kaito tried to describe a clay pot. Elisabeth looked intrigued but proceeded to snap her fingers. Soon enough, tiny footsteps could be heard from the corridor.
The dining hall door opened and a mini golem composed of rectangular earthen blocks appeared. Then the tiny golem waved and suddenly collapsed, leaving a small pile of earth.
"Ehhhh, hey Elisabeth, look what you've done! Isn't that so sad?"
"Pay it no mind. Despite appearances, it was not actually conscious. You wanted a pot, yes?"
The earth squirmed and formed a pot's shape. Kaito explained further, making the pot more shallow and adding a hole in the lid for letting off steam. The automatically shapeshifting clay finally turned into his familiar pot after repeated tries.
"This earth is imbued with fire resistance. This eludes my understanding, but take it and use it however you like."
"Thanks, this really helps."
Kaito picked up the pot gingerly in his arms and walked to the kitchen. He first filled the clay pot with water then added flour to cook. Doing so sealed the small hole at the top of the pot. Then using a smaller pot to boil milk, he dissolved white sugar in it then carefully added a beaten egg after it had cooled, taking care to avoid bubbles and frothing in the process. Next, he washed the clay pot and coated it with butter. Using a clean cloth, he filtered the egg mixture. However, the crucial step had yet to come, namely to cook gently with the lid on for around ten to fifteen minutes. Putting a wire mesh over the stove, he placed the clay pot on top but he was not confident in fine-tuning the heat.
"Now then, how did it turn out... Hmm? It seems just right."
It looked like Elisabeth's application of fire resistance was superb. Even the thermal energy from the stove's fierce flames was transmitted as gentle heat. The rest of the process was now up to luck.
Soon after, a sweet fragran