On my command, spells shoot forth.
The magic devastates the enemy ranks, wiping out most of them.
“Forward! Don’t let a single one escape!”
But before I can even finish speaking, a white blur flashes past me and takes down the surviving enemies.
From the looks of things, my second command was unnecessary.
They would never have let anyone escape, even if I didn’t say so.
That’s the Tenth Army for you. Terrifying.
Every single member of this unit is powerful enough to be considered a legend.
Some of them even stronger than that.
Normally, the upper limit of most people’s stats is said to be around 1,000, whether human or demon.
Only a select few ever reach that peak, and surpassing it instantly earns you a place among an elite few.
But if that’s true, everyone around me right now is a legend in the making.
So why am I the one giving orders to such powerful warriors?
Frankly, I’m the weakest member of the Tenth Army.
I was born to a duke’s family, the highest-ranking of all the demon noble families, yet I cannot beat any of my fellow soldiers.
Long ago, if you had told me this would be my future, I would’ve laughed scornfully.
Well, I’m certainly not laughing now.
I was put in charge purely because I formally studied the art of war in my education as a young noble, not because I’m strong.
In other words, because I’m capable of giving orders and nothing more.
When you’re commanding such elite, skilled soldiers, even an inexperienced leader like myself could hardly mess it up.
To be honest, it doesn’t have to be me.
Anyone can do it.
It’s stressful to command soldiers who are stronger than I am.
My stomach is constantly churning.
To make matters worse, the people I’m commanding are not actually fond of me.
The reason for that is one of the longest-serving members of the Tenth Army: Phelmina.
She is my former fiancée…the one who I betrayed and drove out of noble society.
I fell in love.
And not with my fiancée.
That meant she, Phelmina, was only in the way…
Which is why I broke off the engagement and got rid of her.
A coldhearted move, if I do say so myself.
But I don’t regret it.
Even if others denounce me, look down upon me, or think the worst of me, I will never regret it.
If I was given the chance to go back in time and do everything over, I’m sure I would make the same choice.
That is how deeply I’ve fallen in love with Sophia.
The only problem is that the rest of the Tenth Army knows exactly what I did to Phelmina.
And since they went through hellish training together, they have forged very close bonds, so they don’t exactly look kindly upon me, since I joined after the fact.
Fortunately, since they’re almost excessively loyal to our commander, Lady White, they won’t let their personal feelings affect how they treat me.
Even now, they’re obeying my orders.
That doesn’t change how uncomfortable the situation is, though.
But this is all so that I can be with Sophia.
Even if she’ll never see me the same way…
I first met Sophia when she transferred into the academy.
Rumors of a mysterious new transfer student preceded her, and none of us knew how to approach her.
So I decided to talk to her.
My first impression was that she was a beautiful girl.
She looked so fragile, like a porcelain doll.
My second impression was that, contrary to her appearance, her personality was awful.
When I started talking to her, she made zero effort to hide her annoyance.
I’m the son of a duke, so Sophia was the first person who was ever openly impolite to me.
To be totally honest, it pissed me off.
I’ll knock her down a peg or two, I decided.
My original plan was to try to befriend her, probe her background, and figure out the best way to interact with her. But all that was forgotten as soon as she was rude to me.
She started it when I was only being friendly, so it was well within my rights to put her in her place.
But it would be a pain if Sophia’s background turned out to be a problem later.
Many people suspected that she had direct ties to the Demon Lord, so I would have to mock her carefully enough that she wouldn’t even notice.
So I figured that first, I would show her who was on top.
Until I found out exactly who that was.
No matter what I did, I couldn’t beat her.
At first, I was shocked to the point of disbelief.
How could I—the eldest son of a duke, the elite cream of the crop—keep losing to this nasty girl from nowhere?
And whenever Sophia won, she would always laugh at me.
I was furious.
Normally, I was always on top, so I couldn’t accept this girl mocking me.
I was so mad that my real personality threatened to show through the cracks in my friendly golden-boy act.
So I studied hard, trained harder, and swore that I would win next time.
And still my losses kept piling up.
I couldn’t believe it.
Why couldn’t I beat her?
Why did I keep losing?
Why, when I was working so hard?!
But as I continued to lose to Sophia, I started to actually respect her somewhere along the way.
In a romance novel I once read on a whim, there was a line that went like this: “When one has loved someone, the hate it turns into when things go wrong only runs that much deeper.”
For me, it was the opposite: The anger and humiliation I initially felt morphed into respect and admiration.
I had no choice but to admit it: Sophia was just far better than I was.
Once I acknowledged that truth, my heart grew lighter.
When I looked at Sophia with nothing but respect, I could see her charms more clearly.
I always thought she was beautiful, but she had only become more so with every passing year.
Her naturally disdainful personality isn’t exactly great, but unlike me, Sophia never hides how she really feels.
Once I began to see that as honesty and sincerity, I was actually impressed.
All nobles wear masks of a sort, myself included.
We use our words as weapons to jab at one another without ever revealing our true emotions.
In spite of her awful personality, I liked that Sophia made no effort to hide it.
She’s so powerfully conceited that she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
In fact, I don’t believe she’s interested in anyone else at all.
When I joined the Tenth Army, I understood why.
If this was the world that Sophia was accustomed to, it was no wonder that she saw us academy students as boring riffraff.
That’s even clearer to me now that I know her true nature.
For a Progenitor vampire, the kind of being that only ever existed in fairy tales, someone like me is just another boring face in the crowd.
My position as the heir to a duke’s family is important only to fellow demons.
Sophia isn’t limited by trivial matters like that, so she doesn’t care.
Ever since I met Sophia, I’ve learned time and time again just how small I really am.
Especially when I turned on Phelmina.
I have to admit, even I’m horrified that I had no compunction about shoving my longtime fiancée out of the picture to get a shot at the girl I really love.
I knew all the guys in the academy were falling heads over heels for Sophia’s charms; I felt smug that I was in love with her of my own free will, not because of some status effect.
Yeah, it’s a stupid reason to be smug, I know.
But that’s nothing compared to the fact that I took advantage of the way everyone at school worshipped Sophia to purge Phelmina so she’d be out of the way.
After all, I even ended up involving her guardians and my father just to ruin Phelmina’s life.
I must say, though, it went pretty well.
As long as I was engaged to Phelmina, I couldn’t be involved with Sophia.
Not to mention that Phelmina had decided Sophia’s powers were dangerous and was trying to get rid of her.
So I didn’t hesitate to get rid of Phelmina instead.
Did I hate Phelmina? No, I don’t think so.
We weren’t in love, but we did respect and value each other.
I’m sure that we could’ve built a good life together, even without romantic love.
But then I learned what real love feels like.
Once I had a taste of the emotion that borders on insanity, I could never accept such a tepid future.
I do feel bad for Phelmina, who did nothing wrong.
But not enough to do anything to help her.
What a horrible fiancé I am.
So maybe it’s karma that I’m in such an uncomfortable situation now.
I should have started working for my father when I graduated from the academy, but I wanted to follow Sophia, so I joined the Tenth Army.
I had no idea what I was getting into.
The members underwent hellish rituals that could hardly even be called “training” without batting an eye.
And Sophia joined in without a problem.
As a bonus, my ex-fiancée, Phelmina, was among them.
That was definitely a shock.
I fell far behind the other members as they carried out the truly insane training exercises, while Phelmina looked at me coldly, and Sophia seemed incredulous that I couldn’t keep up.
The only reason my heart didn’t break on the spot was because I had plenty of experience losing to Sophia already.
Without that, I would’ve definitely lost all confidence and gone into hiding by now.
Even now, that’s barely enough to keep me hanging on.
To be honest, I really have lost just about all my confidence already; I just haven’t gone into hiding yet.
Unlike my academy days, when I only ever lost to Sophia, I’m at the bottom of the totem pole in the Tenth Army—and Phelmina, whose life I once destroyed, is far above me.
The difference between our stats alone has widened dramatically in her favor.
Despite how it might sound, I’ve been doing all that crazy training since I joined up.
But since Phelmina’s been doing it since the current Tenth Army was first formed, she’s gotten way ahead of me.
She used to always be below me, but now she’s leaving me in the dust.
It definitely adds insult to injury, but the last scraps of my pride have motivated me to fight through the misery and try to improve.
I’ve been working like a madman to catch up.
But Phelmina was always exceptional, and now she’s been doing this hellish training for years.
There’s no way I can make up the difference between us that quickly.
If anything, it looks like the gap might get even bigger.
Finally, I cast aside all shame and went to Sophia on hand and knee to beg her to turn me into a vampire.
…I know this might sound like a bad excuse, but I always intended to ask her eventually.
I want to be with Sophia forever, and the easiest way to do that is for her to make me a vampire.
Besides, becoming a vampire means I become Sophia’s underling.
This was also a way to offer her my body and soul.
It was almost too good to be true.
There was just one concern that made me hesitate to become a vampire.
It wasn’t because I would no longer be a demon or anything silly like that.
I’d already given up on my pride as a noble long ago.
I mean, I tossed aside my fiancée in order to be with Sophia.
Obviously, I’m willing to sink as low as it takes.
I’ll follow my heart, no matter how selfish or irresponsible it might be.
My apologies to my father, but I no longer have any intention of fulfilling my duties as the heir to a duke’s family.
No, the only thing that was stopping me was my appearance.
They say that vampires live forever, without aging or decaying.
But that’s the problem.
Specifically, the problem is Merazophis, the other vampire besides Sophia.
He hasn’t aged at all since he became a vampire.
A human his age should be starting to look old, but he’s still perfectly youthful.
If that means vampires stop aging once they reach adulthood, then that’s perfectly fine.
Sophia certainly has been growing.
But she’s a Progenitor vampire, a special case.
So do normal vampires age and grow?
That’s why I wanted to wait to become a vampire until I looked like an adult.
Specifically, when I could pass for the same age as Merazophis, the apple of Sophia’s eye.
Given the danger that I might stop growing, the safest bet would be to wait until adulthood before I asked her to make me a vampire.
But I didn’t have the luxury of waiting around anymore.
I had to do something to get off the bottom rung of the ladder, and fast.
And becoming a vampire would make me strong!
It’s just a matter of sooner rather than later, really.
Even if I’m stuck looking this age, it could be worse.
Thus, I pleaded with Sophia until she finally gave in and turned me into a vampire.
All at once, the whole world looked different.
At the same time, I felt some sort of unbreakable connection to Sophia.
I was thrilled.
Ah, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for all my life, I thought.
But that didn’t change my position in the Tenth Army.
I’m still at the bottom.
My stats definitely rose when I became a vampire, but not enough to catch up to the monstrous power of the Tenth Army.
“Well, obviously. It’d be unfair if just turning into a vampire made you that strong, right? No cheating,” said Sophia. Then she added dreamily, “Merazophis was frustrated after he first became a vampire, too. But he was so determined to protect me… Ah, he was just so cool then.”
How good for him.
Sophia only has eyes for Merazophis.
She made me the same race as her, but the difference in how she treats us is like night and day.
All Sophia wants is Merazophis, and no matter how much I might want her, she’s never going to return my feelings.
When I turned into a vampire, I gained the right to be with Sophia forever.
But at the same time, I might’ve just sentenced myself to an eternity of suffering that will never bring me the happiness I want.
Even so, I have no regrets.