100. Preparations (1)
Akareal called out to Ellin as she passed by.
“Wait a moment.”
Ellin turned to her, surprised. Akareal smiled and continued.
“Would you mind having a cup of tea with me?”
Ellin looked at the Queen of Aylans with an awkward expression as she sat, taking note of how the queen glamorously drank her tea. After a moment, she turned to Worlf, who was standing behind her, and whispered,
“H-hey…what should I do? Her Majesty can’t afford a mistake on my behalf.”
“…So you better tread carefully.”
“…I’ve never had tea with a human. What’s the proper etiquette…?”
It would be one thing if her introduction to the various rules around dining with humans had been from Tom or Halsem, but for it to be a personal encounter with another country’s aristocrat, much less a queen…!
Ellin was stiff and visibly anxious. Akareal’s intense, curious gaze watching did little to make her feel less nervous.
‘…Similar,’ the queen thought. ‘It’s more than just being very similar. It wouldn’t be too much to say she’s her.’
Akareal marveled over Ellin’s appearance. Her hair, eyes, and skin tone were definitely different. And yet, her likeness was unmistakable to Sister Ellie. Was it a coincidence?
‘…It must… be a coincidence, right?’
It had already been 30 years since she had seen her. Back then, Akareal had barely met Sister Ellie, much less had an actual conversation with her, so it wasn’t as though she clearly remembered her voice, appearance, or personality.
‘It feels so familiar. The mannerisms are different, but obviously the name…’
Ellin, versus Ellie? It was barely a difference in pronunciation. Like ‘Tom’ and Hero Thoma, Sister Ellie had her counterpart in the Apostle and the Demon Lord. This couldn’t be a mere coincidence.
“…Umm, is there something on my face?”
Ellin spoke carefully, overwhelmed by Akreal’s piercing gaze. Akareal realized her mistake and shook her head.
“Ah, I’m sorry. You just remind me of someone. .”
“I do? Really?”
Ellin was surprised. Was there perhaps another human that looked like her outside of Ellie?
“However, Miss Ellin looks so similar to humans. I’ve seen a lot of demons that were close to humans, but not like you. At a glance, anyone would believe you’re actually human. Even the most talented priest or magicians wouldn’t be able to tell you apart.”
“Ah, That… I’m a Doppelganger. Since I have the appearance of a human, it’d be difficult to identify me unless I used magic.”
Akareal shut her mouth.
‘Is a Doppelganger capable of changing their appearance without copying a host?’
“Ah, are you similar to the Demon Lord because you’ve taken her form?”
“N-no. That’s not it. The Demon Lord’s form is enviable… However, my appearance is a far cry from hers. I’ve only put on the appearance of a human I met long ago, after all.”
“Is that so? I’m still surprised. Her Majesty, and Miss Ellin as well… You’re both so similar to someone I’ve known in the past.”
Not only her but Lily Golt, who was a Demon Lord, looked similar? Could it be…?
Could it be that Sister Ellie is alive?
Unknown anxiety bloated within Ellin. She hadn’t been able to find Ellie and Brother Thoma’s whereabouts until now. She knew they were likely dead, but as she had never seen their bodies, Ellin denied that reality.
“That person’s name…?”
“She was called Ellie. Coincidentally, her name is similar to yours.”
Ellin suddenly rose from her seat, her eyes growing wide. She didn’t even notice that she had spilled her tea all over the table. The Magic Knights quickly reacted to the commotion, drawing their swords and raising their staffs. Seeing this, Worlf bared his teeth and raised his spear.
“W-where is that person? Is she alive? Ah, if she’s alive, she’s probably old by now… Still, where have you seen her?”
Akareal looked at Ellin in surprise.
‘Does she know of Sister Ellie? Could Ellie be wearing that person’s appearance?’
Slowly, Akareal began to understand: the Apostle Ellin sitting before her had met Sister Ellie and had transformed herself in her image. The one named Tom was likely a Doppelganger as well. The pair had taken on the appearance of Brother Thoma and Sister Ellie, Akareal concluded.
‘…If that’s the case, it would make sense that he would have the appearance of a younger Brother Thoma.’
Ellie watched Akareal with trembling eyes. When Akareal spoke, her words were different from what Ellie expected.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t really know them all that well. I’ve only heard that they fell at the hands of Pope Salem …” Akareal tightened her fists as she spoke. “…I’m sorry that I don’t know more. It was 30 years ago, after all.”
“I-is that so…”
Ellin sat back down. Worlf and the Magic Knights lowered their weapons. Ellin grew limp. It was too much to expect to meet Sister Ellie and Brother Thoma in this life, she supposed.
Ellin realized her mistake and quickly bowed in apology.
“It’s no trouble, I assure you.”
“Did… you know Sister Ellie?”
“I never did meet her formally; just in passing. I didn’t know what kind of person she was.” Ellin sighed. Akareal continued. “Now that I think about it, there is a person here that looks like the Hero Thoma as well.”
At this, Ellin perked up again.
“Hero” Thoma? Not brother…?
Akareal smiled, noting Ellin’s response.
“Yes. Ah, you weren’t aware? The monk by Sister Ellie’s side. He was a Hero in his younger days. History might not mention him, but he was the most outstanding among the Heroes. Thoma was a person that was in a party with me in the past as well.”
“B-brother Thoma was a Hero?”
This was another shock. Ellie knew that Thoma was a great person, but no one had ever attributed the word ‘Hero’ to him. In fact, it was as though the word should not be associated with him…
‘N-now that I think about it, I’ve heard that Brother Thoma was a great person, as well… I didn’t understand what they meant at the time, but now…’
Ellie had continued searching for information about Brother Thoma, but the information was unusually sparse. Not only were there no official records of him being a Hero, everyone that knew him had been killed by the Devil of Lania. There was no way to find out anything more than vague details. Out of fear of the Pope, anyone who may have known more, if they still lived, had kept silent about him..
Ellin, surprised by Akareal’s words, recalled her earlier statement.
‘Wait, looked like who…?’
“Looked similar? To Brother Thoma…? Who’s that?”
Akareal put on a strange expression. She couldn’t imagine that a similar Doppelganger wouldn’t know.
“Of course, the person that’s like Miss Ellin.”
“S-so who is that…?”
“The Apostle called Tom.”
“Utterly unbelievable! To allow such good gold to rot like this…!”
“Haha! But won’t it be reborn in our hands!?”
“Now, let’s loosen up our itching bodies! Hammerwork after liberation is bound to feel great!”
“Let us hammer!”
“Strike to the rhythm!”
Beside the Castle of the Demon Lord, a smithy had formed in the armory, and at that place, Dwarves working there were making a great deal of equipment over the course of a day. They poured water over a molten red metal plate, watching it boil over. After giving it a proper shape with regular hammering, they pulled it out and held it with a tong to their satisfied faces.
“These metal sheets we made won’t be cut by the average blade nor pierced by just any spear. That can happen with simple armor, but with quality metal as thick as this…it’ll have the strength to withstand anything that isn’t personally made by us dwarves.”
The Dwarf laid down the armor carefully.
“Against human weapons, your foes will be at a disadvantage unless they attack between the gaps of the armor. Even skilled knights will have trouble. Once they realize that, you all will be seen as an impenetrable band of monsters! Even without the armor they already fear you, but now…!?”
The Dwarf laughing slyly.
“They’ll remember you as the Devil’s Army before long! The race that everyone looked down upon until now will be transformed into the most powerful force on the continent. A truly fearsome Demon Army, like from the storybooks, will appear! Humans will quake in fear from just the mention of the Demon Kingdom!”
The Dwarf turned to his guest, the closest Apostle to the Demon Lord, Tom.
“How about it? Do you like it?”
Tom checked the plate armor and looked over the other equipment being prepared by the different Dwarves. Plate armor and weapons hung on the wall; they weren’t all yet painted, but he could see how sturdy they were just by looking at them. He also noticed that there was a difference in size between them.
“… All of them are sized a bit differently.”
The Dwarf crossed his arms and stiffened his neck.
“Of course! We’re master craftsmen. The one-size-fits-all plate armor that we’ve made when ordered by the humans were done so half-heartedly, so they lacked effectiveness. But, as we’re free now, we can work for fun! So, we made equipment according to your sizes as a show of gratitude. All first-rate equipment…!”
The Dwarf spoke to Tom confidently.
“There is a difference between the armor we made in servitude and the armor we make in liberation; it’s night and day. When not under forced labor, we can work according to a rhythm, at a comfortable and deliberate pace! Just be thankful that we were willing to produce these in mass quantity, Sir Apostle.”
Tom smiled widely.
“You’re willing to seriously work for our Demon Kingdom?”
The Dwarf scoffed as he spoke.
“Of course! We’ll work with pride, but we’re going to need compensation.”
“And by ‘compensation,’ you mean…?”
“Of course…alcohol and more work! Not forced labor, but work we can enjoy!”
Tom laughed at the Dwarf’s response. The Dwarves’ skill at the smithy was even greater than expected: they produced personal plate armor after getting the measurements of each member of the Demon Lord’s army. Additionally, they worked at a speed 10 times that of humans. Their work was fastidious, and they could finish jobs in a matter of days that took master craftsmen months to complete. Their technique was peerless, not only compared to humans, but to other demons as well.
A greed sprouted within Tom as he heard the Dwarves’ response. Currently, the armor that they had created were individually fit for each Demon. Even if the humans killed the Demons and salvaged their armor, they wouldn’t be able to use it for themselves, and would need to melt it down and start over. On this point, the weapons made by the Dwarves would also be comparable to he greatest of weapons made by masters.
“…How long would it take to create the equipment for the entire army?”
The Dwarf frowned intensely at Tom’s question.
“You haven’t even given us the measurements for the regulars that we requested, and you’re asking us to fit the rest of them? You’re being too greedy! More than humans! Well, if you wet our lips properly with alcohol, there’s no reason that we couldn’t do it.”
The Dwarf scratched his head and began to ponder the size of the Demon Kingdom.
“I’m not sure what the exact numbers of the soldiers are… but it could take around 3 to 4 years? Assuming the number of soldiers doesn’t increase from this point.”
3 to 4 years? That would take much too long. They were already engaged in war; sustaining it for that long would create more problems than it would solve.
“How long for the armor meant for the regulars?”
“For them, we could do… 5 to 6 months? That’d be the minimum, assuming the Kingdom of Aylans would continue to liberate our kin and those liberated would be added to producing the equipment. It might take longer.”
“…That’s too long.”
“Too long? If humans made it, not only would it be of lower quality, they’d take 2 to 3 years! Enough for 2 to 3 thousand men… More than anything, we’re also making armor for some really gigantic guys. It can’t be that you’re not putting that into your calculations?”
Currently, more than 500 Dwarves had returned to the Demon Kingdom. Nearly all of them were put into the smithy; a portion of them was in construction, a few more into such things as minting or gem cutting, and various such works. Around 300 of them were participating in producing military equipment, but as demons had different builds compared to humans, it looked like it was taking more time producing equipment for them.
“Even if we’re the race called the Fairies of the Smithy…”
“…Are you really called that?” Tom asked.
“…Hmmm! We are first class at the forge, but it’ll still take time. You’re not perhaps thinking of having your men participate on the battlefield with subpar equipment, are you?”
When the Dwarf asked this of Tom with his eyes narrowed, Tom waved his hand.
“How could that be? But, please shorten the timeline. As much as possible, that is.”
“Nnngh… We’ll try.”
“If you can do that for us, I’ll try to get the permission of Her Highness to import the greatest drinks on his continent for you all.”
The Dwarf’s eyes grew wide at this.
“Yes, regardless of the cost or rarity, we’ll prepare it for you regardless of the method.”
“Sounds good! Now, this is why I like you! Not only have you given us freedom, but you’ve provided us with work with such motivation! There is a reason that everyone herre puts so much trust in you! The demons are right. You’re definitely going to be a savior one day!”
“… A savior? That’s too much for me. Those words are more fitting for Her Highness.”
Tom replied with an awkward smile.
“In any case, I’m leaving it to you. As quickly as possible…!”
“Okay! As quickly as possible…! But we’ll show you a proper product!”
— Ω —