103. Undecided (1)
Halsem smiled widely. Three months had passed since he had come to the Demon Kingdom. He had been extremely uncomfortable at first, interacting with so many unfamiliar people in such a foreign land, but he had eventually gotten used to it.
The treatment he received now from everyone was different compared to back in his gambler days―mainly the acknowledgment he received. Other merchants now spoke in whispers about him as he traveled around the continent.
“They said that person is the merchant who interacts with the Demon Kingdom…”
“He looks normal… Is he actually a very skilled person or…?”
“Why would a job like that need extra skill? He might just have the right personality!”
“But from what I’ve heard he is paid a lot of money to do what he does.”
“Look at that expression! Such composure… He also kind of has a mysterious vibe…?”
Halsem had traveled to places all across the continent because of his job and his fame had spread fast. On top of that, the rumors about him had been exaggerated and he was now called ‘The Great Merchant’ by others in the trade.
Receiving his own title and becoming so well respected had far surpassed the original goals that Halsem had set for himself after deciding to become a merchant in the first place.
‘Ahh, I’m satisfied!’
He shook his head.
‘No. I can’t be satisfied with just this!’
‘Higher…! Let’s go even higher…!’
‘…But I don’t have anything else to set as a goal, do I?’
Halsem had gone to see Tom after thinking about this.
His arms were crossed.
“I want to set a new goal.”
“…You want to what?” Tom asked, smiling awkwardly as Halsem burst into his office.
He had been checking over some equipment and supplies and didn’t really feel like getting into a conversation.
“I want to be in a really high position!”
“Do you want to be a king?”
Halsem’s eyes grew large.
“I’m kidding, of course.”
“…Don’t say things like that please,” he replied. His eyes were dull and his smile was hollow. “Even as a joke. Because it feels like everything you say will really happen. It makes me look forward to it for no reason!”
“Even though it’s me, it would still be extremely difficult to make you king, Halsem. But, well…”
Tom organized his documents and placed them all on his office desk. Then he glanced back at Halsem before he spoke once again.
“…I can make you a noble if you want.”
“Yes. A noble of the Demon Kingdom.”
Halsem’s eyes widened and Tom nodded his head.
“You’ve more or less settled down in the Demon Kingdom, haven’t you? In fact, your contribution to our diplomatic efforts through your trading can’t be overstated. You’ve done great work. Even Her Highness the Demon Lord is acknowledging that.”
“I-is that so…?”
“But many clans would be envious of you or feel uncomfortable since you’re a human. I mean… they’d be uncomfortable about you being a noble, anyway.”
“I-is that so…?”
“If you can do one more thing for me, then I can probably make it happen.”
“What is it…?”
“There will be a war against the Lome Kingdom soon. I want you to play an active role in it.”
“…You’re telling me to fight in a war?”
Halsem’s face turned pale. He frantically shook his head in disapproval.
Tom beamed back at him.
“I’m not telling you to fight. I want you to deliver items as a merchant.”
“Deliver items…? I-if that’s all you want, I can do that. But…”
Transporting items as a merchant was surely something he could do. But there was still one thing that he was concerned about.
‘How important are these items? Are they going to determine the outcome of the war?’
Tom used a crystal ball to make a call.
After a while, a knock was heard and Tom smiled.
The person on the other side of the door seemed to hesitate for a few moments before finally opening the door.
It was Ellin.
A few other humans entered after her.
“W-why did you call me here?” Ellin asked hesitantly and with an awkward expression.
Tom found this mystifying but didn’t let it show.
Strangely, Ellin had been avoiding him after the return of Aylans ambassadors and their representative, Akareal, three months ago. Tom had noticed this some time ago and was extremely uncomfortable about the whole thing because he had no idea about why she was doing it. But at the same time, he hadn’t wanted to just spring it on her suddenly. He had been hoping that she’d come to him after a while to explain herself.
He also had many other things on his mind and had been distracted.
‘It seems like she heard something from Akareal… I’m curious about what it is.’
But, for now, he needed to focus on the preparation for the Lome Kingdom’s invasion. After glancing at Ellin and the Dopplegangers disguised as humans behind her, he shifted his gaze over to Halsem.
“Do you know what kind of demon Ellin is?”
“…What do you mean by what kind of demon?”
“Isn’t she a Doppelganger? Disguised as a human…?”
“Yes. And all the people behind her are also Doppelgangers just like her.”
At Tom’s words, Halsem stared at Ellin and the Doppelgangers behind her with wide eyes. No matter how he looked at them, they still appeared like common, rural farmers.
“R-really? They look exactly like humans though…?”
“Even priests can’t tell whether these people right here are Doppelgangers or not unless they see their blood. Their ability to transform into humans is outstanding. I want you, Halsem, to transport these people.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Please transport them to Lome Kingdom.”
‘…Was he talking about this when he said transporting items?’
Halsem looked at Ellin and the doppelgangers. If it was these people, nobody but the Holy Kingdom would ever be able to tell that they were demons.
He would need to do something about their identities, though. He could pull this off if they were able to sneak in as a small group of merchants with fake names.
Ellin, listening in to the conversation, interrupted next.
“You called us here suddenly but are talking to each other by yourselves… What are you talking about?”
Ellin looked surprised. It was the first time Tom had called her by that title.
She liked it.
“I have a request.”
“What is it…?”
“It’s for Her Highness the Demon Lord and the Demon Kingdom. And something that could bring us to victory in the upcoming war with the Lome Kingdom!”
Ellin’s whole body tensed up at Tom’s tone of voice.
“Anything, just say it! Because I’ll do anything if it’s for the Demon Lord!”
Tom smiled before giving his orders.
“Please sneak into the royal family of Lome Kingdom.”
Ellin and Halsem’s expressions hardened.
A group of soldiers in heavy, sheet metal armor advanced. Their silvery armors were glossy and reflected the sunlight. Their horses were also armored and they glared forward with ferocious eyes while blowing air out their noses.
Knights were carrying their respective weapons as they rode. Long swords, lances, warhammers, maces, and many other weapons could be seen. The white vapor from their breath was visible as it passed through their helmets into the cool air.
The army was both dignified and intimidating, and the ground thundered with the hooves of thousands of horses.
A thousand knights with 30 thousand soldiers following after them. This was the army of the Lome Kingdom―the kingdom considered to have the best swordsmen and the strongest knights on the continent.
Pygni, who was leading them on his own horse, frowned at the disparity between his own equipment and that of those around him.
“This is unfair. I’m wearing this heavy armor…”
Pygni looked at Oskal beside him.
“…And yet some people are wearing only leather? I’m uncomfortable with this, hmph!”
Oscal was wearing leather armor that allowed him to move more easily and was riding his own horse.
He looked up at the sky as he replied to Pygni.
“Well there’s nothing we can do about it, right? Since it would put us in a tough position if the king died.”
“Don’t say ominous things. Why would I die? You’d die way before I would.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re both my sword and shield!”
“Haha!” Oskal burst out laughing.
Pygni looked at the huge city seen across the winter snowfield.
It was the Holy Kingdom’s capital city, Freitarok.
Pygni sighed as he looked at the city.
For them to get to the Demon Kingdom, they had to pass through either Aylans Kingdom or the Holy Kingdom. Since they were officially at war with Aylans Kingdom, they couldn’t travel the roads in that direction, so they had been forced to come through the Holy Kingdom, taking a detour even though it was troublesome.
‘…Ahh, I would invade the Holy Kingdom if I could.’
The huge gate of the capital city opened. Lome Kingdom’s knights traveled inside and found themselves on the streets. This was a city that had been praised as the center of the continent and the most luxurious place to live that you could find.
But contrary to what they expected, the city before them now was anything but. The knights stiffened uncomfortably at the tragedy welcoming them.
“G-give me food…!”
“S-save my child! My breast milk isn’t coming out! My child…please…!”
There were so many people begging on the street.
But the beggars weren’t the only ones there…
“Oi! You’re acting suspiciously!”
“Haha! Aren’t you a heretic? Why would anyone help you?”
“Oh, wow, Miss, you look amazing! Why don’t you come with me for a little while? I’ll allow you to experience my holy grace.”
People in black habits were roaming around the streets while using violence against the citizenry.
In the downtown area, there were traces of a large fire. Dead bodies were piled all over the place, frozen solid, that hadn’t been cleaned up or dealt with.
The beautiful city which used to be so full of life and prosperity not so long ago…had turned into hell.
Pygni shifted his gaze to the side.
The heads of the priests and the cardinals that had revolted against Salem and had been caught a few months ago were displayed on the houses all over the capital city.
It looked like there were thousands of them.
“…Awful. Oskal. Is your friend really this big of a monster?”
Oskal broke out in a cold sweat. He hadn’t known that Salem’s madness was this extreme.
“Welcome! King Pygni and General Oskal.”
Pygni looked up as a small group approached them.
They were black priests, members of a group of inquisitors that operated directly under the Pope. They looked up at Pygni with mocking expressions. One of them reached into his shabby cassock and scratched at his belly.
The muscles on Pygni’s eyes twitched at the group’s behavior and their open disrespect.
‘Welcome…? Their words are so short. On top of that, they’re quite cocky.’
It also meant that they were looking down on Pygni.
Since the black priests were a group that had been formed using prisoners, this behavior was to be expected.
‘Why the heck is this country getting bigger instead of failing miserably? Is this what’s left from such a horrid system?’
A political system based on disordered and destructive tendencies. The Pope only got more powerful instead of losing everything in this sort of system.
Pygni glared at the black priests before glancing at Oskal.
“Don’t take out your sword.”
“…Wouldn’t it be okay for just a little…?” Oscal was gripping his sword handle, clearly not pleased with what he was seeing either.
‘I’d cut his head off if I could, too.’
A diplomatic conflict would happen if he did, though.
After truly grasping just what sort of man the Pope had to be to allow the capital to devolve into such a disgusting state, Pygni gained a newfound fear for him.
— Ω —