105. Undecided (3)
Oskal gritted his teeth. In his heart, he wanted to separate Salem’s neck from his head regardless of Pygni’s order.
“…Be patient. There will be an opportunity in the future.”
Oskal opened his mouth in response to Pygni’s low muttering.
For the first time ever… Oskal spoke to Salem after he became Pope. As though he found the response amusing, Salem looked surprised.
“Ooh! Oskal, you initiated a conversation…? How long has it been? You haven’t even spoken to me at all after our time in the Hero’s Party…? But, your words seem a bit short. You forgot my title: Your Holiness, the Pope?”
Oskal ignored Salem’s taunts and continued, “This battle will settle my debt to you. Know this.”
“…Our debt will be settled as well…? Hah, that’s weird. Isn’t it obvious that the Kingdom of Lome will participate in this battle as an ally?”
“There was also the matter of your earlier request.”
Salem’s eyes narrowed at Pygni’s sudden interference.
“…Well, fine. You win, but make sure you remember this,” Salem looked at Pygni and beamed, “all those heretics that have revolted against me… Slaughter them all. That is an order of the Pope.”
With that, it was decided that the Holy Kingdom would provide a supply route for invading the Demon Kingdom to the army of the Kingdom of Lome. Also, per the Pope’s orders, a new Hero’s Party would be formed to participate in the campaign alongside Lome’s army. Pygni glared at the distant palace as he left the capital of the Holy Kingdom.
“Order…? He must think of himself to be a god or something. That’s a man that won’t live long.”
Pygni gritted his teeth. He wouldn’t soon forget such an insult.
Tom turned to the window while sifting through a mountain of documents. It was already late at night. Lulu, who had been waiting on him, had already fallen asleep in the corner of his office from exhaustion, so it felt rude to make a request to him. Tom assumed he had accumulated a lot of fatigue from serving both Demon Lord Lily in the morning and himself at night.
‘I would feel bad waking him… Well, should I just go find something for myself…?’
Tom rose from his seat. He walked through the palace’s hallways with a lantern in hand. When the Orcs standing guard noticed Tom, they lowered their heads in greeting.
‘…Ellin should arrive and begin infiltrating the royal family soon.’
And Lome’s army should be moving toward the Demon Kingdom to invade as well. According to his information, Pygni, who was the king, was said to be accompanying his army. It wasn’t that his martial prowess was outstanding, but he had a tradition of participating in every war his kingdom took part in, big or small.
‘I’ve heard that he’s the son of a concubine… A child of a servant rising to take the throne.’
Considering this, it appeared that he was struggling to prove his own authority regarding his ‘bloodline’, without care for what he had to do to accomplish that.
‘For a king to personally participate in war… It’s dangerous, but also a good method to raise soldiers’ morale.’
Plus, all the glory would go to the king in case of victory, which would have a good effect on solidifying his sovereignty.
‘Was it Pygni…? Oskal should be serving him, I think.’
Tom headed to the palace cafeteria. The goblin chefs who had prepared food earlier had already gone to their own rooms to sleep, as they were nowhere to be found. Tom confirmed that there was no one around before searching through the storage for something to eat. He found a bottle of wine and pieces of bread, placing them on a platter and heading toward the cafeteria’s balcony.
‘…This body doesn’t feel hunger. There’s nothing better for relieving stress than eating some snacks. Might it be better to be a human in cases like this…?’
With these thoughts, Tom opened the door to the balcony. As he was looking forward, he noticed that another guest had arrived before him. Underneath the glittering moonlight, someone in a black robe was sitting on a table, eating pieces of bread.
‘…Is it a woman?’
Their back looked like a woman’s. Their figure was slim and the hand around their wine glass was also slender. While observing this fellow night owl, Tom approached them. Even though they looked human, seeing that they were in the palace, they had to be another demon. They had likely snuck out to satisfy their night cravings. Now that it had come to this point, Tom decided he might as well start a light conversation.
As Tom grew closer, the person must have felt his presence, as they carefully turned around. He could see pale silver hair, helical horns, bronze skin, and memorable red pupils staring back at him. It was Lily Golt, the Demon Lord. Both she and Tom froze as they recognized one another.
Her eyes grew wide. She was also surprised upon seeing Tom.
“…I have intruded upon you, then…”
Tom paused his steps and looked at Lily. Her hand was extended but also frozen as she smiled awkwardly.
“I am bored. If you have the time, could we talk… No…” Lily pointed toward the wine bottle. “Won’t you drink with me? It is lonely by myself.”
At the Demon Lord’s request, Tom ended up sitting with her without meaning to. Silence filled the air as the two drank from their glasses without talking.
Tom, sitting opposite of Lily, peeked at her.
‘…This is strangely uncomfortable.’
Hoping to loosen the mood, Tom initiated the conversation.
“So, what is Your Majesty doing here so late at night?”
Tom’s eyes turned to the robe covering her. She seemed to have worn it to avoid others’ detection, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t any guards. He could sense several hidden presences.
‘…The demons seem to be guarding her in secret.’
Of course, Lily was oblivious to the fact.
“I was hungry after work. Luli has also fallen asleep. I felt bad about waking her, so I ended up coming by myself. I came here in hopes of a simple meal, but…I grew curious about what the other demons ate. In the end, I snuck out some food to try.”
Tom’s gaze turned to the piece of bread and cheap wine that Lily was drinking. They were similar to what he had grabbed as well. Also, they appeared to be leftovers from today’s supper. He didn’t know about the average soldier, but it was much too shabby for a Demon Lord to eat. The food that Demon Lords ate was fundamentally different from what the ordinary demons ate.
“Even still, it’s all too demeaning for Your Highness.”
“But, I like this much more…?”
Lily smiled and held a slice of bread to her lips, biting a piece off. The more she chewed, the sweeter it tasted. Lily smiled as though she was quite happy.
“Especially since there’s no need to put on airs. I have to maintain courtesy while I’m with Lulu and Luli, so I can’t really enjoy the food.”
“It’s not always comfortable being king.”
Tom knew this feeling quite well. Royalty had great authority, but it came in exchange for their freedom. For Tom and the other Apostles, they had plenty of free time to enjoy themselves.
Lily looked contemplative as though she had thought of something. She peered over at Tom and quietly opened her mouth to speak cautiously.
“Perhaps… Have you truly not met me in the past?”
Tom was at a loss for words. He didn’t quite understand her insinuation behind the words ‘in the past’.
“…What do you mean, Your Highness?”
“Yes, before I became the Demon Lord.”
“…No, how could I have? But why are you asking…?”
Tom waved his hand casually, but he still held some worries. It shouldn’t be the case, but perhaps some fragments of her past life remained…or something like that.
‘No, that can’t be true.’
Tom smiled bitterly and held his glass.
Tom’s eyes grew wide at the mention of a familiar name. His hand trembled faintly, and he began to sweat. He was feeling conflicted as all kinds of emotions swelled within him, all because of that one word uttered by Lily. Happiness, expectation, confusion, and fear; but, most of all, the desire to know how she knew that name
As Tom’s eyes remained locked on Lily, she continued.
“In the past, you called me by this name when you first met me.”
“…When you were young?”
Tom could not understand what she was talking about. In the distant past, Tom had indeed met her. It was in the former capital of the Holy Kingdom, Lania, after she was reincarnated.
‘Aah, that’s right. Could it be that Lily still has memories of that meeting?’
Tom felt empty. He was once again reminded that she had no memories of their former lives. Nevertheless, he felt happy that she had recalled an event from such a distant time. Even still, he was now stuck between two choices of what to do next: he could tell her that he too remembered that day, or pretend that such an event was little more than a figment of her imagination.
‘But, even if I discuss that day, it doesn’t explain my actions.’
It was also complicated for many different reasons. It might be better if he just ignored it altogether. If Ellin knew that they had talked about Ellie, it was obvious she would pester him more than ever.
When Tom tried to speak, Lily took the momentary silence as an affirmation, as she continued to talk.
“Could it be that this person called Ellie was someone that looked just like me? But, it’s strange. Ellin should be the one who looks like me… But now that I think about it, Ellin and Ellie…the names are similar too. Could it be that Ellin met her as a child? If that’s the case, it would be strange for you to have confused her with me…”
When Lily tilted her head and continued to mutter, seemingly to herself, Tom swallowed drily, trying to control his expression.
‘…She might even ask Ellin if things go wrong!’
In reality, he felt somewhat relieved at the fact that Ellin had been dispatched to Lome. He now had more time to find a solution. He either had to come up with an excuse, or hope that she forgot about this matter before Ellin returned. However, if Lily mentioned the name ‘Ellie’ to Ellin, it would quickly become complicated.
Realizing this, Tom spoke with a forced smile,
“Your Majesty. I’m sorry, but I don’t really know…”
Lily looked disappointed.
‘…Is he trying to act dumb?’
Although Tom was trying his best to conceal it, he had definitely reacted severely when she tried to push the name Ellie. It proved that the name had a completely different weight altogether.
“Do you really not know?”
“Ah, now that I look at it, you seem to have gotten much busier. Since the Kingdom of Lome is attacking, you must be busy with all manner of different things.”
He tried to evade the topic for a second time. As Lily couldn’t harp on it anymore, she faintly smiled and nodded.
“Yes, it’s gotten a bit harder in many ways…”
“Work is important, but so is rest. Your Majesty is also the Demon Lord. If something happens to Your Majesty, everyone will be worried.”
Lily drank some wine. Her face grew slightly rosy, and her eyes began to droop as fatigue set in. She had been tired before, but she was now getting sleepy due to the alcohol. Lily rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand.
“If you’re tired, you should go to sleep.”
“I suppose I should…”
Lily rose from her seat. She peered down from the palace’s balcony and watched the capital’s streets. It was bright from the lights even late into the night, and some nocturnal demons were wandering about. Seeing them, Lily said,
“Tom, how do you wish for this place to change?”
“…What do you mean?”
Lily covered her mouth, let out a yawn, and muttered with tired eyes,
“The nation that you desire.”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t thought of it before.”
“Is that so…?”
Lily covered herself with her robe. She was thinking of retiring to her room while sneaking back through the palace.
Seeing her preparing to leave, Tom opened his mouth, feeling a bit regretful.
“What kind of country does Your Majesty desire?”
“What kind of country? Well… Like you, I haven’t thought about it much either.”
“Yes, but… if I think about it carefully from this point…” Lily smiled widely. “I wish for it to be a nation where all demons will be happy.”
“I wish everyone in the world would become happy.”
Tom was dumbfounded, recalling what Ellie had said so long ago. Seeing him making that expression, Lily spoke bitterly.
“You also think it’s nonsense, right? Of course, it’s not something that could be achieved so easily. But, with effort, I think that even if it’s impossible for all, some demons could be happy. A world more comfortable, more peaceful, more free, more happy, with less hunger, and less strife than now. I want to make that kind of a nation. A place that the demons can choose to call home.”
Tom stared blankly at Lily, her image merging with Ellie’s in his mind. The one wish of Ellie; Lily, her reincarnation, was speaking it verbatim. Without appearing to have recalled her past life, she declared her wish in the spur of the moment. Reflecting on this, he muttered to himself,
“…As I thought, a completely different person.”
Lily looked at him and tilted her head in confusion.
“But, it looks as if her heart hasn’t changed a bit.”
“What do you mean…?”
“No, nothing at all.” He looked directly into her red pupils. “Your Majesty, you just asked whether you looked like the person called Ellie. Yes, you look similar. Her appearance, her personality, and her friendly nature. That is, as such…” Tom smiled naturally, “I came to this place to protect you.”
Lily, taking in his bright expression, couldn’t think of a reply. At that moment, someone interrupted their chat.
Lulu and Luli entered the balcony. The twins tried to maintain their formality to the best of their ability despite their sleepy appearance.
“So you were here. We have come to escort you.”
“It’s time to sleep.”
Lily nodded, looking regretful.
— Ω —