112. Undecided (10)
Inside the commander’s tent, Pygni scrawled words on a page. He concluded his writing of a letter, then stamped the king’s seal upon it and tied it to the carrier hawk’s leg.
“Ey, fly as quickly as you can,” Pygni said to the bird. “I’ll give you extra meat.”
The Hawk squawked knowingly.
Night had fallen swiftly in the Demon Kingdom, and the occupied City of Twilight was filled with darkness. Soldiers formed a barricade upon the wall, torches in their hands and watchful of sudden ambushes. Pygni walked up there, Oskal by his side, telling himself that he just wanted to enjoy the cool night air. However, he couldn’t help but peek over at the glittering eyes in the nearby forest and the shadows of Harpies flying freely in the sky. The sight filled him with anxiety, and he couldn’t look away.
“…Dear lord, they can see us, but we can’t see them,” Oskal said as he sucked at his teeth. “Might as well serve us up on a platter. ”
“The fact that they don’t approach means that they don’t want to underestimate us. It’s a smart decision, but, in this case, their caution may work in our favor.”
Pygni let loose the hawk perched upon his stamping hand. The hawk flew off toward the Kingdom of Lome.
“… Did the Capital send word?”
“I’m requesting some additional soldiers,” Pygni said while shaking his head. “No matter how you cut it, we’re 20,000 short. With any luck, that Harpy swarm won’t intercept our message. Our Hawks are faster, so it should be okay.”
“I’m surprised. Do we need 20,000 more men just to defend this place?” .
“Defend? ”Pygni asked smugly. “I mean to attack, of course. ”
“…Against the demons? They certainly are strong looking. I hate to admit it, but it’ll be difficult with just our knights.”
“That’s why I’m trying to get 20,000 men more. The enemy will likely believe that we are looking to hold our position. That we’ll just draw time until one side is forced to negotiate.” Pygni’s lips curled into a sneer. “Such faith in a forgone conclusion…Won’t it be fun to overturn it?” Pygni began to walk. Oskal followed behind. “Let’s go meet our heroes that will bring us victory in this war. They will soon depart.”
“… Are you thinking of attacking now?”
“The enemy has shown their hesitation to attack us. They know that if they besiege us, they will take casualties as well. But without the ability to retreat, they are desperate and unpredictable. We can’t afford to wait and see what they are planning, so we will take initiative.”
Pygni arrived at the Heroes tent. When he entered, Aris, the Female Magician, held her staff and got to her feet. Her preparations laid beside her, Aris sharp gaze turned to Pygni. Her fearsome steps advanced towards him.
“… Please move aside.”
Pygni instinctively complied.
He frowned even as he said this. Was he not the king of a nation? Who was she, Hero or not, to tell him to move aside?
Pygni tried to get angry, but he lost the chance. Aris turned to Pygni, slightly lowered her head, and left the tent.
“… Am I not the leader of the army, as king?” Pygni murmured to Oskal. “Am I really lacking that much authority?”
Oskal shrugged his shoulders.
“I may have picked the wrong Hero’s party,” Pygni muttered.
He shouldn’t have brought the female magician of the former Hero’s Party with a pension for vengeance. Aris’s grudge might needlessly endanger the success of the occupation.
‘Pope Salem, if you were going to give me anyone, why did you give me this party member?’
“I-I’m sorry, Your Highness!”
Peter approached in a panic and lowered his head as an apology. Seeing this, the bruise in Pygni’s heart from that recent incident faded.
“Aah, it’s fine. It is true that I was in her way. In any case…”
Pygni’s gaze turned back. The archer, Luis, greeted Pygni and resumed packing his things.
“You must have finished your preparations?” Pygnie asked Peter.
“Of course! Food, Holy Water, potions, and the rest of our equipment are all ready!”
“Good. I’m not sure if I asked too much of you.”
“Of course not! It is simply a matter of course. Now that I have become a Hero, it is only natural that I would subjugate the Demon Lord!”
“Kidnapping, not subjugation. Remember that.”
Peter looked at Pygni dumbly, and after a moment of silence, he let out an exclamation.
It was Pygni that felt even more nervous due to that delayed reaction. Oskal approached Pygni and whispered in his ear.
“… We’re trusting this bumbling idiot?”
“Honestly, I’m nervous as well. Shit, I’m the idiot that asked a favor from the Pope. There was no way that a Hero he picked out would be normal? It’s not like I can retreat my forces at this point…”
Retreating at this point would result in severe losses. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Pygni peeked at Peter once more before making a fake cough.
“Then I’ll leave it to you.
“Of course! Ah, I was thinking I should chase after Aria…”
Peter stared at the entrance blocked by Pygni.
“…Yes. I’m sorry I got in your way.”
Pygni’s eye twitched as he moved aside again. When Peter left, the only member of the Hero’s party that remained in the tent was Luis. Luis awkwardly approached him and lowered his head.
“I’m sorry. Aris is drowning in her emotions and Peter doesn’t know anything of formality…”
“… As long as the mission is successful, I won’t complain. Rather, I’ll be grateful to you all.”
“I appreciate you saying as much.”
Luis lowered his head. When he raised his head again, there was a pure white crystal before his eyes. He turned to Pygni quizzically, who was holding the crystal.
“A crystal ball. Developed for communication by the Kingdom of Aylans over distances incomparable to conventional means. I haven’t tested it yet, but it probably allows for communication as far as the capital of the demons.”
Luis accepted the crystal ball, unsure what to do.
“It’s single-use and can only be used for about 10 minutes. After that, the crystal ball will shatter. Contact me if there is some emergency or…”
“Upon our success, not failure, contact me. At the moment you capture the Demon Lord. That will be the moment of our victory.”
Count Cyria strutted through the capital of the Kingdom of Lome in a gaudy, gold-embroidered outfit. A man in his early 30s, he flaunted his cane and ran his fingers, each of them sporting offensively bright and glittering gems, through his bushy beard. With a rough-looking face, he may have believed that he walked with dignity, class, and decorum, but to the people on the street, his parade was unsightly.
‘The Count and his guards again? They’re exhausting! I should have just participated in the invasion of the Demon Kingdom instead.’
As knights that were fully aware of this fact, there was nothing more difficult than walking through the market streets guarding The Count. They commiserated with the people, often fantasizing about participating in the war, where they might earn reputation and prestige.
“Make way! Make way! Count Cyria is coming through!”
The Count, not the knights, announced his coming and spun his cane shamelessly. The residents of Lome cleared a path or lowered their voices to a murmur, glaring at The Count.
Count Cyria was an established noble, and here he felt like it: While his father didn’t approve of him and berated him, and while there were many more nobles of higher authority than him at the palace, walking the streets of the capital reminded him of the pride and respect that his position in society owed him. Whenever he walked the streets, the residents tactfully made a path for him with their heads lowered, allowing him to feel like a king in his own mind.
‘Aah, true recognition! If I could become a great noble down the line, everyone would probably gather to watch! Just like these lowly citizens!’
Count Cyria, who wagged his tail while being unable to meet their gaze before his superiors, fostered his ambitions and dreamed an impossible dream. As he closed his eyes and imagined himself sovereign, someone quickly ran in front of him.
A woman noticed The Count and quickly tried to avoid him, but she faltered, tripping over herself and colliding with him. Cyria’s cane flew into the air with a thud and Count Cyria fell upon his butt.
“Oof! Who was that? Just who’s the crazy bitch…!”
Count Cyria froze when he saw the woman before him.
“T-that is… Sorry, no, I beg…for forgiveness!”
The woman raised her head. Her black hair flowed with a stunning sheen, and between the strands, her pale white skin could be seen. He could sense a strange charisma from her clear black eyes, which felt as deep as the ocean itself. Count Cyria stared at the woman, Ellin, dumbfounded. A breeze blew past, and a pleasant scent from her reached his nose.
“Oh, My! I made a mistake! I ended up colliding with you because I was distracted. Are you a very powerful looking noble!?”
Ellin’s tone was stiff and odd, like out of a book. The knights guarding The Count regarded her suspiciously.
“…She’s a suspicious one.”
“Count, let’s first capture her and hand her over to the guards…!”
“What are you saying! How dare you besmirch this delicate woman’s honor!”
Count Cyria hopped up and kicked the knights with his foot, then howled in pain, clutching his foot. The knights, wearing plate armor, didn’t appear hurt at all. Count Cyria hopped around for a few more seconds, then suddenly lowered himself and held his hand out to Ellin.
“Hmmm! Miss, you have to be careful.”
Ellin took the count’s hand with an awkward smile. The Count swallowed drily, spying her pale skin through her loose clothes. He helped her up, then asked salaciously,
“Are you hurt anywhere?”
“Ah, I’m okay…sir. So, your hand…”
Ellin’s right eye twitched. His grip on her hand and his suggestive gaze made her uncomfortable. Count Cyria kissed the back of her hand, sending goosebumps along her spine.
“As an apology for this incident, how about a cup of tea…”
“You tra…!” Ellin barely held back the profanity from escaping her lips before speaking with balled up fists
“B-before that…” Ellin pointed toward an alley in the city with a trembling finger. “I-I left something important over there…”
“Yes, it’s a deserted and very secluded place.”
Count Cyria smiled knowingly.
‘Aah, I see. This woman is coming onto me. She’s looking to hook up with someone cool like me and live well!’
“… Of course! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
Count Cyria held Ellin’s hand and led the way without any urging. The knights tried to dissuade The Count in a panic.
“Wait…! Lord Count! This is suspicious no matter how you see it!”
“Isn’t this strange?”
“What’s strange? This woman is plainly saying that she wants me…! You guys don’t have to come! The woman only needs me anyways! Now, now! Hurry…!”
Count Cyria forcibly dragged Ellin’s hand as they went into the alley, his knights quickly following behind. After a few moments, the quiet alley turned noisy. The sound of ringing metal and a small scream could have been heard, had it not been for the din of the busy streets nearby. Moments after, Count Cyria was collapsed on the ground, foaming at the mouth. His knights were tied up in the nude, ropes covering their mouths and binding their hands and feet. The Doppelgangers grabbed the armor of the knights and one of them warped their face to match the Count’s
“D-disgusting! Water! Isn’t there any more water…?”
Ellin washed the hand that The Count had kissed, while Halsem wore the plate armor of the knights and looked down upon the foaming count.
“…This bastard, he’s a noble, right? No matter how stupid the nobles are, there can’t be anyone this stupid. Even in the Kingdom of Lome, the Kingdom of Wisdom, it looks like there are idiots like this.”
After looking down upon the unconscious count pitifully, he peeked around the corner to look at the residents walking the streets of the capital. His eyes were filled with sympathy.
“I wouldn’t want to live in a land managed by this idiot… The people of this area must have it hard.”
“…D-don’t ask me to do something like this next time!”
“There is no next time! You can’t act for shit! I was sure that we’d be discovered. Any other noble wouldn’t have fallen for your ruse; you’d have been arrested and tortured! Then whatever Tom had planned would have gone out the window!”
“…I-I did my best, so don’t judge me so harshly.”
Ellin was crushed, then she turned to the side.
“Well, whatever. We’re ready to go inside thanks to me!” She gave a thumbs up to the fake Count Cyria. “Now, I’ll leave this to you, Sir Count. Let us into the palace!”
— Ω —