33. Facing the Demon Lord (2)
“Arrrgh! I keep thinking about this, but why do I have to do it? Am I some kind of cartographer? Not that I mind since it’s fun… I just don’t understand! Why do I have to make sure those numbskull gnoll scouts won’t get lost? Those bastards have good senses and excellent physical abilities, but how come they won’t understand anything other than a detailed map! Hah! This is why we from the engineering battalion are suffering.” The goblin scratched his head in annoyance. “Besides, why does someone from the engineering battalion have to draw a map? We’re a battalion meant for equipment maintenance and supplies! We’re the ones who are supposed to be getting the geography from the scouting party, not the other way around! Shit, this is why I don’t understand those beasts. How are they any different than wild demons?”
The goblin shook his head. He was using a feather quill to draw a line on the map. Without a single stutter, the line’s thickness changed with minute adjustments of strength in his hand. He smoothly drew out the outline of the map without a single moment of hesitation, despite his grumblings.
The meticulously drawn image was quickly being materialized through the goblin’s unfaltering hands. A proper image from bird’s-eye view was forming. It was more accurate than any other maps Tom had seen in the continent so far, a level of technique that humans could not replicate.
“Good! If I just draw a bit more…”
The goblin turned his head over his shoulder while sketching when he felt something strange. His thick, lengthy crooked nose sniffed and followed the unfamiliar smell.
“What? This smell? Human? It smells like humans…? But it might be a bit different…? Sniff Sniff… Sniff Sniff… Hm? It smells like it’s right beside me…”
The goblin raised his head, and his eyes met with the apprentice Holy Knight whose head was sticking out of the bush. Tom saw the goblin and brightly smiled.
“Oh… yes… Hello.”
The goblin lowered his head in greeting, then turned back to his map.
“Now, should I get back to work… huh?”
The goblin realized something was weird and tilted his head.
‘I thought I saw a human?’
The goblin’s lips twitched. When he turned his head, the apprentice Holy Knight was staring intensely at him.
The goblin was so surprised that the feather quill he held fell out of his hand and onto the map. Thanks to that, the carefully drawn map became ruined.
“Nooo! My map! Before that, a human!”
The goblin quickly fell on his bottom, feeling jittery all over. Cold sweat appeared on his brow as he pointed toward the apprentice Holy Knight with his finger.
“You… You, what are you! Human? Why is there a human in this place!”
Tom came out of the bush, tidied away the leaves covering his body from head to toe, and shook the trembling goblin’s hand.
“I didn’t intend to surprise you… I’m sorry. Excuse me, but I wanted to ask for directions. Is that okay?”
“… Oi! Don’t get all chummy with me, human! Just what are you! Saying ‘Can I ask for directions’ all politely like some passing dimwitted ogre scratching its head…?!”
“That’s quite an interesting expression.”
“Who gives a hoot if it’s interesting! Answer my…”
The goblin looked curiously at the human’s clothing. A white uniform with a silver quilted leather armor above it. While there wasn’t a cross etched into it, he could tell that it was the quintessential uniform of the apprentice Holy Knights. He looked in such disbelief at the sight that his eyes twitched.
“H-holy Knight? Not even some adventurer, but a Holy Knight is talking to me?!”
“Yes, I am a lost Holy Knight. If it’s not too inconvenient, the directions…”
“It’s inconvenient, for sure! Even from before! Are you out of your mind?! You’re not some adventurer, but a Holy Knight talking to a demon?! Aren’t you the bastards that would normally draw your sword and lick it while laughing ‘Oohehe! Let me drink your demon’s blood!’”
“…It’s a different interpretation than the Holy Knights I know, but are the Holy Knights nowadays really like that?”
Tom looked shocked, but the goblin only reached for his brow as though he felt a migraine coming on.
“This is a dream, right? A Holy Knight acting like he’s completely ignoring me! No, could it be…! Is this sinister Holy Knight only acting polite to get me to put down my guard and stab me in the back? Et tu, Brute?”
“…I’m not really that bad? Also, do you even understand what you’re saying?”
“I don’t know! It’s a language that you humans use! Why have you been talking to me normally since a while ago?!”
The goblin was struggling in confusion. Seeing this, Tom spoke sympathetically to the perplexed goblin.
“Now, what has caused you such confusion?”
“…Your tone is conflicting for starters.”
The goblin was genuinely struggling with what the unfamiliar Holy Knight was saying. In reality, he had to pull out his weapon and be on guard whenever he saw a human, but he had lost the timing on that. More than anything, the human Holy Knight didn’t appear to even have a weapon. The human didn’t even think about attacking him, one of the 12 apostles, Kulvo.
He was still an apostle by title, and his pride wouldn’t allow for him to attack an unarmed Holy Knight without any hostility.
‘Let’s just think about this carefully. The opponent is a Holy Knight, and I’m a demon. But, we’re having a conversation? Wait, did I just say ‘we’?! Now, let’s take a step back and try to think about what his scheme is. Is he aiming for my back? No, he would’ve attacked me before I noticed him in that case! Then why? Wait, what did that Holy Knight say before?’
Kulvo turned to Tom to speak.
“Human, what did you say your goal was?”
Kulvo walked through the forest, feeling ridiculous. He looked at the terrain here and there in an attempt to regain his focus, then tried to continue drawing by placing his pen onto the map. Still, Kulvo felt cold sweat as he peeked at his back.
Kulvo saw Tom, who continued to follow him, and let out a sigh in exasperation. His opponent was extremely careful. He kept a polite distance between them in order to not get in his way, but also in consideration of the fact that Kulvo was wary of him. It was this attentiveness that made Kulvo even more confused.
“Just what are you!?”
“I’m here to simply ask for directions.”
“Hah, Mr. Lost Holy Knight. If that’s the case, why not ask that Almighty God you all believe in? Who knows, your God might say, ‘Ah~ my poor lamb! I shall show you the way’, and come down?”
Tom blinked at his words and gathered his hands to pray.
“Lord, Artarrk! I pray to thee to lead me to the right path!”
After a moment of silence, Tom looked at Kulvo with a smile.
“Seeing as there’s no answer, God must be bad with directions as well.”
“Tell me. You’re not actually a Holy Knight, right?! Are you some adventurer cosplaying as a Holy Knight?! What a troublesome human! Won’t you be tortured and killed if you were caught acting as a Holy Knight? Is it really alright to be so brazen?”
“No, I’m indeed a Holy Knight. Probably. I also have faith in God! Perhaps God is busy taking care of… other poor lambs?”
“Why wasn’t that last part so smooth?! Also, don’t ask me about it! Normally, Holy Knights don’t talk about their God like that!”
“Well, it’s just that my faith is so lacking… Truthfully, regardless of what God does, it’s our faith in him that matters the most. As it is hard to expect a miracle during any hardship, I believe it’s best to resolve it with your own strength.”
“Now you’re just openly admitting it?!”
“In any case, the directions…”
Kulvo shook his head.
‘Don’t get caught up in that Holy Knight’s pace! At this rate, my headache will only get worse. Let’s just tell him the directions.’
“Fine, I’ll answer you! Lucky for you, I’ve drawn the geography, territories, and the roads of the Demon Kingdom and the Human Kingdom and have kept it all in my head! There is probably no one alive that could match me!”
Tom clapped as he watched Kulvo speaking so proudly.
“Oh! That’s amazing.”
When Tom clapped with genuine admiration in his face, Kulvo kept his chin up with great pride. As he did so, his body twitched, thinking back on himself.
‘What the hell am I doing?! Being flattered by the words of some human!’
However, he couldn’t do anything about this feeling that raised his thick nose so high, almost pointing to the sky.
“Okay, where are you headed? I shall tell you!”
Tom smiled brightly and replied, “It’s the Demon Kingdom.”
Kulvo felt another heavy blow to his head.
“That’s so strange! If a human is lost, they would normally ask directions to the human territories!”
“No, I’m seeking the Demon Kingdom. I had purposely taken the shortest path and got lost in the forest.”
“And what’s your goal?! Could it be… a spy… It can’t be! This dumb-looking…!”
When Kulvo pointed at Tom, Tom shook his head in reply.
“That’s a bit too much, isn’t it? To say I’m dumb-looking. I’ve often heard I looked bright and wise…”
“Stop…! Ugh… speak your purpose! Then I might have some inclination to tell you the way.”
“I wish to meet the Demon Lord.”
“…Are you some wannabe hero?” Kulvo’s face grew cold as his hand reached back toward his bag. He was getting ready to pull out his weapon at any time. “Why are you trying to meet with the Demon Lord?”
“To pledge myself to her?”
“…Uwaaaagh! I’m going insane! Do I have dementia? Are you actually a hallucination? That’s it, isn’t it?”
Kulvo began throwing a tantrum in disbelief. He just couldn’t believe his eyes or ears.
“It was just a joke. Though I do want to meet her, I can’t do that.”
“Don’t joke around like that! What are you doing? Looking like you want to tour the Demon Kingdom…!”
“That sounds like something nice. I haven’t really looked around the Demon Kingdom properly…”
“Alright, stop. Please… I’m having a crisis of identity! A Holy Knight can’t be this naive!”
Tom saw that Kulvo looked like he was about to cry and burst into laughter. He was actually poking fun as his expressions were interesting. He felt the goblin could be a good actor with his skills.
“Haha, in truth, it’s for another reason.”
“…What is it?”
“I’m actually going to the strategic point on the battlefront.”
“…Ah, are you deployed to the Hero’s Allied Forces?”
Kulvo had heard that the Allied Forces had invaded the national borders of the Demon Kingdom.
‘Perhaps, the Holy Knight before him is one of them? If that’s the case, it’d be better to remove him ahead of time.’
According to the most recent report he had heard, Karakul was courageously impeding their path. He had heard that, in actuality, the Hero’s Allied Forces were being pushed back. It wouldn’t be long before they were defeated and beaten home.
‘No, there is no need to kill him. The situation won’t change because of this bumbling Holy Knight.’
“Is he drafted? Hah, if there are Holy Knights like you in the battlefield, it would only make it harder to fight. This is why I hate war.”
Kulvo gave a loud sigh. The human hadn’t hesitated in approaching the demon in a friendly manner and spoke with a grin without any deception. The smile he made every time he teased him was a truly honest one, and he couldn’t find any faults with it. It was more than obvious that he had to be a Holy Knight from some backwater part of the countryside, oblivious to the world.
Kulvo had heard that there were times that some Holy Knights were deemed in low regard despite their title. This was the case when they were assigned to a completely distant area with an unknown name. These people were drafted for the sake of their family and would end up dying for it as well. Just like the rookie soldiers dragged along by the Hero’s Allied Forces meant to serve as meat shields.
‘This is why I say humans are vile! To force men like him into the battlefield! Are they so happy to kill them off like this?! What madness!’
Kulvo peeked at Tom. As the Hero’s Allied Forces were being defeated consecutively, they would soon retreat. If this Holy Knight were to join the army at that point, he would survive.
‘Che, I’m not telling you because I like you! It’s because I’ll feel icky when I sleep if someone like you died!’
“Fine, I’ll tell you.” Kulvo dug through his bag and pulled out a single map. “This is a map of the border area.”
‘…Well, it’s an incomplete map that I stopped mid-way, and I used the human army’s map as a reference, so nothing classified should be leaked. Still, there should be enough information for him to find his own way with it.’
Tom tilted his head as he received the map.
“The geography is not marked on it.”
“The complete map is classified. Do you think I’d hand that over? I’ll explain this in plain words. See that mountain over there? Cross it. Then, look at the map and climb through another mountain, and you’ll find the Hero’s Allied Force.”
“I see. I really appreciate your efforts.” Tom nodded and grabbed a leather pouch around his waist. “Ah, for compensation.”
“It’s fine. What could a country hick Holy Knight like you even have…”
Even still, Kulvo peeked at him as if thinking ‘Maybe?’
“I’ve heard in the past that Goblin-folks appreciate shiny objects?”
“Silver coins? You have silver coins?!”
Tom brought out the jewels he was carrying.
“Would this be enough?”
Kulvo’s eyes grew wide with shock. He was given jolt after jolt today, this one being the biggest one.
“…No, isn’t this a large sum for humans as well? Do you think I’d take this?”
“…Your hands are more honest than your words, though.”
Kulvo grabbed the jewels. Goblins particularly loved gold and gems. Rather than using them for economic purposes, they had a hobby of collecting them.
Kulvo used the magnifying glass attached to his eye and carefully inspected the jewels.
“…Mm, good. These are particularly good pieces to add to my collection! Even still, I can’t help but not feel bad. This is too much for a single map! I’ll have to give you a gift as well to make up.” Kulvo put down his bag and began to dig through it with his hands. “You bastard, honestly, I don’t really like you, but you’re starting to grow on me even if you are a Holy Knight! Yep, that’s right. You’re different than those other crazed, scary bastards that only know their faith blindly!”
He pulled something out of his bag while grumbling.
He held out a long telescope.
“Let’s see, what else would be good…”
Kulvo could not find anything that could compare in value to the jewels, so he was stomping his feet in annoyance.
“Sorry, I don’t have anything appropriate to give you.”
“It’s fine. However…”
Something within Kulvo’s possessions caught Tom’s eyes; it was wrapped carefully in a cloth covered in runes.
Kulvo looked at it and replied directly, “Ah, that. It’s food made by Your Highness.”
Tom stared back at him speechlessly
“Well, I’m just as speechless to know that the Highness cooks. There’s nothing dignified about cooking for her subordinates, either. Even so, she’s kind and friendly. She doesn’t fit the role of Demon Lord, don’t you think? For such a female to be sitting on such a weighty throne. Humans should know this as well, but the current Demon King doesn’t suit her role. That’s right, to be used and killed like this…”
Kulvo frowned as he spoke. What did he think he could achieve by venting his frustrations at this Holy Knight? He had met a person he had warmed to after so long that his tongue had grown looser without realizing it.
“Well, it’s just mashed potatoes with sliced fruits and spices all stuffed in a loaf of bread. The cloth has preservation magic to make sure the food doesn’t spoil for weeks.”
“Can’t you give that to me?”
Kulvo looked at Tom in surprise.
“What? Something like this would be enough? Well, it does have food preservation magic, and that has some value of its own, but it shouldn’t compare to jewels?”
“Yes, it’s fine. The food is enough. It’ll be a meal that’ll be hard to trade for anything.”
Kulvo didn’t understand.
‘A meal that he can’t trade for anything? Well, indeed, when would he get the opportunity to eat food made personally by the Demon King?’
However, Kulvo suspected that there might be some other meaning behind his words.
“Well, if it makes you happy.”
Tom picked up his reward.
— Ω —