36. Facing the Demon Lord (5)
Karakul felt awkward and stiff. As he sat down, he couldn’t get comfortable, shifting in his seat, a cold sweat gathering on him. He peeked at the person sitting next to him, feeling pressured. By all appearances, he looked way more nervous than Lily Golt just a while ago.
A waitress approached him and Tom. “Commander Karakul?” she said, immediately recognizing him. “Is everything alright? Mmm, managing the Hero’s allied forces must already be complicated enough, but I suppose it’s even more of a burden now that the Highness Demon King is here.”
She was a species of Ain that had a reptilian head and a bulky body. She had webbing that stretched along the crown of her head, between her fingers, and between her toes, as well as scales that extended down to her longtail. She wore a proper leather skirt, placing a plate full of drinks upon the table.
“Here, to relax… you look like you’re going to fall over.” Her eyes darted towards Tom. She flicked her tongue, sniffing his scent.
“Oh, a guest!” She nodded. “This is the first time I’ve smelled a scent like yours! Along with such a unique dress…Mister Karakul’s guest, I take it? Please take your time…”
She bowed with a flourish before retreating. Tom watched her go as he sipped his drink.“Amazing,” he said. “Lizardmen selling drinks…”
“This is a popular pub,” Karakul said. “They get fish from the swamp to ferment their drinks.”
Tom watched his cup with amazement. It was a frothing drink with liquid as clear as water. It was hard to imagine this was a drink made from swamp water or fermented fish.
“Even their drinks use such a unique method. Humans could never replicate this.”
“Demons really have their own way of things.” Karakul concurred.
As Tom brought his cup to his lips, Karakul peered at him. “What happened with Kelvin?”
“Since he loved gold so much, I turned him into a fancy golden cross.” Tom snickered. “I even etched something about 30 years ago to tease Salem. Wouldn’t he be surprised? He might even be trembling in fear.”
At this, Karakul sighed, his tension relieving somewhat. He took a swig of his drink before speaking again.“… How was it meeting Ellin again?”
“She’s very lively,” said Tom.
“Is that so?” Karakul’s face cleared.
“… She gambles away her money and fights every human she meets,” Tom added. “It’s good that she’s so lively, but she makes trouble.”
Karakul moaned. “I have no words. Due to her being with the Orcs so often…” he trailed off. Orcs were a dynamic and brash bunch. That being said, their ways seemed to suit Ellin.
Tom watched Karakul for a bit before steering the topic to Hell’s battlefront region and the battlefield between the City of Twilight and battle formation of the Hero’s Allied forces. There were many corpses littered there, and each of them were headless.
“… What was done to the humans’ heads?”
Tom had raised the question, but had suspected of the answer. He had also been a former hero. As they fought against the demons, he had encountered human heads being used as warning by the demons countless times. Karakul answered in a way he expected, but with an unexpected twist.
“I felt that even they should have their dead, so we sent it to them. We had even carefully preserved them in salt to prevent decay…”
“… You sent them the decapitated heads? It’s quite harsh as a warning. It must be why the Hero’s forces aren’t retreating, but rather they should be ready to fight to their death.”
“Did we do something wrong…? Did you say warning?”
“We have only sent them their heads so that the humans can perform their funeral rites.”
This was a tradition of the demons. As the soul wasn’t contained in the body, but the mind, they believed the head to be the most important part of the soul. This was why they believed that the flesh was nothing more than the physical shell while the head was the all-important dish containing the soul. As such, the demons burned the body during their funerals while the heads were carefully buried into the ground. This was their religion, tradition, and culture. It was from a completely different perspective from humans.
Tom pinched his brow. “…This is enough for humans to misunderstand.” The forces that received the heads would likely believe it to be a show of dominance, as Tom once did. For the humans, sending the enemy the heads of their dead was seen as cruel.
This was an example of the chasm that stood between humans and demons. Their appearance, religion, faith, culture, tradition, and perspectives were completely different. Time had expanded the rift behind their differences, and that rift had brought about war. There were now hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of years that turned the familiar into the ‘natural’. In areas where the two sides never tried to understand each other, these misunderstandings lead to continued conflict.‘The humans must be furious.’
Tom looked at Karakul before speaking again.“I saw that the Demon King, Lily Golt, had also come. How did that happen?”
Karakul appeared confused. “I’m… not sure about that exactly,” he said. Someone like the Demon King personally attending was out of place. “I will need to formally meet her first, then hear her story. From what I’ve heard so far, it appears that she received some letter, but I have yet to receive a report about the exact reasons.”
“Ah… well. It was nice to have seen her after so long, personally,” Tom said. “It has been, what, nearly 30 years now?” He watched the streets where Lily had passed through. Since she had disappeared, it was now an ordinary street. Still, Tom couldn’t take his eyes away from where she stood, her image seeming to linger.
Karakul watched Tom’s expression.“…You’ve changed since your last form.”
“Well, I guess you could call it the tendencies from when I was a human… It was a lot different since I had become the vassal of Arrtark. I had noticed many points as well,” Tom said. “In truth, I feel the best when I’m in this form.”
Karakul and Tom spoke a bit longer before Karakul rose from his seat. He wished to share more stories, but he couldn’t leave his position empty for long. As an apostle serving the Demon King, Karakul had to personally greet her. “Well, then… I will report anything regarding Salem if I receive any more information.”
“Okay,” Tom nodded.
Karakul bowed. He made to leave when he paused and turned back to Tom. “Actually, do you have a place to say?”
“Mm? Ah, Well… it looked like this bar served as an inn as well. I was thinking whether I should just stay here,” Tom said.“ As far as I can tell, the economy might be different, but It looks like they use the same gold, silver, and bronze coins as humans…”
“… Do you perhaps have any thoughts of staying at our camp?”
“Is that so?” Karakul mused. “I understand. I thought you’d like to see the Highness again, even if from a distance…”
Tom instinctively turned to look at Karakul, his eyes betrayed both doubt and desire. Karakul chuckled bitterly to himself. “… Would you like to come?”
Lily was frozen stiff. The army had led her to the largest tent on the Orcish campgrounds. She sat on a throne of logs, and dozens of high-ranking orcs had appeared to give her their adoration.
With their green flesh tempered with muscle and tusks protruding out of their mouths, the orc generals bowed toward her with a steadfast aura. On the one hand, she appreciated the gesture, but on the other hand, she felt it unnecessary. Despite her position as the Demon King, the orcs before her each had incredible strength and authority.
‘Can they even breathe?’
Watching them, frozen as statues, Lily wondered how they could take in air. A suffocating feeling came over her. ‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ she thought.
‘There’s nowhere to run.’
The generals had sealed every exit, and while the path in the center was left open, Lily didn’t have the gumption to walk past the burly orcs through it. She continued to fidget with the slime in her hands. The sky-blue slime cooed, as if pleased.
In an attempt to break the silence, she spoke. “Uh… Th… first… I want to hear a report. How are things faring against the Hero’s forces?”
The orc general at the front spoke.
“Yes, I will make the report. Currently, 8,000 orc soldiers have been deployed in preparation of an assault from the Hero’s forces which is estimated to be at 15,000 men…!”
Lily’s eyes grew wide hearing the report. Isn’t that twice the number of orcs?! She had also heard the humans had proper equipment on their side.
‘Is it truly as dangerous as I heard?!’
She felt strength enter her hands. She was the Demon King, the sole ruler of the demons, their sovereign, and their leader. She felt the incredible burden at the prospect of countless demons being slain upon the humans invasion into Hell’s borders. She reassured her powerless self.
‘I have to help in any way! I will ask the other apostles for reinforcements when I return to the capital! With good stuff that could be used as equipment…! Yes, I’ve heard that logistics were also important! I should also ask the Goblin’s logistics team so that supplies aren’t delayed…’
She had, in her own way, attempted to gather knowledge on what to do regarding administration befitting her position. She felt that the only thing she could do in her position as a puppet king was to gather knowledge and assist them. However, seeing her as a figurehead, her servants ignored her. The apostles had gone against what she wanted to do. Remembering these slights, her hands began to grip into fists.. The slime began to squeal, and Lily relaxed in surprise.
“Ah, I’m sorry.”
The orc general glanced at the Demon King before continuing.
“… Currently, the orc army records 7 bouts and 7 wins while the Hero’s allied forces suffered 7 defeated resulting in retreat.”
Lily’s eyes grew wide.
‘… They won?’
She had definitely heard that they were ‘suffering defeats and were cornered’ at the palace. Was the report a lie?
‘Was there some kind of mistake?’
“There were no defeats?”
“… We, the orcs, have suffered no defeats currently.”
She felt puzzled by the orc general’s report. Also, she began to recall the werewolf who had delivered the letter. The werewolf slave. They had sent the letter.
A letter written in error?
Lily unconsciously began to think of the owners of the werewolf slaves. The most sinister of the 12 apostles, the most powerful demons that thirst for blood! Vampire! Also, the chief of the vampires, Vladifer and his sister Karinara.
“I’ll have to talk to Commander Karakul myself..”
“Life is precious! Only when there is life, you can feel happiness and sadness, and also joy! However…! Those foul demons have raided our precious villages, cities, and our homes to steal our happiness and life!”
A youth donned in white gold threads and silver armor was shouting to the crowd. He was in his early twenties, with brown hair and eyes. He looked down upon countless Holy Knights from a platform, white sword in hand, proclaiming the name of justice.
“Upon the Precepts of Arrtark, he said to never hate those with life! Do not discriminate against others and embrace one another, and he said to correct those in the wrong! However, the Demons are different! They are a sinister existence! By their existence, the world is blanketed in darkness!”
The eyes of the young hero, Ludin, lit up as he pointed his sword below.
“Behold! The horrors aimed at us by the demons…!”
Wherehis sword pointed were boxes, and within those boxes were heads of the Holy Knights, soaked in salt. It was truly awful for human eyes. Not long ago, a riderless horse had carried the heads upon a wagon into the Hero’s formation. Ludin, who had believed this to be a warning by the demons, was now shouting with hate.
“Be enraged! Resent them! Aim it toward the Demons! Hold hatred toward them! Give them no quarter! The god that loves all life will magnanimously forgive you and embrace you proudly!”
He turned to look at the Holy Knights. They wore threads embroidered with a white gold cross, their entire bodies wrapped in silver armor. Each were equipped with sharpened long spears and greatswords, along with guns using magic bullets.
“Even if there are countless sacrifices,we can never retreat! If we retreat, all the sacrifices up to now will be meaningless! So be bolstered! Drive out those sinister orcs! Purify Hell filled with those demons and punish the evil Demon King! That is…!”
He shouted with a passionate smile, pride swelling within him.
“…The only path to recovering our family, our lives, and our happiness! Let us fight for peace! Let us protect the ones we love! We shall begin a festival with their blood!”
“For the blessing of our god Arrtark-!”
“For the grace of Hero Ludin and the Pope Salem Gatteschuranche-!”
The Holy Knights cheered.
“Tonight, we shall punish them! I shall personally remove them. This hand shall sever the neck of the Demon King and showcase the greatness of the holy Hero by placing it upon the god’s altar!”
The hero had made his speech passionately. The drafted soldiers within the encampment smiled as they heard him while they drank. They ate roasted meat and enjoyed themselves for what could be their final battle. However, the slaves looked toward the soldiers with envy. They were only allowed to stay within the tent without even the basic straw as flooring. They swallowed dryly to stave off thirst and hunger. As the soldiers caroused, the servants gathered and complained to one another.
“…Finally, the Hero is going out? After that many of his companions have died?”
“Why is he even stepping up at this point… Weren’t they retreating? How many of us have died?! Are we the meat shield again?!”
“It has to be to perform a feat. They’re using us to exhaust the demons while they kill the demons to claim their feat. They’ve completely abandoned us. Why even bother with a Hero at this rate…”
At that moment, one of the soldiers approached the slaves.
“You, what did you say?”
The slave lowered his head in surprise.
“Yes? No, I… haven’t said anything…”
“You dare mock the Hero?”
The soldier swiped at the slave and a fight burst out. They kicked and stomped. They punched and got hit. The slaves tried to escape by crawling while the soldiers stomped on them. It was a one-sided massacre.
The other slaves watched, anger in their eyes, but as the drafted soldiers finally understood the atmosphere, they got up to leave. The soldiers had pristine armor and sharp swords; compared to them, the slaves only held a rusted dagger and undergarments. The slaves lost their musterand lowered their gaze.
“You bastards…! How dare you threaten us! You need some lessons!”
“Haha, How dare some cattle…!”
The soldiers began again. They sheathed their swords and swung as though tenderizing meat. The slaves bruised and bled all over, their bones breaking. They cried out in agony, but the soldiers laughed in revelry. The soldiers were afraid, taking out their fear of the battlefield on the slaves because they were slaves: worth less than animals or tools. There would be no punishment if the soldiers claimed that the slaves were feeling rebellious. Even if that soldier was merely a common soldier.
“… Just leave it at that!”
Only there was one who helped them.
The soldiers turned to her before lowering their heads. She was wearing a dress that was long enough to drag across the floor with a gem-encrusted golden staff in her hand. She was a beautiful woman with fiery red hair and eyes. She had been a member of the current hero’s party and Hero Ludin’s lover, Arisra was a magician.
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