38. Facing the Demon Lord (7)
The Orc Generals were split on both sides. They were standing tall like statues with Demon Lord Lily in the center. Ellin couldn’t even breathe in that stuffy atmosphere. At the center of it all, there was a throne made of wood. Ellin, who noticed Lily sitting upon the throne, clutching her slime, lit up like a child. Lily, who noticed her immediately as well, also smiled back.
When the Orc Generals coughed, Ellin realized her own mistake and corrected her expression before approaching Lily to kneel before her.
“Doppelganger, one of the 12 apostles, Ellin greets you, Your Highness.”
Her posture had a military sleekness that didn’t contain a single flaw. She also masked her excitement behind an expressionless, monotone voice. The Orc Generals simply nodded toward her out of respect for her position as the 12th apostle.
“I bring a report for your highness. Can everyone give us the room?”
At Ellin’s calm voice, the Orc Generals turned to Lily. Lily, in turn, looked back at them and nodded.
The generals lowered their heads as they retreated. Once everyone left, the stiff formality in Ellin’s demeanour instantly faded. She leapt into Lily’s embrace without a second thought.
“Miss Lily! It’s been so long! I wanted to see you! Just how long has it been?! Ah… You have no idea just how many times I thought about you and those sandwiches you used to make me!”
Their cheeks touched like a mother embracing her child. Ellin was technically the older one when considering their actual ages, but anyone looking in would definitely see the opposite.
Ellin’s face grew red with excitement.
‘Ah! Miss Lily’s soft cheeks! Her warmth! This delectable and aromatic scent! I’m a female as well, but I might be smitten!’
Ellin’s expression slackened as she got drunk off of Lily’s touch, warmth, and scent.
Lily brushed her head like an owner comforting her cat.
“You’ve become so much more beautiful! You must have many men drooling over you!”
“D-don’t say things like that…”
“Haha! I’m kidding! But, you’re really beautiful!”
“Thank you. Ellin is pretty as well.”
The two smiled giddily at each other.
However, unbeknownst to them, there was someone else in the room. Someone who was about to throw a bucket of ice-water onto the entire situation.
Karakul had just returned after escorting Tom to his domicile. He had entered the tent a few moments ago and had coughed to get their attention. Ellin, who had only just noticed this now, immediately separated herself from Lily in surprise and stood at attention.
Lily smiled bitterly at the interruption.
“Orc, one of the 12 Apostles, Karakul greets Your Highness.”
He lowered his head in deference as he replied. As he did so, he peeked over at Lily and asked her reasons for being here out of formality.
“I’ve heard you’ve received a letter before coming here. If I may, could I inquire about the contents of this letter?”
Lily tilted her head in surprise. The sender of the letter was said to be Karakul, but he was speaking as though he had no idea regarding the content, which didn’t make any sense.
“The letter was reporting that the Orc army has been suffering from consecutive defeats and needed my help. Also, that my appearance here would serve to raise morale. But… why are you asking?”
“Did you not look into the veracity of the letter?” Karakul cut her off irately.
Lily realized immediately by his tone that she had done something wrong, and cowered.
“It sounded like an emergency,” she defended. “A-and it said to hurry…”
“Something like that could have easily been confirmed by the apostles. Any of them could have told you whether I had written that letter or not.”
“B-but the werewolf who had delivered the letter said the contents had to be kept secret in case of spies…”
“What would you have done if that was what the spy had desired?”
“What if they had wanted you to leave the capital, or if they had wanted to ambush you enroute? What would you have done then? Kuman was the only one guarding you! It’s good that you trust him so much, but that was more than a bit foolish.”
Lily was cut off again before being able to get a word in.
“The position of royalty means you have to think deeply,” Karakul chastised. “You have to know more than your enemy, know what your enemies are thinking, and develop the sense of being able to discern which of your servants are loyal and which aren’t. That is the role of a Demon Lord. You are not the king of humans, but the ruler of demons. That is a position that even I can not compare to. The one in that position must take all responsibility for whatever happens.”
“I don’t want to hear an apology!”
Lily was startled when Karakul began to shout. She gripped the hem of her skirt and tried her best to manage her expressions, but it couldn’t be helped that her true feelings were starting to show. She had been forced into the position of Demon Lord against her will. She had never wanted it. And she was constantly being looked down upon by her servants. Even in this situation, she had tried to hurry to the best of her abilities to try and help out, but instead of praise, she had been scolded.
When Ellin saw Lily trying to hold her tears like a child, she glared at Karakul as if he was her nemesis.
“You’re overstepping your bounds, Commander Karakul! Aren’t you being too harsh on the Demon Lord?!”
Usually, whenever Karakul’s fierce eyes met with hers, Ellin would look away immediately, trying to evade them. But this time, she stood her ground.
While taking deep breaths to calm himself, Karakul closed his eyes and massaged his temples. He tried his best to soften his voice. He looked up and carefully observed Lily. He could only sigh after seeing her lips quivering as though she were about to cry.
‘Haaah… I didn’t come here to do this.’
He had come in order to move the Demon Lord to a safe location. If the Hero’s forces arrived and launched an all-out attack, the Orcish army would be pushed back due to their lacking equipment and numbers. This made the camping grounds nearby the most effective area to mount a defence which was why she needed to leave. It was too dangerous for her to be here.
‘It would be made even worse if the Hero himself enters the fight.’
Kuman and Karakul were the only ones there, so if the Hero himself participated in the battle, it was difficult to predict exactly how the situation would turn out.
“I apologize. My emotions got the better of me. I was only trying to point out how things could have easily gone wrong due to your actions so that you could learn from them in the future.”
“No, no. I was short-sighted. Your advice, I shall reflect on it deeply.”
Lily did her best to control her emotions and looked back at Karakul with conviction. Her body still trembled slightly, but Karakul could see that she was no longer cowering and there were traces of an attempt at trying to maintain an appearance of authority. Also, her eyes didn’t hold resentment toward him, but rather looked thankful.
‘She has no natural talent for her position, but she might come around eventually. She is just naive and needs some more experience.’
She had reflected on her servant’s advice and didn’t receive it emotionally, but rather reflected on it sensibly. Also, her mindfulness of her subjects was growing and she was trying her best for them. Karakul felt that these points were enough to cover the foundations of what it meant to be a Demon Lord.
‘She might have been a ruler to lead us into a golden age in times of peace, but in times like these, a Demon Lord like this is unsuitable. She could instead be burdened with the resentment of her subjects upon every failure. It was a shame.’
“She said that she came in order to raise morale, so since it’s already come to this, why not have her proceed around the encampment caring for the soldiers?”
“… I understand.”
Lily nodded and rose from her seat. She handed the slime in her grasp to Ellin.
“I’ll be back.”
“Ah, then I as well…”
“No, it’s ok.”
Lily smiled and followed Karakul out of the tent.
Ellin looked after her with a frown of displeasure. She raised the slime up to her eyes and glared at it.
“Why does Commander Karakul always talk to her like that?!” She vented. “Che! His personality is rough like his face! It’s too much! Did you see how much he scared Miss Lily?!”
The Slime, with its transparent body, blinked.
Did it understand her? As she thought on that question, she recalled that Lily embraced the slime everytime she was nervous and began to feel a strange sense of envy in the realization that Lily might rely on this slime more than her. Ellin lifted the slime and shook it with both her hands.
“Now that I look at it… you! Don’t you dare get all cocky for a pet! How dare you monopolize Miss Lily’s love? You’re just a plushy wild Jelly! What will you do if I just eat you up?!”
The slime, who could not speak, felt Ellin’s sudden change in attitude and began to turn watery in an attempt to melt away. It acted as though it had broken into a cold sweat.
‘This Doppelganger, just what did I do wrong to make her act like this?’… It seemed to ask as its body was shook left and right.
Ellin, who thought the act was cute, embraced the slime once again.
“That person is just too similar to me.”
“Her personality… and her appearance…”
Ellin thought about Lily’s appearance. She was slightly taller than her, and her figure was much more mature than hers, but the appearance was close enough that some might mistake them for twin sisters. It might have been that Ellie looked so similar to Ellin that she had followed her 30 years ago.
The Slime shook while Ellin was deep in thought, as if to deny the conclusion she had reached.
“What? You think I’m wrong? I’m definitely right! Look how similar we are in personality! I’m a quiet and mature woman…”
Even as she said so herself, she recalled her own personality and made an awkward expression. Now that she thought about it more, they were quite different. She changed topics with the little slime.
“Squish, squish, Jelly!” She playfully exclaimed. “Play lots of tricks when Miss Lily comes back in a bit! Take her mind off everything for a bit. That’s your job!”
The slime just lightly shook its body in response.
The area Tom had been given was a tent with a bed, with all of his stuff on top covered with cloth. The Orcs were trying to emulate the way humans did things, but as they had no proper training with the techniques, they could only try to emulate the appearances of things. They had no deep understanding of the functions behind them.
Tom left the tent through its entrance. As it was currently nighttime, there were many torches lit near the tent. Also, the Orcs that didn’t need much sleep had lit a campfire and were sitting around it. They had a beast’s hide wrapped around them to stave off the cold as they roasted a freshly hunted beast whole.
Karakul, who had thought the movements of the humans suspicious, began to distribute some food and allotted time for leisure in order to raise morale while remaining vigilant.
“Hm? Ah, it’s that Ain, isn’t it?”
One of the Orcs discovered him and pointed.
“Ey, come this way! Aren’t you hungry? Eat with us!”
Tom looked around before approaching the Orc pointing at him out of curiosity.
“Now, now, eat. Eat! You can drink too! This is a fruit drink made by crushing apples. How is it?”
The Orcs smiled wide as they urged him to sit. If only by the fact that it was a dark night, the smiling faces of the Orcs looked especially villainous under the light of the campfire. However, their personable attitude told a different story than that. Other Orcs that Tom had not seen before looked at him strangely and spoke up.
“Who’s this guy? That’s a strange outfit. There’s an Ain with that style of clothes?”
“He’s probably just a wandering Demon. Isn’t he just from some place far away?”
“Ey, ey. This guy is surprisingly a big shot! I don’t know exactly, but when he was sleeping, some kind of black liquid was seeping out of him! I was scared out of my mind; it was so thick!”
The Orc teased the others trying to scare them. The other Orcs burst in laughter.
“Can I eat this even though I’m an outsider?”
When Tom sat down, the Orcs nodded.
“Of course! You also look like a guest of Commander Karakul. We’re actually sorry for our reception. Eat, eat! Ah! However, you have to pay up according to the amount!”
The Orcs nodded.
“With a story!”
“… A story?”
“That’s right. We want to hear stories! How Demons living in other areas are! How they live, and how they have escaped humans. Also, I’m a bit curious about the tools they use!”
They had simple questions. Orcs had no females, so they also had no reproduction cycles. They were simply born in dark boggy swamps. They were also taught how to hunt during childhood. They were taught how to hunt beasts and forage for fruits. As they were born without parents, they were taught how to do everything by instinct. From the knowledge on how to use tools, to knowing how to breathe. They also grew stronger through fighting. If they happened to meet like-minded kin as they did so, they formed a pack with them and grew together as they shared what they’ve learned. To these Orcs, the lifestyle of other Ain were a great curiosity to them as well as a life lesson.
“Well, if it’s alright with you, I’ll tell you what I know, but that will have to wait.”
“Hm? Why?! We’re curious about you! You’re mysterious! So hurry and tell us!”
“Well… It’s just that…”
Tom pointed toward the sky.
The Orcs followed his finger and turned their heads toward the sky. There was a single crow circling the air over and over.
“What? A crow? It looks tasty.”
“What’s special about it?”
Tom smiled and answered.
“The soldiers are moving.”
In moments, lights akin to meteors began falling from the sky.
“Maintain formation!” An order was called out.
“Maintain formation!” The order was echoed back by the soldiers it had been given to.
“Forward 10 paces!”
“Forward 10 paces!”
The siege unit continued to move under the commands of their leader. They were moving long and massive cannons over three meters long on wagons. The cannons were large, heavy, and had a hole big enough to fit a human head through it.
Each unit began to move as instructed. Thousands of soldiers moved in formation to form a barrier.
“Slaves in front! Don’t fall behind! Those who try to run will be executed on the spot!”
The slaves were placed on the front lines to protect the regulars as human shields. They were given only underwear and simple daggers, and yet they were meant to block the Orc crossbows and exhaust them in order to lower their efficacy. The slaves that knew that they had to face the Orcs in such a state, trembled in fear.
“Just know this, slaves! Those that manage to survive in case of our victory will be granted freedom. However, if we lose, you’ll be left as demon food!”
The slaves grit their teeth in frustration after hearing the shouts of the Holy Knight assigned to lead them. They could see the shabby Orc encampment and the battlefield littered with corpses in front of them.
“F-fine! Let’s just do it!”
“We can earn our freedom! We can be free men with dozens of copper coins for life…!”
“That’s right! And who cares about those Orcs! They’re just bulky demons!”
Vigor lit up in the eyes of the slaves. They had been tempted by the word ‘freedom’. To them, the idea of being freed from the cruelties that they had suffered through so far brought them much needed strength.
“… Please prepare yourselves.”
The Hero Ludin could be found at the very rear, along with 300 Holy Knights, and about 100 priests all riding on horses in their own formation.
The army began to move. They ignored the corpses littering the field and pressed on. The siege unit composed of large Magic Cannons began to gather light and spewed explosive projectiles that looked like meteors. The blue balls of condensed mana rose high into the sky and exploded in the air. Bright light began to rain down in every direction and fall towards the ground, causing explosions upon the Orc campsite.
The magicians were organized and used sticks to pull out the Magic Stones within the cannons and quickly replaced them with new ones.
“The Orcs are moving!”
Countless Orcs could be seen walking close to the barrier.
The slaves grit their teeth and glared at those Orcs. They began to breathe roughly. Their emaciated ribs rose up and down as they began to sweat profusely. They peeked over at the Holy Knight commanding them, waiting for his order.
The man began to swell with the idea that he was in charge of the slaves and smiled as he waved his sword.
The slaves charged with a scream.
— Ω —