57. The Demon Kingdom (7)
Several days later, when Demon Lord Lily returned to the capital, she was met with the cheers of her citizens. Lily smiled; this was her first time receiving such a reception. However, her smile quickly turned to a frown as she saw the remnants of destruction behind the boisterous crowd. What stood out the most were the corpses of children, still hung from poles, which were just now being brought down. They would be organizing funerals for all of those who had died.
As her entourage continued forward, many of the onlookers turned visibly shocked when they got a full view of the Orcs. The Orcs were already large to begin with, and seeing them clad entirely in armor struck them with awe. Behind them was a large group of demons bound in chains; these were the survivors of the rebel army. All of their heads were covered with burlap sacks, forcing them to shuffle along slowly as not to stumble and fall. The spectating demons couldn’t help but unleash insults and profanities upon them. These were the rebel scum who had brought their kingdom to the brink of destruction, an act which left little room for sympathy from the citizens of the capital
“You allied yourselves with those bloodsuckers?!”
“You dare show your faces here…!”
These were the kinds of jeers being thrown at the losers. They were pointed at and mocked—a spectacle for all to behold.
“This isn’t a particularly good feeling,” Hecaron said.
Nasis, who was cowering beside Hecaron, was stricken with fear.
“W-what do we do now? Hm? A-are we going to die?!”
Nordin Wood, who was walking behind the two, spoke up. “Our tribes will probably be exiled. If we’re lucky, the best we can hope for is enslavement. The chiefs will take the brunt of the responsibility and lose their heads. Well, since my head’s so big, I’d better hope Kuman can cut through it quickly, right?”
Kuman, who was watching over them from nearby, peered over at Nordin and replied, “Not sure.”
“Haha! I’ll ask for that favor from you, then. Please cut it in one breath so that it’s painless. Ah, will it be hard because my bark is too tough? I really do want to go comfortably when I die! Haha!”
A little further ahead, Ellin and Karakul were walking side by side.
“Commander Karakul, we are being applauded! Aah, won’t Miss Lily be happy…! Huh? Commander?”
Karakul was looking over his shoulder absentmindedly. Even through the bags, Karakul could feel many of the rebels’ eyes boring into him; especially Allen, whose entire body was tightly bound due to his violent refusal to be restrained. Karakul couldn’t help but sense the resentment he was giving off, causing him to groan.
“Ahem! Goblin Kulbo is coming through!”
Kulbo yelled to the crows. He had stiffened up under the cheers, and was unable to shake off his nervousness. However, they soon focused on someone else.
“Who’s that? Isn’t that a human?”
“Could he be a Holy Knight captured from the Hero’s Allied Forces?”
“Get lost, human!”
“No! That’s the Devil of Lania!”
“The Devil of Lania? The monster that toppled the capital of the Holy Kingdom?”
“He looks like an ordinary human, though?”
The demons looked and shouted at Tom, their eyes filled with curiosity. Tom only shook his head awkwardly at their reaction.
“This must be what it feels like to be a circus animal.”
The news of the suppression of the rebels had spread fast, and demons from all across the kingdom had come to the capital to see them punished. It was to be carried out this very day. Eventually, they reached the capital’s plaza and herded the rebels into its center. The Orcs remained in the vicinity just in case, fully equipped for battle if need be.
“What… is going to happen to us?”
“A-are we going to die?”
“No, we’ll be slaves. What should we do? Flee?”
“What are we going to do if we get exiled? All the land around the kingdom is human territory! We’ll have to risk our lives just to find somewhere safe to settle!”
The rebels trembled, unsure of what their fate would be. The chiefs were brought into the palace and forced to their knees before the Demon Lord’s throne. Karakul, Ellin, Kuman, and Kulbo were there, watching over them.
The traitors were completely restrained in the shackles and couldn’t move. As their hoods were removed, the first thing they saw was Lily looking down on them from atop her throne. Lulu, who was standing by Lily’s side, spoke.
“Criminals; Chief of the Minotaurs: Allen, Chief of the Treos: Nordin Wood, Chief of the Gnolls: Nasis, and the Chief of the Centaurs: Hecaron. You all are chiefs, and Apostles, who have participated in this rebellion.”
Luli, who was standing on the other side of the throne, spoke next.
“Normally, we would wait for the Apostles not currently present to arrive, but they are preoccupied defending their own territories. In their place and by their will, your punishment shall be decided by Her Highness.”
The siblings bowed and stepped back simultaneously, leaving everyone’s attention on Lily.
Lily looked down on the former Apostles with a conflicted expression. This was an unprecedented event; never before had so many Apostles been a part of a rebellion. Certainly, this case was different due to the curse they had been under, but that did not make them immune to punishment. However, if all of them were put to death here and now, the rampant chaos the kingdom was suffering from would persist for a long time.
‘What should I do…?’
When he noticed Lily’s conflicted expression, Karakul chimed in.
“They’re rebels, so they must be given an appropriate punishment, Your Highness. Please, give your judgment.”
When Karakul spoke, Hecaron clenched his teeth, and Nasis trembled. Nordin slowly closed his eyes.
It was only Allen that glared at him and shouted, “Karakul, you bastard-! You think you have any right to talk!? Rebels? You think it’s justified to massacre demons indiscriminately under the justification of a rebellion? You honorless bastard!”
Karakul glared back at him coldly.
“I told you clearly back then. Don’t talk so freely about honor on the battlefield. I will do whatever it takes to save my people.”
Allen glared at Lily, who flinched under his bloodshot eyes.
“Demon Lord! You have a responsibility as well! You could have stopped the massacre, but you didn’t… Isn’t that too irresponsible?”
Lily remained silent, unable to respond to his criticisms,
“Enslavement? Exile? Just try it! I may lose my life, but do you really think the others will take this injustice lying down?!”
“Allen! Shut your filthy mouth!” Karakul shouted.
“Karakul, you shut your mouth! As long as you’re still here, the kingdom will never know peace! Let’s see if the kin of those you slaughtered remain silent! In the end, you’ll cause more chaos…!”
Hearing Lily’s shout, Karakul and Allen were shocked silent, and their gazes turned to her. Her ruby red eyes were glaring at them sharply.
“Where do you think you both are, yammering about like this? Karakul, you may be an Apostle, but are you in the position to shout in the presence of your lord?”
Karakul flinched under her wrath. She was reprimanding him for the first time. He looked at her with a glimmer in his eyes, but her glare turned colder, forcing him to lower his head.
“I… apologize, Your Highness.”
Her eyes turned to Allen. Her face was filled with fury.
“Allen, you’re quite bold for a rebel!”
Allen looked at her, dumb from shock. This was the first time something like this had happened. She had always avoided his gaze out of fear before, but now she was absolutely looking down on him.
She was sitting upon her throne, speaking boldly, and refused to avoid his gaze at all. Rather, she spoke with overflowing authority and glared right back at him.
“How dare you hold your head so high as a rebel?”
Another reprimand! Allen could hardly believe this was the same Demon Lord he’d known.
‘Slavery? Exile? Do it if you dare! The others won’t stand for it. Even if I die they will carry on.’
Allen recalled his previous words, then unconsciously lowered his head. His body was trembling, befitting his position as a criminal. He had finally digested her words, which defined him as nothing more than a ‘rebel’.
“Allen, Nasis, Hecaron, and Nordin Wood, you are all chiefs of your own species. You may have betrayed me while under a curse, but that does not erase your crime. You should be well aware of what punishment is associated with such a sin?”
For the crime of rebellion, the chiefs of the participating tribes faced decapitation. The tribes involved faced 50 years of slavery or exile. These were the established punishments for rebels.
Allen reflected on these truths and became cognizant of how the events were unfolding. The current situation would not end with just him; the fate of his species, the Minotaurs, was at stake. Whether they lived or died would be decided by her.
Massacre, enslavement, or exile into human territory? These were the three choices she had. Other than slavery, the other options were no different than a death sentence. If they were executed, at least their bodies would be buried in the kingdom. If they were banished, they would be captured by the humans and slaughtered in foreign lands.
In this kingdom, the highest authority was none other than the Demon Lord. This was the time when lowering one’s head and begging was their one and only choice.
“Allen, were you trying to shirk off your responsibility just now? The ones that needed to take responsibility for their actions were you and your tribe!”
“B-but your highness, it was due to the curse… My kin are not to blame! If anything, it’s on me…!”
Allen quickly lowered his head.
“You chiefs might have been cursed, but you dared to sow the seeds of chaos across the kingdom. You dared to lead a rebellion against me, the rightful sovereign of the kingdom. No blame? What a pitiful excuse! The one that knows no honor is not Karakul, but you, Allen!”
Allen couldn’t refute her words. Karakul had the justification of quelling the rebels, but he had no such excuse.
Lily turned to the other Chiefs. Nordin was looking impressed, while the others had their heads down, unable to raise them at all.
“However, it was not solely your fault. Some of it also lies with me, as I hadn’t realized the siblings’ scheme. Also, those involved were forced to participate, so it is only obvious that punishing everyone would only prolong the turbulence within the kingdom! For the sake of our future and the stability of the demon race, I shall put off enslavement for your participation, in consideration of Bludiferr’s curse.”
She was declaring that she had made a favorable decision for their kin.
“However! I will revoke your authority as Apostles. Also, all of your armies shall be transferred to me, Lily Golt.”
The chiefs of the Treo, Minotaurs, Gnoll, and Centaurs grew stiff. Nordin looked at her with a surprised expression.
Revoking their authority as Apostles meant that their ability to move soldiers through the kingdom had been taken away. They might be chiefs in name, but supplies, equipment, and all related matters would have to go through Lily.
Her declaration included the unspoken implication that if they did not transfer their military powers to her, their species would be exiled from the kingdom. On the other hand, they would enter an era of her absolute reign if they transferred their military to her. Absolute authority! She would obtain military might that the other Apostles couldn’t hope to match.
‘…This is quite interesting.’
Nordin stroked his chin. Rather than the royal power being weakened by the rebellion, it had been bolstered. And not just by a little, but by a laughably large margin as well.
Lily continued, “Also, I have selected new people to fill the ranks of the Apostles. First, the one that stood out in the feat of taking down Bludiferr… Wurlf of the Werewolves!”
The Apostles turned around in surprise. The doors to the palace opened as a Werewolf entered. Wurlf, the chief of the Werewolves, lowered his head.
“I am well aware of all the feats you’ve performed. You have spent your days as a slave for the vampires, but there have been countless more days during which you stood against the human invasion. Also, you’ve exerted considerable effort in trying to strike down Bludiferr, who had introduced such mayhem to this kingdom for the sake of his rebellion, despite your station as a slave. For such accomplishments, I shall grant you freedom and name you an Apostle.”
Nasis shouted in surprise.
“W-wait! Your highness…! That’s too much! They are slaves!”
Hecaron followed suit.
“Also, they are the ones that disrupted the kingdom alongside the rebel Bludiferr! You are granting him the position of Apostle instead of punishment? What nonsense…!”
Lily looked at them coldly.
“A slave? Are you referring to your own people…?”
The Apostles backed down upon seeing her response. It was a threat! Also, an order from someone they couldn’t hope to disobey.
“He helped us right to the end. As a slave and under Bludiferr’s curse, he was helpless, yet he himself was in the frontlines when it came time to kill him. Isn’t his ascension in status an obvious reciprocation?”
It wasn’t all that uncommon. Those in the rebel’s forces betraying their masters to raise their ranks…! It was no different this time around.
“Yeah…? Ah, Yes. Please give your command.”
Ellin corrected herself from staring at Lily while slack-jawed, quickly lowering her head.
“You are responsible for the integration of the Apostle Wurlf.”
Ellin looked at her dumbly. Those words meant…?
“Take good care of your student.”
When Lily spoke with a smile, Ellin nodded excitedly.
“Next, regarding the one who suppressed the Hero and struck down Bludiferr…”
Another figure walked into the palace. He was wearing the uniform of an apprentice Holy Knight. He took a knee and lowered his head.
“Tom, the Devil of Lania. I shall also appoint you as an Apostle. You’ve not only slain the Hero and the rebel leader, but you’ve also toppled Lania, the capital of the Holy Kingdom. This is a position befitting you. Will you accept?”
Tom replied without hesitation, “I shall accept, Your Highness.”
Hearing his reply, Lily stood from her seat and turned to the side. The Moon Rabbit siblings hurriedly pulled something out from the behind the throne and held it out. It was a pole with the national flag attached to it.
They unfurled the flag when Lily nodded. On it was the image of a mountain ram’s skull set upon a black and white background.
“I, Demon Lord Lily Golt, command you, the Devil of Lania, Tom, and the Werewolf, Wurlf. Swear to me that you both shall be my sword and shield, striking down all those that block my path or harm this nation!”
Wurlf opened his mouth, “By the command of Your Highness…”
Lily turned to Tom, who looked back at her before lowering his head and finishing his vow.
“I vow to be your sword and shield, and to protect you in this place.”
Their meeting came to an end, and the former Apostles were immediately freed from their restraints. They were all either reassigned as regular soldiers or commanders, capable of fielding a small platoon.
The Apostles let out a collective sigh of relief. The revocation of their title as punishment was unbelievably lighter than what they had imagined.
Nasis was drenched in a cold sweat as he collapsed on the floor.
“Woah… I-I’m alive. I survived, right? Right? No harm will befall our kin, right?”
Nasis asked to confirm that he wasn’t dreaming. Hecaron groaned and linked his elbow to Nasis’s.
“But, we’re no different than slaves now. Since all of our military powers have been transferred, it might be that we’ll simply be used as vanguards or meatshields.”
Nordin, who was sitting beside them, shook his head.
“No, that shouldn’t be the case. From our Demon Lord’s personality, she wouldn’t be so callous. Although it was outside my expectation that she would take all of our troops.”
Nordin smiled as though he was very amused.
“You all! Consider yourselves lucky! Haha! Her Highness is just too soft-hearted! Why did she let you bastards live?”
Kulbo jeered, looking at them coldly. Ellin slapped him on the back of his head.
“Let’s stop this. It is something Her Highness decided. Don’t speak more on this subject…!”
Allin roared as he easily grabbed his horns in his large and muscular hands. His veins became more pronounced as he let out a sharp breath through his nose excitedly.
With that final roar, he snapped off his horn. With a loud ‘crunch!’, the hard horn turned to dust. The other Apostles flinched in surprise. The horns were a source of pride for the Minotaurs, representing their warrior spirit. Broken horns marked them as criminals and designated them as someone to be hated by the species.
It was common to see Minotaurs who would rather lose their lives if it meant their horns would remain unbroken. However, Allen had done so himself. He looked around with bloodshot eyes.
The palace wall cracked as Karakul became embedded into it. Allen was holding his neck in an excited state.
“Wa…! What are you…!”
As Ellin tried to speak, Tom held her shoulder and shook his head.
“…You’re excited, Allen. Cool your head.”
Karakul spoke with emotion, even as blood spilled out of his mouth.
“This horn is the price of my crime for having been involved in the insurrection! I myself can do nothing more than break it! Now you, bastard, pay the price for having killed my kin and so many others!”
“Karakul, I am neither wise nor meticulous in thought! However, I know this! This is something even the most dimwitted of the demons know! The kingdom will soon be shattered once news of what you’ve done spreads…! They won’t forgive us… No! They won’t forgive you! And that resentment will end up pointed toward the Demon Lord…!”
Karakul was surprised by Allen’s words. He wasn’t entirely wrong. Karakul would be hated by the masses, and the responsibility of the actions that he hadn’t atoned for would be turned to Lily instead.
“…All the blame lies with me!”
“That is your opinion! Others will think differently!”
The pair stared at each other overflowing with hostility, until Karakul frowned.
“Responsibility? Fine… I’ll take responsibility.”
Suddenly, blood poured out from Karakul’s right eye.
With a grotesque squishing sound, his eye was pulled out. Blood dripped onto the floor like a fountain. Karakul, who was holding his eye, yanked it from its socket in one swift motion. Allen looked dumbly at the eyeball in his hand, and Karakul, closing his now-empty eye socket, passed it to Allen.
“…Orcs without working eyes to fight with are nothing more than slabs of meat. However, I can’t give you the other eye. It is something that belongs to the master I serve.”
Allen looked at him wordlessly, shocked
“This useless eye. Use this as an offering before the graves of your kin and the other demons. Will that be enough?”
Allen gritted his teeth but released Karakul from his grip. He then glared at him fearfully.
“You’re not joking! You damned green bag of muscles…! You dared pull out your eye!”
“Aren’t you crazy as well? A minotaur without his horn is nothing more than common cattle. Isn’t that right, cow-face?”
Allen took the eyeball in Karakul’s hand and walked away with a huff. Even so, he turned back and dropped his final words.
“…Everything that happened, I’ll let everyone know of it all. The graceful Demon Lord has chosen mercy, and the damned Orc bastard pulled out his own eye to use as an offering. Hah! True savages, you green Orcs!”
“Hah, who are you calling savages, you hornless dairy cow.”
Karakul laughed as Allen left. Ellin’s face grew pale as she clumsily rushed over to him.
“C-commander Karakul! Healing! Heal…!”
Karakul pulled out a bottle of Holy Water from his possessions and poured it into the empty socket. The injury mended in an instant, but the removed eye did not regenerate. His only eye turned to Tom, who was simply looking back at him with a smile.
— Ω —