81. Confusion (2)
‘Coexisting with Demons…?’ Halsem’s muscles twitched. ‘Ey! Aren’t your dreams too outrageous? Something like that can’t be called an ambition, dream, objective, or anything! It’s something that’s impossible to begin with!’
Halsem screamed internally. The antagonistic relationship between humans and demons had originated thousands of years ago. There hadn’t been any notion of discussion or resolution between them since. It was a rivalry based on resentment and grudges, a difference of races. They were trying to create a place of forgiveness after shattering their previous relationship. That was nothing more than a fantasy—a delusion.
“E-ey, mate. It’s impossible. Even still… coexistence? It’s already beyond common sense to try for diplomacy, but… are you trying to say… that humans will visit the Demon Kingdom for stuff like tourism? Travel, trade, talks, all these relationships you want to build. That is impossible. It just can’t happen!”
“How confident are you?”
Tom smiled as he pointed toward Ellin, Halsem, and himself. The Doppelganger Ellin, the human Halsem, and the in-between-existence Tom. They had all gathered in a single place.
“Aren’t you talking here right now?”
“We drank, chatted, and laughed. It’s not impossible. Rather, it might be easier if there were more such ‘conversations’. As long as they don’t try to ‘reject’ the notion of understanding each other.”
“Haha… T-That and this is different. A lot different! Hm? Isn’t it?”
Halsem turned to Ellin. He looked like he was trying to get her support, but rather than answering, she stared blankly at Tom.
“…Coexistence between humans and demons? Is… that possible?”
Memories of her time with Sister Ellie and Brother Thoma and the days she had spent with humans bubbled up in her mind. Her eyes suddenly became moist by the rush of nostalgia.
“…Are you crying?”
“Hm? No, that… isn’t it! Haha… My eyes got irritated…”
Ellin shook her head in surprise as she dried her eyes with her hand. Once she calmed herself, she took a deep breath and opened her mouth again,
“Coexistence with humans… I don’t think the idea is as far-fetched as you say.”
“Hah? What are you talking about? Lady, it’s impossible! How can humans and demons live together?”
“…Because I have lived with them before.”
Ellin looked at Tom.
“Then, Her Highness proceeded with this mission, hoping to form a relationship with the humans?”
“No, I started this on my own.”
Ellin glared at Tom, full of complaints at his lackadaisical approach.
“What are you talking about? Are you saying that you haven’t even discussed anything with Her Highness?”
“Mm… That does seem to be the case. I have sent a report for now, but I haven’t told her about my current objective.”
“Wait, you only sent a report? Then you’re proceeding without even hearing her opinions? The only thing that Her Highness had approved of was bargaining for the Dwarves. Of course, Her Highness ordered the army’s movement, and she might have done so with the excuse of having to rescue us. But a bargain with the Kingdom of Aylans…? All on your own…!”
“…When the army was deployed, I thoroughly discussed with Commander Karakul regarding the exchange with the Kingdom of Aylans and resolved the matter. Thankfully, Her Highness passed the notion. Well… Realistically, it might be because I haven’t told her of my objective in particular.”
“You aren’t the Demon Lord; Her Highness Lily Golt is! Don’t believe that she’ll agree with your whims and wishes! Have you ever thought that Her Highness might hate or reject humans?”
“What are you basing that one on?”
“Because she is that kind of a person.”
Ellin’s eyes grew wide as she stared at Tom. It was because he hadn’t referred to her as Her Highness, but rather as ‘her’, treating her as someone he had known for a long time. Thinking about this, there were too many strange things. Why was the Devil of Lania that had toppled the Holy Kingdom’s capital helping her?
Tom realized that he had spoken about the Demon Lord informally and looked regretful.
“…Oh my, I spoke in error. Please forget about it.”
“…You, have you met with Her Highness before? In the past…?”
“Did you say that you wanted Her Highness’s permissions regarding this matter?”
‘…Are you trying to change topics?’ Ellin frowned. She couldn’t follow up on her question to the smiling person.
“Then, I’ll ask her personally, is that okay?”
“…You, just what are you hiding? What’s your true objective?”
“I’m not hiding anything. Even if I was”—Tom turned to Ellin before he continued—“I have no reason to tell you.”
Halsem looked at the two of them and scratched his head, feeling uncomfortable.
“…Are you two fighting? You guys are sure getting along as fellow demons.”
Ellin sighed and downed her mug of beer in frustration. Tom looked at her doing so and smiled bitterly before speaking to Halsem,
“From now on, the term ‘Demons’ will change.”
“…The term will change?”
“Of course, we’ve been called Demons for so long that we’re now familiar with it, but things will have to change from now on because every Demon is different. It’s like calling humans and every other beast an animal.”
‘Is there another term to call Demons?’ Halsem strained his brain, trying to think when a word came into mind.
“Ah! Are you talking about… Ajin?”
“Yes, but that is also a term categorizing humanoid Demons.”
‘It only refers to humanoid Demons?’
“…What are you then? Aren’t you an Ajin?”
“We have now formed a country, and we’ll be referred to as such. The citizens of the Kingdom of Aylans are Aylansian, and the people of the Holy Kingdom are known as Believers. Then, people of the Demon Kingdom like us”—he tried to think of what to name the residents of Hell—“will be called Infernals.”
Holffmann, who was resting his hips on the clattering wagon, opened his eyes. He had fallen asleep due to the comfort of the pile of straw under him. Letting out a short yawn, he turned his head. However, he couldn’t see the driver due to the mound of straw.
“Elder, have you gotten up? Haha! Do you know how worried I was? It was so quiet back there, I thought you’d fallen off?”
Holffmann gave a genial smile as the farmer in the driver’s seat talked him up cheerfully.
“Haha, thank you for worrying about me. Did something happen?”
“We’re about to arrive. At the Kingdom of Aylans, that is.”
Holffmann stuck out his neck. Beneath a hill, he could see a massive metropolis. He looked surprised at its appearance.
“It’s almost winter, but the crops are still growing.”
“Yes, weren’t you worried about food since it’s winter? Besides, a war broke out as well. The food stock for winter is running low. His Highness, the King, seemed to be worried about this, so he asked the magicians to bury Magic Stones into the surrounding area to make them warmer. “
“Of course, it is the King’s land, not something us commoners can own. Still, he has granted us that much, at the very least. We are already grateful for not starving in the winter.”
“…Magic Stones? Aren’t those expensive?”
“Haha! That’s what I’m saying. It must be that he cares more for his subjects than money, as he didn’t spare the Magic Stones.”
Although he couldn’t see the farmer’s expression, his voice was full of pride.
The wagon stopped at a distant village, three hours from the capital. Holffmann, who had been riding on the wagon, got off and held out a gold coin.
“Oof! Elder, this is too much!”
“I’m just thankful that you thought of this wandering old man. I was happy to be able to travel so leisurely. I’ve put all that into account, so please receive it without burden.”
“Didn’t you say things were hard due to the war? Carefully tuck it away and use it as an emergency fund.” Holffmann gave the farmer the gold coin and moved on with a smile.
“He’s a good man. Despite war breaking out, his eyes still hadn’t lost hope. It’s good to see such a warm heart.” Holffmann’s eyes grew sharp. “…I must get rid of those that step on such people. Before that Devil turns this place to hell!”
He continued moving toward the Capital where the Devil of Lania was supposedly staying.
Allen stomped his hooves onto the ground, full of complaints. Startled by the stomping sounds, birds from a nearby forest flew into the sky.
“Just what is it! Karakul! Why are you in this place? Is it on Her Highness’s orders? We are the greatest force in the kingdom. We can’t just leave it for this long!”
They were in a forest an hour from the capital of the Kingdom of Aylans. The army of the Demon Kingdom was secretly stationed here. There were naturally no complaints from them, as they had spent their days in nature from the start.
However, they numbered 4000. It was challenging to feed so many, and they severely lacked food and water. As they had been doing nothing but eating for about a week, it was understandable that the impatient Allen was feeling frustrated.
“Stand by. This is an order.”
“Order? You dare think that someone in your position can give me orders!?”
Allen snorted from his nose with displeasure as he looked down on Karakul. Karakul ignored Allen’s temper and continued to focus on the book of strategy in his hands, which Tom had given him. After the Bludiferr incident, he had realized his own shortcomings and was working to grow his wisdom.
“Calm yourself, Allen. We’re not even Apostles any longer. Karakul is our superior. Talking back to your superior officer in the army will only land you in trouble.”
Hecaron waved his hand in a calming gesture as he tried to talk Allen down.
“Hah! You think that kind of whipping can scratch my back? Let them try it!”
“It might not just end with whipping; you might lose your head.”
“Shut it! I am currently concerned about the kingdom. He might have received the authority through an order from Her Highness, but why haven’t we returned? For what reason…!”
Karakul didn’t respond. No, he couldn’t respond. In reality, he himself wasn’t aware of why the army was dispatched near the human’s capital. But, he had some guesses.
“…Perhaps, we’re needed for a demonstration.”
Allen and Hecaron turned to Karakul.
“According to him, there might be diplomatic talks with the Kingdom of Aylans. There might be something regarding trade, and after building some rapport, we might be able to maintain a temporary alliance. If not, a non-aggression pact is still on the table.”
Only, it was very unlikely that the humans would agree to such terms with ‘equivalent conditions’. Rather, they might refuse and hold Tom and Ellin hostage in order to put up some ridiculous conditions to their kingdom. If that was the case…
“If they try to make a ridiculous deal, we would have to make a ‘military demonstration’. That means we’ll surround their capital and pressure them. Our army has already stepped into Aylans territory through formal means. Also, Apostles, in human terms, would be comparable to a Duke or a Baron—very important nobles. If we move our army with the excuse of having to rescue them, it’ll be a justified retaliation between nations.”
It meant that there would be an excuse for an invasion. However, what Tom desired was ‘diplomacy’ and not an ‘invasion’. It would be intimidation for show rather than an actual war. No matter how powerful the army was, against skilled magicians, their tall external walls, and their numerous soldiers, it would be almost impossible to conquer the Aylans without siege units.
Still, 4000 Ains, the same army that managed to destroy the Holy Kingdom’s forces, would be plenty to intimidate them. If they were pressured enough, the Kingdom of Aylans would have to proceed diplomatically, even if it was by force.
‘It could be what that person is hoping for in the end.’
It might be that he let himself be held hostage to use that as an excuse to gain an advantage diplomatically. It meant that he would be able to present himself under favorable conditions.
“So, we stand by. So that we can move at any time.”
— Ω —