84. Negotiation (2)
Lily Golt, who had gone out to the balcony of the Demon Lord’s Castle for some fresh air, turned toward the crow sitting on the handrail. It was covered in black feathers with a sleek sheen, but the feathers, all formed with dense Magic Power, were nothing more than formless masses of Magic. The way it tweaked its head and looked back with its amber-colored eyes was the same as its master.
When Lily poked at its forehead with her finger, its dark aura poured out, and it shook its head as though it disliked the gesture. She smiled, amused at its reaction.
[…So what are you thinking of doing?]
Lily clasped her mouth, surprised by the sudden familiar voice coming from the crow. Tom, who had been sending his messages through Karakul, was now reporting through the crow. At first, it was once a week, but at some point, the time in between grew shorter until he was sending his crow once a day to communicate. All of a sudden, it became one of the ways that she relieved her fatigue and stress.
At Tom’s question, Lily held her slender finger toward her chin and fell into thought.
“…I permit diplomatic exchanges with the Kingdom of Aylans. It’ll change depending on the conditions they set forth, as I’m not planning on accepting any excessive demands.”
Lily was also thinking of forming a relationship with humans with this opportunity. Continued hostility would not only prevent peace within the kingdom, but would also become a cause for war.
To escape the constant cycle of war, they had to gain influence within human society and accumulate formal diplomatic relationships. Once that was accomplished, the other kingdoms would not be able to simply use ‘Demon Subjugation’ as an excuse to invade. Even now, to them the demons were ‘monsters that couldn’t be spoken to’.
If that happened, they couldn’t invade with just the notion that ‘they are a threat’. Nevertheless, the problem was that they could still forcibly push that excuse. Lily was fully aware that the humans would do whatever it took to make up a legitimate reason. As such, diplomatic exchanges were critically necessary.
The diplomatic issues with the Kingdom of Aylans implied that they considered the Demon Kingdom to be a nation, and invasion of Demon lands would influence them as well. This would make the job of humans’ finding casus belli much harder. They would need to be careful of the Kingdom of Aylans, and the kingdoms associated with the Kingdom of Aylans, in order to invade the Demon Kingdom. In essence, they would be gaining a sturdy barrier against any future human attacks.
“However, if it’s not an equal relationship, I have no reason to accept it myself. We are committing to diplomacy to find peace and independence, not to find ourselves enslaved. If we accept conditions that are even slightly advantageous to them, it’ll be easier for them to look down on us. Once they go down on that path, they’ll think of us as idiots—simple tools to be used at their disposal. So, Tom. I request a fair diplomatic relationship as judged by you.”
Of course, a diplomatic exchange was needed, but letting the other party take advantage of you made one a ‘tool’ to be used. Lily was concerned about that point.
The pleasant voice of Tom, who had been listening attentively, could be heard.
When Tom’s compliment was transmitted through the crow, Lily’s bestial ears shot up. She felt good hearing his appreciation.
“I-is that right?”
[Yes, it’s a proper mindset. I can’t understand why the Apostles had been ignoring Your Majesty all this time. Had they followed Your Majesty’s words, the kingdom could have been a much stable place. Then, I’ll listen to the demands from the Kingdom of Aylans regarding diplomacy and report to you this afternoon.]
“Yes. Do your best.”
The crow began to flap his wings and disappeared. Lily’s face grew red as she stared blankly at the direction it flew and smiled happily.
“…I was complimented.”
He had acknowledged her, the person who no one had acknowledged so far. Whether it was the Apostles or the Demons in general, they were starting to look in her direction.
Tom, who had given his report and left the room, entered the lower floor of the inn to begin his breakfast. Halsem was already sitting at a table on the first floor, scratching his head while sighing loudly. He discovered Tom and raised his hand.
“Ey-! Brother, slept well?”
“…You look like you’ve adjusted.”
Whether or not it was because he was a gambler, he always seemed to be quite tenacious. If he had been an ordinary person, he might have tried to secretly escape or request help once Tom and Ellin’s identities were discovered.
Conversely, in Halsem’s case, he first trembled in fear, gave up in the middle, then accepted the situation and acted as a friend instead. In one way, he was an outstandingly social man, but also a person with talent as a merchant. It helped to be able to do business without discrimination.
‘We pretty much brought him in forcibly, but he’s a human that grew accustomed to Demons…’
If such a person was involved in commerce, it would undeniably be a good thing. In reality, he hadn’t had much faith in him. He had thought to use Halsem, who he had a previous acquaintance with, but he didn’t realize that Halsem would have such a good attitude toward it.
Tom looked at the bottle of alcohol placed on top of the table and the empty bottles rolling around underneath it.
“Alcohol in the morning?”
Halsem gulped down his glass of beer. His face, still loose from alcohol, turned to Tom as he waved his hand.
“Aaah, it’s nerve-wracking, honestly. I’m not in the right mind to meet with you and the lady. I can only rely on some liquid courage to calm me.”
‘…Maybe it’s not all optimistic?’
It might be the desperate struggle of someone trying to force himself to adapt. Tom sat opposed to him and spoke apologetically,
“I’m sorry for dragging you in.”
“You’re apologizing now? Mate, is this something to apologize for? Why are you apologizing for something I agreed to…? You didn’t force me into it. I accepted it while looking at the title that you spoke of: the First Great Merchant Lord of Demons.”
“You’re talking about being the First Great Merchant of Demons?”
“Yes, Shouldn’t I try to live a life with which I can tell my descendants ‘Your ancestor is in the history books!’ at the very least? A man should be ambitious! Yes! Also, if it wasn’t me, wouldn’t you have found some other sucker? If I passed it on to another, I’d be struggling all my life with a stomach ache. Rather than that, it’s always better to give everything a try.”
Tom smiled. He liked this kind of honest style.
“Where is Ellin?”
“Hm? Wouldn’t you know better?”
“Mate, did you and the lady get into it yesterday?”
“Get into it…?”
Halsme made a lewd expression.
“I saw her carrying you into the room on her back. That lady, I know she’s a carnivore, but for her to jump you of all people! My word… To think I gambled with a lady with the balls to jump the Devil of Lania. It’s an honor!”
“…No such thing happened.”
“Really? That’s strange.”
“Why are you talking behind people’s back?”
At that moment, Ellin was descending the stairs while looking unhappy. She scratched her jumbled hair and yawned, as though she had struggled through the night.
“… You’re looking like Mister Halsem.”
“You’re already making fun of me in the morning, just like yesterday?”
Ellin glared at Tom unhappily.
“It’s your fault that I couldn’t sleep in the first place.”
Tom looked at Ellin as though to say ‘Did something happen yesterday?’.
“…I-I don’t know. Why is that?”
Ellin avoided Tom’s gaze. She sat beside him and shook her head forcibly while recalling the events yesterday. The image of him leaning against her wouldn’t leave her head no matter how hard she tried.
“Anyway, how long are we going to be here?”
When Ellin asked in hopes of changing the conversation, Tom replied as he ordered a simple meal from a waitress,
“First, the Kingdom of Aylans have to make their move personally.”
“… Can’t we force them?”
“We can, but if we do that, they’ll think less of us, and we might lose our advantage in negotiations.”
“Mmm… Will they actually try to form a diplomatic relationship with us?”
Tom scanned the room. There were Magic Knights of the Kingdom of Aylans’ disguised’ as customers sitting around eating breakfast. They peered over at him every now and then; it appeared they were under orders to ‘observe’ and not suppress them just yet.
“They still haven’t lowered their guard. And, if they didn’t need me, they would have chased us out.”
“If they just keep observing…?”
“…In that case, we’ll just have to move on our end. I don’t like that option, but as we’ve put in this much effort already, it’ll be a loss if we don’t net any results. We have the certificate for a personal meeting from Count Shabel, so it shouldn’t be that hard to gain an audience with the king. The reputation of the nobles is in the balance. Besides, it is a diplomatic matter, so Count Shabel will do whatever it takes to get us our audience.”
“Mmm… Thorough. You’ve thought it through that much?”
“There’s always the case of ‘what-if’.”
The waitress brought their meal: It was soup with a simple bread.
At this moment, the inn’s door opened, and knights swarmed in. Halsem, Tom, and Ellin turned their heads. They appeared to be sent by the Ayslansian Royal Court and they approached the table at which Tom sat. A young Magic Knight in silver armor, a sword around his waist, and a staff on his back looked down at him as he spoke.
“Can we have a moment?”
Tom looked back at the Magic Knight.
Last night, he was the Magic Knight who escorted Tom to Akareal and was one of the orphans in Tom’s orphanage. Tom, who saw them, didn’t know what kind of face he should wear. Who would have known that those small and innocent brats would become so big and healthy? They were also standing so imposingly and boldly! The sniveling face of a mischievous child was nowhere to be seen.
More than anything, someone with the background of an orphan was now working as a Magic Knight within the Royal Court. They had become as successful as successful could be.
Tom felt strange. He was proud but also disappointed that he couldn’t watch them grow.
“…What? That face looks like a father seeing his children all grown up…?”
Ellin poked at Tom’s side.
“Ah, it’s just… old memories.”
Tom looked at the Magic Knight and spoke with a smile,
“What’s the matter?”
“… You’ve all been invited to the throne room. Will you come?”
The Magic Knight had a conflicted expression as well, perhaps due to Tom’s similar appearance to Thoma’s younger days. It might also be the reason he was showing Tom such formality despite knowing that he wasn’t a human.
“I’m sorry, but could I at least finish my breakfast?”
“That’s fine, but Her Majesty has prepared a welcome banquet. The King wishes for you to come, at least for her sake. Besides, the food there will be considerably better.”
If they had been invited to the throne room, and for even a banquet to have been prepared, there was only one answer: Diplomacy. The arrangements meant that it would be a favorable response.
“Then, shall we get going?”
When Tom got to his feet, Ellin and Halsem stood up as well.
Holffmann, who had arrived at the capital of the Kingdom of Aylans, was lost within the city for a week. He had plenty of funds, and with heaps of rough experiences, it wasn’t particularly hard work. The problem was that he still hadn’t found the heretic which was his target.
“…Thinking about it carefully, I’m quite pitiful. Isn’t it obvious that I wouldn’t be able to find him within this large city without a plan?”
Also, as his target had come to aid the Kingdom of Aylans, he would most likely be in the palace. For Holffmann, it was important to eradicate the heretic, but he wasn’t so bold as to create a commotion inside another’s palace.
‘…Still, hunting the heretic is quite important. Since he’s a necromancer, it’s obvious that he’ll taint more innocent souls.’
To him, his greatest objective was the death of a Necromancer using Spirit Magic. Hoffmann could never forgive a bastard that used filthy Spirit Magic to taint the soul. Even if it meant killing humans, he felt there was enough value to ‘justify’ it, as long as it led to the death of a Spirit Mage.
According to the mythology of Artarrk, one would return to the Embryo and be reincarnated into a new life after death. However, captured souls would be tortured for eternity. Holffmann found value in returning them to the cycle. As such, razing the capital of Aylans or harming the innocents was within ‘permissible range’ for him for the sake of killing the Spirit Mage.
Razing? No, that would make things complicated.
‘…If it comes to that, the kingdom will fall into chaos, and that bastard Salem will use the opportunity to invade again. That’ll just result in more sacrifices. Was he aiming for this? This is why I didn’t want to be involved with the state! Why is it so complicated?’
If he was being used with all this put into the calculation, he wasn’t planning on taking it lying down either. The moment Salem committed such an act, he would head to the capital of the Holy Kingdom itself to take the bastard’s head.
‘Is that complicated as well? If I do that, the Holy Kingdom will fall into chaos, losing its center. Everyone will be jumping around to become the next Pope.’
“…I should have stopped the last Pope from taking that bastard as his adopted son. Shit, it was his mistake for being too naive.”
Holffmann sighed. Although he definitely didn’t know the face of the necromancer, he did have a way to find out. Necromancers had their unique scent, a Magic Power infused with the stench of death. Especially since the Devil of Lania was known to have not only Magic Power but also Holy Power, Holffmann would not miss such a unique characteristic.
“I won’t find him by wandering around like this, so should I get some food first? Now that I think about it, I’ve been starving all week long. I haven’t even drunk any water, so my throat is feeling rather parched.”
It was when Holffmann entered a nearby inn, letting out a sigh.
Hoffmann looked forward. A giant Magic Knight was standing there, big enough to fill the entire doorway.
“Ah, I’m sorry.”
Hoffmann smiled as he stepped back to give him the right of way. However, the Magic Knight himself shook his head and retreated as well.
“No, Elder. Please enter.”
“Ah, thank you. Sir Knight.”
Holffmann beamed. Many knights had become arrogant, losing their chivalry. Even the Holy Knights of the Holy Kingdom abused their authority and believed that everyone around them was lesser, treating them like bugs. Compared to them, the knights of the Kingdom of Aylans were educated quite well.
‘Amazing. Even with their position of a knight, to treat an elderly commoner like me so courteously… What an excellent upbringing! How great would it be if the Holy Kingdom could learn from this?’
Holffmann lowered his head to express his gratitude to the Magic Knight. When he entered the inn, a man brushed past him—one with golden blond hair and amber-colored eyes. The man and Holffmann passed each other while staring at each other, wide-eyed.
Hoffmann looked at the stunned Tom and muttered,
“Devil… of Lania?”
At that moment, there was an explosion with the entrance of the inn at its epicenter.
— Ω —