92. Forces (5)
The eyes of the ambassador that had been invited from Aylans—who was located away from Halsem, at the front of their procession—grew wide. He had been led to the Demon Lord’s Castle by the Orcs, and the sights he’d seen along the way had left him dumbfounded. Once inside the castle, he scanned its interior and was awed by its looming majesty. But, more than that, what caught his attention was the beautiful woman sitting upon the throne. Her vintage dress of silver and black was neatly organized and extended all the way down to the floor. Her copper skin was peeking through the gaps in her dress and, when combined with her slender frame, it appeared to the ambassador as though she had been sculpted to perfection. Her uniquely scarlet eyes had a transparent-like quality to them―much like a ruby―and were indescribably charismatic. She was more graceful than imposing and shined through with a beauty and glamour fit for the ruler of a nation.
The ambassador had not expected to find someone like this as the Demon Lord.
“I welcome you, ambassador of the Kingdom of Aylans.”
The ambassador and his retinue were dumbstruck, captivated by her beauty. However, they managed to snap back to reality after hearing her voice.
The ambassador then feigned a cough.
It had already been known throughout the continent that the Demon Lord was a woman because of the report by the Allied Army led by the Hero Ludin. However, nothing accurate about her appearance had been recorded. It had been almost completely wrong.
The ambassador had been prepared to see a wild-looking monster of a woman with icicles for hair, blood pouring out of her eyes, and massive thorn-like horns. The reality was so far from that that some of the humans present considered the possibility that the woman in front of them was using illusion magic.
‘But it can’t be. She also couldn’t be a servant. This must really be the real Demon Lord. The rumors were completely wrong. Or rather, they were distorted as the story of her appearance was retold from person to person.’
The ambassador regained his footing after overcoming his shock and finally began to refocus on their meeting. As a representative of his own nation, he knew that they needed to stop being caught off-guard, especially since this was their first meeting with the monarch of another nation.
The ambassador took a deep breath and steeled himself for what would inevitably turn into an intensely political discussion. There were certain conventions and behaviors that were expected of someone in his position, and he believed that it was about time that he started acting like it.
The other members of his retinue made the same realization moments later and collected themselves, relying upon their wealth of experience.
Lily Golt, on the other hand, was frozen stiff.
She was drenched in a cold sweat as she tried to maintain the widest smile that she could muster. It was the first time that she had met with humans. She had spoken with Orcs, Gnolls, Minotaurs, Ogres, Goblins, Doppelgangers, and various other human-like-but-not-quite-humans―like Tom―but this was the first time that she had met face-to-face with an unknown human. She had heard plenty of stories that ‘humans were violent and brutal animals!’, so she couldn’t help but tremble.
Lulu and Luli noticed her feelings immediately and quietly whispered in her ear.
“I pray that you stop being so nervous.”
“Your Majesty, please be confident!”
Lily expressed her gratitude toward the pair of rabbits. Then, she turned her gaze toward her sides to look at the Orc Knights and the Ogre Royal Guard standing there in accordance with Karakul’s orders. Because they were watching her, she felt that she had to be bolder. They were her servants and anything less would be unbecoming.
The ambassador from the Kingdom of Aylans noticed the byplay and naturally followed her gaze toward the demons standing guard. They were standing without the slightest movement and he couldn’t even hear the sound of them breathing. They almost appeared to be statues, but there was a strange―though passive―projection of power emanating from them that made them feel as though they were more powerful than the knights of any of the other kingdoms.
It was unnerving.
‘This isn’t the pressure that comes from just being bulkier than the average human. There is more to it than that.’
The ambassador’s men had all been keeping a close eye on their surroundings, trying to memorize every detail, no matter how menial. The appearance of the flashy buildings visible all throughout the Demon Kingdom, the interior of the Demon Lord’s castle, and also the powerful soldiers that they possessed.
They continued to take inventory of each of these findings, one-by-one, with every intent to report them back to King Paulie.
‘… They are definitely not a simple race of primitives.’
The advantageous relationship that was supposed to be established through this diplomatic discussion had become inverted. Their calculations had been wrong. The other party wasn’t the primitive, savage demons that were controlled by their instincts that they had expected. They were something else all together. They were Ajins associated with the Demon Kingdom. They were even a nation with power that exceeded any single kingdom and they were still in the midst of their development.
‘… We must maintain an amicable relationship with them at all costs!’
Sweat began to pool in the ambassador’s palm from the anxiety. With each passing moment, the alliance that they intended to form here grew more and more crucial.
“I am grateful that you have invited us like this. Dear Demon Lord… I shall express gratitude for King Paulie who was too preoccupied to attend at this time.”
When the ambassador gave a signal, the knights guarding him brought out a large chest and placed it on the ground. When the chest was opened, Lily could see all manner of magical items organized and displayed within. Starting from magic scrolls, the latest musket-style gun, as well as the ballistic Magic Stones that it used, were all brought out.
“And these are the requested items. This is a portion of what we have brought, and the rest were prepared outside of the palace.”
Lily turned her attention toward the box. There were all manner of interesting items within.
“Fifty muskets using magic ballistics and five units of large-scale Magic Cannons. Other than these, there are eight-hundred of the Magic Stones they fire.”
The number of items requested from the Kingdom of Aylans was significantly different. They had only brought a fifth of the number that had been requested.
‘They had said it was a portion, so are they bringing the rest later?’
When seeing that Lily was deep in thought, the Ambassador lowered his head.
“This is, more than anything, gifts brought over from the Kingdom of Aylans to the Demon Kingdom. The rest will be brought over at a later date.”
“Thank you. We shall reciprocate to the Kingdom of Aylans appropriately.”
“That is unnecessary, Your Highness. This is a gift of apology regarding the crimes we have committed toward your kingdom until now.”
“Also, we have released all of the demi-humans that have until now been held in captivity as slaves. It is a meager gesture, but it is one to show an attempt to correct the mistakes of the past. This is all by the will of His Highness, King Paulie.”
His words were in reference to the ‘sin’ of the age-old discrimination of seeing all demons and demi-humans, and generally all Ajins, as ‘evil’. To show that they were attempting to correct that notion, King Paulie had announced the abolishment of slaves. The Ambassador spoke emphasizing these points.
“Is… that so?”
Lily smiled bitterly. The friction between humans and Ajins had been unending throughout history. They were only attempting to apologize for and rectify these issues now. However, this unhealthy relationship that had endured for hundreds, or even thousands of years, would not dissipate with a simple apology and a small gesture between these two kingdoms. This alliance would undoubtedly exacerbate the friction between the Demons and the Ayslandians. The assignment that Lily and King Paulie were now responsible for were ways to stop the upcoming chaos.
“I am grateful.”
Lily expressed her gratitude. She truly felt grateful that the other party took the initiative to admit this first.
Lily turned toward Karakul. He felt her gaze and nodded. He placed heavy boxes before the ambassador.
The ambassador felt wary upon seeing this, but his eyes grew wide when the Orcs opened one of the boxes. It was filled tightly with golden bars and jewels. The ambassador was dumbstruck by the light refracted by the glittering gold.
“This is also a gift we have prepared. It is small and meaningless, but this is all we have, so I hope you understand.”
“T-to say that this is small…”
“It is a gift. Does it not suit you?”
“No, Your Highness! That isn’t it… This is just too…”
… It was too much. It was of significantly more value than the gift that had been prepared by the Kingdom of Aylans. To give this amount of gold as a mere gift was unbelievable. This amount of gold would exceed the total cost to keep the entire Kingdom of Aylans operating for over a year.
The view of the demons from the Kingdom of Aylans was really starting to shift.
First, they had believed that they were merely a kingdom of primitive savages; a kingdom of brutes with no culture or techniques and incapable of development. This was the fixed perspective spread throughout the continent.
Next was regarding their development of civilization. Count Shabel had made his decision after seeing the military that they had possessed.
A military was something that was formed after a civilization was developed. According to Count Shabel, he had predicted that they must have formed a level of civilization similar to a small kingdom at the very least.
The final shift was that the Demon Kingdom had risen similarly to an empire. Their construction and crime suppression were far superior to the Kingdom of Aylans, and their ability to freely spend their funds like water and their level of military training… They seemed to possess a level of organization that was not only outstanding but could be considered superior to the Kingdom of Aylans in those respects.
‘Primitive savages? Who is the one uttering this bullshit!?’
The ambassador had been deployed under the false impression that this was a ‘half-assed nation’. But the reality of the situation couldn’t be further away from that. Those words had been spoken out of an overabundance of pride.
‘It is definitely still a formless nation. However… they are developing at a terrifying rate. They are developing so quickly that I have to wonder if we’ll be able to keep pace!’
He began to wonder about just what would happen once their infrastructure had been built up a little more.
He felt chills.
This was definitely a nation that would exceed the Kingdom of Aylans one day.
‘We were only wary of the Devil of Lania that killed Holffmann… but it isn’t just the Devil of Lania that we must be wary of, it’s the Demon Kingdom itself!’
The ambassador couldn’t help but feel awe toward the decision that had been made by King Paulie this time.
“This is the first diplomatic exchange with humans. Or perhaps, this small of a gift is not suitable? If you desire something else, please speak.”
The ambassador was taken back. There was no bigger mistake than refusing a gift in a diplomatic exchange.
“No! No! How could that be the case?!”
‘A small gift? This…?’
“Is that so? Then I hope you will accept it. Also, we shall also compensate you appropriately for the items we requested as well.”
The ambassador calculated quickly.
‘If this is considered a gift, doesn’t that mean that she is willing to pay once again for the coming items as well?’
The value of the box before him was more than enough to pay for the items and have plenty left over. The gold itself would not be enough, but as there were jewels that hadn’t been taken into account yet, the value would be astronomical.
‘They are willing to give this as a gift and pay for the items as well? Are they really that rich?’
‘They shouldn’t have had any exchanges with the humans… So how were they able to develop to this extent?’
The ambassador groaned in his heart. It was his job to see, listen, and experience everything in order to report it all back to their homeland. Even the smallest of things. However, he did not know how to report something like this. It was already enough of a pain trying to figure out how to understand it himself.
Lily smiled and continued, as she couldn’t understand what these men were thinking.
“Also, ambassador of the Kingdom of Aylans, we have prepared a banquet for you and your men. I hope that you all have a good time.”
“…T-thank you, Your Highness.”
The ambassador lowered his head and expressed his gratitude toward her. From their perspective, her request to have a ‘good time’ was an impossible request.
The ambassador of Aylans moved quickly as soon as he entered the guest room.
“Pen and paper…! Hurry! We must give our report as quickly as possible! The Primitive Demon Kingdoml? Shit, this is why we can’t rely on rumors! They’re not only not primitive, but they’re on the verge of overtaking our level of civilization! It is unreal how far along they are!”
‘Just… how were they able to develop this quickly?’
The ambassador was at a loss. A kingdom was not something that could be formed in a day or two. The state of the demons that was reported only a year or so ago was completely different.
‘It hasn’t even been a year since the Hero’s Allied Forces made their report. They have developed this much during that time?!’
It was something that the ambassador just couldn’t understand. It was impossible. It was something that completely exceeded any level of imagination. They had been completely undeveloped only a short while ago.
It was a very difficult task to overturn a settled civilization, with their laws and rules, and their culture and politics, as well as their economic policies and such. It would take, at minimum, dozens of years―possibly even hundreds―to cause such extensive reform.
Reformation of a massive empire was much different than a reform within a small kingdom. Both in scale and speed. The Ajins each had their own civilization and tradition, but that was it. As they didn’t quite have rules and laws deeply ingrained yet, they were also unable to have their identity and economic policies set.
As it is difficult to reform something already ingrained, it is not difficult at all to create something new and experimental. Without speaking of their politics that were still without corruption, Ajins that had unique characteristics that oppressively outshined their human counterparts largely affected this as well. The rate of success is largely unreliable, but, at the very least, they were able to produce much faster results with the expectation of ‘bringing change’.
The ambassador looked at the box of gold and jewels placed in his guest room and was drenched in a cold sweat. Compared to their gift of goodwill, the Kingdom of Aylans looked pitiful. When even the size of their gifts compared this harshly… the level of welcome between the two kingdoms meeting for a diplomatic exchange was also different.
Normally, alliances were formed by high-ranking members of interested parties meeting back and forth for diplomatic exchanges. Pope Salem himself had arrived to form an alliance with the Kingdom of Aylans.
The Demon Lord hadn’t visited the Kingdom of Aylans herself yet, but two apostles equivalent to counts had personally visited. Looking at it that way, the Kingdom of Aylans―that had only dispatched an experienced ambassador for their diplomatic exchanges―appeared as though they had committed a slight. King Paulie himself should have made the visit, or at the very least, someone directly under him should have. Certainly, before the banquet ends.
‘Shit, this is why those aristocrats who don’t do any real work are a problem!’
The ambassador couldn’t help but hurl insults at them in his heart. The reason that a high-ranking member didn’t come in this instance was simple. They were against crossing the national border. Due to unspoken fear, all of them had refused to visit as ambassadors.
“Hurry…! We must send it quickly…!”
The ambassador of Aylans moved quickly. He sent off an owl with a letter tied to its leg to King Paulie. The owl flew up into the sky and hastily flew toward the Kingdom of Aylans.
Then the ambassador began to hastily draw a magic seal. It was a meticulously drawn Warp Zone. A spell that was only used in emergencies even within the Kingdom of Aylans. As he drew out the runes that devoured a frightening amount of mana that would make even Grand Magicians groan in disgust, he began to sweat profusely.
“Ugh… I-is that a Warp Zone? It’ll make one bedridden for three days and nights in pain by just moving a single person…! Why don’t we just invite him over normally?”
One of the members of his retinue spoke up, with the rest nodding their heads in agreement. Warp Zone would completely drain dozens of high-rank magicians moving but a single person from its starting point to its destination. If he used it, the ambassador would have to stay bedridden for several days.
“You’re crazy! Don’t you know how important this alliance is?! In truth, we have already committed a grave slight! This kingdom has already extended this level of welcome, and how pitiful does that make us?! Also, do you think that the other nobles would believe the things that we have seen and heard?! For the things to come, we have to invite a high-ranking member directly here! This is something they have to experience themselves!”
King Paulie or someone directly following in rank would have to follow through the Warp Zone to this place. More so, attending the banquet that was soon to open would meaningfully deepen their relationship. The owl would arrive in a day or two, and the letter would be delivered then. Also, King Paulie or someone similar would arrive at the Demon Kingdom.
Tom watched the owl flying through the sky. Seeing the letter attached to its leg, he figured that it would be a letter of alarm to those in the Kingdom of Aylans.
“… Is that going to be okay?”
Tom scanned the Demon Lord’s castle awkwardly. A Gargoyle took a long yawn and started nodding off to take a nap upon the top of the castle’s spires and walls. It was a precarious situation in which one of them could easily eat the owl by mistake. The Kingdom of Aylans must not have considered this.
“… Well, it appears to be running away quite well without detection.”
The intelligent owl had discovered the Gargoyles and was trying to fly away with all of its strength in surprise.
Tom, who was watching this, turned around.
“… Winter is coming soon.”
“Ah, T-that is so isn’t it? I thought the days were getting chilly…”
“The forest is much colder.”
“Huh? Ah, that’s true, but it… should be okay with that thick fur, right? Wah~! Look at that glossy fur. How do you take care of it?”
“I have been stationed in the area outside the border. But…”
“The weather is quite nice, isn’t it?”
“Please don’t change topics, Miss Ellin.”
Ellin could feel cold sweat running down her back as she turned to look at the werewolf, Worlf, in front of her.
After visiting the Kingdom of Aylans, Worlf continued to remain hidden in between the Kingdom of Aylans and the Holy Kingdom. He remained vigilant in case the Holy Kingdom moved to invade once again. The problem was that Worlf and his group had been forgotten.
“Wait! This is not right! The one who made that request was Tom, not me!”
“I heard that Tom had asked Miss Ellin to contact our kin to return.”
“… I-is that so? That sounds like it could be true… I don’t think it is though… M-maybe I don’t remember…? Haha!”
“The typical excuse.”
Worlf’s shoulders grew limp.
Ellin had been too preoccupied with the invasion of the Holy Kingdom, the fight with Holffmann, and the diplomatic meeting with the Kingdom of Aylans. As such, she had completely forgotten about Worlf.
Tom turned to the pair and spoke.
“The meeting with the ambassador of Aylans and Her Majesty looks to have ended.”
Ellin’s face grew bright as though she had been waiting patiently for those words.
“Really?! Then I can go meet with Her Highness?!”
“Yes, we must greet her. However…”
Tom smiled bitterly.
“I still have something to take care of, so I’ll have to meet her later.”
“… Why? Doesn’t meeting with Miss Lily come first?”
“… That is usually true, but this has to be taken care of quickly.”
“What’s left to do?”
When Ellin began to frown, Tom replied.
“Didn’t the Dwarfs arrive? The plans for the city and the construction of the smithy and the production of tools has to be overseen.”
“… Can’t that be done later?”
Tom scratched his cheek.
“I just think it’ll be much smoother if it’s started quickly. I just feel nervous leaving it to Halsem alone.”
“… I understand.”
For some reason, Ellin didn’t push him any further after hearing his response.
— Ω —