95. Forces (8)
Akareal had a strange feeling after seeing the unusual atmosphere of the banquet hall. She had never seen anything like it before. It was a typical banquet, but everyone looked different from each other. They weren’t all humans. In fact, the other guests almost exclusively consisted of various species of humanoid creatures―as different from each other as they were from her. But, despite this, nobody else really seemed to mind. It didn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind at all and they were all conversing with each other without reservation and were enjoying themselves.
It was a strange sight.
Her eyes turned forward.
There was a woman sitting opposite her that was both stunningly beautiful and graceful. Her wavy silver hair was neatly organized and almost seemed to shine. Her scarlet eyes looked like gemstones and she couldn’t help but stare at them with a curious look.
‘She’s a really beautiful person. No, wait, she’s actually an Ajin, right?’
Akareal had heard that the Demon Lord was a woman, but she had never imagined that she would be so alluring. What surprised her more than anything, however, was not simply how attractive she was, but rather, how the woman felt strangely familiar to her.
‘…She looks just like that sister that was with Thoma.’
She tried to remember her name.
She couldn’t recall the woman’s face in detail as she had only seen it for a brief moment so many years ago, but the Demon Lord before her eyes now had a striking resemblance to her. At least, from what she could remember. There was enough similarity between the two for all of these memories to resurface in her mind, anyway.
The Demon Lord, however, was not the only person in the room who felt so familiar to her. The female knight that was guarding the Demon Lord’s side felt very much so as well.
She had black hair and eyes―unlike the Demon Lord―but she had pale skin that was in stark contrast. It was almost enough for her to believe that they could pass themselves off as twins if they were placed side-by-side.
“Isn’t there anything here to your taste?”
As Akareal had been sitting there without touching her food at all, Lily had chosen to express her concern. Ordinarily, it would have been considered rude for someone to not even touch the food that had been prepared for them, but Lily was not one to make an assumption like this. Instead, as it usually did, Lily’s concern had won out.
Akareal started to laugh.
She recalled King Paulie’s reaction when she had first told him that she would be the one coming here.
“What do you mean? Dear! Please think about this more carefully!”
He had been so worried.
Most of the high ranking nobles had disliked the idea of coming to the Demon Kingdom and they had called it a den full of Demons. Even though an alliance had been formed with them recently, the fear surrounding the demons remained. As everyone else had been trying to avoid going, after discussing it with her husband, Akareal had decided that she would be the one to visit them personally.
Of course, King Paulie had immediately opposed this plan. The idea of his loving wife going to an unknown kingdom by herself―one that was apparently full of hideous monsters―did not sit well with him at all.
Akareal had faced great difficulty in finally convincing him otherwise.
“Why are you so insistent on going?”
“I just want to see places I’ve never been to. And…”
Akareal rubbed her own belly as she continued.
“This child also wants to see this kingdom with which we’ll have such a long relationship with. As the mother of this nation, I think it’s quite fitting, wouldn’t you agree?”
King Paulie had stared dumbly down at her belly for quite some time after that revelation, sitting slack-jawed without saying anything.
Akareal had been nervous about his reaction. They had a child, after all. And that had been the first time she had told him about it. The bloodline of King Paulie in her belly. She had been swept up in anxiety about whether he would reject it or not.
There were those who didn’t like children, after all. Especially when the child was royalty and would immediately become embroiled in the politics of the nation, long before they were even born.
“… How long have you known?”
“I only found out recently.”
Those few moments in which she had awaited his reaction to this were some of the most intense of her entire life.
Things were not helped whatsoever by her husband being overly dramatic about it and dragging on the whole scene needlessly. Though, to be fair, he had probably done so unintentionally.
He had stared at her for several long moments after this revelation with a conflicted expression on his face that, at the time―and in her state of mind―could not have possibly been perceived as good news.
It had made her extremely anxious and restless and had stressed her right out.
Then he had just…waited there. Staring. For what had felt like an eternity before finally reaching up and sweeping his hair out of his eyes.
Then he had turned his back on her without a word and had started walking over toward the window.
Why he couldn’t have handled the conversation like a responsible adult, swiftly explaining his feelings on the matter before moving onto other, more important things will, perhaps, never be known. Instead, he had chosen to scream out the window of the palace in the middle of the night―when plenty of people were sleeping―about the news and about what a happy man he was, and about how his lifelong dream had finally been fulfilled.
Now the palace was in an uproar about it.
At first, she had been terribly embarrassed about the whole scene, but now, she couldn’t help but smile when looking back at it.
The child within her was his greatest wish being granted, and she had been worried over nothing.
“Of course not! How could that be? I am very grateful that you have prepared such delicious food as this. However… I know this is overstepping a bit, but my morning sickness is acting up today.”
Akareal carefully brought her hand to her belly to emphasize her point.
Lily and Ellin were stunned by this news. They hadn’t heard that the queen of the Kingdom of Aylans was with child, either. And with what she had said, it wouldn’t be long until the child would be due.
“You had a child? What joyous news!”
Surprisingly, this was also the first time in which the ambassador of Aylans had heard about this news as well.
He immediately raised his voice after overhearing the conversation.
“W-what do you mean?! C-could it be that Her Highness is…?”
Akareal turned to him and smiled bitterly.
“I do not know whether it is a prince of a princess, yet.”
“How could this be…?!”
The ambassador was visibly happy.
As the banquet grew rowdier, the story eventually entered Tom’s ears.
“… Did you live a happy life?” he mumbled quietly to himself, thinking aloud.
He hoped so.
However, a war had broken out due to Pope Salem’s obsession with her.
‘How will he react when he hears that Akareal is pregnant with King Paulie’s child? …He’ll probably collapse. Then go insane… Well, more insane. Then get angry. In that order.’
Also, he would spare no method in trying to erase that child in her belly from existence. It was a happy moment for Akareal, but it was also, potentially, the beginning of misfortune.
“Of course, I won’t let him do what he wants.”
Thirty years. He had intentionally stayed away from the world for that amount of time. Now it was about time for him to start putting an end to certain things.
As Tom was attending the banquet with Halsem, one of the Orcs standing guard approached him and whispered in his ear.
“… Captain Karakul wants to have a word.”
“Something about the Holy Kingdom’s movements being strange…”
Tom frowned and rose to his feet.
“Ey, Tom, where are you going?”
When Tom began to move away, Halsem called out to him. Tom lightly waved his hand and gestured that nothing was wrong before slipping out of the room. After leaving the room, Karakul was waiting for him in the palace hallway.
“What is it?”
“There’s been a report that Pope Salem is moments away from being dethroned.”
“A sanction from higher up seems to have come in for breaking Continental Law.”
“Pope Salem did go all out, but being dethroned…?”
“If it goes like this, the war with the Kingdom of Aylans will be resolved and the attitude toward the Demon Kingdom from the humans will change as well.”
It was the Holy Kingdom that dispatched Heroes and touted the idea that ‘demons were heretics’ was the will of God, and if the Pope, who represented them, was deposed, the aggressive attitude toward Demons would subside for the time being. There was nothing more to say regarding the Hero’s Allied Army. As time passes, the alliance between the Demons and the Kingdom of Aylans would deepen, and diplomacy with the other kingdoms would also start, reducing the number of those that would wish to threaten them.
“Everything is flowing all too smoothly. However… Salem isn’t someone that’s going to let himself be deposed.”
For a normal king, emperor, or pope, this would only happen when it became evident that they could not handle the pressure of their position. And if that was the case, they would not be able to withstand the overwhelming international pressure being placed on them from all of the international politicking, resulting in the loss of reputation or diplomatic edge. Unless they wanted to ruin their own nation, they would step down for the sake of the greater whole instead of allowing things to go so far as to become deposed. However, for Salem…he’d do whatever it took to preserve his position.
When Tom sent a look to Karakul, Karakul nodded in agreement.
“… Pope Salem is going to start a purge.”
Pope Salem was placed under immense pressure by the other high ranking priests, but that was not enough to negate his complete authority. More than anything, the movements of the Hero-grade Holy Knights that he had been developing through secret experiments, the Evilesse Order of Holy Knights, couldn’t have caught notice of the other Holy Knights.
“What method should I use to get rid of the Archbishops and Cardinals? I start to recall the past when I start thinking of these things.”
Pope Salem was headed toward the underground prison. The second capital of the Holy Empire, Fridalok’s underground prison in the palace, was where the most evil of the criminals were kept, but it was also filled with other criminals that were captured with all manner of nonsensical false charges. There were thousands of those.
Helpharon followed him down to the damp and moist prison with narrowed eyes. It didn’t make sense to him why Pope Salem had come to this place.
‘… What is he trying to do this time?’
Helpharon had watched Salem’s every action. However, all the things he had done so far were so beyond all common sense that he couldn’t predict what he was going to do next.
‘However, it’s too much for him this time regardless of how much he struggles. The issue with the Continental Law is too egregious.’
It was Salem that had broken the Continental Law, which was akin to declaring war on every nation within the continent. Then he had mocked the sovereign leaders of the various nations with profanities. The various nations were laying intense pressure on him now with all the various acts that they had held back on because of his immense authority and influence. Salem may be out of his mind, but now that his authority had plummeted, the amount of influence he could put out was meager.
“Do you remember a Holy Paladin named Farron in the past?”
Helpharon recalled such a figure in his memories. He was a good man. However, he had been dyed by corruption and had then become a fallen figure. Ultimately, he couldn’t overcome the adversities and had ended up kneeled before Salem and following him.
‘But, why is he mentioning that man…?’
As Helpharon grew warier, his face grew stiff once he saw where they ended up.
It was the section of the underground prison where everyone was locked in steel cells.
The prisoners were standing in lines. The prisoners―with only their most important parts being barely covered by ragged pieces of cloth―stood confused as they noticed Pope Salem and Helpharon walking in. Each one of them had marks of torture on their bodies such as cuts, stab wounds, and various other wounds like burns, and all of them walked with a limp as though none of their bodies were functioning properly anymore. One of them even had an arm stump that had been rotted through.
It was grotesque. However, what was more terrifying was their eyes. They were filled with madness. They were eyes filled with hunger and craving.
‘Hunger? For what…? Their eyes… envy?’
Helpharon swallowed dryly under this oppressive atmosphere.
“Can’t move the army? Then all we have to do is make an army.”
“… Just what…?”
“Their sentences have now ended. All of them have atoned for their crimes and they have undergone the purification ceremony.”
At that moment, one of the torturers that had been ‘taking care’ of the prisoners walked out from behind them. In his arms were all manner of delicious foods and a single pouch.
He laid them out before the prisoners.
Their eyes shot towards the floor.
Looking at the food, they began to swallow drily as they were drenched in cold sweat.
Seeing this, Salem smiled smugly and smiled.
The order fell. The prisoners hungrily crawled across the floor to devour the food. There were utensils there, but they didn’t use them at all. They didn’t care that the hot soup burned their mouths as they continued to drink and eat it all. They even broke apart the solid bones of the meat and forced it all into their mouths. Seeing this, Salem made a thick smile and turned to the torturers.
“You’ve educated them well.”
— Ω —