The magic item in his pocket vibrated, and Climb took it out.
It was a pocketwatch, just large enough to fit into his palm, with three hands ― the hour, the minute, and the second ― which traced a halo of twelve numbers.
While large mechanical clocks existed, personal watches only existed within the Kingdom as magic items. As pocket watches were closely linked to everyday life, they were fairly cheap, as far as magic items went. That said, they were still not something a commoner could afford.
Climb had borrowed the pocketwatch which he now bore, and so it differed from regular magic items in that it possessed a magical ability. The name of the watch was Twelve Magical Power. Once per day, when the watch reached a set time, it would unleash its magic.
However, one would need to have carried the pocket watch for at least a full day in order to enjoy that ability, so Climb ― who had just obtained this watch ― could not make use of its magic.
“Hm? Is it time already? That was fast…” said the girl who seemed to be looking aimlessly at the blue sky. Naturally, those words were addressed to Climb.
“It seems that way,” Climb answered the girl ― Tina, a member of the adamantite-ranked adventurer party “Blue Rose”.
“Hm~ It’s hard to tell the time when we’re spacing out.”
One could poke many holes in that statement.
To begin with, Tina was not spacing out. She was guarding the main door of the building behind Climb. While she had said things like “Is it time already” and “That was fast”, the fact was that she had a very acute perception of time.
There were some people in the adventuring community whose time perception was preternaturally keen. In particular, many people in the thieving profession had trained up that ability. It was very important to them, given that they often needed to move independently on stealth operations.
“Hm? Were you about to say something?”
“No, not really.”
Tina replied with a “Is that so,” when she heard Climb’s answer, and then looked at the sky again.
She was hiding something. Yet, there was no way someone like Climb could ask why she was lying.
In the first place, they did not have the money to hire Tina and the others; they just happened to be operating in the same area by chance. Given their lack of manpower, he could not do anything which might upset her.
“Then, I will go report to the Princess.”
Climb turned toward the building he had been protecting all this while.
He had seen it during its construction several times, but this was the first time he had laid eyes on it after it was complete. The size of the building ― and the presence of his mistress within it ― filled the depths of Climb’s heart with warmth.
After opening the door, the unique scent of recently-completed woodwork reached Climb’s nose.
He continued forward, and after passing through the corridor, he opened the door to a room in the depths of the building.
Within that room was his mistress.
She was a stunningly beautiful princess, Renner.
Surrounding her were several children.
The way she smiled tenderly at the rowdy children and the posture which she took to listen to their words made all who saw her think of a saint.
As he beheld this picturesque scene, Climb lost the ability to speak.
He was afraid that he would ruin this sacrosanct vision before him. The same applied to the women who stood by the window, none of whom dared do anything unnecessary.
However, someone within the room did not share their feelings.
“Oi, it’s the little punk. Well, it’s about time.”
Renner raised her head in response to the cold voice which came from below the mask, and looked directly at Climb.
Climb could see himself reflected in those eyes which reminded him of sapphires.
“...My deepest apologies, Renner-sama. It is time to return to the Palace.”
“Is that so~ Then, although it pains me to do so, I must take my leave.”
The kids chorused “Ehhhhhh~”, in voices filled with longing and reluctance. They would not have made such a sound if she had not thoroughly ensnared their hearts.
In response to the children, the other women hurriedly sprang into action. They patted the children soothingly, and pulled away those children who were slower on the uptake from Renner’s side.
“Everyone, can I come play with you again?”
The kids energetically answered in the affirmative to Renner’s question.
“Then, we’ll cook next time. Climb, let’s go, You too, Evileye-san.”
“Hm~ Well, I’m your bodyguard too, even if you don’t say it ― although, since this isn’t a request, it’s more like we happen to be travelling together. Don’t worry, I’ll be behind you.”
The group exited the building just as a horse-drawn carriage drew up nearby.
Tina entered the carriage without introducing herself. Although it seemed like she was being rude, she was simply ensuring the safety of the carriage. Shortly after that, Renner, Climb and finally Evileye entered one after the other, and then the carriage set off.
Within the bumpy carriage, Evileye could not help but mumble:
“...It must have been pretty hard to build an orphanage like that.”
“Yes. A lot of people are saying that too. Where in the world did you get all that money to spend on a place like that?”
Renner cupped her chin with one hand, tilting her head slightly.
“I don’t think so, right? Onii-sama was quite happy to listen to my request. Besides, it’s because the world is like this that we need to take good care of the children, right?”
Evileye raised her chin slightly, as though to permit her to continue speaking.
“As we all know, the ruler of the Sorcerous Kingdom has caused many deaths. As a result, I believe there are many orphans who have lost their parents. Thus, this orphanage was built to protect those orphans. In addition, those women who have lost their husbands will also need a place to work, right?”
“The Sorcerer King, huh… well, we’ll talk about that later. Couldn’t that money be better spent on things besides these brats? If you ask me, the weak losing their lives is just the way things work in this world, no?”
“That’s not right.”
Renner’s statement was clear and succinct. Unlike her tone from just now, those words were filled with tremendous power.
“Saving the weak is what the strong should do. And…”
Climb felt Renner’s eyes suddenly turning to him.
The image of himself as a child appeared in Climb’s mind.
Perhaps the Princess had built the orphanage because she remembered his state from that time. In a way, it was to prevent children like Climb from appearing again.
A wave of heat flashed through his chest.
Of course, he could not verify the Princess’ actual thoughts. Even so, Climb did not doubt that it was that way.
“Well, I’m sure some people would think that way, And it seems wrong to force my own views on others. Still, did you really have to make it so big?”
“Yes. After all, we have to consider that we will take in many children in the future, and there will be others from those regions directly administered by the Crown. With that in mind, even a building of that size might not be big enough. Children are my treasure, and we need to take care of them to make sure they don’t go down the wrong path.”
“Hmmm. Hime-sama, that’s a good head on your shoulders.”
“What are you trying to say, Tina?”
“I was thinking about how children without their parents would live, Evileye.”
“That is… I see… since we can’t spare precious manpower to replenish the depleted number of troops, you’re using alternate means to maintain public order… I see.”
“One can live a good and righteous life under supervision. But people will end up following their desires if they are not careful. And then, when they commit those crimes, they will fall further into wickedness. Thus do small sins grow larger, like a rolling snowball, so we should not let such chances appear. However, since it is difficult, we use these methods to reduce those chances.”
“Hm. So you’re saying, ‘―Not everyone has a strong will’, then?”
“Well, people have said that about you before, Evileye ― could it be it’s bothering you?”
“I think she’s said something like that about three times already.”
While the latter half was something that nobody but Evileye and Tina could understand, the first half was simple enough that even Climb could understand.
Those children who had lost their parents often turned to crime in order to survive. If that happened, even the weakened Eight Fingers would soon return to full strength, which would worsen the security of the Royal Capital.
In other words, his beloved lady had done this to prepare for the future.
However ― Renner asked Evileye in a curious tone:
“―What does that mean?”
“Oi… did we read too deeply into it? Or is this just an act?”
“Hm~ it looked genuine enough at a glance.”
“Well, if you say so, then it must be true. I feel like I was moved for nothing.”
“Well, it feels like you’ve decided to lower your opinion of me all of a sudden… but, it’s true. I think about a lot of things, you know? Right now, this orphanage is giving these kids a certain degree of education, and once we start identifying talented individuals among them, the other nobles will surely start to copy us. Because of that, we need a certain amount of kids… Although that’s not really something to be proud of.”
“No, I can understand gathering those brats for that reason, and it’s pretty admirable too. If you can actually produce results, it would be worthy of praise. It’s just that people are going to be suspicious if you do something without expecting anything in return.”
“Evileye’s heart is twisted because she works too hard.”
“Oi! You’re the same type as me, aren’t you?”
“Certainly not. I am very pure. It’s only you who has been stained.”
Cheh! The sound of an explosive scoff came from beneath the mask.
“Yup, yup. Brain-san gave me the idea of building the orphanage.”
“Brain Unglaus, huh. What happened to him. How come he isn’t around today?”
“Brain-san is busy with something else. He’s running around the Capital now.”
“Hoh? Could there be something more important than protecting the Princess?”
“Yes. He’s doing something in order to fulfil the wishes of the late Warrior-Captain. And, about the Warrior-Captain… well, thank you for your help.”
Tina narrowed her eyes, as though to conceal her feelings.
“Well, I’m pretty annoyed that our oni leader’s pretty face got hurt.”
“I am very sorry about that. Please allow me to apologize on Father’s behalf.”
“I know you’ve already apologized to the boss, which is why I forgive you.”
“Thank you very much.”
“...It seems that sometimes, the words of the dead are more powerful than those of the living.”
For a moment, Evileye glanced out of the carriage as she was deep in thought. Of course, that was just for a moment.
“Speaking of which, what is Brain Unglaus doing?”
“Well, the Warrior-Captain told Brain that he hoped for Brain to succeed him as Warrior-Captain, but he felt that he was not up to the task. Therefore, he’s looking for someone suitable to become the next Warrior-Captain and then he’s going to train him up.”
“So he’s looking for someone who’s not from a noble family… I see ― after all, both Gazef and Brain were commoners. So he was thinking in that direction. And what you took away from that was―”
“―That’s right, to build the orphanage. Next time, I’ll go visit the children with Brain-san. For all we know, there might be a talented child among them.”
“Well, I’m hardly that perceptive,” Tina said. “How about you, Evileye?”
“You can’t discern magical talent at a glance. At the very least, they’ll need to go through a lot of magical training before I can roughly understand whether or not they can use magic. In addition, that’s only for arcane magic. If those brats are talented at spiritualism or divine magic instead, I won't be able to see anything.”
Renner went “Hmmmm~” in a bothered tone, and then a smile blossomed on her face.
“Then, in future, I think we ought to invite all sorts of people to the orphanage and have them look over the children for talents.”
Renner was looking at the two of them, apparently trying to convey something with her gaze. To some extent, it was more persuasive than actual speech.
“...That’s pretty naïve. But if it was her, ah―”
“I’m sorry, Evileye, if it was our oni leader―”
“―Yes. Still, I won’t agree so easily, even if it’s for her, no? After all, we need a certain amount of remuneration for this ― since we’ve been hired, we’ll need a minimum payment. Besides, if we don’t collect anything, it’ll be bad for the others too. It’ll also violate the adventurers’ rules. In addition, a price has to be paid for teaching techniques.”
“Well, I do agree with everything you’ve said, but I’m very sorry. The truth is, I don’t have any money…”
Renner hung her head in dejection as she said that.
The Third Princess was a spare among spares, and nobody had any expectations of Renner besides her ability to join a noble family to the royal bloodline through marriage. Because of that, no nobles backed her, and she thus lacked any money of her own to spend as she wished. Of course, this was not much of a hardship for Renner, who lived a simple lifestyle. However, there was no way that the First or Second Princesses would be able to tolerate this sort of thing.
Because of that, Climb could keenly feel her intentions through the armor he wore.
“I’ve heard princesses all wear pretty dresses and lead graceful lives...”
“Reality’s hardly that nice. Still, we can’t say there aren’t any princesses like that.”
As he watched Princess Renner’s eyes light up with admiration, an emotion which he could not express with words welled up within Climb’s heart.
How he wanted to give that sort of life to she who was both the most beautiful person in the world, and who had the most noble soul in the world.
On the flip side, all this had been because of her. He was standing here now because she had saved him. Just then, Renner turned her face, and her sparkling eyes met Climb’s own from the side.
“―Thinking of something, Climb?”
“Ah, no, it’s nothing, Renner-sama.”
“Is that so? Well, if you think of anything, you should speak up. We need to help each other in tough times, after all.”
“Ah, yes! Thank you very much!”
“Oi. Sorry to interrupt you lovebirds, but I really don’t like handing down my skills for free. No matter what she says, I’m still going to ask for an appropriate payment.”
“I will strive to meet your price.”
Renner lowered her head.
“Hmm~ but what you want to know is whether they have talent or not, right, Hime-sama? If it’s me, I can watch their movements, but how about you, Evileye?”
“Ah, I’ll level with you. You can’t fathom a person’s depths just by seeing them carry out a few exercises. Magical ability is more internal than external. In addition, I might seem like a genius when it comes to magical ability, but that’s all there is. I don’t have the abilities of that great magic caster from the Empire.”
“So, identifying talents―”
“Talents, huh,” Renner sighed. “It would be a big help if we could identify them during childhood. It would also help soften the nobles’ stubbornness toward the commoners too.”
“Then, how about setting up a universal identification system for talents in children? There are 3rd-tier spells which can verify the presence or absence of a talent. However, if you want a full picture of what that talent might be, you’d probably need a higher-tiered spell… well, in the end it’s just an idle conjecture.”
“Really? Can you really identify talents?”
“Well, I don’t know what that sparkle in your eyes is for, but don’t get your hopes up. I’ve heard there’s a 3rd-tier spiritualist-only spell which can verify if someone before the caster’s eyes has a talent. That said, even if there was such a spell, the troublesome part would come after that. You’d need to learn how to properly develop that talent. And it’s also quite likely that after expressing that talent, it’ll end up being a meaningless ability.”
“Is that so…”
The light in Renner’s eyes dimmed.
“I think it would be better to test them in various ways. Have them stand under a waterfall, or have them inhale some relatively safe sleeping drugs to go into a trance. Apparently, it makes you sense your own natural talent, mixed up with something else. ”
“Really? ...Hm, is that really true?”
“Ara, do you have a natural talent too, Evileye-san?”
At this, the hitherto chatty Evileye suddenly fell silent. It would seem someone had brought up a topic she did not want to discuss.
However, his master was clueless enough to actually ask that question.
“Could you tell me what kind of talent it is?”
It was not that she liked such incisive questioning, but the fact was, she tended to be this way. One might say she did not know how to read the flow of a conversation, or perhaps that she would unintentionally ask about things which were usually quite difficult to bring up.
Neither was it because she did not care about the other party; it was simply because she had grown up in the royal family.
“What, are you getting excited over a question like this?”
“There are very few people with such talents around me, so I’d like to know what sort of ability you have, Evileye-san.”
“Is that so. Well, since it’s gotten to this, I might as well tell you.”
Evileye leaned her body forward, and Renner ― her face a picture of excitement ― leaned forward as well.
Natural talents could sometimes serve as a trump card, and this was even more so for adventurers. While he did not think Renner would go around blabbing out that secret, Climb felt that this was something which should not be shared lightly.
“This isn’t something I really want other people to hear, so could you bring your ear closer?”
Renner brought her ear close to Evileye.
“AS IF I’D GO AROUND BLABBING IMPORTANT THINGS LIKE THAT!!!”
Her angry voice echoed through the carriage.
Tina seemed to have anticipated this, and had plugged her ears beforehand.
“How mean! My ears are ringing!”
Renner threw herself into Climb’s embrace. A suitable sound effect for this would be pomf.
She looked up from his chest, her eyes brimming with tears.
Climb immediately cast aside such thoughts like “She’s cute”, “She smells nice” and other meaningless things from his mind. It was forbidden to have such fantasies about one’s mistress.
“Evileye-sama, I understand how you feel, but could I ask you to forgive―”
“―Ah? Punk, she’s become like this because you keep spoiling her, no?”
“It, it’s nothing like that, I, it’s not like I spoil the Princess or...”
Even if he wanted to spoil her, there was no way he could do it.
“Yes, I feel that Climb can and should spoil me more. I approve of what you said, Evileye-san.”
“No, no, that’s not right, Princess-sama. It feels kind of wrong…”
“Of course not! If you spoil me more, I can take scoldings like that more easily. Therefore you must spoil me more. Let’s start by napping together like we used to as children. Come, Evileye-san, please go on!”
“Ugh, it’s fine. I’m such an idiot… In any case, I don’t intend to go around telling others my talent, kid. Got it?”
“Is it really that dangerous?”
“Ah, yes. It’s my ace in the hole. If I use it… yes, it would be like if our leader’s sword went berserk. It could easily annihilate an entire city.”
There seemed to be a terrible weight in Evileye’s voice as she said this.
Still, a baffled “Hm?” made its way up from his chest. He wanted to look down, but if he did, it would make him very aware of the reality that Renner was very close to him. There was no way he could do that.
He thought about pushing Renner away, but after taking her soft and fragile body into consideration, he did not know how much force he should use.
As Climb’s heart continued pounding, the conversation continued without him.
“The sword Lakyus carries?”
“Ah, according to her, once it goes wild, it’ll lead to grave consequences. A city, no, a nation, was it? Apparently it’ll be completely wiped out. She did say something about having to use use part of her strength to suppress it…”
“So that’s what was going on… I didn’t know about that…”
Climb had not told his mistress about that demonic sword yet.
“It’s best not to mind it. Our oni leader didn’t mention it to the two of you because she didn’t want you to worry. I’d be glad if you continued pretending like you didn’t know.”
“...I see. I understand. Then I’ll do as you say.”
“Speaking of which, what happened to Aindra-sama? I haven’t seen her around recently...”
“Hm? I don’t think anyone mentioned it, right? Princess, didn’t you tell him?”
“...I forgot. It seems like she’s training with Gagaran-san and Tia-san.”
Evileye took up the verbal baton from Renner and continued.
“The two of them lost their lives during the battle with Jaldabaoth, the Demon Lord who attacked the Kingdom. Of course, they were resurrected after that, but it expended a large amount of their lifeforce. Thus, they need to place themselves in danger, treading the edge of life and death in order to regain their strength.”
“In truth, I wish I could have gone with them.”
“Still, if you did that, you’d begin to depend on that method somewhere in your heart. The best path to strength is through a small amount of short battles.”
“I doubt that.”
“Umu, it does seem like the an effective way to “lair-bellup” (level up)... Well, if you don’t rely on that method, you might not even be able to stall for time when that fellow attacks the Royal Capital again.”
“Stall for time? Ahh ― time for that person you recommended, Evileye?”
“Of course! Until that hero-sama can arrive!”
Evileye’s mood seemed to have suddenly changed.
One could clearly feel her passion and excitement through that mask of hers.
“It’s Momon―sa―sama, right?”
“That’s right! The great hero, Momon-sama! The mightiest warrior ever, who swings his twin greatswords like they were little more than twigs! There’s no doubt that he’s the strongest fighter in the land! Even if Jaldabaoth comes again, as long as Momon-sama is around, he’ll definitely slaughter him! Although, it was a shame that he managed to escape last time. Still, that great man should have come up with some way to deal with that by now!”
Overwhelmed by the ardor of her words, all Climb could do was weakly answer, “Ah, yes.”
“But will that person really come? Isn’t he a minion of that Sorcerer King?”
Tina’s expression suggested she was thoroughly exhausted as she spoke out to Evileye, who had her fists clenched.
“Ahhhh~ Momon-sama! Shit, that damn Sorcerer King! To think he would actually dare to take control of that great man! Even if Heaven permits it, I won’t! If only I could defeat him and free Momon-sama! What on earth was he thinking, anyway? Maybe I should go to E-Rantel and ask Momon-sama about his thoughts, how about that?”
“...That will have to wait for after the two of them recover.”
“I’ll just pop over for a bit, and once I familiarize myself with the place I can just teleport back. Plus, if I use [Fly] and travel by myself, it won’t take much time!”
“Evileye, you really do break down once it comes to Momon… Didn’t our oni leader say you can’t do that sort of thing?”
“So help me keep it a secret!”
“Well, my lips are pret~ty loose, so they’ll reveal everything in an instant.”
“Oi, that would be impossible given your prior vocation, right?”
“Alas, I am now Tina of “Blue Rose”, also known as ‘Can’t Keep A Secret To Save Her Life’.”
It was then that Tina’s eyes took on a serious gleam.
“...Hm, this is a good opportunity. I’ve been wanting to ask you, Evileye ― can you kill the Sorcerer King?”
Evileye froze. Her excitement drained away in an instant. In its place was the highest-levelled magic caster among adventurers.
“If those rumors are all true ― then he is more powerful than any other magic caster. I did some investigations after the incident at the Katze Plains and looked up all my contacts ― I even got in touch with that granny ― and then analyzed the information I obtained. However, it’s so ridiculous it’s not even funny any more. It’s absurd to the point where I was seriously suspecting if the punk was mesmerized by an illusion.”
“That was definitely not an illusion. And there were so many dead…”
Renner’s face twisted in agony.
“Of the 260,000 people who took part in that war, 180,000 of them lost their lives. I’ve also heard that there are survivors who were mentally scarred and can’t live a normal life any more. Some of the orphans had fathers who ended up like that.”
“...Well, after listening to the punk, I can see how they’d end up like that. If they were chased by such monsters…”
“...Yes. It was hell. Fortunately, I had Brain-san… and the Warrior-Captain with me, and thanks to those two strong men, I didn’t suffer any mental wounds. Even so, sometimes I reflexively find myself wanting to look back over my shoulder. It must have been worse for the peasant levies, and it wouldn’t be strange for them to become mentally ill as a result.”
“You really need to thank your luck for that.”
Climb could only nod in response.
“Then, Tina. Let me answer your question honestly. I cannot defeat the Sorcerer King.”
That was the answer she had expected.
“As I thought…”
“Well, yes. I might be able to think of a way to deal with those monsters he summoned. Granted, it’s hard to say that, given that I was not at the scene. Still, the Sorcerer King ― who can not only summon multiple monsters of that kind and control them ― is a being that should not exist in this world. Someone like that possesses the power of the gods.”
“Is it possible that they could have been summoned from an item, and not from the Sorcerer King’s power?”
“The possibility does exist, but if that was the case, it would also be very dangerous. That said, we have no way of verifying that.”
“If only he would end up coming into conflict with Jaldabaoth.”
“That’s a development we’re all looking forward to. After that, the best-case scenario would be Momon-sama slaying the Sorcerer King…”
“Who do you think is stronger, between Momon-sama and the Sorcerer King?”
The person who asked this question was Climb, but personally, he felt that the Sorcerer King that had summoned those powerful monsters was far superior. Yet, Evileye’s pensive expression shocked him.
“I’m not sure. Personally, I feel that Momon-sama ― who drove off that Jaldabaoth ― is stronger. But the Sorcerer King also possesses unimaginable might. Both sides are far superior to us, to the point where I can’t even picture the outcome.”
“Still, having someone like him under the banner of the Sorcerer King is pretty much the worst-case scenario. Nobody would dare declare war on him.”
The only person who might be able to take the Sorcerer King on even terms had instead become his vassal. That was a truly troubling development. Anyone who declared war on the Sorcerer King would effectively be declaring war on two Sorcerer Kings.
Just as the mood in the carriage grew grim, there was a knocking on the board which separated the passenger compartment of the coach from the driver’s seat, and then it opened.
“We’ll be reaching the Royal Palace soon.”
As she heard the driver’s words, Renner slowly rose to her feet, and locked eyes with the two adventurers seated before her.
“Today, I have received your care in various ways. When Lakyus returns, I will thank her properly. May I ask if you have time to dine with me?”
♦ ♦ ♦
After the report of his younger sister’s return reached him, the Second Prince ― Zanack Valreon Igana Ryle Vaiself ― departed his chambers to welcome her home.
The location of his elder brother ― Barbro Andrean Ield Ryle Vaiself ― was still unknown. Given that a long time had passed, his chances of survival were considered extremely small. That being the case, Zanack was effectively the heir to the throne. Thus, the way in which he went to receive his younger sister was entirely inappropriate. While they were siblings, there was a clear distinction in their respective stations.
The reason why he had chosen to go in person despite knowing that fact was because he had a proposal he urgently wanted to discuss with her. Zanack might not have been entirely willing to do so, but he had lost his closest confidant and thus had nobody else to turn to.
Soon, his younger sister appeared before him.
Climb ― clad in his pure white armor ― was close by. Wherever Renner went, Climb often followed her. This too was nothing out of the ordinary.
The pauper’s child that Renner had picked off the streets ― Climb.
In the past, he had thought she must have gotten a bee in her bonnet and picked him up out of a moment’s fancy. However, after he came to understand Renner’s strange personality and her incomparable intellect, Zanack began to think she might have had a reason for doing so.
And then, after Jaldabaoth assaulted the Royal Capital, and the Sorcerer King wrought his grand massacre, he slowly began to understand the meaning behind her actions.
There were very few warriors in this city who were stronger than Climb. Even among the men of Gazef’s hand-picked warrior band, one could count the number of people who were stronger than Climb on one hand.
In addition, there was the man called Brain Unglaus, who had come with Climb, as well as her close friendship with Lakyus, the leader of the adamantite-ranked adventurer party called “Blue Rose”. There was no doubt that his younger sister now possessed the most physical power in the Royal Capital.
―Was she really not conspiring to overthrow him with military force?
Zanack was right to suspect her of doing so.
Even if Renner was not one to resort to such measures so easily, one still had to take precautions. Therefore, Zanack had begun to secretly build ties with orichalcum and mithril-ranked adventurers.
Zanack quietly thanked his elder brother.
The reason why he could work so hard on these matters was because his brother had gone missing and had virtually left him the throne. Another big reason was because his brother’s stipend now went to him.
That said, the fact that Crown Prince Barbro’s corpse had not yet been found left a hint of unease in his heart. It would be very troublesome if he had been imprisoned by the Sorcerer King or was hiding in a village somewhere while recovering from his wounds.
“Really… Is he going to give me trouble right until the end?” Zanack muttered, quietly enough so that the members of his retinue could not hear.
He had to avoid agitating the nobles before he consolidated his position.
Currently, Zanack’s backing was still not very secure.
Marquis Raeven ― who had joined with him to revitalize the Kingdom ― had thrown off Zanack’s hand as he reached out to pull him back, and returned to his own lands. It could not be helped, as he had lost many people from his demesne, but at that time, there had been an air around him which seemed to say that he would never be coming back again.
Part of the reason for that must have been the deaths of his formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurer team and that of his peasant-turned-strategist, a man who Raeven considered a treasure.
Zanack felt a slight pain pricking at his gut. Could discussing matters with his younger sister soothe that pain?
He had been agonizing over a certain problem for the past few weeks.
That was ― should he offer a tribute to the Sorcerer King? If he did so, should he send them in the name of celebrating the founding of his nation? Or should he do so for another reason?
Judging by the current circumstances, not sending the gift would be the right choice. Why would anyone send a gift to someone who had taken one’s own territory and founded a nation on it? The surrounding countries would surely take it as a mark of vassalage. That said, it was crucial to remain on the best of terms with the Sorcerous Kingdom.
Though the Sorcerous Kingdom’s fighting strength remained unknown, the fact that the Sorcerer King could destroy a nation by himself was common knowledge.
No matter what, he had to avert the possibility of that man’s eye turning to the Kingdom once more.
Because of that, he had to send a gift. Zanack felt that it could not be helped, even if other nations believed it to be a sign of fealty. No matter what, he had to buy as much time as possible.
However, the nobles would never accept that. This was the troublesome part.
The Sorcerer King’s might was widely known. That said, there was no way they would accept an attitude of submission from the future ruler of the Kingdom (Zanack), even in the face of that strength.
The nobles had suffered tremendous losses, so they were looking for scapegoats upon which to vent their frustration.
Due to the loss of his confidant Gazef Stronoff, the current King, Ranpossa III, was overcome with grief and despair, and had fallen into a state of extreme mental distress. To some extent, seeing the King in this sad state had mollified the nobles’ anger, but their hatred toward their broken King ― and perhaps the entire royal family ― would not vanish so easily.
If that fellow was around, he’d probably be able to come up with something good.
If possible, he would have like to have come to a conclusion himself. However, time was tight, and he needed a plan for action soon.
Zanack stood in place, while stomping his boots loudly.
Renner reacted to the sound, and turned to look at him. Then, she changed her direction and headed toward Zanack. That way, Zanack’s dignity as one of higher rank would remain intact.
Soon, his younger sister stood before him, but Zanack did not speak first. Moments like this were very delicate. He had to let more people understand who exactly was on top here.
“I’ve returned, Onii-sama.”
“Welcome back, my sister.”
In the face of Renner’s respectful greeting, Zanack responded with equal generosity. He saw Climb saluting from the corner of his eye, but there was no need to return the salute of a mere soldier.
“Let us walk together.”
“It would be my pleasure, Onii-sama.”
Zanack and Renner set out together, side by side. He raised his chin, indicating that his retinue should keep their distance. If he had looked over, he would have seen Renner gesturing to Climb that he was permitted to stay further away.
“Speaking of which, Onii-sama, you seem quite worried. What has happened?”
Renner smiled as she gently asked her question.
“Could it be that the Sorcerous Kingdom has sent an envoy over?”
Zanack could distinctly hear his heart thump in his chest. He had been too focused on what action to take on his part, and had completely overlooked the fact that they might try to initiate contact with him.
In other words, Renner felt that it was about time for the other side to take action.
Zanack made a mental note of that, and shook his head.
“It’s not like that.”
“That is to say, you came all this way to see me for some other reason?”
“Ahh. I was pondering the problem of tribute.”
“I think that once their emissary arrives, it would be better for you to offer twice as much as what you are currently imagining, Onii-sama. Half of that is a token of thanks for their coming all this way, while the other half ― I trust that goes without saying?”
Zanack did not say anything, but carefully reviewed Renner’s proposal.
Indeed, it was a very good move.
Surely none of the nobles would object to presenting a gift to a guest who had come to their home, even if there were ulterior motives for doing so.
The fact that Renner had instantly solved a problem which had been troubling him for a long time once more struck fear into Zanack’s heart. In addition, as long as Renner possessed her powerful subordinates, even assassination would not be effective. That being the case, his only option was to try and appease her.
“...When I become the King, I will grant you land on the border. You will proceed there.”
“I understand. I shall obey any orders that you give me, Onii-sama.”
“After I send you out, I will not summon you to the Royal Capital again. It might somewhat limit your freedom, but I will choose a domain which ensures you do not suffer hardship. You should spend the rest of your life there.”
“I see. My deepest thanks.”
In all likelihood, Renner already understood what he was aiming for, but he had to actually vocalize it in order to let her understand the kindness he was showing to her.
“You may take any of the orphans to be your children. In that respect you may do as you please.”
“Thank you very much, Onii-sama.”
The fact that she replied without a delay was evidence that Renner already knew what Zanack was going to say.
Zanack could not understand why Renner loved Climb the commoner. His looks were very plain, and he was not particularly special. He did not seem to match his little sister at all.
Ahh, come to think of it, I heard of her fetish back then.
Once he recalled that shameful memory of his little sister, Zanack began to feel a little sorry for Climb.
“Then, I do look forward to the day you will become King, Onii-sama. After your coronation, I would be happy if you would think of me from time to time as I live on a farm.”
“Ohh, I shall, my dear sister. However, it would be best if I could look you up for a discussion from time to time ― muu?”
Zanack turned his gaze to the soldier that was jogging over to them.
That man was one of the surviving members of Gazef’s warrior band.
He had fought to protect the King on that battlefield. Now that the Warrior-Captain was gone, he had a good position and the trust of the King. Incidentally, Renner’s two subordinates enjoyed that same trust.
The mental image of his father’s withered frame appeared before his eyes.
“My Prince, His Majesty desires your presence.”
The instant he finished that, he turned to look at Renner.
“He requests your presence as well, my Princess.”
“We have just received a report that the Sorcerer King will be sending a diplomatic party to call on us soon.”
Zanack snuck a look at Renner, but still managed to answer the man.
“I understand. Notify him that we will be arriving shortly. My sister, I will be proceeding first. Please proceed with all haste once you are ready.”
“I understand, Onii-sama.”
Given that she had been at the orphanage until recently, Renner’s clothes were plain and weathered. Appearing like that before the nobles would only embarrass herself.
With that, Zanack stalked off with a stern expression on his face.
“Hmph. Things being as they are, that proposal is no longer appealing. Ah, it’s too late, after all.”
It was estimated that the envoys of the Sorcerous Kingdom would take about a week to travel from E-Rantel to the Royal Capital.
Today was the seventh day. If all went according to plan, the envoys would reach the Royal Capital today.
Zanack, dressed in armor that he was not accustomed to, stood in line with his knights at the gates of the Royal Capital which faced E-Rantel.
The cloudy weather of the past few days had cleared up, like it had all been a joke, and the sky was the very picture of spring.
However, one could see heavy cloud cover in the distance. It would seem the azure sky was limited to the air directly above the Royal Capital.
This sort of scenery was quite bizarre. In fact, the Royal Capital’s meteorologist had shouted, “This is impossible!” as he scratched his head.
He had been working in the Royal Palace for a long time now, and he could predict the next day’s weather with over 90% accuracy. Thus, when he declared that this was impossible, it implied that these blue skies were anything but natural.
Zanack sighed deeply under his helmet.
He had never heard of weather-controlling magic from his teachers. However, that Sorcerer King might well be able to use such magic with contemptuous ease.
Zanack’s men were not only unskilled in the area of magic, but they lacked any knowledge of other strange phenomena. This made his head ache. More accurately, it was because he had relied too heavily on Marquis Raeven.
He had gathered the knowledge from his adventurers, compiled it, and called it the Tiger Scroll. It contained information on various kinds and appearances of magic items, the types and powers of various monsters, all sorts of spells, and so on.
Until now, he had freely shared that scroll with Zanack, his ally. However, since Raeven was no longer in the Royal Capital, the Tiger Scroll was naturally gone with him.
He had tried to find nobles who had learned from adventurers, like Raeven had, but sadly, there were none. This was not because these nobles were stupid, but because they lived in a completely different world from those adventurers. While some nobles did hire adventurers, it was merely to make use of their strength. The nobles were not interested in the adventuring world or the news which adventurers had.
The nobles had been that way throughout the Kingdom’s 200 years of history. From that point of view, Raeven was quite atypical.
It’s probably hard to find retired adventurers ― especially those of mithril rank and above.
He heard that adventurers hated troublesome things like politics. Indeed, once one entered the world of politics, one would lose one’s freedom. Would adventurers like that want to work for him after retiring?
Zanack’s heart sank as he thought about that.
The shout of the knight next to him brought Zanack back to his senses. He looked to the end of the street ― and saw it.
He could begin to make out the Sorcerous Kingdom’s envoys.
They had exerted pressure beforehand to shut this street down for today, closing it to traffic. As a result, nobody would be popping out of doors behind them. The city gates had also been locked down just for today.
“All right, let’s go over this again. We are to treat them like foreign dignitaries. Trying anything on the envoys of the Sorcerous Kingdom is a grave offense. It will be punished by summary execution.”
The reply of the ranked knights was quite forceful, and the swords at their waists made a clear, crisp and unified sound.
“All right! Then, show them the utmost respect, and impress the glory of the Kingdom upon them!”
The group remained absolutely still until the envoys had arrived.
Before long, the envoys’ vanguard reached them.
It was a black-armored knight. It rode a red-eyed unicorn that had a jet black body and sported two horns on its head. One could imagine that the rider was not human either. It emanated an aura of mortal danger, as radiant as the sun. Its full plate armor pulsed as if it was alive.
Zanack could feel his warhorse trembling in fear beneath him.
It clenched its clawed gauntlet and thumped its chest.
“Apologies! We are the envoys of the Sorcerous Kingdom of Ainz Ooal Gown!”
One might compare that voice to music squeezed out of rotted instruments. It made its listeners’ hair stand on end just by hearing it. Zanack gathered up his courage to banish his fear, and then he spoke.
“I am the Second Prince of the Kingdom of Re-Estize, Zanack Valreon Igana Ryle Vaiself! By His Majesty’s order, I am to guide your party to the Royal Palace. Please follow behind us!”
“Acknowledged. Then, we shall avail ourselves of your guidance. This one ― forgive me, this one does not bear a name, so please allow this one to introduce itself by the name of its species. This one is a Death Cavalier!”
Zanack gawked a little when it had given the name of its species, but he responded immediately so as not to give offense through his delay.
“Then, may I address you as Cavalier-dono?”
“This one would be honored to be addressed in that manner.”
“I see. Then, may I greet the leader of the envoys? As the Second Prince, I am also responsible for said leader’s actions within the Kingdom. If possible, I would like to explain the circumstances to your leader.”
“Acknowledged. This one shall convey your message to our leader-dono.”
“You have my deepest thanks.”
With that, the outrider retreated to deliver his report.
While the whole process sounded quite laughable at times, he was facing up against the Sorcerous Kingdom, after all. It was a nation that could control the undead and make use of monsters, so it would be best to assume that the usual ways of doing things were inapplicable here. He felt stupid for even expecting the leader of the envoys to have a vaguely human shape.
“Now then, stiff upper lips, everyone. We cannot afford to do anything that would offend them.”
As he heard the knights’ response, Zanack poured strength into his belly.
The envoys had passed through several towns on the way here, which was how Zanack knew of the party’s composition.
There were five coaches.
Each of them was pulled by a horse-shaped monster that radiated an inauspicious air. Then, there were numerous Death Cavaliers, who had been tasked with perimeter security. There were also other monsters beside them.
Zanack was unclear on the names of those monsters or how dangerous they were. Still, whether he knew them or not, his duties remained unchanged. Since they were envoys dispatched by the Sorcerer King, he could not possibly allow any slight to be shown to them.
A Death Cavalier ― probably the same one from just now ― approached him from the envoys’ side.
“Forgive the long wait. Our leader ― the right hand of the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown, Albedo-sama, has agreed to meet with you. Zanack-dono, please, proceed this way.”
After signalling to the other knights to hold their position, Zanack guided his horse after the Death Cavalier.
In all honesty, it was quite terrifying.
After all, Zanack was moving amongst monsters he had never seen before.
Even so, he still had his pride as a member of the Royal Family. Zanack would soon be the King, and since he would have to meet with emissaries of the Sorcerer King, he was forbidden to disgrace himself. Instead, he had to demonstrate his ability at this time, and let them take home news of the talented people in the Re-Estize Kingdom.
Zanack’s horse could not keep itself from breaking out into a cold sweat as it approached the coach. Zanack dismounted, standing before the coach.
“Then, this is the leader of the envoy party, Albedo-sama.”
What sort of monster is going to show up next? Zanack willed his expression not to change.
The door slowly opened, and a human figure slowly emerged.
What he saw there ― was beautiful.
No, Zanack could not think of an adjective that could better describe her. The only thing which came to mind was “world-class beauty”
Nobody in this world could possibly possess looks comparable to Renner’s. Zanack had believed this until now, but then he realised that was mistaken. If Renner’s was a radiant beauty, then Albedo’s was a seductive beauty tinged in darkness.
Albedo trod on the stepboard of the coach. The faint sound of her high heels jolted Zanack back to reality.
Zanack immediately genuflected before her and lowered his head.
One might think that it was embarrassing for a prince of a royal family to kneel before anyone, even if they were an emissary from another nation. However, after considering the difference in power between the Kingdom and the Sorcerous Kingdom, this was the right course of action. What the Kingdom needed now was not glory, but concrete benefits.
“Could you please raise your head?”
The quiet, lovely voice rang out from above him.
As he looked up, the fair maiden’s face was all smiles as she tenderly looked down on him.
This was a practiced attitude which superior men would adopt ― no, was she even human?
Zanack moved his eyes to size her up. First, were the wings on her waist magic items, or something else? Similarly, the horns curling out from the sides of her head.
Whether they were magic items or if she was actually a heteromorphic creature, neither of them seemed particularly bizarre once he considered that she hailed from the Sorcerous Kingdom.
“I am the envoy of the Sorcerous Kingdom of Ainz Ooal Gown, Albedo. Though it is but for a few days, we will be imposing upon you. Rise, Prince-dono. You certainly cannot continue speaking as you kneel.”
“You have my deepest thanks.”
Zanack straightened up, and then a problem presented itself.
Though he had learned her name was Albedo through conversation, was that really all?
In the Kingdom ― and in the Empire ― commoners had two names, nobles had three names, and titled people had four names. For the royal family, they had four names ― plus their titles for a total of five names.
This was why Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix and his four names were mocked for not being an actual member of royalty. However, a name like Albedo sounded like an alias, or a nickname. One could not possibly be as foolish as to address a member of the nobility by such a moniker.
Though he might have been worrying needlessly, he could not be sure that such a situation would not occur.
The reason why he said this was because many nobles had died in the previous battlefield. It was not just family heads who perished, but even the firstborn heirs of some families. Currently, many noble families were led by the “spares”, the second or third sons.
Spares were spares. Nobody expected much of those nobles. Not only did they lack class, but they lacked knowledge as well. In short, they lacked the appropriate upbringing.
Under normal circumstances, they would have been properly educated by the higher-ups in their faction, but the previous war meant that they no longer had the manpower for such efforts. As a result, many incompetent people were forced onto the center stage, and these incompetent people gathered together to form a faction of incompetents.
Currently, the class of the Kingdom’s nobility had plummeted, thanks to these people. At this crucial moment, could they meet a woman like Albedo with adequate etiquette?
“...Forgive me, but may I know how I should properly address you, Albedo-sama?”
This was a somewhat disrespectful question.
Normally, he should have asked. “What title do you hold among the peerage, Albedo-sama, or perhaps what is your position in the Sorcerous Kingdom?”
The problem was, she might have shot back, “Do you not even know the rank of an emissary from your neighboring country?”
Still, that was the fault of the Sorcerous Kingdom.
After all, no information about the Sorcerous Kingdom had flowed out from its borders. Though it had declared its own sovereignty for several months now, they had largely restricted themselves to internal affairs. This was the first time they had engaged in diplomatic relations of their own accord.
All Zanack knew about Albedo was that she was the leader of the envoys, and the hand of the Sorcerer King.
The Empire would probably know… but they didn’t tell us anything… Well, anyone who would have asked for that sort of spell to be used on us must hate us to the bone.
As though sensing his worries, Albedo answered:
“Though it may not appear that way, I have been appointed as the supervisor who leads all the Floor Guardians and Area Guardians within the Sorcerous Kingdom of Ainz Ooal Gown.”
“Ohh, I see.”
He said that, but he had no idea what being the “supervisor” meant. In addition, he was completely clueless regarding the “Floors” of which she spoke.
Albedo continued speaking, having seemingly seen through his concealed confusion:
“Indeed. I am Ainz-sama’s ― no, I should say, I am the Sorcerer King’s second-in-command, the Guardian Overseer . Perhaps that would be more appropriate?”
“Ohhh, I see now!”
Ainz-sama, it looks like she’s close enough to address him in that manner. So she’s a marchioness, no, a duchess, perhaps? I need to get this information back to the others. But still, Guardian… Overseer?
“Then, Albedo-sama, permit me to escort you to the Royal Palace. There are suites in the Royal Capital where I pray you will take residence for the time being. My father ― King Ranpossa III is of advanced age, so he assigned me the task of meeting you at the gates of the Capital. I pray you will forgive us this slight.”
“It is fine.”
Her smile had not changed at all.
Normally, she should have been thanking the Prince. However, he could clearly sense who was the superior party from her attitude.
Zanack was gushing cold sweat from his back. This was because he understood that forging good relations with them would probably be a very difficult task.
“...In addition, we would normally ring the bells in celebration, but the unfortunate misunderstanding between our countries led to tragedy, so please forgive us for not doing so. In addition, the common folk do not yet know of your arrival, so please take that into consideration.”
“Of course, it is not a problem.”
He had no idea what would the people would do if they knew that an emissary of the Sorcerer King had come to call on them. In that respect, Albedo’s answer was a great relief.
Is it better to think that I owe her a favor?
He was not at all worried that the envoys would be attacked by an angry mob. Those Death Cavaliers ― indeed, everyone present was probably very strong, even within the Sorcerous Kingdom. He could easily believe that each of them was a match for that Gazef Stronoff.
“Then, may I ask a few questions of my own?”
“Of course! I will answer as long as it is in my power to do so.”
“Well then, could you tell me of the itinerary after we reach the Royal Palace?”
“Yes! First, there is a dinner scheduled with myself and the rest of the Royal Family tonight. Tomorrow, we will visit the theaters in the day to watch the dances and hold a dinner party at night, where all the nobles of the Kingdom will be invited. The day after that will feature a concert by the Palace’s orchestra ― after which we will begin the diplomatic negotiations.”
“So that’s how it is… then, I trust there will be no issues if we decide to freely tour the capital?”
“Of course. We shall select exceptional knights to serve as your guards.”
Although the word itself meant that the knights would defend them, it also implied observation, and even to restrain them if the need arose.
“May I know if any place interests you?”
They would need to completely lock down the area on that day, to make it impossible for commoners to go near that place.
“No… there are no places which particularly interest me. Since I do not know which locations are worth visiting in the capital, could you guide me on a tour?”
“Understood. I shall make the appropriate preparations.”
Albedo smiled as she nodded.
For the past month or so, Philip felt that he was one of the luckiest men in the Kingdom.
He was arguably the luckiest of such men, if he did say so himself. However, modesty was a virtue. Besides, there might be other nobles luckier than himself, so it would be best not to speak in absolutes.
Nobles ― huh.
Philip tightened up his smile while smoothing out his clothes.
This was only the second time he had participated in a noble party like this. Still, perhaps he should say that this was expected of a dinner party organized by the Royal Family ― the sheer decadence of this event outshone the one he had previously attended.
The formal attire of the other guests seemed much more costly than the ones at the earlier party. How much did their outfits cost, anyway? Philip glanced at his own clothes, and began to feel a little frustrated.
As he thought, the upper-class nobles had really awesome clothes.
The noblewomen in their fancy dresses all had smiles on their faces, but were those smiles mocking him for his plain attire? Philip could not help but think that way, even without any basis for such assumptions. When he looked around, he imagined all the surrounding nobles laughing at him.
It’s all because I have no money.
If his domain was wealthier, he would have been able to afford better clothes. However, Philip’s domain had never been that prosperous to begin with. Even his clothes now had been hastily stitched together from his older brother’s formal wear. As a result, they still felt a little tight around the shoulders.
Well, money’s scarce because the family heads until now were useless. So once I become the next head, I’ll make my domain wealthier.
Philip was born the third son of a noble family.
Similar to commoners, third sons were not individuals who were particularly welcome in noble families. No matter how rich a family was, splitting its assets multiple ways would ultimately weaken it. Therefore, it was all inherited by the eldest son. In this respect, the nobles followed the same basic principle as the commoners.
Perhaps a wealthier family might have been able to give a third son some financial support. Perhaps they could count on connections to other noble families and foster him out. However, this was not the case for Philip’s family.
Once the eldest son came of age ― in other words, when the chances of him dying of disease were greatly decreased ― the third son Philip was no longer necessary to his family.
Would he be given a bit of money and then chased out of the family home? Or perhaps he would be sent to live with a poor family and work like a peasant. He could only see tragedy waiting in both options. Yet, things had not unfolded that way. Instead, he was making his debut at a grand society ball.
That was why Philip felt he was lucky.
The first bit of luck was his elder brother, the second son, dying of illness before he came of age.
Since his eldest brother ― the first son ― was already a man by then, there was no longer any value to his elder brother, the second son. In addition, theirs was not a wealthy fief, and they could only use herbs instead of priests to treat him. In the end, his condition had taken a turn for the worse, and he shuffled off the mortal coil.
At this point, Philip was now elevated to the position of a spare. His value had risen from that of a farmer to that of a butler.
Things like these were not uncommon.
However, what had catapulted Philip into the upper crust was the result of Philip’s next stroke of luck.
Several years after reaching adulthood, it was time for Philip’s elder brother to take over the family estate. Then, that war with the Empire had broken out. If it had been like previous years, it should have ended after a few bumps and scrapes. Therefore, it was a safe way for his elder brother to obtain a battle record, and his family could take pride in the fact that they had pledged men to the battle.
However, his elder brother had not come back.
He had been consumed by the Sorcerer King’s magic, and perished with the twenty peasants that went with him.
Philip could not forget the instant of joy he felt when he heard that news. It was the joy he had carried within him ever since becoming a spare.
His elder brother’s body was missing, and so was the suit of full plate armor passed down from his ancestors. Still, that was not a big problem. Once his domain grew wealthier, he would make a better suit of armor for himself. The more important thing was that the title of estate heir had gone from unattainable to practically his.
The timing for that was perfect.
If his brother had died after inheriting the family estate, Philip would have had to spend his time waiting for his nephew to grow into a man. However, since his brother had died without claiming his inheritance, his lordship was a done deal.
It was as though the Sorcerer King had gone out of his way to arrange all this for Philip.
Because of that, Philip even felt something like goodwill toward the Sorcerer King that he had never met before. If only he could convey his gratitude directly to the Sorcerer King’s emissary.
That’s right. I’m going to ride on my streak of luck. How can I let such a good chance get away before my eyes?
Philip’s heart blazed like a bonfire.
He could only think of his father and elder brother as idiots after seeing what they had been doing all this time. Why don’t you do this? Doesn't this bring you more benefits? Of course, he never told them that to their faces.
That was because none of the gains made would trickle down to him. Neither would any prestige for doing so be his. Therefore, over a long time, Philip had cooked up ideas on how to properly administer his fief and stored them in his heart.
I will let the nearby lords know that I am the one who deserves this title. I will let Father know how poor his taste was in choosing Nii-san. Selling the good-quality wheat and vegetables to those traders ― no, what should I do? That would draw too much attention, and what if my revolutionary proposal was stolen by others? Still, there’s no money without trade. I need to find tight-lipped and reliable merchants ― in other words, not that guy.
Philip’s face twisted as he recalled the face of that merchant.
The unpleasant memory of that man overcame his joy at being able to stand in this lavish hall.
How dare he look down on me! Although I have to bear it for now, once I find a better merchant in the Royal Capital, I’ll boot him away! I’ve already got connections of my own!
Philip had already found his own underground connections during his few weeks in the Royal Capital. His pride at this chased away the unhappiness in his heart.
As expected of me, I’ve already got my path all mapped out. I’ll make my domain rich and obtain a huge fortune. Those idiots who looked down on me will see who’s the true idiot now.
Just as Philip was envisioning his glorious golden future, a male voice rang through the hall.
“Ladies and gentlemen! I present to you the leader of the envoys from the Sorcerous Kingdom, Albedo-sama!”
At this moment, the grand hall’s orchestra lowered their instruments, and the mood of joviality in the air died down.
Judging by the noises, it would seem the master of ceremonies had just announced the star of the dinner party which the Royal Family was hosting.
“Albedo-sama serves as the right hand of the His Majesty the Sorcerer King in the Sorcerous Kingdom, and commands a position equivalent to that of a prime minister as a Guardian Overseer. Albedo-sama will grace us alone this evening.”
A soft woman’s voice said, “Huh, alone?”. A wealthy-looking noble standing nearby chastised her with a “Quiet, you.” Philip felt a little surprised at this.
Coming by oneself is all well and good. But to think someone like that would serve as an emissary! Does the Sorcerous Kingdom truly have such high hopes for the Kingdom?
As Philip wondered what sort of man this emissary would turn out to be, he looked toward the doors by which the master of ceremonies was standing.
“Then, let us welcome the leader of the envoys, Albedo-sama!”
As the great doors opened, the entire hall fell silent.
A goddess-like woman stood there. Her perfect features were more beautiful than any peasant, more beautiful than any whore in the Kingdom’s brothels, more beautiful than any woman Philip had ever seen in his life. Of course, the Princess from earlier was pretty, but Philip preferred what he was seeing now.
Her clothes were beautiful as well. Her platinum dress was accented with golden hair ornaments, while the lower half of her dress was covered by what seemed like black feathered wings. Her reflection in the magical lights above made it seem as though she was glowing.
Philip looked at the woman who had spoken earlier. She was standing in place with a retarded look on her face.
What’s this, what’s this. Is this the sort of face the companion of some big-name noble ought to have? You look just like a roadside peasant.
The elation he felt at at the Sorcerous Kingdom’s triumph ― to which he was favourably inclined ― made the joy of victory surge up in his heart.
“We welcome your presence, Albedo-dono.”
Ranpossa III rose to welcome Albedo.
“Your Majesty, I am grateful for this reception.”
Philip could only see a side of Albedo’s face, but when he saw Albedo’s tender smile, he was acutely aware of one thing.
She’s beautiful beyond words...
“I do hope you will forgive me for taking a seat, due to my age. Then, nobles of the Kingdom. Our main guest has arrived. Tonight, please enjoy yourselves to your hearts’ content. Then, Albedo-dono, I hope you will enjoy yourself as well.
“My thanks, Your Majesty.”
A sweet smile bloomed on Albedo’s face.
He snuck a peek at that noblewoman from earlier, and saw that she was mumbling something about “she didn’t lower her head” or something along those lines. Philip cast aside that foolish woman and her foolish words and instead feasted his eyes on that world-class beauty.
He burned the image of her speaking closely with Princess Renner into his eyes.
If only I could make that woman mine...
He understood that it would be a very difficult task. However, when one thought about it, it was not completely impossible.
Once my fief becomes wealthy, the other nobles will start introducing their daughters to me. The wealthier I get, the better the girls will be. Even that Princess, even that emissary isn’t out of the question!
Philip felt a wave of heat surge up from his lower body.
Well, the Great Nobles usually have a concubine or three… the best case would be if I could enjoy those two beauties at the same time.
Philip looked back and forth between Renner and Albedo.
Philip hurriedly picked up a beverage from nearby before his fantasies grew out of control,. It would be very bad if he got hard here. The cool sensation of the drink sliding down his throat helped him regain a measure of calm.
Come to think of it, how did they make this ice? Is it magic…
The only people in Philip’s estate who could use magic were the priests. While they could help cure illness, they would demand money for doing so. They would ask for an appropriate payment if they had to make ice.
Since they’re in my domain, I’ll have them heal me for free next time. A mere resident daring to charge his lord money, how ridiculous is that!
Philip made a mental note of this new way to deal with the priests in future.
He looked forward to getting to work on his domain once he returned. He could imagine all his brilliant ideas being put into action, lighting up his life with golden radiance.
When he looked back to Albedo, he saw her standing by herself.
There were many nobles around, but nobody knew how to approach her.
The Sorcerous Kingdom, huh… What will become of the Kingdom after this?
Philip did not particularly care what happened to the Kingdom, but it would be troublesome if it affected his estate.
That being the case―
Philip shuddered at the idea he had just had.
―Oi oi, don’t think about such dangerous things. It’s just… well, it’s not exactly a bad move, right? How should I say this… I can’t believe I actually thought of an idea like that...
He looked at the side of Albedo’s lonely face.
There’s no use in being third. There’s no point in being second. The most important thing is to be the first.
The emissary of the Sorcerous Kingdom looked like she had been outcast because nobody was talking to her. Philip had read about how ladies were quite vulnerable to this sort of thing.
Do it. You have to make a gamble to get a return. The chance to rise has come because everything has changed. I’m a lucky man, so I should make good use of my luck.
Philip’s family had always been bound to a faction, but they were typically at the tail end of that faction. There were only so many benefits he could gain from continuing to be bound to that faction.
Then, he recalled some words he had heard recently. A certain very skinny landlady had said, “Why not make a faction of your own?”
After making up his mind, Philip downed the glass of wine he had been holding all this while.
It was unlike the watery wine he had drunk at home. It felt like his throat and belly were burning. As though propelled by the heat which rose from his belly, Philip stepped forward.
“Albedo-sama, mind if I cut in?”
Thanks to his voice, Albedo turned her smile to him.
He was not just blushing because of the wine.
“Ara, how do you do―”
Her brows creased for a moment, as though deep in thought. Philip immediately realized what she was looking for.
“I am Philip.”
“Oh? Ah, Lord Philip ― no, Philip-sama. It is an honor to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Albedo-sama. Nothing could delight me more than to make your acquaintance.”
Philip was keenly aware that the air around him seemed to have changed.
A quick glance aside revealed that the higher-ranked nobles had shocked looks on their faces.
He could not stem the joy within him as he realised all eyes at the dinner party sponsored by the Royal Family were on him.
I, I’m now, I’m now the center of attention!
To think that he ― who had only eaten cold meals in the past ― was now the focus of these people who stood at the pinnacle of the Kingdom. As he thought about this, an unexpected excitement took control of Philip.
That’s right! I’m Philip! Watch me! Watch the man who will be the central figure of the Kingdom!
Philip racked his brains, and then made the biggest bet in his life.
That was to say, he invited Albedo to a ball which would take place a couple of days later.
♦ ♦ ♦
That rebuke extinguished Philip’s excitement. Yet, at the same time, it lit a flame within his heart. It was a fire that seemed to consume all the fuel Philip had hidden within his heart his entire life.
Philip looked disdainfully at the white-haired man before him.
“I didn’t send you there for that sort of thing! You imbecile!”
Philip sighed as his father asked him about the dinner at the Royal Palace.
“In the first place, that invitation to that dinner party organized by the Royal Family would never have come to our house. I worked my fingers to the bone to secure it so you could express your gratitude to the Count and to the other nobles while you made yourself known to them!”
The Royal Family’s dinner party gathered people from both factions. When this happened, the fact that the head of a family had changed would probably not come up. Thus, nobody would pay too much attention to that fact and he would be readily accepted by others. After that, once they had tacitly acknowledged him, it would be quite difficult for them to protest that fact.
In other words, Philip’s father had no faith in his abilities at all. He felt that if he had tried to introduce himself to the other members of his faction in the normal manner, he would mess something up.
As Philip realised this, he strove to suppress the annoyance within him, and put on a fake smile.
“No, no, Father. Don’t get so worked up. I was doing this for our house―”
“―What do you mean, ‘our house’? What you’ve done is completely absurd!”
What did he mean, absurd, Philip griped in his heart. Everyone else was a coward without the courage to make a move, so why should he not take the first step?
Was he supposed to pretend to be polite to all those incompetent cowards and remain in this pathetic place for the rest of his life?
“Father! Think a little! Although the road joining the Sorcerous Kingdom and the Kingdom is quite long, our domain lies on the middle of it! If the Sorcerous Kingdom makes war on the Kingdom, we’ll definitely be drawn into the mess. Therefore, we should forge good relations with the Sorcerous Kingdom, shouldn’t we?”
“You, you idiot!”
His father’s face was even redder than before.
“Those bastards from the Sorcerous Kingdom killed your brother! And you want to work with them! Isn’t that treason against the Kingdom?!”
So what, Philip thought.
Since the Sorcerous Kingdom was stronger, what was wrong with betraying the Kingdom? All he needed to do was pledge his fealty to the Sorcerous Kingdom. What was wrong with the weak following the strong? Who had the right to reproach him for that?
“What on earth are you thinking?!”
Philip could not help but feel frustrated at his father’s foolishness.
The fact that he actually had to explain such self-evident things struck him as terribly stupid. Still, it had to be said.
“It’s simple, Father. This is for m-”
He swallowed the word “my” the moment he thought of it. Sooner or later it would be true, but for now, it was not entirely his.
“―Our domain. It’s to protect our serfs. The Sorcerous Kingdom is overwhelmingly powerful. More so than the Kingdom. That being the case, it would hardly be strange if they attacked the Kingdom. This is a way out for when that time comes.”
“Cheh! What do you mean, way out? What do you think the surrounding lords will think when they hear about what you’ve done?!”
“They won’t come and attack us, not in this day and age.”
Many people within Philip’s domain had died because of that battle. The same applied to the surrounding estates. Therefore, they would not have the excess strength needed to attack Philip’s domain.
“Did you consider anything else?”
“Hah?” Philip replied. He had no idea what his father was getting at.
“That’s why I say your thinking is shallow. You’re acting as though your daydreams are already reality. This is―”
“―I think you should stop there for now,” interrupted the man who had been standing behind his father all this time.
He was the butler who had attended his father all this time. Philip disliked that man, who was the type that never let anyone see his feelings. He was one of the people Philip intended to chase out after he had solidified his position as the family heir.
His father worked to get his breathing under control once he heard the butler’s words. The red in his face receded, leaving a pale, anemic face.
“...Haaah. Hah. Philip. I have a question for you. Are you not afraid of making enemies of the surrounding nobles?”
“They’re nothing to be scared of, no?”
His father rounded his shoulders in disappointment. That response sparked frustration and unease within Philip.
Had he missed out something? Still, he could not think of what that might be.
“Many young men died in the battle of the Katze Plains. This will lead to all sorts of problems within the next few years. Therefore, the surrounding nobles will need to work closely together in a cooperative relationship. This domain will produce food, that domain will weave clothing. Nobody’s estate is large enough to be self-sufficient, nor do we have much money left over. Under these circumstances, who will help a family that actively courts the Sorcerous Kingdom’s favor?”
Cold sweat broke out on Philip’s back. His father had a point.
“You know that too, right? Our demesne does not produce anything the others do not ― we have no unique exports. Therefore, they will have no problem with kicking us out of their co-operative.”
Philip racked his brains. He had a good head on his shoulders. He should be able to refute any number of his stupid father’s assertions.
“That’s why we have to rely on the Sorcerous Kingdom, Father.”
His father bade him to continue.
“Once we build ties with the Sorcerous Kingdom, we’ll just have them support us.”
“...Then let me ask you something. If you were someone from the Sorcerous Kingdom ― no, if you were the king of a certain country, and a village from a country that you were at war with asked you for food, would you give it to them?”
“Of course. If it was me, I would definitely do so.”
“―Why is that?”
“Isn’t that obvious? By doing so, I’ll show everyone that I’m a merciful ruler.”
“...Apart from that?”
His father’s jaw dropped. He must have been impressed. Still, that sort of reaction was quite strange. After all, the Sorcerer King would surely want to be known as a kind ruler, particularly since the Sorcerous Kingdom had been founded on E-Rantel and the area surrounding that city. He would surely make some concessions to quiet them.
“Is that so… so that’s what you were thinking. Well, if it were me, I would surely send aid as well, in order to create a casus belli to invade the other country. After that, I would declare war on the Kingdom, under the pretext of liberating that village which the Kingdom was oppressing.”
“Impossible. It’s fanciful thinking. Besides, that sort of cause won’t work at all.”
“Really now, and why do you think it’s impossible?”
“Let’s back up a bit here. Let’s assume it’s really as you say, father. Isn’t that more of a reason to deepen our relationship with the Sorcerous Kingdom?”
His father was at a loss for words.
“Have you no pride at all as a nobleman of the Kingdom?”
“Of course I do. However, it would be better not to have it than be destroyed, no?”
“That’s the demon king who slew your brother and countless people of the Kingdom with frightening magic, no? This is the king you’re going to support.”
“That was war, father. What difference does it make if they died to swords or spells?”
“...Why is it that you have so much trust in the king of the Sorcerous Kingdom?”
That was not trust, though there was some goodwill there. More importantly, they were all just pawns for Philip to play in order to improve his lot in life.
A pawn! That’s right! To me, even the Sorcerer King of the Sorcerous Kingdom, who is feared by all the people of the Kingdom, is little more than a pawn in my hand!
Philip grew excited as he imagined himself playing a massive ― on the scale of nations ― game of chess.
Still, it’s only natural that father would be worried. That said, if I can rebutt him so easily, it just means that’s all there is to him… Although, it might be best to discuss the matter with Albedo-sama the next time we meet.
“I tire of this… Did you thank the Count for the dinner party? I’m asking about whether he acknowledged you as the new family head.”
That was the one thing Philip could not accept.
Even if he was the head of the faction, why did he have to bow his head to a count who was nothing more than an outsider?
It was the family head’s prerogative to decide who the next leader of the family would be. It had nothing to do with that Count. Now, perhaps if the count had backed him when his brother was around and he was still a third son, leading to him becoming the heir, he might have been grateful for that. However, that was not the case. Philip had achieved his current position entirely through his own luck.
In other words, there was no reason to bow and scrape to him.
Therefore, Philip had not gone before the Count to lower his head and offer his thanks. However, if he said that, his father would probably get agitated again. This was a lie for the sake of his father’s health.
“I see. That’s good. Since you’ve done that, there ought to be a way. When the time comes, all you have to do is ask the Count for help.”
With that done with, just as Philip was beginning to feel at ease, the butler interrupted again from behind.
“―There is one more problem. The matter Philip-sama mentioned at the beginning has not yet been resolved. Philip-sama said he was inviting the emissary of the Sorcerous Kingdom to a ball organized by this family… What shall we do about that?”
“That’s right, Philip! What were you thinking? Our family doesn’t have a place to host a ball!”
All landlords had an estate in the Royal Capital.
There were small mansions set aside for their visits to the Capital.
Of course, they were not as tiny as commoners’ homes. They might only be used a handful of times a year, but they were also a sign of the nobility’s power. Therefore, they had to be large enough to accommodate the entourage the lords brought with them. However, they were not much larger than that, and the interior was not large enough for a ball.
Still, that problem had already been dealt with.
“It’s fine. It’s true that our estate cannot host such an event, but I’ve already managed to rent another place.”
“Ohh, could it be the Count?”
Philip shook his head at the faint flowering of joy on his father’s face.
“No, it’s a place belonging to someone I know in the Royal Capital. The landlady there said she could loan it to me. The fact was, I spoke with her before I came back, and she assured me that it would be fine.”
“And what will we have to pay for it?”
Philip sighed internally at the butler’s question.
So that’s the first thing he asks, huh.
“It’s free of charge.”
“Free of charge, you say? ...Is that even possible?”
The words of the landlady came to Philip’s mind: “I have high hopes for your future, so I’ll invest in you. However, I hope you’ll return my kindness in the future.”
“I do not believe such good fortune would fall upon you just like that… Could you have been deceived?”
Anger blazed up within Philip, but he knew that his father trusted the butler implicitly, so he could not rebuke him just yet.
“I’ll owe a favor, but since I promised to return that favor, it will be fine.”
“...So that’s the venue taken care of, but how about the invitations? Shall we have the Count send them out?”
What is he saying, Philip thought. This event was being run by his family to raise their reputation. Why, after putting in all that hard work and preparation, did he have to hand over the most beneficial part of that to others?
So that’s his slave mentality talking. How sad… I don’t want to end up like him.
“It’ll be fine. I’ve asked the landlady who lent me the venue to help me with the preparation work. Of course, I will decide the guest list.”
“...Still, it would be quite rude not to let the Count vet them. It’s not too late to ask the Count for help now. In addition, do you really know which families to invite which won’t cause offense?”
“I do, to some extent, and I intend to invite some special people this time. The landlady has already given me their names.”
Doubt appeared in his father’s eyes.
“...Have you been manipulated by that landlady’s words?”
“Father! How can you say that? I came up with this and made it happen! It’s true that I had to borrow some help to do it. But that landlady agreed that my plan had merits after she heard it ― which means that she saw that my plan could succeed, and she felt that I could pay the appropriate price! What have you been thinking all this while? Under normal circumstances, you should be giving me your full support as the next head of the family!”
That much was true. The landlady had said, “I will gladly help you if you will allow several nobles close to me to take part.” It was because both of them had a mutually beneficial relationship that he had gone to her for help. He was definitely not being manipulated.
She was completely different from that Count who controlled his father, stole all the gains away, and left him with nothing.
You’re the one who’s being controlled, Philip wanted to say.
“...Forgive me. But can you tell me the name of that landlady?”
Philip suppressed his anger. After all, he was talking to someone who had not yet shed his nature as a slave. He had to open up his heart and take all this in stride.
“Her name is Hilma Cygnaeus. Have you heard that name before?”
“No, I’ve never heard of her before. How about you?”
The butler shook his head. Philip was proud that he had managed to acquaint himself with someone that even his father, who had long immersed himself in noble society, did not know.
“I will get the landlady’s opinion on the matter of the Count. It might be troublesome to bypass her and ask the Count for help instead. Is there anything else, father?”
His exhausted father had no response to this.
Though he was still a little unsatisfied, Philip began putting his plan into motion. The next step was sending an invitation to the emissary of the Sorcerous Kingdom, Miss Albedo, and then thinking about how to consolidate his position from there.
A grand hall filled Philip’s eyes, easily equal to that ballroom in the Royal Palace ― no, it was even better than that.
He could not help but think of how to show this off to others. Granted, Hilma had arranged the preparations for this venue. However, she had asked him beforehand: “Should I arrange for a regular ballroom event, or an incomparable spectacle? The latter will require a heftier favor in return?” and Philip had chosen the latter without any hesitation.
In other words, this ball had been organized by the favor Philip had paid for ― in other words, this was an event which corresponded to the effort he had put in. And then, there were the many nobles who had gathered here because of him.
It was perfect. However, it was because of this that Philip felt very unhappy about a certain detail.
He had decided the location on the invitation ― though he had to rely on others’ wisdom, the final decision had still been his ― and the wax seal on the letters had belonged to his family. More importantly, everyone was here to meet the emissary of the Sorcerous Kingdom. And it was Philip who had invited that emissary here.
In other words, he was the host and the one who had worked to make this happen, so he was the one who should have been receiving words of praise and nods of gratitude. They should have been thanking Philip for inviting them to such an event. They should also have been praising his courage in inviting the emissary of the Sorcerous Kingdom, who nobody else had dared approach.
Instead, what was happening now?
The first person everyone spoke to once they came here was Hilma. Only after that did they come to greet him. In addition, they only did so reluctantly, after Hilma mentioned Philip’s name. What would they have done if she had not brought it up?
Since he owed Hilma a favor, he had to bear with the fact that she was more noticeable than he was. However, all he felt toward those nobles was annoyance. Going by the basics of noble society, it should have been obvious who they should have been addressing first.
That’s why you’re all a useless lot. Cheh, it seems accepting Hilma’s suggestion was a bad idea.
He had invited the nobles here by tapping on Hilma’s intelligence.
The nobles he had chosen were newly elevated heads of their families thanks to the war with the Sorcerous Kingdom, or those who would soon become the heads of their families. In other words, these people were in similar situations to Philip.
The reason why he had accepted Hilma’s suggestions was because there were not many people who thought like Philip did. If there had been no change in the family leadership, it was very likely that they would all only think ill of the Sorcerous Kingdom.
Is there anyone here who isn’t incompetent?
He looked over the guests who had just arrived, and then he walked toward Hilma.
What a cock-up, Philip thought.
Those idiots buried in their family trees were truly idiots. That was why they had messed up on the person to whom they should have first spoken to. Or rather, one could say there was no other reason for that.
...Still, isn’t this a good thing? They won’t be able to take leadership because they’re idiots, right? If there was a noble here with a better brain than mine, I wouldn’t be able to take command of the new faction that I intend to found, and regretfully, my family isn’t that powerful either.
This might be a chance for him. Since this was their error, he would consider them to owe him one for not speaking to him first, and then he would collect on it in future.
Just as he was plotting eagerly, Hilma appeared before him.
She was a woman who was little more than a bag of skin and bones.
Her sickly thinness made her look like she had a severe illness. She would probably have been beautiful if she had more meat on her bones, but that was already a thing of the past.
“Philip-sama, it seems all the invited guests have arrived.”
“Is that so?”
In other words, they all saw him as number two here, Philip thought. He tried to conceal his feelings of inferiority, but Hilma seemed to have seen through him.
“You seem dissatisfied.”
“No, certainly not.”
Philip smiled. He was a nobleman ― he could deal with such intrigues.
“There’s no need to lie. I am your supporter in this because I stand to gain from it, Philip-sama. We cannot have any secrets between us.”
Her words were tinged with flattery.
That was it.
Philip’s heart quivered.
This was the proper attitude a commoner should have toward a noble.
He was finally experiencing the situation he had long been looking forward to, and the unhappiness in his heart vanished like it had all been a lie.
“Is something the matter, Philip-sama?”
“No… well, come to think of it, I’m not upset, but I am uneasy.”
“What discomforts you? Is something lacking? If that is so, shall I prepare it before the emissary-dono arrives?”
“It’s not like that,” Philip said as he affected a cough. “I simply didn’t expect the people here to be so… unexceptional. Even if I gathered all these people into a faction, I wonder if they could compete with the other factions. That is what discomforts me.”
“I see, so that’s how it is.”
She was too skinny to inspire lust. Even so, her charm was such that it made him gulp.
“But then, isn’t it because they’re this way that they will need your careful leadership, Philip-sama? I wish to call your attention to your domain ― are the peasants there very intelligent?”
“Which is why they need a wise leader, no?”
“Yes, indeed, that’s right.”
“If it’s you, Philip-sama, I’m sure you’ll be able to steer this faction well. I will also provide as much help as I can give.”
“Because you stand to gain from it, am I right?”
“But of course. I am helping you because I am certain that I will reap benefits from doing so.”
The anger in Philip’s heart was completely gone.
Everything Hilma said was correct.
Philip thanked his luck for being able to meet a woman like Hilma.
She had broad contacts, great wealth, and had access to a great many things which Philip could not obtain within the Royal Capital. Her explanation for why someone like her would want to curry favor with him was also quite reasonable. In addition, his terms of repayment were also very simple, which was why he felt at ease in making use of her.
“If you help me, I will make you wealthier than any other woman.”
Hilma’s eyes widened a little, and then she smiled happily.
“That would please me very much. I would be glad to be able to wear a necklace set with large gemstones like the noblewomen do. Then, please work hard, Philip-sama.”
“Ah, leave that to me… Then, may I ask another question of my supporter?”
“Yes, by all means.”
“...May I know why you are so slim? Does something about your body trouble you?”
It would be troublesome if she could no longer support him. If even the priests could not heal her, then he would have to find someone to replace her, or allow her to recommend a successor.
“Oh, it is not a problem worth mentioning, no.”
“I’ve heard that some heiresses diet to lose weight, is that the reason?”
Hilma smiled. This was the first time Philip had seen a smile which conveyed such unease without words.
“It’s not like that. The fact is, I can no longer eat solid food, so I can only consume drink, and I can’t take in too much either… yes. Please, do not worry. I will have someone use healing magic if it’s because of an illness.”
Her mood returned to normal, as though nothing had happened.
“I will definitely not die before I profit from our acquaintance, Philip-sama.”
“Oh, ohhh, really, then that’s good. However… why can’t you eat solid food?”
That had been nothing more than a throwaway statement, but it had a telling impact. It seemed as though all emotion had fled Hilma’s face.
The change was greater than before, and it made Philip anxious.
“Is, is ― something the matter?”
“Ah, ahhh, my apologies. I simply remembered some things.”
Hilma covered her mouth as she said that, and she looked very pale.
“Ah― my apologies for making you remember something unpleasant.”
What had she gone through to make her incapable of eating solid food? While she now enjoyed broad social connections and enough wealth to live in decadence, there must have been a time when she could not eat properly too. He wanted to probe further, but it would probably be a very bad idea to do so.
“Philip-sama, I believe it is about time to summon the emissary. I believe that if you were to be her escort, everyone would look at you with different eyes. That would prove you were the organizer more than any number of words ― it would show who is the most powerful person here.”
“Ohh! Indeed, that’s right.”
Because she had showed up alone at the Royal Family’s dinner party, Philip had thought that sort of thing was normal. So it was not. It shamed him to know that was not the case, and he put on an act of having forgotten but just remembered.
“Everyone will surely be surprised. Many who did not come to speak to you will surely feel anxious and uneasy, Philip-sama.”
A sadistic glee awoke in Philip’s heart. Some of the nobles here were higher-placed than him and had larger domains than himself. What sort of expressions would they show him, he who had once been regarded as the burden of his family―
“That’s right, it would be bad to keep her waiting. I’ll head over.”
“Then, I shall have one of my people show you the way there.”
Led by one of Hilma’s servants, Philip set forth toward the room of the Sorcerous Kingdom’s emissary, Albedo.
He knocked on the door, and then opened it.
What he saw behind that door was a woman whose beauty knew no equal.
She wore a jet-black dress, a different one from their encounter in the Royal Palace. Her bare shoulders gleamed like alabaster, and while her necklace consisted of large gemstones linked together, it did not seem tacky, but instead accentuated her beauty.
Philip blushed in spite of himself.
“―Then, shall we?”
“Yes. Please permit me to be your escort.”
Philip took a hand that was sheathed in a black lace glove, and helped Albedo up.
A fragrance came from his side. What kind of perfume is this, it makes my heart feels so light. Although he subconsciously wanted to sniff at it, that would have been terribly rude.
While the two of them were already walking side by side toward the ballroom, proceeding in silence like this made the air seem heavy. Philip struggled to think of an appropriate topic to bring up, but by the time he had come up with something, they were already near their destination.
“There are many nobles in the ballroom. All of them have gathered to see you, Albedo-sama.”
It seemed a little rash, but it nevertheless received an immediate response.
“Is that really true? Thank you for your assistance, Philip-sama.”
Albedo smiled tenderly to him, and Philip’s heart pounded.
While this probably was not the case, could it be that she was starting to like him?
He was a man who would soon stand at the top of a great faction. In contrast, the Sorcerous Kingdom wielded overwhelming military power, but for now it was little more than a city-state.
When one thought of it that way, he was quite the catch himself.
Not to mention, he was unmarried too.
“Come to think of it, are you already wed, Albedo-sama?”
Albedo froze. He had seen her gentle smile several times already, but this was the first time he had seen that expression on her.
Philip felt shame creep up through him as he realised that he had asked an inappropriate question.
“What a strange thing to ask, Philip-sama. Regretfully, I do not yet have a partner in that capacity, and I am sadly single.”
“Is that so? Given your beauty, I would have expected the suitors to come thick and fast, Albedo-sama.”
“Fufu ― it is quite a surprise that no such suitors have come my way. Still, such offers would be quite troubling for me, so it is hardly a bad thing, in my opinion.”
“Is that so...”
Before he reached the door, Philip placed his hand on Albedo’s fragrant shoulder, and made to slowly draw her over to him.
There was a strange gichiri sound. Philip looked to his right to see where it came from.
“Did something happen?”
His tiny doubts faded away as Albedo asked him that question with a smile on her face.
“No, it’s nothing. Then, please allow me.”
♦ ♦ ♦
What exactly did their eyes see?
How did this scene appear to these fancily-dressed nobles?
Hilma was interested in the answers to those questions.
First-class cuisine, first-class servants, first-class utensils, first-class music, and below third-rate trash nobles.
The people gathered here were largely good-for-nothing wastes of food, third sons and below who were the spares of spares. They had been forced to bow their heads to the world for various reasons and were filled with resentment.
The looks on their faces said everything.
Many of them expressed the carefree joy of liberation. Many others were consumed by the flames of desire. To these people, this place was one where they could fully indulge their vanity.
Then again, this place had always been intended to be a feeding ground.
Noble society in the Kingdom was now in a state of chaos.
It had been several months since the war with the Sorcerous Kingdom, but the scars it left behind were large and could not fully heal. Several factions had dissolved because of this and new ones had risen to take their place. The upper-class noble houses had been displaced by the those families which had previously been lower-ranking.
The current chaos in the Kingdom was an incredibly good chance for all those people who were unaligned to any of the factions. No, it might be their last chance. If the factions established themselves again, they might find themselves banished to the sidelines once more.
Because of that, this gathering was a gigantic feeding ground for them.
It was one where hungry fish would lure the small fry into their bellies.
In contrast, would the small fry be eaten without them ever noticing? Or would they realize something and skilfully disengage? Or perhaps ― would there be nobles filled with desire who would turn their tables on their would-be devourers?
After studying this scene for nearly an hour, Hilma concluded that there were no nobles here which could be considered first-rate, the kind which she wanted to ensnare with all her might.
Even so, she was not disappointed by this outcome. Indeed, she would be worried if there were any first-rate nobles parading themselves in a dangerous place like this.
She had been quite careful when sending out her invitations, but Hilma did not think she was perfect. There would surely be someone from one of the factions in here.
Still, that would be interesting, she thought.
The more she had to say in her report, the more her own value would rise. This was not a bad thing at all for her.
Then, it’s about time, no?
It had been an hour and a half since the ball started, so it was the appointed time.
Hilma’s real work was only beginning.
―It was frightening.
Her previous arrogance vanished as if it had been nothing more than a lie.
Perhaps a gentle term like “frightening” would not be able to encompass the sheer terror that welled up from her stomach. She thought of fleeing with all her might as she imagined the hell that awaited her if she displeased them.
Of course, if she actually did that, she would assuredly suffer a fate which would make that hell feel like blissful paradise.
As a member of the Eight Fingers, she had handed down many assassination orders to her underlings. She had also ordered people to be tormented before they were killed. But compared to what those monsters had done, her orders overflowed with the milk of human kindness.
The voice from behind startled her, and her shoulders twitched.
When she turned around, she saw the stupidest man in this hall.
“Hm? Is something wrong?”
“No, Philip-sama, nothing is wrong.”
Hilma concealed her true emotions within her smile. Among those emotions was anger at being surprised by a piece of trash like him.
“Albedo-sama wanted to rest for about ten minutes, so I came to find you.”
“That is quite reasonable, given that she was speaking with all those guests. I understand; then, I shall accompany Albedo-sama to the break room.”
“Really? Then, I shall go too.”
What the hell is he talking about? That was the reply Hilma wanted to give. No, it might be that he had sensed something.
With caution in her heart, Hilma continued her act:
“I feel it would be better not to do so.”
“Why is that? I was by Albedo-sama’s side until just now. It shouldn’t be strange for us to go together, right?”
Now, Hilma was sure that this man had not suspected anything.
In other words, he was a moron amongst morons, a good-for-nothing with neither the knowledge nor the etiquette to be a nobleman.
“I fear that if a lady is accompanied to the rest area by a gentleman who is not her husband, it might lead to the spread of… inappropriate rumors for both parties.”
“Ahhh. However, my plan is to immediately return once I get there.”
“Even so, it is not quite appropriate. I understand your concern for her as the host of this event. However, I am also the provider of the venue, so please allow me to take on this responsibility and escort Albedo-sama safely to the rest area.”
It looked like he was going to say something else, so Hilma waited in silence for him to finish.
The truth was, she wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this imbecile was also the driving force behind this gathering. She could not be too rude towards him.
“What do you think I should do in order to join myself to her in matrimony?”
Hilma had completely forgotten to stay in character because of his words.
“Eh? Say what?”
“As in, a way to have Albedo-sama marry me.”
Hilma desperately fought the urge to shout those words. She could hardly believe anyone could actually be this stupid. According to Hilma’s information, the person he was courting was the Sorcerer King’s right hand ― in other words, someone who held a position equivalent to that of a prime minister. It was unthinkable for a low-class noble from a neighboring country to actually utter those words to someone like her.
Perhaps if he had asked to marry Princess Renner instead, Hilma might have been less shocked.
“Ahhh, but you see, I’m a man who managed to gather this many nobles too. I don’t think I’m that far behind her, what do you think?”
Without her realizing it, Hilma’s throat had contracted tightly.
Even though she knew those things would not be sliding down her throat, the unease and terror of the trauma she had suffered drove her to do so.
No, that was not a thing which could be summed up with the word “trauma”.
What if that person heard those foolish words, which held zero appeal to that woman? What would happen? It would be alright if only Philip had to bear those consequences. But if she was to be punished for it as well, that black hell might well be waiting for her.
“In, in any case, it’s hardly workable. I heard she holds a position equivalent to that of a prime minister in the Sorcerous Kingdom. That is to say, she would be a duchess in the Kingdom.”
“But isn’t the Sorcerous Kingdom a tiny marble of a city-state?”
“No, no, you can’t speak of it that way.”
Those words, which seemed to sneer at the Sorcerous Kingdom, made Hilma break out in goosebumps.
It was true that in terms of territory, the Sorcerous Kingdom was not large, even with the Katze Plains factored in. However, was their military power not overwhelmingly superior? Regardless of how much effort one put into trade, diplomacy and other fields, relationships between nations were still decided by their comparative military strengths. It did not matter how large a nation’s territory was, because once that nation lost, it would all be taken away.
If he did not even understand that fact, then how could she possibly explain it in a way that this twit could understand?
Hilma pondered deeply, but could not find an answer. After all, wisdom and stupidity were two sides of the same coin.
In the end, she had to reason it out for him.
“It cannot be done. There is no chance that woman would wed you, Philip-sama.”
“...But I thought the mood was pretty good. Didn’t the two of us look good together when we made our entrance?”
So that’s what he was thinking, Hilma thought in surprise.
Could it be that he was trying to get people on his side by acting like he had the Sorcerous Kingdom’s backing? This fellow is the ultimate moron… seriously, spare me, I’m begging you. Please don’t make that person angry.
Hilma felt something sour rising up from her stomach.
Yet, at the same time, she wanted to let this fellow feel what it was like to have something squirming into his stomach.
“...Perhaps I’ve said too much. Please allow me to escort Albedo-sama. You should stay here and enjoy yourself as the host, Philip-sama.”
“...Well, since it’s like that, it can’t be helped. I’ll leave Albedo-sama to you, then.”
I’d do that without you having to say it. Hilma lowered her head, keeping those words in her heart. Then, in order not to hear any more of that nitwit’s babblings, she made a beeline to Albedo’s side.
Albedo was speaking to a nobleman. Under normal circumstances, Hilma might have watched the mood and bade her time. However, dealing with that nincompoop had exhausted her, so she immediately cut in and addressed Albedo:
“Forgive me, Albedo-sama, it seems it is about time for you to have a rest.”
“Indeed… My apologies, do allow me a short break.”
Taking Albedo by the hand, Hilma led Albedo out of the ballroom.
“Fu~ ...Ahh, how disgusting.”
Hilma turned around as she heard the voice from behind her. If things were really that bad, what should she do?
As she turned around, she saw Albedo dabbing at her shoulder with a handkerchief.
Albedo’s eyes met Hilma’s.
“That disgusting man touched me. Only one man in this world is allowed to touch my body in a lustful way… Shit. That piece of brainless dogshit…”
Her words were accompanied by a gnashing of teeth. To think that her face, which typically bore a gentle smile, would actually display her displeasure so openly. Was that an indicator of how unhappy she really was?
Hilma hesitated. Should she speak to her? Or was this a prelude to her punishment?
“...What should I do? Say something.”
“Ah, y-yes…” Hilma replied as her heart filled with an incomparable terror. “I can understand how you feel, Albedo-sama.”
“Ara, if that’s the case… can you get rid of that creature and then prop up another human in his place?”
“If it is your wish, then I shall immediately prepare another puppet for your strings, Albedo-sama.”
Albedo opened her mouth, and then closed it. She repeated that action several times.
It was a very attractive suggestion, one which would make anyone hesitate.
That said, it did not matter what she chose. Only hell would await him. Still, whatever happened to that idiotic Philip, one could only say that he had asked for it.
“Hu… Never mind. He was just a regular nuisance. That person’s foolishness made quite an impression on the nobles at the royal dinner, so switching him out now would be a bit of a waste… Hm, it might be fun to follow up on that. But no, probably not.”
Hilma recalled the conversation from just now, the wild fantasies and ravings of the absolute madman who wanted to marry Albedo.
What would change if she told her that?
No, that was too scary. She could not possibly bring herself to tell Albedo. After all, she might get caught up in that as well.
“He did nothing, but believes that he’s the only special one. He has truly reached the ultimate level of incompetence.”
“Indeed. Soon I’ll be able to splatter him all over the ground. He must be punished for the crime of touching this body of mine, which belongs to Ainz-sama, with his filthy hands.”
They did not speak after that, nor did they meet anyone else. Hilma brought Albedo to a certain room.
Once she reached that room, Hilma nearly collapsed due to her legs going soft in relief. Handling that woman alone ― a confidant of that demon king who could even subdue that Jaldabaoth ― had drained an enormous amount of her stamina. However, not being able to remain standing was absolutely forbidden.
Hilma gathered up all her strength. In her heart, she resolved to sleep for a full day after all this was over.
“This way, please.”
After Hilma opened the door, the men seated on the chairs within rose as one. All of them were as skinny as Hilma. They were Hilma’s colleagues; the five branch leaders of Eight Fingers and their chairman, making a total of six people.
They were also the people she trusted most in this world. In the past, they had feuded over profits, but now they no longer thought that way. After learning about the link between Jaldabaoth and the Sorcerous Kingdom, their fates were now linked. They had no choice but to work like slaves until this country was consumed and they were liberated.
These close friends of hers lowered their heads deeply as they beheld the very incarnation of terror (Albedo). The fear they could not hide made itself visible in the trembling of their shoulders.
Hilma closed the door to the room, and Albedo took the highest-placed seat in the room. The men and Hilma did not sit down, but remained standing as they awaited their orders.
“Now then, an order for you lot. You are to transfer resources to the Sorcerous Kingdom.”
“Understood, I am eager to serve.”
The head of the Smuggling Division did not waste a moment in replying. How could he delay? Once they had been summoned like this, the only possible response to any order they were given was “Understood”. There was nothing else they could do apart from that.
The Smuggling Division’s leader had lost a lot of power in the traders’ guild during Jaldabaoth’s disturbance, when much of his resources had been stolen away. Even so, there were advantages to being in his position. This was because his dealings with the nobles that had taken part in the war against the Sorcerous Kingdom had been conducted entirely with cash. Or perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that his power was slowly returning now that the merchants ― who had extended credit to the nobles ― were now agonizing about repayment.
“I am not referring to that. All you need to do is conduct trade at an appropriate price. After that, you will use the money earned to import food in preparation for the upcoming famine in the Kingdom. Buy the rations which the Royal Army could not move out in time ― no, start by trading in grain futures. After all, Ainz-sama has already begun large-scale food production.”
The future which she spoke of would surely come to pass, given the massive drop in the kingdom’s workforce.
“Understood. I shall mobilize the traders immediately.”
“These are especially important. Make sure they’re in the first shipment to come over.”
The man carefully and graciously accepted the piece of paper that she had tossed out.
“Then, what news is there about magic items?”
Another man seemed to jump into the air.
“My deepest apologies!”
He bent his waist and bowed so hard that he hit his head against the table, striking it with a startling amount of force.
“My subordinates are currently infiltrating the Magician’s Guild to conduct an in-depth investigation on them. If I can be allowed a little more time ― no, if you are willing to accept an in-progress report, I can deliver one right now!”
“Never mind, then. Just speed your actions up. In addition… yes. Have you decided on your new colleagues yet? If so, we’ll need to bring them back for baptism.”
The colleagues in question were meant to fill the empty seats of the Eight Fingers as the new division heads.
As she recalled exactly what that baptism entailed, Hilma choked back the urge to vomit. Similar expressions to hers appeared on the faces of her friends, who were desperately trying to keep their facial nerves under control.
It was a fiendish rite which broke the will and completely erased any inkling of resistance within its subjects. If any of the people in this room were told they would have to undergo it again, there was no doubt that they would start bawling like children.
“I am very sorry, but we have not yet decided,” said the Chairman.
This was the truth, and it was also a lie.
The reason why he said so was because the divisions which the newcomers would head were now meaningless. The empty seats belonged to the chiefs of the Security and Slavery divisions. There was hardly any trade in the latter, so there was little benefit to having someone fill that position. As for the former position, the very need for its existence was in doubt. In addition―
“The gentlemen we were allowed to borrow have performed very well. It might not be out of the question to have them serve as division heads themselves.”
The gentlemen in question referred to the undead which had been lent to them, each of which possessed unbelievable power.
Once they realised that the Six Arms were dead, a group of subordinates ― the leaders of whom had originally been Workers ― began plotting a violent overthrow. As a result, they sent out one of those undead creatures. In the end, that entity had eliminated nearly 40 people without letting a single one escape.
There was another reason for doing so; quite a laughable one, in fact. That was because nobody here wanted anyone else to go through the same thing as them. These hardened masters of the underworld who could calmly order the death of a man did not want anyone else to taste the same despair they had. This was how they protected them.
“...I understand. It will be fine as long as the organization can function as normal. Then, do you have any particular requests for me?”
“I fear to ask, but we have discovered that the Skeletons have produced outstanding results in the mines I have acquired. If possible, we would like to hold on to them for a little longer.”
“Hmm, of course. If you can pay the appropriate fee, there will be no problem.”
“My deepest thanks.”
The speaker’s forehead began sweating profusely. He wiped at it with a handkerchief which was so wet it had changed color.
The frightening thing about the Sorcerous Kingdom was not simply the whip that it wielded, but the sweets which it offered.
They did not take everything away like the strong would do with the weak, but they conducted business like skilled traders and played by the rules. As long as they did not show any signs of betrayal, they might even feel the peace of mind that came from being protected by powerful beings. Of course, if the chance presented itself, they would still choose to flee in terror.
“Then, there’s not much else for me to say in front of you. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but do work your hardest to help the Sorcerous Kingdom swallow up the Kingdom in the future. In preparation for that day, you would do well to start making inroads at becoming legitimate businessmen.”
All of them nervously bowed to her.
None of them would possibly object to the Sorcerous Kingdom devouring the Kingdom. Since these monsters had made their declaration, it was only a matter of time before it surely came to pass.
At first, they had considered asking Blue Rose, Red Drop and Darkness for help. However, after hearing of the awesome power of the Sorcerer King, who counted Jaldabaoth as one of his minions, they realised that there was no hope. All they could do was lower their heads and wait for the end to come.
“Oh right, right―”
Hilma and all the other members shuddered.
“There’s one more thing I wanted to say. There’s a magic item that I want you to use your intelligence networks to locate for me. Record your findings on a parchment at regular intervals and send them to Albedo in the Sorcerous Kingdom. However, I don’t know anything about its external appearance, so there is that.”
“...What sort of magic item would that be?”
“It’s a magic item that can control a target’s mind.”
“Mind control… a wand of charming or the like?”
“No, it feels like it should be something stronger. I’m looking for something not in general circulation, a legendary item, or at least news about it. You must let me know anything you find, however insignificant it might be. Do you understand?”
The mind control of which she spoke was a terrifying effect.
It was obvious why she would be wary of such an item, and so they immediately showed that they understood.
♦ ♦ ♦
The maid opened the door and barged in, clearly panicked.
She had not knocked, which was hardly an act that was worthy of praise, but instead implied something had happened which flustered her to the extent of not doing so.
Renner immediately saw through what was going on. However, in front of the maids, Renner was an innocent princess. Because of that, she put on a suitably clueless impression and asked in an equally air-headed voice:
“What’s going on?”
The maid’s eye twitched.
That tic had probably come from her anger within. Why was this princess so daft while she herself was so worried?
Renner lazily placed her cup on its saucer.
The sound of doing so seemed to jolt the maid back to reality, and she hastily sprang into action.
“It’s okay, It’ll be fine, Calm down, take a deep breath.”
The maid did as Renner told, taking several deep breaths to regulate her panting. After regaining a measure of calmness, Renner asked, “What happened? Is it demons again?”
“N-no, that’s not it. The Sorcerous Kingdom’s emissary-sama says she wants to meet you, Renner-sama!”
“Is it a lady?”
“Yes, a very beautiful lady!”
Renner’s question should have been strange, because there was only one woman among the envoys from the Sorcerous Kingdom. If someone pressed the point, they might wonder what she was on about. However, the maid was currently confused, and answered in earnest.
Well, it’s fine, Renner thought. The more silly things she did, the more she built a reputation which she could use. It was all just setup, anyway.
Climb had been standing by her side. His armor clattered in response.
He must not have been able to follow what was going on.
His adorable actions, like an innocent puppy, filled Renner’s heart with a surge of tenderness.
There was probably no way he could figure out why the emissary was coming here to meet Renner. He had already seen her exchange greetings with Renner. That being the case, speaking with the Third Princess ― who was little more than an ornament ― would not bring any benefits to the Sorcerous Kingdom. At least, that was what Climb should be thinking.
Renner smiled warmly in her heart.
What they said about children being cuter the dumber they were was most assuredly true. Or rather, one could say that one loved them despite their shortcomings. Well, it was probably correct no matter how you looked at it.
If someone other than Climb had done this, other emotions would have come to the surface.
Although she was driven by the impulse to look into Climb’s sparkling eyes forever, she had to bear with it for now. At least, until the moment she was enveloped by that delicious sugary candy.
“Why exactly would Albedo-sama want to meet me?”
Tilting her delicate little head was very important. Doing so would induce a negative reaction in the worried party. Its effectiveness had been proven after several experiments.
And sure enough, weak flames flickered in the maid’s pupils.
They were flames of anger. At the same moment, Climb’s armor clattered softly.
He must have sensed that maid’s feelings and thought of something. But the sound soon stopped, and he returned to his upright and locked position.
He was like a puppy that was confused over whether or not to step forward, in order to protect his mistress.
That was because it would be better not to move if Renner had not noticed. The maid was the heiress of a good family, and no matter what Climb said, one word to her parents and Renner might be in trouble. Climb had probably thought of that.
He was probably crying inside, since he believed so much in Renner. If only he had a good upbringing, this sort of thing would not be happening.
Renner resisted the desire to turn to look at Climb, who was standing behind her. This was because the interfering maid opened her mouth to speak:
“I do not know the reason, only that she wanted to meet you.”
“Is that so… Albedo-sama’s a woman too, so maybe it’s girl talk... is it about makeup?”
She asked that question in an innocent ― or perhaps in a flat-out brainless way.
“I do not know about that either. Then, may I bring her in?”
“Of course you may!”
After her reply of feigned delight, Renner turned to look at Climb.
“Hmmm~ Climb, I’m sorry, but since this is a matter between ladies, could you step out of the room for a while?”
It was kind of a shame, but that could not be helped either. Climb did not need to know about bothersome things. All he needed to do was look at her with those pretty eyes of his.
When Albedo entered the room, there was only one person inside.
Albedo had four objectives in coming to the Royal Capital.
The first was the transportation of resources. The second was to create a casus belli. The third was to lay the foundation for her personal objectives. The fourth was to make a trade with the owner of this room.
No, calling it a trade would not be entirely accurate. This was more of a reward.
Albedo strode across the room and took a seat without waiting for the owner of the room to give her permission.
Then, she looked to the girl who was genuflecting before her with her head lowered, and said:
“You may raise your head.”
The girl called Renner lifted her face.
“You have done an excellent job.”
“Thank you very much, Albedo-sama.”
Albedo seemed quite interested in Renner’s reaction, which was completely unlike what she had shown thus far.
This was the Renner of whom Demiurge had spoken.
She had betrayed her family, her bloodline and her people, but there was not a shred of regret on her face. She was human, yet she was inhuman. Perhaps she was a spiritual heteromorph. Her mind comprehended good and evil, but that was all. She was the type who was not bound by the petty constraints of morality, but who calmly worked to advance her own agenda.
“...As a reward for your efforts, I have brought you a gift from Ainz-sama.”
Albedo reached into the air, and pulled out the item which her master had given her for safekeeping.
It was a box that bore several layers of seals. It was impossible to open without fulfilling specific conditions.
“This would be…”
As the girl accepted it with gratitude, Albedo watched her with a cold gaze, as though the girl was little more than a guinea pig.
Indeed, she was a guinea pig. But because of that, both sides shared the same goals.
“You have my deepest gratitude. Please convey my thanks to His Majesty, Ainz Ooal Gown-sama.”
“That I promise you. I trust I need not waste words on the other item you want?”
“Of course. I shall receive that boon once I have delivered the appropriate recompense. There is nothing more delightful than that.”
The girl smiled.
It was a very lovely smile.
That was why she asked:
“...Although opening that box can fulfil your wish, can you really open it?”
What would the others in Nazarick think if they saw Albedo showing concern over a human being? That said, if her wish really did come true, then this could be regarded as preparatory work for her elevation to a status equivalent to that of an Area Guardian. In that case, it was perfectly understandable to show concern over a candidate for a subordinate’s position.
“Yes, Albedo-sama. The preparations have already begun.”
“Really now. Then, make sure they’re finished before we invade.”
“Understood, exalted mistress.”
As the girl lowered her head again, a pair of eyes appeared in her shadow.
The Shadow Demon lurking within slithered forth and lowered its head along with the girl.
Albedo considered whether or not to lend her extra reinforcements, but in the end she decided not to mention it.
If the girl’s actions were exposed before the Sorcerous Kingdom invaded the Kingdom, that would mean there was no value in taking her into Nazarick.
In other words, all this was a test.
“Then, let us dispense with the formalities here.”
There seemed to be a change in Albedo’s tone, and there was a surprising expression on Renner’s face.
“Ending the meeting at this point would be too hasty. Is there anything ― let’s chat, then. All right, sit. Can you tell me about your puppy?”
Albedo was greeted with a full-faced smile.
“I would love to, Albedo-sama. In addition, if I may, could you tell me about His Majesty as well?”
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