Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 6th Day, 08:45
The maids were formed up in neat lines in front of Sebas. There were 41 of them in total, and all of them were Homunculi. At their head stood the dog-headed chief maid, Pestonya S. Wanko. Thus the domestic maid staff of Nazarick was assembled.
"Everyone, this is Nazarick's newest maid."
"My name is Tsuareninya, pleased to meet you."
The head maid greeted Tsuare, whose head was bowed low, as a representative of everyone else.
After speaking with the maids, Tsuare had not shown any signs of fear.
Apart from the stitching that ran down the middle of her face, Pestonya had kind eyes and a gentle expression. Additionally, the maids behind her were all human, without any frightening facial features.
Even so, judging by Tsuare's condition, it seemed her fear of others would never truly vanish. Although she looked like she was getting along well with others, she knew exactly what kind of situation she was in, and she was trying to distract herself from it by forcing herself to work hard.
If I don't watch her carefully, she might break.
While Sebas was pondering these questions, the meet-and-greet session ended, and one of the maids brought her outside. Along the way, Tsuare turned to look at Sebas. Sebas nodded to her, and she nodded by way of reply, before turning away and leaving.
"Sebas-sama, how much training will that girl need-wan?"
"Train her until she qualifies to be a maid of Nazarick. However, she is only human, so when you train her, please don't push her beyond her limits."
Pestonya's dog-like face tilted, revealing her canines. Although her expression made her look like a beast pouncing on her prey, her eyes were still filled with warmth.
"I think that for her, being a maid is just a first step."
"What do you mean?"
Pestonya answered Sebas, who had not quite grasped her meaning and was wondering what she was talking about.
"...wan. That is to say, I meant she would probably retire after marriage-wan."
As Sebas' face seized up, Pestonya's gentle laughter echoed throughout the ninth floor of the Great Tomb of Nazarick.
♦ ♦ ♦
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 7th Day, 16:51
After making sure there were no guests present and that the time was right, Climb opened the doors to Renner’s chambers.
The princess sat in her usual place, her room dyed red by the rays of the setting sun. They illuminated her like a spotlight.
That gentle beauty calmed Climb’s pounding heart, and he felt as though he had been healed. Climb tugged down on his relaxed face, and went over to Renner’s side.
“Come, have a seat, Climb.”
“Thank you, but there is no need, Renner-sama. I have to help with the cleanup of the demon attack in a while.”
Renner’s eyes sparkled. She had originally given that order, so replying this way seemed to be the correct answer.
Climb’s next task was to take over the security detail responsible for protecting the Magician’s Association.
This was because of a certain item.
Although the whole picture of the demon invasion had not been fully revealed yet, a very disturbing magic item had been found in a warehouse. The Magician’s Association was still analyzing and investigating it, but considering the fact that it had been imbued with abnormally powerful magic and the information Jaldabaoth had let slip, it seemed likely that it was the item he had been searching.
As a result, the Magician’s Association had gathered strong veterans in order to stand watch over the item until they figured out how to dispose of it. Naturally, Climb was one of them.
It’s so annoying, we can’t punish the members of the Eight Fingers who brought this item to the capital…
Even though he stood in front of Renner, Climb could not fully suppress the irritation in his heart.
The magic item which had led to the tragedy in the capital had been found in a warehouse that was positively linked to the smuggling division of the Eight Fingers. That being the case, they should have immediately moved to destroy them. However there was a crucial reason why they could not do so, and only a few people knew about it.
They had started searching for the item because Jaldabaoth had leaked the information about it. That was Renner’s opinion. However, Jaldabaoth might have been counting on the humans to find the object his troops could not, which was why that information had gotten out in the first place.
Since everyone understood the implications of that leak, they had suppressed all information about the artifact, and as such it could no longer be used as a reason to attack the Eight Fingers.
“You should be working with the Warrior-Captain, right? I see, then everything should be fine. How about the people you helped? You should have been busy protecting the palace, but you must have stepped outside for a bit, no?”
Climb's heart lurched as Renner unleashed that bombshell on him.
"Y-yes. Everyone hopes to express their gratitude to Renner-sama."
"How wonderful. Then I must go and meet them."
As soon as the shout left his mouth, Climb immediately realized that he had screwed up very badly. He lowered his head and began speaking rapidly, as though trying to cover up all his previous words.
"Everyone is still busy and I believe the presence of Renner-sama will distract everyone from their hard work and although it demeans Renner-sama's generosity I hope that you will understand my meaning."
As he raised his head, Climb wondered if his mistress' beautiful face would be creased by unhappiness, or a childish pout that did not suit her age. However, the expression Climb saw was neither of these.
That was no simple turning up of the corners of her mouth, but an actual, full-faced smile.
Climb had seen Renner smile many times. If he cast his mind back to a time when he was happiest, it would be seeing that smile on her face after she had picked him up. However, her smile right now was somewhat different from her smile back then.
Before he could realise the answer, her expression returned to the faint smile she always wore.
"...There's nothing to be done about it, then."
Climb suppressed a sigh of relief as Renner accepted his explanation.
The truth was that he had just fed his mistress a pack of lies. Climb had not heard a single grateful word from the citizens he had met. On the contrary, they had heaped blame and scorn on him. “Why did you only save us,” and so on.
They had taken their anger — at the loss of their families, at the loss of their wealth — and poured out the bowl of their wrath upon Climb.
Climb had borne this resentment because those people had nobody else to blame, and out of a sense of guilt for not fulfilling Renner’s commands perfectly.
Even so, it hurt to hear those words, especially after he had battled that mighty demon in order to save them.
The demon they had encountered at the warehouse was on a completely different level from any of the others. It could have beaten Brain Unglaus with strength to spare, and it was only because of its many wounds that they had been victorious. If that demon had appeared before them in a fresh, undamaged state, they would certainly have been defeated. After hearing how powerful it was from Lakyus, he was silently grateful that they had somehow managed to triumph over it.
And after that life and death struggle, the only thanks he had received were the aforementioned complaints. Although he told himself that he had become used to it, the words still cut deeply into him.
In truth, it would have been fine if Climb had struck out at those people with malicious intent. Nobody would say anything if Climb returned the insults he had received in his position as the Princess' personal knight, but if he did that, then Renner's position would be in danger. If their hatred turned toward the princess and led to them slandering her, he would be powerless to draw his sword against them.
"Now then, Climb. I have... unpleasant news. Listen carefully."
Climb closed his eyes for several seconds, then opened them again.
"The women you and Sebas-san worked together to save from the brothel... were murdered."
Unable to comprehend what Renner had just said, his mouth worked open and closed while he gasped out some sounds that might have been mistaken for speech.
"How... but how... how could that have happened..."
Come to think of it, the women should have been hidden in a waiting room and then sent on to Renner's properties.
"That was a miscalculation on my part. I wanted to hire adventurers as guards, but due to the disturbance, they had all been employed by others. So I had to use mercenaries instead..."
Renner shook her head, as though saying it had all been her fault.
"Th-that's not true! It's definitely not your fault, Renner-sama! It's the ones who attacked them who are to blame!"
"No! If I had been more careful, if I had considered things more closely... that the disturbance would have weakened security in the capital, if I had let them escape when I sensed danger, it wouldn't have turned out like this! If Climb had been there, maybe it wouldn't have turned out like this. And even the adventurers who recommended the mercenaries were shocked..."
Tears began filling the corners of Renner's eyes.
Climb's chest ached as though his heart had been crushed. Perhaps it might have been a mistake on Renner's part, but she had made the best of a bad situation. Then, who was to blame?
"Renner-sama did nothing wrong!"
Hearing Climb's forceful declaration, Renner, who had been moved deeply by Climb, rose and hugged him tightly.
To calm her down, Climb reached a hand behind her back— no. That would be dangerous.
"But, how did the information..."
"I have no idea. The capital's security was weakest during the disturbance; maybe it got out during that time? They should have been transferred immediately..."
He could not rule that out. It might have been that the attackers had followed the places and people protected by Climb until they found their way to the hiding place.
"Where were the bodies found?"
"In the poor districts of the capital, but I don't know the details myself."
"What about the corpses?"
"They've been buried. What of them?"
"I wanted to examine the wounds, see what kind of clues I could find."
"...Climb, that's enough. They've been violated enough. At least let them rest in peace."
Renner's kindness touched Climb to the bottom of his heart. Certainly, her words had merit. He felt ashamed for not being considerate of her feelings, and the urge to find out the truth grew within him.
"Please don't take it too hard. This is definitely not your... ah, I see we've exchanged positions."
Renner smiled. Though her eyes were still red, there were no more tears in them.
"Yes, we have."
Climb's stoic expression broke, and he smiled.
"Forgive me for keeping you. Then, Climb, work hard now."
Though he felt a pang of longing for the warmth that had left his chest, he immediately interrupted his desire.
♦ ♦ ♦
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 10th Day, 09:08
Today was an auspicious day for journeys, with no clouds hanging in the azure skies above.
The crimson cape blew freely in the wind, behind the man in jet-black armor. Evileye asked a question of him.
"Will you return?"
It was a strange question, but Evileye had had a strange feeling. Adventurers were said to have no roots, but some adventurers made certain cities into their base, much like Blue Rose. For Momon, his base would be E-Rantel.
"I, I mean, there's a lot of people who'd want to go with..."
Evileye couldn't believe she was making such blubbery, simpering noises. She reflected that she was hardly a lovesick schoolgirl mooning over her beloved, but just the word "love" threw her mind into turmoil.
"...Don't worry about it."
That was his answer.
It was a cold one, Evileye thought.
With no idea what else to say, the wind blew strongly between the two of them.
The man who had been waiting for this silence spoke.
Evileye felt that this was hardly the proper way for a farewell between a man and a woman, but they were not alone here. Behind Momon was Nabe, and behind Evileye were the members of Blue Rose. And then there were the magic casters who would send Momon back to E-Rantel.
"You did us a great favor."
Momon nodded in response to Raeven's thanks.
"His Majesty wished to convey his gratitude to you in person, but..."
During the disturbance in the capital, Momon had become a household name throughout the capital. After all, he was the dark hero who had challenged the archfiend Jaldabaoth to single combat, and soundly defeated him. It was only natural that the king would want to express his gratitude in person. If things went well, he might even receive a lordship. However, Momon had rejected that last offer and refused the meeting.
There was something wrong with that attitude.
The nobles, who valued their reputations, felt that it was nothing short of arrogance for this nameless peasant to behave so before the King, whose position was above their own.
Whispers began to circulate that Momon was snubbing the King.
There were also those who were outraged that a mere adventurer could be so disrespectful.
A portion of the nobles went on to say that Momon had made a mistake by not dealing the final blow to Jaldabaoth, and letting him flee instead, but since Momon had the backing of Raeven, they kept their mouths shut.
"Momon-san was in my employ, so if you challenge him, you challenge me," Raeven had said, in menacing tones.
And Momon himself had added, "I simply accepted a request as an adventurer, and completed it. It is nothing worthy of a king's personal attention, and to be honest, every adventurer who took part in this battle should receive accolades as well." That had appeased the nobles, and the whispers died down.
But the flames had not been extinguished yet. Some raised their voices to criticize Momon, for the nobles felt they had been insulted.
Evileye recalled what Lakyus, a noble herself, had said to her.
Without Momon, the disturbance in the capital would not have been resolved, and it would not be difficult to imagine the scale of the damage that would have been caused. However, the only ones who had come to see Momon off were the members of Blue Rose and Marquis Raeven, because Momon was in a difficult position.
During this incident, the ones who had received high praise were the adventurers, the King, the second prince, and Marquis Raeven. Meanwhile, public opinion of the nobles was less positive.
Of course, the nobles begged to differ. The capital was under the direct jurisdiction of the king, and as land-owners themselves, while it would have made sense to send troops to assist the capital, they had no obligation to do so. In fact, considering that their own holdings might have been attacked by the demons, it was far more sensible for them to protect their own property instead.
During this incident, the Noble Faction, which favored their own defense, maintained that the King's announcement of his identity was a mistake and stemmed from arrogance. Meanwhile, the Royal Faction strongly asserted that the King should have hidden in a safe place and not gone to the frontlines. In this way, the power struggle between both parties intensified.
And the residents of the royal capital who had no stake in this struggle were unhappy. "Why did these puffed-up nobles only care about protecting themselves and not us?"
As such, their respect for the ones who had actually fought for them grew, and criticism continued accumulating for the already disliked nobles. It turned into a vicious cycle, and in the end, the nobles ended up blaming the adventurers for it.
"In the end, they were simply hired battle maniacs who fought until they died," and so on.
And in this incident, Momon, the most highly-regarded of the Kingdom's adamantite-ranked adventurers, became a target. As a result, it was only obvious that none of the nobles would come to send him off. Even if some of them were friendly to him, they would be in a difficult spot because of the power struggle.
The whole reason that Raeven was able to be here was because he fluttered back and forth between factions like a bat.
"This is a letter of appreciation from the King, the second prince, and the third princess. And this is a plaque exempting you from all travel tolls within the Kingdom’s borders. And also, a dagger bestowed by the King. Please accept them."
As a noble, Lakyus could not help but sigh, and Evileye knew exactly why.
Being awarded a dagger by the king had the same meaning as being presented with a medal as a knight or winning battle spoils as a noble. During these intense power struggles, the gift of the dagger would cause a lot of trouble if the nobles found out about it. Even so, all she could say was that the King's gift of the dagger was a brilliant move.
And here I thought the King was a pitiful nobody who didn't dare rock the boat. My opinion of him has gone up quite a bit.
Momon accepted the dagger in a nonchalant manner and handed it to Nabe, who stood behind him.
"No, giving it as praise would be sufficient, but wouldn't the nobles have something to say about this?" Evileye said quietly.
From the nobles' point of view, someone with charisma and power becoming a noble would not be a laughing matter. It would be especially troublesome if a warrior mightier than Gazef Stronoff joined the Royal Faction. As such, if the king decided he wanted to award Momon a lordship, the nobles would use the gift of the dagger as an excuse to criticize him. Although the King was the one who awarded the dagger, it was too great a gift even as praise.
The nobles would not take it lying down.
Evileye mused this out loud, but was denied by the person next to her.
"...You're too naive, Evileye."
"Yup, naive. The Royal Faction’s a step ahead this time."
"...Because that dagger is something awarded to nobles and knights."
"So in the future, when the need comes to promote Momon-san, they can use the dagger to shut the nobles up. It would never be awarded to commoners, you do know that, right? A lordship's been set aside for him, or at least that's what it implies."
"I see... To think you put so much thought into it."
"Don't look down on a former assas— don't look down on ninjas."
"Then we should be going, Marquis Raeven. Thank you for everything."
"You're welcome. I hope we will continue our cordial relationship in the future."
"I feel the same way too. And to Blue Rose, my fellow adamantite-ranked adventurers, I hope we will be able to remain in close contact. I'll be counting on you if anything happens."
"We should be saying that, Momon-san. After seeing your power, we are almost ashamed to call ourselves adamantite-ranked adventurers like yourself, Momon-san but we will do our best to catch up with you. I look forward to working with you again."
Lakyus and Momon nodded to each other.
And then, Evileye felt Momon's gaze turning to her. That was not a mistake. The proof was that Momon had seemed to be on the verge of saying something, then stopping halfway, before starting up again and cutting himself off once more.
Evileye felt her unbeating heart pound in her chest.
If Momon asked her to become his companion, Evileye would definitely accept. It would be a betrayal of her comrades with whom she had gone through thick and thin, but even so, Evileye wanted to be true to her own heart.
As though confused, Momon continued starting and stopping several times before he finally exhaled and turned around. The crimson cape swirled with his movement.
Seeing his back slowly recede, Gagaran teased Evileye.
"You've been dumped."
"No, that's not true. That’s just the kind of man he is."
Momon mounted the [Floating Board] created by Raeven's magic caster and slowly floated up, but Evileye did not turn her eyes from him for a single moment.
"I wonder when we'll meet again?"
"It would be good if it was a simple and relaxed quest, instead of a big disturbance like this."
"That might be difficult."
Blue Rose's members agreed on that.
If adamantite ranked adventurers met for a job, it would definitely be because of something big.
"Then a normal meeting should be fine, right? Evileye knows teleportation magic. Going to E-Rantel shouldn't be such a bad thing. Speaking of which, wouldn't going with Momon kill two birds with one stone? Being protected by him would also mean you wouldn't have to worry about danger when moving around."
Evileye was shocked speechless, staring at Gagaran. Although she was wearing her mask, her comical expression shone through from her attitude.
"Oi, oi, haven’t you realized it yet? Long-distance relationships don't end well... or are you two not going out yet?"
Gagaran looked to the sky, and Evileye's gaze turned to the heavens as well. In the distance, she saw the receding figure of Momon.
Evileye's wail of despair was like an angry cry, and Blue Rose laughed around her.
♦ ♦ ♦
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 10th Day, 18:45
This emergency meeting of the Eight Fingers had been unusual from the start. To begin with, not everyone was here. One of the missing people was Cocco Doll, but everyone knew he had already been arrested, so he was not a part of things. The problem was that the other missing person was Zero.
Everyone knew he was no traitor. That just made things worse.
From the information they had gathered, Zero's death had been confirmed. On the same day, the subordinates he had sent on the mission of "killing anyone and everyone who insulted us" had also been massacred.
The losses had been too great. Although the subordinates he dispatched had been expendable, the death of Zero, Eight Fingers’ strongest man and chief of security, was not one they could simply ignore.
Every department here competed with each other, but they still belonged to the same organization. This loss would have repercussions for all of them.
Debate sprang up among them.
What should they do about the vacancy left by Zero's death? What about Cocco Doll?
Under normal circumstances they would have simply recommended one of their people to that position, but there was a reason they could not do that.
That would be because of the demonic invasion of the capital. The fallout from that incident was not a pretty sight. While their hideouts had been attacked on the very same day, one loss stood heads and shoulders above all the others. It was a particular nightmare for the Smuggling Division's chief.
Many of their storehouses had been plundered, and after checking the remaining storehouses that had not been raided, more than half of their contraband had gone missing.
"In any case, until we manage to recover, we need to work together."
"Haven't we always been doing that so far?"
"Enough with that nonsense. This time, we really need to cooperate. I think we should shift our activities out of the capital. What say you?"
"No. On the contrary, I think now is when we should be working in the capital. Now is the time to get the new captain of the guard into our pocket. If we flee from here, that would mean we're giving up on the capital and the gains within."
"Mmm. That's certainly a possibility. However, with the Security Division— with our fighting strength in tatters, wouldn't it be dangerous to move around in the capital?"
The five division heads puzzled over the problem, then addressed the one head who had not said a single thing thus far.
"Hilma, what do you think?"
The woman's body shuddered.
This was a reaction she had never shown before in previous meetings.
The black circles under her eyes were impossible to hide with makeup, and she had the air of the walking dead about her.
"What's wrong? I heard your mansion was attacked too... but you managed to get away in your hidden escape tunnel, right? Did you see something that scared you?"
All the other section chiefs had their guards standing behind them, but Hilma had none.
"Well, what is it?"
As Hilma's mouth opened, so did the door to the meeting room.
"All right! That's enough for now!"
The cheery voice was followed by a Dark Elf boy entering the room, who was in turn followed by a nervous-looking Dark Elf girl.
Everyone present was stunned.
If they had been adults, perhaps they might have had a different reaction, but in front of their eyes were a pair of children who were totally out of place in a room like this. The leaders were still frantically trying to figure out if they were enemies.
"Then, all of you will now become our great Lord’s servants~"
From their silence, they probably didn't get what he was saying at all, so the boy repeated himself.
"My great Master has concluded that rather than taking control of the country's leadership, it would be more effective to simply take control of all of you. So we will forgive your various sins and allow you to become our servants... hm, slaves? Puppets? Ah well, who cares? In any case, congratulations!"
The Dark Elf boy began clapping, followed shortly by his nervous sister, who clasped her staff under her arm to applaud as well.
"—Are you kidding me?!"
The leaders were still trying to figure out if they were enemies or allies. It was too soon to conclude that they were enemies, but life in the underworld had taught them not to think too much, but look out for their own safety first, and worry about killing their enemies later.
They did not understand the dark elves' true intentions, but since the other side had so blatantly crashed this meeting, that probably meant that they could take on everyone here. If that was the case, even the best bodyguards each section chief could hire would probably be unable to beat them. Given that no enemy would be so stupid to barge in if there was even the slightest possibility of losing, it would seem that escaping safely would be a higher priority in this case.
Every division head would use their own guards as shields without hesitation. Everyone had the same idea, and began moving to carry it out.
However, they were far too late.
The first thing the chiefs realised as they tried to stand up was that they could not move.
"Ah? Oghhaaah? Ahhhhhhh?!"
Their bodies were completely immobile, and even their tongues were unable to move. Drool ran down the sides of their mouths.
The boy who had just breathed out began to laugh.
"Then, we'll take everyone to the happy fun place~"
"Y-yes. P-please come along."
Hilma's body started shaking violently.
"W-wait! Not me, right? I helped you, didn't I?!"
As they realised who had betrayed them, the men all turned their gazes to the only woman present.
"Please! I'm begging you! I can't take it! I can't take it any more!"
"Hmmm~ what're you talking about?"
"I, I think she means being taken to Kyouhukou's room, where her organs were being constantly devoured from the inside."
The Dark Elf boy's face twisted into an “uwah~” sort of expression.
Hilma must have remembered something. She hugged herself tightly, both hands clutching herself, her body shuddering violently. One hand covered her mouth while the tears flowed freely from her eyes. From the greenish hue of her face, she looked like she was about to vomit.
"Stop. We healed all her wounds with magic. So it’s only natural that she’s a good girl. Although, it's a rare thing that we didn't get to kill her..."
"Mm, mm. There's a lot of corpses already, and we still need her to run the organization."
"I see. Well then, auntie, good luck~ If you betray us, we'll lock you up longer in that place~"
Hilma nodded vigorously, while still green in the face. That was plainly the look of someone whose will to resist had been utterly broken, and would obey any orders given without hesitation.
"Anyways, before we know they're going to do as they're told, you can take your time with them. OK?"
"G-got it! Leave it to me! We can definitely make something useful of them!"
From Hilma's desperate, pathetic gesture of submission, the men realized that they too would experience the torments that would mold them into something like her, and turned pale.
"Then, I've already brought a few of my boys down to help you out. Make good use of them. There's a few more you absolutely can't kill or fight, I'll explain later.”
The Dark Elf boy was all smiles.
"Now then, we've done half the work of taking over this country. But... what was Demiurge saying about planting the seeds of a kingdom... ah, who cares. Next up, some other place!"
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