Editors: Skythewood, Nate, AMetroid
JGSDF Imperial Capital Akusho Operations Center
Normally, only the permanent staff would occupy the interior of this operations center, but this week it was full of people. The interior buzzed with heat and activity.
The displays that were everywhere showed footage from hidden cameras. Leading Private Sasagawa clutched the wireless handset as he spoke to all sorts of people, while Leading Private Tozu and the others placed red and green unit markers on the map of the Imperial Capital that was spread on a table.
Apart from that, the important intelligence personnel from 2nd Branch were trying to make sense of the events within the Imperial Capital, as well as to put their painstakingly established intelligence network to use.
In the corner of the corridor was Master Sergeant Nishina. He lay on a camping bed, snoring as he scratched his belly in his sleep. Everyone had been working day and night, and they rested in shifts.
“We’re back from shopping.”
The Kurokawa and Kuribayashi pair had returned. Beside them was their helper, the Winged Woman Mizari. All three of them were holding bags.
Thus, all the men thanked them before gathering around them, and even the people who had been sleeping leapt up from their beds. After that, they peeked into the bags they snatched from Kuribayashi, but when they saw what was inside, a great cry of “What, this again?!” filled the air.
The bags contained rye bread — black and hard from being baked at high temperatures — meat jerky, and dried fruits.
“If you don’t like it, don’t eat it! We had to fight tooth and nail for these!” Kuribayashi raised her fists as she shouted. Tozu and Sasagawa muttered their apologies and scurried away.
As Sergeant Major Kuwabara chewed on something which looked like a dried red date, he tilted his head.
“It’s been bothering me for some time, but where do you get this stuff from? None of the shops are open. Could it be…”
“I sure as hell didn’t break into people’s houses with these fists to steal it!” Kuribayashi shouted back before he could finish.
“We got them from Furuta’s black market.”
“Oi oi, is that alright? Didn’t the previous chefs fall foul of Zorzal because he suspected that they were poisoning the Emperor? Is it really all right to sell food stolen from the palace?”
Kuwabara tapped lightly at his head with a chopping motion. Of course, this was not the usual reference of being fired from a job, but of the chef’s head literally being chopped off.
“It’ll be fine because he has Zorzal’s favor. Besides, it’s not as though he’s stealing it from the palace. He makes arrangements with the merchants that deal with him and passes them on.”
“That’s thanks to us; otherwise getting any food on these streets would be very difficult,” Mizari said as she distributed the rations to the men in the operations center.
She then went up the stairs, and there she found one of the servicemen who did not have much contact with his peers, on account of the fact that he either hid inside this room or was wandering everywhere.
“Kenzaky, food’s here. There’s enough for everyone.”
Sergeant Kenzaki, who was lying on the bed, accepted the food Mizari offered him.
After that, he pulled Mizari onto the bed, which startled her.
However, she said, “So that’s what it’s about, preparing for setting up shop?”
Mizari lightly tapped Kenzaki’s arm. The man flashed her a charming smile and immediately released her. Their back-and-forth touching was just the way they teased each other.
Still, he was up here shirking work and not helping the others downstairs who were practically working themselves to death, so she wanted to see what he was doing up here. His life was like this as well — either he was sleeping here or exercising, or he was nowhere to be found for several days.
When he returned, he often radiated a killing intent that made her shudder. When she met his gaze then, she was paralyzed, like a frog being menaced like a snake. Thoughts like “I’m going to die” and “Do whatever you want” crossed her mind during those times.
Men like him who emitted an air of prickliness were not uncommon in Akusho, but there was nobody whose presence was as sharp and cutting as his. This made Mizari keenly aware of the differences between their respective worlds.
“Kenzaky… this week’s been pretty bad. How about tonight, will it be okay?”
“I’m sorry, but it’s forbidden. Another time, perhaps.”
Although she had expected that answer, Mizari still felt a little disappointed.
Elsewhere, Kurokawa looked in on the interior of the operation center, intending to report to Major Nyutabara. However, she found Nyutabara reporting the Imperial Capital’s situation to Colonel Imazu in Arnus, and he gestured to Kurokawa “Thanks, but please wait a while.”
If she listened carefully, she could hear Imazu’s Kansai accent through the handset.
“Got it. The pro-peace senators have all been placed under house arrest. Then, how’s the situation on the streets?”
“It’s been a week since the Emperor collapsed, and there’s no sign that they’ll lift the state of martial law on the Imperial Capital. There are troops everywhere on the streets, menacing the citizens. They’re allowed to move about during the day, but since movement in and out of the capital is restricted, just about all the shops have run out of stock and closed down. As a result, the number of pedestrians has dwindled to almost nothing. The Imperial Capital Operations Center is running out of rations as well. Please resupply us as soon as possible.”
“What? There should be enough rations for 150 men. An army marches on its stomach. You have to manage your food properly!”
“The Vice-Minister and her entourage consume a lot of it. Remember, the Vice-Minister, her maids and manservants all need to be fed.”
“If that’s the case, it seems food will be more effective than money as a bribe. The supplies will come as soon as possible. We’ll airdrop after we confirm the C-1 transports’ schedule. Also, how are the Vice-Minister and the others?”
“Well, while they’re nominally under confinement, they’ve still been allowed free use of the Jade Palace, so the diplomatic agreement should still be in effect. I guess they’re not touching them because they’re our foreign ambassadors, no?”
“No. That sort of humanitarian thinking won’t work here. Idiots are called idiots because they do idiotic things that we don’t do. You need to abandon all your previous logic. Be on your guard against being put on the defensive and being placed in difficult situations. Do you understand?”
After rebuking Nyutabara for his optimistic view of the situation, Imazu considered the information he had obtained so far.
“In any event, it seems Zorzal’s coup was a success.”
“Mm. Zorzal took advantage of the Emperor’s illness and announced that he would be dissolving the Senate and taking power as the Prince Regent. After command of the Empire’s armies was transferred to him and various legions pledged their loyalty, he placed the Imperial Capital under martial law. Most of the pro-peace senators have fled with their households.”
“Got it. The fact that they took their families with them implies they had no other choice but to flee. If the situation gets truly dangerous, we will immediately withdraw; otherwise you will have to hold position. Understood?”
“I understand. However, there are some household members of the absent senators who were not taken along. Shall we protect them?”
“You cannot act without thinking. If you help them for no good reason, it will only put them in a worse place. You have to consider the situation carefully.”
“In any event, you need to keep an eye on the Vice-Minister and our comrades in Foreign Affairs. Also, the Emperor’s health. Whether he lives, dies, or has a chance to recover are Essential Elements of Information (EEIs), get it? I’ve said so much, but in the end it’s up to you guys.”
With that, Nyutabara terminated his call to Imazu.
“The Emperor’s sickness… Anyone here have contacts within the Palace?”
Nyutabara called out into the Operations Center, but the only person who responded was Kurokawa, standing before him.
“At this time, I think Staff Sergeant Tomita — who has a close bond with one of Princess Pina’s confidantes — might be able to help.”
Imperial Palace — Ula Bianca
Currently, the Imperial Palace was in utter chaos.
Once the Crown Prince Zorzal announced his accession to power as the Prince Regent, he proceeded to distribute key positions in the domestic, finance, agriculture, foreign affairs and palace ministries to his own people, as well as defining the powers of those offices.
It was true that the Regency as administered by the Crown Prince had control over the national ministries. However, rearranging them was something which should have been done under the auspices of the true Emperor. Zorzal had done so because he wanted to ensure his policies were carried out. However, the sudden elevation of his lackeys to the same level as current ministers and the forceful seizure of the functions of state left the political scene in turmoil.
Of course, the law did not limit the ministers that propped up Zorzal’s regency in any way. However, the masses would not be able to accept that. Still, the Emperor was sick, and nobody knew when he would succumb to his illness. In the near future, the ministers chosen by the Prince Regent might end up being their superiors. If they publicly opposed them and drew censure, they might be placing themselves in a difficult situation. In other words, they had to protect themselves in the face of an uncertain future. Thus, an uneasy situation arose where the current and future ministers both held a degree of power.
Of course, the opposition to Zorzal soon popped out of the woodwork. They argued “Why is it that a mere Crown Prince is allowed the power over a nation?” and so on. However, once Zorzal’s status as heir was legitimized and he began flaunting his might, their arguments against him lost their power. They could only stand if the other side actually respected them to begin with. They were useless against someone whose aim was to run roughshod over the opposition.
The current ministers derived their authority and powers from the Emperor. However, the Emperor was currently indisposed. Therefore, they were holding on for dear life like candles in the wind, unable to enact policy. In addition, while they did not discuss the idea of being suppressed by an ascendant Zorzal in the past on general principle, now they had no choice in the matter.
In addition, now that the pro-peace faction had almost all been subject to house arrest, only the proponents of wars remained to decide matters
Resolutions which benefited the pro-war faction and bills which went in Zorzal’s favor were passed without any opposition. Because of that, most of the ministers were left stymied in the face of this chaos and could do nothing but hope the Emperor would recover soon.
After the announcement of the arrival of the Prince Regent, the doors to the Regency Hall swung open.
Under the eyes of the future ministers, bureaucrats, and the young generals who would manage military affairs, Zorzal strode in majestically through the opened doors.
The ambitious young bureaucrats and military officers dressed themselves in grand clothing stitched with gold and silver threads which reflected the Prince Regent’s own grandeur. They far exceeded the current ministers in the field of luxurious dress, and they looked like they could have come out of a painting.
Behind the Prince Regent was Tyuule.
Her status was still that of the Prince Regent’s possession. However, ever since Zorzal’s ascension, everyone saw his shadow when they looked at her. As the closest person to Zorzal’s brilliance, she reflected a faint light of her own, and she received the treatment of an empress despite technically being a slave.
Zorzal casually shed his cloak, tossing it to Tyuule, who was waiting by his side. After that, he approached the Prince Regent’s seat and took it.
Tyuule accepted the cloak, her face a mask of neutrality. She clutched it to herself, waiting by his side like an obedient maid.
On the other hand, Pina — who had been kept waiting for quite some time — advanced to Zorzal’s throne and asked angrily:
“Nii-sama! Why did you relieve Marquis Casel, Lord Cicero and the other members of the pro-peace faction of their posts, and then place them under house arrest?”
Zorzal furrowed his brows in confusion. He had a look of bafflement on his face as he explained:
“House arrest is such an ugly word. These people are all suspected of being bought off by Nihon. Therefore, they are being confined to their own homes until investigations are complete.”
“Being bought off? That’s it?”
“Yes. Their guilt is quite apparent, even going by what we can see on the surface. When the investigation is concluded, we will naturally have to deliver suitable punishment to them.”
“And will these punishments be decided through official hearings, Ani-ue?”
“We are at war. In the army, anyone in our forces who dances to the enemy’s tune and thus aids them must be dealt with. Do you think we have the luxury of holding tribunals for every single one of them? Decisiveness is the key to victory.”
As he said this, Pina’s field of vision suddenly blacked out for a moment.
Indeed, the punishment for military personnel spreading falsehoods and being corrupted by the enemy was a summary execution. However, all that was only done on the eve of battle or when battle was staring them in the eyes. In the first place, summary punishments should not have been handed out. For instance, even a superior officer could not randomly condemn his own men to death. In many cases of mistrial, defendants were not put on trial because “their subordinates were punished”, but because the tribunal wanted to hear “why the subordinates were punished”. And if there was no satisfactory reason for that, then the superior officer would himself be subject to punishment.
Pina looked at her brother, who did not seem to have grasped this principle and who was using the argument of “it’s done like this in the military” to accuse anybody he wanted. Her body went weak.
“Ah, Ani-ue. How far are you going to take this…”
“I tire of this, Pina. While Father is sick, it falls to me as Prince Regent to administer the government. Since that’s the case, everyone has to do as I say.”
“Ani-ue, there must be something wrong about your understanding of the succession of power, no? It comes with bearing the responsibility of the station! It’s not to be used to do whatever you want!”
“Ahhh, what a pain in the ass! I forbid you to address me with that nitpicking attitude! Is that the tone you should be taking with me?”
“That is the tone I have always taken with the Emperor.”
Zorzal was stunned into silence by Pina’s calm retort, and his vision swam for a moment.
“Cheh. Well, that’s true and I accept that. However, I will not tolerate this when I become Emperor.”
“Then, will you chop off my head?”
“Of course not. You haven’t been bought off by Nihon. It’s good that you’re focusing on your work.”
“However, the newly appointed representatives, including Count Woody and Baron Clayton among others, don’t even plan to look at the peace treaty!”
“Nonsense. These people also hope for peace at the end. However, we cannot discuss peace under these conditions. That is all.”
“You talk like you have the upper hand.”
Pina levelled a cutting remark at him, but Zorzal would not admit defeat.
“Are defeatists so blinded by their pessimistic worldview that they cannot see any way to win? Helm, Mudra, Karasta!” Zorzal shouted toward the ranks of soldiers before him.
The three of them, standing at the head of the other officers, advanced before Zorzal and genuflected before him.
In the middle was Viscount Helm, on the right was Sir Mudra, and on the left was the son of Marquis Karasta. Each of them had been granted the position of General in Zorzal’s regency. In addition, Helm and Karasta were two of the prisoners released by Japan several days ago.
“Then, shall I ask you gentlemen about what lies within your hearts? Speak, and clear away Pina’s foolishness.”
In response to Zorzal’s query, Helm rose.
“Indeed, it is as Princess Pina says; open combat against that foe is futile. That being the case, if we adopt another approach, we may be able to gain the advantage.”
“Is that so. But there is no time to worry; what our Empire needs now is victory.”
“I know. Then, please watch as I lead the enemy by the nose.”
“Oh? And how will you do that?” Zorzal asked as he leaned forward.
“We shall fully embrace the idea of evil. They say the enemy called Nihon loves the common folk too much. Thus, let us gather the Goblins and Kobolds and attack the cities near Arnus, the villages and the caravans. We will burn their farms, kill their animals, and poison their wells. In all directions, north, south, east and west, we shall turn the area into a wasteland.”
“That is nothing more than scorched-earth tactics. But will this not invite an enemy counterattack?”
“No. After all, it is only the demihumans who are doing so as bandits. They have nothing to do with us, and we know nothing about it…”
“I see. However, that will cause the army of Nihon to harry the marauding demihumans and bandits. What will you do, then? Will you fight?”
“An unbeatable foe is nothing to be worried about. If we encounter them, our troops can pose as traders and wave to them in a friendly manner. We can remove our armor and blend in with the villagers, or pass through national borders and infiltrate neighboring countries. We can take the people we meet on the roads as hostages, and tell our pursuers to back off if they want the hostages to live. Since they are willing to protect homeless wanderers, then we shall gather those starving refugees who have lost their homes and pack them off toward Arnus and encourage them to seek aid there. That way, we can mix our people in with these refugees and infiltrate the enemy.”
Zorzal was left speechless after hearing all that.
His mouth opened and closed a couple of times, as though he was deciding whether or not to speak. He thought, is it really alright to let him do this? He had to take another look at the man before him. Because of that, the others were exceptionally shocked by his words.
Helm was a general who knew the horrors of reducing an enemy’s territory to bloody ash. Even desiring the regular consequences of conventional warfare would be seen as a bloodlust by others. Therefore, having someone like him propose such a reprehensible plan was quite the shocking development.
Pina was furious, and with brows furrowed, she drew her sword.
“Have, have you no shame, Helm? Do you dare call yourself a proud soldier?!”
Viscount Helm was one of the first graduates of Pina’s Knight band, which made her even more incensed. The fact that one of her former comrades could actually speak of a tactic like that — no, calling such deplorable methods tactics was disgraceful in its own right — was absolutely disgusting to her.
However, Helm countered: “Then, can you defeat them on the field of battle?”
“Let’s leave that aside for now. I’m asking you about our pride as soldiers! What of the Empire’s reputation?”
“If we are beaten then our reputation and pride will be food for the dogs. It’s all well and good for a soldier to conduct himself in a righteous and high-minded manner, but they are all for nothing if we are defeated in the end. Shall we leave a reputation for honor after death? No, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it at all. I would rather enjoy a glorious and prosperous life rather than death.”
“What, what happened to the man I used to know?”
“There was no need for that in the past, so I did not do it. I too paid attention to my public bearing and reputation. But now that we have encountered a foe we cannot defeat by normal means, we no longer have the luxury of such indulgences.”
Helm’s words did make sense. Zorzal felt that it would be effective If they infiltrated the people and launched attacks on the army of Nihon. It would make their men guarded and suspicious. Their reprisals would surely wound the people. If they turned the cities into a battlefield, they could accuse the Nihon soldiers of massacring innocents. If they did that, the people would hate the army of Nihon, and view them as enemies. The foe would have to constantly watch their backs. It was a truly brilliant scheme.
“Lord Helm, how about disguising ourselves as the enemy and attacking settlements all over the place?”
Zorzal shouted “Good!” and slapped his thigh in response to Mudra’s suggestion.
Mudra was the third son of a merchant, and ever since he had enlisted, he had earned a name for himself as a pillar of the army’s logistics division.
Due to his birth, there were ugly rumors about how Mudra had abused his position to resell official supplies. However, no such thing had ever occurred, and Mudra used his vital work in the transport of material resources to dispel such hearsay. As such, he had moved up in life, and now possessed a knighthood.
“Mm, that’s a good move too. We’ll blacken the enemy’s reputation. Since we’re doing this, let us attack the people within the city, with all the burning of houses, plundering of riches and raping of women that implies. In that way, their reputations will be trod into the dirt and their names will be uttered as curses. When they have to deal with both the Empire and its people, they will not have such an easy time of it as they do now.”
“That’s exactly right. In addition, we can replenish our resources and expenses through doing so as well, so I see no downsides to that. Speaking of which, what does the enemy wear? Do we have any samples of their clothing so we can duplicate it?”
“When I was on campaign in the land of Ginza, I saw what the enemy wore. After I was taken captive, their image was branded deeply into my eyes.”
“Me too!” Karasta shouted.
The first two people had been elevated purely through their successes, but Karasta had reached his military position by virtue of his birth.
For someone like him, who had been born the first son of a Marquis, accomplishments were not very important. Therefore, he had not earned the ire of others even though he did not display valor on the battlefield. On the other hand, any successes he did achieve were quickly rumored to have been stolen from someone else. However, he was not a completely incapable person. Perhaps it was because he treated the people around him kindly, but he ended up becoming friends with the people around him, with their overconfidence, ambition, and cruelty.
Zorzal rose, a beaming smile on his face.
“Helm, go and begin your operation.”
“Understood. Then, I shall begin our preparations.”
That sort of thing could not be considered a military operation. Pina shouted, “Please, I’m begging you, stop.” But her words were ignored and discarded. She looked to Zorzal, tears brimming in her eyes.
“A-ani-sama, please, don’t do this!”
“What are you on about, Pina? We’ll discuss this later, I’m busy now. Next, Advocate-General Rufrus, how’s progress on the matter I ordered earlier?”
A white-haired youth stepped forward from among the bureaucrats.
He was a skinny man with a sinister look on his face, and there was no sense of warmth in him.
“We’ve finished preparing the bill for the special legislation pertaining to the oprichnina. We’re almost done selecting the key personnel too, so once the bill passes, we will begin purging the pro-peace faction.”
(TL Note: Oprichnina was the Russian policy of instituting secret police, mass repressions, executions, confiscation of land etc. Basically a reign of terror to eliminate traitors.)
As she heard those words, Pina looked to the ground, her expression unreadable.
“Hang on, hang on, what you said just now was…”
She mumbled like she was talking to herself, and clawed at her scalp through her crimson hair.
She had thought and theorized and worked for so long and at last she thought she could be at peace. But in the end, all the hopes she thought she had accumulated collapsed into dust. Perhaps she could pull herself together once or twice, working up the spirit to continue fighting, but if it went on three or four or more times, she could not help but wonder if she was cursed by something. It was now that she realised how powerless she was in the hands of fate.
“Why? Why did it end up like this?”
It was clear that Pina’s weakness came from her nervousness over the horrors Zorzal would soon unleash. The Crown Prince’s appetite for sadism knew no limit.
After leaving the Regency, Pina strode unsteadily toward the Western Palace, to the residence of her second brother Diabo.
Pina was afflicted with the chronic disease known as despair, but she still managed to pull together her remaining scraps of courage. Realizing she could not stop Zorzal by herself, she decided to ask someone else for help.
“Ani-sama? Ani-sama, where are you?”
However, nobody answered Pina’s calls. Normally, Diabo’s servants and his maids should have come out to welcome her, but the palace seemed so quiet and empty that one might have thought that nobody had ever lived here.
“What’s going on? Nii-sama, Diabo-niisama!”
Pina wandered throughout the vast palace before finding her brother, who was sorting out his luggage with a servant. The young servant carried a heavy pack on his back. He was sweating heavily and had a distressed look on his face.
“Shut up, Pina! What do you want?”
“It’s nothing special… Nii-san, what’s this? Are you preparing to go somewhere?”
“I’ve decided, I’m fleeing this place. I’ve already sent my followers away. I can’t take them with me. Ah, right, I let them take everything valuable here as a reward for their loyalty. It’s just that… once you die, it’s all meaningless, hahaha.”
Diabo laughed heartily as he regarded his empty palace.
“Fleeing? Please, please don’t do something so irresponsible! Help me stop Zorzal nii-sama!”
“What foolishness are you spouting? Why should I help you do something so dangerous?”
“Nii-sama, you have a seat on the Senate. Also, don’t you feel any responsibility to this country as a member of the Imperial Household?”
“I’m not fleeing the Imperial Capital because I’m abdicating all my responsibilities. In fact, the opposite is true — in order to do my duty, in order to stop Zorzal, I’m planning to borrow some strength from other countries…”
“Other countries? But if you do that, won’t that plunge this country further into chaos?”
History was littered with examples of losing one’s territory or even one’s entire country by borrowing external power to quell internal disputes. It was abundantly clear from that same history that there were no such thing as friends at a national level.
“All right, then how are you going to stop him? Do you think Zorzal’s the kind of man who’ll listen to words alone? If you want to talk him down, you’ll need to back your words up with an equal amount of power.”
“That may be so, but we might be able to slowly bring him around, so it might be too early to flee right now…”
“No way. According to my investigations, he’s already tossed the people who are pro-peace and opposed to him into jail. If you try and lecture him, who knows what will happen.”
“He’s going to institute oprichnina. That’s much too cruel. We have to stop it from being carried out, no matter what.”
Pina chewed at her fingers as she said that.
“But that’s impossible! The only people left in the Senate are the pro-war people.”
In desperation, Pina dashed forward and embraced Diabo.
“Diabo-nii-sama! For the sake of the future, please lend me and the Empire a hand!”
“Hey, let go, let go of me! Metmes, what’s up with her?!”
Diabo flailed his arms in a panic. However, Pina’s grip was surprisingly strong and he could not slip her grasp easily. The lad who was Diabo’s manservant was similarly powerless to dislodge the Princess’ hands, no matter how Diabo ordered him. At his wits’ end, all he could do was repeat, “Your Highness, please calm down! Please, calm down!”
“You’re so mean! You’re a mean old brother who’s going to abandon me without even listening to me! How can I let go if you’re like that?”
“Let go! Pina! So why don’t you run away with me?”
“I can’t abandon Father on his sickbed!”
“Just let go of me!”
“You’re mean. Nii-sama, help me, please!”
Diabo struggled valiantly under Pina’s full-strength grab. Pina’s hair was in a mess, but she was unwilling to release her grip around Diabo’s waist. This was not a simple contest of strength between the two of them, so Diabo could not do something like cast Pina aside. Thus he did not struggle as desperately as he should have. In the end, Diabo abandoned his attempts to wriggle free of his little sister’s grasp and clicked his tongue.
“...I get it. I’ll do as you say. It can’t be helped…”
“Do you get it now?”
Pina smiled in delight. It would seem the two of them had relaxed, though they were both covered in sweat. Still, Pina did not lower her guard, and remained fastened around Diabo.
“However, I have certain conditions.”
“What kind of conditions?”
“Whatever the circumstances, you and I are both competitors with Zorzal for the succession. Trying to go up against him under those conditions could be fatal. Don’t forget that.”
Pina did not want to step into the realm where their lives would be in danger if either of her brothers said anything. However, Pina looked at the matter objectively. The loss of a father or brother was an inevitable casualty when competing for supreme power. They could not be as loving as normal siblings.
“In any case, we have to be prepared to lose our lives. I trust I don’t need to keep going on and on about it? Don’t forget.”
Pina nodded again, somewhat more sedately.
“Well then, since it’s like that… I need a matching promise from you.”
A vague sense of dissatisfaction grew in Pina, and she squeezed Diabo around the waist.
“Then, what do you want me to do?”
“Come to think about it, I received a copy of your subordinate’s report about the dragonslayers. It read like some kind of heroic epic…”
“That was a mistake on my part. Forgive me for not properly instructing the writer on how to do her job.”
“No, I felt it was quite well-written. I was more interested in that Dark Elf girl. She was willing to trade her body in order to save her tribe. In order to fulfil the task asked of her, she gave everything she could give. It was a truly poetic image, I feel.”
“Then, can you do the same thing?”
“That is, can you offer yourself to me the way she did?”
“What do you mean by…”
“That is to say, are you willing to serve me in bed as my pillow?”
As she heard that, Pina immediately backed away from Diabo.
“Ah, ah, Ani-sama, what, what did you just say?”
“I said exactly what I said. My meaning should be very clear. Do you need me to explain more directly before you understand?”
Pina’s face turned as red as her crimson hair, and she replied:
“Nii, nii-sama… we, aren’t we brother and sister? Well, we only share a father… but, but we’re still siblings bound by blood and, and… I don’t think it’s quite right.”
“And what of that? There’s no problem with us becoming man and wife.”
“No, no problem? I don’t like it. It, it means I would bear your child, nii-sama…”
“Hmph. So after all that talk about thinking about the country, that’s all you can really give of yourself. You speak so grandly about offering up others’ lives but you don’t dare breach a taboo like that. That is your limit.”
Diabo patted himself down and rearranged his messed-up clothes. He scoffed at Pina.
“The long and short of it is that politics is bringing someone over to your point of view and making him agree with you. Human beings live surrounded by all sorts of selfish desires. You need to consider all sorts of methods to make use of these desires. Inflaming passions and controlling emotions is a good skill to have. Zorzal’s use of violence and fear to maintain his grip on his power is clearly quite effective. In other words, that man’s actions were more suitable to the situation than yours were. You didn’t even stop to consider the meaning of your actions before acting out and throwing a tantrum like a child. Forget it, don’t mind it, I’m sorry I scared you. I was just testing to see if you had any ulterior motives. I meant nothing by it. Please forgive me.”
“What, changed your mind?”
Pina reached a hand out to Diabo, who looked her up and down like he was tasting her body with his eyes. It was all terribly exaggerated, and it was clear that he intended to play on Pina’s sense of disgust and her pride.
However, Pina clutched at Diabo’s sleeve with trembling hands.
“If I do as you say, Diabo-nii… then will you help me stop Zorzal-nii?”
Pina’s face was covered by her hair and thus unreadable. However, one could sense her fear and her conviction warring within her tiny, tremulous voice.
“Stop it. Don’t force yourself to say something you don’t want to.”
“...Which means you’ll help me?”
“Well… even if you say that, I can’t do something that’s impossible for me. Pina, I misspoke. This isn’t a problem you can solve just by enduring a bit of pain for a while. Rolling around with you all night, no, all day and night, without a break would be quite painful for an inexperienced girl like you.”
“Hold, hold on! There’s a big difference between saying you can do it and actually doing it!”
“I’ll endure it. No, saying I’ll endure you would be disrespectful to you, nii-sama. Please enter me. Your little sister would like nothing more than to be embraced by her big brother.”
Her words were clear and her reply was swift. This was the proof that Pina was determined to cross the line in her heart.
On the other hand, Diabo was sweating heavily. The look on his face practically screamed “oh crap”. He began backing off at full speed.
“Then… Pina, this is moving a little too fast. Shouldn’t you respect yourself a little more?”
“It’s fine. Nii-sama, let’s fall together!”
Pina’s expression was clearly one which was detached from normality. She had a creepy smile on her face, a sure sign of a deranged mind.
“Don’t fall into depravity!” Diabo shouted.
However, Pina — who had crossed that line in her heart — paid his words no heed.
“Mm. Still, doing it like this is a little distasteful. I’d like to bathe first, and these clothes are kind of in the way… Nii-sama, please wait a bit for me.”
Pina was muttering things to herself which made Diabo’s heart rate pick up.
“Pina! Can you hear me! Oi~”
Diabo lightly patted Pina’s face with a patapata sound, but Pina turned her glazed, unfocused eyes on Diabo.
“Then, I’ll be back soon. But you have to wait for me.”
And then she ran off to the Western Palace.
“Well then, Diabo-sama. What shall we do now? Shall I set out a bed?” said Metmes the manservant.
“There’s no need for that! I don’t want to sleep with my little sister! I’m leaving.”
“Is that really all right? Princess Pina asked you to wait for her.”
“It’s fine! Leave me be!”
“Well, about that... your servant feels that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
“It’s a damn sight better than being killed by Zorzal for stating an opinion. We’re going!”
And so, Diabo and his servant left the Imperial Capital.
Elsewhere, Pina returned to her suite, gathered her maids, and soaked herself in a bathtub infused with scented oils. She carefully combed her hair, applied some light makeup, put on her best seduction panties, and then veiled herself in her best dress. From her instructions, the maids guessed that “This must be a critical moment for Her Highness”, and they redoubled their efforts. Of course, there were questions of “Who’s the lucky man?” and it spread like wildfire through the maids’ network of “who’s who of where”.
However, all of their guesses fell short of the mark. What Pina intended to do fell into the “other” category. If the maids knew the truth, they would probably be disgusted instead. An abortionist might be summoned and she might be imprisoned in her room with a loyal maid for the rest of her days. Therefore, Pina did not tell anyone about the person in question. After preparing herself, she left her residence.
And then, she ended up hugging her knees on a bed in the Western Palace.
Shandy’s report told of a Dark Elf girl who gave of her wealth and her body to look for help, but who was rejected. It also painted a heroic picture of a man who sacrificed everything, up to his life for friendship.
Pina was envious and jealous of them from the bottom of her heart. She was a highly fortunate woman, but she still fell far short of them.
“Am I not even worth bedding, nii-sama?”
Consumed by despair and weakness, the Imperial Princess Pina Co Lada broke down into tears.
“Your Highness the Prince Regent, it’s been a long time. You look well,” said the man dressed like a merchant, who was kowtowing before Zorzal.
Clearly, he had been enjoying heavy meals every day, given that he was so fat that his chin had fused with the rest of his body. In addition, his limbs looked so tiny that it made people feel that he would roll away if pushed.
A wave of frustration washed over Zorzal as he saw that disgusting fat body, and he let his displeasure show on his face as he spoke in an annoyed tone:
“To hell with looking well! Are you implying I’m glad that my Father the Emperor is in his sickbed?”
“That, that was not at all my intention and I apologize! Your servant humbly apologizes for not detecting your Highness’ heartache at this development… although the inauguration of the Regency is truly a matter for happiness. Please accept this specially prepared gift.”
“Is that so. Then, put it over there.”
The guest wiped away the cold sweat which had suddenly formed on his face, and nervously placed a small yet heavy-looking wooden box among the small mountain of other presents in the corner of the office.
“What a majestic sight. Although, when you pile them up, is it not unclear who gave which gift?”
“Are you worried that your painstakingly-prepared present will be forgotten? It’s fine. My secretary is very efficient. She’s memorized them all. Tyuule, introduce yourself.”
Tyuule stood at a fixed position in Zorzal’s office, and she dipped her head. She seemed to be taking some sort of shorthand as the quill pen in her right hand raced over the parchment on the board in her left hand.
“Is this Tyuule-sama? She is as beautiful as the rumors say. Pleased to meet you, my name is Maruki.”
“And then that’s my head manservant, Nei.”
Beside Tyuule was an unassuming man in an elegant outfit, who looked to be in his forties or fifties and stood ramrod straight.
“Nei-sama, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
The head manservant graciously acknowledged him with a nod.
“Then, what do you want today? I doubt you’re here just to deliver a celebratory present.”
“Indeed. I pray your Highness the Prince Regent will show your favor to the Maruki Consortium and make us the Imperial Household’s official supplier of goods.”
“What, the news is out already? It seems your ears are fairly useful.”
“Our eyes and ears are very sensitive. We trust your Highness intends to revamp everything.”
“Hm, so your senses are keen and you’re observant too. Indeed, I do intend to make a fresh start. Because of that, I need to change my suppliers one by one. I want fresh people, with fresh attitudes.”
“We at the Maruki Chamber of Commerce approve of your Highness’ considerations. If we are fortunate enough to receive your imprimatur, we shall aid your Highness’ policies with all our might.”
“Yes, yes, I know what you want to say. That’s all for today, I’m busy…”
“In, indeed. I once more tender my sincerest apologies for not noticing. I have wasted enough of your valuable time.”
In accordance with Zorzal’s directions, Tyuule approached the office doors with beautiful footsteps and opened the door for the merchant. She even smiled to him. Of course, that expression meant “Please leave quickly.”
The merchant smiled back stiffly, and then nervously fled Zorzal’s presence. Tyuule watched him leave, and then muttered to herself.
“That one’s no good.”
Tyuule looked exceptionally charming as she scratched her head with the hand holding her quill pen.
“Indeed. The fact that people like that are spreading all over the place is the fault of the previous Emperors. However, people like that will not be allowed to run free in my Empire. While he’s very perceptive, I don’t need bribery or the like. I doubt someone like him deals honestly. People like that are to be forbidden entry. Got it?”
“Understood,” Tyuule replied as she scribbled something onto the parchment with a karikari sound.
As he observed the two of them, the head manservant Nei decided to draw on his great stores of experience and warned:
“Your Highness, while I thoroughly agree with your reasoning, I feel that a massive, sudden change will plunge the palace into chaos. How about a slight readjustment first? It is important to sort matters in order of priority. We will take care of the important things first and worry about less important things later, and then the situation will clear up. Alleviating chaos is part of the duties of this office.”
“It’s fine. Chaos is what I want.”
“This… may I ask how putting the palace into chaos is beneficial?”
“Nei, you are a mere servant, so you cannot understand the finer points of bureaucracy. I intend to play the fool for a while and observe the court officials. In addition, there is a truth I will tell you.”
“What kind of truth is it?
“In a vast nation like the Empire, the bureaucrats develop their individual habits, appearance, rules and so on, to the point where they are immune even to changes in policy. The previous Emperors feared to touch this system. However, though the Emperor can decree or the Senate can make rulings, it is these people who actually carry out their directions. Therefore, in the process of executing their orders, they take their fellows into consideration and alter the final product into something which looks like the intended article but which is utterly worthless. Still, this is only possible with a healthy bureaucracy. In a chaotic situation like this, they will not have the freedom to modify my dictates, and they will be forced to swallow them whole.”
“However, will not these days of panic lead to nothing meaningful being done?”
“Isn’t sorting out these circumstances the job of the ministers?”
“Even so, in the current confusion, the task of sorting things out will not be simple.”
“It’s fine. All they need to do is neatly resolve what happens amidst this chaos. I want things to be simple and clean, an efficient state of affairs with no clutter.”
There was a knocking on the door. Tyuule opened it to welcome the caller.
The next visitor was Advocate-General Rufrus.
“The Senate rejected the special legislation for oprichnina which I submitted by the command of Your Highness. The reasons given was that the charge of ‘flouting Imperial authority’ was far too vague and there were also whispers that ‘even the pro-war faction might be indicted by this’.”
“What?! Did I not make myself clear?!”
Zorzal grabbed the scroll case and opened up the bill.
“Hm, what to do. An excessively strict definition will lead to a harsh law that leaves a lot of people open to being accused of treason.”
“To think this was the cause of dispute in the Senate. Can we not push it through forcefully?”
“If we do that, it will only deepen the Senators’ unease. More importantly, there are several officials who are trying to push us into negotiating with Nihon for certain items.”
“Yes, what a shame. Still, it must be those people who were bought off and corrupted by gifts so they would interfere in the diplomatic process.”
“So what should we do?”
As she heard Zorzal muttering to himself, Tyuule timidly volunteered an answer:
“Your Highness. How about changing the definition of ‘flouting Imperial authority’ to a simple ‘those whose actions impede his Majesty’s policies’?”
“Actions that impede policies…?”
“Mm. This way, most of the Senators will not oppose it. Though it may be rude, they cannot do anything about it.”
“Interfere… however, people who have differing opinions will live in fear.”
The oprichnina legislation was intended to cover treasonous behavior against the Empire. In other words, it targeted most of the members of the pro-peace faction. The question now was the definition of treason. If one defined it as “actions which impeded policy”, then it might lead to people being unable to voice dissenting opinions at all. This was the beginning of a slippery slope that ended with ‘You disagreed with me, therefore you’re guilty. The sentence is death!’”
Of course, if he did that, all his efforts and his public opinion would go down the drain. This was the opposite of what Zorzal’s ideal scenario. What Zorzal envisioned was a Senate whose members advised the Emperor of their own accord and debated for the welfare of the country. Certainly, he could get a lot more people to work by castigating them, but such action ran counter to Zorzal’s dream.
In order to push Zorzal to a decision, Rufrus stepped forward.
“We’ve prepared the draft for the bill…”
Deep in thought, Zorzal did not question Rufrus and simply nodded.
“Just leave it here, give me more time to think. After that, we’ll let the Senate move on it again.”
Just then, a voice came from the door.
“Forgive me for disturbing you during your work.”
Zorzal said, “Come in”, and in response, Furuta the chef entered.
“I apologize for making you wait for lunch… shall I come back later?”
“No, I’ll have it now. Frankly speaking, it’s been a while, so just put it here.”
Zorzal allowed Furuta to put his lunch on his desk.
Once Furuta entered, Rufrus retreated from the office. However, Tyuule said, “Please wait” and held him back. After that, she spoke to Zorzal, who had already transferred his attention to his food:
“Your Highness, Advocate-General Rufrus is quite busy. If this keeps up, it will hinder him in the execution of his duties.”
“That’s true. After all, Rufrus also has to command the people who will carry out the oprichnina. What shall I do about this?”
“Please allow me to handle the task of communication. This way, we will not need to keep summoning Rufrus-sama.”
“Is that so. Thank you Tyuule, you’ve been a great help.”
Zorzal nodded, and handed the task to Tyuule.
“Then we’ll do that. Rufrus.”
The Advocate-General replied: “Yes, understood,” and left.
After a while, Nei spoke:
“Your Highness. Lunch should be had in the dining hall. Eating in a place like this ill-befits your position.”
“Hmph, why do I have to keep shifting around just for lunch? I’m very busy.”
“However, eating in an appropriate place makes the food taste better. In addition, it does not compromise your image and authority. One must appear dignified as a ruler.”
“Is that so? Then I’ll change some other day. This is a daily occurrence, after all, so there’s no need for all that pomp and circumstance. Besides, Furuta’s food tastes good even if you eat it here.”
“My thanks, your Highness.”
The head manservant looked disapprovingly at the hastily-hired chef. He seemed to be scolding Furuta with his eyes for not agreeing with him.
However, Zorzal simply said, “Come, time to eat,” and opened up the lunchbox on his desk.
“Oh? And what have we here?”
“It is a sandwich of roasted meat in grain buns, known as a hamburger. It is flavored with your Highness’ preferred seasonings and served with vegetables. You hold it like so, and take great bites of it. Then you add the included vegetable sauces to taste…”
Nei sighed as he saw this.
“It is quite unrefined of one to consume lunch in a place of work.”
“But it’s so good. This suits me perfectly. Furuta, pay his mumblings no heed and make me more of these. Got it?”
“Yes. I understand.”
Beside him, Tyuule was helping herself to a hamburger as well. It was quite adorable how she took small bites out of it, the way a small animal would eat a fruit.
“Come to think of it, Furuta, how about officially becoming a palace chef? It just so happens the head chef position is open. Of course, it’s not left open for you specifically, but I honestly cannot think of a better man for the job.”
“I am very grateful for your offer. However, I have a dream of my own.”
“I know, you want to own your own shop, right?”
A dispirited Zorzal sighed deeply.
“Still, it’s such a small dream. I feel like scolding you.”
“That is quite a rude thing to say.”
“No, it’s fine. Frankly speaking, I feel it’s good that a minor character can retain his pride. Never mind, I get it. Go chase your dream. But before that, stay by my side. All the other chefs pale in comparison to your skills. Got that?”
“Yes, your Highness.”
“However, you’ve made a serious mistake, Furuta.”
“What, what mistake did I make?”
“You didn’t make enough of this marvellous dish! You’ll need several times more than this to sate my appetite!”
Zorzal glanced into the box, at the hill of hamburgers as he said this. If that was not enough, how much could he eat?
“I understand. Then, I shall go heat the rest up now. It should be ready soon.”
“...Cheh. That means you were prepared for this.”
“Yes. I know your Highness is a big eater, and if I brought them all out at once, the last few would get cold. I thought it would be better to leave a few until they were needed and then serve them hot.”
“Ah! Truly a remarkable chap, no matter how I look at you. I understand, now go get the rest ready while I’m eating. That’s right, Tyuule, you go with him too, and see if Furuta really does have more laid up in store. Also, something might happen if he’s too rushed.”
Tyuule had been steadily gnawing her burger into a crescent shape — accompanied by “om nom nom” noises — and she was clearly reluctant to leave it.
“Tyuule-san, please hurry, his Highness eats quickly, so it’s important that we return soon.”
Zorzal had a displeased look on his face, but he laughed happily. Tyuule and Furuta took that as the starter’s pistol for them to jog toward the kitchen from the office.
As Tyuule panted, she asked:
“Aren’t, aren’t you afraid of his Highness? Just now, you could have died.”
“I can’t say I’m not afraid, but…”
Furuta could not do or say anything which involved lying about food. Not even if someone else said things which forced him to leave the family restaurant he had been groomed to inherit, left him homeless due to wicked rumors, and finally forced him to join the JSDF.
Therefore, he felt that if he had angered Zorzal and been forced to flee, it would have been fine. Or rather, he wanted to make him angry and terminate this assignment quickly.
For people in this world, it was difficult for someone to run to a place where Zorzal could not reach. However, Furuta had been prepared for that eventuality. If he called for help, a helicopter would come and recover him, and once he went through the Gate, Zorzal would not be able to touch him. Therefore, he acted without fear, but that only served to impress Tyuule, who did not know this.
“To think the dream of someone with such vision and ability would be just to open his own shop… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.”
“I guess you can’t make sense of that, given that you serve the Prince Regent. However, to me, a shop is something like my own castle, or my own country.”
“And you want to become the king of your own little kingdom?”
“Yes. And the people who come before me to eat shall be my subjects.”
“How fortunate your citizens must be. After all, they have good food to eat. However, don’t you think the people are irrational and prideful beings? In the end, they’ll treat you coldly. Sometimes, people do bite the hand that feeds them.”
“Then, as long as I satisfy everyone’s appetites, it won’t be a problem. Otherwise, the people will flee elsewhere and the shop will be forced to close.”
This is what the Third generation head didn’t understand. Furuta felt that he was very foolish.
“So you feel that it’s the king’s fault that his people betray him?”
Tyuule had stopped for some reason.
Furuta thought “what is it” as he turned to look at Tyuule’s face.
“I think neither side is in the wrong.”
“You, you actually think that way… so you intend to be a king who is loved by his people?”
“That would be nice.”
Furuta had drawn ahead of Tyuule, who was a little behind him, watching his back.
Tyuule mused that many of Zorzal’s followers wore fancy clothes, twisting their bodies to bear their weight. Yet the body of Furuta — who did not go out of his way to curry favor with the strong — was ramrod straight. He was not very tall, and he was dressed in dirty work clothes., Even so, why was it that she thought she could see something like a light coming from his back?
Elsewhere, Zorzal was busy munching on burgers as he scrolled through the files the Advocate General had brought him. He was signing off on amended documents.
“Hm? Where’s the draft for the oprichnina bill? Where’s it gone?”
He looked on the desk, he looked under Furuta’s lunch basket, but found nothing. Nor was it under his desk. He searched everywhere but could not find it.
The head manservant Nei was puzzled by these actions, and asked:
“Has something happened, your Highness?”
“No, it seems Rufrus forgot to give me an important document.”
“Still, did you not hand the matter of communication to Tyuule in the end?”
“Ah, come to think of it, I did leave it to her. All right, I’ll move on to the next file. Hold this.”
And so, the oprichnina bill, in Tyuule’s hands and without Zorzal’s knowledge, was slotted into the “re-proposal” box.