Recently, Jircniv had been in great shape.
In any case, life was good.
After visiting the nightmare that was Nazarick, the stomach cramps that had been plaguing him all this time were gone. The cabinet which had once held potions now contained neat stacks of documents. He was free of all his troubles, he no longer collected hair from his pillow and he was no longer shocked by how much of it there was.
This was probably the first time he had been filled with such a feeling of liberation. He felt so good that he could not help but imagine he had sprouted wings with which he could flap into the sky.
He put his heartfelt smile away and faced his subordinate. You smile more often now, his not-beautiful concubine had said, but this was not a time to let others see him smile. Dignity was a thing that caused a lot of problems when one lost it.
And so, the usual morning meeting began.
Jircniv had many scribes, but the one before him now was an excellent man called Roune Varmilinen.
At first, he had been worried that something had been done to him after he had returned from the Sorcerer King’s palace, and so he had placed him in a sinecure. However, that too was a thing of the past. Roune’s position as head scribe was now secure. This was not because he was certain that nothing had been done to him. It was simply to prove that he had nothing to hide from the Sorcerous Kingdom. In addition, it was also a fact that Roune was very skilled.
He glanced over the document he had taken from Roune, and due to the ridiculous content within, Jircniv lost control of himself and burst into laughter.
“Whoever wrote this was quite the comedian. What do you think of the Sorcerer King’s death?”
“I am absolutely certain that this is one hell of a lie.”
Jircniv agreed with what Roune had said.
“Ahh, that’s right. It must be fake. Besides, it’s impossible that His Majesty would lose or die or whatever.”
Nobody could possibly kill a magic caster who could crush an army of 200’000 with a single spell and fight in armed combat with the Martial Lord, the Empire’s mightiest warrior. Jircniv was certain of that.
Of course, one could not poison him either, and he could not fall to disease or die of old age. It felt more realistic that someone was spreading a bad joke on a massive scale in order to make the punchline of “…because he was already dead to begin with”.
“Well, it’s probably to root out any malcontents. Still, I have a question.”
“That is to say, I am wondering why is His Majesty, who possesses unrivalled intellect, resorting to a lame little scheme like this which anyone can see through. Unless it means there’s some other… yes, it’s possible there may be some grand conspiracy brewing that even I cannot discern…”
Who could say for sure there was none? No, if this was a scheme laid by the monstrous intellect who knew every detail of Jircniv’s movements, then Jircniv was certain that this was nothing but the tip of the iceberg.
For all Jircniv knew, even thinking that way might have been part of his plan.
However, what if this was not a scheme hatched by the Sorcerer King, but by one of his underlings — for instance, that utterly imbecilic-looking toad monster?
“…I don’t know. Besides, if you can’t figure out something you want to figure out, you can only abandon it. More to the point, all we need to do is obey Albedo-sama, the prime minister of the Sorcerous Kingdom, and do what she says. There’ll be no problems so long as we don’t betray them and complete our tasks. As the ruler of a vassal nation, I won’t be so easily purged if I’m appropriately incompetent.
“It is as you say.”
In the past, he was a person who would not make such movements, It would seem he had trained himself to do so after his many experiences. Or perhaps it was because he had grown bold.
Regardless of the Sorcerer King’s vital status, all would be well as long as the Empire did not stop being a vassal of the Sorcerous Kingdom. In this way, they would be immune to any stratagem the opposition employed. Loyalty was the best defense. If they were killed even after giving their loyalty, then all they could do was laugh at the pettiness of the other party and go to the grave in peace.
“Now then, is that all the work for today?”
Ever since he had become a vassal nation, Jircniv’s administrative workload had dropped to around half of before, Still, today’s workload seemed too light.
“No, Your Majesty, there’s still something else. This is a document we received this morning. It was submitted by the knight legions.”
Unfortunately, his work was not yet done.
Jircniv accepted the proffered document with a mocking smile on his face.
He glanced briefly through it. It seemed to contain the knights’ complaints about their legion being reconstituted.
In the past, he would have given a certain amount of special consideration to the knights. Or rather, considering Jircniv had many nobles as his enemies, he could not allow the enemy to snatch away the martial force which the knights represented. However, things were different now.
“Tell them this: you can tell His Majesty the Sorcerer King in person. I can’t believe they wasted paper on this.”
Paper used in these reports was made by utility magic, and it cost more regardless of what tier of spell was used to make it. Jircniv could have thrown it away after use without any concerns, but he did not intend to keep quiet about excessive expenses.
Paper made from zero-tier spells was crumpled. It was coarse and discolored.
Paper conjured from first-tier utility spells was thinner and whiter. Papermaking could produce paper of this quality as well, but spells of this tier produced less paper and so it was more expensive.
Second-tier utility spells produced very sheer and very clean paper. Of course, one could color magically-created paper to a certain extent. Spells of this tier could produce a very soft paper known as noble paper, and all productivity went to that aspect.
“Still I don’t understand why they’re so resistant to letting another country handle our national defense.”
“Don’t complain about that to me, tell Albedo-sama. Also, didn’t we already say that we weren’t entrusting everything to them?”
This came from Prime Minister Albedo’s instructions to supplement the Empire’s military manpower with the Sorcerous Kingdom’s undead armies.
Jircniv believed that this was part of the program to complete the vassalization process, and so he obeyed it. He planned to let some of the knights retire and disbanded two of the Empire’s eight legions.
This ought to have been a good idea since there were many people who were mentally exhausted from that massacre, but there had still been some disgruntlement about the lack of seats which could be taken.
“And I even prepared positions for them to transfer into…”
“People are just unhappy at losing their privileges and uneasy about doing jobs they’ve never done before, I think.”
“If it’s the latter, then they just have to work hard, but if it’s the former then it’s only to be expected. Or am I expected to pay people who simply do their job and engage in physical labor the same amount that people in hazardous and deadly jobs receive?”
Jircniv snorted and disregarded it.
Perhaps he would have needed to masterfully manipulate them in the past, but now there was no need for that.
Jircniv had the backing of someone called the Sorcerer King who possessed absolute power. No matter what happened, all he had to do was say, “please tell His Majesty yourself” and all dissent was quashed in an instant.
Nobody in the Empire could express their displeasure to someone who could slaughter on such a scale and even defeat the Martial Lord in combat.
While they had used to field their complaints to Jircniv in the past, his position was now secure, given that he was a servant of the Sorcerer King. No, because he was feared, he ought to say it was more secure than secure. Immovable, perhaps?
And frankly, there were shockingly few people in the Empire who were unhappy about becoming vassals of the Sorcerous kingdom. That was because the Sorcerous Kingdom made very few demands. There were quite a few finely-detailed requests, but there were only two main demands.
The first was to amend a part of the Empire’s law — this was to emphasize the absolute nature of the Sorcerer King and his confidants.
The second was to hand over criminals sentenced to the death penalty. This was shocking in the opposite sense. While he had felt that they would suffer horrible fates, one of them had been safely returned because “he was framed, and so he was innocent”.
And so, one could say that there was practically no change from daily life.
“Come, let’s finish up quick so I can meet my friend.”
Today, a true, freshly-made friend was scheduled to visit Jircniv. All the preparations for his welcome were complete, and all that was left was Jircniv’s part of the work.
He spent half an hour taking care of sundry tasks, and then his subordinate entered the room after receiving the approval of his guards and Jircniv himself.
“Your Majesty, your guest has arrived–”
“Ohh! Hurry and let him in!”
His work was not finished. Still, what about it? What could be more important than greeting a friend?
Soon, his friend was led into the room by his subordinates.
Jircniv rose, his face all smiles, and he spread his arms in welcome and invited his guest in.
It was a demihuman who looked like a short, squat mole. The enchanted pendant he had given him dangled back and forth.
“Ohhh! Welcome! My true friend, Riyuro!”
Jircniv embraced Riyuro without any hesitation and wrapped his arms around him.
“Ahhh! Jircniv, oh friend with whom I have shared my troubles! I am deeply grateful for your welcome!
Riyuro embraced Jircniv as well. Given the sharp claws on his forelimbs, one could see the gentleness in his movements as he took care not to hurt Jircniv with them.
They held each other for a while, and then slowly broke apart.
“–What are you saying? My doors are always open to Riyuro.”
Riyuro smiled savagely.
While the smile looked very menacing on a demihuman, Jircniv understood that he was smiling. Such was the intimacy of their relationship.
Jircniv was suddenly struck by how interesting this was.
He had been born and raised as a candidate to be the next Emperor, and everyone around him of his age considered him the Crown Prince. Therefore, he had not had anyone he could call a friend. But now, the fact that his first friend was a demihuman–
–Hmph. If I had told myself from 10 or 15 years ago about this, I wouldn’t have believed it… For this, if nothing else, I have to thank that undead being.
He had first met this dear friend before him in a waiting room when he had gone to see the Sorcerer King.
At that time, he had simply wondered where this demihuman had come from and how far the Sorcerer King’s domination reached.
But after that, they met again, and engaged each other in conversation to learn more about each other — and then they forged a spiritual bond. After a minute together that could have been a month, a deep friendship was born.
That was why they no longer addressed each other with honorifics, This was not because they were both kings.
Indeed, it was because the two of them–
–Were both being tormented by the same oppressor — they were comrades in suffering.
“Come, I’ve prepared all sorts of delicacies that will surprise you. Why not come enjoy yourself for all your labors?”
“Ah, I look forward to it, Jircniv. I too have brought many of the mushrooms you said were delicious. Let us eat them together when we have the time.”
“Ohhh! Thank you, Riyuro.”
The mushrooms Riyuro had brought were fragrant and meaty, and they were a luxury ingredient called Obsidian.
The two of them left the room side by side.
In the past, Jircniv had been uneasy when he heard that the Sorcerous Kingdom treated demihumans the same way it treated humans.
However he snuck a glance at Riyuro beside him and thought.
Demihumans aren’t bad. At least, compared to the undead — the Sorcerer King.
“Speaking of which, have you heard, Riyuro? The Sorcerer King seems to have kicked the bucket.”
Riyuro expelled a great rush of air from his nose. This was his way of snorting in laughter.
“Jircniv, that is impossible. How — how could someone like him die?”
“Indeed, I agree with that statement. However… which nation will see its people lamenting this time…?”
Riyuro and Jircniv both looked to the sky.
There was pain in their eyes. They grieved for a tragedy that was happening in some faraway place, and the shared sympathy that soon they would gain a new comrade.
The cry that rang through the room made the man go stiff. He belonged to a secret organization called Eight Fingers, and while he had seen many things before, he had never seen an eruption of such dark emotions. It seemed like genuine hatred and unadulterated cursing.
He would not have been shocked if it had come from an enemy. Indeed, he would be smiling serenely instead. However the people making that sound were his friends, friends with whom he had forged a spiritual connection due to having gone through the same suffering and misery.
Friends — he thought that there could not be a word that was less applicable to him than that.
Even the organization he belonged to now simply hamstrung each other, struggled for power, and tried to suss out each others’ weaknesses. If there was a conflict of their interests, there would have been blood.
However, things were different now.
Even if there was only one less person, everyone would have to do more work and their probability of failure would go up. When that happened, they would be dragged into that hell as well, because they were responsible for them. Even being punished once would be enough to condemn one to a liquid diet and being plagued by nightmares. For all he knew, there were other hells waiting for him.
With that in mind, whenever anyone began to fall behind in their work, everyone would immediately support him with all their might, worry about his health, and fret about his mental state. And they were desperate in their efforts.
They had become true companions, those who shared their fate, their lives, and their deaths.
And one of those friends of his was now screaming and rolling around on the ice-cold stone slab flooring. The fear called “if you don’t find out the reason soon, you’ll end up like that too” drove the man to action.
“What, what is it, Hilma? What happened?”
The wailing woman stopped moving, and her eyes slid up from below to look at the man.
“–I’ve had it! Swap with me! I need to watch that idiot’s movements! My stomach hurts! What the hell’s wrong with him! I lose my mind around idiots!”
They knew only one man who could be called an idiot. While they had used the word “idiot” often until now, that man was enough to show others what it truly meant to be an idiot, and so they could no longer use the word idiot lightly.
“What is it? What’s that idiot done now?”
Hilma spoke quickly, like she was vomiting her pent-up rage.
“Ah, yes! You heard about it, right, how His Majesty perished!?”
He wanted her to slow down a little, but it sounded like Hilma was venting her stress, so he did not interrupt her, but listened patiently.
“Mm, of course.”
Eight Fingers had been the ones who spread the news. Of course it went without saying that they had used unrelated merchants to spread the news through the Kingdom.
“What do you think he said after hearing about it!?”
Well, he was an idiot, after all. He ought to have considered that point before answering. However, all he could think of were ordinary answers. Still, there was no telling what an idiot thought, so he gave up in the end and said something normal.
“…He said something about the burial?”
“If that were all, my stomach wouldn’t hurt like this! He, he said that if he married Albedo-sama, he would be able to inherit the Sorcerous Kingdom!”
The man squeaked and looked around himself.
The man could not sense them but there ought to be watchers from the Sorcerous Kingdom here. After making sure that they had not made their move, the man sighed in relief.
They had been ordered to prepare an idiot, but he would much rather not be pushed into that hell because he was an idiot beyond all limits.
“Oi oi oi! We were ordered to prepare an idiot, but why don’t we just kill him off? Wouldn’t it be better to prepare a more suitable idiot!?”
“Can we prepare anyone else at this point?”
The man’s answer made Hilma roll around while screaming “Ahhhhhhhh!” The hem of her dress rode up her leg and above her thigh.
She had originally been a high class whore and was as beautiful as one, but all the man could feel for her charmless, disgraceful state now was sympathy.
After all, he knew very well that if he had been assigned to the same task, he would be rolling around on the floor instead of Hilma.
“Come on Hilma, give it your best.”
She suddenly stopped and glared at the man before speaking.
“Wouldn’t it be alright if you manipulated that man… or made sure he didn’t do anything excessive?”
“Idiots like that ought to be controlled by women. Am I right?”
After hearing that question, Hilma went “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” again and continued rolling around on the ground.
“I think it won’t last much longer. We’ll move in earnest after another two or three years. Get more idiots together before that. We’ll do our best to help if you need to form a faction of idiots.”
“Two years is too long ahhhhhhhhh!”
“Still, those are our orders. Control the information they receive, and make a faction that will do even more foolish things.”
“That’s true ahhhhhhhh!”
Hilma suddenly stopped, and then she bolted upright.
“You’ve got it easy. All you need to do is mobilize the traders and spread the news of the Sorcerer King — His Majesty’s! — death to the Second Prince.”
You make it sound so easy, he thought,
In the past, he did not think that either of the princes was very bright. However, he had slowly come to realize that this was because of the First Prince, which had made him disguise himself.
It was because the Second Prince was intelligent that getting the news to him required extremely careful and complicated maneuvering.
This was to keep him from realizing that he worked for the Sorcerous Kingdom.
“…It’s not as easy as you say it is.”
“…Ahh, my apologies. It’s given you a lot of work too, right… how about tonight, coming?”
Hilma mimed the action of drinking a big mouthful of wine.
“Sure. I need to make sure I don’t leak anything even when I’m stinking drunk.”
They might not be able to eat solid foods, but drinking was a different matter.
“Haha,” a withered smile appeared on Hilma’s face. “It’ll be fine. Our watchers will help us take care of it.”
“Haha,” a similar look appeared on his face. “That… is true…”
“But now that you mention it, where’s that lucky fellow now…”
There was only one person among them who could be considered a lucky fellow.
“Coccodol’s still in jail because he lost his power during that struggle… lucky him.”
“You’re right… he really is…”