A Second Visit to the King’s Castle
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
The old governor got off his carriage once we arrived at the gates. But not to do any paperwork. That was left for his knights. Instead, he scanned his surroundings before sneaking over to our carriage and speaking to us in a hushed voice. It was an obvious precaution, one taken to ensure that Nell’s arrival was kept a secret.
“I will be heading to the castle and visiting His Majesty immediately. Will the two of you be joining me?”
Nell seemed to be looking at me and waiting for my opinion, so I answered with a shrug. “Up to you. I’m more or less just tagging along anyway.”
“I do kind of want to go to the church, but it would be best for me to visit the castle first. I need to apologize to the king,” she said.
“There is no need for an apology. I am absolutely certain that his majesty would not mind, even if you did end up causing him trouble,” said the governor. “But if that’s what you wish to do, then I won’t stop you. I know that your coach is not exactly the most comfortable place to be, but I will have to ask you to remain inside it for a little bit longer. We will be arriving at the castle shortly.” After confirming that we were on board, Raylow quickly returned to his own carriage.
“Man… having allies at times like these sure does make everything a lot easier.”
“Mhm.” agreed the hero. “I really can’t thank him enough. He’s done so much for us.”
Though I didn’t verbally comment any further, I internally agreed with her. I had always thought that the end of the Illuna incident would mark the last time I ever saw the old governor. And yet, he had somehow ended up becoming one of the few people I found myself associating with time and time again. Hell, I’ll even go as far as to say that, Nell aside, he’s the human I’m closest to.
Our coach rolled its way into the city as soon as we were clear to enter. We were immediately hit by a wave of noise. It turned out that, when not in times of desperation, Alshir was just as lively as the capital of the demon realm. Its streets were so densely packed with people that even looking outside was enough to inspire in me a sense of discomfort. The difference between the city’s current state and the state I remembered it in was as clear as night and day. Last time I was here, I coulda sworn this place was basically just a ghost town.
I glanced over at Nell, who seemed to be a bit unsettled. She was being a huge wuss and fidgeting about in a mix of what seemed to be nervousness and discomfort. But even so, I knew she carried with her a heavy resolve. I could sense it. It lay beneath her anxiety, but it was certainly there. In the brief time since I’d come to know her, Nell had transformed from a cry baby into someone who truly deserved to be labelled a hero.
That was why I chose to say nothing. I simply smiled as I leaned back into my seat and crossed my arms.
Though the capital’s roads were both wide and well-paved, there was too much traffic for us to go at any sort of reasonable speed, so it ended up taking about half an hour for us to get to the ivory castle that lay at the city’s center. Its presence was as striking as ever. There was certainly a sort of beauty in the way it overlooked the rest of the city.
After a bit of paperwork at its main gate, we found ourselves within its walls. My last visit consisted of sneaking around and using backdoors to get where I wanted. But this time, I was busting right through the front door. Not that I’m actually busting through anything, but whatever. You get the point.
I trusted the king. But I remained on guard regardless. I knew that there were enemies afoot, and that they were actively looking to ruin my day. With that in mind, I pulled a familiar looking mask out of my inventory and equipped it as I stepped out of the coach.
“Did you really still intend on wearing that?” asked the governor.
“Yeah, ‘cause I mean the king and I have already had a face to face talk and all, but I never ended up taking this thing off in his presence. So I was kinda thinking that he might not actually recognize me without it.”
“Can you really call it face to face if you never revealed your face?” asked the old man.
I mean… kinda, right? I mean, we still did face each other and stuff, so it should? I guess?
“I… think it would be best for you to take it off.” His voice carried traces of several different emotions, among which were amusement and reluctance.
“Huh? Why’s that?”
My question was, in part, answered immediately, albeit not by the person I’d posed it to.
“M-might you be the Masked Meister?”
Spinning around presented me with a startled soldier. Unlike many of the castle’s other guards, who seemed older and more experienced, he was young, potentially even younger than me. Errr, wait, no, that can’t be right. I’m like what, a year and two months? Yeah uhhh… yeah. Right.
“T-that’s his mask…! I’d recognize it anywhere! Y-you really are him! You’re the mysterious master warrior that saved Alshir!”
“U-uhhh, probably… I guess…?”
Wut. I mean, I guess I can kinda see why they ended up settling on it. There weren’t exactly all that many options given how little I’d revealed. But still. The fuck?
“W-w-w-wow! I can’t believe this is actually happening! I’ve finally got to meet our saviour! In the flesh! This is like a dream come true!” proclaimed the guard. “C-could I please have your autograph!?”
“Uhhh… sure, I guess?”
I found myself taken aback by the soldier’s frantic enthusiasm, so I ended up accidentally accepting both the pen-like utensil and the piece of paper he’d handed me without any further thought. I had no idea what I was supposed to write, so I ended up scribbling down the first thing that came to mind: “Bitch, please. Did you actually think I was going to sign this shit? Hell naw.” In Japanese, of course.
“Thank you so much!” said the soldier. “These letters… I don’t recognize them, but they look so powerful, so imposing! Thank you, thank you! I’m definitely making this a family heirloom!”
“I uhhh… probably wouldn’t if I was you.”
The soldier appeared not to hear the suggestion I voiced, as he ended up happily parading himself back to his post whilst humming a cheerful tune.
“I-is that who I think it is?”
“I-It has to be…”
“It’s the Masked Meister!”
The happy-go-lucky man’s shenanigans evidently alerted the other guards of my presence. They too began to flash me looks of admiration and praise as they whispered to their buddies.
“Soooo…” I turned to my two companions. “Either of you going to explain what’s going on? ‘Cause it kinda seems like I’m getting a whole shitton of people staring at me right about now.”
“That would be because you’re pretty famous around here,” said Nell. “You’ve become something like an urban legend. Just about everyone’s heard of you.”
“You’ve been the talk of the town,” added Raylow. “And for good reason. You appeared out of nowhere when things were looking their worst and saved not only both remaining members of the royal family, but also the country itself. Rumours about you have been flying around the city ever since. Many of them came from the guards.” He directed his gaze at the men around us for emphasis. “They’ve been going around and telling people that they stood shoulder to shoulder with Alshir’s liberator.”
“There were even a whole bunch of plays that had you as the protagonist,” said Nell with a giggle. “I wonder how they’d feel if they knew you were a demon lord.”
“I know that this is rude of me to say, especially right in front of you, but seeing the posters used to advertise those very stageplays has always left me emotionally exhausted,” said the governor with a dry laugh. “I always end up feeling both a sense of amusement and its exact opposite.”
Seriously? And they tell me this now, of all times!? What the fuck!?
“So uh… couldn’t you guys have, you know, warned me or something?”
“I did intend to,” said Raylow. “I made an explicit mental note to mention it after seeing you don the mask in Sengillia. But it slipped my mind because you hadn’t been wearing it this morning. For what it’s worth, I do apologize.”
“Sorry,” said Nell. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here, so I totally forgot.”
“…Alright, fine, whatever. Let’s just get moving. I don’t really want to just hang around for too much longer, ‘cause it looks like it’ll probably just end up being a huge pain in the ass to deal with.”
“I agree. Follow me, I’ll lead the two of you the room His Majesty will be seeing us in immediately,” said the governor.
“Wait, we’re seeing him already? Didn’t we just get here? I was expecting to have to wait for at least an hour.”
“After learning that the three of us were present, his majesty decided that meeting with us took precedence over the task he had at hand. Audiences with Nell and I are considered rather high priority, and I’m sure he thinks the same of you as well,” said the governor. “Now let us hurry on. It wouldn’t be right for us to keep a man as important as him waiting for long.”
Editor’s note (Joker): Hey there, guys… Joker here. Sorry, I’m a bit out of it. My dad has been having shortness of breath and a vastly elevated heartrate, around 200 BPM, and has been admitted to the hospital. Can’t say much else, but they want to put a balloon pump in his leg, so he’s being transferred to the major medical area in my city. Please, just keep him in your thoughts for us, all right? See y’all in the next chapter…