The Ball — Part 1
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“What are our chances of success?” One man spoke to another in a hushed tone under the cover of darkness.
“High, my lord. Very high. All of our preparations are in order.”
“Good,” The first man nodded once, but then curved his lips into a frown. “Still, we have two major obstacles. The hero is certainly a threat, one eclipsed only by the meister.”
“That is something my men and I have already been made painfully aware of. My subordinates are not capable of causing either of them physical harm.” Despite an ill-sounding claim, the second man carried himself only with confidence. “That is precisely why we have chosen to instead create a situation in which they will be rendered incapable of action.”
“Excellent. And I take it that you will not fail?”
“Naturally. Please, do not worry. All will soon be exactly as you will it.”
“Good. But I wish for results, not words. Prove to me that you are truly as capable as you claim.”
“Wonderful. How truly, truly wonderful.”
I got down on a knee and raised my hands into the air as I clasped them together. A wholehearted prayer worked its way through my mind as I carried out the action.
“I’d always suspected that gods did exist. But never did I think I would get a chance to see the goddess of beauty first hand…”
“K-knock it off! Y-you’re embarrassing me!” Nell squeaked, half panicked, as her eyes shot to the maid who’d helped her get dressed. The maid’s expression had twisted half in surprise, and half in distaste, as would one after drinking a cup of coffee only to find that it was 90% sugar. “A-and why are you acting like this anyway!? Didn’t I let you look all you wanted just the other day!?”
“You really don’t get it, do you, Nell? Seeing you in a dress is a treat I’d never grow sick of.”
Her face turned even redder, no doubt in part because my pose remained unchanging, even as I spoke. Nell was right. She certainly had already put on her dress and given me the opportunity to worship her picture perfect form once before. But that meant nothing. Things didn’t just stop being beautiful because you got used to them.
I continued to exalt her beauty without any regard for time or place. Both she and the maid soon began cringing and writhing in agony, but I didn’t stop, not until another pair emerged from the curtains that separated the waiting room from the dressing room.
Like Nell, Iryll and Enne were dressed to the nines. They’d been decked out in some of the most elaborate dresses I’d ever seen.
“What do you think, Mr. Demon Lord?”
“How do I look, Master?”
The pair voiced their questions as they lifted the hems of their dresses and spun around. The frills that decorated their outermost layers fluttered about and glimmered under the light of the chandelier above.
“You both look absolutely stunning,” I said. “Hell, I’d even mistake you girls for princesses. Though I guess that wouldn’t really be much of a mistake, considering one of you kind of is one.”
I caught myself realizing that Iryll was, in fact, a genuine, bonafide princess immediately after complimenting her. As one would expect of a member of the royal family, she was wearing one of the dresses from her own private collection. I would have loved to give Enne the same liberty, but we weren’t able to secure her one in time for the ball. Unlike dresses for adults, like the one Nell had purchased, children’s dresses were never in stock. They were rarely sought, so creating one simply wasn’t worth a tailor’s time unless he knew for sure that it was going to end up being sold. And as the ball had been so close to the date of our arrival, there was no time to have one custom made. Fortunately, Enne was still able to attend the party because Iryll had offered to let the sword girl borrow one of her many spares.
While some may have been less satisfied with letting their daughter wear second hand goods, I saw no problem with it. Enne was an angel, no matter what she was dressed in.
“Thanks for letting Enne borrow one of your dresses, Iryll. Right, Enne?”
“Mhm. Thank you.”
“No problem! We’re friends, so I don’t mind! Not even the slightest bit!”
Iryll cracked a pure, happy smile. What a cute kid. She’s adorable enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the kids we’ve got back home.
“Oh man, elementary school students are just the best!”
“Elementary school students?”
“What are those, Mr. Demon Lord?”
“Nothing, don’t mind me.”
I ignored the kids’ questions as I plopped my hands on their head and gave them a rub, albeit one that was much less vigorous than usual, as to not mess up their hairdos.
“Just double checking, you got the game plan memorized?” I directed a question at Nell as I stood back up.
“Mhm. I’ve got it all in my head.”
“You sure you’ll be alright? I won’t be there right off the bat, so they’re pretty much guaranteed to take the opportunity to point fingers.”
“I’ll be fine.” She reassured me with a confident nod. “I wouldn’t really be much of a hero if I always needed someone to look out for me now, would I?”
My investigations had culminated in the conclusion that there were three major factions at work. The first was the loyalist faction. It was composed of the king and his men, whose goal was to shelter Nell and keep her from being dismissed. Several of the faction’s members, including the king and the governor, were currently in the midst of a meeting to discuss their plans for the ball.
The second faction was one associated with the church. It was composed of Nell’s former allies, men who had turned on her after coming to the conclusion that marrying her off for power was to their benefit. As far as they were concerned, using her to join hands with one of the country’s most powerful men was a just way to make up for her recent “failures.” While they had at least been somewhat of a concern at first, I wasn’t worried about them or their actions anymore. I had already figured them out and arranged to have any problematic factors sorted.
Finally, there was the faction associated with the department of defence and headed by its minister and made up of individuals and families who were more often than not related to either the military or its affairs. On the surface, they seemed to be patriots, willing to lay down their lives in support for the king’s decisions. But in truth, they thought little of him. They believed that his actions were far too indecisive for a ruler. Even their goals happened to serve as proof of their treason. They wished to have Nell fall from grace.
I had already determined that they were responsible for all the rumours about her incompetence. And that the Minister of Defence, Jaynor Redrius, often met with the count whose head I’d been after ever since we stopped in Sengillia. The faction had many reasons to see Nell disposed of. The two most prominent were the fact that she was in support of the king’s rule and that they wished to instantiate one of their own in her position. Both ultimately served to strengthen their grasp on power. But to me, none of that truly mattered. All I needed to know was that they stood in opposition of me.
I wanted to go to the ball immediately so I could catch a few glimpses of their ugly mugs and identify them for the purpose of eliminating them. But that was unfortunately going to have to wait. My agenda was filled with far too much janitorial work, work important enough to take precedence over even accompanying Nell.
“Alright, then I’ll be counting on you to make sure that everything on your end is kept under control. Make sure you don’t let anyone get hurt,” I said. “Oh and just to be clear, that doesn’t mean you should be putting yourself at risk. If the situation starts to spiral out of your control, then drop all appearances and teleport back to the dungeon immediately.” I made sure to emphasize the latter instruction. It was the more important of the two, especially given Nell’s propensity to fight to the last. “That said, it probably won’t end up coming to that. I’ll be keeping an eye on the situation and cleaning up everything on my end as quickly as I can.”
“We’ll be fine. If anything, you should be the one being careful.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t slip up, especially not after how much you’ve been nagging me about being careless lately.”
I squatted down as I turned to Enne so we could see eye to eye.
“You’ve got an important role to play this time too, Enne,” I said. “I know you’re normally responsible for keeping me safe, but this time, you’ll have to keep Iryll safe instead. Got it?”
“Mhm,” nodded Enne, as if it were only natural. “I will. Because she’s my friend.”
“Good girl.” After smiling at her, I turned away from the princess’ bodyguard and directed my attention to her royal highness herself. “Be careful, and stay on your guard, princess. This ball might end up turning into something incredibly nasty. If that happens, then make sure you listen to Enne and Nell. They’ll keep you safe.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Demon Lord!”
“Good.” I stood back up and cast a sidelong glance in Nell’s direction. “Alright, that’s just about everything. I know the plan isn’t all that detailed, but we’re probably best off playing it by ear anyway given all the shit that’s going to be going down.”
“I’m not really sure playing something by ear really makes for much of a plan at all,” replied the hero.
“Good point.” After exchanging one last laugh, I turned around and began heading off to the first of my many destinations.
It was time to take out the trash.