Bringing the Incident to a Close — Part 2
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
Hearing the minister state his knowledge of both my name and title caused my eyes to shoot open in surprise. My mask was the only thing keeping him from seeing the stunned expression that had come to decorate my face.
“Demon Lord? Who put that idea in your head?” After taking a brief moment to calm myself, I attempted to feign ignorance, but it was to no avail.
“My men, of course.” Jaynor spoke with absolute confidence. “I know that, to you, I may not seem like anything more than another bump in the road, but as the Minister of Defence, the man in charge of the Allysian military and its affairs, I am at least capable of gathering enough information to deduce your identity.” He briefly paused to give me a chance to speak and continued only after he was sure that I intended to remain silent. “You were first seen in Alshir, Governor Lurubia’s city. You made a dramatic entrance and crushed a criminal organisation before leaving as quickly as you came.”
That… sounds like it was probably the Illuna incident, the one where she got kidnapped.
“Your second advent occurred in the same city. You once again acted in a way that benefited the state by single-handedly overturning a plot conspired by a foreign agent. Your third appearance was the first in which you masked yourself and took on the pseudonym Wye, and it was the one that most clearly cemented your identity. You cooperated with the church to which the hero had introduced you and worked closely with it in order to not only save both remaining members of the royal family and prevent an all-out civil war, but also reveal that the prince’s uprising stemmed from the work of a demon.” He listed off each of my deeds in turn without the need for a reference sheet; the old man’s memory was as sharp as a knife. “Your final appearance, outside of this most recent one, took place in the demon realm. I was never made aware of your precise activities, but I do know that you at least participated in a tournament to demonstrate your martial prowess.”
Wait, he knows about that too? Holy shit, the king wasn’t kidding when he said Jaynor was competent. Really wasn’t expecting him to know about any of the demon realm stuff. The fact that he does is straight up concerning, if not terrifying. Hmmm… He must’ve heard it from one of the guys that accompanied Nell to the demon realm or something.
“Before we move on, I would like to explicitly state that there’s no need for you to worry about me exposing your identity. I have no intention of making it a publicly-known fact. Doing so would lead to something far worse than a mere struggle for power or two. If other countries were to catch wind of the fact that a demon lord was heavily involved in our internal affairs, then we’d be subject to extermination by a joint military force backed by a just cause.”
Well I mean… Yeah. Demon lords are more or less considered hostile to all other living things, so shit would probably hit the fan real hard if people found out that the king had willingly enlisted a demon lord’s help.
“You’re certainly more assertive than I’d like you to be, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about your tendency to resort almost immediately to force. But so long as you remain on good terms with our nation, we’ll no longer need to have any concerns about our continued existence. If any other country is to invade and threaten to destroy us, then the hero is sure to participate in the war effort. And as her partner, you will do the same. The fact that you are here now is all I need to prove that you’ll do exactly that.”
It was impossible for me to reject his argument; he was right on the money. If Nell continued to play the part of Allysia’s hero and shit began going south, I would be sure to jump in to offer her the full extent of my aid. Her country would then, by proxy, benefit and likely find itself free from whatever threat was plaguing it.
That said, I was unlikely to turn a blind eye to the state’s troubles even if she wasn’t a part of the equation. I felt indebted not only to the king, but also the old governor. Both men had done me a great number of favours and acted to further my goals. I’d also grown relatively fond of the princess. I felt much the same way I did about her as one would a younger cousin.
“…You do realize I’m a demon lord, right? Don’t you feel that keeping me around, and getting me even more involved than I already am seems like a risk?”
“Of course I do. Demon lords are creatures whose natures are unknown to us. That’s why I remained silent when Argus described his scheme to me. Though he thinks of almost nothing beyond moving up in high society, he is still an incredibly resourceful, capable man. I wouldn’t have minded his continued assistance if he proved himself capable of eliminating the two of you from the political sphere.”
I see… So basically, he didn’t bother ‘cause it was a win-win situation.
“Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that you didn’t say shit even though shitface’s plans involved attacking one of your own cities? Were you really willing to sacrifice an entire metropolis just for something as dumb as a checkmark on some fucktard’s resume?”
“Yes, that is correct.” Jaynor didn’t bother with subterfuge and instead got straight to the point. “But not entirely. You’ve somewhat misconstrued my goals and priorities. Argus wasn’t the only individual whose abilities I wanted to test. I wanted to learn of yours and the hero’s as well. I needed to know if you were truly worthy of protecting this nation. I had a strong suspicion that you were, that you would be able to be relatively successful in defending Sengillia from the horde. But I can’t form strategies based on suspicion alone—and I would much rather lose a city than a war. The end results still defied my expectations, but in a good way. I never would’ve thought that you would be able to drive off such a large number of monsters without incurring a single casualty.” He looked right at me. “I do have to give the hero my compliments. She’s truly an outstanding individual. Leveraging her womanhood to ensnare a demon lord in a honey trap was a spark of brilliance. If she was any more willing to do my bidding, she would make for the perfect tool. I ha—”
I interrupted his monologue. I stomped my way onto his desk, grabbed him by the neck with one hand, and raised him up high so I could look him in the eyes, all whilst activating Sovereign Pressure.
“Call her a tool one more time and I’ll tear your throat out,” I growled.
“My… apologies…” The iron claw I had around his throat made it nearly impossible for him to speak. “That was… terribly… rude… of me…” It was impossible for him to breathe. The aura of oppression I emitted made him break into a spell of cold sweat. And yet, the tone he spoke in remained unchanged. My coercion had failed to affect his mind.
“Fuck you.” I clicked my tongue as I let him go. “I know it was just a test. But still. Fuck. You.” After snorting in displeasure, I plopped myself back down on the sofa.
I had to admit. Jaynor had balls. He went out of his way to poke the hornet’s nest just to confirm another one of his suspicions.
“I’m glad to see that you really do love her.” After coughing a few times and taking several deep breaths to refill his lungs with air, the crafty old bastard looked at me with a satisfied smile.
Arggghhhh! Goddamn snake ass motherfucker pisses me the hell off. I regret not strangling him already.
“I don’t get it. Why go so far?” I frowned at him in near disbelief. He had once again put someone in danger for the sake of confirmation. But this time, rather than putting someone else’s neck under the axe, he’d offered up his own.
“We are, in essence, quite similar, you and I.” He once again put his hands together atop his desk as he spoke. “Like you, I’ll go to whatever lengths are necessary to shield what it is I want to protect, morals and methods be damned. The only difference between us is that we hold different things dear.”
I met his explanation with a moment of silence. As annoyed as I was by him drawing parallels between us, I couldn’t find it in me to deny his words.
Because they rang true.
As much as I hated him, I empathized with his convictions and beliefs.
We really were alike.
Just as how I sought to protect my family, he sought to protect his country. He was willing to use any method available to him, no matter what the cost. And no matter what anyone else thought, he would continue to serve as his country’s guardian even if he earned the ire of those he kept under his wing.
Once my anger faded and found itself replaced with reluctant acceptance, I looked back up at him. He nodded, slowly, as if to silently confirm my assumptions.
“I believe that should tell you everything you wanted to know about my intentions, so why don’t we move on,” he said. “What do you think about striking a deal?”
“…What kind of deal?”
“I’m all but certain that I will remain a free man. His Majesty is well aware that unjustly punishing me is a choice that runs the risk of creating even more conflict. He is unlikely to do anything beyond stripping me of my position. And I know that you will not be satisfied with just that. I suspect you’ll likely decide to kill me after hearing his verdict.” The minister frowned. “But allowing myself to die is one of the few things I can’t do. That’s why I would like to offer you an alternative, one that you’re sure to take interest in given the way you feel about the hero. You aren’t exactly keen on leaving her here with so few allies given the extent of the ill will this country bears towards her after all, are you?”
“Ughh…” I sighed. “Fine. Keep talking.” I’d already lost interest in unreasonably refusing or antagonizing the minister, so I pressed him to continue.
“I already know that you can’t spend every moment by her side, that, as much as you would like, you can’t keep her shielded forever,” he said. “If you accept my offer, then I’ll contribute greatly to your efforts. I’ll work behind the scenes to shield her from both the government’s and the people’s enmity. I can promise you that, with me at her back, nothing like the incident you just resolved will ever take place ever again.”
“That’s real rich, coming from you. You’re the reason it even happened to begin with.”
“I won’t deny that, but we were able to leverage the incident to purge many of the less desirable elements plaguing our government system, elements that would only have continued to work against her if left alone.”
I wanted to call bullshit. I really did. Emotionally speaking, I felt as if there was no way that his overly convenient claim could have been anything but a flat out lie—and that he stood no chance against the tide that was Allysia’s malice. But that was wrong. And I knew it. Jaynor was a two-faced snake, but he was one that garnered a great deal of respect. Most if not all of the schemes and misleading information leaks would vanish into thin air the moment he gave the order. Argghhhhh… Cunning old bastard. I can see why the king is so goddamn wary of him now. Dealing with him is just… ugh…
The church was doing its best to change public opinion. And while it did at least have some effect, I didn’t quite find it to be enough. If Jaynor was to contribute to the church’s efforts, then I would be able to return home without having to worry nearly as much about Nell. His deal was one I couldn’t help but want to take. Having him work to her benefit behind the scenes would be more than just good for her.
There was only one problem.
I couldn’t trust him.
“Let me get this straight. Are you trying to turn me into a card to play? In spite of the fact that I’m not one of your people, or even human at all?”
“If it is necessary for the sake of this country’s continued existence and prosperity, then I will use whatever means I have. In other words, yes, I am.” He frowned and leaned forward in his chair. “Wars, like most other violent negotiations, are settled through quality, not quantity. Not even a countless stream of average, everyday soldiers can do much of anything to an unstoppable force. Our desire for such a unit was what led us to seek a hero in the first place. Pure power is what we require to resolve our current state of instability.”
“Just putting this out there, I ain’t going to be fighting your wars, asshole. And I won’t stand for you dragging Nell into them either. The moment you start something is the moment I pick her up and bring her home.”
“Not to worry, we have no intention of starting any wars. The king is no fool. He’s far too prudent to engage in something so wasteful and unproductive. But the same can’t be said of our enemies. The other countries in our vicinity have always been looking to invade us and claim our territories as their own,” he said. “And frankly, you have very little say in whether she takes to the battlefield in the case of such a dispute. Do you really think that she would simply allow you to whisk her away if her motherland was to be engulfed in the flames of war?”
Ehh… probably not. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that I acknowledged his argument, so I remained silent and kept my opinion to myself. Nell’s too kind to do something like that. She would probably volunteer to head off to the front lines right away in order to ease the burden on any others that might take to the battlefield. And I was sure to join her.
“But again, we have no intention of fighting any wars. Many of the countries interested in taking from us are much smaller states, states that lack the power necessary to force us to play our trump cards. We would likely have to ask for her assistance if we were to engage any larger nations, but a war against another great power is unlikely, even in the case of a major disagreement. There is no influential nation unaware of the fact that war brings far more harm than good. But with that said, while unlikely, a large-scale war is not impossible. It is not just our kingdom that finds itself in a state of instability, but rather this whole world.” He sighed. “Whatever the case, I’m confident that you will ultimately get involved, one way or another, if the hero is to sortie. That is why I hope to ‘use’ you once the time comes.”
Having said his fill, the old man raised his eyes and met mine, as if to await my response.
“I… fucking hate you,” I said, after a brief delay. “You have no idea how badly I want to strangle you right now.”
“Well, since you haven’t, I suppose that means you can see merit in my proposition?”
I was annoyed. Both by the fact that he had chuckled, and by the cheerful, content smile that had settled on his lips. But again, he was right.
“Just so you know, if I find out you’re lying to me, I’m going to come right back here and kill you,” I said, after clicking my tongue in displeasure. “And if this country ever tries to treat Nell like some sort of tool ever again, or if it ever goes out of its way to endanger her, then I’ll do everything in my power to completely and utterly destroy it.”
“I’m well aware of that and will do my very best to ensure that my motherland does not ever invoke your wrath. I have no intention of seeing it destroyed, especially not by my own hand.”
“Alright, fine.” I sighed. “I’ll do everything in my power to keep Nell safe while I’m with her, and you do everything in yours to keep the scheming retards away from her. Deal?”
“A deal it is,” he said. “Thank you. I’d just like you to know that hearing you agree has truly filled my old bones with relief.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake… Shut up before I head over there and stitch your goddamn mouth shut.” I stood up as I spoke, but I didn’t bother following up on my threat. I instead moved towards the door.
“You’re leaving already? Well, in that case, Yuki, farewell. I enjoyed talking to you, and I have high expectations for you going forward.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I hope you trip down a flight of stairs and break your legs, you crafty old bastard.” After spitting out one last curse, I activated Stealth and made my way out of the mansion.