The Orphanage — Part 1
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
“Mwahahahaha!” I threw my head back and cackled in an over-the-top, ridiculous manner. “Soon! Soon, I, the evil demonic overlord, shall devour you all!”
The children I was in the midst of chasing began to scream. But not because they were terrified. Their shouts were filled with all the glee you’d expect from a group of kids engaged in play.
Much to her dismay, one of the younger kids happened to stumble over her own legs and trip in her attempt to escape. Rather than capitalizing on the opportunity as any good demon would, I leaned over and took one of her hands in order to help her up.
“Careful. The evil demon lord will be sure to catch you if you don’t watch your step.”
“Fanks Mr. Demon Word!” The girl that had tripped giggled as I patted her on the head.
“You’re very welcome. And don’t worry, this doesn’t count as getting caught,” I said before switching personas once more. “For, though I am a demon lord, and while I stand for all that is vile, I remain yet a gentleman that knows the meaning of good sportsmanship. Mwahahahaha!”
I began chasing the kids around after giving the one that had tripped a little bit of a head start, but I was soon stopped in my tracks. Three brave looking boys jumped out in front of me, each wielding the power of imagination.
“End of the line, demon! We’ll wipe the floor with you!” The one that looked like the group’s leader raised the phantom blade he had grasped in his hand as if to demonstrate its divine radiance.
“So you’ve arrived, heroes.” I crossed my arms and snorted in an arrogant manner. “Fmph. It will take more than the likes of you to unravel my schemes.”
“Yeah, right! Take this, sacred sword attack!” The leader jumped in front of me and swung the weapon visible only to those in the heat of the action.
“Fire magic attack!” The second boy held out one of his arms and pretended to channel a burst of magical energy.
“Sacred sword strike number two!” The final kid, who, like the first, apparently wielded a legendary blade, swung in an over-the-top, exaggerated manner.
“Rrrraarghghghg!?” I jumped and then landed with a backwards stumble as if to demonstrate that their combined might had blown me away. “C-Curse you, heroes! You may have defeated me, but this is far from your, humanity’s, final trial! Even though I will fall today, there shall soon be a second demon lord. And if you defeat him, a third! There will be no end to demonic monarchs, and no end to the struggles that you must f-woah!”
Much to my surprise, the kids, who’d realized that the game had come to an end, all began running towards me.
“Wait wait, come on guys, stop that! I’m still in the middle of a monologue. And one at a time, come on! And you, don’t jump at me like that! What’ll you do if you end up hurting yourself!”
Fortunately, I’d managed to catch the kid that had launched himself through the air before he fell to the ground. Seeing that he was fine, the others started emulating him. It didn’t take long for me to find myself on the ground with a dogpile’s worth of kids on top of me.
“They sure have gotten attached to you.” The hero giggled as she squatted down next to me and peered over my face. “And I almost can’t believe how fast you got used to pretending to be a demon lord.”
“I’m kind of the real thing, so y’know. Nothing special.”
I wonder what these kids would think if they learned that I really was a demon lord. Doubt that’s anything they’ll ever think up. Not even in their wildest dreams.
“I’m also surprised that you’re this good at keeping kids entertained.”
“That’s just ‘cause I do this all the time back home,” I said. Though, things are a bit different back in the dungeon. Everyone wants to be the demon lord instead. I have to pretend to be a hero and get vanquished, which is kind of the opposite of what’s probably the norm.
Of course, the difference in culture stemmed from the fact that the dungeon’s resident children thought a lot more highly of demon lords than they did heroes. For obvious reasons.
“It’s not too hard. I’m sure you’d be good at it too,” I said with a smirk. “Whaddaya say? How about you give it a shot? You know what, if you do it, I’ll even throw in one of these awesome masks.”
“No thanks.” Nell shot me down immediately. “I don’t really want any weird masks.”
Wow Nell. How could you?
Watching over our interaction caused the knight that had shown us to the orphanage to smile wryly as she spoke to the woman standing beside her. “I really am sorry for showing up and asking you to give them a place to stay on such short notice.”
“Please, don’t worry about it.” The woman, the orphanage’s director, shook her head with a gentle smile. “We would be nowhere without all of the church’s support. We at least owe you this much. And besides, the children are overjoyed.”
The pair’s conversation stemmed from the fact that, last night, Carlotta had led us not to some sort of barracks or inn, but rather, an orphanage. Specifically, it was an orphanage run and supported by the church. While it wasn’t exactly what one would call their first choice when looking for lodgings, it was the only space available to us. Most of the capital’s inns had closed their doors, and all the church’s dormitories were packed full with the troops to be deployed in tonight’s upcoming operation. The orphanage was quite literally the only place we could have spent the night.
As one might suspect, the inns hadn’t been the only things to shut down. In fact, the majority of the capital’s stores had also done exactly that. The cause was politics. Those responsible for the coup had locked down the capital and effectively blocked it off from the outside world. The capital did not have much in the way of food generation. All of their consumables came in the form of imports from the outside world—imports that the blockade had halted. The result was obvious: a food shortage.
The merchants responsible for supplying the city with its nourishment stopped coming. As cunning gold mongers, they knew that visiting the capital was unsafe. There was a chance that they would be caught in the midst of a skirmish and ultimately perish as an unintended consequence of the conflict.
More importantly, however, was that safety and profit were not necessarily linked to one another. Smaller and medium-sized companies that dared make the trek found that they wouldn’t even see the benefits. The soldiers situated near the entrance would confiscate their goods and pay them only a fraction of the cost the merchants had to pay to obtain them in the first place. It simply wasn’t a profitable affair. There was no reason for any sane self-made merchant to bother stopping by the capital.
Larger firms and their suppliers had it a bit easier. They could safely enter and exit the city without being subject to the army’s unreasonable demands. However, they too were merchants. They were after money. Not charity. All their foodstuffs were priced at many times their value in more decent times. The capital’s cost of living had gone up drastically.
To make matters worse, the army had confiscated almost all the extra food that had existed in the city at the time of their hostile takeover. And as such, the capital’s citizens found themselves in peril. The situation was awful. They had to scramble and compete in order to scrape together enough food just to get through each day.
Despite blatantly subjecting the citizens to harm, the prince and his dirty little crew were gaining momentum. They were technically still considered rebels. However, they had been working extensively in order to transform all manner of backlash into naught but praise. Of course, the prince’s faction hadn’t exactly been able to affect those that had opposed it to begin with, but they had managed to convince many neutral noble parties that allying with them was to their benefit. Seeing the pace at which the prince had been gaining allies in recent times had also caused many opportunists to declare their allegiance to him. It was obvious that he would soon have the right to rule in his grasp.
The timer was ticking in his favour. And the moment it stopped would be the moment those who opposed him lost their just cause. That was most likely why the church was working on such a tight schedule. I highly doubted that the operation would be happening the day after it was announced under any normal circumstance.
“I’m really sorry for making you entertain the children.” The director looked at me with an apologetic frown. “I know that you’re our guests and that we should be treating you much better, but…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal,” I said. “It’s only fair that we help out any way we can seeing how you let us stay the night for free.”
I shrugged and flashed the director a grin. Not that she could see it given the whole mask situation.
“I know I said I wouldn’t ask you about your identity, but my curiosity is killing me,” said Carlotta. “Do you have kids? You look a bit too young for it.”
“Nah. I just have something along the lines of a pair of younger sisters back home. I play with them all the time, so I’m pretty used to this kinda thing.”
“Mr. Mask! Mr. Mask!” One of the kids walked up to me and gave my shirt a gentle tug. “Can you please pretend to be a demon lord again?”
“Sure. If it is your wish, then I shall comply so long a—” I started to get into character, but I was cut off by the sound of the kid’s rumbling stomach. “Sounds like you’re getting a bit hungry over there.”
“Mhm…” the kid frowned. “But we all are, so I gotta do my best not to complain.”
Right. What am I, stupid? The city’s got a food shortage. Of course, they’re hungry. I couldn’t really tell since they all seemed so energetic, but I guess that was just ‘cause they were holding it in. Thinking back on it, I realized that breakfast hadn’t been composed of much of anything at all. Chances are, they probably haven’t even had a decent meal recently. Damn it, Yuki. Realize these things faster next time.
“Well, I guess we can’t really do much playing on empty stomachs now, can we?” I crouched a bit and ruffled the kid’s hair before getting back up and turning towards the hero. “Hey Nell. Get over here and lend me a hand.”
“Huh? W-wait, what’s happening?” The hero seemed totally confused, so I grabbed her by the arm and started dragging her off towards the kitchen. “Wait! Where are you taking me!?”
“To make food. I’m not about to watch a group of kids starve themselves, so I’mma grill up some meat. Doing everything by myself would take way too long, so I’m making you help.” I turned towards the director. “I hope you don’t mind us borrowing your kitchen real quick.”
“Please, feel free.”
And with the director’s permission, I dragged Nell off to work.
“Wasn’t he supposed to be a member of her party? She’s a hero, so that should mean that he’s supposed to effectively function as her attendant, right?” Carlotta, who had been watching the whole thing, made a bit of a confused remark as we left. “Why is he the one dragging her around?”
Editor’s note (Joker): Hey, guys! Joker here. Boy, Boss Young’un is pushing these chapters out fast, isn’t he? I almost can’t keep up. At the rate he’s going, I might have to go into my Forbidden Binder of Topics to Talk About just to keep up with these chapters. Only three letters today. Understandable, since the last chapter was just the other day, so people haven’t thought about anything to ask me. So big thanks to Dawn Seeker (proudtobeabrony), Zehd Cashew, and Yashuul. I’m not really expecting to get a lot of questions this chapter either, since while editing this one, Boss Young’un already sent out 93 for us to look at, but if you have questions you’d like me to answer, leave them below with the hashtag #AskJoker and I’ll answer them. See y’all very soon in the next chapter!