As we walked, I started asking him more questions while he was obediently answering. At first, I found it suspicious as to why he was answering so readily, but his words didn’t seem to be lies. I kept my [Devil’s Eye] activated all the time only to see if there was a speck of mischief or shrewdness inside his aura. But the only thing I saw was worry, sadness, fear, and even some guilt.
While questioning him, I found out that he was just a little lord of a turf, far in the East over a village that barely had anything to give as a payment to the capital. When I asked him about the shirt that I just buried he told me that he got it from a homeless adventurer. After giving him shelter and food, the adventurer asked if he could just be a servant at his house. He also offered his own clothes in exchange for that job. Even though the little lord refused, the adventurer still insisted, in the end convincing him.
“Well, aren’t you a good man? I expected something else from a deserting rebel.” → Shen
“N-no! This is a misunderstanding!”
The little Lord tried to explain himself in a hurry but didn’t dare to say anymore without being questioned. Seeing his restless outburst, I thought for a moment then asked.
“Now… were you forced?” → Shen
He readily answered as if he held that moment in for a while now. I nodded then left him to explain.
“Every Lord is a vassal to a Baron while every Baron is a vassal to a Viscount, then the highest acquirable ranks for us nobles outside the royalty: Count and Marquise.”
“Vassal… if I’m not wrong, this is a term used to describe a lower rank for a subordinate, right?” → Shen
“W-well, it was supposed to represent a bond deeper than that of family between a lower rank and a higher rank… but with time, it did take the meaning of a simple subordinate…”
The Lord shook his head in sadness at the forgotten bond between ranks then he continued:
“Now as I am only a subordinate of Baron Geffrey, I was ordered to take up arms and prepare for a night raid. Refusing would be the same as rebelling against the senior, which only meant death to me and my entire family…”
“So basically you accepted to partake in this civil war because your family was threatened, right? Everyone was the same?” → Shen
“No, sir. The leader of the rebellion; Count Gerald Daluz, promised us all a new rank: For the Lords to reach Baron, for barons to reach Viscount, for Viscounts to reach Count, and for the fellow Counts to reach Marquise or even a rank of royalty like Prince/Princess, Duke, Archduke, Grand Prince, Grand Duke. Even though there was a part that wanted to stay out of this, there were also those who willingly participated. But I’m in no position to tell who or how many did so… Sir.”
“Were there any scholars that took arms against the Queen?” → Shen
“The academies normally don’t interfere in the political conflicts of the kingdom. I also didn’t see the emblem of any school on anyone’s armor, weapon, or coat.”
“Is that so?” → Shen
In this world, the schools or academies can be compared with the churches back on Earth in the middle ages. And even in high school, I was able to tell that churches would never be able to refrain from interfering in the political struggles of two powers. Not then, not now, and for sure not in the future. As long as they’re integrated inside the world of power without a strict line crossed in between the politics and sacred, the churches will continue interfering and vice versa. → Shen
If the rule of Neutrality for the schools were really respected, then this world would’ve surely been a better place with such honorable men respecting the rules they created themselves. This thought only made me smirk amused but I said nothing while letting the little lord continue.
As I walked on my way toward Jian, the disguised soldier walked behind me with his head lowered.
“Just what the heck…” → Shen
I stared blankly at the humongous hall, now with the floor collapsed for a few tens of meters. The great red walls filled with golden embroideries were now filled with cracks or even collapsed, making one able to see through the next rooms or even go inside them from below. At a few tens of meters away, I was able to see Jian coming from behind a huge mold of boulders. I waved his way while shouting:
“Oy Jian! Please tell me there are more survivors than it looks!” → Shen
After he heard me, Jian relaxed and waved back.
“There are more for sure. Thanks to your shadows, almost all the servants were rescued while the rebels were incapacitated… and some even half dead.” → Jian
“My bad on that part…” → Shen
The soldier behind me froze in place and stared at me with even more terror in his eyes.
S-so those dark monsters were his? Come to think of it, his silhouette is quite similar to theirs… May the heavens save my poor life.
Jian then observed the new face behind me and asked surprised.
“And who is the gentleman with you, Mister Shen? A saved servant? He’s not wearing the standard uniform.” → Jian
“Hm? Ah, no. He’s just a-“ → Shen
And before I could give out his identity to Jian, more armored guards walked out from behind the boulders together with a girl in royal clothing. As I detected them, my mouth stopped then I glanced back. The lord was now sweating bullets as his face paled while he stared at the girl surrounded by armored guards. Just from his expression, I was able to tell just how high the rank of that little girl actually was.
Imposing aura, royal dress, making a lord sweat and tremble just from her presence alone… She must be the Queen then. → Shen
“King Jian? Who might this one be? Is he a friend of his majesty?” → Queen Lorana
“Ah, uhm… We’re more like, trusted companions…?” → Jian
At that moment Jian was unsure of his relationship with me. He was under Antara’s protection and, in a way, under my command, but at the same time noting like a servant. He was a fallen king while I was a human with unknown power-rank and origins. He was unable to call me a friend while our relationship was purely based on interest: He helped me with the internal and external affairs, while I helped him take his throne back.
“Yes. Companions. Trusted allies.” → Jian
He explained again somewhat more confident, confusing the queen for a moment.
“So to understand, not an enemy but a trusted ally. Very well then. May you please introduce us?” → Queen Lorana
“Ah, but where are my manners. Of course, may you please come and meet her highness, Queen Lorana Victoria?” → Jian
Jian asked with a calm smile while I simply complied to help him win some face. I already talked with everyone about my appearance and name so Jian was sure not to pronounce my name in front of anyone unknown. I didn’t wait for him to introduce me so I did so myself, less of a burden for him. With a polite tone, I placed my fist at my heart while taking a straight but relaxed posture.
“I greet her highness, Queen Lorana Victoria. My name is Johan Hanover, one of the players and also one of the Antara Kingdom’s founders.” → Shen
“A kingdom’s founder?!”
The guards looked stupefied, together with the lord behind me. Jian stared surprised but then he understood that with a fake appearance I also needed a fake name so he simply said nothing more; even so, he was still surprised that I gave out my position, expecting to fake even that. Lorana was also stunned for a moment then she regained her composure. She politely nodded then asked somewhat suspiciously.
“It honors me for a Kingdom’s founder to know of my name. But I have more questions which I’d wish to ask of his highness? For example, the reason why two such great characters like yourselves have appeared before me in such dire moments, why is even an ally of Nostrung helping us, and just where is Antara positioned on the map? May Founder Johan forgive me, but I’ve never heard of such a kingdom.” → Queen Lorana
“All will be answered at the right time. For now, why don’t we leave everything to one of your people?” → Shen
“Whom may you be speaking of?” → Queen Lorana
Lorana asked confusedly then someone else’s presence appeared, seemingly closer and closer. We looked upwards and from between the clouds of dust, Leorio appeared as he landed lightly right beside everyone.
“Your Highness!” → Leorio
“Sire!” → Alfred
Alfred and the other guards instantly bowed down their waists, their eyes brimming with respect for Leorio.
“Fa-… Lord Leorio. Welcome back home.” → Queen Lorana
Even though her expression was neutral, I was able to feel her emotions being stirred.
Hm? Someone important to her highness? → Shen
With a bright smile, Leorio stepped in front of Lorana and patted her head affectionately, making even me and Jian stare with wide-open eyes at such actions. To pat the head of a queen… you either had to be the most foolish man, the bravest, or at least a family member. And happily, for everyone, he was the latest.
“These people are trustworthy men, little princess. No need to keep it in any longer.” → Leorio
“F-father…” → Queen Lorana
Hearing his words, Lorana’s stiff shoulders suddenly dropped and she finally seemed like just a girl her age. Her eyes were wet while her hands were shaking, she immediately jumped in Leorio’s arms as a feeling of easiness washed over her. Jian and I stared dumbfounded, then he asked still unsure.
“E-excuse me for a moment, but doesn’t that means Sir Leorio is, in truth, the elder king of Victoria? So Leorio was royalty all this time?!” → Jian
“Ahaha~… Please forgive me for keeping it hidden. I simply had no reason, nor the wish to call out my true rank.” → Leorio
“So this explains why you were able to call for an alliance so readily even though there were many at stake with the duel… How did I overlook that?” → Shen
I shook my head while feeling ridiculous while Jian was still somewhat dumbfounded. The only one who didn’t seem affected was Queen Lorana who still tightly embraced Leorio, not wishing to let him go
“You were away for more than two months and I thought something might have happened… Please, make it so there won’t be the next time. I beg of you!” → Queen Lorana
Her cold voice was now warm and even a little bit shaking. Seeing her and Leorio like this made me remember once again how truly empty I was after having my memories erased, but I wasn’t the only one. Jian frowned as he felt a slight stab at his heart, remembering the family he lost and the love that betrayed him. Our eyes met and we were surprised to see the same sadness and solidarity. We then smiled helplessly and shook our heads, trying to simply forget the pain and focus on what’s up to come.
Leorio then gently held Lorana by the shoulders and explained in a serious tone.
“Little Princess. We’ll have more time to talk at a cup of tea after we finish everything here. For now please tell me everything that happened here.” → Leorio
“Yes, father. It seems that Count Gerald Daluz gathered more nobles of different ranks to rebel against the throne, wishing to take it for himself. He and his army of more than four thousands men made a lightning-fast night-attack on the capital and, as you can see, they reached the palace in just a few hours.” → Lorana
“F-four thousands?! But where are the rest?” → Leorio
“It seems that only a group of five hundred rebels with Count Gerald in front actually raided the palace while the rest were made to block the North gate from Archduke Andreas’ reinforcements. Even though he was supposed not to interfere, Patriarch Astaroth also sent out his own students. However, by how dire the situation is they must be blocked by the enemy lines.” → Lorana
Hah! I knew it! The schools won’t be able to stay put in front of a chance to acquire more influence. → Shen
I thought to myself with a rather superior smirk, feeling like an all-knowing after understanding something so obvious in the first place.
As the queen explained everything to Leorio, Jian listened intently while I turned around somewhat uninterested of someone else’s problems, and observed how the lord was now completely white on the face. I felt somewhat amused by his reaction but I also thought that his reactions seemed way too suspicious so I tried to wake him up.
Oy little lord. → Shen
Because of the sudden shock and also because he was already completely tensed up, the foreign voice in his mind made him jump and almost exclaim aloud, not before a phantom hand covered his mouth, keeping him from letting out any sound.
Keep it down if you wish to live. This moment is the best for you to get out of here without being recognized by the queen or her guards. As long as you’ll listen to me, your life will be spared. → Shen
W-why are you helping me?
His thoughts astray as he asked with some difficulty in his own mind. I then looked at him confused, as if finding his question as being an idiotic one.
To use you, of course. I’ll need a minion inside Victoria’s ranks and you’ll do nicely. Don’t even think of opposing me, or else the mark on your hand will activate. → Shen
He hastily looked downwards and saw that at the back of his left palm, a round head of a smiling and horned dark devil with just one round eye suddenly appeared out of nowhere. At first, the devil’s eye shone red with malice, as the dark aura danced like flames, but in the next moment, the head simply imprinted on his skin like a tattoo, making for the malicious aura just now to seem like an illusion.
W-what is this?!
It’s my mark. Or rather, my devil’s mark. The moment you go against my words, you’ll have a taste of how a devil’s touch feels like. → Shen
J-just who are you?
A simple question with a complicated answer. Maybe you’ll learn in the future. If you’ll still be alive, that is. → Shen
As he looked at me with wide-open and terrified eyes, the little lord stepped back and stopped asking questions. However, his eyes suddenly became firm as he told me.
Even if the devil threatens my life, I know that God is with me. I am grateful for saving my life, but I won’t do anything which might place my family in the teeth of danger. Even at the cost of my life, even at the cost of my soul.
I was left dumbfounded at his words and his firm eyes. By mistake my thoughts wandered as I said:
And here I thought you’re just a spineless coward. Tsk, just my rotten luck to actually meet a serious man right when I didn’t need it. → Shen
I shook my head in disappointment, then glanced at him again.
The fact that you’re bound by me with a devil remains true. As for the wellbeing of your family, that only depends on you. → Shen
I then turned back to the queen and Leorio then a voice suddenly resounded inside my head:
[By tricking the others, you might end up tricking yourself, old spirit]
I turned right back at the soldier and saw him with the same firm eyes as before, and also with a glint of confusion after seeing my shocked expression.
“Did you just say something?” → Shen
“H-has something happened?”
The Lord asked confused as we both stared at one another.
Huh? Was I hearing things? → Shen
I thought to myself while looking upwards at a crow that flew in circles above us then slowly descending inside a forest on the other side of the walls. Jian observed us look so weirdly at one another and asked once again.
“So, Lord Johan? I think I’m still unsure who this gentleman is?” → Jian
The queen and Leorio then looked our way and were just as curious. At this moment I thought for a while then simply said:
“Well, it seems that some rebels were able to corner this guy somewhere in the vicinity of the palace. I simply rescued him and told him to follow me to safety. Right?” → Shen
I turned and glared at the little lord, inviting him to continue the lie. With some difficulty, he opened his mouth but not before kneeling on one knee.
“Your Highness! Everything that Sire Johan said is nothing but the truth!”
The queen then stepped closer and made him a sign to get up. The lord did as told but didn’t dare raise his gaze. Then the queen continued just like before, with a calm yet imposing air.
“Glad to know that more survivors remained between us. But I’m rather curious about who are you, why you were around the palace at such moments, and how come you were alone?” → Lorana
The queen asked while her eyes turned sharper and sharper, making the poor lord sweat profoundly. At such harsh times, every civilian was evacuated or sealed in his home, while the only ones around the palace were either servants, soldiers, or rebels. Saying he was a civilian would only bring forth even more difficulties while saying that he was an armor-less soldier would give hints that he wished to desert his post. Either way, only troubles would await if he tried to feint his identity. His clothes were nothing like those of a servant, while there was no armor on him. Just at that moment, my voice resounded in his mind again:
Just go with what I say. → Shen
As I gave him some instructions, the little lord talked out:
“Your Highness! The name of this insignificant one is William Earthen! A-a little lord over a small and self-sufficient village at the other end of the kingdom, in the Far East! The reason why I’m here was because of an s-sudden summon of my Senior, B-Baron Geffrey! Because of the long walk, I was late by two days, only to arrive with a few moments before the entire capital was turned upside down! Your majesty! The moment I arrived, my carriage was attacked and burnt, my horse ran away, while my men died trying to protect me!” → William
I was behind him as I slightly nodded my head.
We won’t lie about your identity or about the fact that you’re a vassal of a rebel. But we can make up a good excuse about how you knew nothing or something similar. They won’t know even if your senior will try to place the blame on you. → Shen
The queen then released her own aura and her voice boomed:
“Is that the truth?” → Lorana
The lord froze while even Jian and I opened our eyes wide in surprise.
Power words! → Shen
It seems that the royalty acquired knowledge about power-words or command-words. Albeit not strong enough to control space, nature or reality itself, it was still good enough to control the conscious of the living, especially to those weaker than the user. This was also another reason why the ruler of a country was obligated to have a higher power-rank than anyone inside the kingdom they had to rule over.
Even though the queen was weak for now, she was still stronger than this little lord of barely Great Fighter Power-rank. Now the chances of him spouting the truth are 100%… Only if I’m not interfering, that is.
The power of words is used through the vibration of the air and mana that makes the consciousness of the victim to instinctively think of the true information and unconsciously speak it aloud. However, if a strong mental barrier can keep the vibrating mana away from one’s cerebral functions, then the only effect it would have is the normal dizziness and somewhat swirled thoughts. Now even though I could also defend him from the dizziness, I still had to make it seem as if he was under the influence of the power-words.
Quick! Tell her that all you said is the truth! → Shen
I commanded in a hurry and he did just that while his eyes were now unfocused.
“All I said is the truth…” → William
With a weak voice, he said while trying to keep himself from swinging left and right caused by the dizziness. Hearing his answer and observing the before told effects, the queen’s aura calmed down as her stern expression softened.
“Is that so? Well then, Lord William, mind telling me for what reason has Baron Geffrey summoned you inside the capital?” → Lorana
“I-it was to talk about the plan Grand Finale. I-I don’t know the full details about what this was about, but all I know is that they wished to start a rebellion. The letter Senior Geffrey sent was telling to be burnt after reading so I don’t have it with me as proof…” → William
W-wait! stop, stop! You said too much! → Shen
My eyes almost fell from their sockets as I ogled at William who, after hearing my words, felt like spitting blood from panic.
B-but you told me to say the truth!? → William
Only a part of it! Ah damn! Now look how she’s staring at you! → Shen
At his words, the queen’s gaze turned cold once again and asked in a deep voice.
“And so you rushed here to follow the orders?” → Lorana
Aw s***… → Shen
I used all I had to hold back a good face-palm. But then I tried to think rationally while looking at everything with a calm heart. On the other side, a cold shiver ran down William’s spine then he hastily struck his forehead on the ground and shouted while begging for mercy.
“The letter said that those who won’t follow orders will be condemned for treason! Your majesty! The punishment for treason means the liquidation of the renegade’s entire family! Please find some mercy for this foolish small lord!” → William
“And you dare to think that I won’t punish you for treason myself?!” → Lorana
The queen erupted as William grooved on the ground while begging desperately. I stood with a neutral expression on while waiting for the queen to calm down. Punishing a little soldier would do no good to the kingdom. Those at fault are the leaders, not the mobs.
Punishing a foot-soldier for obeying his superior’s orders is the work of a tyrant. And seeing how Leorio is her father, I have no need to worry for William’s fate- → Shen
“Enough! Down with his head!” → Lorana
Da’ f***?! → Shen
I froze in place as I saw one of her guards unsheathe his sword, walking closer toward the poor William. In a panic, William fell on his behind and crawled back while trembling strongly.
“Please! I can’t die yet! At least not until my son and daughter are of age! Please! I can’t leave them like this!” → William
S-Sire Johan! Please save me! I’ll do as you wish from now on, just please take me out of here! My family! I can’t leave my family without a father! Not now! → William
Calm down, you won’t die today. → Shen
“Say your prayers, little lord.”
The guard got closer but just before I could interfere, Jian blocked the falling sword with his chi-imbued palm and looked calmly at the queen who was now glaring daggers at him.
“King Jian, may I know what’s the meaning of this?” → Lorana
“Queen Lorana. I recommend to calm down first, then take action.” → Jian
Seeing Jian make the first step, I also felt like this is the best moment to make a move as well.
“King Jian is right. What’s the use of severing the weeds when you’re leaving the roots? Rather than eliminating every little soldier that was forced to partake, I recommend on cutting just the heads and those who willingly did what they did. Executing masses and even some innocents are the work of a Tyrant. Is Queen Lorana a Tyrant and I wasn’t aware?” → Shen
“L-Lord Sh-“ → Leorio
“Excuse me?” → Shen
I faked a confused look on my face as I covered Leorio’s mouth with a phantom palm. Then I entered his mind and started talking.
I’ll ask Elder King Leorio to refrain from calling out my true name. I forgot to inform you all but for more reasons, I’ll need to go by a fake name while outside Eihwaz. → Shen
I-I see. Understood. Then please pardon my mistake. → Leorio
No. It was my fault entirely. Please continue. → Shen
As our telepathic conversation ended, we resumed the vocal one without showing any signs about what we just talked.
“Please pardon me. I suddenly felt nauseous for a moment. I used quite a bit of chi on my travels.”
He faked a sick expression then he resumed talking.
“Founder Johan, please don’t misunderstand. Her Highness is just perturbed by everything that happened, having her life in peril for numerous times already. As you already know, her rise to the throne was quick and unannounced after her mother died.” → Leorio
His polite behavior made Lorana look somewhat perplexed as for why her father would show such good will and respect to an outsider. Leorio then continued with a wide smile on his face.
“Then, I see that Founder Johan has already incapacitated the heads of the rebels. I will now take them and go toward the Northen district to show to everyone. Maybe like this, this civil war will come to an end.” → Leorio
“Please do, Elder King Leorio.” → Shen
“Is her highness aright with this?” → Leorio
“… I’m expecting good reasons for your actions of today, father.” → Lorana
“Boahaha~ alright. Please wait for me! As for Lord William, let’s just give him a fine. 200 gold, how does it sound?” → Leorio
“For a little Lord, such a sum should be acquired in around 10 months. I’m fine with it.” → William
The queen nodded at her father’s words while William’s face drained of blood. The sum was enormous but he still felt gratified for keeping his life.
“Great thanks for Elder King’s and the Queen’s show of mercy!” → William
“It’s fine. Now you’re free to go home.” → Leorio
“Yes, sire!” → William
He bowed respectfully and wished to retreat when a rough and heavy voice resounded from behind everyone.
“Don’t you dare touch me…” → Gerald
A bloody Count Gerald stood up from the throne, the neck of one of the guards was clenched tight in one of his hands while another soldier was right under one of his feet.
“Count Gerald! I order you to let my guards go-!” → Lorana
However, before she could finish, the neck of the guard made a snapping sound as he fell limp in the ravine which opened beside the throne after the entire floor collapsed.