Kunette and Reisha sucked on their thumbs, the memory of its taste flooding back into their mouths. Those having never experienced its taste looked on curiously, wondering just how delicious it must’ve been. Only Rivelia’s face soured as the mood took a bizarrely light turn. The hostages sighed, their lives dangling from a thread of mere food.
Suddenly, the winds picked up for a moment and the air sparked with electricity, signalling the Gate’s opening. The Gate, although small in size, was large enough for the warhead to be thrown. Barad cried out desperately.
-Any food you want, however much—we’ll get it to you!
Isaac pondered momentarily before answering with a smirk.
“I’m good after that coke.”
-No! You do not know what your action will cause! If you throw that warhead…
“I know. The Days of Calamity will start again. The hostages told me.”
Everyone looked at the hostages in utter surprise. Of course those two would know the truth; they were among the survivors who began the Days of Calamity to begin with. But nobody expected they would reveal the secret so easily.
-And you still wish to do it?!
“I hate leaving unanswered questions, and I’m very curious.”
Isaac chuckled, when Rivelia tried to make a dash for the hostages. She was determined to stop the Calamity, even at the cost of the hostages. But she was stopped by Kunette and Reisha.
“Why are you stopping me?! At this rate, the Calamity will start again!”
Rivelia shouted in frustration, but Kunette and Reisha shook their heads mournfully.
“You can see the differences between humans and non-humans there. Sacrificing a few to save the many just isn’t something non-humans get. Tsk tsk. You guys will go extinct eventually, even if it’s not at the hands of humans. Hey now. You come any closer and you’ll see blood, Reisha. Who do you like more? The boy, or the girl?”
While the standoff between Kunette and Rivelia continued, Isaac caught Reisha creeping closer toward the hostages. Isaac’s comment caught Reisha by surprise. She flinched and quickly retreated.
“Hehe. I like you, sunbaenim.”
“Dear me. This popularity of mine doesn’t discriminate between races. I am such a bad boy.”
Isaac chuckled. The warlock approached Isaac.
“There is no time.”
“True. We can’t just play around when the Gate might close at any moment.”
Isaac nodded, and the mercenaries holding the hostages down approached the warhead that Isaac had been using as a stool and began moving it to the Gate. Even though Flander was now the only one holding the hostages now, they made no attempt to resist him.
-Are you going to just stand and watch, Queen?!
Barad and the other Council members berated the Queen, getting more and more desperate as the warhead was dragged closer to the Gate. The Queen shrugged, seemingly having given up.
“What can I do, when we can’t even make a decision? Do as you wish, Mr. Isaac.”
The Queen smiled confidently, looking directly into Isaac’s now-bewildered face.
“Aren’t you changing your stance too quickly?”
-What are you doing, Queen! Do you truly desire this world to end!
Barad and the other elders clamoured on the screens.
“What can I do? It’s Mr. Isaac who’s holding the blade. Do as you wish.”
The Queen smiled cheekily. Isaac’s brows continued to furrow.
“Do you really not care if I start the Calamity? But the other world will be perfectly fine, won’t it? Isn’t that the complete opposite of your goals for revenge?”
“If Mr. Isaac truly wishes to start the Days of Calamity, then yes, it would play out like that.”
The clamour from the screens behind them grew louder as the warhead drew closer, but Isaac and the Queen simply started at each other in utter silence. In the end, Isaac sighed and waved his hand in defeat.
With Isaac’s wave, the mercenaries dropped the warhead. The warlock cried out.
“What are you doing?! We’re only inches away!”
“No. Drop it. Nothing goes right when you get caught bluffing.”
“I don’t understand it! We must set off the Days of Calamity!”
The warlock shouted. Isaac noticed the warlock’s eyes colouring black, he immediately pulled out his shotgun.
A shower of pellets blew off the warlock’s head before he could react.
“Hm? I didn’t kill him because I was in a bad mood. It was his dying wish. To kill him when the demonic corruption takes over. I’m serious! Wow! You guys don’t believe me?”
Isaac pleaded his righteousness to the onset of the suspectful gazes. Thankfully, he didn’t need to prove it.
Their suspectful gazes turned from Isaac to the warlock’s body. Isaac followed their stares to find shadowy tentacles emerging from the blown-up head of the warlock. Isaac cried out in disgust.
“Uwek. Is this a horror now?”
Isaac commented, and the warlock’s lower jaw—the only part of his head still attached to the body—began moving.
“Kuhahaha, I will not miss this opportunity! I will start the Calamity! I will revel in this paradise!”
“It was an honour to die for you, Lord Isaac!”
Flander and the two mercenaries cried Isaac’s name as they grabbed the warlock’s body. The confused shadow’s tentacles solidified into spears and stabbed into their backs.
Even before the shadow could mount a proper response, it was sucked into the Gate along with the mercenaries. With the warlock’s brief scream, the Gate closed.
The sudden turn of events had everyone scratching their heads and blinking in disbelief. Isaac looked at where the Gate used to be, scratched his head, and quipped.
“Hm. I hear the new trend is fast entry, fast exit.”
“But how did you know I was bluffing?”
Isaac asked, and everyone looked at the Queen with the same question. She seemed too confident for it to be a gamble.
“Huhu. I forgot about it at the start too. But I figured it out after verifying the list of casualties from Gabelin.”
“… I checked that list too.”
Kunette mumbled grievously. The Queen snickered.
“You were by Mr. Isaac’s side all this time and still don’t know what he hates the most? He despises collateral damage, especially those caused by the decisions of those higher up. Because he himself is a victim of one.”
“But the damage to Gabelin was extraordinary!”
Reisha argued in response. So many people had died to Isaac’s terrorism.
“You’re right. But it turns out the whole thing was staged using Dark Royale agents as actors. The entire world fell for it. Even I almost fell for it.”
“But the hostages in the Department of Administration…”
“The dead hostages were a part of Dark Royale. Even the victims of the terrorism were secret Dark Royale agents. The whole thing was an inside job.”
“Among the casualties, there were non-humans who weren’t a part of the Grand Council”
Kunette pointed out, but the Queen burst out in laughter.
“Ahahaha! You make a funny point. When I say collateral damage, I mean victims who get caught in the crossfire for something they have no idea about. To Mr. Isaac, the non-humans and royalties were all involved.”
“… The Druid was burnt alive.”
Rivelia spoke, and the Queen replied with a bright smile.
“Are you sure? That the Druid was alive when he was set aflame?”
“… No way.”
“That’s right. I suppose the Druid was already dead. Mr. Isaac only used his dead body for his purpose. With the Druid dead, I wasn’t so confident in calling your bluff. But I figured it out—seeing how your hostages are acting. That was awfully amateur of you, Mr. Isaac.”
The Goldenmane and Whitewing, who were almost miming being held down at this point, flinched.
“T, this way please.”
Reisha quickly regained her senses and grabbed their hands, dragging them to Kunette’s side. Isaac watched helplessly as the two were simply taken from him under his nose and clucked his tongue.
“I swear they were of no use.”
“How was it? My deduction.”
Isaac grumbled as the Queen boasted, overflowing with confidence.
“And this is why I hate facing up against smart people. They just can’t stop screwing with the plot.”
The Queen’s face stiffened in the shape of her smile.
“… What do you mean by that?”
Isaac ignored the Queen and got off from the crate. He looked at Rivelia.
“It’s time for the protagonist to appear.”
“Don’t tell me you’re still only just a successor to the Duke? I’d rather die to the Duchess than a successor of a Duke—the framing is just better that way. What better picture to sell loyalty to your vassals than avenging your predecessor yourself?”
Rivelia’s face paled, her body quivering as she stared at Isaac. Her face looked as if she was about to burst into tears. Kunette and Reisha looked worriedly at Rivelia.
Rivelia couldn’t finish her sentence. Isaac smiled bitterly and opened his arms.
“Now, this is the last stage. Time for the extras to leave the stage. And I’d rather exit in the hands of the Duchess of Pendleton.”
“You don’t need to force yourself.”
Kunette and Riehsa comforted Rivelia. Rivelia closed her eyes, still trembling. But when she opened her eyes, she approached the screens of the Grand Council member’s faces, which were clearly more at ease now that the Gate had closed.
“I would like to have my succession ceremony.”
“Is there a reason not to?”
The succession and crowning ceremonies of the Pendletons and the Emperor were more symbolic than anything. Being blessed by their vassals and the citizens were all just a show for the masses. The true succession ceremony was when they inherited their rights in front of the Grand Council.
-Ahem. Then we shall perform a brief one here, and a proper ceremony later. Rivelia Gloris Fate Hugh Pendleton. Do you swear you will remain neutral as the Duchess of Pendleton?
Barad spoke and Rivelia kneeled on her left knee and bowed.
-Rivelia Gloris Fate Hugh Pendleton, Do you swear you will perform your duty as the arbiter?
-Rivelia Gloris Fate Hugh Pendlton, do you swear you will dedicate your life to the peace of the Empire and Central as the ruler of Pendleton?
-Director of Surveillance, Kunette North Bear, You stand here as the successor to the North Bear Tribe and witness to this ceremony. Do you approve of Rivelia Fate Hugh Pendleton’s oath?
Barad asked. Kunette placed her hand on Rivelia’s left shoulder from behind and declared.
-Reisha Mist, you stand here as a descendant of the Mist Tribe and witness. Do you approve of Rivelia Hugh Pendleton’s oath?
Barad asked, and Reisha placed her hand on Rivelia’s right shoulder.
-Rivelia Hugh Pendleton, do you swear to forfeit the name ‘Rivelia’ and live only as Duchess Pendleton? And to have your fate be decided by your witnesses should you betray your oath?
-I, Barad North Bear, approve of Duchess Pendleton as the chairman of the Grand Council, representing the will of all races in this world. May your future be blessed.
“May it be blessed.”
With the ceremony over, Rivelia stood up and thanked Kunette and Rivelia silently. She then faced Barad.
-Is there something you wish to say, Duchess Pendleton?
Rivelia took a deep breath as she reminisced about the last conversation she had with the previous Duke Pendleton. It was the first time she was so furious that she argued against her father.
How the previous Duke was powerless to make any meaningful decision as the Queen and radicals unveiled their plans. The painful memories of how she insulted her father in sheer disappointment—made even more heart-wrenching, as they were the last words she had said to him. And all the more reason she couldn’t forgive Isaac for murdering him.
And as Rivelia’s hurtful words stabbed deep into her father’s heart, he spoke grimly. That the First Contract must be upheld. How a decision, once made, could not be overturned later.
“I, Duchess of Pendleton, veto the Grand Council’s decision to open a permanent Gate, as is my right according to the terms of the First Contract.”
Even if the previous Duke had assented, the newly succeeded Pendleton had never expressed her opinion about the Grand Council’s decision. And that gave her the right to veto the Grand Council’s decision.
She had overlooked it when her father spoke about it. She didn’t understand why he spoke of it. But now she understood; if you wanted to overturn what you had agreed to before, you paid the price with your life. A safety switch—to be used only after thorough contemplation and deliberation, only in the case they were deceived.
Rivelia realised his intentions when Isaac brought up the title of Duke again and again. In order to save humanity from the radicals, the Emperor and Duke Pendleton had to die.
“… Ha?! What nonsense are you talking about?”
The Queen glared at Rivelia, her voice trembling. Her face paled at the shock of this event.
-The Grand Council approves of Duchess Pendleton’s rights. In accordance with the First Contract, interdimensional trade with the other world will be forfeit.
Barad declared, and the Queen shrieked with the face of a spectre.
“Don’t make me laugh! You think that’s possible after everything that happened?! Everything has been revealed to them! Did you forget that time is not on your side? You might tower over humanity for now, but what will you do when humans will grow stronger than you? Will you accept extinction obediently?”
The Queen argued. Mazelan, who had been quietly watching the scene unfold from the corner of the screen, spoke out.
-Although I have not yet inherited the power to do so, I would like to make a suggestion as the official heir per the previous Emperor’s declaration. The Grand Council possesses a biological weapon that can exterminate humans. You also possess knowledge of its cure. So I suggest the Pendletons retain ownership over the nuclear warhead and the key that opens the Gate as the neutral faction. Peace will be maintained under the fear of mutual destruction.
-The Grand Council agrees with the Emperor’s heir apparent. Does Duchess Pendleton agree with the Grand Council’s decision?
“… I agree.”
“As the representatives of the Old One, who live in eternal atonement waiting for our fate, we salute the decision made by the Grand Council, the Empire, and the Pendletons, and we swear that we will protect this decision until the end.”
The Goldenmane and the Whitewing bowed as they made their statement.
“You think I’ll just fall apart like this…”
The Queen, left scattered in the quickness of it all, took out her tablet. But Rizzly, who had been waiting all this time, snatched the tablet away and snapped it in half.
The tablet’s snap also seemed to snap something within her. She looked at Isaac, looking as if she’d aged decades.
“Haha. Everything you’ve done was to bring me out here.”
“If it’s you, Queen, you would have prepared a secret method of spreading the plague without the radicals. Even if it wasn’t as destructive as your original plan, it’d still fulfil your dreams of vengeance with all the havoc you’d create.”
Isaac taking the nuclear warhead to the Forbidden Lands was just a bait to bring the Queen here. Since she couldn’t be sure of anything, the Queen had to come to the Forbidden Lands herself to personally prevent Isaac from beginning the Calamity.
“But you shouldn’t have known that the nuke would cause Calamity.”
“Does it matter? If the nuke goes off, your vengeance will be foiled anyway. So you had to stop it regardless.”
“You are right.”
The Queen sighed deeply. She walked to Isaac, weak and defeated.
“Give me a cigarette.”
The Queen demanded. Isaac took out a cigarette, lit it, and handed it to her. The Queen took a breath of the smoke, then coughed.
“Haha. This reminds me of the first time we met.”
“Was I wrong?”
“No. You weren’t wrong. You just failed.”
-Queen, although you failed in your objective, we still haven’t forgotten your contributions. We will guarantee your safety and a tranquil life.
Barad consoled her, but the Queen smiled bitterly and rejected it.
“No. I’m tired now. I’d like some rest.”
“You are all aware the Expedition won’t give up this place. Once the permanent Gate closes, the Gate will open in Forbidden Lands every so often again. Negotiate with them through trade. Under Central’s management, it’ll be doable. Don’t worry about Heaven or Hell. The Gates leading there will never open again. And… Thank you for all this time.”
-Your memory shall live on among all races until our extinction.
The leaders of every race on the screens each paid their individual respects to her. The Queen looked at Isaac, seemingly refreshed that she had gotten to say everything she wanted to say.
“Can you finish it now?”
Isaac silently pulled out a pistol from his coat. As he pulled the slide, the Queen embraced him in a hug.
Isaac hugged her back, raised the pistol, and whispered to her as he placed the barrel onto her heart.
“Wait for me. I’ll be there soon.”
“Huhu. Take your time.”
With the ringing of the gunshot, the Queen’s arms around Isaac tensed up. Isaac too held her tightly, preventing the body from falling down.
For a moment they stood together. Isaac then carefully placed the Queen’s body on the ground.
“Now, it’s my turn.”
“Isaac, you don’t need to do that. It’s all over.”
“That’s right, sunbaenim. You can now live in a quiet place like you always wanted.”
“Sir Isaac, you should rethink that decision…”
Kunette, Reisha and Rizzly tried to convince Isaac, but Isaac walked toward Rivelia.
“Don’t tell me you won’t do it now. I killed your father. You gotta have your revenge, right?”
Rivelia stepped back without thinking as Isaac approached her.
Kunette grabbed Isaac’s arm, her eyes about to burst into tears. Isaac patted her head before speaking to Rivelia directly.
“Now. Raise your sword. And make it quick if you can. I don’t mind dying, but I do hate pain.”
Rivelia continued to stutter as she faltered back. Isaac boldly walked to her, grabbed her by her shoulders and called out.
“Let’s finish this, Rivelia.”
With that, Rivelia’s eyes opened wide, and she swung her sword down with a scream.
The sword ever so close to Isaac’s neck—dropped to the ground. Rivelia grabbed his collar and cried out.
“Why… Why do you call out my name now! Why me! Why!”
“… I’m sorry.”
Isaac ran his hands gently across Rivelia’s back as she wailed in his arms. Isaac had never thought things would end up this way, but he wished that when he decided to create havoc in this world, Rivelia would step up to stop him.
So he tormented her, unrelenting. Until her heart only held anger and vengeance towards him. Isaac knew it wasn’t a nice thing to do, but he wanted to die on the centre stage.
‘It was my greed.’
Isaac pushed Rivelia away and took out the pistol from his pocket once more. He checked the clip.
“The last bullet huh. How dramatic.”
He would have to resort to the shotgun if the pistol was empty. And Isaac didn’t want to do that, what with how much of a mess it’d be. He placed the clip back in the pistol and looked at the three girls.
Dragging things out even more made it even more pathetic in Isaac’s mind, so he was just going to put the pistol at his head. But a small shadow—one that nobody had even thought about—stole the pistol from him.
With a single gunshot, Isaac faltered back.
Rivelia screamed, but Isaac chuckled.
“Kukuk. This is why you should have insurance.”
Isaac dropped to his knees. Kunette, Reisha and Rivelia ran toward Isaac while Rizzly snatched the pistol away from Laila in a panic.
“Laila, why did you do that!”
Rizzly lashed out in anger. Laila stuttered, her face pale.
“I… to avenge my family… but why didn’t the defensive coat…”
As the Queen explained Isaac as a person, Laila had been growing furious with indignance. How Isaac hated collateral damage? Then what about her parents, who were victims of Central’s dastardly schemes?
When Isaac pulled out the pistol, Laila remembered the last moment of her parents. She had moved without even thinking. But even until she pulled the pistol’s trigger, she believed Isaac’s defensive coat would continue working.
Blood started to gush from Isaac’s mouth, the bullet having pierced his lungs. Kunette and Reisha applied pressure to the wound in between his laboured breathing.
“Hurry and heal him now!”
“This is the Forbidden Lands.”
A land where no living being could cast magic with one’s own mana. They also couldn’t heal anyone through it.
“Mana crystals! Here!”
Rizzly threw some emergency mana crystals to Reisha, and Reisha began healing Isaac with it.
“No! It’s being consumed too fast!”
“Bring some more!”
Kunette cried out. Rizzly looked back with grief.
“We threw out everything else. We had to get here as fast as we could.”
They had discarded everything from the airship to arrive at the Forbidden Lands before it was too late—even food. The Whitewing woman approached Isaac.
“… I will at least relieve you of the pain.”
Despite Kunette’s outcry, the woman raised her hands to her chest and began singing. As her soothing melody played out, Isaac’s gasping lessened.
As breathing became easier, Isaac called out to Laila, still standing in shock.
“Come here, brat.”
“I’m sorry! I never thought it’d end this way!”
Laila apologised as she cried. Isaac patted her head.
Isaac wiped Laila’s tears and asked.
“I kept my promise, right?”
“Yes. You did. You kept your promise, Lord Isaac. So please… please…”
“That’s all we need. Don’t forget that humans are selfish beings. Those who believe your generosity is their right will come to bite at you from all sides. Don’t grow weak over something like this, Laila.”
With that, Isaac looked to Rizzly. Rizzly quickly hugged Laila.
“I’d like to lie down.”
Isaac mumbled. Rivelia laid Isaac on the ground, placing his head on her lap. Isaac looked at Rivelia and then saw Reisha and Kunette next to him, hugging his arm.
“Kukuku. How blessed I am, dying in a field of flowers.”
With that, Reisha lay down next to Isaac using his arm as her pillow.
“Hehe. is it nice to have beautiful women next to you like this?”
“Ah. It’s nice.”
Kunette turned into a cub, and she dug herself into Isaac’s side.
Isaac raised his hand and patted her head.
“It’s been fun.”
“… Me too.”
“I’m getting sleepy.”
Isaac’s eyes met Rivelia’s, which were holding back an onslaught of tears. His eyes began to close.