“By the time my child grows into a fine lady, you will be the head of the Pendletons, Lady Rivelia”
Rivelia wanted to scream through her closed lips, to ask if title and power was worth more than a child watching their parents die.
“My child will be your equal. She will become a grand noble, who need not bow to anyone else. She will become a noble who is both considerate and empathetic. A noble who understands the pain of others and offers a helping hand. My child…”
Elena couldn’t finish her words, sobbing as she held her dead husband tightly, caressing his cheek.
Just when Rivelia finally managed to utter a word, Elena raised her head. A trail of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.
“My child will be the first hereditary noble that climbed from the rank of Baron to the title of Duchess, and she will become your rival.”
Rivelia dropped her sword—something she had never done in her life. She held her mouth with both of her hands. She couldn’t understand it. Perhaps she never would in her entire life. Someone who had stood at the summit since the beginning simply didn’t live in the same world as those still scaling the cliffs.
Elena mustered her last ounce of strength to look at Laila, and then she whispered to Isaac.
Elena’s body collapsed on top of Wolfgang’s, and Isaac’s expression twisted.
“Two? Not just one but two? Just what was Central’s reasoning for not recruiting them? Were they ignored simply because they had an overabundance of talents? Or is this what it means to be parents? Or are they the true nobles?”
Isaac’s face contorted in untold fury for reasons unfathomable to Rivelia, and she asked.
“What is it that I’m missing? What did they figure out?”
Isaac looked into Rivelia’s burning eyes and clucked his tongue in disappointment.
“It’s your homework. Why don’t you figure it out yourself?”
Isaac tapped Laila’s shoulder as well.
“You think about it too. But you don’t have to tell me the answer. Just keep it to yourself when you find out.”
“Enough with this stupid homework! I am not your student!”
Rivelia shouted out in frustration. Isaac looked between Laila and Rivelia before he spoke.
“Fine. I will tell you the answer to my homework just to make things fair. Listen well. All power corrupts. Especially when you abide by a grand cause of ‘only we can save this world.’ Makes it very easy for arrogance to possess retards.”
“What do you mean by that?!”
“Where is the demon? The turncoats? Why was Central so sure that Wolfgang was a demon?”
“There must have been an error in the reports.”
“Arrogant and innocent. This is the result of that error.”
Isaac opened his arm to showcase the Banquet Hall, and Rivelia fell silent.
“Let me ask you this. Was Marquis Lichten truly unaware that Count Wolfgang was possibly involved with a demon?”
When Rivelia failed to answer, Isaac smirked as if that’s all the answer he needed.
“There was only doubt in my mind when I first received this mission.”
Isaac paused to tap Laila, who was staring at her dead parents.
“Focus now. First lesson, always question ‘why’ at all times. First question: was Marquis Lichten truly unaware of Central’s involvement when he was the one to benefit the most if Wolfgang were to fall? I tested this by sending a single letter to delay the war for a month, yet instead of rejecting it furiously, he agreed to it. Why? Because I’m the Director of Central? Or because he knows Wolfgang will fall no matter what?”
“Second question: what will Central gain from this involvement? No organisation will move if there isn’t any profit. From Central’s perspective, it’s much better to keep the cooperative Marquis in power and maintain a constant stream of supplies instead of wasting time and money checking on this new rising power. That alone is enough for Central to intervene.”
“The Grand Council would never allow this.”
“Third question, would the non-humans care about a war between humans?”
“If a sliver of information was leaked, even Central wouldn’t be able to escape the allegations.”
“Fourth question: this is done by the organisation that creates and maintains the law of this world. Can this be overruled?”
When Central labeled one as turncoats or demons, they were turncoats and demons. Rivelia never questioned this.
“That is just your personal opinion, Director. I refuse to believe this. I will request an official reinvestigation. There must have been an error in the information. We’ll discover the true reason if the Directorate of Analysis runs a thorough investigation.”
Isaac burst out in laughter and watched as Rivelia refused to take his word for it, still firmly believing that this was all another party’s devious scheme. Believing that they would be punished accordingly in the name of justice. She always looked at the world on the bright side—perhaps because she was still young and innocent.
Isaac took out a cigarette and lit it as he grasped the air with one hand.
“Those who hold onto power can never let it go until they die. That is why they’ll do whatever they can to keep it. If you request a reinvestigation, it’ll just come back saying that there wasn’t any demonic involvement. Then?”
“Then we’ll find out…”
“So it’s just too bad for everyone that died.”
“It’s impossible that Central would commit such a flagrant violation.”
Rivelia continued to put her faith in Central. Annoyed, Isaac stepped toward Rivelia, and Rivelia instinctively stepped back in return.
“Have you been brainwashed? You complained that you’d never have joined Central if it weren’t for me, so when did this blind faith in Central take hold? Don’t be foolish. Remember. Justice is whatever brings profit to the organisation you belong to.”
For each step Isaac took forward, she took one back.
“Central is no different. Why is the Grand Council acting oblivious? Because the more humans continue to fight amongst themselves, the more profitable it is for non-humans.”
Another step forward, another step back.
“The greed of one with power is infinite. And the fear of losing it grows alongside the acquisition of power. Will the Empire be any different? No, in fact they’d be even more paranoid. They may seem like they are at the top, but in truth, their dynasties can be changed at the Grand Council’s whim. You say Central would never commit such a thing? Perhaps not for Central. But the Empire and Directorate of Strategy can and will do whatever it takes to protect their power. You think the Pendletons are any different?”
Rivelia eked out a couple words of resistance, but her voice was already being crushed by the momentum of Isaac’s voice
“Never look down on the tenacity of a human in power. Think of the Marquis as an example. To do everything to protect a single shred of power that amounts to nothing is what a human is.”
Rivelia blurted out unintentionally; her retreat was barred by the wall. Isaac was now close to Rivelia—intimately so.
Just a little more and their lips would be touching, yet Rivelia was gasping for air as her body stiffened. Isaac looked at Rivelia straight into her eyes as he spoke.
“That’s right. The world is disgusting. No, it’s only disgusting to the victims. Never forget it. And stop disappointing me by continuing to turn away from truth like a coward. I seem to have picked up a decent piece of insurance, but I don’t have time for her to grow up in order to do her part. It’s very annoying to pick someone else at this point, so please don’t fall behind to the insurance plan.”
Isaac had tapped Rivelia’s shoulder as he spoke such baffling sentences, and he now whispered into Rivelia’s ears.
“I really hope it’s you that kills me. Don’t disappoint me.”
Isaac stepped away from Rivelia, who had stiffened like a rock, and exited the Banquet Hall. As he left, he gave orders to his agents, who were watching restlessly.
“Clean it up. Both the Count’s and Marquis’ forces joined forces to fight against the Black Bandits, who ambushed them in the final battle. They disappeared along with the Black Bandits when the castle exploded. The sole survivors… Hm. Yes. Let’s say Rivelia, who was an acquaintance of Countess Elena, happened to be around because she was asked to look after her children and ended up saving them. That’s the story. Move out.”
The simultaneous dissolution of both the Count and the Marquis culminated in a scandal that shook the Empire. Many questioned Central’s inability to stop the warlock organisation in advance, and Central had no choice but to grit their teeth at Isaac as they gave their utmost to clean up the situation.
Meanwhile, Isaac gained even more infamy from the Empire, as he tried to absorb both Wolfgang’s and Lichten’s lands by pointing at their debts.
Isaac, who at this point was unrivaled in infamy, did not relent and proceeded to legally take over both lands.
The ruling from the Department of Law affirming private property rights—and, by extension, the legality of Isaac’s actions— led to many protests throughout the Empire, but Isaac didn’t stop. And it seemed as if his goal was just within his reach—when suddenly, survivors of the Wolfgang Family resurfaced.
The survivors were none other than the official heirs to Count Wolfgang, who had been under Rivelia’s protection. Of course, Isaac’s plans were set back while Rivelia was the subject of all kinds of praises.
Rivelia announced that as their guardian, she would manage both Wolfgang’s and Lichten’s lands until the two girls came of age, and when they did, she would stand for them to be titled the Duchesses of the lands. The world celebrated for the second birth of hereditary Dukedom and praised Rivelia for her just and pure decision.
The Pendletons’ reputation soared as they distinguished themselves from the rest of the nobles while the Empire’s authority plummeted. In frustration, the Emperor decreed that the Directorate of Strategy was to never again scheme against Isaac.
“I swear, I am the prophet who’s shattering the belief that you live longer the more insults are thrown at you.”1TLN: It’s a Korean saying: One who receives insults will live a long life. It indicates that bad guys will tend to outlive good guys.
Isaac smiled satisfyingly as the populace sent menacing looks at him. All this was working as Isaac intended.
“But don’t you think this is a bit much?”
No matter what the world said, Central was well aware of how Isaac accomplished this mission, and it sent a clear message—don’t involve Isaac unless it was absolutely necessary.
That alone would have accomplished half of Isaac’s goal, but Central had borrowed manpower from the Directorate of Surveillance through Saints and Rizzly. They discovered Isaac’s master plan after the mission was over.
Which was why Rizzly believed that the populace’s rage and anger toward Isaac was unfair.
“Do you know what the person everyone hates is called?”
“What is it?”
“If you’re weak, you’re called a retard, a little stronger and they call you bad, stronger and they call you demonic, stronger still and you’re a monster, even stronger and you are called a demon lord. I will become a demon lord.”
Rizzly flinched when Isaac uttered the word ‘monster,’ but he then cocked his head when Isaac mentioned the word ‘demon lord.’
“A demon lord?”
“Yes. A demon lord, hated by all but too strong to oppose. I will become the demon lord that will fall to the hero.”
Rizzly wondered if Isaac was still sane as he watched Isaac bounce between snickering and serious pondering.
No, how would one determine if he was normal when he never was since the beginning? As Rizzly pondered this problem, Rivelia walked up to the rooftop.
- 1TLN: It’s a Korean saying: One who receives insults will live a long life. It indicates that bad guys will tend to outlive good guys.