The Security agents stood in an orderly formation. A sense of familiarity welled up within Isaac, seeing the agents stand motionlessly. All of their faces were new, but every eye Isaac’s met welcomed him.
When Isaac exited the airship into the open, Colins, who had left the airship in advance and now stood at the head of the formation, shouted to the agents.
“Men, attention! Salute!”
All of the combat agents saluted Isaac. Did they no longer need to hide themselves? Their salute wasn’t that of this world’s. It was the salute of the past world’s—their right hand right at the edge of their eyebrow.
Isaac faced the soldiers head on and saluted them back. When Isaac dropped his hand down, Colins shouted.
A Korean army drill performed in perfect unison. The agents lowered their arms and smiled at Isaac. Their smiles, filled with anticipation and nostalgia, weighed heavily on Isaac’s heart.
There were four groups each consisting of a hundred men. It was the size of a battalion. All these men had joined forces for a single objective, unlike himself. And Isaac now had to stand in their way.
‘I won’t hesitate.’
Isaac regretted losing his sunglasses. He may have been able to dodge the waiting stares if it was still in one piece…
Isaac instead took out a cigarette as the agents sent another look of greeting before dispersing. Isaac blew out the smoke and looked at the three next to him, who watched the agents disperse with stiff expressions.
“… Strange. How did I not know this?”
“This is impossible.”
“We have to contact immedia… No, we need to move.”
“Hahaha. I must apologise for arriving so suddenly without Surveillance’s assistance. But since it’s gotten this far, why don’t you watch until the end?”
Colins commented with a smile, but it was closer to a warning. The agents dispersed, but they didn’t go far. They scattered about and watched closely, positioning themselves to form a perimeter.
“… How did I not know this?”
Reisha and Rizzly stepped in front of Kunette, who growled at Colins.
“Huhu. Your power has been quite the hassle, even for us, Kunette. That’s why we had to hide it until the very end. I’m sure the Surveillance has realised by now, but it’s too late. Not all non-humans like humans, you see.”
Kunette grit her teeth furiously, when the Three-eyed, Tiger and Wolf walked past them uncaringly. Kunette shouted.
“You guys knew this, right?”
“Would anything have changed if we didn’t?”
Kunette asked, her eyes welling with tears from anger. The Three-eyed looked back with his third eye.
“I simply prioritise the prosperity and safety of all races. And it was you who rejected our compromise.”
Reisha screamed in retaliation.
“How do you call culling their numbers and strictly controlling their reproduction a compromise!”
“You should be aware how dangerous humans are.”
“Not all humans are possessed by greed!”
“I agree. But humans holding power and authority or those forming society—they are dangerous..”
Reisha couldn’t argue back at the Three-eyed. She grit her teeth and glared, but the Three-eyed coldly turned his head and moved on. The Tiger and Wolf followed behind him, belittling Reisha and Rizzly to their heart’s content.
“Eek! I’m so mad! And I can’t even hit them!”
Reisha stomped her feet about furiously, when Isaac smiled and picked up Kunette.
“Isaac, you know, right? You know what they’re about to do.”
Kunette pleaded to Isaac, looking up to meet his eyes. Isaac sighed and patted her head.
“It’s something only monsters can do.”
“… Are you going to join them?”
“I’m a monster too.”
Isaac smiled bitterly and shook his head. There was no need for her to know. What the Independence Army wanted would never happen. Isaac kept his mouth shut despite Kunette’s constant pestering.
“… What’s with the mood? Did something happen?”
Rivelia exited the airship, which had been travelling at top speed to get here. She approached Isaac’s group and realised that something was off. She naturally grabbed for her sword, but Colins intervened.
“Now, now, calm down. As according to the First Contract, I hope you will be here as the successor of Pendleton—not as the Vice-Director of Security—and remain neutral.”
Rivelia’s face paled.
“… How do you know about the First Contract?”
“What is the First Contract?”
Isaac asked, and Rivelia replied, not for a second taking her eyes off Colins.
“The First Contract was a deal struck between the first Pendleton and Grand Council, to remain neutral in all matters regarding humans. Even if it involves the destruction of the Empire.”
Individual ties formed like spider webs, both creating a social structure and entangling human society within it. This phenomenon got worse as you rose up the social ranks. So it shouldn’t be possible for Pendleton to remain silent while the Empire falls. Their vassals would rise up in revolt even if they tried to remain neutral.
“… The Pendletons have abided by the contract thus far . Branch families aside, no members of the main family joined with the nobles of the Empire. There have been few cases, but none of those families survived.”
Isaac spoke back dumbfounded.
“Isn’t it a bit skewed?”
“But the Pendletons have the right to veto the Grand Council’s judgement. And if the Pendletons veto, the Grand Council must abolish their resolution.”
“They have to abolish it, not rethink it?”
Rather than a contract, it was akin to a mutual defence treaty. The Pendletons moved independently from the Empire, but from humanity’s point of view, they could mitigate the extremities of the non-human’s propositions.
Now that Isaac thought about it, it was always the Empire who spilled blood. Did that mean the Pendletons could stop the Queen’s plan? Colins smiled as if he read Isaac’s mind.
“It doesn’t matter if they veto it. This isn’t the Grand Council’s resolution.”
The Pendletons could only veto the decisions of the Grand Council. But the Queen acted without their decision. But since it was a conflict between humans, the Pendletons could not intervene.
Even if they broke the treaty and intervened, Pendletons had to make a choice. Either to accept the Queen or shatter this world into pieces. It was obvious which choice they’d make.
‘I was wondering why they were so confident. So there was that restriction.’
Isaac finally understood why the Pendletons only expressed their displeasure and made no move despite having multiple opportunities to do so. They couldn’t act even if they wanted to.
Unlike humans, non-humans never broke their promises. So this treaty was humanity’s final piece of insurance for survival in the worst case scenario.
“Now, I would like you to give a very brief explanation, since we’ll be entering the county soon. The broadcast is live, so don’t forget your roles and make sure you don’t slip up when you speak. Well, it doesn’t matter if you do. It’ll just needlessly increase the casualties.”
Rivelia, who was still confused as to what was happening, tried to grab Colins, but Colins quickly pointed to Isaac and ran away.
“What is happening?”
Just looking at Rivelia’s fiery gaze demanding an explanation, the veins on Isaac’s face almost seemed to materialise out of annoyance.
No crowds welcomed them into the city. Gatherings in itself were madness when the plague spread with such ferocity. In the desolate City Plaza was Mazelan and a few others greeting Isaac.
“Why did you come alone? Where’s the rest?”
Isaac greeted Mazelan with his eyes. Isaac could see Mazelan had been through some rough times with just a quick glimpse.
“They’ll be coming soon. They weren’t in a state that we could have soothed with just a few words.”
“Hm? What do you mean by that?”
“You don’t need to know. It’ll just drain you when you find out. So how’s the situation?”
Mazelan was left curious, but he decided to overlook it as it wasn’t the main priority.
“Thankfully, it can’t be transmitted via air. So the plague hasn’t spread as badly as we thought. But we haven’t found the cause or a way to fight it. And it has a 100% mortality rate. You catch it, and you die. There hasn’t been a single patient with a natural immunity to it.”
“What’s the number of infected?”
“There’s about one thousand dead. I don’t know how many people are in the beds at this point.”
Isaac asked back, dumbfounded. Mazelan shook, remembering some very recent horrors before speaking with great disdain.
“That number of dead wasn’t because of the plague. The entire city has turned to anarchy. Looting, murder, mugging, rape, arson, you name it. I’ve learned that humans without their sanity are little more than mere beasts.”
“Then what about the patients?”
“Whether fortune or misfortune, the first infection was in the Milros Family. So the plague was contained to people within the keep, but the main Milros family and the branch families fell victim. So did their vassals and their families. It all turned to chaos because there wasn’t anyone who could quell the chaos. We’ve quarantined the keep as an infected area. We haven’t entered it ourselves as well, only throwing in the necessary goods into the keep.”
“You don’t know anything that’s happening within the keep?”
“We’ve done aerial surveillance using the airships, but there hasn’t been a single person outside. We tried to enter the keep, fearing that everyone was dead, but the Emperor told us to standby until you arrived, which is why we remained so.”
“How much information did you get?”
Mazelan tilted his head.
“Information? There’s information I don’t know?”
“Did the Emperor say anything when he sent you here?”
“I know it’s dangerous here. The Emperor apologised to me personally for sending me to such a dangerous location.”
“Tsk. This is why every person in politics is a snake in disguise.”
Isaac clicked his tongue unsatisfyingly. What the Emperor apologised for wasn’t what Mazelan thought it was for.
“Can you share what you know… Ack, they’re here again.”
Realising that Isaac wasn’t happy, Mazelan tried to ask when a group of people entered the area behind Isaac. Mazelan frowned in disgust and moaned.
Isaac turned to see what the fuss was about. There was Rivelia, Kunette, Rizzly, and Reisha; and around them were the agents of Strategy, surrounding them in a protective circle. There was a separate group which made a commotion as they entered.
“W, welcome. If we join forces, I am confident that Milros County will return to peace… No, I am full of confidence… I mean….”
Isaac smirked at Mazelan, who nervously stuttered while the members of the broadcast wandered about, pestering about needing more footage.
“Just do how you normally do. Why are you so tense?”
Mazelan sighed and whispered to Isaac, closely watching the broadcast workers at the same time.
“Aw, shit, I didn’t think the broadcast could be so powerful. Back home, everyone made a commotion about me being sent to a dangerous area on the outside, but they also loved seeing me on screen.”
Isaac glimpsed at the broadcast workers and their equipment. He then ordered them as arrogantly as he could.
“Good. You have worked well. Now withdraw.”