「That’s how it is... We’re definitely advancing, but this is doing my head in.」
In a spot a few kilometers from Stella Fortress, there is a single tent.
There are several silhouettes standing around it.
The one speaking is a girl who is looking north with her arms folded.
After she speaks, she closes her eyes in thought. A moment later, she opens them again and unfolds her arms with a sigh.
「We’re going back. We can’t do anything about winter. At the very least, continuing to march north isn’t an option.」(Girl)
「As we thought, “there’s nothing there”?」
「Yes, Wudi. That is likely the case. There will be obstacles if we head north, and we won’t be able to rely on the towns and people. We would have to build camps as we proceed north. Dealing with demons is quite troublesome, isn’t it?」(Girl)
The girl replying to the question from behind her is Otonashi Hibiki.
The hero of the kingdom of Limia.
Hibiki is surrounded by her party members as well as several knights.
They are the only ones on this deserted plain.
「So we’ll end up following the orders that Larva-dono left us. I thought this wouldn’t happen until much later, but it looks like Chiya-chan will be returning home.」(Hibiki)
「I see... It’s been a while since I’ve been to Lorel. I wonder if everyone’s doing well. Sairitsu probably hasn’t changed at all.」(Chiya)
Hibiki turns to face a small girl.
She is Chiya, the priestess of Lorel who is traveling together with Hibiki.
She was making the same, complicated expression that Hibiki was, but it seems that this was just a pretense. At the mention of her Lauren, her hometown, a smile appears on her face.
「Well then, let’s go back to the tent before it gets cold, Chiya-chan. We’ll return to Asuta then prepare to go south this time.」(Hibiki)
While pushing her hands against Chiya’s back, Hibiki returns to the tent.
Her tone is cheerful, but her expression is stiff and the smile on her lips is not present in her eyes.
(That day, after the royal capital was invaded. Neither Larva nor that white person were anywhere to be seen. Only a message was left behind. “Take Chiya-chan home”, huh. I don’t know what the motives are behind this, but these are the words of that Larva, so there is merit to obeying them. We can also visit the academy city of Rotsgard on the way. The Kuzunoha company that is acknowledged by his Majesty and Joshua-sama is there as well. I wonder if Mio-san is there, too. And that Raidou person that I never got to meet. I have a feeling that Larva and that white person are connected to the Kuzunoha company, though it’s just a gut feeling.)
Hibiki narrowly escaped death that day at the royal capital of Asuta.
She was saved by the Lich called Larva and the white person who was presumably his master.
Hibiki has confidence in her own power, but she can’t forget those two utterly ridiculous people who easily surpassed her strength.
The difference in strength was similar to the Kuzunoha company that she saw in the distant city of Tsige.
(And I still have not heard the details regarding Ilum-kun’s death; the truth surrounding that will also be in Rotsgard. Chiya-chan is still small so I was thinking about returning her to Lauren anyway. It’s not a bad idea to do that during the winter. Okay, I’ve decided. I’ll make a request to his Majesty.)
She looks back once more at this wasteland, where not a single proper road is left.
「A scorched earth policy* that’s on another level from just burning things to the ground. Even the seasons are against me; am I supposed to be Napoleon facing the Russian Winter? How vicious. This isn’t the kind of plan that a hero should be using. If this was a game, the publishing company would be drowning in the critics’ comments... Seriously.」(Hibiki)
Her murmuring disappears into the wasteland, to be heard by no one.
Winter is coming.
「I see, so Reft himself doesn’t know the reason why he was there.」
「Yes. It seems he has lost a part of his memory. But at the very least, there are no signs that we can detect of the memories having been removed manually. According to the soldiers who escaped from Kaleneon, we can assume that those monsters advanced forwards.」
「Though it is difficult to imagine that there would be someone who wants a place like that so badly that they would repel a demon general. No contact, no messenger sent back and their retreat formation was completely destroyed, huh...」
The demons’ stronghold.
A city that is very different to towns that hyumans live in.
It is a city built around a castle.
Snow has already piled up deeply; it is a region that is constantly filled with complete silence.
The conversation between the king and his close aides continues in one of the castle’s chambers.
「Rona, do you have some information?」(Demon Lord)
「My deepest apologies. I have attempted to investigate directly myself, but I have not found anything. We have not received any contact from the other party either.」(Rona)
「It does not seem to be a hyuman. This is quite headache-inducing. Continue investigating. But adapt your orders as you receive information on the extent of the damage; it is unacceptable to lose the lives of our soldiers for no reason.」(Demon Lord)
「As you wish.」(Rona)
「It is unlikely that the hyumans who have seen what is further north of Stella Fortress would be so quick to invade. Since there was great damage to the royal capital, after all. Io, Rona. You did well.」(Demon Lord)
「... No. We did not fulfil our mission. We do not deserve such words...」(Io)
「As he said. We were ordered to gather information, yet we have not been able to find out anything about what happened in Kaleneon. I feel that punishment for us would be appropriate.」(Rona)
The demon generals Io and Rona are wearing shame-filled expressions in response to the Demon Lord’s kind words.
They might be a giant and a demon, but their faces are full of regret at not being able to carry out the orders from their king.
「Fu, do not worry about it, you two. I do not mind if you reflect on your actions, but do not prolong it and quickly renew yourselves to the task. Io, I will leave the Renhei* in the south to you. Rona, arrange a meeting with that Kuzunoha company.」(Demon Lord)
「Please leave it to me.」(Io)
「At once. Fortunately, it appears that Raidou is looking ahead and intends to meet with us as well.」(Rona)
「Raidou, huh. According to the reports about Rotsgard, he is undoubtedly an irregular person, but I am also looking forward to this.」(Demon Lord)
The Demon Lord laughs.
The relation between the two is that the Demon Lord has had one of his plans crushed by Raidou, but he shows no signs of being concerned about that.
At least, not on the surface.
There is also one more person here.
It is a person who reacts strongly to Raidou’s name.
The Demon Lord, his trusted demon generals and one other person makes four people in this room.
She has been sitting without saying a word during the discussion, but now she responds.
「Your majesty, I wish to meet with Raidou, too.」(Sari)
「Sari. Is he someone you felt something about?」(Demon Lord)
「Yes. I am interested in that person. Rona showed me her report and I think they are a extremely unique company.」(Sari)
「Hmm, what did you think was unique about them?」(Demon Lord)
「The Kuzunoha company is too stable. Their scale is not insignificant, but they are showing no signs of impatience. Even though their existence hangs in the balance year after year. It is as if they pay for everything themselves, as if they are “self-sufficient”.」(Sari)
The girl called Sari is a demon whose youth is reflected by her appearance.
However her tone and eyes possess the composure of an adult, causing her to radiate an imbalanced aura.
「Self-sufficient? Those are not words you would normally apply to a company, Sari.」(Demon Lord)
「I think so too. Are they even a “company” in the first place? I feel some doubt regarding that question as well. That is why I want to see this Raidou person for myself.」(Sari)
「... I will allow it. If there are any others present, make sure to report back to me. Since you are my child, I am sure Raidou will not object to this.」(Demon Lord)
There are four candidates to succeed the Demon Lord.
They are all the Demon Lord’s “children”.
However, they do not all share his blood.
The way the demons choose their king is fundamentally different from the way hyumans do.
Exceptional children, not limited to the king’s bloodline, are chosen to receive the education necessary to become a king.
They undergo countless screenings to remove unsuitable candidates. Today, there are only four of them left.
Sari is the youngest child among them.
She does lack management and diplomacy skills when compared to the other candidates, but she excels at handling information.
As a demon general, she would be on par with Rona.
After the meeting ended, Sari and Rona walked together.
「Sari-sama, it seems you are interested in the Kuzuhona company.」(Rona)
「Yes. I said it earlier, but I have some interest in the Raidou I read about in your reports. Otou-sama* seems to want to ascertain his role in this war, but my thoughts are a little different.」(Sari)
「You mean that he has nothing to do with the war?」(Rona)
「I want to determine whether Raidou will contribute to the future of the demons or not.」(Sari)
「Future, you say?」(Rona)
「Yes. No matter how the war ends, the future of the demons will continue.」(Sari)
「But Sari-sama, if we are defeated in this war, our future will also disappear.」(Rona)
「I don’t believe so. No, thinking that way and wanting to win because of it is correct. Still, having a different way of looking at it is safer, is it not?」(Sari)
「... As a general of the army, I cannot agree, but I can understand that it is another way of thinking.」(Rona)
「That is fine. I’m sure you’ve already noticed, but I have no obsession for the Demon Lord’s throne. Please be aware that I have such thoughts as well.」(Sari)
Despite the difference in their height, the conversation is not one between an adult and a child.
It is clear to anyone that Sari has received a unique education.
「I would never dare to presume you to be inferior to anyone, but why are you having such thoughts now?」(Rona)
「Because there is Roche-nii-sama for internal management; Shem-nii-sama for diplomacy and Lucia-nee-sama for military affairs. I believe it best for Roche-nii-sama to become the next Demon Lord and everyone to prosper under his rule. It’s my role to act so that there will be no conflict, no matter who’s chosen as the Demon Lord. As long as no major event occurs, anyway.」(Sari)
「Do not make such a face, Rona. I find your words to be the most enjoyable to listen to. I’m looking forward to your lecture. Though I wouldn’t mind a follow-up report on the Kuzunoha company, either.」(Sari)
The girl with mature thoughts unfitting of her young appearance continues walking, leaving Rona behind as she comes to a halt.
Rona watches Sari’s confident stride for a while, before shaking her head as if clearing her thoughts.
The meeting between the Kuzunoha company and the demons draws near.
Makoto thinks that it is just a formality; however, this will not be the case.
He overcame the demon general Reft using some unforeseen god’s power, but he is still unaware that this is merely an omen of what is to come.
Slowly, but surely.
The footsteps of the heroes and the demons approach the Kuzunoha company.