The day for the royal family’s visit finally came.
Preparations for welcoming them were fully in place.
We intended to make them enjoy Avalon from the bottom of their hearts. After all, it would make negotiations far easier to do.
“It seems the Holy Grail Faith’s spreading at a good rate.”
Believers who worshipped and were in awe of me were diligently spreading my religion.
Of those invited to join, many were interested in coming if it meant they could enjoy delicious wine and excellent songs in the next worship meeting. Just actually coming to the meeting was enough to ensure they would be zealous believers. They would then invite others and those others would invite others, ad infinitum.
All these were for the sake of protecting Avalon.
While in my room and thinking of such, I finished up on my paperwork.
What I was working on was the establishment of the city’s orphanage.
We were going to use the Curtrude Company to hire individuals with the necessary skills to run the orphanage. It didn’t matter if those people were to be from other cities or towns. Meanwhile, to assist those people would be diligent people from Avalon who were good with children.
In a field where experts were rare, recruiting even from other places and offering high pay to them was the fastest method.
The effort of building the orphanage as soon as possible was not only for the sake of the children themselves, but also for the sake of attracting even more people to Avalon.
Another benefit of having an orphanage was the opportunity to make children of very young age enter the Holy Grail Faith and swear loyalty to Avalon.
“Hey, hey, patron, now that I think about it, why did you tell me to make that rather mild song? If we put our mind into it, we could seriously brainwash the humans to the point that they will kill for you when ordered to, you know?”
Ruru, who was lying in the bed in my room, curiously asked me so.
It has been rather hot recently, so she has been coming to this carriage where there were air-conditioning systems in place.
“We mustn’t do that… it might sound like hypocrisy at this point, but we must do our very best to never cross that final line.”
Thanks to the combination of Aura’s [God’s Smile] and Ruru & the Ocean Singers’ hymn, the values of loving their fellow regardless of race and also revering me were instilled into the believers’ hearts. However, it should be limited to those values alone. Nothing more, nothing less.
We weren’t going to force them to do things, especially those that they would hate. This was very different to treating them as though they were mere puppets.
Besides, if we were to treat them like puppets, the humans would not be able to exhibit their ability to create new things. And if that was to happen, Avalon wouldn’t be able to grow any further.
“Hmp, well, you sure are adamant in the strangest of things, patron.”
“That aside, don’t you have to head out soon? You guys are the centerpiece in making the royal family entertained. Are all your preparations done?”
Rather than using Ruru and the Ocean Singers’ songs to influence the mind of the royal family, I had asked them to sing purely for entertainment purposes this time.
“That’s a foolish question. I am an R’lyeh Diva. I don’t compromise anything in my craft. Look forward to it, patron. It’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime song and dance performance.”
If anyone had the talent to impress royalty who had most likely grown tired of song and dance performances, it would be Ruru.
Now, I guess I should change and get ready myself.
<<Master, the guests are here.>>
Aura’s voice was carried by the wind all the way to my room.
I had made Aura observe Avalon’s gate using her wind. The chances of the [Black] Demon Lord taking advantage of this event to invade Avalon were high, so we were on full alert.
Ok, time to greet them.
“Kuina, are you ready?”
Kuina, who wore a chic dress that suited her now older appearance, replied so.
As there was a chance of danger, I had asked her to stay by my side as my guard. That being said, there was one other reason she was with me: in order to showcase that we were a city aiming to coexist with demi-humans, it was necessary to have an individual that could easily be perceived as such to be by my side.
“We talked about this yesterday, Kuina. I want you to change the way you talk to that of an adult. Will you do that for me?”
I felt a little bad for asking her such, but the usual way Kuina talked could be taken as discourtesy by high-ranking people. Demon Lords were one thing since they could sympathize, but humans probably wouldn’t.
“Understood, dear father. I’ll try to conduct myself befitting of your standing.”
It felt weird to hear her talk like that, but it was necessary.
She was smart, so as long as she put effort into it, she could keep conducting herself like so.
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Then, I’ll keep it up until the royal family goes back. If I do a good job though, I want to be showered with plenty of praise.”
Though her way of speaking and mannerism changed, I guess Kuina will always be Kuina.
At that thought, I unconsciously smiled.
When we went to the city gate, a two-horse carriage with the crest of the royal family was there. A group of knights atop horses was also there to guard the aforementioned carriage and its occupants.
One of the knights was loudly shouting something.
“Announcing the arrival of Prince Leonard Mira Axera, the third prince of the Axera Kingdom, as well as his attendants to the city of Avalon! His highness requests the immediate presence of the city’s representative!”
In perhaps an effort to show off the grandness of the prince, they purposefully announced his arrival in a gaudy manner.
Kuina in tow, I appeared before the group.
“Thank you for coming. I am this city’s—Avalon’s—leader. I am Procell. Allow us to welcome and entertain you to the best of our abilities.”
The knight then looked at me and Kuina.
Her beautiful face certainly captured his attention, but upon noticing her demi-human features, he frowned.
Since the Rigdolg Faith, the state religion of Axera, followed a human supremacy ideology, that kind of reaction was just natural.
At the top of the Rigdolg Faith were the [Black] Demon Lord who reigned supreme as their god, and the angel-type monsters who served as his retainers. They were followed by faithful human believers as blessed beings. At the very bottom were demi-humans who didn’t receive any blessing at all from their god, thus being relegated to be inferior beings.
Building a religion and giving a certain group a sense of superiority was a tried and tested approach.
Nevertheless, I rather the knight didn’t look at Kuina as such, so I decided to move the conversation along.
“I believe everyone is tired from the long journey, so I think it best to guide you to your lodgings first.”
When I snapped my fingers, Mythological Foxes appeared and then courteously bowed.
I then proceeded to instruct them to guide the guests to the finest inn in Avalon.
We prepared lodgings not just for the prince, but for all of the knights as well.
There were a lot of wealthy people in Avalon, so first-rate inns were in abundance anyway.
That being said, we had reserved the very best from those first-rate inns.
“Hmm, how very considerate.”
“I am honored by such praise. We have prepared entertainment and meals for you all to enjoy later. We will send someone to pick you up. Until then, please rest your bodies.”
After bowing in thanks, the party—seeming satisfied—followed the Mythological Foxes and left.
It was worth noting that the prince did not show himself.
Well, I’m sure he’ll show up for the meal later. Save the best for last.
After being guided to their lodgings, dropping off their luggage there, and resting for a while, we brought the prince’s party to the hall that doubled as the church and treated them to a musical show supervised by R’lyeh Diva.
Next to that, we let them enjoy shopping as much as they wanted to, with me footing the bill.
We also let them rinse off their sweat and fatigue away in our hot spring.
I chose to not go with them, thinking they would be able to enjoy things better unaccompanied. Nevertheless, I knew of their actions through Aura’s wind.
It seemed like they enjoyed their tour of the city.
The goal of letting them know of Avalon’s many good points before the negotiation proper has been successfully completed.
As for Kuina and I, we went to a restaurant we had reserved beforehand and waited for a while there.
Today’s menu was prepared with the help of the Curtrude Company.
Using their merchant network, they had found out Prince Leonard’s favorite dishes. On top of those they also prepared dishes whose ingredients couldn’t be acquired easily—if at all—in the Axera Kingdom due to issues of freshness or distribution, but were readily available here in Avalon thanks to the Hippogriffs’ air transportation service.
…Conanna’s so good, it’s scary.
When the time for dinner drew near, Aura reported that the prince’s seemingly pleased party was heading toward the restaurant.
After a while, the knights, the civil officials, and the prince himself showed up.
The prince had blond hair, blue eyes, and handsome features. He seemed to be in his mid-twenties.
One look at him was enough for me to tell that he was sharp.
“No words are enough to express my gratitude for warmly welcomingly not only me, but my subordinates as well.”
“Please don’t mention it. So long as everyone is pleased, it was well worth the effort. Nevertheless, I fear there are certain things we can’t talk about in front of your knights. Let us go dine in another room while your esteemed knights dine here.”
It was now time for negotiations and it required complete focus.
“Thank you for your kind consideration, Procell-dono. Would you mind terribly if a minister and the head of my knights accompany us as my advisers?”
“Not at all. After all, I am bringing this child as well.”
I replied so and placed a hand over Kuina’s shoulder.
With both sides in agreement, we moved to a private room.
Thanks to our warm welcome of them, the prince talked to me in a friendly manner.
Our conversation was also rather energetic.
“Procell-dono, this city you call Avalon is amazing. It is overflowing with things and people. Everything and everyone are also so lively. I have heard that this city has been around for less than a year, and yet in that short time, it has developed so much. The only word I have for that is incredible. As a political figure myself, I confess my interest is piqued. Won’t you please impart to me your secrets?”
I had expected all members of the royal family to be crooked, so I was surprised to see him have such a modest personality.
In response to that personality, I answered him earnestly.
“I have one trick. I endeavor to bring happiness to my citizens. I believe that once they’ve become happy, they will work harder to further improve their lives. Naturally, the city will profit from their success.”
“Ohh, so the citizens’ happiness is tied to the territory’s wealth? That’s in direct contradiction to what father thinks. According to him, the people exist for the state. Still, what you say makes sense.”
He was also very frank.
<<Master, it’s just as we feared. This person is afflicted with a curse. It isn’t a common kind either; it’s the kind that hides and incubates within the afflicted. If the one who cursed him sent a signal, that user will be able to freely control him.>>
Aura’s voice reached me via the wind.
I had asked her to examine whether the prince and his party were being controlled or not.
In response to Aura’s confirmation, I asked the Mythological Foxes to bring out some Avalon Wine. Avalon Wine was made using Aura’s [Water of Life] which itself had [Purification] properties.
“Please enjoy this Avalon Wine as an aperitif. This is one of Avalon’s best products.”
“So, this is the famous Avalon Wine, huh? When I heard the rumors about it, I immediately wanted to taste it. I mean, according to the rumors, it is the drink of the gods.”
The prince said so while looking at the bottle of Avalon Wine with overflowing curiosity.
The bottle brought out wasn’t made with the golden apples from the First Tree, but it was made with apples grown by Aura nonetheless, so it should still have overwhelmingly good flavor and special effects.
The Mythological Foxes then poured some into a glass.
Instead of the prince though, the head of the knights was the one to drink it. Apparently, he was the prince’s food taster.
Upon intaking the liquid, the head of the knights opened his eyes wide, but was perfectly motionless otherwise.
“What’s wrong, Bernard?! Is it poisoned!?”
“N-no, it’s not, my prince… the sublime taste of the alcohol just rendered me speechless. Not only that, I feel that my body’s somehow lighter. As if the sluggishness my body has accumulated for years is suddenly gone.”
This sluggishness he talked about was more likely the curse one of the [Black] Demon Lord’s monsters had cast on him.
It seemed highly likely that a large percentage of the leadership of the Axera Kingdom was afflicted with curses.
“Then, I’ll try it too… It’s true. It is delicious, and it has also made my body feel better. Thank you, Procell-dono.”
“If it would please you, why not take some barrels home?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, definitely. However, instead of enjoying them alone, please share them with everyone. With your family as well as with your subordinates.”
It might be more work for Aura and it might only be temporary, but staving off that guy’s powers was important.
“I am very grateful. As will my father and older brothers be.”
He said so with a smile.
It’s well worth the investment.
Afterwards, dishes were served one after the other.
Each was perfect. From the ingredients used to the culinary techniques employed.
Even the prince who was used to luxurious meals was in awe.
Of course, Kuina and I were greatly pleased with it too.
Around the time the desserts were served, the prince put on a serious expression on his face.
“Those were marvelous cuisines. It would seem the rumors saying the best things from all over the world are gathered here are true. Not only is this city blessed with excellent things, but with excellent personnel as well.”
Such was Avalon’s specialty.
Using air travel, merchants could procure things from all over the world.
And when good things gathered, so too would people.
Seeking better working and research environments, alchemists, sorcerers, and blacksmiths had immigrated here. With a higher demand present, of course, merchants increased too, repeating the cycle over and over again.
“Furthermore, you seem to be borrowing the demi-humans’ talents as well. You have labor and a standing army for no cost in the form of the countless golems. Additionally, you also have air units in the form of the Hippogriffs and the Darkness Dragons. Frankly, I’m envious. However, even though I understand the usefulness of employing the demi-humans and the monsters’ talents in enriching a territory, the Rigdolg Faith has closed off that option for my country.”
It was as he said. Since the human supremacy ideology was prevalent in the Rigdolg Faith, peacefully borrowing the demi-humans’ talents was just not likely to happen.
“As for Avalon, our policy here is to use whatever we can in order to grow.”
“…I see. That’s fine, but it just isn’t possible for us. Even though the Rigdolg Faith’s teachings are malicious, it is also true that it unites the hearts of our citizens. My voice is drowned out by their founder’s.”
The prince said so with a complicated expression on his face.
“Is it fine telling me of this?”
“I see no problem. My experiences tell me lying about this would do no good. For that same reason, I would be frank here. I want your city of Avalon to be a part of our Axera Kingdom.”
“And then, you’re going to borrow our funds and our fighting force? Specifically, our golem corps and our Darkness Dragons’ aerial bombing corps? All so you can keep up the assault on a certain dungeon?”
When I said such, the prince was in complete surprise.
I see, so he didn’t expect me to know of their goals.
“J-just how much do you know?”
“As pointed out earlier, merchants from all over the world have gathered here in Avalon, so it should be no surprise our information is good, so long as we listen closely. As for your request, my answer is no. I have a couple of reasons. The first is that no matter how many golems or Darkness Dragons we lend to you, you will not win.”
Their opponent was the [Dragon] Demon Lord who employed powerful [Dragon] monsters.
He also had a Dragon Emperor that could command at will the dragons empowered and driven mad by [Berserk].
In terms of a frontal assault, even if Avalon was to throw its full force against him, we would be crushed. Easily crushed, I should say.
So, even if I was to lend the Avalon-Ritters and the Darkness Dragons over to the Axera Kingdom, it was still an effort bound to fail.
“…But I’ve heard that during our war, Avalon showed tremendous strength.”
“We do have tremendous strength, but against that enemy, it is nothing but child’s play.”
Under no circumstance should one take the [Dragon] Demon Lord lightly. Anyone thinking they could conquer his dungeon should check their sanity.
Upon hearing my reply, the prince looked downcast.
Let’s throw him a lifeline here.
“If I’m not mistaken, your true goal, Prince Leonard, is to stop the fighting as soon as possible. However, even if you pour all your war potential, you don’t stand a chance at winning. Rather, your damages and losses would just increase further. I am guessing your national treasury is already at the limits.”
In order to apply pressure to the [Dragon] Demon Lord, the [Black] Demon Lord had tasked the Axera Kingdom to attack. However, instead of being harassed, the [Dragon] Demon Lord was actually profiting off of his attackers: he was gaining large amounts of DP and feeding on excellent emotions.
As to be expected of one of the three strongest Demon Lords.
“But on the other hand–”
“On the other hand, if you pull back now, you run the risk of a retaliatory attack. You’re afraid that if you loosen up on the offensive, the [Dragon] Demon Lord would send his monsters to destroy the Axera Kingdom. The founder of the Rigdolg Faith had said he’ll protect you, but you don’t truly trust those words.”
“How, how do you know so much?”
“Like I said, we have good information.”
Actually, it was less a matter of good information, and more of a logical deduction. Most people would come to the same realizations.
The following step in that train of thought was this meeting.
Without doubt, the [Black] Demon Lord instigated the Axera Kingdom once more and told them to acquire funds and war potential from Avalon.
In fact, in case today’s negotiations were to fail, the prince was resolved to take Avalon by force, thinking that it would be the only way for their kingdom to survive.
Little does he know, I prepared another way for them.
“I understand you’re in a tight spot and need help in whatever form, but before you get any foolish ideas, let me tell you upfront that taking Avalon’s strength by force will end in vain for you. I’ll have you know, the Avalon-Ritters and the Darkness Dragons are but a fraction of our strength.”
“If you’re that strong, then help us! We might not have the money now, but we will eventually, without fail, compensate you for your help.”
“I still refuse. Like I said, lending you war potential wouldn’t actually help. Moreover, I and your enemy are in good terms. In fact, he has been calling me his son. There is no way I would be make an enemy out of that person.”
In the latest letter he sent me, the [Dragon] Demon Lord called me his son.
Stolas and I were just friends, so it was undoubtedly a misunderstanding, but it didn’t seem like it would stop even if I tried to correct him.
“…The ruler of that dungeon called you his son? I did suspect it a little, but are you a Demon Lord as well?”
The intelligence corps had confirmed that the [Black] Demon Lord had revealed his true identity—being a Demon Lord and all—to the royal family of the Axera Kingdom. And so, I saw no reason to hide mine.
“Indeed, I am a Demon Lord too. Just like the [Black] Demon Lord who is pulling your strings, and the [Dragon] Demon Lord, your esteemed enemy. And now, I’m going to offer you something that would actually help. As I said, the [Dragon] Demon Lord and I are on friendly terms. I have already spoken to him about your situation. If you accept my terms—and of course pull back your forces as soon as possible—you can be assured he would not exact retribution.”
“Is that… true?”
“Yes. That’s not all. I can also lend you money to help in the rebuilding of your kingdom. You can also send your injured soldiers to Avalon for a much faster recovery. All these and more if you accept my terms.”
His reaction seemed to suggest he was interested with my offer.
The [Black] Demon Lord’s plan involved pitting Avalon, the Axera Kingdom, and the [Dragon] Demon Lord against each other.
He used the [Dragon] Demon Lord to push the Axera Kingdom to the edge until attacking Avalon seemed lucrative.
The desperate Axera Kingdom was then supposed to put pressure on Avalon from the outside, while his religion threatened to tear Avalon apart from within.
If pressuring us failed, the Axera Kingdom was then to proceed to a full-blown war against us. If even that failed, it was still fine for the [Black] Demon Lord since by then, Avalon’s name would be tarnished. And if our reputation and popularity were to plummet, it would mean a halt to our growth.
It was a convoluted and yet amusing scheme.
Too bad for him though, I used it against him.
By founding a religion of our own, we had consolidated our defense.
And, by proposing a truce between the Axera Kingdom and the [Dragon] Demon Lord, I could get the Axera Kingdom to my side instead.
You were careless in dealing with me. Now, it’s my turn on the offensive.