Chapter 199: From Preparation to Departure
“Well, well, well. You’ve found a boy quite strong for a human.”
The man smiled cheerfully and scratched his head. He was a fine gentleman with neatly combed hair, and his all black attire looked like that of a butler. However, the color of his smiling eyes were purple, and he had a rather rugged, wide long sword hanging in a scabbard at his waist, so there was no way he was just a butler.
The man, who looked like he was about to enter middle age, sounded much more convincing, posing as Lapis’ parent, than Judie. His name was Aus Arland. The difference between his last name and Judie’s was, Judie’s last name was that of a Demon King, while Aus’ was that of his family.
“So, Lapis’ full name is Lapis Arland?”
“If she takes over the family, then yes. If she doesn’t, she doesn’t have to take Arland as her name, and it will only be ‘Lapis’.”
They were now on a plain near the Demon King’s Castle, and maids were busy loading supplies and materials into wagons in front of them as they talked. All those supplies were the support the Demon King Judie provided to help them fulfill her commission. The wagon itself was also arranged by Judie.
“You can discard it if you need to.”
Aus said in a light-hearted tone. Loren didn’t know what made him happy, but he had been smiling ever since Loren beat him up. He had feared that he was beyond the point of anger and had no choice but to smile, but after talking to him, it didn’t seem to be the case. He seemed to be genuinely happy about something.
“The helmet is enchanted so that it will always let Judie know where you are. If you can successfully throw it into the crater, the magic will stop responding and Judie will know, so you don’t have to come back here if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t think we’ll get paid in that case, right?”
“I’ll give it to you in advance. This, right?”
Aus said and presented the greatsword that Loren had been using, the weapon of a Demon King. He handed it to Loren, who had prepared a set of cloth to wrap the blade and a cord to carry it on his back.
“Is this alright?”
“I don’t mind. I won’t begrudge you if you just take it and run away, either. You’ll have to reconsider your relationship with my daughter, though.”
Aus was still smiling, but the meaning behind his smile seemed to have changed. Feeling a bit intimidated, Loren looked straight back at his face and replied:
“If anything, I’m the one who was asked out.”
It was Lapis who asked him to accompany her. Loren didn’t want to allude anything about how his and Lapis’ feelings had changed, so he just told Aus the fact.
Aus replied without losing his smile:
“If that’s the case, then my daughter’s eyes have been blinded, and as a parent, I’ll have to disallow you to see her again.”
“I’m not sure if Lapis’ eyes can be blinded now. Haven’t guys already gouged them out?”
Whether or not Lapis’ eyes were gouged out or not, the truth was they had been taken away by Judie and Aus, and in her eye sockets were currently two finely-crafted prosthetic eyes.
“Um, you too? I’ll cry, you know? I really, really will.”
Lapis put her hand on Loren’s shoulders and started to shake him in protest. He figured he should just let her do what she wanted for a while, and continued watching the maids work while being rocked. But he suddenly realized something and asked Aus, who was watching over the maids with a smile still on his face:
“How long will it take us to get to that mountain crater?”
“Even if you travel by carriage, you’ll have to spend one night on the road. As you know, I don’t approve of premarital sex, so please be prepared.”
“Stupid father… Stupid father, it’s not like that. If we don’t get back until the morning after tomorrow, another party will think we’re dead.”
“Oh, I’ve heard that there’s a group of people who have broken in from the same place as you and are doing a bit of digging. I’ll arrange for them to be informed via the dwarves that there has been some trouble and they should be hiding in some dwarven villages until things cool down.”
Loren did not want to worry Ritz’ party, but Aus promised to take appropriate action immediately.
“‘What kind of support will you give us in terms of fighting power?’
Loren asked as he hung the greatsword he had received on his back as he had always done. Aus’ smile didn’t vanish, but he answered the question with a slight drop in his tone:
“I’m sorry, but Judie deems that it’s best not to not provide you support in terms of fighting power.”
“Oh, come on, that’s…”
Loren was on the verge of protesting, but Aus continued:
“Instead, we’re going to help you with supplies.”
As he said this, Aus handed Loren an item that looked like a big chicken egg but felt a bit harder.
“What is this?”
“It’s a disposable magic item that generates a protective ward. Try crushing it.”
Loren did as he was told and put strength into his hand and the item, just like an egg, shattered fragilely in his hands. At the same time, Aus drew the sword that had been hanging at his waist and swung it at Loren’s neck. He was so quick that even Lapis, whose hands were still on Loren’s shoulder, didn’t have time to raise her voice.
But the strike, which should have separated Loren’s neck from his body, stopped far from his neck as if it had hit an invisible wall, and the blade did not cut into his flesh at all.
“Don’t startle me.”
“This egg is a disposable magic item that builds a protective barrier around the person who crushes it. It should be able to block at least one blow from a dragon attack.”
“It’s quite impressive that it can block my father’s attack.”
Loren’s expression did not change as he listened to Lapis say this, but inwardly he felt a twinge of fear, which he struggled to subdue.
That was how sharp and fierce the Aus’ strike had been.
“That wasn’t retaliation for the beating, is it?”
“Well, what do you think?”
Aus was being evasive, but from the slackness of his mouth, Loren suspected that was indeed the case.
“Judie believes that having someone powerful accompany you, even just as a support, might unnecessarily irritate the dragon. By the way, these eggs can also be used to offset magic, so you should try out their various uses. You can keep the surplus as an extra reward, but please don’t sell it on the human market.”
Even if they couldn’t be exchanged for money, Loren thought that they were very powerful magic items. If you used them well, they could save your life, and since there were a good number of eggs in the wagon, he believed he would really appreciate being able to use them.
If possible, he would like to have someone who could fight accompany them, but if the Demon King had made that decision, it would be better to follow it.
The last time Loren saw her was in Judie’s room, and he was told later that she was abducted by the maids. He asked Aus just because he thought the man might know something, but Aus simply pointed with his chin toward the wagon:
“Our maids were loading her earlier, didn’t you see?”
“Please don’t tease her too much. I know she’s unusual, but…”
Gula had completely turned into a toy for the maids of the Demon King’s Castle. She had been ‘loaded’ meant that she had probably been brought in unconscious, and Loren couldn’t help but be somewhat curious about what the maids had done to make her so.
“You’ve done a lot of research, right? What did you find out?”
“About Evil Gods, you mean? To be honest, we don’t have much interest in them, so we don’t know much.”
Aus mentioned Gula’s true identity so nonchalantly that Loren had almost missed it, but Lapis’ tightened hands on his shoulders made him listen more carefully.
“I know they were created by the ancient kingdom. There are various rumors that they were researching about making demons submit to humans or turning humans into demons, but the truth is unknown. I’m sure the Evil Gods themselves don’t know everything either.”
“Even so, it’s still a pity you don’t know more.”
“I know how you feel. Well, you can either take it easy or forget about it altogether.”
Loren lightly clucked his tongue at Aus’ words as if to say that it was someone else’s problem, not his, then asked more questions:
“Can’t you tell me where Lapis’ eyes and legs are?”
“It’s a secret. I’m sure Lapis will agree. Don’t you, Lapis?”
Lapis nodded in response as if to confirm Aus’ words. Loren was somewhat dissatisfied, but he convinced himself that if Lapis, the person in question, was fine with it, then there was no need to pry any further.
“You can keep the wagon and horses at Lapis’ base in the area. The wagon is infused with numerous technologies of ours, so it’s best to not sell it on humans’ market.”
“Can it cross the mountains?”
“It can, on a specific route… But if it’s too much trouble, you can just sell it off to the dwarves.”
Aus seemed to consider the wagon as an additional reward, and Loren was impressed by his generosity.
“I don’t think it will be too dangerous on the road, but you should leave it to Lapis to deal with the demons. If you leave now, we can spend one night on the road and reach the mountain by noon tomorrow. I’m praying for your safety. And, well… Take care of my daughter.”
Aus said, still smiling. Before Loren knew it, the maids had finished their work, and all that was left to do was to board and leave.
Lapis took her hands off Loren’s shoulders and climbed onto the driver’s bench. Loren followed her, thinking that Aus’ request to ‘take care of my daughter’ was pregnant with hidden meaning. Feeling a bit mean, he asked Aus, who was seeing them off:
“Are you that worried? Why did you take away her limbs and eyes then?”
“Because we think a sheltered girl has no worth. That was necessary to give her experiences in the human realm. Still, as her parents, we’re worried about her. Is it that strange?”
Loren couldn’t answer that question. After all, he had never been a parent, and he had never known his own parents. If he had to, he could say that the leader of his mercenary company was his parent, but he had no idea if said leader felt the same towards him as Aus towards Lapis.
Aus didn’t seem to be expecting an answer from Loren either; he didn’t look disappointed about Loren’s silence but simply looked up at them. As Aus opened his mouth to say something, one of the maids quietly approached him and whispered something in his ear, causing his face to cloud over for the first time.
“I’m sorry that you have to hear this right before leaving, but I have some bad news.”
“I don’t want to hear such things while I’m just about to depart…”
“You might want to hear this thought. It seems the shield has been stolen.”
The man named Magna already possessed the sword and armor, and the two items he hadn’t stolen yet were the shield and the helmet that Loren was carrying. If the shield had also been stolen, the only thing left would be the helmet, and it was almost certain that Magna would go after their party.
“You demons are unexpectedly negligent.”
“We don’t have much interest in them, so we manage them rather carelessly… I apologize for this shameful situation.”
“Well, it can’t be helped. If this helmet is destroyed, we’ll be able to handle the situation somehow.”
The helmet had been loaded into the wagon along with the other supplies. It was wrapped in a packing that had been treated to make it difficult for magic to probe it, but Aus explained that it would not be very effective against Magna, who already had three of the set.
“If you successfully carry out this commission, you will have the free pass to enter and leave the region under Demon King Judie’s control. Do your best.”
“It doesn’t sound like a very nice reward, but it’s a commission from the parent of my comrade. I’ll even get paid, so I’ll do it.”
“Take care of my daughter. With all my heart, I ask you, take good care of my daughter.”
“Damn it, if you’re that worried about her, you should have kept her sheltered in the first place!”
Loren was dumbfounded. Next to him, Lapis silently whipped the horse with a bright red face. Loren thought she was too embarrassed to let Aus continued talking, but when he noticed her glancing over her shoulder at Aus and the maids, he leaned into her ears and said:
“You can drop by on the way back, if you want. Since we don’t have to worry about Ritz’ party anymore.”
“…I’ll think about it.”
Lapis answered with an even redder face, and Loren was made to understand that some feelings were the same whether you were a human or a demon. He would suggest Lapis drop by Judie’s castle on the way back.