Palmyra braced herself at the neigh of her beloved horse.
She could see goblins gliding erratically from in the forest from her saddle. They might not have been in rank since the beginning. The goblins who were dressed in plain clothes instead of military uniform were scurrying aimlessly.
It was Ryu Giroku.
Draco had discovered another trap that she had left unattended. The <Succubus Princess> Palmyra, had devised many strategies to attack Alunaha, but Draco had already discovered some of them.
“The assassination attempt too… Well, the plans haven’t been successful.”
The tide had changed.
All because the dark elves were following the <Dethroned Crown Prince>. That clique, who have honed their skills under the Great Demon Kings of the past, knew all about the shapeshifters’ tricks. They had thwarted all her schemes against Draco and Ri Gudang.
They were as cunning as hawks and as persistent as snakes.
Dark Elves spies have always thwarted their opponents in this way and protected the Great Demon King House. They probably still intend to protect the Great Demon King House. It was all about the bloodline to them they protected Draco since he was part of the Great Demon King House.
Palmyra bit her nicely shaped claws and gazed at the pitiful goblins. They noticed her and waved their hands asking for help as if she should help them.
Palmyra ordered her subordinates to protect them. She also provided water and food to the goblins who had fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs. That alone was her treating them kindly.
Shapeshifters hate goblins.
Well, not just goblins.
They hate all demons and monsters who have a fixed form, since they have something that the shapeshifters can never obtain even if they wanted to.
Palmyra has been alive for 800 years.
She was beautiful to the eye and wasn’t mentally weak. Only a god or a dragon was older than her, but she had never been revered.
Because shapeshifters were ‘created’.
They were the brainchild of a Great Demon King from long ago.
He created demons that can be stuffed into boxes to protect his treasures. The first 27 demons with soft bodies were made through old magic. The survivor of those 27 was Palmyra, the demon named guardian.
She was treated as a lowly demon even though she was given cursed blue blood that contained wisdom and mana. She was only given the role of guardian of the treasury. Day after day, she simply waited for something to come.
When they were created, they were put aside and left to ‘do their own thing’.
Mimics are incomplete as a species and their numbers inevitably dwindled.
Palmyra devoured a woman after 100 years had passed and was the only one that remained. The faint, semi-transparent and blurred woman may have been an Evil God or something.
That was her second birth.
Palmyra gained the power to change into a human and was able to duplicate herself. Then, after yielding thousands of her species, she changed their name to shapeshifter.
A being created to do nothing but wait for its prey. Her cursed origins drove her to madness.
She schemed and made everything dance in her palms; she did this more on instinct than to live.
But the end was near. She had a nagging feeling that things were coming to an end for the past 50 years or so. Her newly duplicated children began to develop deformities. They were unable to take human form and posses little intelligence and mana. They were just like the former guardians.
Their life as a species was coming to an end. She didn’t know whether that would be in 100 years from now or in 200 years. Perhaps they would die in 10 years, or conversely, they might last 1,000 years.
They would only return to their former state. These 800 years have been a dream.
But the <Succubus Princess> Palmyra couldn’t stand it.
She killed all her brethren who had become small and ugly. The number of strong and noble shapeshifters was dwindling.
She suddenly remembered the handsome boy she had seen at a social gathering.
She wanted to conquer him.
She wanted to make that handsome boy, who had the blood of the accursed Great Demon King, grovel at her feet, and she was willing to sacrifice everything to do so.
It was supposed to be a game; a little piece of entertainment to add colour to her degenerated days which were slowly perishing, but she became fascinated and attracted to him before long. She was certain of this when she heard that he had a tie with Ri Gudang who had even called an evil god.
She waned him.
Palmyra was moved by her own desires for the first time in 800 years.
That was why she had departed for the frontlines.
Leading the march was 1,000 elite shapeshifters. They were the <Succubus Princess’s> trump card. The more people think that a schemer only uses schemes, the more the schemer’s military prowess becomes the best trick. This was the <Succubus Princess’s greatest plan.
These shapeshifters weren’t for show, they were 1,000 of the best. There was no way for Palmyra to recover if they lost, but she believed that it was impossible to lose with this elite force.
Ri Gudang from the east, the bandit horde from the north and herself from the west.
How would the <Dethroned Crown Prince> respond to these forces which were coming at him from these three directions? He would have no way of dealing with these overwhelming forces no matter what plan he cooks up with the dark elves.
Her heart was pounding.
She couldn’t wait to see the <Dethroned Crown Prince>. She wanted to burn the image of him being defeated and in anguish into her brain. Hence, she must gather information about Alunaha.
I gave brief instructions to welcome the goblins. Everything would make sense in a short while.
I sprinkled plenty of salt on the rice and steamed potatoes.
Taibanka had already begun trade and information gathering mainly with the demon ‘River Crossers’ while building a camp here. He immediately eyed salt which tended to be in short supply in Alunaha and potatoes which grew poorly in Walbolt, and immediately used a portion of the army’s provisions.
“Some soldiers don’t like the sweetness of cooked rice, but it is better than starving.”
Yoshinaga-san wanted to eat along with me, but I called Taibanka to join us. I didn’t have time to enjoy my offerings right now.
Yoshinaga-san went somewhere since she was sulking, so having breakfast with Taibanka was more like a meeting.
“Is the trade going well?”
“――― It is very difficult. Currently, we are only able to do business with demon tribes who have crossed the river and are living in small numbers and with the human tribes we are on favourable terms with.”
“Is it because of what we’re trading or because of the scope?”
“I am not satisfied with either. For example, salt is traded at a high price in Alunaha and the castle towns around the Red Forest of Jonan, but the amount of salt that can be brought by the river crossing merchants without the humans knowing to avoid the salt tax can’t satisfy demand.”
“I thought so. The price of the goods may go down if we flood the market with it.”
It wasn’t like they didn’t get any salt in Alunaha at all. The price was always stable because the minimum necessary amount of salt was supplied to Alunaha. It was difficult for a price fluctuation to occur when the quantity is limited and only a fix amount was being provided in the market. The price of salt only fluctuated a bit when the salt traders come.
But when a small amount of salt from the Walbolt Plains is brought in, it becomes an ‘object of trade’. If salt merchants were to buy or sell out of fear of a price collapse before a stable supply could be secured, then the price could skyrocket.
“And also, the horses. We need more horses for Draco-sama’s army.”
Taibanka may look like a petty officer from the outskirts, but he was general in charge of the expeditionary force. I guess his mind would naturally go towards what benefits the military.
Horses. Draco’s army was sorely lacking in cavalry. A military centred on infantry units would be convenient as long as the battlefield was in the dense jungles of the Red Forest or on narrow roads.
But Draco must march northward since he wanted to be the Great Demon King. This means, that there will be a demand for horses.
“There is a human tribe called the ‘Warrior Clan’. They have a large quantity of salt and horses and are looking to sell them.”
“I have already heard about them from a River Crosser peddler, but could we really trade with humans?”
Taibanka stared straight at me as he toyed with the bowl of boiled medicinal tea. There was something different about the General’s eyes compared to the unconditional respect Draco had when he looked at me. Perhaps he thought differently about Evil Gods.
Draco saw me as someone who existed together with him, but Taibanka looked at me as someone who might bring him benefit. I guess that’s the common way to treat evil gods.
It was like visiting a shrine only when you want to wish something.
But personally, I felt more at ease with a business-like relationship, since I spent more time as a salesman for a cutthroat black trading company than I have as an evil god.
“Right now, the ‘Warrior Clan’ are at war with the ‘Church’.”
Taibanka crossed his arms without answering. I felt his eyes were twinkling a lot.
“They will lose if they fight on an open field. The ‘Church’ is a bad match for the ‘Warrior Clan since they fight mainly with cavalry. But they also can’t hold a siege since they don’t have any reinforcements.”
“Are you saying that a siege with no hope of breaking through is like a slow suicide?”
“Yes. And even if they win, they’ll be surrounded by places under the influence of the ‘Church’. Walbolt is on the eastern edge of the Human World. If the ‘Church’ takes over everything to the west of here, then there will be no salt or horse sellers left. They will eventually have no choice but to yield.”
“――― But reinforcements will be hard to come by.”
Taibanka commented as he leaned forward while listening. I was interested in this since it will meet both Draco and my needs if the plan success. The establishment of trade and reducing the ‘Church’s’ influence. These should be attractive proposals.
“Hirano-sama. The demon warriors are brave. It is said that our physical strength is superior to the humans’ strength. I have no qualms about going up against them alone.”
“Are you telling me it would be difficult to have a united front?”
“Honestly speaking, yes. It is shameful for me to say this to an evil god, but my heart tells me that it is impossible.”
I had expected this response.
This was a gamble. I moved the black stone while surrounded by white stones. The only thing I could count on was the grey stone. There was nothing more frightening than risking everything.
“But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I know that.”
Taibanka put down the bowl.”
“So, Hirano-sama, I would like to speak to the ‘Warrior Clan’ directly.”