For a long while now, the former god, Gaius, had intoxicated himself with beer he brought from his old world. He was drowning his sadness and frustrations, for news about the cessation of hostilities between the warring demon clans finally reached him. The demons united under one ruler—with a system of government superior from those of Chersea’s human kingdoms. And, as if to add insult to his injuries, his most trusted servant, Seirna, betrayed him and went to side with the saint, Natasha Bellingsen.
Gaius’ eyes turned towards the skies of his garden, now dark and sullen because of the thick, heavy clouds. His plan to come back as Chersea’s God was in tatters, and his future was uncertain.
“How long will you keep on wallowing in your sorrows, Gaius Julius?”
The former god, brought back to his senses by the speaker, turned towards the direction of the voice. Out from the shadows came a figure of a woman, surrounded by thick, dark miasma. It was his former wife, the Lady Arame, the Seductress of ancient days. “And what do you know of suffering, wench?” he asked, his voice growled as he stared daggers at her. “You stripped me of my divinity!”
“Ah! Ah!” Lady Arame chuckled at his accusations, as she gently wrapped Gaius with her cold, dark miasma. “Correction, my dear husband. I only helped in removing your godhood. If you’re looking for someone to blame for your misfortune, isn’t it your champion Cassandra David who used her powers, bestowed by you, against you?”
“Aagh! Damn it!” At that moment, Gaius could not contain his anger any longer. He hurled the beer can he was drinking, narrowly missing Lady Arame’s head. Those ugly memories of the fight between him and Cassandra David made his frustrations worse.
However, like a faithful adviser, Lady Arame consoled her partner, all the whispering, “It’s not too late, Gaius Julius. The path to divinity is still open.”
“What are you saying? My schemes had all failed!” he muttered.
“Yes, your schemes. The plans that you made are all failures,” the Seductress caressed his face. “However, as I need you, I’ll help you achieve success this time. My failures in controlling my daughter have made me stop and rethink. So, I created my own plans; let me just borrow some of yours and put it on a grander scale.”
“What are you—”
“What do you think of a twelfth Human-Demon War?”
“It’s futile and stupid.”
“All conflicts start as futile and stupid arguments,” Lady Arame countered. “Then, the hot-heads escalate it, and the fools follow their guidance, up to their own deaths. Well, it’s not like I care; in fact, conflicts, deaths, and suffering are a boon for myself.”
“No, you misunderstood me,” Gaius opened another beer can. “I mean, it’s futile and stupid because you’ll be dealing with someone wise and powerful.”
“A wise and powerful enemy, you say?” the Seductress asked, “Are we talking about my daughter, the Human Saint, here?”
The former god shook his head, “You haven’t heard or met that human from my old world, Kuro?”
“Oh? Him?” Arame chuckled. “Alright, let’s say we acknowledge his intelligence. But see, all his ideas came from other people from his land. Nothing new or ground-breaking. Besides, he’s too weak to even fight the lowest of knights!”
“I’m not talking of his prowess in battle, nor the originality of his ideas,” Gaius pointed out. “The mere fact he knows when and where he should apply those concepts is a skill in itself, not to mention, he can convince people to agree to him. Because of his words, he threw my plans off course. I underestimated him; he’s a dangerous opponent.”
“You give this ‘Kuro’ too much credit,” Lady Arame sighed. “Even with all his feats, at the end, he’s still a mortal.”
“Mind you, Kuro is Cassandra David’s teacher.”
“Cassandra David would not be in her place today without your power and my guidance.”
The former god, realizing that he couldn’t win against the determined Lady Arame, shifted his tone, “Well, if you won’t listen to my warning, what’s your plan?”
The Seductress let go of Gaius and took a chair to sit upon. Then she uttered a spell that caused an orb to appear, which showed places and people around Chersea and the four other realms on her whims. She chose to focus on three individuals at that moment: Kuro, Madelaine and Noir. “Listen, Gaius Julius Caesar. This ‘Kuro’ that you speak of sure may be a formidable opponent, and his uncanny knack of convincing people to his side is truly remarkable. But he is still human, and like the other mortals, he has a weakness.”
“Don’t you think I’m already aware of that?”
“I don’t care if you know about it or not. What matters is what you did to exploit his weakness.”
“I tried and failed,” Gaius heaved a sigh. “What makes you think you can do better than me, a former god?”
“Well, tell me, what did you do about his weakness?”
“What do you mean? His weakness is that he’s a ‘magicless’ mortal, right? He only possesses the god-powers, but he’s easy to manipulate.”
“Do you even know what I’m talking about?” Lady Arame never hid her irritated expression and her contempt for the former god. “If Kuro’s so easy to manipulate, then tell me why your plans failed.”
Gaius was flabbergasted; he didn’t expect that from his former wife.
“See? You don’t even know Kuro’s weakness, or rather, his ‘true’ weakness. For short, you’re attacking his wrong side, hence, you wasted your time and opportunity scheming.”
“Alright then,” the former god couldn’t contain his annoyance, “if you’re so wise, what is Kuro’s weakness?”
Lady Arame’s triumphant smile appeared on her lips as she revealed, “A woman’s heart.”
“A woman’s heart,” she repeated. “Of course, a man who’s too fixated on getting back his divinity wouldn’t understand. Nor a former teacher whose goal is to return to Chersea. Indecisiveness is a mark of many men, as far as I observed.”
The former god only threw a clueless stare at Lady Arame. The Seductress, however, was only waiting for that exact moment to explain what’s in her mind.
“My daughter, Madelaine Ann, is madly in-love with that otherworlder. This is the fact that we all know. Coincidentally, the new demon king—under her real identity as Princess Noir of House Usarved—is similarly besotten with this ‘Kuro’. Two greatest leaders of their own people at odds with each other, vying for the affection of one man. Isn’t it a perfect recipe for war? If I’m not mistaken, there’s a similar story in your world about this. A stupid woman kidnapped by a similarly stupid man, launching a thousand ships and causing thousands of deaths just to get her back.”
When she revealed her plans, it’s as if the dark clouds vanished from Gaius’ face. He stood up, excited and shouting, “That’s it! Helen of Troy! This will be Chersea’s Trojan War! And I’ll emerge victorious!”
“Then it’s settled,” Arame stood up and removed the miasma around her body. “I’ll prepare on my side. You get yourself sobered up and do your part to entice these fools into war.”
Gaius, in his sheer excitement, didn’t even bother to reply to Lady Arame’s instructions. Nevertheless, now that they had a clear course of action, the Seductress was confident they would succeed.
After all, if they both fail at this attempt, then everything will be for naught…
***The city of Helfan***
Colorful banners swayed gently along the caress of the warm desert wind. Joyful shouts and merry music echoed as the celebratory mood of the demon people reached its peak. Installed on most windows of every house and establishment was the red, blue, white, black, gold and grey standard of the nascent republic, headed by its demon king-president.
“Long live King Hurion!”
The cobblestone streets of the Usarved city of Helfan were blanketed by flower petals, coming from the grateful residents or the flying undead dragon, Rosita, and her pilot. Everywhere was the portrait of the King-President, Hurion Devras IV, and those who had something to sell were giving stuff for free, in their own way of expressing thanks at the end of the war.
From the balcony of her Helfan palace, Princess Noir of House Usarved observed the revelry below. Though this part of Cherflammen was brighter than the other ‘night’ regions of the demon land because of its moon, it didn’t stop her people from lighting more lamps to accommodate other demon clans coming to their city to join the festivities.
It’s been a week since the ‘official’ proclamation declaring the founding of the Federal Demon Republic of Cherflammen. However, in contrast to the secure, happy mood of her subjects, the backroom of Princess Noir’s new government was still in disarray. Tensions were running high as two factions emerged: the ‘Federalists’, or those advocating the inclusion every major clan in all ministerial positions, and her own supporters, who argued that only those who proved ‘faithful’ to her cause should be given political favors and responsibilities.
At the forefront of this were her trusted advisers, the human ‘special scholar’, Greg ‘Kuro’ Santos, and her chamberlain, Lady Shevaun Ilkes. For several days after the ratification of the new republic’s constitution, they’ve been meeting with the representatives of both sides, trying to reach a compromise. To the human ‘special scholar’ and the demon chamberlain, the two groups had made their points; but if the demon king-president showed favor to one side, the risk of another armed conflict could return.
And so, the initial solution was to give Princess Noir’s supporters and critics equal number of ministries to lead. However, Shevaun objected to such plan, arguing that only the Biorno clan opposed the alliance, and going by the ‘equal ministries’ route could end the Biornos gaining significant power and influence than the rest of the other demon clans. It was a dangerous arrangement, they concluded.
Second suggestion was the ‘proportionate’ distribution of ministries between the ‘federalists’ and the supporters of Hurion Devras. Princess Noir was quick to shoot down this proposal, as it would give the Biornos, and her other critics, the impression that they were being limited to only a few positions in the new government.
Then came in another idea: fill all ministries with members from both factions, with the demon king-president’s supporters the ministers, and the ‘federalists’ the deputy ministers. Kuro, reminiscing his memories from his own world, immediately objected. He brought up examples of similar arrangements of governments back in his world that led to bloody civil wars later on, as the deputy ministers felt discriminated and knew they held no actual power.
“The key is to make your opponents feel like their opinions matter, while limiting their power and influence,” he said, citing a book titled, ’48 Laws of Power’.
“…” Princess Noir could only shake her head in exhaustion. She never thought that heading a ‘republic’ involved a lot of politics, compared to just being a king. In contrast to the former, a sovereign held all the governing powers alone; any opposition to his decisions could be solved by quick military action. But then, she also surmised that absolute kingship was about to become obsolete, as more demons were becoming literate, thus they were aware of their rights and what a united crowd could do against a tyrannical monarch. The recent war was proof of her thought, as the last vestiges of her father’s reign was being shed by the demon clans.
An upgrade of government is long overdue.
In the end, Kuro pulled concepts from the suggestions put forward. He told her to identify which ministries were vital to her consolidation of power, to which Princess Noir said were the army, education, information, industrial and agriculture ministries. The human scholar then directed her to fill those positions with her most trusted supporters, as any dissenting opinion in these parts of government could endanger her hold to power. To the posts of ‘lesser’ importance, she could fill them with both of her critics and supporters, with some of the opposition filling the leadership positions to make it appear that everyone was involved in governance.
“This is politics,” Kuro argued when Princess Noir balked at the idea. “You’ll have to be practical, or your idealism will spell ruin for everyone.”
And so, with that plan, the human scholar and the demon chamberlain met with the faction leaders and explained the arrangement. According to their arrangements, the army ministry went to the elder of the Tambara Clan, the Lord Naru, to make it appear that the army was ‘impartial’—as stated in their draft constitution. But, as the Tambara clan sympathies lay with the Usarveds, there’s no doubt on who held the real power behind one of the most important pillars of the state.
The education ministry, whose duty was to ‘educate’ the young for the future, ended under the Lord Benedetto Gracchio’s guidance. Though nominally a Biorno, the incubus head scholar proved his loyalty to Princess Noir, through her favored ‘adviser’, the Lord Greg ‘Kuro’ Santos of Arles. Lady Capaldi remained the co-head scholar of the Conclave, alongside the former and the new Biorno clan lord, so that the ‘three head scholars’ system would be the standard of demon schools from that day onward.
The industries ministry was assigned under one of the goblin elders, as their knowledge of production and management of factories was well-known in Cherflammen and beyond. Initially, the position was assigned to the Lord Tenguri of the Goblins; but he refused the honor, for he and his family had been vocal supporters of the Usarveds through the human special scholar. Still, even the ‘federalists’ had no qualms about that decision, for they knew how efficient a goblin-run factory could be.
The agriculture ministry was given to the Lord Vitalis of the Ghouls, tasked with food security. Of course, though others often overlooked the importance of agriculture, the availability and abundance of food was vital to the image of a secure, confident republican state.
In connection to that, the expertise of the Usarveds in news gathering and dissemination let them acquire the information ministry. The ‘federalists’ made little objections to the last two appointments; one raised the argument that the ghouls were not really a ‘major’ clan (thus, they couldn’t be counted upon), and another was concerned about the Usarveds wielding too much power. But in the end, they didn’t pursue their cases further than airing their disagreements; Kuro thought that these people might’ve yet to learn the devastating power of food security and propaganda. Nevertheless, just to be sure, he wouldn’t let his side be caught unprepared, so Kuro staffed these positions with individuals loyal only to the demon king-president.
Even with all the ironing out of the final agreements and planning, there were still minor dissent aired from both sides. Princess Noir, annoyed and exhausted in dealing with the petty quarrels, was discreetly asked by Kuro and Shevaun to leave the room as they dealt with the dissenters, and the meeting dragged on for long, up till the hour before the long sleep.
Princess Noir took another look at the celebrations below. Honestly, with all that had happened, she was thinking of dropping her responsibilities for the moment and just take it easy. However, with Kuro and Shevaun doing their best to strengthen her government, she thought that it would be improper for her to enjoy even a minute of break.
“Whew, that was freaking long!”
“!!!” Princess Noir’s thought were interrupted when she heard Shevaun’s voice, entering the room behind the balcony. Following behind was Kuro, his frowning face showed what he just had to endure in that meeting. “Let me guess,” the demon king-president said upon seeing his sour reaction, “the clan leaders reached no consensus.”
“Well, on the contrary, we have an agreement,” the demon chamberlain revealed. “But, they have a lot of petty demands and counter-demands, the Lord Greg nearly flipped the table in the war room in rage.”
“That’s a heavy one, made of oak, right?” Princess Noir chuckled. “And to think, they pissed off a person like the Lord Greg…they’re really stubborn, no?”
“Hey, even as I’m trained to deal with children, my patience is limited,” Kuro replied. “And these clan ‘elders’ are just large-sized kids going on a tantrum!”
The demon king-president and her chamberlain laughed and gave the human a pat on the back. Then, Princess Noir said, “Thanks for your commitment, Sir.”
“No probs,” the human answered. “But really, I’d like a break, or better yet, a long sleep!”
“Well, I’ll excuse myself and prepare your bed, milord,” Shevaun bowed and was about to leave when…
“Hold up!” Kuro called out to her, “On a second thought, I think I’d like to go to the town celebration.”
“Huh? But you just said—” the chamberlain stopped mid-sentence and, upon glancing at her mistress, smiled. “Understood. I’ll prepare Her Highness’ clothes.”
“Shevaun,” Princess Noir tried to keep a poker face, but her small quivers betrayed her excitement, “just a casual set of clothes, please. Thank you!”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Shevaun left in a hurry.
When they were alone, Princess Noir called out to her former teacher, “Sir…?”
“Thanks for accommodating my selfish desires.”
Kuro, though his eyes were heavy, smiled and nodded. After all, as he intended to return to Chersea, he had to deal with the Usarved princess’ insecurities, and reassure her that he could be trusted to come back in Cherflammen someday.
The celebration of the city of Helfan reached its peak by the time we arrived from my palace. As we wanted—I mean, I wanted—to go incognito, we just walked from the palace grounds to the city plaza and slipped into the middle of the jubilant crowd.
All of this is made possible by Shevaun’s help in disguising us.
“Sir, if you’re tired, we should go back instead,” I offered to my companion, the Lord Greg, when I saw him fighting back his sleepiness.
“No,” his eyes wandered around, as if looking for something. “A cup of coffee is all I need.”
“But, you just—”
“Don’t worry about it,” he winked. “It’s not like I’m not used to situations like this. Back in my old world, I drank drum-loads of coffee to stay awake and focused whenever I have to do tons of paperworks.”
“Sir, this is different from clerical stuff though,” I tried to reason. “The demon nobles you have to contend with are difficult.”
“Well, it’s true,” he replied. “But then again, when I was a teacher, I dealt with even worse people. Heh, your nobles are a more agreeable bunch, than those guys back in my world who loves to play god the moment they are entrusted little authority.”
I hadn’t noticed it at the moment, but a wry smile formed on my lips, “Looks like you went through a lot, Sir.”
Then, the Lord Greg finally found a stall selling drinks. However, much to his disappointment, he found no coffee being sold, so he settled for a potion that gives energy.
“So this is like the energy drinks from my place,” he was amused while checking the bottles, “I’d buy two.” Then, the Lord Greg stopped and turned to me, “Would you like one too?”
I shook my head. Still, the Lord Greg bought something for me.
“I’ll pay you for it,” I grabbed my pouch to fish for some coins, but he quickly stopped me.
“Call me Noir,” I furiously whispered, worried that we might get caught. “Or they may recognize me!”
“R-Right,” he chuckled as he gave the drink he bought. “No-chan, it’s on me.”
“H-Huh? Who’s No-chan?”
“Ah! Just some weaboo stuff in my world.”
“It’s a long explanation,” he replied. “In any case, instead of calling you by your name, Noir, I think No-chan for a nickname is better if you intend to disguise yourself from being the recognized as the demon king-president.”
“Hmm…I like it.”
“That’s too cliché of an answer,” the Lord Greg laughed, before saying, “Well, drink that and don’t bother about my money. It’s my decision to treat you, you know? Are you going to preserve that for eternity?”
I nodded, “Why not? This is another thing you gave me! There’s nothing wrong in taking care of something your loved one gave to you!”
“But it’s meant for drinking, lady!”
Another round of laughter. The Lord Greg bought some food too, and we sat by the roadside as we watched the revelry.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to preserve the food,” he said, half-joking.
“What if I said yes?” I replied.
“Then I’ll just have to buy you some more until finally eat those!”
“Sir,” I stared at him, “are you trying to make me fat?”
“You want to?”
“You’re giving me lots already!” I protested.
“You say like I’m always giving you many things,” the Lord Greg commented.
“Isn’t that the case, Sir?”
“Eh, don’t try to sweet talk me, miss!” he chugged down another bottle of energy potion in one gulp.
“Sir, come on. I’m serious.”
Then the Lord Greg fell silent. Perhaps he was thinking of my words as we sat by the roadside, eyes wandering around the happy crowd, eating and drinking. Well, it’s the truth, anyway.
“Sir, you’re my first human friend, you know?”
He just nodded.
“And, uh, you may think of it as trivial, but our first meeting in Fen gave me the idea that not all humans have prejudice against us demons.”
He was still silent that I worried that he might’ve fallen asleep. However, I saw him staring into the plaza, watching the festivities. Then, when he realized I was quiet, he stopped on what he was doing and looked at me, as if expecting something else. So, with him listening, I continued,
“Do you know Sir? We demons don’t believe in your enslavement ritual called marriage. For us, as long as both demons have the desire for each other, then it’s okay for them to be together.”
“Yeah, Lady Ilkes told me about that.”
“Of course, it’s not always the case,” I reiterated. “In your culture, if someone is taken against his/her will and is forced to make love to his/her captor, isn’t that punishable?”
The Lord Greg was silent again.
“However, for us demons, we may abhor the person and the act, but in the end, we’d only see it as natural. The strong devouring the weak. That’s all.”
“Yes sir. That’s why, you know, I believe—when you rescued me—you gave me something not even my human mother can give; that is, my freedom.”
I guess we’re silent for ten minutes or more after I told the Lord Greg of my sentiments. I just sat beside him, munching on the food he bought for me, while he was on his fifth bottle of the energy potion. The crowds before us were restless, as the band playing the music suddenly its lively tone into that of a slow, romantic one. The demon boys started looking for young ladies to bring to the dance.
“S-Sir?” I thought that he must’ve been wanting me to join those guys without him.
Without a word, he placed his hand on my head and gently caressed my hair. Then, he said, “Know what? I treat you as my student.”
“Y-Yes…sir,” there’s a little pain in my heart when he said that, though I already knew how the Lord Greg looked at me.
“And, if I destroyed my life for the first time just to save a student, I won’t hesitate to do it again for another one.”
“Sir…please value yourself more. You’re not the only one hurting when you hurt yourself.”
“Nah,” he turned and smiled at me, “that’s more of a rhetorical statement. Just to emphasize how great the lengths I’m willing to take to protect my students. Still, I just want you to know that, be happy with your life and yourself. See, we can’t change the past, but we can still save and fix the future. Remember that is in your heart and actions that makes you ‘dirty’ or ‘tainted’, not the acts done to you by another person.”
“Then…Sir…” I took a deep breath before I continued, summoning the courage in me, “…w-will you…as a man, accept me as a woman who loves you?”
The Lord Greg then said, “You’re my student. A teacher can’t possibly love his students romantically.”
“Let’s remove that part. If your world has rules like that, then this is Cherflammen. It’s not applicable here.”
He paused for a moment, before heaving a sigh, “You know I love the Lady Madelaine…”
“I don’t care!” I pointed out. “Demons have their own customs, different from humans. You’re even the king of the Beastman Queen! Then why won’t you accept my feelings?”
At that point, the Lord Greg was quiet. Perhaps he was pressured by my questions, so I guess I should rest this issue for now. However…
“Lady Noir, don’t you ever think of yourself as unattractive,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Damn it! Don’t make me say embarrassing things,” the Lord Greg chuckled. “Alright, let me be clear. I’m having a difficult time controlling myself, you know? It’d be hypocritical of me to say that I’m not attracted to you; you’re a beautiful lady yourself! And I don’t fucking care if someone else got your ‘first’, if I can still have you.”
“Then, why don’t you—”
“I respect you. As such, I don’t want you to rush things just because I helped you before; I mean, if you truly love me, then it’s fine. However, I’d like you to consider your feelings first, milady. I’m not underestimating your love, but I’ve seen a lot of people decide things based of feelings alone,” he cut me off. “And I have a promise to Lady Madelaine to marry her first. I try to keep my promises.”
Warning: Strong language