72 – Drinking Tea Together

──The night the meeting with Princess Sophia was successfully concluded──

 

I was sitting in the garden of General Reisenga’s mansion, drinking tea in a daze.

 

In the hall, a party had begun, celebrating the meeting’s success.

It commenced with an address by Demon Lord Rukie, after which the participants were free to do as they pleased.

 

General Reisenga and his soldiers could be seen drinking and enjoying themselves.

I recall catching sight of Chancellor Kelve making rounds earlier as well, trying to ensure that they didn’t drink too much.

 

Mabel and Agnes went to the kitchen, in the corner of which a space for the pixies had been arranged.

Rukie had instructed me to thank them for the work they had put in this time.

 

Soleil, Rene, and the other pixies were enjoying fresh food and sweets there.

Mabel and Agnes must be eating alongside them.

 

I participated in the party for a short while, gathered some food and tea, and moved outside.

I wasn’t fond of parties.
I didn’t have pleasant memories regarding them.

 

However, I’m able to handle them better now.
Perhaps I’ve matured.

Before, I would have simply escaped to my room and started practising alchemy.

The Demon Territory was helping me mature.
Yes, that’s definitely it.

 

 

“I didn’t realise you were here, Thor.”

 

 

I turned around and found Rukie standing there, illuminated beautifully under the moonlit sky.

Her body was covered by an elegant black dress, her face hidden behind her mask.

 

“I thought you might have returned to your room and begun researching alchemy, but I see that you remained in the vicinity of the party.”

“I intend on staying until the party comes to a close.
I might also be called upon.”

“Fumu.
You said that you didn’t want to participate in the party last time.
You’ve matured.”

“I believe so as well.”

“… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound sarcastic… May I sit next to you?”

“Of course.
Please do.”

I pulled out a magic cloth from my [Ultra-Small Simple Warehouse] and laid it on the chair.

Rukie removed her mask and took a seat next to me.

“Is it fine for you to remove your mask here?”

“I don’t mind.
There’s no issue as this place is obscured by the trees.
It can’t be seen from the venue.”

“But, wouldn’t it be a problem if someone came here?”

“I’ve asked the guards to clear the area.
There’s no problem.”

 

Rukie accepted the teacup I offered and laughed.

 

“I’m the Demon King, so I occasionally employ people for my own personal interests.
Hmph.”

“Certainly, it’s only natural for Your Majesty to do so.”

 

I nodded.

 

“Today, Rukie-sama defeated a giant centipede in the blink of an eye.
I wish I could have witnessed Rukie-sama’s fight from a closer location.
It is natural for Rukie-sama, the Demon Lord, to be powerful, but it’s a pity that I missed the chance to see you in all your glory.”

“Don’t reply to my light-hearted statement with a straight face! You’re embarrassing me…”

“I’m sorry…”

 

It couldn’t be helped.
It’s true that Rukie is awe-inspiring when she fights.

 

“I know you’re speaking honestly, but…”

Rukie covered her face as she stated that.

She told me to shift my gaze for a while, so I took a piece of baked cake from my plate and nibbled on it.

“Speaking of which, the people of the Empire stated that they would take responsibility.”

Princess Sophia stated that she was fully responsible for the centipede incident.

“It must be for her, as she has just recovered.”

“…… I see.”

“I’m not inclined to allow someone who, until just recently, was being patronised by everyone around her and pushed to bear the blame.”

“I heard it was her subordinate’s outburst that provoked the giant centipedes.”

“However, we can’t hold that subordinate accountable for her actions at all.”

 

Rukie and I talked without reservation under the gentle moonlight.

Rukie took a sip of her tea and then said,

 

 

“The most suitable solution is to request that Princess Sophia’s side contribute more capital for the trading post.”

“The prospective trading post near the border?”

“Yes.
The tents and road maintenance will require a lot of capital.
It will probably be necessary to jointly finance it.
In that case, we will ask them to contribute more than our side.”

 

I see.

That was one way of bearing responsibility.

Certainly, that would make it easier for Princess Sophia’s side to justify providing funds for the project.

The development of the trading post would benefit the people of the border region.

 

“The allocation of responsibility will end up being about 30 percent and 70 percent between the Demon Territory and the Empire respectively.”

“That seems reasonable.”

“If we negotiate further, we may be able to decrease it to 20% and 80%, but we are going to be trading with them.
If we reap a one-sided benefit, our reputation will plummet.
This is where we should settle the matter…… And…”

“”

 

 

 

“I’m also going to place a request for some parts of the giant centipede.”

“That’s great.”

“We’re going to discover where it came from.
I’ll share some of it with you, Thor, if you want.
Well, only if you insist-”

“I insist!”

“You’ve got to learn to be slightly less blunt!”

 

She chided me.

 

“Honesty is one of your virtues, Thor, but you should at least make an attempt to negotiate… I fear for your future.”

“I’m sorry.
I was just thinking that it could be used as a material for alchemy.”

“Well, you’ve done well this time, so I’ll give you some.”

“Thank you very much, Rukie-sama.”

 

I forgot to thank her before.

I bowed deeply to Rukie.

 

“The talk with Princess Sophia concluding successfully was all thanks to Rukie-sama.”

“…… Why are you thanking me?”

 

Rukie tilted her head.

 

“You are no longer a citizen of the Empire.
You are my subject.
You are my person, my subordinate, and a citizen of the Demon Territory.
Why are you thanking me for the Empire benefiting?”

“I’m not thanking you because the Empire benefitted.”

“Is that so?”

“To be quite honest, I wouldn’t mind if that country was destroyed.”

“Don’t say such a thing.”

“I won’t say that in front of the people of the Empire.”

 

Rukie knew what I had suffered from.

I wasn’t intending on stating such a thing in front of the people of the Empire.

That’s why I could state what I truly thought here.

 

“Well, if the Empire is actually destroyed, uncontrollable chaos will spread as a result, so I don’t want it to reach that point.
I just want matters to continue peacefully.”

“I see.”

“I offered my thanks because, on account of Rukie-sama, I now know that there are respectable people in the Empire as well.”

 

I took a deep breath before kneeling in front of Rukie.

Then, I looked up at her face.

 

“It was due to Your Majesty employing me as an alchemist that I could meet Princess Sophia.
I was able to realise that there are people in the Empire who don’t detest me.
I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for Your Majesty.”

“Thor…”

“So, I sincerely offer my thanks, Your Majesty.”

 

I bowed my head once more.

 

“Ah, but that doesn’t mean I’ve fallen in love with the Empire, you know? I hate the country itself, and I especially despise my father.
But…… I think I am now spending slightly less time reliving my time in the Empire…… and hating the fact that I was born in the Empire.
Just slightly less.”

“I see.
That’s great then.”

 

Rukie used her slender fingers to stroke my head.

 

“If what I did made you feel better,…… then I’m glad to hear your words.”

“U-um, Your Majesty?”

“Don’t move.”

“……Yes?”

“Stay where you are and come a little closer my way.
Place your head on my lap.”

“Uh, Rukie-sama?”

 

No, I can’t do that.
We don’t know who’s watching.

 

“You know, Rukie-sama, if anyone saw this…”

“Uu, shut up.
Then you have no complaints with this, right!?”

 

Rukie pulled out her cat [Onesie] from her [Ultra-Small Simple Warehouse].

She unzipped the back, placed it on me, and gazed at me with satisfaction.

 

“Now you’re just a cat.
What’s wrong with a cat being on my lap?”

“…… No, no, I can’t.”

“Nyan.”

“…… Rukie-sama? Your Majesty?”

“Nyan!”

“…… I understand.”

 

I conceded.

There was no way an alchemist could win against a Demon Lord.

 

“…… Like this?”

 

I approached Rukie and leaned against her knee as she sat on her chair, my head slightly crumpling the dress that covered it.

 

“Umu, yes.
That’s good.”

 

Rukie ruffled my hair.

Twice… three times.

She repeated the action, her touch extremely gentle.

 

“Thor.
I hope you live longer than anyone else.”

“…… Rukie-sama?”

“Much longer.
Long enough that most of your life will be awash with the time you spend with me in the Demon Territory.”

 

Rukie whispered in my ear.

 

“Then, the time you spent in the Empire will be but a brief moment in your life.
You won’t even remember it.”

“I’ll do my best.
In any case, I intend on being buried in the Demon Territory.”

“Yes.
You have my word.”

 

Rustle.

Rukie’s small hand slowly moved back and forth over my hair.

 

“Speaking of which, I have a favor to ask of Rukie-sama.”

“Umu, I agree.”

“But, I haven’t said anything yet?”

“You’ve made a big achievement this time.”

 

Rukie whispered in his ear.

 

“The reality is that the Demon Territory made contact with Princess Sophia because of you.
As a result, the Imperial military exercises were canceled and a trading post will be constructed near the border.
It was on account of the pixies and items you created.”

“I am an alchemist directly serving Your Majesty the Demon Lord.”

I looked up at Rukie’s face as I responded.

 

“My job is to create items and provide them for use.
I was just doing my job.”

“You’re lying.
You make items mostly as a hobby, don’t you?”

 

Rukie laughed.

 

“Enough of that.
Tell me your request and I will grant it.”

“About the [Special Luck Ring] I gave to Rukie-sama…”

“Yes.
Mabel has one as well.”

“Actually, when Princess Sophia met Mabel, she thought it was an engagement ring.”

“…… Really?”

“Princess Sophia returned directly to the town of Nosa, so I was unable to correct her.
However, if it turns out that it is not an engagement ring, there will be many complications.”

“…… Princess Sophia wishes to be betrothed to you.
In that case, in order for Thor to remain in the Demon Territory, it would be better for Mabel to remain as your fiancée.
However, if we tamper with the engagement ring, the other side may come to doubt us…”

“As expected of Rukie-sama.”

“………… Umu.”

“Why are you turning away?”

“It’s nothing…”

“That’s why, about Rukie-sama’s ring…”

“You won’t ask me to return it, will you?”

A smile was present on Rukie’s face, but her eyes weren’t smiling.

She was holding my shoulder with one hand while staring at the hand with the ring on it.

“A-aside from the engagement ring situation… You gifted this magic item to Mabel and myself… You can’t just take it back because it’s no longer convenient for you……”

“I won’t say that.”

“…… Eh?”

“I’ll only ask for it in order to add additional functions to it.”

 

I can’t make a true [Special Luck Ring] yet.

That’s why I decided to incorporate additional functions into it.

I intend on making the rings distinguishable at that time.

That way, Princess Sophia won’t assume that Rukie and I are engaged.
Probably.

 

“…… I-if that’s the case, then it’s fine.
Here.”

“So, Rukie-sama, what features would you like to add to the ring?”

“Any recommendations?”

“If we consider something small and highly effective, perhaps a [Security Buzzer]?

“…… Rejected.
Something else would be better.”

“Specifically?”

“You’ll have to guess.”

“That’s too difficult.”

“Listen, Thor.
We are going to accompany each other for a long time, aren’t we?”

 

Rukie stared at my face with her large eyes.

 

“I think you should develop the ability to understand my intentions while you still can, don’t you? What do I want? Th-think about what function I would want added to the ring, Thor.”

“I understand.”

 

I nodded.

In that case, I’ll think about it.

Functions suitable for Rukie’s ring, what Rukie would want.

Yes, I’m starting to enjoy it.
It’s becoming enjoyable.
Let’s do it.

 

“As the alchemist serving Your Majesty, I will create the ring Your Majesty desires.”

“Heh.
Thank you, Thor.”

 

Rukie ruffled my hair once more.

Then she placed her hand on my head.

 

“However, don’t push yourself too hard, there’s no rush.”

“I’ll be fine.
I’ll create the greatest ring for Your Majesty, as well as the magic sword.
I want both to be matchless, so I’ll take my time.”

“I’ll return to the castle now.”

 

I could see Rukie’s beautiful eyes, glistening under the moon’s rays.

She continued to stare at me.

 

“Got it? Don’t stay up all night while you’re out of my sight, become engrossed in research without eating, trick Princess Sophia into using light magic to test the [UV-Cut Parasol], or anything of the sort.”

“…… Yes, Your Majesty.”

“…… Why are you averting your gaze?”

“…… It’s embarrassing.
Your face is too close.”

“………… Uu.”

 

Rukie’s face flushed.

 

 

“Nyan.”

“No, you can’t transform into a cat by pulling the hood over your eyes.”

“If neither Thor nor I tell anyone what happened here, it will be as if nothing happened! That’s all that matters!

“Right.
Nothing happened…”

 

I was lying on Rukie’s lap right now, staring at her face up close…… Yeah.
Nothing happened here.
If the Chancellor found out, he’ll surely become angry.

 

 

“The party is about to end.
Let’s return.”

 

Rukie extended her hand.

I stood up and took hold of it.

Rukie also wore her mask.

This time, she organised negotiations with the Empire and eliminated a huge demonic beast.
Still, Rukie didn’t seem to be ready to remove her mask.

I guess the position of Demon Lord is an extremely weighty position to both her and the Demon Territory.

What can I do for Rukie?

 

“I think I can further improve the [Improved Body Pillow] and make it easier for Rukie-sama to take vacations.
I can extend the operating time to 24 hours, and I can also make it use Rukie-sama’s [Intimidation] skill.”

“What are you thinking of, Thor?”

“I’m considering what will be of use to Rukie-sama and the Demon Territory.”

“I understand.
If it’s for the sake of improving it, I can embrace it for a few days.”

 

Rukie removed the [Improved Body Pillow] from my [Ultra-Small Simple Warehouse].

 

“If so, I, the Demon King, will test it out.
If you want to improve my [Body Pillow], you will need my input.”

“No, that may be true, but…”

“I’ll be taking this [Body Pillow].”

“…… Um, Rukie-sama.”

“I’ll let you know my thoughts on it before I return to the castle.”

“Please don’t be reckless, Rukie-sama.”

“It’s because I’m the Demon Lord….”

 

And so, the [Improved Body Pillow] that I had in my possession became Rukie’s.

After that, I pulled Rukie’s hand and returned to the party venue.

The party ended on a grand note, and I returned to my room with some leftover snacks.

 

I was thinking about Rukie’s ring while browsing through the [Mail Order Catalogue].

“…Ha.”

 

I began feeling drowsy.
I think it’s time for me to head to bed.

The bed…… Oh well.

 

Oh, Mabel didn’t come.
I thought she would stop by after the party.

I wonder if she is with Agnis.

I passed by her earlier.
She was clutching her [Health Enhancement Pendant], her face coloured a bright red.

I wonder if they were holding a slumber party as childhood friends……

 

“Benefactor-sama, If you’re going to sleep, please sleep on the bed.”

 

Soleil’s voice rang in my ear.

But, I’m sleepy.
I’m sorry, Soleil.
I’m going to sleep like this.

 

“I came to give you a message.
Mabel-sama is going to be in Her Majesty’s room today, together with Agnis-sama.
It’s for Her Majesty who will be returning to the castle……”

 

Soleil’s voice faded away.

As I listened to her words, I recalled the item I had given to Rukie earlier, but…

 

But, I couldn’t overcome my drowsiness…… and fell asleep.

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