12.0 Candela_Chapter 3: Zugzwang

There was a knock on my door. I shuffled my papers and put them in a neat pile, grabbed my cup of tea and raised it to my mouth.

“Enter.” I sipped my tea.

“My lord, the report from the Ministry of Agriculture has arrived.” said my secretary Delin, as he handed me a brown file.

I sipped my tea and read the file.

Yield of staple crops increased by 240%. Land reclamation in the Alderan Wastes is in the second phase. Research in fertilizers and pesticides is showing promising results with three new chemicals ready for testing. More funds needed for development of farming machinery with Air Kingdom mechanics. Need authorization for importing necessary food supplies from Holy Union.

I put down my half-finished tea and wrote my orders.

Proceed to stage three of land reclamation. Begin testing chemicals on isolated land samples. Ministry of Finance will be directed to release funds to the Air Kingdom, however, insist on our own engineers joining their team.

I chewed on the tip of my pen. It was true that we were making progress in Agriculture, but the Dusk Alliance just didn’t possess enough arable land. We were almost wholly dependent on the Holy Union and specifically the Light Kingdom, for our food supplies.

Although I didn’t like the fact they controlled our food, I knew that it was also true that the Dusk Alliance was far wealthier than the Holy Union. The technology of the Air Kingdom, the resources of the Earth Kingdom, and the mercantile expertise of the Dark Kingdom ensured that the Holy Union could not afford to cut off trade with the Dusk Alliance, since that would cripple their economy and prevent crucial raw materials and technology from reaching their cities.

I tapped the desk with my pen for a while before continuing.

You may import necessary supplies from the Holy Union, however, utilize our connections in the LeAgua Company to ensure a good deal.

I signed the letter and put it in an envelope which I sealed with the Demon Lord’s official seal. As Delin left, I leaned back in my chair and sighed.

Being the Demon Lord is boring. It’s totally a desk job. Well, it does have its perks.

I got up and opened the door behind me. I climbed the staircase behind it and entered a small room full of books. I spent most of my free time here, researching magic and learning the history of this world. Surprisingly, it seems that the people of this world vaguely remembered the time when they were characters in the game, and refer to it as the “Haze.”

I also learned that after nearly a thousand years of research and experimentation, they managed to create their own skills and magic. Magic, in particular, has been developed to a frightening extent.

After spending some time poring over books and writing some theoretical variations of skills and magic, I went back down to my office and started signing papers again.

There was another knock on the door.

“Enter.”

“My Lord, the delegations from the Air and Earth Kingdoms are here.”

I nodded, got up from my seat and followed Delin down the hallway to a large conference room. Inside sat a bald, middle aged man wearing a gray suit and an old, white haired lady wearing a yellow dress.

“Greetings Your Majesty, I am Duke Felity of the Air Kingdom. It is an honor for me to finally meet you, my lord.”

“Your Majesty, Countess Gratif humbly congratulates you on your safe arrival. You have certainly breathed new life into our Alliance. You have brought us great prosperity in such a short time. I pray that you live long and bring us even more glory.”

I raised a hand to stop their praises and sat down at the head of the table. The bald man sat on my left and the old lady sat on my right. I instructed Delin to cast sound blocking magic around the room and guard the door.

“Your Majesty, here are the designs for the new transport system you commissioned. Based on our estimates, we can connect the Demon Lord’s Castle with Latup and Fugard within a year,” said the Duke as he handed me a blue file.

“My Lord, the shipment of rare stones and minerals that you requested has been prepared, however, there might be a slight delay due to unexpected rains causing a landslide on the transport route. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and will reduce the cost by five percent as compensation,” said the Countess as she bowed her head.

I nodded to her and she raised her head. I read the report, nodded and signed it. I tweaked the design a little so it would be more aerodynamic, and passed him the blueprints for what was essentially a magic powered train.

I then sketched a rough design for a digging machine based on my understanding of air and earth magic and passed it Duke Felity, who reviewed it and promised to show it to his team of engineers back home.

I nodded towards the delegates and stared at them before leaving. Delin followed behind me as I made my way back to my office.

Collecting reliable intelligence was tough enough in my situation but collecting information on the hero was even tougher. All I knew was that the hero was slightly unusual and was getting stronger at an astonishing rate.

As soon as I learned that she was getting stronger, I felt the urge to attack the Union with everything I had. I quickly resisted the urge by convincing myself that my course of action was superior. And once I went through everything in my head, I realized that that was indeed true.

Delin came inside, informing me that my intelligence agents had been unable to recover any information about the hero or the deaths of the previous Demon Lords.

As Delin left the room, I climbed up the stairs to my magic research room and scribbled a few more experimental magics before I sat down on the floor and took a deep breath.

I guess I’ll have to go there after all…

I opened the large obsidian doors decorated with skulls and snakes. Inside was a large hall full of wooden benches facing a stage that had an altar and a statue on it; a statue of a little, black haired girl wearing a flowing black dress and sporting a mischievous smile.

Yep, she fits that annoying voice perfectly. Or is it the other way around? I thought.

“Ah, do we have a visitor?” said a voice from behind me.

I turned around.

“Your Majesty! Welcome to the Dark Goddess’ shrine. How may I assist you?” said a young priestess in dark robes.

“Bring me to the oracle,” I said, not even glancing at the girl. I didn’t care for these minor characters.

“Yes my Lord, your wish is my command, however, the oracle is in the middle of a ritual right now. She should be done in a few minutes. I apologize for the inconvenience, my liege.” She bowed.

“No matter. Lead me to her.”

“But the ritual-”

“It’s fine, I won’t disturb her. I’m just a little curious about this ritual.” I met her frantic eyes. “Lead the way.”

She flinched at my gaze and hurriedly started moving down a small, dark corridor lined with torches. Strangely, these torches didn’t give off any smoke nor did their flames flicker.

Just as I began analyzing the curious torches, the priestess stopped outside an old wooden door at the end of the corridor. She stood outside respectfully so I went ahead and opened it myself.

I walked in just as the door closed behind me, submerging the room in darkness. I turned around and pounded on the door but it didn’t budge. In fact, a slight itch crept up my hands. As if they had been hurt by…

Magic!

I hurriedly cast Dark Wall, surrounding myself with walls of darkness just as I explosions rocked the floor beneath me. The explosions continued as the walls were pushed back, pressing me between them.

What is this? I have to get out!

I raised a foot as if I was going to take a large step, and a shadow appeared under it. I stepped into the shadow and disappeared just as my Dark Walls finally crumbled. I reappeared a few feet away.

“Oh, so you’ve already learned Void Step? It was within my calculations but it is surprising nonetheless,” said a calm voice from above.

“Azoth? I thought you’d at least wait for another year.” I replied, just as calmly.

“You were expecting it?” asked Azoth.

“Of course, it was obvious. You were constantly monitoring me, restricting my access to information and were looking for the opportunity to kill me. You suspected I’d involve us in a bloody war against the Union.” I didn’t know where he was, so I spoke while facing the ceiling.

“Precisely. I must say, it is truly regrettable that I must kill you. You’re the first person I’ve met who has stimulated my intellect so much.”

“I feel the same way.”

“Really?”

“Yes, it is regrettable.”

I suddenly turn around and fire a void ray in the direction of the voice before stepping into my shadow again. Something zapped over my head, incinerating some of my hair.

Fuck that was close! Wasn’t that Light magic? I have to gather more information…

As I stepped out of the shadow, I managed to see what was around me in the light of the white beam of energy that had yet to dissipate.

I stood in a circular stone pit, surrounded by a raised platform that ran all the way around it. On the platform stood several figures that I recognized.

My ‘secretary’ Delin, the head of my intelligence team, Duke Felity of the Air Kingdom, Countess Gafit of the Earth Kingdom, the other members of the Ministry and of course, standing at the end of the white beam that almost incinerated me, was Azoth.

There was also an old lady in black robes who I assumed was the oracle, as well as a few figures I didn’t recognize.

“Well,” I said, facing Azoth with a smirk. “Since you have me surrounded anyways, why not turn on the lights and let me have a final chat? I think I deserve at least that much after all I’ve done for this place.”

Azoth raised his hand. I tensed, ready to escape with void step.

“Illuminate,” he said, as a small orb of light floated out of his palm towards the ceiling.

I smiled. “Good. Well, I should probably congratulate you on a job well done. In fact, I still don’t understand how you did it. I confirmed what you said about the people of the Dusk Alliance being unable to betray or harm me and I know that you’re not with the Light Kingdom because they would have conquered this place a long time ago if everyone here was on their side. So tell me Azoth, who are you?”

“I am just a man who wants to end these meaningless wars.”

“Then we can end them together, can’t we? I promise not to go to war, I’ll conquer the Union through economic and political means.”

“I’m sorry Runir, but we both know that’s not possible. Socio-political or economic conquest cannot work in this world ruled by Fate. And you will not be able to resist Fate either. No one can.”

“But you did, didn’t you? You killed the last twenty-three Demon Lords.”

“Twenty-one. It was only when two consecutive Demon Lords died in the forest that we managed to setup a system to execute the Demon Lords.”

I met his gaze. “And that system is this pit? You’re going to bombard me with magic? I expected something more refined from you Azoth.” I chuckled.

“It may be a little crude,” he said, unperturbed by my taunt. “But it has proven extremely effective. These formations will prevent you from escaping.” He gestured towards the symbols carved into the walls of the pit. “I am sorry Runir, but this is goodbye.”

“Well, I guess there’s no helping it. Although you still haven’t answered my question. The Demon Lord is summoned every ten years, and you speak as if you yourself have killed the last twenty-one Demon Lords. You’re obviously much older than you look, and your allegiance is unknown. So I ask again, who are you Azoth?”

“Indeed. It really is a pity that I must kill you. I almost feel as if we would have been quite close if Fate hadn’t interfered yet again. In respect to our friendship, I will tell you this much. I was not born in either the Dusk Alliance nor the Holy Union, and although I have pledged allegiance to the Dusk Alliance, it is only to prevent bloodshed and violence.”

“You’re being pretty violent right now though.” I sneered at him.

He smiled. “True.”

He closed his eyes and opened them a moment later. “I believe that concludes our chat. Goodbye Runir, I hope that Fate is kinder to you in death.”

All the figures around the pit prepared their magic and a rain of magic fell from the sky. Azoth himself fired a scorching red beam from his mouth. I stood there, facing their magic attacks as they sped towards me.

I closed my eyes.

“Ah yes, Fate. Well…”

I opened my eyes and grinned.

“Screw Fate!”

“Screw Fate!”

The words echoed around the pit, drowning out the sounds of magic.

The ground trembled.

Azoth frowned, a slight sense of unease pricked at the edge of his mind.

As the dust settled, the others heaved a sigh of relief as they saw a charred corpse in the middle of the pit. They started congratulating each other and a few went down to inspect the corpse.

But Azoth didn’t move. The uneasy feeling in the back of his mind remained.

Even when they confirmed that the pieces of cloth found around the corpse belonged to the demon lord Runir, and even when Azoth told the oracle to proclaim that the demon lord had mysteriously died yet again, he still felt uneasy.

But he couldn’t figure out why.

He was standing on his balcony again, staring into the distance just like on the day when he had first met the Demon Lord. He turned around and saw a chess board in the corner of his eye.

The uneasy feeling intensified. He walked closer to the board and knelt on the ground.

 

Azoth had lost their last game, because Runir had unexpectedly sacrificed his queen to ruin Azoth’s positioning. His pieces had been scattered and Runir had ruthlessly pressed his advantage from there, cornering Azoth’s king in a few moves and forcing a checkmate.

Azoth hadn’t bothered to clean the board, but when he stared at it now, his stomach twisted into a knot. He walked away from the board and went out to the balcony again, staring at the horizon.

The board had been cleaned and all the pieces removed, except for one.

The queen.

The hot summer wind made it very difficult to breathe under the dark hood that covered my head. I turned and stared at the castle that lay far off in the distance

I was sure that Azoth was probably standing on that stupid balcony again; perhaps he was looking in my direction right now?

“Well played Azoth. Let’s call this one a stalemate, shall we?”

I turned away from the city and smirked inside my head as I disappeared into the trees.

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