Having led a group of merchant ships there, Patrice was now meeting with an official of the Lustral Unified Government at their spaceport.
The two individuals shook hands.
“You must be Lady Patrice of the Newlands Company. We’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”
“The feeling is mutual.”
The Unified Government was actually a collection of democratic states.
Unlike the Empire, they didn’t partake in the feudal system.
Greatly relying on artificial intelligences in comparison to their imperial neighbors, they had a plenitude of humanoid weapons, but no knights that piloted them.
From the perspective of the Unified Government, the Empire was nothing but an anachronistic relic.
And yet an official from said government welcomed Patrice’s arrival with open arms.
Guided by the civil servant, the merchant was led to a room set aside for negotiations.
Stepping into the space revealed not just the officials of the Unified Government, but politicians and soldiers of the nation as well.
“So many faces gathered in one place.”
At Patrice’s words, the soldiers made bitter expressions.
Standing by the merchant’s side as her bodyguard was Marie.
(Even a general came for this deal? Is their situation really that desperate?)
As Patrice took her seat, Marie remained standing diagonally behind her.
The official who led them here then started the meeting.
“We’re short on time, so let’s review the details of the transaction with haste. Regarding our continued trade in the future–”
“I can’t promise that will continue, actually.”
At Patrice’s declaration of intent, tensions began to rise among the citizens of the Unified Government.
They tried to belittle her importance by saying that they were in a rush, but it seems they’d actually be quite cornered without her business.
“…may I ask why?”
“These products I’ve brought were actually prepared by Count Banfield, and he’s reluctant to lend his support without good reason.”
Hearing those words, one of the soldiers present slammed their fist down in anger.
“–please wait! …my apologies, you still don’t understand the situation over there, do you?”
The surroundings were holding back the military men that were losing their temper.
After making sure they were quelled, the official then began explaining the circumstances behind their country’s current civil war.
“Among the countries associated with the Unified Government, there’s been an alarming increase in those wishing to break off and start their own independent intergalactic nations.”
That in and of itself wasn’t unusual, even the Empire had similar incidents appear every once in a while.
They were suppressed easily enough, but the same couldn’t be said for the Unified Government.
“If a dictator comes to power and declares independence, we’d immediately put them down, but if a democracy starts advocating the separation, we won’t have any grounds to intervene.”
If their opponent ruled with an iron fist and military might, the Unified Government would quickly move to crush them under the excuse of freeing the land from a tyrant.
However, a democratically elected politician calling for independence was another story.
This was because they were a leader chosen by the people themselves.
Patrice listened to the story with amusement.
“This is quite different to how things work in the Empire.”
“…yes. In any case, the nations advocating for independence have banded together and have declared war on the Unified Government.”
Listening to this conversation, Marie could feel the pieces slowly falling into place.
(Does the Empire have a hand in this? No… is this due to someone in the Empire interfering?!)
“The ships they use have been modified, but we’ve been able to confirm that they’re of imperial origin.”
At the image projected into the air, Marie immediately identified which weapons factory built the vessel.
(This is– the work of the First Weapons Factory? There also seems to be some influence of the Second Weapons Factory mixed in there as well. It’s even a new model…)
It was a ship model from the factory that sided with the Berkley Family during the proxy war.
Apparently, the scattered forces of the Pirate Nobles have flowed into the Unified Government.
(They couldn’t have escaped on their own. Only someone of the upper echelons of the Empire could have allowed this to happen.)
Patrice studied the hologram with great interest.
“So you’re saying that the Empire is lending its support towards the nations that are trying to break off from you? It’s no wonder you’re all so cranky… still, don’t take it out on me, I’m just a merchant. Besides, my patron– Count Banfield, hasn’t declared support to your enemies.”
The official nodded in understanding.
“That might be true, but the problem remains that our foes are gaining momentum. Our armed forces are spread thinly throughout the various battlefields, unable to consolidate their power. We’re on the verge of collapse.”
And that wasn’t all– the enemy was equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and had swept through war zones with ease.
Hearing that, Patrice then asked, “…do you know the identity of the individual supporting them?”
Making a troubled expression, the official then answered, saying, “Nothing has been confirmed, but the most likely culprit is… the Imperial Prince Linus. To be precise, we have information over here that suggests his involvement.”
Blazing with excitement, Marie’s eyes opened wide at these words.
(This is what was bothering Lady Rosetta earlier! Even so… this is getting interesting.)
Patrice let out a small sigh.
“…His Highness Linus, huh? Well, let’s begin negotiations for the goods I’ve brought in first, shall we?”
◇ ◇ ◇
The ships of the Henfrey Company had arrived at the United Kingdoms of Oxis.
As individual intergalactic nations, they were quite similar to the Empire in how they followed the feudal system, but together the kingdoms convened in republican politics.
Thomas had done business in the United Kingdoms before, and was using his connections to meet with one of their nobles.
The pipe-blowing aristocrat revealed the inner workings of his country to Thomas.
Of course, this was only after the merchant had paid the man a large sum of money.
“The Imperial Prince Linus is providing support towards many of the nations that make up the United Kingdom, pushing for their independence. Once he becomes Emperor, he has back-room deals to distribute surplus disputed territories amongst his allies.”
Thomas was surprised at first, but the story made more sense the longer he thought about it.
To begin with, the territory the Empire controlled was vast.
Even if he gave out a few scraps, the prince wouldn’t be burdened in the slightest.
In the first place, the land he’d give away would originally belong to the nobles that didn’t side with him– as in the lands that Linus didn’t have much influence in before ascending.
“The partners he’s worked with in the United Kingdom are gaining momentum. Skirmishes and other armed conflicts within the country are on the rise, so everyone is scrambling for supplies in response. We’ll buy a lot from you, so give us a discount, would you?”
Towards the aristocrats who– of course, asked for cheaper prices, Thomas responded that he’d accept if they could provide him with information.
“Do you know which countries His Highness Linus is supporting?”
“–it’s hard to say, as to what the individual rulers themselves and what their nobles want may not exactly align. For example, the country I serve has agreed to cooperate with the prince, but I personally don’t agree with it.”
Thomas couldn’t trust the noble’s words.
“–His Highness Linus is moving quite aggressively, don’t you agree?”
“From the perspective of the United Kingdom as a whole, these dealings will provide us with backing and additional territory. We would benefit greatly from Prince Linus inheriting the throne.”
The aristocrat spoke as if he wasn’t involved.
However, he did seem quite troubled.
“Until now, the influence of the Empire has never been able to reach us to such a degree. Considering the timing of all of this, it doesn’t seem like the skirmishes are going to end any time soon.”
Thomas was then further pressured by the aristocrat who claimed to be short on funds.
◇ ◇ ◇
The Imperial University.
As I listened to the lecture, I sent a side-glance towards Wallce– who sat next to me everyday.
“…you really shouldn’t be drinking every night until dawn.”
Though I said that, this universe had an astoundingly advanced level of medicine.
There were treatments among them that could easily cure hangovers, enough that you could even take them every night in replacement of baths.
But even before that, our strengthened bodies should be able to filter the alcohol easily enough.
Wallace’s addiction was more of a mental problem.
“Get off my back. I’m going to be killed soon anyway… they’ll send assassins after me, and I’ll be another person that ‘got sick’ before disappearing. Haha… just like every other member of the royal family…”
Honestly, I was getting sick of his pessimistic attitude.
“I’ve already assigned you a protection detail, so relax already.”
“The royal family has a long and dark past. During that time, a number of special assassination groups were created. You might be strong, Liam, but you should realize that there are opponents out there you can’t beat with strength alone.”
They were special operation groups born for the darkest of reasons.
Hmm… I guess I should send more funds to my own guards as well then.
While I tried consoling Wallace and his depression, I was notified of some urgent reports.
I quickly checked them, finding that they were sent from Thomas and Patrice– who were currently active abroad.
In addition, there was also a document from Marie there as well.
According to Thomas’s report, there was evidence Linus was moving in the United Kingdom of Oxis.
So it’s that guy yet again.
But more importantly, in the United Kingdom…
–I loved the idea of an evil nobleman willing to sell out information on his allies to us!
Wanting to stay connected with such people, I instructed Thomas to maintain a healthy relationship with them.
However, since we had Linus as an enemy, I also told him to lend ample support to any of the nation-states that were against the highly-ranked prince.
Patrice’s report explained that a call for independence was rising in the Lustral Unified Government, with Linus supporting that motion.
That guy’s name was popping up everywhere, it seemed.
From an outside perspective, the Empire would gladly support any nation moving to become independent, as it would weaken their enemy, but Linus had already made it clear that we were enemies, so it was only natural that I’d lend my support to the Unified Government.
Without even the slightest feelings of patriotism, I had foregone the greater good of the Empire in pursuit of my own selfish grudge. Seeing how corrupt I’d become was almost scary.
I could really feel how I was growing as an evil lord.
Marie’s report was next.
Her document was filled with nothing but nonsense.
“What the hell? Who told her to send in a conspiracy theory for her report?”
Marie’s letter stated that the various incidents in the surrounding countries weren’t started through imperial intervention.
The Empire has a history of meddling with the affairs with other nations.
So it wouldn’t be surprising at all if that was the case here as well.
However, this report stated that the timing just didn’t match up– saying that the Empire had only joined in afterwards. Implying that something was moving behind the scenes to sow discord among them.
What else could this be other than a conspiracy theory? It’s utter nonsense.
This was a universe stuck in perpetual fighting and war.
All these incidents happening at the same time was just a coincidence.
To say that someone was actually working behind the scenes to cause all of them is just… no, wait.
There was one possibility.
Just as my conflict with the princes had begun, mysterious movements started in the neighboring countries.
Blocking my mouth with my hand, I just barely stopped myself from shouting out in revelation.
I could already feel myself grinning.
When things moved almost too conveniently for me– there was only one person who could be behind it all.
That’s right, the Guide!
“What’s wrong, Liam?”
The former prince looked at me with a tired face, so I flashed him a refreshing smile.
“Rejoice, Wallace. My victory has been confirmed.”
“…are you still half-asleep?”
Not understanding how serious I was, I smacked him in the back of his head as punishment.
◇ ◇ ◇
At a dimly lit, high-class bar.
Well-dressed women were currently waiting on Liam, pouring him drinks and the like.
Near him, Wallace was crying as he drowned himself in alcohol.
“GOD DAMN IT!!!”
He was trying to drink his problems away.
“Wallace, we’re finally at a high-class establishment, you should enjoy it more.”
“But I can’t enjoy it! I can’t enjoy it at all!”
Horrified by the threat of murder, Wallace could do nothing but lose himself in liquor.
As an individual born into the royal line, he knew better than anyone how sophisticated assassination had become amongst his family.
What happened to the group that worked in the Empire’s darkness during their most turbulent era?
There was a long period of bloody conflict between the overgrown imperial family of two millennia ago.
And the group that had worked actively behind the scenes during that time was betrayed by their master– the emperor of that time, and petrified in stone.
Standing up from the table where Liam and Wallace were making a commotion, one woman left towards the bathroom.
After making sure the room was empty, she then pulled out a needle from her purse.
“…what a stupid man. Did he really think he could survive with just the strength of his sword arm? There are plenty of ways to kill someone outside of a fight.”
Having said those words, she began making her way back towards Liam– but a wall of darkness had appeared before her.
Breaking out into laughter, the black wall was actually a giant of a man.
“I completely agree with that opinion. However, I won’t allow such a pathetic weapon to reach that man either~”
The giant man wearing a black robe and mask cackled happily.
His robe swayed, and when the woman tried to raise her voice– she was suddenly gagged by a pair of hands that had reached out from behind her.
Standing there was another woman dressed in a similar mask and cloak.
The masked woman then peeled off the first woman’s face, revealing her true appearance.
The man in the mask– Kukuri, drew himself closer to the woman’s real face.
“Your disguise was lousy as well. As I thought, it seems things have deteriorated quite considerably while we were gone. Such a thing was unthinkable during our time.”
The woman had dislocated her joints and relaxed her body in an attempt to free herself, but she couldn’t get away from the masked woman’s death grip on her.
Her assailant’s skin almost seemed to melt into her body and wouldn’t let go.
All three individuals then slowly began sinking into the floor.
Kukuri watched with fervent interest as the woman futilely tried to resist.
“It could be considered as weakening, but maybe you were just taught different techniques. Hmm… we’ll be sure to question you thoroughly. After all, we have two thousand years of history to catch up on.”
As the woman tried to make one last attempt at escape, the masked woman knocked her unconscious.
“…so this is the darkness that serves the current emperor?”
Kukuri answered the masked woman’s question in a troubled manner.
“Hasn’t the quality deteriorated? Well, it’s possible that they were just trained in a different way than we were. We’ll learn the truth eventually. Oh, and you should take this person’s place at Lord Liam’s side for now.”
Stopping herself from sinking into the floor, the masked woman’s body began to change, shifting into who their captive was before.
She then grabbed onto the original’s head, casting a spell.
The first woman began to quiver as bubbles foamed at her mouth.
“…it seems that was all she was worth. She didn’t have any important knowledge or skills in the slightest.”
With his subordinate having read the woman’s memories, Kukuri couldn’t help but drop his shoulders in disappointment.
“I never thought they’d send such a useless person for Lord Liam’s life. Well… I suppose it’s fine. Now then, I guess I’ll take my leave.”
As Kukuri sank into the ground with their captive, the woman then removed her mask, her clothes shifting in an instant.
That’s when she heard the footsteps.
It was a male staff member.
“Catherine, hurry up and come back already~ Today’s customers are special, and I don’t want to upset them~”
The woman replied to the male staff member’s call with a catty voice, slightly irritated at his words.
(The character this person was playing was a headstrong woman, so my answer here should be–)
“I know that! Just give me a second!”
“Geez, you have such a sharp tongue~”
Once the male staff member left, the woman followed soon after, making her way over to Liam’s side.
Brian( ・ω・) “No~ Not Catherine~!”
Written by Mishima Yomu/Wai (三嶋 与夢)
Translated by KuroInfinity at slothtranslationsblog.com