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Genjitsushugisha no Oukokukaizouki - Volume 16 - Chapter 10




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 Chapter 10: Shedding Tears

That night, in Valois...

I had taken off my uniform and changed into a shirt before taking a broadcast call with someone.

“Fuuga has sent an envoy accepting the ceasefire,” said Liscia on the other end, looking relieved.

“I see. We can relax for now then.”

She was currently with Excel, leading the main body of the Friedonian National Defense Force that had landed on the west coast. If we’d used our shipping capacity and the Empire’s transport network to their fullest, they would have arrived here sooner. However, though we’d announced over the broadcast that the Friedonians were the Empire’s allies, we were still a force of more than 10,000 foreign soldiers appearing out of nowhere. The towns and villages along their route were no doubt trembling in fear. We had to be considerate of that, which slowed them down a little.

If Imperial citizens decided we were an enemy they had to resist, it would lead to unnecessary casualties. In order to prevent that, we had to send people ahead to explain the situation, calming the citizenry as we advanced. That limited our march to a cautious speed.

“Still, I expect we’ll be there sometime around tomorrow. But don’t let your guards down until then.”

“Yeah. I want to see your face soon too, Liscia.”

“Hee hee, thanks... Wait, now’s not the time to think about me.” Liscia leveled a finger at me from the other side of the broadcast. “Souma, you need to be with Madam Maria now... I’m sure she must feel crushed—like you were that day.”

“Yeah...”

Although we’d made it through the current crisis, Maria was staying shut up inside her room. Her fate, and that of the Empire, rested on negotiations between Fuuga and me. While the Empire wouldn’t be destroyed outright, they were the defeated party in a war. I couldn’t even imagine what a defeated empress like Maria must be feeling right now. Liscia was likely worried she might try to take her own life again...

“I told her off for it, so I don’t think she’ll throw herself from the balcony again...” I said.

“It’s still more than one person can bear on their own. The only one who can be with Madam Maria right now...the only one who understands the burdens she was bearing...is you, right? You’re the one who can protect her heart.”

Of course I would, I thought. I had every intention of trying to help Maria. “But what can I do...?”

“Go and spoil her.”

“Spoil...her?”

“Do whatever she wants you to. Madam Maria’s been shouldering a nation all by herself this whole time. As a fellow woman, and as a fellow royal, I respect her. So, just...set her free. Accept her wishes, her loss, her desire, her regrets, and her pain. As your first primary queen, you have my permission to do whatever you have to do.”

“Ha ha ha...” Liscia sure was amazing. I needed to prepare myself. “Okay. I’m going to spoil Maria absolutely rotten.”

I headed straight to Maria’s room as soon as I wrapped up my talk with Liscia. Outside Maria’s door, there was one dratrooper who I’d left to guard her, and one Imperial guard. I greeted them quickly, then stood in front of the door, steadying my breathing before I knocked.

“Madam Maria, it’s Souma. May I come in?”

“Sir Souma...? Please do,” came Maria’s voice from inside the room.

I opened the door and entered. My first impression: it was dark. The candles were unlit, and there was only pale moonlight shining in through the window. I was glad it wasn’t cloudy tonight. If not for the moonlight, it would probably have been too dark for us to have a proper conversation.

Closing the door behind me, I looked around at the expensive-looking furniture and other decorations. Overall, the tone of the room was light and feminine.

Maria was standing by the window. When I walked close enough that we could see one another’s expressions, she smiled faintly at me.

“...This reminds me of the time we met in Zem.”

“Now that you mention it...the moon was bright that night too.”

Maria chuckled. “Yes. And we made a promise under the moonlight. That’s why you’re here with me now.”

“I’m still not sure...it’s something to be happy about though,” I said with a shrug.

◇ ◇ ◇

That day, when we first met in Zem, in exchange for the Empire’s help with the (then) Nine-Headed Dragon Archipelago Union, Maria proposed that I promise her something in exchange. At the time, it had been something that seemed unthinkable.

Here is what Maria said...

“If at some point in the future...the Empire looks like it may break apart, I intend to split it without hesitation.”

I was taken aback. I doubted my ears, and could say nothing in response.

Not letting my reaction stop her, Maria continued.

“Our country has grown too large. The population is too great for us to handle. I’ve accepted my position as the head of the Mankind Declaration up until today because I understood the necessity of a powerful nation as an emotional support in the confrontation against the Demon Lord’s Domain... But now, the Kingdom of Friedonia is firmly established as a powerful nation in the east, and Sir Fuuga’s faction has been rising as well. The era in which people relied on the Mankind Declaration to keep them going is drawing to an end.”

She shook her head.

“No, that’s not it,” Maria corrected herself. “It’s an old, ossified system that needs to be done away with. If all that remains in the hearts of my Empire’s people is their pride in being the head of the Mankind Declaration, that’s not a healthy place for us to be. I can’t allow blood to be shed over pride. To that end, I think I am going to begin making preparations.”

Maria’s eyes were filled with conviction as she spoke.

“In order to cut off the hard-liners who obsess over how the Empire was once the greatest of all nations and want to get proactively involved in dealing with the Demon Lord’s Domain, I will slowly gather them in the north by moving their domains there. That will make it easy for them to separate from the Empire when they give up on me.”

“You’re going to make them exercise the right of self-determination?!”

“Yes. The hole in the Mankind Declaration that you taught me about, Sir Souma. Because the declaration respects the right of cultural and racial groups to self-determination, we have no way of stopping them from leaving. The rules say we’re not allowed to. I will have them ‘take advantage’ of that.”

I held my head in my hands because I realized Maria was serious about dismantling the Empire. The breakup of a great power and the shifting power balance among countries in the vicinity—that was sure to cause great waves that would swallow up the nearby countries. It was guaranteed to have an effect on our country too.

I’ve gotta prepare, I thought urgently.

Then, in a quiet voice, Maria said, “I have a request for you...when that time comes.”

“A request?”

“Yes. When that happens, the Mankind Declaration will be no more. The Empire will cease to be the strongest nation, and I believe it will be difficult for us to sustain the state on our own. Even once it comes to that...I still want to protect those who believe in me. I want to dismantle the country, not destroy it. So, when the time comes...”

Looking resolute, she stated her request.

“I want to form a non-secret alliance with the Kingdom.”

Overcome with various thoughts, I managed to muster, “You shouldn’t say ominous things like that...”

“It’s important to prepare,” Maria said with a laugh.

I was surprised that there was a leader who could prepare for that sort of thing. It gave me a new appreciation for her as the person who had supported the dignity of that great nation all by her lonesome.

At the same time, I realized she had reached her limits and was reaching out to me in search of salvation.

“Okay...” I said, taking her hand.

I felt both the rational desire as a king to prevent the collapse of the Empire and its effects on my country, as well as a personal wish to save the woman I saw in front of me. They both had the same answer, so I felt no hesitation.

“If that time ever comes, the Kingdom will do as you wish.”

“I have faith in you, Sir Souma.”

That was the promise we made.

◇ ◇ ◇

“The Empire broke...” Maria said.

Hearing her, I came back to my senses.

She spoke of the breakup of the Empire like someone who was disappointed their favorite mug got broken. But...I knew better than to assume that the way she was talking was the same as how she felt inside. She’d been wearing masks all this time. The mask of the empress of the greatest nation in the world. The mask of the leader of the Mankind Declaration and all mankind. And the mask of a saint who was kind to everyone, yet her heart was always breaking.

No matter how she wished to be a single, ordinary person, those masks had stalked her everywhere. At times she used them, and at times they used her. To the point she’d forgotten what her original self was truly like.

Maria smiled softly as she continued.

“I’ve spent a long time preparing so this day could come. I took those who wanted me to be a saint, those who wanted to take proactive steps towards the Demon Lord’s Domain, those who blindly worshiped me, and concentrated them in the northern regions. I did it slowly, so they wouldn’t notice. It even included Sir Krahe, who would have given his life for me, and Jeanne’s former friend Lumiere.”

I listened intently to her words.

“I made it easy to cut them loose. So that when my powers were no longer enough, I could let go of those lands and reorganize the Empire into something easier to rule... No, it can’t be called an empire anymore. I can finally let go of the title of empress.”

With a smile that could have been read either as wryly amused or as self-mocking, Maria put a hand over her chest.

“Still, now that it’s come to this, my emotions are swelling up. Despite wanting to cast it aside all this time, sometimes I even desired to just break it outright. Now that it’s broken though, I feel pathetic. I’m overcome by a sense of regret I didn’t expect to feel. Heh heh... I’m such a hopeless ruler.”

“Madam Maria...”

I walked closer, saying her name. But she continued talking.

“Heh... The truth is, I feel terrible for getting you, the Kingdom of Friedonia, and even the rest of the Maritime Alliance caught up in this. I’m sorry, but I have to count on you to look after things from here. I know you can be a healthier ruler than I was—one who the people won’t turn into an idol. So...”

“Maria!”

I grabbed her by the shoulders and looked directly into her eyes, as if to say, “Look at me.” Although she had been smiling as she spoke, she hadn’t been looking at me at all. It seemed she’d killed her heart to the point where she couldn’t see the face of the person she was talking to.

“Ow...! That hurts.”

The smile that had been plastered on her face twisted with pain. I’d finally torn that mask off her.

I squeezed harder. Her arms were so slender that even my grip—which, despite all the training Owen had given me, was little better than a common grunt’s—was painful to her. Yet still, these slender shoulders had been supporting the weight of a massive nation. How much of a toll must that have taken on her heart?

“That’s enough, Maria...”

Something flowed from my eyes, down my cheek. The next thing I knew...I was crying before she had.


Maria stared at me, taken aback. Of course she would be. She was the one who really wanted to cry, but I’d beaten her to it.

“Sir...Souma?”

“That’s enough, Maria. You don’t...have to hold it in anymore.”

The next moment, a large tear rolled down Maria’s face. She touched it, overcome with surprise, and then looked down at her own hand.

“Ah...”

Her face, so composed before, scrunched up.

“Ah... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

She cried out loud.

Once I released my grip on her shoulders, she tried repeatedly to wipe the tears away. But that was impossible. She gave up, and instead buried her tear-stained face in my chest.

I gently embraced her delicate body.

◇ ◇ ◇

The day my father died, I, Maria Euphoria, became empress.

During my father’s reign, the distortions in the nation caused by past emperors’ policy of expansionism had fueled unrest, leading the Gran Chaos Empire to enter an era of decline. Father was a temperate man, so he likely didn’t mind that. However, with the emergence of the Demon Lord’s Domain, people looked to our declining Empire to become the flag-bearer of mankind, and our authority began to recover. This led to the combined forces of mankind launching an incursion into the Demon Lord’s Domain...and their utter defeat.

Father was grief-stricken at the thought of all those who died, and it ruined his heart, his body, and ultimately took his life. Even so, I inherited a massive empire. Those were dark days.

The towns were full of voices of uncertainty... Refugees driven from their homes with nowhere to go. Those living on the border worried they would be next. Rulers suspicious of one another. Friction with the refugees, and my own people struggling with the poor economy.

“What’ll happen now...?”

“There ain’t nothing we can do. The attack on the Demon Lord’s Domain was a bust...”

“It’s only gonna get worse from here on.”

They all hung their heads, none of them able to see a bright future.

Those with some degree of affluence, fearing it would be taken away, were unable to show compassion to others. That left the refugees, the poor, and the other downtrodden of society to suffer. It was an era without hope. I wanted to do what little I could to change that.

First, I set up the Mankind Declaration, serving as the chief signatory to the pact, and showed the world that things were not going to get any worse than they were. At the same time, I used my position as the empress of a superpower to keep other countries in line, preventing wars between all the other nations of mankind. I wanted to be the hope that would allow people to raise their heads.

As I did all of this, the expansion of the Demon Lord’s Domain led to the pressure from monster attacks to be distributed more widely. That created a stalemate, and the Empire and other countries began to calm down. Then, as calm returned, they came to call me the Saint of the Empire.

While I was pleased to have become a source of hope for people, I was hated by the Lunarian Orthodox Church as a result. Still, I had accepted that.

Donning the mask of a peaceful ruler, I smiled at them harmoniously. The rulers, who, despite their wariness of my country, requested our assistance and looked for any opportunity to take advantage. The impoverished people, longing to be saved from their miserable standard of living. My own retainers, ossified by their pride in belonging to the greatest country and calling for revenge against the Demon Lord’s Domain... I had to act so that all of these people would see me as a good ruler.

The only one I could show my true self to was my sister, Jeanne. I would go to her room, sit by her bedside, and chat with her about silly nonsense as she looked at me in exasperation.

“Jeanne...I’m tired. Can I borrow your lap as a pillow?”

“Oh, for goodness sake. And you act so dignified in front of everyone else...”

Despite her sighs, she would always relent and let me rest my head in her lap. Thinking back to it now...I may have been wearing a mask even then. The mask of Jeanne’s undisciplined big sister.

I acted that way to keep Jeanne from worrying, letting her see me slack off so she would think I still had some flexibility. The truth was, I’d actually hit my limits long ago and was only acting the way people demanded of me. I could even play at being a lorelei. But...I had one small sliver of hope: Sir Souma Kazuya, the hero summoned by the then Kingdom of Elfrieden.

I had offered performing the hero summoning ritual to the Kingdom as an alternative because I knew they couldn’t pay us war subsidies. I never thought it would actually work... And I never in my wildest dreams imagined Sir Souma would rebuild the declining Kingdom, annex the Principality of Amidonia—albeit with Princess Roroa’s help—and become the greatest power in the east.

I had finally found someone who could shoulder the burdens of the world with me. Souma, unlike myself, would not become anyone’s ideal. He would keep his eyes firmly set on reality, and would steadily carry out his political vision even if he had to be cruel to do it.

From the time he appeared, little by little, I was able to show more and more of my true self; the Maria Euphoria who was not an empress or a saint, but an ordinary human being.

“You and him are like oil and water... It feels like you two are facing in entirely different directions...”

Come to think of it, that’s how Jeanne saw Sir Souma at first. How did I respond? Hmmm... Oh, yes!

“But if we’re both facing different directions, don’t you think we could eliminate our blind spots if we cooperate?”

That’s what I said. Right, Jeanne? What I said then. What I felt at that moment. Maybe you understand it now?

Having a king in a faraway land, one with a different perspective, who was willing to be my trusty ally. One who’d extend his hand to me as my country fell into ruin and I was on the verge of death. And who, even now, was lending me his chest to lean on as my heart felt ready to tear itself in two.

Do you see how wonderful it is to have someone like that?

“Wahhhhhhhhhh!!!”

I was now shamelessly bawling my eyes out on Sir Souma’s chest. When was the last time I could show my true feelings like this?

Souma gently embraced me as I was, stroking my back.

“I...! I—”

“Yeah...”

“I-I didn’t want to just be nice to everyone!” I stammered as I sniffled. “The truth is, I just wanted to protect those I care about—the people who care about me! I wanted to play favorites!”

“Yeah...”

“The ones I really wanted to protect were the normal people in town...the people struggling in their ordinary lives... The refugees driven from their homelands... I wanted to be their hope! But if I was only kind to those people, I was sure to meet resistance! For the people who wanted me to liberate the Demon Lord’s Domain, to show that the Empire was the greatest nation in the world...I needed to act like I was a good ruler.”

“Yeah...”

“In my heart...I didn’t care about that... If people could live in peace, that was enough for me... But I was forced to wear the mask of the serene and powerful ruler. I...I don’t want to do that anymore...”

“Yeah...I know.”

Sir Souma’s arms tightened around me. I was close enough now that I could feel his heartbeat, and he most likely could feel mine too. It felt like proof I was revealing everything to him.

Sir Souma whispered in my ear.

“The world is stronger now because of all your desperate efforts. The Kingdom of Friedonia, the Republic of Turgis, and the Nine-Headed Dragon Archipelago Kingdom have all come into their own. And, while I know it’s weird to say this about a person who just tried to destroy the Empire, but Fuuga is a great man. The world won’t be destroyed easily. This isn’t an era for everyone to keep their eyes downcast anymore. And the one who led us out of those times...is you, Maria. Never doubt that.”

“Yes...”

Held in Sir Souma’s arms, I turned my eyes up at him.

“But I didn’t do it on my own. It’s because you were out there too.”

“Ah ha ha... I’m honored to hear that. Well, I’ve got allies like Kuu and Shabon, and family and friends who support me. Even a powerful enemy like Fuuga. If any one of those were missing, I don’t know that I could have come this far. So...”

Sir Souma pushed away from me before placing his hand softly on my cheek.

“There’s no need for you to shoulder everything anymore. We’ll carry the burden with you.”

“Sir Souma...”

“I’m powerless alone, but I have all the help I’ll need; family, people, and allies aplenty. There are lots of us to carry the world on our shoulders, so let’s take it on with a human wave attack.”

“Hee hee... You’re pushing it off on all of them.”

Hearing the way Sir Souma talked about it finally brought a smile to my face.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. In my country, our style is to delegate things to people we can trust to do them. So...” With his hand still on my cheek, Souma smiled softly at me. “You can do what you want from now on too.”

Those words smashed all the masks I’d been wearing all this time.

The burden fell from my shoulders, the tension faded, and I even felt like I was floating weightlessly in the air. I must have had a real goofy look on my face when I was set free.

I reached out, touched Sir Souma’s cheek...and pinched him.

“Ow...”

“I thought I might be dreaming.”

“Don’t you have to pinch your own cheek to test that?”

“I can feel pain in my own dreams.”

“Yeah, I dunno then.”

As we were having such a silly exchange, the tears went away.

“Is it really...okay for me to do what I want?”

“I don’t see why not. I’m sure you’ve been repressing yourself for one hell of a long time.”

“I see...” I grinned at Souma and said, “There’s something I want to do right this second. Do you mind?”

“Mm. Sure, if it’s something I can do. Liscia told me to spoil you, after all.”

“Lovely.”

I grabbed Sir Souma’s face hard with both my hands. As he stared at me in surprise, I stood on my tiptoes, and...the very next moment, my lips locked with his.

Seconds later, when our faces parted, his eyes were wide. I chuckled at his goofy expression.

Then, as he stared at me in a daze, I told him:

“From now on, I think I’ll do what I want without holding back. So...accept me for everything that I am.”


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