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Mushoku Tensei (LN) - Volume 19 - Chapter 14



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The Death God and the Gluttonous Prince

MANY ROYALS RESIDED in the King Dragon Realm’s royal villa. They were not, however, specifically King Dragon Realm royalty: these were princes and princesses from vassal states. Officially, they were studying here or had been brought in as foster children, but in truth, they were essentially hostages held to ensure said vassal states didn’t rebel. This system resembled that of the daimyo shonin seido employed in feudal Japan to ensure followers remained loyal.

At any rate, these princes and princesses weren’t very conscious of their position as hostages. As long as their home countries stayed compliant, their safety and continued stay were guaranteed, allowing them to live in leisure. Not all of them were so carefree, however. An ambitious few spent that time improving themselves and keeping a sharp eye out for any opportunity to climb the social ladder. 

Pax was one such person. He had a sudden change of heart one day and threw himself into studying sword fighting, magic, and academia. He would exercise as much as he could in the morning, leaving the latter half of the day for magic and books. Pax swore he would keep up this daily regiment, but such a drastic change in schedule couldn’t stay consistent for long. Lately, he’d started dedicating his hours in the morning to a wholly different pursuit. Namely, he started visiting the gardens close to the royal villa.

“That’s when I told him—‘Unhand that slave! I’ll be the one purchasing him.’” As Pax practiced with his wooden sword, he regaled a nearby girl with a tale. “A scuffle ensued after that. Thugs came charging at me and cut each man down, one by one! Their big boss was the last one to approach me. He had a battle axe at least twice my size. He let out a roar so intimidating even the most hardened warrior would shake in his boots, and then he lunged at me! I skillfully evaded his attack and unleashed my most powerful magic on him, hitting him right in the face! The man stumbled a few steps, and without missing a beat, I was immediately on him with my blade. Slash! And down he went!”

Pax made exaggerated gestures with his blade, even employing magic as he illustrated his fight in real time. Once his story drew to a close, he paused to glance at the girl. Her eyes were vacant, giving him no indication whatsoever of what she was thinking. But for some reason, Pax was able to read her expression. He hadn’t been able to at first, but over time he’d begun to notice the tiniest changes on her face. Right now, her eyes shone more brightly than usual and her cheeks had colored. She looked as though she was genuinely enjoying his story.

Sweat dripped down Pax’s brow. He remained quiet, frozen in the pose he’d struck at the end of his story, signifying he’d laid his enemy low. But after a few moments, he resigned himself and straightened up.

“Well, such a turnout would have been ideal, but nothing ever goes as perfectly as you picture in your head,” he admitted. “All I did was provide backup to my bodyguards with my wind magic.”

The girl looked no less impressed than before.

“But still, my lord, you became the leader of the slums,” she said.

“Indeed. Regardless of how it happened, that much is certainly true—having defeated their leader, I now rule over the slums.”

“Amazing.”

Pax grinned. “Isn’t it?! I may have had a slight case of cold feet during all the commotion, but that doesn’t change the fact that I consolidated Shirone’s ruffians! Go on, I will permit you to shower me with even more praise!”

“Amazing. Truly amazing.”

Benedikte was the sixteenth princess of the King Dragon Realm. Her expressions were muted, giving little indication of her emotion, and her tone was flat with little inflection. Yet the way she eagerly listened made it clear how excited she was about his story.

To be frank, Pax had dramatized his story more than a little. In a desperate bid to retain some dignity, he slipped in the part about him using magic to support his bodyguards, but the truth was he hadn’t even done that much. It pained him to fib like this, but not a single soul in the realm listened to his stories as earnestly. It was only natural to get a little carried away.

“Tell me…more,” Benedikte muttered.

In all honesty, the truth didn’t matter to her. Since her family had largely given up on her education, she couldn’t read, and no one else spoke to her like Pax did. She was locked away in the cramped confines of the royal villa; anywhere she went, they treated her like an eyesore. She woke in the morning, ate her food, and then wandered off to find a deserted place to waste away the time until her next meal. Then bedtime would come, and she’d start the whole dull routine again the next day. Amid all of this exhausting monotony, Pax’s exciting tales were like a breath of fresh air. She enjoyed it.

“More,” she repeated. “Tell me…”

“Very well then. Next, I suppose, I can regale you with the tale of when I visited Spring of the Faeries. Or at least, I’d like to, but we’ll save that for tomorrow. This afternoon I have my studies and magic practice to attend to.”

“…Okay.”

“Wahahaha, such an admirable listener. But you needn’t frown so! All you need to do is wait. Tomorrow will come whether you will it to or not!”

Anyone observing Pax these days would agree he was a diligent worker. Once he finished his morning training, he would dedicate his afternoon to his studies and magic practice. Admittedly he did slack off quite frequently in the mornings, yes. But he practiced his sword swings dutifully even as he shared his stories with Benedikte, so he was gradually honing his skills.

As for his normal education, he no longer had the luxury of a private tutor since he was abandoned by Shirone. He was left to continue his studies on his own based on what he remembered learning. His persistent efforts had slowly improved his reputation at the villa.

“But before any of that, we must eat! It’s time to return to the villa!” Pax announced.

“…I’ll see you off.”

“Wahahaha! There’s no need for that. No need at all.” 

Pax parted ways with her and headed for his room. The gardens were located at the edge of the estate, meaning that Benedikte’s room was close, but Pax’s was quite far away. Benedikte was always reluctant to part with him, so she would walk with him partway. Despite the way people treated her, she was still the princess of a large nation, and one who actively tried to spend more time with him. That was enough to put Pax in high spirits, which inevitably led to him rambling.

“During my magic studies yesterday, I came upon a realization. It was nothing more than a thought, but when I looked into it, I found out my assumptions were correct. Which means that, from time immemorial, magic has been…”

From the outside, Benedikte looked like she was disinterested and spacing out. Her eyes, by comparison, were filled with curiosity and interest as she listened to him speak. The maids who served the royal villa—and the occasional aristocratic guest—would give them cold, disapproving looks.

“Would you look at that? The worthless worm from Shirone is clinging to the deadbeat princess,” one of the nobles scoffed in passing.

Pax froze. He felt the urge to turn around and get a good look at this naysayer, but he stopped himself. Each time he heard remarks like that, it made him queasy—made the bile crawl up his throat. He wanted to whip around, curse the culprit and behead them for their insolence. But those hideous desires remained wishful thoughts. He knew better than anyone that he had no power here.

“Just wait, you cur. You’ll see,” he muttered under his breath, seething.

Benedikte’s expression clouded. She hadn’t received much education at all, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t think for herself. She understood her circumstances, and she knew that Pax was being denigrated for sticking close to her.

“Your Highness,” she said. “I’ll…”

“Enough! Don’t say it, you’ll only irritate me!”

Pax, meanwhile, didn’t see it the same way she did. He was used to being disparaged. He’d faced the same kind of talk all the time in Shirone.

“Look at me,” he insisted. “Look at my body, at these arms and legs. This is how I have looked since I was born. No matter what I do, people will always belittle me. I guarantee you this: they are not saying it because of you.”

He’d lost count of the times they’d had this conversation. Despite his reassurances, Benedikte grew despondent. She had never left the palace, so she didn’t quite understand. She didn’t see what was so different about his short, stumpy body or his stubby arms and legs. She couldn’t imagine how much ridicule he suffered through because of that. 

In a way, they were both in the same boat. That was precisely what drew her to Pax. Despite his constant complaints about the odds stacked against him, he still pushed himself to fight them.

“Hm?” Pax paused just as they crossed the boundary between the main palace and the neighboring villa. “What’s the smell?”

A pungent odor hung in the air, its origin unknown. It was deeply unpleasant, like someone was cremating a corpse. Yet there was also something almost fragrant about it, too, like someone was cooking. The more Pax breathed it in, the more it stirred his appetite. But he had to wonder: could something that stank this much be edible? His curiosity couldn’t ignore the bizarre balance of this scent.

“Seems to be coming from the parade grounds,” he muttered. “I’m intrigued. Shall we check it out?”

“But,” Benedikte started to protest.

“Hmph. Would anyone really reprimand you for wandering a little from the royal villa? If they wish to monitor your behavior to that extent, they ought to at least appoint one person to observe you. Now, let’s go!”

“Okay,” Benedikte answered, sounding a little happy despite herself.

***

There was a painting in Shirone Kingdom entitled Hell’s Banquet. It depicted five morbidly obese nobles throwing a dinner party. Which wasn’t so strange, but if one looked closely, they’d notice the nobles had a skeleton serving them. Three of the aristocrats seemed to be none the wiser, locked in cheerful conversation. One of them had noticed and wore a shocked look as he frantically turned to the person seated beside him. The last member of their group was collapsed on the table. It was unclear whether they were sleeping or dead.

Pax didn’t know much about this particular painting, but he did remember his older brother, Zanoba Shirone, standing in front of it and mumbling to himself as he studied the scene. Had the men there wanted to be a part of that banquet? If they hadn’t, then why were they forced to sit there? And who was it that had prepared the food they were being served, anyway? Zanoba had been asking such questions aloud. Perhaps it was because of that encounter that Pax remembered the painting so well.

Perhaps the painting was depicting a scene like the very one I’m seeing now, Pax thought.

A makeshift outdoor kitchen had been set up on the edge of the parade grounds to teach new recruits how to cook. Five squires were at the nearby table. Each of them was deathly pale, their eyes wandering constantly to the kitchen. The pungent odor that emanated from there was the same one that Pax had caught earlier. The smell only grew worse as one got closer to the point that even Pax felt the urge to pinch his nose.

Most intriguing of all, however, was the man who was working in the kitchen. He was a skeleton…or at least, his face greatly resembled one. He wore a chilling smile as he stood over an enormous pot, stirring the contents.

“Heh heh heh,” he snickered to himself. “Just a little longer and it’ll be ready.”

The knights’ expressions contorted into looks of despair, as if they genuinely thought their lives were forfeit—that there was no running from this.

Perhaps the men in that painting had been in a similar type of situation. They were right about being unable to run. After all, the man concocting this macabre meal was someone Pax knew well.

“Death God Randolph,” he murmured.

Randolph Marianne was indeed known as the Death God, fifth among the Seven Great Powers. He served directly under High General Shagall as a member of the Blackwyrm Knights. He had no subordinates of his own and always worked solo. He was the strongest knight in the realm and had pretty much secured the highest possible position for himself. Despite his towering station, he’d personally gathered the squires to serve them a meal. It was no wonder they couldn’t run; Randolph had them literally and figuratively outmatched.

Nonetheless, Pax couldn’t help but wonder what all of this was about. “You men there, what is going on?” he asked.

“And you are…?”

“Seventh Prince of Shirone Kingdom, Pax.”

Despite being a foreigner, Pax was still royalty, putting him leagues above the men here. The men started to rise from their chairs to get on one knee.

“No need,” Pax interrupted them. “You are permitted to stay seated and speak as you are.”

They glanced between themselves before settling back down. Slowly, they began to explain the situation.

“Well, you see, we made a rather…uh, fatal mistake during the drills.”

Three days ago, the King Dragon Realm had conducted large-scale drills for their forces. These men were squires for High General Shagall Gargantis himself. While the drills had proceeded smoothly, these boys had screwed up spectacularly. They hadn’t properly secured the saddle on Shagall’s horse. Seconds before he made the command to charge, he took a humiliating fall into the dirt. Fortunately, the healers nearby tended to him immediately, which meant the rest of the drill went on without incident. That was the only reason they got off with a scolding instead of a more severe punishment. Shagall, meanwhile, was not spared the embarrassment of having his fall witnessed by every member of the royal family present to oversee the drills.

It was little wonder the squires were so depressed. Their mistake had brought shame on the very man they so revered. If the circumstances had been different, they might have been fired on the spot. They had gotten off relatively scot-free. In their guilt, they pleaded with the High General for some kind of punishment, but he only smiled magnanimously and refused. At first, the squires had thought his reaction discomforting, but it wasn’t until today that they learned the reason why.

“Lord Randolph suddenly came to visit us today, saying he would cook for us.”

“And? What is the problem with that?” Pax questioned.

“You mean you don’t know?”

Rumors were rampant among the knights. It was a curious thing. Why would one of the Seven Great Powers, the strongest knight in all of the realm, become a direct subordinate of the High General? Under ordinary circumstances, Randolph Marianne should have been granted his own region to rule over, with hundreds of men at his command. So why was it that he always worked alone?

That was because High General Shagall had trained him to be an assassin from early on. Shagall was mixed-race, with elven and human blood, and his extended lifespan had seen him serve at the apex of the King Dragon Realm’s military for many years. He had a bit of a crude side, but he was loyal to a fault and widely known for his honesty and integrity. No one spoke ill of him.

But how could that even be possible? How could a man remain spotless while in charge of an enormous organization like the King Dragon Realm’s military? Well, that was because he wasn’t spotless. He had any man who earned his ire killed behind the scenes, using the very assassin he’d reared himself—Randolph. As proof of this, only a few short years after Randolph became widely known to the public, every single one of Shagall’s political rivals were wiped out. Several among them died from illnesses of unknown origin or tragically passed after being caught in an “accident.”

“We’re…going to be killed…because we humiliated His Excellency!” one of the men blurted, white as a sheet.

The other four began violently trembling in their seats.

“No… No! I don’t wanna die!”

“Your Highness, please save us. I…I have a girl I love back home. I haven’t even gotten to tell her how I feel yet… I can’t die like this…”

“I at least wanted to meet my end on the battlefield. Now I’m going to be killed ’cause of a little screw-up during a practice drill? You gotta be kidding me…”

“And to think my mom was so happy to see me become a squire…”

While the squires lamented their fates, a creepy, chilling voice called over to them, “You lot sure are being awful rude. I heard you were down in the dumps after being scolded, so I decided to make you some of my delicious cuisine. That’s all.”

Pax tensed and turned. The knight with the skeletal face wore a chilling smile as he hauled over the enormous pot. The smell was so putrid it almost seemed otherworldly.

“Now then, dig in everyone. Delicious food is the best cure when you’re feeling depressed,” Death God Randolph said with a grin that almost seemed to declare his intent to rob them of their lives.

“Urk.” Pax gulped and retreated a step, too intimidated not to. His heel bumped against something. Someone tugged at his sleeve. He glanced over his shoulder and glimpsed an expressionless Benedikte pinching his clothes. Even though her face conveyed no emotion, he could read what she was thinking—Please save them.

Why do I have to save these fools?!

Were Pax not a changed man, he might have said that. But this plea came from a girl who’d listened to his heroic sagas daily. She was someone he wanted to impress.

“Randolph,” he said.

“Yeees? What is it? Uh…who are you, by the way?”

“My name is Pax Shirone, Seventh Prince of Shirone Kingdom. Since I was fortuitous enough to find my way here, I would like to partake in this repast of yours as well.”

“…Oh?”

Personally, Pax didn’t really intend to put that stuff in his mouth. He was a prince, after all. If this “food” was actually poison, he was certain Randolph would back down.

“Yes! Yes, of course, Your Highness!”

On the contrary, Randolph beamed in delight at his offer.

“A-as you can clearly see, I am quite the gourmet,” Pax said. “You’ll regret it if you serve me a lackluster meal.”

“Ehehe,” the man snickered. “I might not look it, but I used to run a restaurant myself, you see. I am quite confident in the flavor.”

“You do understand what I am saying, don’t you?” Pax said.

“Yes, I most certainly do understand.”

This man is out of his damn mind, Pax thought.

If his poison killed Pax, the matter wouldn’t be solely between the King Dragon Realm and Shirone Kingdom; there were royals here from a wide array of countries. A knight couldn’t get away with senselessly murdering one of them. The other vassal states wouldn’t stand for it. If the King Dragon Realm indiscriminately and randomly killed their hostages, then what was the point in keeping them? The other vassal states would rise in rebellion.

In spite of this, Randolph looked perfectly composed. In fact, he seemed to be challenging Pax: If you think you can eat it, then eat it. We both know you’re only saying you will. You won’t actually do it. 

Or perhaps, Pax thought, having heard that I’m a prince of Shirone and having seen what I look like, he thinks no one will care one whit whether I live or die. Dammit! I don’t care if he is one of the Seven Great Powers—he’s looking down his nose at me!

Pax couldn’t afford to die here, yet he couldn’t allow himself to be treated with such contempt. Besides, Benedikte was watching. He couldn’t meekly back down simply because he knew the other party cared nothing for his welfare.



“Fine! Move aside!” he roared. He shoved one of the squires aside and plunged himself down. “Go on, then! It isn’t every day one gets the opportunity to sample the cooking of someone as famous as the Death God. My stomach has been rumbling since the moment I caught wind of your dish’s fragrant scent!”

Pax was being defiant now. If Randolph didn’t think he would actually eat the food, then he would do exactly that. He’d guzzle it down, let the poison kill him, and thereby bring chaos to the entire realm. Obstinate as he was, he’d resolved himself to his fate—and everything else that came with it.

“Oh? You’re the first person that’s ever said something like that to me.” Randolph wore an eerie smile as he went about serving the food. It didn’t take long before the piping hot dish was sitting right in front of Pax.

It was a stew, with enormous chunks of veggies and meat, but the liquid itself was purple. That was…worrying. What could one possibly put into stew to make it turn that color? It didn’t look the least bit appetizing, nor did it smell appetizing. The odor was so rank, it was hard to believe it came from something edible. Pax knew of nothing edible that smelled like this. His mind screamed, That’s not food!

“Urgh…” He had managed to grab his spoon, but his hand wouldn’t move further.

The squires who were present eyed him, their own faces deathly pale. Even Benedikte looked somewhat worried for him.

Oh, screw it!

Pax plucked up his courage, jammed the spoon into the gloppy concoction in front of him, scooped up a chunk of unidentifiable meat, and shoved it into his mouth.

“Mmph!”

He chewed, then swallowed. The squires gawked. Not a soul present honestly believed he would actually try the dish. Anyone could tell at a glance that it had to be poison.

After gulping down the mouthful, Pax sat frozen solid for a few moments before he finally mumbled, “That was surprisingly good.”

“Huh?!”

“It’s seasoned in a style associated with the Demon Continent, so it likely won’t appeal to people around here, but it’s palatable to me,” Pax said.

Yes, it looked as bad as it smelled. Yet strangely, once you put it in your mouth, its rich fragrance tickled the nose, and the complex flavors of the vegetables lingered on the tongue. The meat was so tender as to instantly melt, filling the mouth with a delectable, savory flavor.

It was a puzzling dish. He’d never had something remotely similar in Shirone. As he ate, he noticed a numbness on his tongue. That was likely poison. But more importantly, the look on Randolph’s face when he ate it and complimented the flavor was truly a sight to behold. Pax could tell the Death God didn’t genuinely think he’d eat it, much less praise it.

Hah! Even if I die in agony moments from now, I can at least say I outplayed one of the Seven Great Powers. I’ll be bragging about that from my seat in hell, Pax thought bitterly to himself as his tongue continued to tingle.

There were still so many things he still wanted to do. But he’d never done anything in his life worth bragging about, so at least he had something he could be proud of with this one last act. That gave him some satisfaction. Without that as consolation, he might just fling the plate to the ground and start bawling.

“I want seconds,” Pax said, shoving his plate at Randolph.

“Um, but, Your Highness, I made this for the squires—”

“Do you truly believe these men can appreciate the quality of this stew?! I am having it all for myself!”

“Your Highness,” the squires gasped, moved by his merciful intercession.

Pax thumped his fist against his chest and roared, “Enough! What are you gawking at? Do the Realm’s squires make it a habit of staring at royalty as they eat? Or do you have some issue with me eating all of this cuisine for myself? Well, I shan’t hear it! If you have any complaints, take them to your master, Shagall. Tell him that Shirone’s prince robbed you of your chance to sample Randolph’s food!”

The squires bowed and hastily fled the scene, but their expressions were full of gratitude, which was something entirely foreign to Pax.

“Hmph.”

Pax, of course, didn’t care if they appreciated what he was doing. He assumed they thought him a gluttonous prince who, on a mere whim, deigned to eat this poison-filled food in their stead.

When Pax glanced up, he noticed Benedikte had taken a seat beside him. Her expression was placid as ever, her eyes darting back and forth from the plate to Pax.

“Benedikte, do you wish to eat this as well?” Pax asked.

She nodded.

“You understand, don’t you? What this food is, I mean.”

Again, she nodded.

Pax paused in thought, but almost immediately he remembered the cruel environment Benedikte found herself in. He was the only friend she had. She was always alone, spending her time in the gardens, staring at the flowers—the ostracized, solitary princess with whom no one bothered to interact. Every day was surely miserable for her. Even Pax wouldn’t be able to withstand that kind of treatment in her place.

With that in mind Pax could find no reason to stop her. Perhaps she’d decided to join him because he was her one and only friend, and if he was going to die, she figured she may as well too.

Finally, Pax nodded. “All right, then, Randolph. Prepare a serving for her as well.”

“Yes, yes, of course! Ahh, what a fine day it is today.” Randolph continued eerily smiling as he plated more of his bizarre stew for Benedikte.

Benedikte gracefully took up her spoon and slowly began to dig in. Although she’d never been given instruction on etiquette, she held her utensil beautifully. She was probably mimicking what she’d seen others do.

“…Delicious,” Benedikte mumbled as she continued eating.

“Indeed, it is.” Pax resumed his dining as well. Being a voracious eater, he requested extra helpings several times until the pot was completely empty. “Hmph, what do you think of that, Death God Randolph? We finished your entire stew. It was delectable.”

“Yes, it is a great honor indeed to have you both polish off the entire pot.”

Pax narrowed his eyes. “And? When will it kick in?”

“When will what kick in?”

“Do you truly think I didn’t notice? With that numb tingling on my tongue?”

“Ooh! That. Yes, well, you should notice the effects any moment now,” Randolph answered with a snicker.

Any moment, huh?

Pax leaned back, gazing up at the sky. How long had it been since he last dined outside? Perhaps it had been the first time ever for Benedikte. No matter how coldly a member of the royal family was treated by their kin, it didn’t change how suffocating their life was. If anything, the ostracism meant the family was reluctant to let them outside at all, instead confining them to the walls of the palace.

At least his last moments were beneath a sunny, blue sky, and he’d eaten a delicious meal before the end. There could be no more pleasant way to go. It was as if his very soul had been cleansed.

“Feeling relaxed now, aren’t you?” Randolph asked. “Sanshok seeds have a strong tranquilizing effect.”

“Sanshok?” Pax repeated, bewildered.

“Yes. It’s the best spice for calming one’s emotions when they’re depressed or irritated. I truly did want the squires to try it as well…”

“So it’s not poison?”

“Poison?” Randolph blinked at him. “Oh, well, Sanshok seeds do have a poisonous color to them. Many people tend to avoid consuming it for that reason, yes. But you needn’t worry. Not a single soul has perished from eating it. Hm? But you mentioned the tingling sensation on your tongue—does that mean you knew I had used Sanshok?”

“N-no, I had a feeling you’d used something, but not quite that!”

As Randolph tilted his head, the realization finally hit Pax—this man had truly only intended to treat those squires to a meal, nothing more.

“Yes, I see, Sanshok!” Pax nodded to himself. “I was almost certain you’d taken the skin of a Kiban and added that to the stew.”

“Ohh, yes, Kiban skin does make the tongue tingle as well. But you see, Kiban skin can’t give the stew that delectable purple hue, now can it?”

Pax nodded thoughtfully. “True enough. Yes, your ingenuity was quite impressive!”

“Heh heh, I appreciate you saying that. It was worth having that ingredient brought in all the way from the Demon Continent.” The way Randolph smiled almost seemed to suggest he had completely seen through Pax’s bravado.

“Well, enough of this! Benedikte, let us be off!” Unable to withstand the man’s penetrating gaze, Pax shot to his feet. “I have my studies and magic practice to attend to this afternoon. I have no time to dawdle here, engaging in small talk!”

“All right,” she mumbled.

Pax straightened his shoulders and began to totter off with Benedikte close behind him. They didn’t make it too far before Randolph called after them.

“Um, Prince Pax?”

“What is it?” Pax glanced over his shoulder.

Randolph sported his usual creepy smile. Yet he seemed a bit anxious, rubbing his hands together as he worked up the courage to ask, “Would it be at all possible for me to serve you a meal again in the future?”

“Very well. Your cooking is delicious, after all.” Pax quickly delivered his answer and turned away to leave. Although he’d been unnecessarily anxious about the meal being poisoned, the stew itself was scrumptious. Those unusual flavors were unlikely to suit most people’s palates, but Pax had never had anything like it. If Randolph was keen on serving him something like that again, he had no reason to refuse. He wasn’t lying when he said he was a gourmet with finicky tastes.

“Thank you,” said Randolph, bowing his head low.

After that, Pax began periodically eating Randolph’s cooking.

***

“In hindsight, I really had resigned myself to death back then,” Pax mumbled, as he revisited the distant past in his head.

He currently stood on a staircase landing. The nearby window gave him a glimpse of the world outside the castle. Fires dotted the landscape, smoke signals rising like pillars here and there. He heard no voices from here, but he could sense the crowds below.

Pax was inside Shirone Castle, a place he’d arrived at after recklessly plunging ahead until he’d clawed his way onto the throne.

“I would have preferred not to hear the truth until my dying days,” Randolph replied, standing beside the king and gazing down at the world below. He’d removed his eyepatch, and the eye underneath emitted a glaring light. “I was really happy, you know? To hear you say my cooking was delicious.”

“Don’t start that. It may not have looked appetizing, but I wasn’t lying to you when I said it was good,” Pax said.

“Hehe, it’s hard to believe you when I now know you thought I meant to poison you.”

Their voices swelled with emotion as they conversed, gazing through the glass. Inconsequential happenstance had brought them together, and even after their initial meeting, nothing particularly exciting or significant took place. All that happened was that each time Pax and Benedikte sampled Randolph’s cooking, they praised its taste. They would chat a bit while he was concocting his odd dishes, but they’d go their separate ways once the meal was over. The cycle repeated numerous times until Randolph realized how often he was in Pax’s company. It would be a stretch to call Pax his pupil or apprentice, but he did offer some advice on swordsmanship and magic.

“In the end, you and Benedikte are my only allies,” Pax said as he watched the people gathered outside.

They knew not all of the people out there were enemies; a knight had risked his life to venture out and bring back a scouting report. Yes, not all of them were against him, but Pax knew that they weren’t in support of him either. The vast majority of Shirone hadn’t welcomed his ascension to the throne. They could be his enemies under the right circumstances, but they could never be his allies.

“Why do people hate me so?”

It had been that way his entire life. No one ever allied themselves with him. Perhaps his appearance repulsed them; perhaps he simply had no talent for finding comrades. Pax honestly had no clue. He had tried his best in his own way, but for all his efforts, only Benedikte and Randolph had come to his side. Maybe if he had conducted himself better, Zanoba and Rudeus—and maybe even the knights that had died—might have been willing to stand with him. It was too late to reflect on that now.

“Good question. People are often terrified of me as well, and I haven’t the faintest idea why either,” Randolph said, as if trying to comfort him. But in Randolph’s case, it was no doubt because of his appearance. If only he could do something about that skeletal face and that unsettling smile, things might change a little.

Actually, even with those problems, Randolph had still gained the respect of the King Dragon Realm’s High General and numerous swordsmen. Pax had nothing like that. He’d become king, and now had both a wife he loved and an excellent subordinate. But alas, that was no way to run a country. He couldn’t win the recognition of the masses.

Maybe he’d gone about this the wrong way, but the fact remained that had too few people in his corner. He no longer knew what to do to bolster his supporters. He needed comrades, but he had no clue how to get them. Pax was now at a loss for what to do.

“Randolph,” he said.

“Yes?”

“When I die, take Benedikte with you and escape from here.”

Randolph swallowed a breath. In the dozen or so years he’d lived through numerous battles, never once had another person made him cognizant of his own breathing, but he suddenly found his awareness heightened now.

“Go back to the King Dragon Realm. When my child is born, impart to them your swordsmanship and culinary talents.”

Randolph said nothing.

“Academia as well,” Pax added. “Given the parentage of our child, there’s no way they’ll appoint them a tutor. I’m entrusting their care to you.”

Again, Randolph was silent.

“And I’d ask you to compliment them as much as possible. I doubt Benedikte will be able to do that herself. Neither of us was ever complimented much.”

Finally he found his voice and said, “Um, Your Majesty?”

A rare expression crossed Randolph’s face, one he never displayed to others, neither before nor after he came to be called the Death God. In fact, after becoming one of the Seven Great Powers, he’d killed so many men—tens of thousands of them—that he stopped seeing them as people. In all his long years he had only made such a face on a select few occasions. This was the look of someone who didn’t want the other person to die.

“What is it?” Pax asked.

“You know, I like you,” Randolph said. 

But he couldn’t bring himself to ask Pax not to die. He was the Death God, after all. Being fifth of the Seven Great Powers, he’d seen countless men die. He’d seen numerous people choose a noble death over a meaningless life. He’d paid his respects to every one of them. 

The man before Randolph was a king. He had a stunted body, was unloved by his people, had suffered civil war immediately after his ascension, and would probably be forgotten in the long term, snuffed out from the annals of history. But he was a king, nonetheless. He’d done his part to earn the people’s acknowledgement and ascended to the throne. It made sense that he wanted to die as a king. His pride compelled him.

“That’s why I’ll be sure to carry out your order, even at the cost of my own life,” Randolph finished.

“I trust you will.”

Randolph Marianne may have been called a Death God by others, but a true god of death he was not. He knew of the man who’d carried the title before him. The former Death God would always listen to the words of the dying before they passed. He would honor their dignity and protect it until their last breath. This was why he had come to be called a Death God. Randolph had followed his example, because Randolph respected him more than any other—and had even inherited his name.

“Well, it seems the sun is about to set.” Having gotten the answer he wanted, Pax tore his gaze from the scenery outside and headed toward his bedroom. “I’m going to go bid my farewell to Benedikte. It’ll be our last tryst. Will you make sure no one interrupts before we are finished?”

“As you wish, Your Majesty.”

Pax disappeared inside the room, and Randolph took up his position outside. After a while, he got tired of standing and went downstairs to fetch a chair. One he was seated, he propped his elbows against his knees and interlaced his fingers, resting his chin upon them. He kept his gaze locked on the stairs and the window that sat just beyond them. It was as though he wanted to burn the sight—Pax’s last glimpse at the city he’d ruled—into his mind’s eye.

“To be honest, I rather wish you wouldn’t die,” Randolph muttered as he slowly closed his eyes.


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