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  The True Weapon  


The day after the debate, Tetra was lying buck naked in her bed and looking up reproachfully at the morning light streaming in through her window. Her clothes were scattered haphazardly across the floor. She’d dumped them there the night prior and had gone to bed without so much as putting on her pajamas.

Her eyes were dry, bloodshot, and flanked by heavy bags from exhaustion. The young woman had returned to her inn room after a group dinner with the other members of the Principles Party, but she hadn’t slept a wink.

Between the Principles Party campaign trail, speeches, and the momentous debate last night, her schedule had been packed to bursting, and her entire body felt like lead. Still, slumber would not come.

Every time Tetra closed her eyes, she saw Sara begging her not to fight. The image was seared into her brain. More than anything, it was the girl’s big, beautiful, tear-filled eyes that stuck with her. They had been so full of grief and, deep within them, a fiery rage.

Tetra was no stranger to that expression. It was identical to the one she had worn back when she thought of Gustav. She must have appeared as awful as that madman to Sara. That anger had motivated Tetra to insurrection to ensure that nobody ever repeated his actions again.

“Am I making a horrible mistake…?” she muttered softly. The question had been troubling her since last evening, yet she was no closer to answering it. Worried or not, Tetra was not the sort to spend the entire day wallowing in doubt, though.

“Nnph.” She sat up and clapped herself hard on the cheeks. “When did I let myself get so gutless…?!”

The fact that she hadn’t gotten through to the girl was lamentable, but it certainly didn’t mean that her mission was wrong. Even now, the people of Yamato desperately needed aid. They were unable to mourn their dead, let alone hate the people who deserved to be hated. There could be no righteousness in ignoring them. The battle to save Yamato was a noble and just fight founded on the principle of equality for all. Sara would come to realize that once she grew up.

And so—

“What I should be focusing on now is winning this election!”

—Tetra turned her mind to the next hurdle.

At the party dinner, one of the staff members had delivered a piece of breaking news. After conducting a survey in the four largest Elm metropolises—Nirvana, Herbery, Dormundt, and Dulleskoff—and using the Seven Luminaries’ obelisks to aggregate the results electronically, they had a reliable projection of how many seats each party was slated to win. All in all, the Principles Party was on track to win the election…but thirty seats was about the best they could expect. Their thirty-four-seat goal, which would give them two-thirds of the assembly and allow them to steamroll their way through its votes, looked to be beyond their reach.

The news cast a pall over the dinner party.

If the Reform Party claimed a third of the positions, the national assembly would descend into gridlock, and they wouldn’t be able to take the prompt action that saving Yamato demanded. It was the one situation they had desperately wanted to avoid.

Tetra racked her brain. There was only a week left before the election, and there weren’t any significant events like the public debate they could use to earn greater favor. How could her party claw back the votes they’d just lost to the Reform Party? She needed to come up with a strategy. After sinking into silence and thinking on the matter for a good long while, Tetra eventually arrived at a realization.

“There’s no point in sitting here and trying to think of something all on my own.”

Tetra recognized her shortcomings, but understood just as well that she had the perfect remedy: her allies. Skilled comrades who could help shore up her weaknesses.

“Mr. Glaux will know what to do. I’m sure of it!”

The deadline was fast approaching, and there was no time to waste. Tetra hopped out of bed and began preparing to go out.

It was the day after the public debate, and evening had fallen on the far reaches of the Gustav province.

“Damn that little shit! Death would be too good for her!”

Glaux von Einzgarm’s villa sat by a spring near the Buchwald border, and the Principles Party’s vultures were having a meeting in the dining room. The topic of conversation was what to do about the projected loss of their two-thirds majority. The air rang with angry, impatient shouts.

“We were this close! This close to winning everything, and then that stupid brat decides to show her ugly face!”

“Thanks to those obelisks, all of Elm got to hear her little breakdown. We used to dominate in Findolph and Gustav, but that report says we’re losing votes to the Reform Party there, too.”

“If we don’t get two-thirds of the seats, how’re we supposed to push through our bills and our draft budget?! We’re screwed! We’re gonna have to keep an eye out for those Reform Party assholes every time we skim off the budget or make a shady deal with a contractor!”

“Keeping an eye out for ’em won’t cut it, man. Their leader, that Juno chick, is supposed to be one of the best accountants in Buchwald. We try to pull even the smallest shit, and she’s gonna jump down our throats and tear us a new one.”

“But that means our whole plan is ruined! How is it that we were so close to scooping this whole country up for ourselves, and then one little kid throwing a tantrum messes it all up? We gotta do something!”

“And Glaux, why’d you call on that kid in the first place? It’s not like she’s old enough to vote, so answering her question wasn’t going to do jack for us anyways. If anyone’s to blame here, it’s you.”

With that, the ten or so Principles Party candidates sitting around the table all turned their gazes to the portly older adult sitting calmly at the table’s head. Glaux had long been the fixer of the little congregation, but the other vultures didn’t hesitate to descend on him like an angry flock.

“Yeah, what’s your deal? We haven’t heard a peep outta you since yesterday!”

“You got us into this mess. Why don’t you use that big head of yours to get us out of it?!”

“Got anything to say for yourself, Glaux?”

Perhaps they had a point. His decision to call Sara up to the stage certainly appeared to have been a mistake. However, there was no logical reason to keep criticizing him for it. Nothing would change the situation. And besides, all of the others had chosen to follow Glaux. They should have known that riding his coattails would mean taking the bad with the good. That his fellows dared to turn on him was utterly hypocritical.

Glaux glared at his cohorts’ idiotic display through his narrowed eyes—

“Hmph. Dullards, the lot of you.”

—and let out a sigh that reeked of derision and liquor.

A few hours earlier, Tetra had finished pulling herself together and was on her way to visit the inn where Glaux was staying, hoping for his counsel.

Tetra was unaware that her adviser had already departed. When she asked around, she was told that Glaux had called for his carriage the night prior and had left then. Hoping to learn more about his whereabouts, she consulted some other Principles Party candidates.

“Mr. Glaux? I’m afraid we haven’t the faintest… Ah, but I heard Mr. Morgan and Mr. Marco telling their driver to take them to Mr. Glaux’s mansion in Gustav, so you might be able to find him there.”

Morgan Donitz and Marco Lewis had both joined the Principles Party on Glaux’s recommendation, and everyone knew how serious their current situation was. Tetra reasoned that they were in the midst of a strategy meeting, and she felt grateful to be blessed with such wonderful comrades.

And then, here I am…

All Tetra had been doing was lying awake, griping. It was pathetic, and the young woman was loath to let it continue. Even if it was in name alone, she was still the Principles Party’s leader. She knew that any ideas she came up with wouldn’t amount to much, but at the very least, they might provide inspiration for someone more intelligent to build from. She needed to join the others to help them plan.

Thus, after traveling for half a day, Tetra arrived at Glaux’s villa in Gustav.

“What a beautiful structure…”

The manor’s chalky-white walls were completely spotless, and they shone radiantly under the sunset’s fiery scarlet hues. Its fence and gatepost were covered in ornate carvings, and while its size was relatively modest, the quality of its architecture was breathtaking.

“Are the windows all made of glass? And their frames…is that solid gold?”

What’s more, this wasn’t even Glaux’s primary residence. It boggled the mind.

Perhaps this much was to be expected, since the man was the former foreign chancellor of the Freyjagard Empire. His ability to bankroll as many acting troupes as he had suddenly made a lot more sense. After being reminded once more of just how staggering Glaux von Einzgarm’s fortune was, Tetra rode her horse up to the gate and called out to the spear-wielding watchman standing there.

“Sorry to bother you, sir. I’m Tetra, the representative of the Principles Party. Is Mr. Glaux here?”

The guard replied in an almost mechanical tone, barring the way in with his spear all the while. “Yes. The master is in, but if you want to enter, you must give me the watchword.”

The what? Tetra thought. A passphrase felt oddly paranoid of Glaux.

However, it was a truly magnificent abode. Everything down to the stones in the garden seemed like they’d be worth stealing, so perhaps it made sense that the owner wished to keep out unwanted visitors. That was a problem for Tetra, though, as she had no idea what this “watchword” might be.

Well, I suppose there’s nothing for it.

All she could do now was request that the guard call for Glaux. Once they met face-to-face, she’d definitely be granted entry. Yet right as she was about to ask the guard to fetch his employer, a conversation she’d once had with Glaux flashed back through her mind.

“But of course. It would be my pleasure. ‘Long live democracy’ is the watchword our party lives by. I don’t know how much time this old bag of bones has left in it, but I mean to spend the rest of it fighting the good fight as God Akatsuki’s vanguard.”

Back then, he had used the term “watchword.” Tetra was reasonably confident he had, at least. No, she was certain of it.

“Long live democracy?”

The guard lowered his spear.

“Of course, ma’am. If you dismount here, I can take your horse for you. Just call for me when you wish to leave. The master is taking dinner with the others at the moment. Follow the carpet, and it’s the door at the end.”

“Thank you kindly!”

Tetra left her horse with the man and went inside.

The manor was even more lavish within than without, but Tetra didn’t waste any time taking in the sights. Her mind was already fixed on the upcoming battle. Never one to shy from a fight, she hurried along the deep red carpet at a swift pace, ignorant that the door she was nearing led straight to the lion’s den.

“How dare you!”

“Who are you calling dullards?!”

“You think you’re better than us?”

As his followers raged at him, Glaux glared back and replied without a hint of remorse in his voice. “Hoh-hoh-hoh. I know I am.” He wet his lips with a mouthful of wine, then continued. “Holding two-thirds of the seats is beyond us, and Juno will sniff out our indiscretions and block us at every turn. What is there to do, then? The answer should be abundantly clear.”

Glaux’s miserable lackeys stared at him in bewilderment. He felt sorry for them. How could they fail to solve such a simple subtraction problem? Disgust flared in his bushy mustache and aged eyes for a moment before he went on.

“We need only make the woman disappear. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, her efforts single-handedly power the entire Reform Party. Their policy platform, their bookkeeping, their electioneering—she’s at the center of it all. She is the Reform Party, and without her, it’ll be a chicken with its head chopped off. And when that happens, one-third of the assembly or not, we can crush them at our leisure. Am I wrong?”

One of the young candidates pounded the table. “After that pompous lead-up, that’s your plan?! If we could do that, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with! You might not know this, Mr. Former Noble, but the people in Juno’s hometown love her to pieces. There’s no way we’ll be able to flip ’em and make her lose the election!”

“Who said anything about the election? What I said was, she needs to disappear,” Glaux countered placidly.


In the blink of an eye, the air in the dining room went from humid with anger and frustration to bone-chillingly cold. Not literally, perhaps, but everyone there felt the change. Now they understood what Glaux was getting at.

“W-wait, you’re not saying…”

“You mean…killing her?”

“Did I stutter?”

Glaux’s toadies practically shrieked at his retort.

“But that’s—!”

“Th-that’s crazy talk, man! You’re outta your mind!”

“We can’t just kill her!”

Their leader, however, just chuckled. “Oh, please. Compared to trying to take your entire homeland for yourselves, a single woman’s life is like piss in the wind. Think of how many people will die if the war we’re inciting actually starts. Things have already been set in motion, gentlemen. It’s far too late to be getting cold feet.”

“Th-that’s not the problem! I mean, think about it for a second! The election is down to a tug-of-war between the Principles Party and the Reform Party. If the other side’s leader gets killed, they’ll put two and two together and figure out it was us in no time!”

That was a reasonable point. If Juno turned up dead, everyone would immediately suspect the Principles Party, and it would ruin their chances in the election. Naturally, Glaux was way ahead of such an obvious concern.

“Hoh-hoh-hoh. You mistake me, my friend. She’ll be disappearing, yes, but I never said anything about us being the ones to do the deed. Not a word, in fact.” Glaux took out some sheets of parchment and slid them across the table.

“What’s this?”

“…A promissory note?”

“Precisely,” Glaux replied. “I’m sure you all know what business I’m in.”

“You’re a moneylender, right? A real shark of one.”

“Oh, I assure you that my interest rates are designed to make sure both sides walk away happy… All bullshit aside, the important part is that this debt belongs to one of my many clients. Mr. Donitz?”


“Does the name written there look familiar to you?”

Startled at having had his name called, Mr. Donitz picked up the note and quickly looked it over. His eyes widened.

“Jean Pommel?! That’s… It can’t be!”

“Oh, but it is. It’s the Reform Party candidate running in the same district as you.”


“Our dear Mr. Pommel makes his living over in Neue as a seller of traditional cutlery. He found himself in need of some working capital, and I was all too happy to lend it to him.

“As you can see, it comes out to quite a tidy sum. Including all the interest, he already owes me thrice the initial principal, and with him being three months behind on his payments, I’m afraid he won’t be paying it off anytime soon.

“The thing is, the porcelain we’re importing from Lakan nowadays has all but pushed his traditional goods out of the market. Poor Mr. Pommel. I’m sympathetic to his plight, of course, but I, too, am running a business. As he is unable to make payments, I’m going to have to start seizing his assets sooner or later. Regrettably, the story gets sadder still, as his loans have swelled to such a size that even his workshop combined with all his worldly possessions wouldn’t even come close to covering them.

“Thus, I am forced to reclaim my dues elsewhere. And as luck would have it, Mr. Pommel has a wife and two daughters, all of them picturesque imperial blond-haired blue-eyed beauties. I have a powerful acquaintance in Lakan who’s offered a handsome price for the trio, and let’s just say that he’s not exactly looking for maids, and that his tastes skew on the eclectic side. I do feel awful for Mrs. Pommel and the children, though, so I went to Pommel about a month ago and asked if he would be open to us putting our heads together and coming up with a way to save his family from meeting a tragic fate.

“He promised to do anything so long as I spared his family. Tugs on the heartstrings, doesn’t it? A man, sacrificing himself to protect his loved ones… Truly, an example to fathers everywhere.”

By the end of Glaux’s speech, even his dim lackeys had deduced what he was implying. Glaux’s connections didn’t end with the Principles Party. He had placed pawns in the Reform Party’s ranks as well. They were walking time bombs ready to explode at Glaux’s orders.

“So, you’re going to make him do it?”

Glaux nodded in satisfaction, pleased that everyone finally understood.

“As for his motive…we’ll have him claim it was lovesickness. A petty scandal that ends in bloodshed like that will drive disillusioned supporters to our doorstep.”


Glaux was right. If everything went smoothly, the Principles Party would have new followers by the boatload. None of the man’s coconspirators looked pleased with this, however. There was clear hesitation in their pale faces. While they agreed with Glaux’s methods on a practical level, their hearts refused to accept them.

What he was proposing was murder.

Although Glaux had drawn them in with his promises of using the election to scoop up Elm’s national budget, most of them were still small-time crooks deep down. There was a limit to how much raw evil they were willing to condone, and homicide definitely crossed the line.

“Fear not. None of you actually need to do anything. It will all happen out of your sight and without your knowledge, so rest easy. Even if what truly happened comes to light, I’m the only one who will have to answer for it. There won’t be a single thing to link you to our dear friend Pommel.”

The others eased up at this. They had been reticent only out of self-preservation. Whatever morals they had only ran skin-deep.

Glaux was experienced at manipulating greedy cowards, and he had thus lined things up so that they had everything to gain and nothing to lose. Scum like them would make excellent tools for achieving his true objective.

Sinister grins spread across the faces of all present in the chamber.

“What in the world…are you saying, Mr. Glaux?”

Then there came a familiar voice. It was that of a woman who shouldn’t have been there. The smiles quickly vanished from the wicked men’s faces.


“R-Rep, what’re you doing here?”

The schemers in the dining room went white as sheets at Tetra’s sudden intrusion, and her face was of a similar color.

“I wanted…to talk to you all about our plans for the election… And when I heard you were all here, I came rushing over. But this… What did I just walk in on?”

Her expression was one of utter horror as she looked to Glaux. She was begging him to deny the horrible things she’d just discovered.

Although Glaux initially reacted to Tetra’s arrival with unconcealed shock—

“Hoh-hoh-hoh… Goodness, my dear, I can’t say I was expecting you. Now, I must ask…how long were you listening?”

—his typical affable expression swiftly returned, and he posed a question to the woman standing frozen in the entrance to his dining room.

His voice was the same as ever, and Tetra desperately wished to believe this was the same kind old man she’d relied on so many times. There was no way he had said all those horrible things. It was unthinkable. Tetra forced herself to believe that something had fooled her senses.

“You were talking about…h-having Ms. Juno killed. My ears were just playing tricks on me, though, right?! Heh… Heh-heh-heh…”

“Ah. So you heard everything, then.”


The young woman fell into stunned silence.

“You’re not mistaken, Tetra. Once that woman dies, the Reform Party will crumble. The masses will flock to us, and our victory will be assured,” Glaux admitted. He hadn’t even bothered attempting to conceal his scheme.

Tetra’s blood had run cold a moment ago, but now it was boiling. Her whole body shook as the emotions burst out of her.


“Oh, I assure you, we are.”

“Then that makes it even worse! How could the Principles Party claim to stand for justice if we seized power through illegal means?! We would be betraying the trust of our supporters and the entire nation of Elm!! They’ll never let you get away with this!!”

Fury practically seeped from Tetra’s body as she strode into the room and slammed her fists on the table.


The upper body strength she regularly used to lift a scythe as long as she was tall threatened to splinter the wooden table. Food and drink tumbled to the floor, and Glaux’s toadies cowered so badly they fell off their chairs. Glaux alone didn’t seem cowed in the slightest. He remained in his seat, relaxed as could be—

“Betraying the people’s trust? Hoh-hoh… Bwa-ha-ha-ha!”

—and laughed louder than anyone had heard from him before.

“Mr. Glaux…?!”

“You’re still going on about that nonsense? Do you genuinely believe that we’re a part of your Principles Party? My dear, if we were straitlaced enough to actually care about equality for all or saving Yamato from tyranny, we would have never even considered turning to homicide to win an election. No one here—myself included—ever gave a damn about the masses. They can condone our actions or not; we don’t much care either way.”

“You never… From the very start?! Wh-what exactly is the meaning of this?!”

Tetra trampled half-eaten food underfoot as she stomped her way over to Glaux. The look in her eyes suggested she might bite the treacherous man’s head off at any moment.

Yet the moment she reached for him, a blast sounded in the dining room.

The noise was akin to a roar of thunder and was accompanied by a flash like lightning.


“Does that make things clearer?”

Glaux had fired from the flintlock pistol he’d withdrawn from his pocket.



Tetra buckled and collapsed to her knees before Glaux. A ribbon of blood bloomed across the tablecloth beneath her. The bullet had struck her squarely in the heart.

“We can embezzle public funds and cover our tracks by declaring their use ‘state secrets.’ We can take kickbacks to give public works projects to contractors who benefit us. We can write a bit of legislature that makes the assembly a de facto privileged class. We can introduce ‘tax reforms’ that suck even more money from our hapless citizens. The possibilities are endless.

“Yet you would have us what, improve social welfare? Liberate Yamato? Spend our own damn money to avoid levies? Ridiculous. As if we would ever cooperate with such inane initiatives. Campaign promises are nothing more than lies to scam idiots out of their votes. We can discard them like trash, and the ignorant masses will be powerless to stop us. According to their beloved angels’ laws, being elected guarantees your seat on the assembly for the next three years.”


“We intend to sacrifice nothing, abandon Yamato to its fate, and allow welfare programs to fester and rot. The plan is to abolish any programs that don’t suit us. For example, those war orphans? I think they’ve leeched off the government long enough. If we sell them off to foreign nations as slaves under the guise of an ‘adoption drive,’ we’ll get some good money. Who was that girl who ruined our debate…Sara, was it? She’s got a promising future ahead of her, so I imagine she’ll command quite a sum. She won’t have much of a future after she gets bought as a plaything, but such is the way of the world.”

Glaux’s whole body shook as he laughed.

Images of Juno and Sara flashed through Tetra’s mind. They were good people who cared about their country, about others, and that man wanted to destroy them. The determined young woman refused to let that happen. She might not be able to stop it all, but she was damn well going to stop him!


A burst of pure, unadulterated fury surged through Tetra’s dying—no, already dead—body. Blood loss had left her limbs immobile, so it was rage alone that powered her actions as she leaped at the one who had betrayed her.

Tetra reached out, intent on grabbing his throat and crushing it in her grip, but through it all, Glaux’s relaxed grin never wavered.


The moment before she could reach his bushy white mustache, her hands lost their strength. A man in a butler uniform had plunged from the ceiling with a sword held in his hand, thrust it through her slender neck from above, and landed on her back to knock her down.

Glaux enjoyed another cackle as he looked down on Tetra, pinned to the floor like an insect in a specimen box.

“Hoh-hoh-hoh. I can’t say I expected you to show up today, but this may well have been a stroke of good fortune. With the debate over and nothing left for the people to do but vote, your charisma is a liability to us now. We were always going to have to get rid of you at some point, and you’ve given us a wonderful opportunity to clean house. Thank you for your contribution, Tetra. Your boundless foolishness has served us this nation on a silver platter. We couldn’t have done it without you, but I’m afraid your services are no longer required.”

“Mr.… Gla…?!”

The fire in Tetra’s eyes was suddenly snuffed as a loud noise like the sound of a thick branch snapping in two cut her words short. The man who stabbed her had twisted his sword to the side and shattered the bone it was piercing. The woman’s body convulsed violently, then went limp and still.

Tetra had been robbed of everything.

“It’s done,” the butler reported in a matter-of-fact tone. He wrenched his blade free from the corpse’s neck.

“Good work, Sasuke,” Glaux thanked him. “Now, get to Neue as quickly as you can and tell Pommel to meet me here. It’s not the victim we had in mind, but the plan is still the same. ‘With no other way to stop us, the Reform Party leader had him kill the Principles Party leader.’ Why, it sounds almost plausible.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Oh, and don’t use the Seven Luminaries’ digital bulletin boards. Being able to send messages in an instant would be convenient, but somehow or other, they record everything that’s written in them. You’ll be traced. And don’t pass through any checkpoints, either. Can you do that?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Then be off.”

Glaux waved his hand, and the servant named Sasuke jumped back through the hole in the roof he had entered from and vanished.

Sasuke was a ninja who’d fled Yamato, and the fact he had survived so long with no support from his homeland was proof enough of his skills. Glaux had little doubt he’d be able to reach Neue by the morning. Thus, there was only one thing left to do. Glaux leisurely rose from his seat and clapped his hands together.

“Now then, we have our plan. Come on, enough cowering on the ground already. It’s time you all got back to your electoral districts. We have to show the people that while we’re heartbroken at the loss of our grand leader, our patriotism remains as steadfast as ever. Oh, and do make sure you don’t say anything stupid out there.”

“O-of course!”

“L-leave it to us…”

Still trembling at the grim spectacle they had witnessed, Glaux’s followers bobbed their heads up and down in clumsy nods. Sycophantic smiles sat plastered across each of their blanched faces. Seeing a true villain at work had scared them out of their minds.

There was little they could do but obey him. Glaux thought back to how they had been mouthing off at him just minutes earlier, and he smiled in satisfaction.

“Remember, we have seven days left until the election. Let’s see this thing through, shall we?”

“I killed Tetra off the main Gustav highway.”

It was the morning five days before the election when Reform Party candidate Jean Pommel surrendered himself at a knight station.

Upon finding out about the tragedy, the election steering committee decided to use the obelisks to broadcast the information across Elm as an emergency alert. To the people of Elm, hearing the news was like getting struck by lightning.

Although the only facts they made public were Tetra’s death and the name of the perpetrator—

“The Principles Party drew its support from Tetra’s overwhelming popularity, so if we killed her, the Reform Party was sure to win. Our leader, Juno, gave me the order, but once I realized what I’d done, I was so overwhelmed with guilt that I decided to turn myself in.”

—it barely took a day before everyone from Findolph to Gustav knew the contents of Jean Pommel’s confession. It wasn’t clear who had leaked it, but there was no stopping the information once it was out there.

Hearing what had happened sent the Principles Party and their supporters into a mad frenzy, and when the Principles Party candidates made grand speeches in their districts about the anger and sorrow they felt, it stirred up their supporters’ rage even further. By the second day after the crime came to light, the post-debate upsurge of support for the Reform Party had been completely reversed.

The streets were full of people shouting and cursing at the Reform Party for having resorted to murder. Many of the vilified party’s more vocal supporters found themselves on the receiving end of threats, intimidation, and even violence. Things were so out of hand that the Order of the Seven Luminaries had to cancel all time off just to mobilize enough troops to keep the peace.

It got to the point where admitting you supported the Reform Party was akin to confessing to murder yourself.

Of course, the Reform Party had no intention of sitting on their hands and doing nothing. Just past noon on the third day before the election, Reform Party representative Juno made her move and started a rally in Dulleskoff so she could publicly proclaim her innocence. She expressed regret that the killer was of her faction but insisted that he had acted alone. For Juno, it was the logical move to make. If she allowed the false accusation to stand, they would get destroyed in the election. Denying it was the only option.

Unfortunately, the Principles Party supporters were in no state of mind to accept her claims at face value. If anything, seeing the person they thought of as the mastermind assert her blamelessness only stoked their rage. It wasn’t long before a riot broke out.

“Geez, it’s like a war zone down there…,” Akatsuki remarked. He and Elch had ridden atop Bearabbit’s back and had arrived on a rooftop overlooking the central plaza.

The Principles Party supporters, the Reform Party supporters, and soldiers trying to mediate were all mixed up and exchanging blows below. It was like looking at an actual battlefield.

“God Akatsuki!” exclaimed one-eyed byuma Zest Bernard. He had rushed over after learning of Akatsuki’s arrival. “Sorry for havin’ to call you in, but the folks down there are so riled up they won’t listen to a word we say! Please, we need your help!”

The problem was, the rioting civilians vastly outnumbered the soldiers. Akatsuki knew that maintaining order in so many places was spreading them thin, and he readily nodded.

“V-very well. Bearabbit, let’s do this.”

“Pawger that!”

With that, Bearabbit pointed his primary camera at Akatsuki and synced up his onboard mic with the public broadcast obelisk down below. A massive image of Akatsuki’s face appeared in the air—

“Halt! Cease this violence at once, mortals!”

—and his sharp declaration rocked the crowd’s ears.

“You dare fight each other in my presence?! Hold your tongues and obey the soldiers’ orders! Any who are fool enough to disturb the peace any further will face the wrath of my divine lightning!”

It was religion that had let the Republic of Elm rise to nationhood in the first place, and to its people, the deity Akatsuki played was the one absolute thing in their lives. Principles Party, Reform Party, it didn’t matter. Nobody was about to risk inviting his fury. That one bellow of his was enough to quell the fighting, and medics rushed in and began treating the wounded without missing a beat.

“’Preciate it, sir,” Zest said gratefully. “If you hadn’t stepped in, things coulda turned real ugly.”

“You made a good call asking him for help when you did,” Elch replied. He was the one who’d brought Akatsuki over. “If your men had tried to match the riot in violence, I think a whole lot more people would’ve gotten hurt. I can see why Tsukasa chose you to lead the Order.”

“Much obliged.”

“Still, I’m not surprised things got rough. Everyone’s been on edge since the news broke, so I figured it was only a matter of time, but still… Who was it that started this mess?”

“A Principles Party candidate named Lloyd from the next district over’s been pushing for this. We’ve got him in custody, so things should settle down for a bit, but…I figure he’s not the only candidate who’s pissed about the murder.”

“So you’re saying stuff like this could start happening all over Elm? I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Believe me: I don’t either.”

Elch and Zest dejectedly peered down at the plaza. Akatsuki did the same—


—and when he did, he spotted a familiar face.

It was a little distance away, but he could see that medics were treating her. Had she gotten hurt? Was she okay? Worried, Akatsuki rushed down the stairs and made straight for her.

“Are… Are you all right?”

When the woman—Reform Party leader Juno—heard his voice, her eyes widened in astonishment.

“G-God Akatsuki, sir!”

She hurriedly rose to her feet and tried to straighten her posture. Akatsuki had to put a quick stop to that.

“A-at ease, mortal! You’re wounded, so don’t move!”

Elch, having followed after the High School Prodigy magician, spoke up from behind him. “Is your arm hurt, Ms. Juno?”

The short man standing beside the Reform Party leader answered in her place. “One of those hooligans threw a torch, and she got burned shielding me. I’m so sorry…”

“Don’t you worry about it,” Juno reassured the man. “We’ve got to pull together and look out for each other if we want to get through this. This is nothing.”


Juno was putting on a brave face, but cold sweat was on her forehead. Akatsuki looked down and gasped. The fire had done a number on her. It hadn’t spread, but sections of Juno’s flesh were a gruesome shade of red, and chunks of charred fabric were stuck to it. Inexperienced with medicine though he was, Akatsuki could tell that the scar would be difficult for anyone to bear, let alone a young woman in her prime.

“…Keine should be available soon. As the agent of my powers of healing, she’ll make it as though that burn never happened.”

“I appreciate your—”

But the moment Juno tried to thank Akatsuki—

“What’re you doing taking her side, God?!?!”


—an angry shout silenced the discussion.

“Hey, you, watch your tone! That’s God Akatsuki you’re talking to!”

“Dammit, soldier boy, get offa me! They’re the ones who started all this!”

When Akatsuki and the others looked to see what was happening, they saw a hyuma man in iron shackles. He was glaring daggers at Juno and Akatsuki, and if not for the soldier pinning his hands behind his back, he would undoubtedly have thrown a punch.

“Tetra devoted herself to you, God! She was doing her damnedest to spread your ‘equality for all’ teachings across the world! And that woman took her from us! She ended Tetra’s life just to get a few more seats on the assembly! Aren’t you gonna punish her?! Are you seriously taking her side?! Lemme go, dammit! LEMME GO!!”

Tears of rage and loathing ran down the bound man’s cheeks as he thrashed about and tried to escape his restraints. Although he was no larger than the soldier holding him back, he shook the other man around so much that he very nearly managed to get free.

Zest, who had come down with Elch, barked, “What’re you still doin’ loafing around here, soldier?! Get him into a holding cell already! I’ll deal with interrogating him myself!”

“C-Commander, sir, yes sir! You three, give me a hand here!”


With the help of a few nearby allies, the soldier finally managed to wrestle the man to the ground. Zest spoke as he watched them drag him away. “That was the candidate who instigated this riot. I’ll keep you all updated on our investigation.”

“…Whatever reasons he had, we caught him red-handed. As of right now, that there’s a former candidate,” Elch responded.

Akatsuki suddenly realized he had seen the instigator before.

He was there with Tetra that first time she barged in on us. I think his name was Lloyd.

In all likelihood, he had shared Tetra’s beliefs for quite some time. Akatsuki had seen it in his face—the pain, sorrow, and rage of having a longtime sister-in-arms slain while her mission was yet unfinished. It was as good a motive as any. Akatsuki sympathized with Juno and her injury, but he couldn’t bring himself to hate the man, either.

“God Akatsuki, I don’t understand why he would, but is Pommel really saying that he was acting on my orders?” Juno inquired as she watched Lloyd get hauled off.

Although the details of Pommel’s testimony hadn’t been officially made public, just about everyone in the country knew what he’d said. There wasn’t much point in keeping up the charade, and besides, if anyone had a right to know, it was Juno.

Akatsuki nodded. “He is.”

“I swear to you. I did nothing of the sort.”

“H-hey, that’s right!” another Reform Party candidate said. “You already know she’s innocent, right, God?! Please, tell everyone she didn’t do it!”

Akatsuki averted his eyes, not totally sure how to answer the request. “Ah, erm, well… Yes, discerning the truth would be trivial for me! But as an omniscient being, I like to revel in chaos from time to time! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!”

The Reform Party candidate was none too happy about that. “What?! But why…?!”

Zest chose that moment to step in. “Verbal testimony alone ain’t enough for us knights or the steering committee to point any fingers at the Reform Party. We’re doin’ everything we can to look into Tetra’s case, so just hang in there.” After smoothing things over, he turned back toward Juno. “For now, though, what’s important is that y’all stay safe. We’re gonna assign some soldiers to guard you, but it’s hard for ’em to do their jobs in gatherings like today’s. Until the election’s over, I gotta ask you to stay away from crowds and big groups.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Juno said, rejecting the request in no uncertain terms. “I understand how low the Order is on manpower, but right now is do-or-die for the Reform Party. We’re fighting for Elm’s future here, and we’re not about to let this nonsense stand in our way. If we did…i-it’d be a damn insult to Tetra’s memory!”

Unable to contain her raging emotions any longer, Juno forgot her manners for a moment. A single tear ran down her cheek. She had the same grief- and rage-filled glint in her eyes as Lloyd.

“…Yeah, I figured you’d say that. Then at least let us in on your planning process. That way, we can come up with the best protection plans we can with the guys we got.”

“Thank you for being so understanding.”

Right as the two of them finished hashing out their arrangement, a group of medics with a gurney came rushing over to Juno. All they could do on-site was administer emergency first aid. Proper treatment meant a hospital visit.

After watching the medics take Juno away, Akatsuki whispered, “…You think she really did it? Ordered that hit?”

“The steering committee’s got people from all the ministries pitching in for the investigation, and for now, the only thing linking her to the crime is the murderer’s word,” Elch answered. “The prevailing opinion is that we don’t have anything firm one way or the other. We’ll probably know more once Dr. Keine is done with the autopsy, but…what about you? It seems like you think she’s innocent.”

Akatsuki nodded immediately. “She isn’t a killer.”

That tear Juno just shed was as anguished as Lloyd’s. Tetra’s death had wounded her as grievously as her rival’s longtime friends. Akatsuki refused to believe that someone like that would be capable of murder.

Elch nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I think so, too. I’ve crossed paths with her a couple of times as part of the steering committee, and I’m telling you, that woman is smart. The way the killer put it, she wanted to beat the Principles Party, so she had their charismatic leader slain to weaken their base so the Reform Party could win. So he offs Tetra on her orders, then gets cold feet and turns himself in. The thing is, even if he hadn’t confessed, the timing of the death is so uncanny that everyone would’ve suspected the Reform Party anyway. There’s no way a person like Juno would’ve overlooked something so obvious. That guy’s lying through his teeth… I just don’t understand why.”

Elch was right. It didn’t make sense.

The killer was from the Reform Party himself. Why would he go out of his way to sabotage them? What did he stand to gain? As things stood, the Reform Party had lost much of their popular support, and the Principles Party had lost their outstanding leader. It was difficult to see how anyone benefited from that.

It was at times like these when Akatsuki wished Tsukasa was here. He very nearly admitted as much aloud.

“““God Akatsuki!!!!”””

Before he had the chance, however, a chorus of unified voices sounded from behind, prompting the blond magician to whirl around in surprise.


Soldiers were blockading the entrance to the plaza, but there were crowds of people who had fled to escape the violence who were now gathered just beyond the perimeter. Their numbers must have reached the tens of thousands.

Elch and Zest moved to shield Akatsuki from the massive crowd with their bodies. The group did not attack, though. Instead, they did something more surprising. Everyone dropped to their knees with their hands clasped and raised in begging prayer.

“Save us, God Akatsuki!”

“We don’t know what to believe in anymore!”

“I put my faith in Juno, and she turned out to be a killer! It’s terrifying just thinking about it!”

“But the Principles Party’s holy war is even scarier!”

“We can’t trust any human! We need you to take the nation’s helm, God!”

“Please, put a stop to this election!”

“Don’t abandon us!”

“We’re begging you, God, keep protecting us!”

These people were here to implore their guardian deity not to leave them in the hands of selfish beings so willing to engage in evil.

“The murder threw the voters for a pretty bad loop, especially the Reform Party supporters,” Elch explained to Akatsuki. After Tetra’s death, he had watched a third ideology rapidly take root among the people of Elm. “Some folks are pressing to have the election canceled. All our municipal offices are getting flooded with petitions to have the Seven Luminaries step back in and resume leadership.”

It was a logical turn of events, given the circumstances.

“I should probably try to stay out of the public eye to lighten the load on the Order, then. I’m gonna head back to the Department of the Interior,” Akatsuki decided.

“Yeah, that’d be a big help,” Zest replied. “Things’re calm now, but if all of them decided to come rushin’ over at once, we wouldn’t be able to stop ’em.”

A development like that could mean another riot. They needed to avoid letting that happen, no matter what. With a crowd that size, that could mean widespread casualties. Akatsuki climbed onto Bearabbit’s back so he could return to the Department of the Interior building. The moment he did, though, he heard the voice of a familiar young lady.

“Oh, you’re heading out? Perfect timing, then.”

“Dr. Keine!”

It was indeed none other than the High School Prodigy doctor.

“Did you finish the autopsy?! What did you find?!” Elch frantically pressed. The committee members in charge of investigating the case had been waiting eagerly for Keine to get back to them.

Although Keine gestured for him to settle down, she was drenched in sweat, and her ever-present smile was absent.

“I did find something quite amiss, but there are too many prying eyes and ears here. I’ll fill you in when we’re behind closed doors. I’ve already called the rest of the committee to the Department of the Interior building.”

When Keine revealed the surprising news, the steering committee officials gasped.

“The time of death…doesn’t line up?”

Keine gave them a firm nod. “Correct. Upon turning himself in, Pommel said that he committed the deed three nights prior, and it was two evenings ago that the crime was first discovered and I got ahold of the body. The problem is, forensics tells me that Tetra had already been dead for forty-eight hours when she got to me.”

“W-wait, you can tell how long people have been dead for?!”

“I’m a doctor, aren’t I? And I’ll have you know that the accuracy of my autopsies is second to none.”

“But if you’re right…then that’s weird, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is. If Pommel’s testimony is to be believed, then the body should have only been twenty-four hours old when I started my autopsy. That leaves an entire day unaccounted for.”

“So you’re saying he killed her four days ago, then lied and said it was just three?”

“Nah, that ain’t it,” Elch cut in. “I had Commander Bernard look into Pommel’s travel records. He left his electoral district in Archride and went to Gustav, where the body was found, in the morning three days ago. When Tetra died, Pommel wasn’t even in the same province…!”

“““ !!!!”””

At the shocking revelation, a stir ran through those gathered in the room.

Keine raised her hand, then waited for everyone to give her their attention before speaking. “That’s not all. I also examined the blood where Tetra’s body was found by the road. It wasn’t hers.”

“Wait…WHAT?! You mean it was someone else’s?!” Akatsuki exclaimed, astonished.

Keine shook her head, however. “It didn’t belong to a human at all. It was pig’s blood.”

“What? But why would…”

The committee members cocked their heads to the side. Why would anyone cover a murder victim in pig blood? It was Zest who gave them their answer.

“Good money says someone wanted to make it look like that was where the crime happened.”

“What do you mean, Commander Bernard?!”

“There’s only so much blood in a body, y’know. There won’t be enough blood at your new spot if you try to move the corpse. People’ll figure out that something’s up. That’s why they had to dress the scene a bit.”

This time, Keine bobbed her head in the affirmative. “Given all the facts, I think it’s quite plain that Tetra didn’t die by the side of that road three days ago. Everything about the corpse and the supposed crime scene says it isn’t possible. In my professional opinion, the true time line of the crime is as follows: Tetra was killed at some unknown site four nights ago, then was carried to the false crime scene a day later.”

The committee members gasped at the conclusion. After all, if everything that Keine asserted was true…

“Based on the checkpoint records, Tetra entered Gustav from Buchwald four days ago…”

“And at that time, Mr. Pommel was in Archride. He couldn’t have been the killer!”

These new facts overturned everything.

“I can’t believe it! Pommel played us for fools!”

A young committee member started tugging at his hair in frustrated confusion. “But wait, that doesn’t make any sense! Why would he lie to us and confess to a crime he didn’t commit…?!”

“He’s probably covering for someone,” Elch replied. “I don’t know if he’s doing it on his own or if he’s being pressured to, but it’s the only reason I can think of. The question is, who’s he taking the fall for? …Commander, do you think you could get him to talk?”

“Lettin’ him know that we’re onto him is a good start, but…it’s tough to say. Murder is a serious crime. If he’s willin’ to fess up to that, it means he’s ready to lay down his life for this. With torture banned, I dunno how far we’ll get with him.”

“Yeah, fair enough…”

“Considering the timing, it’s probably someone involved with the election, right?”

“Pommel’s saying he acted on Juno’s orders. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in there, and she’s the one he’s protecting.”

“Nah, that doesn’t follow. If that were the case, wouldn’t he have stated that Juno ordered him to say he did it?”

“Oh yeah, you’re right.”

“What about someone from the Principles Party, then? The way things shook out, this whole murder scandal ended up turning the tides back in their favor after they lost some support during the debate. They definitely came out ahead of the Reform Party in all this. Wouldn’t you agree, Vice-Minister?”

Elch understood the other committee member’s point, but he didn’t buy it. “…I dunno, I’m not really feeling it. Tetra’s been at the heart of the Principles Party since day one. It wouldn’t make sense for someone to join up with her if they disagreed with the way she ran things, and I can’t imagine them sacrificing their group’s emotional bedrock like that just to scrape together a couple more seats.”

Elch thought back to Lloyd’s anguish. That man had been mourning Tetra’s passing in earnest. Doubting it was difficult.

“I’m not so sure about that,” someone objected. The voice belonged to a short byuma who had yet to shed the last vestiges of childhood. It was the imperial exchange student who’d joined the election steering committee on recommendation from Tsukasa Mikogami himself, Nio Harvey.

“What do you mean, Nio?”

Despite being surrounded by fully grown adult men and women, Nio gave an unwavering reply. “As I’m sure most of you fine Elm folk are aware, the empire is locked in a standoff between the Four Grandmasters and the Bluebloods. The other day, Grandmaster Neuro initiated a purge of everyone at the Imperial Mint who had connections to the Bluebloods. The bigger an organization gets, the more its subdivisions start breaking into factions and competing with one another for control. As far as your voters are concerned at present, one is with either the Principles Party or the Reform Party. There’s no way any fence-sitters will get seats at the table. So…it’s totally possible that a member of the Principles Party didn’t much care for the overwhelming amount of sway Tetra had. I guess that’s just as true for the Reform Party, though.”

“…I see what you’re getting at. You’re right. That does sound plausible.” Hearing Nio lay it out like that made Elch reconsider things in a new light.

Someone in the Principles Party who didn’t care for Tetra might have killed her and pinned it on Pommel. Alternatively, someone in the Reform Party who didn’t care for Juno might have been responsible, as Tetra’s untimely death would harm Juno’s reputation and get rid of a powerful political rival at the same time. Either option was conceivable, and that meant the mastermind could be anyone.

More clues were required, but none present had the slightest inkling where to look.

Right as Elch started groaning—

“In any case, I don’t think letting the election progress with things as they are is a good idea.”

—one of the committee members spoke up.

“Yeah, you’re right. We should postpone it until after we know what really happened.”

“The voters are going nuts, man. Did you see what’s going on outside?”

“You mean all the people facing the building and praying? Yeah, that was new. They must’ve followed God here from the plaza.”

“What do you say, Chairman Elch? Should we delay the election?”

As more and more of his colleagues voiced their support for the idea, Elch could only give them an awkward frown.

“…I don’t have the authority to do that.”


“How? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Back when this mess started coming to light, I had the same thought,” Elch stated. “So I looked over the bylaws Tsukasa drafted for the election and read up on the steering committee’s powers, but there wasn’t anything in there about suspending the election or even the process for how we’d do so. All we’re permitted is the ability to monitor the proceedings impartially. Stopping the election is beyond our right.”

“B-but why?!”

“D-did Mr. Tsukasa forget to add that part or something?”

Elch didn’t know the answer to that question. Still, Elm was a nation governed by laws, and he couldn’t exercise authority he didn’t have.

“Still, if there’s anyone who might be able to suspend the election…”

“…it’s Akatsuki, ruler of the angels. He, and no one else.”

Every pair of eyes in the room fell to the diminutive blond, who recoiled promptly.

“Wait, huh? Me?”

Elch elaborated. “We could also contact Tsukasa and get permission directly, but it sounds like he’s got his hands full right now. I’d rather not bother him unless it’s life-or-death. But you, God Akatsuki, hold a singular position here in Elm. If you declared that the election was on hold, there isn’t a person in the nation who’d object.”

“Hey, he’s right!”

“If we let things persist, we might end up with a killer in the national assembly…”

“And besides, everyone’s in turmoil over the murder, and a bunch of people were calling for the election to be postponed already. If we’re going to do this, now’s the time.”

“Please, God, make the announcement! Tell the people what’s up!”

“I’ll get everything up and running fur you.”

The committee members unanimously agreed that this was the best option they had available. Bearabbit began hooking up the mic and sound equipment without a moment’s hesitation.


“Bwa-ha-ha-ha! I’m afraid that…is not an option! The show must go on!”

—Akatsuki shouted them all down.


“B-but A-Akatsuki, why?!”

Elch and the other committee members stared at him in bewilderment, and Akatsuki summoned up as much swagger and bravado as his short body could muster.

“Why, you ask?! That much should be obvious! Because Elm isn’t my nation. It belongs to you mortals!”


“The Republic of Elm is a democracy, and in a democracy, everyone has a right to democratic elections! Those elections are their sovereignty manifest, and nobody has the right to interfere with or obstruct them!! Not even an omnipotent god! Otherwise, it ceases to be a democracy!”

As Akatsuki spoke, he thought back to a question he’d once casually asked Tsukasa after class back in middle school. Tsukasa was always going on about how a democracy’s failures were also the failures of its citizens, the people who’d elected its officials. What Akatsuki had wanted to know was whether the same thing held true for the Empire of Japan. After all, they held elections back then, too, so was the bitter defeat Japan suffered in World War II the fault of its people as well?

Tsukasa had answered with a definitive “No.” That was different.

“Sovereignty and rights aren’t always the same. Japan was a constitutional monarchy at the time, and sovereignty rested with the emperor. The people only had what ‘rights’ they were permitted to have, and those rights could be—and were—obstructed on a whim.

“The most egregious example was the Lower House Term Extension Act. It allowed the cabinet to use the geopolitical situation as an excuse to postpone lower house elections for a year. The people may have appointed them at first, but they robbed the people of the right to choose their leadership.

“And do you know what they did during that year? They bombed Pearl Harbor and intentionally pushed us past the point of no return, then established a wartime regime through a farce of an election where anyone who didn’t support the military was driven out.

“It seems pretty clear that they wanted to leave America’s President Roosevelt with no choice but to declare war.

“Theory holds that the military and the mass media that supported it were hoping to use special wartime procurement to overcome their economic slump, and the people themselves wanted to see that boom as well.

“There’s no denying that Japan’s economy was in rough shape at the time, so it’s possible that combat was unavoidable. It’s impossible to say how right or wrong the decision itself was. However, while the people elected the officials at first, those in power did the unforgivable and used the emperor’s sovereignty to rob the citizens of their rights. In a situation like that, the populace bears no responsibility for the war or election that followed.

“We can’t afford to make the same mistake they did. If Japan wants to call itself a free democracy, then even if the world were going to end tomorrow, we would still have a duty to carry out our elections. The instant that the right to democratic elections is arbitrarily obstructed marks the moment that the will of its people no longer governs a country.”

“If there’s a system in place to interfere with people’s rights, then sooner or later, it’ll get used for evil. Tsukasa knew that, and that’s why he didn’t give you that authority. It doesn’t matter if there’s a murder, or if war breaks out…or if the world falls apart! He knew that nothing would be enough, nothing could be enough, to justify violating the citizens’ sovereignty!”

Most importantly, Tsukasa himself was the one who decided to hold the election now. Tsukasa, the prodigy politician who always made sure of everything. There was no way he hadn’t foreseen an upset like this. The fact he’d decided to hold the election despite that meant that it was simply that important for the Republic of Elm.

I…I basically don’t know anything.

Akatsuki hadn’t the faintest idea what was best, how he could help, or even what he wanted. All of the other six Prodigies were so mature that he felt like a child compared to them. Still, the blond magician understood who deserved his trust.

He knew who was willing to sacrifice everything if it meant that even one more person got to live a happy life. It was the man who agonized over everything, far more than anyone else. Akatsuki trusted him even more than himself. That was why there was never any uncertainty about whether he should delay the election.

“So…I’m countin’ on you to keep looking after Tsukasa for me.”

He just needed to keep backing up the person he trusted—prodigy politician Tsukasa Mikogami!

* * *

“If the people lose focus on the election, I’ll talk to them and get it back! When more riots break out, I’ll stop them! I’ll do whatever I can. So I need you guys to give it everything you’ve got, too, so we can make this election fair and impartial! After all…this is your country we’re talking about here!”

Akatsuki mustered up all the volume and determination he could to express that absolute confidence in Tsukasa and how inviolable the election was. He was trying so hard to convey his point that he made a significant mistake.

About halfway through his speech, he completely forgot that he was supposed to be speaking with the majesty befitting a deity.

“Er, I mean…verily, this doth be thine country! Fwah-ha-ha-ha!”

He frantically tried to amend the end of his statement, but it was too little too late. He broke out in a cold sweat. Elch, one of the only other people present who knew the truth, buried his face in his hands—

“Dammit, now I feel pathetic. There I go trying to off-load my problems on other people again. If Masato were here, he’d be laughing his head off at me.”

—and let out a self-deprecating chuckle.

It wasn’t Akatsuki’s blunder he was worried about. It was his own weakness.

“Ha-ha, you ’n’ me both.” Zest agreed with a laugh. “This Yamato situation started when Princess Kaguya showed up, and now Elm’s gotta make the call. The Principles Party wants us to follow the Seven Luminaries’ lead, and the Reform Party wants us to appease the empire. Still, either way, the country’s gotta choose what path it wants to take, and it’s gotta make that choice now. If we wanna see our People’s Revolution through to its end, then this is somethin’ we can’t put off.”

“The Commander’s right. How’d we miss something so obvious?!”

“C’mon, guys, we’re not just commoners getting jerked around anymore!”

“Yeah! We decided to stand on our own two feet, and that’s what we’re going to do!”

As it turned out, Elch and Zest weren’t the only ones who felt that way. Resolve shone brightly on the face of every Elm bureaucrat in the room. And it wasn’t because their God, Akatsuki, had given the order, either. It was because they had finally remembered just how precious the rights they’d been endowed with were. No one would sully them ever again.

“Thanks, Akatsuki. You really woke us up.” After sincerely thanking the Prodigy illusionist for that reminder, Elch slammed his palms down onto the table to gather everyone’s attention. “All right, the committee’s decided! No more of this crap about postponing the election! We’re gonna find the schemers who’ve been trying to manipulate things from the shadows, drag ’em out into the light, and get our country back on the right path! Including today, we’ve got three days left before the election. Let’s make ’em count!”


The others responded to Elch’s enthusiasm in kind. They pumped their fists in the air and gave war cries so loud it felt like the room was shaking.

Now, more than ever, they were determined to fight back against whoever it was who dared to infringe upon their sovereignty.

“Should we start by announcing that Pommel lied about the time of death, then?” one of the committee members proposed.

“…Nah, we’d best keep that to ourselves for as long as we can,” Zest replied. “If the real perp finds out we’re closin’ in, they might start trashing evidence. When we hit election day, Bearabbit, the Order, and I can announce everything we know for sure just before the polls open.”

“What we need is a clue or something. Have any of you noticed anything unusual recently? It doesn’t matter how small it seemed at the time!” said Elch. Unfortunately, his attempt to find something to work from got a much weaker response than his previous rousing statement. The committee members dredged through their memories as best they could, but all they could find to give him were dejected groans.

Then, one person shyly raised his hand.

“U-um, if I may…” It was Nio, the exchange student. “I know I’m from the empire, so it might not be my place to say, but…there is one thing that’s been bugging me.”

“Tsukasa trusted you enough to leave a fair chunk of his job to you while he was gone. You’ve got as much right to talk as anyone. Hit us with what you’ve got.”

When Elch urged him on, Nio nodded and voiced his concern. “Well…there was something about Luvirche that didn’t sit right with me.”

“The actors?” one of the committee members asked.

“Oh, I recall them,” another one added. “They’re one of the troupes that the Principles Party used for their propaganda campaign.”

“Oh yeah, those guys. They were putting on shows all across Elm, right?”

“Now that I think about it, the Principles Party must have burned a lot of cash on them. You think the money was dirty or something?”

Elch quickly shot that theory down. “Nah, we kept a close eye on that stuff over at the Ministry of Finance. They invested a ton, but none of it violated Tsukasa’s campaign finance laws. The thing is, Glaux used to be the foreign chancellor. He ended up spending something like a quarter of his whole fortune, but all the money came from him. We even double-checked with the troupes, and everything was on the level. Nio, I’m guessing there was something else that caught your eye?”

“Yes. The thing is, Luvirche—and most of the other troupes they used, for that matter—were based out of Freyjagard’s Emperor domain. It made me wonder…why was the Principles Party able to hire them?”

“Well, you can’t really blame them for that. It’s…Nio, right? You’re an exchange student, so you probably know this already, but while the angels’ technology grew Elm’s engineering capabilities by leaps and bounds, Drachen and the rest of the Emperor domain still put us to shame when it comes to the arts. There’s a reason all the exchange students we sent your way are studying artsy stuff. And when it comes to actors, Freyjagard’s got us beat in quantity and quality both. We never really had troupes like that up here in the north. The Principles Party didn’t really have much choice in the matter,” replied a committee member.

Nio gave the answer a shake of his head. “I’m not talking about why they chose to hire them. I’m asking why they were able to.”

“…I don’t follow.”

“Luvirche is based out of the empire, so they’re going to be doing shows there for the rest of their careers. Them performing and speaking of equality for all and working with a group that’s talking about going to war with Freyjagard would surely earn them no friends back home.”

“I never thought of that…!!”

“If the Principles Party wins, and if conflict actually breaks out, they’re going to get raked over the coals for their part in it. I don’t know exactly how much the Principles Party is paying them, but even an entire mountain of gold wouldn’t be enough to make up for what they stand to lose.”

Once Nio pointed out the oddity, everyone found themselves agreeing with him. The more they thought about it, the stranger it seemed.

Perhaps some of the more minor troupes the Principles Party hired had been strapped for cash. However, that still didn’t explain how they’d gotten a group as renowned as Luvirche to play their propaganda for them. Luvirche had a bright future ahead of it, and this job had a genuine chance of jeopardizing that.

The question gnawed at everyone present in the room.

“…Still, I don’t see much of a link between that and our murder,” Elch commented.

Odd or not, Luvirche’s decision didn’t seem to bear much relevance to the murder.

“I’m sorry,” Nio apologized, realizing that Elch was correct. No sooner had he done so than—

“I’m not so sure about that, Vice-Minister.”

—the door swung upon, and a dignified, powerful voice cut in.

“It’s no wonder Mr. Tsukasa took such a liking to you, young man. He has a discerning eye.” An older man stepped into the room, and the deep wrinkles on his face bunched up as he smiled and praised Nio.

When Elch saw the latest arrival, his eyebrows shot up. “Vice-Minister Archride! Where the hell have you been?!” he cried indignantly.

“I do apologize for my tardiness. The search took me longer than I expected. God Akatsuki, I’m terribly sorry I was late to a meeting graced by your presence. I had to scour the storehouse top to bottom, but I think what I found will be of some interest. Vice-Minister Elch, take a look at this.”

Archride withdrew a few grayish sheets of paper. Due to their hue, it was easy to tell at a glance that they weren’t the pulp-based stock that the Seven Luminaries popularized. The sheets were from when Freyjagard still controlled the region.

Elch took the papers and flipped through them. “What am I looking at here?” he questioned.

“Something I remembered when I first heard the name of Tetra’s killer. One year ago, back when I was lord of the Archride domain, a man named Jean Pommel, who ran a crockery workshop in Neue, came and asked me for a tax exemption because his business had fallen on hard times.”

A look flashed across Elch’s eyes, and the rest of the committee members were no different.

“W-wait, you’re saying…it’s the same guy?!”

Archride nodded.

“I investigated his workshop’s financials and discovered that Lakan’s porcelainware was pushing his ceramic products out of the market. I told him that I couldn’t forgive his taxes, but I could let him pay them in installments over a longer period. I found those documents as part of my investigation. They detail a loan he took out to maintain working capital. When you see who the creditor is, I think you’ll understand why I brought them.”

Elch turned his attention back to the documents and read them over carefully. It didn’t take long before he went agape, for the name of the lending party was…

“Glaux von Einzgarm…!”

That was it. That was the connection between the two seemingly unrelated Reform Party and Principles Party candidates.

“Sorry, what?!”

“H-hey, lemme see that!”

“W-wait, so this proves there was a financial link between Pommel and Glaux of the Principles Party!”

“The document doesn’t list the interest rate or the payment deadline, but nobody would issue a mid- to long-term loan to a workshop whose finances were so bad they needed an installment plan for their taxes. The longest term I can see anyone offering would be a year, and since that much time has passed since my investigation, the loan must already be due. Regrettable though it is, I doubt Pommel was able to pay it back. It’s just too much money, and the Lakan porcelain boom is still going strong. There’s no way his workshop was able to turn the corner and come up with this much cash. Thus, there’s a good chance this debt is still active. And that’s a connection we can’t afford to ignore.”

Elch knew that Archride was onto something. The debt was the kind of amount people got killed over. In fact, one man’s life wouldn’t be enough to settle an account like this—the creditor might well drag the borrower’s family into it, too.

“And that deficit isn’t the only thing that deserves our attention. Mr. Glaux’s financial dealings with the troupe the young exchange student mentioned have a shady side to them as well. I want the Ministry of Finance to help me look into them,” Archride appended.

The remark caused Elch to look up from the documents so quickly it was like he’d been struck. “W-wait, shady how?!” His expression was marked by complete bewilderment.

Elch, along with the rest of the Ministry of Finance, had been going over all the election-related transactions with a fine-toothed comb, and as far as they’d been able to tell, everything was on the level.

Archride laid a hand atop Elch’s shoulder. Unlike those of the others in the room, Archride’s hands were large, rugged, and mottled with scars. They were the hands of a man who had survived more harsh battles than could be tallied.

“If my suspicions are right, that money trail holds the answers to all our questions. And my gut tells me they are. So how do you feel about betting on Brichs Archride, Shrewd General of the North?”

A young woman arrived at Glaux’s villa near a small spring in the Gustav province. The structure’s pale walls were dyed scarlet from the setting sun. She was Hilda, and she was Luvirche’s star actress.

Hilda’s dress was so white it seemed almost radiant, and the gold dust mixed into her lipstick gleamed as she smiled across the table at Glaux.

“Hm-hmm. I stopped by the town on my way here, and my gracious, the people are just in love with the Principles Party. If anyone still supports the Reform Party, they certainly aren’t vocal about it. It’s all just as you planned. You never fail to impress, Assemblyman Glaux.”

“Hoh-hoh-hoh. It was all thanks to Luvirche’s unflagging support and the archduke’s generous financial assistance, my lady.”

“Oh, you’re too modest… There is something that weighs on me, though.”

“Do tell.”

“Aren’t you worried about the commoners coming after you over the money and the way you’ve been paying us actors?”

“Oh, that? I assure you, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Even if some rare stroke of misfortune leads the election officials to discover the way we’ve been moving funds between me, the archduke, and the troupes, they won’t be able to charge me with anything.”

“And you’re quite certain of that?”

“Don’t spare it another thought. I’ve taken great care in ensuring our safety.”

“Hmm, now that is good to hear. That prudence is one of the things my husband, Archduke Weltenbruger, appreciates most about you.”

“I’m honored.” Despite the woman before him being young enough to be his granddaughter, Glaux gave her a bow of utmost respect.

Hilda looked down at him. To her, his deference was merely a matter of course. “Between the Seven Luminaries’ horrible ear-cutting incident in Yamato and the alarming rise of a party who calls for invading Freyjagard, the Four Grandmasters will come under fire for their lax governance.

“Not even their lives will be enough to atone for the damage they’ve dealt to the empire’s dignity and legacy, and Kaiser Lindworm will be made to pay for granting power to those lowborn scum and for leading us into a pointless war.

“My husband has consensus from the other Bluebloods, Assemblyman Glaux. For your noble deeds in righting the empire’s course, we wish to put that acumen of yours to good use and welcome you back as foreign chancellor under Emperor Weltenbruger’s command.

“We hope you can let bygones be bygones and help us fight for the Freyjagard we both respect so dearly.”

The bygone in question was the political struggle between Glaux and Weltenbruger that had ended with the former fleeing the capital. To Glaux, the bitterness of that defeat was still fresh. However, he made sure not to let the slightest hint of his resentment show on his face—

“For Archduke Weltenbruger to not just forgive me my past slights against him, but to even welcome me into his new administration as a chancellor… Truly, the great ocean stretching to the south could hardly even begin to contain the vastness of his heart.”

—as he abased himself before the old foe Hilda had come representing.

“I pledge to show you results worthy of this favor the archduke has bestowed upon me.”

Satisfied by the man’s display of fidelity, Hilda stood. “Then the next time we see each other, may it be in the Dragon City, Drachen—and may we be meeting as its foreign chancellor and its empress.” She flashed Glaux a smile that had captivated so many tens of thousands, then took her leave.

Glaux saw her off, waiting until her carriage had disappeared from view before raising his head. “That wretched concubine is nothing more than a pretty face, and she thinks she can look down on me?!”

He stomped the ground to vent his fury, driving his foot against the hard earth repeatedly. The action did little to quell his anger.

“And, what, she thinks Weltenbruger is going to be emperor?! That baboon who holds nothing to his name save his pedigree?! What is this world coming to?!”

Weltenbruger had little in the way of talent or intelligence. If not for his bloodline, he would have been worthless. Glaux would have never lost to a man like that had he not been the former emperor’s nephew! No amount of insults would be enough to capture the way Glaux felt about Weltenbruger, so he took a deep breath and swallowed his hatred.

“Now I need only bide my time…”

The boiling rage sat heavy in his stomach, but he knew that he simply needed to endure it. Going along with Weltenbruger was necessary to return the Freyjagard Empire to its former glory.

That was Glaux von Einzgarm’s goal. It was what he’d been after since the beginning. Not only had he filled the Principles Party with petty louts and scoundrels so he could abuse the Republic of Elm’s democratic governing system and feast upon its bounty, but he was deceiving his allies, too. His goal didn’t lie with the Republic of Elm. There was only one thing he desired.

By allowing the belligerent Principles Party to take control of Elm, he could launch a reckless invasion under the pretense of waging a righteous war. That would coincide with the Weltenbruger regime’s seizing of Freyjagard. By feeding them the republic’s exact invasion plans, he could deal a crippling blow to Elm and ensure that the empire retook it. With that accomplishment under his belt, he would be welcomed back into Freyjagard’s inner circle with open arms.

Glaux had been working with Freyjagard’s Bluebloods since day one. Soon, all his ambitions would be realized. The Principles Party was well situated to secure over two-thirds of the seats on the national assembly.

“Assemblyman? Equality? Hah! The thought of being put on the same level as those animals makes me sick! I refuse to be left here to rot any longer. I’m going to be an imperial duke again. I’m going to be a chancellor again…!”

Glaux’s eyelids sagged with age, but beneath them, his ambition burned just as bright as ever.

The fateful morning was finally upon them. Elm’s inaugural national election was here, and the polls were slated to open at noon on the dot.

The process was as follows: When an eligible voter entered the polling site, they were given a wooden tag with their name to put in the box associated with the candidate of their choice. That way, even people who couldn’t read or write could still cast their votes.

Although the polls weren’t open yet, huge crowds were already gathered around the sites. Everyone was eager to cast their ballot. In part due to Akatsuki’s impassioned speeches, they were all determined to take their future into their own hands.

Would it be the Principles Party, or the Reform Party? Was Yamato to be saved or abandoned? One way or the other, today’s vote would determine the Republic of Elm’s course. This time, it wouldn’t be the High School Prodigies calling the shots. The citizens were acting of their own volition.

However, a single person had a different future in mind, one where the Republic of Elm collapsed. That man was Glaux von Einzgarm.

Glaux had taken over Tetra’s position as leader of the Principles Party. He had come to Dulleskoff that morning to give an address to the nation after the election was over, announcing the establishment of the new Glaux cabinet. Once he got there, he joined up with the Principles Party candidate from the local district, then headed for the candidates’ waiting room that the Department of the Interior had prepared for them.

When they got there—


—they ran into a woman sitting on the sofa with one of her arms wrapped in bandages. She was Juno, leader of the Reform Party. Accompanying her was a young byuma who appeared to be her secretary. Like Glaux, she must have come to give the Reform Party’s post-election address in the studio Bearabbit was setting up.

“You’re quite the early bird, Ms. Juno.”

“…Well, I do live in Buchwald.”

“Tch! We gotta share a waiting room with them?! This sucks!”

The disparaging remark came from the Principles Party candidate who’d accompanied Glaux into the room. Like Lloyd, the man arrested a few days ago, this person had fought in Tetra’s volunteer army and had been one of the earliest supporters of her ideals. In his eyes, Juno was the person responsible for the death of his sister-in-arms. He could barely stand to breathe the same air as her. The man’s expression contorted in disgust, and he turned to leave.

Juno called to stop him, however. “Please, wait a moment.” She gave the Principles Party duo a deep bow. “I want to apologize. If not for my inept leadership, this horrible situation might never have come to be.”

Unfortunately, all her apology did was send Tetra’s friend over the edge. “You’ve got a lotta nerve, standing there and feeding us that bullshit with a straight face!!” His cheeks flushed with anger, and he reached out to grab Juno.

“Hold it.” Glaux interrupted, stopping his colleague. Then, he posed Juno a question. “The killer insisted he was acting on your orders. You still say he’s lying?”

“I swear, I never did anything of the sort, but…I can understand why the Principles Party wouldn’t believe me.”

“You’re damn right we don’t believe you! You think I’m gonna listen to the monster who killed our—”

“I believe you.”

Everyone’s eyes went wide at Glaux’s declaration.


“What the hell, Glaux?! What’re you on about?!” the Principles Party candidate bellowed. His voice was full of confusion and rage in equal measure.

Glaux replied, “Juno is a clever woman. After going up against her in the debate, I know that better than most. She isn’t the kind of person who would resort to rash measures like murder.”

“B-but…the killer said she gave him the order…!”

“A lie, no doubt. If nothing else, I would much sooner trust my own eyes than some unsubstantiated testimony.” And with that, Glaux did the unthinkable. He turned to Juno and gave her a small bow of his own. “If anyone should be apologizing, it’s us. We were so fixated on winning the election we went a little too far with our campaign promises, and now we’ll have to make good on them. Getting through it will undoubtedly require your assistance. I hope you can find it in you to help the Principles Party shore up our weaknesses and work together, as fellow countrymen and patriots, to make our country the best it can be.”

Glaux offered Juno his hand.


Glaux’s gentle smile and display of goodwill sent a tremble down Juno’s throat. She managed to choke back the sob, but she couldn’t stop the emotions welling up inside her from showing on her face.

Ever since Tetra’s death, it seemed like all anyone was doing was screaming and shouting at her like they would at a monster. Yet there were still people who believed and counted on her, so she’d braved the danger and stood before frightening crowds anyway. It had accomplished very little, though.

The Reform Party was still under heavy suspicion, and they had failed to win back the masses. Now it was election day, and Juno’s heart was stretched well past its breaking point.

Hearing that from Glaux was the most significant relief imaginable for the tired and battered woman. Everyone knew that the new administration would revolve around him, and if he was presenting a chance for a sliver of the Reform Party’s ideals to survive…perhaps Juno still had an opportunity to do some good.

“Of course! It would be my honor.” Juno fought to blink back tears as she reached forward to accept Glaux’s handshake.

Glaux faced her head-on and sneered internally. Ha. Tetra, this girl…fools, the lot of them.

The way Glaux saw it, he was going to need as many pawns on the national assembly as he could get to successfully turn the Republic of Elm over to the Freyjagard Empire. If a little song and dance here would add another piece to his collection, it was well worth the price. By taking his hand, Juno would end up laboring to destroy the country she was trying to protect.

Glaux wondered what sort of look she would have on her face once the reborn Freyjagard Empire crushed Elm like a bug. He was going to enjoy finding out.

A gloating smile started creeping across his face, but then—

“I wouldn’t touch that hand with a ten-foot pole if I were you, Juno. That guy’s the last person you wanna associate with.”



—a young man’s declaration cut in.

Glaux’s eyes widened a smidge, and he spun around to see who’d dared to interrupt him.

There he saw the election steering committee bureaucrats standing in the doorway.

One of them, a young byuma man, spat at him in a voice dripping with vitriol. “I gotta hand it to you, Glaux von Einzgarm. You make yourself sound like a goddamn saint.”

The byuma in question happened to be the committee chairman.

“…It’s Vice-Minister Elch, yes? Or would ‘Chairman Elch’ be more appropriate, perhaps? In any case, I daresay I sense some hostility. Did you need me for something?”

“You’d better believe it, Glaux von Einzgarm. I’m here to arrest you.”

“ ”

Juno was struck speechless. She turned and looked at Glaux just in time to see a look of quiet sagacity flash across his narrowed eyes.

On the evening three days before the election, Elch gave latecomer Archride’s suggestion the go-ahead.

“…Okay. I’ll trust your gut and take another look at the money trail between Glaux and the troupes.”

The Shrewd General of the North was one of the wisest men in Elm. If there was anyone worth betting on, it was him.

“Before we get into it, though, would you mind explaining what exactly it was you thought looked shady? Otherwise, we might just miss it again.”

Archride nodded, then elaborated. “The way I heard it, Mr. Glaux took care of all the propaganda expenses on his own. But that doesn’t make sense. There’s no way he has enough money to pull that off.”

“Huh…? What do you mean? I get how much it all cost, but we’re talking about one of the richest, if not the richest, guys in Elm. He could’ve paid for everything and still had more than half his fortune left. We looked into the net worth of every noble in the country back when Elm was founded, and that data should still hold more or less true.”

“If we were just talking about numbers, you’d be right. But there isn’t a man alive whose entire fortune is liquid. You see, when we’re talking about wealth, it actually falls into two categories. The first is assets that can’t easily be converted into spendable money. That includes things like his manor in Archride and his villa in Gustav, as well as all the fine art that decorates them. Then, there’s the kind that can be spent, like currency and drafts.

“Every fortune, no matter how large or small, can be divided into those two subcategories. The trouble lies with Glaux’s asset ratio. As you’re well aware, the man is a moneylender. Doesn’t it stand to reason that most of his fortune would be in credits and IOUs rather than actual cash?”

“Hey, yeah…!!”

“And the thing about credits is that they have fixed repayment dates. Until his debtors reimbursed him, he couldn’t easily trade those IOUs for money. The only way he could afford all those troupes is if all his credits miraculously came to term at precisely the right time, and that’s unlikely.

“The Republic of Elm wouldn’t allow him to force his debtors to cough up early. If he tried, he’d be arrested. The only ones he could’ve legally collected on are bonds that were overdue already, but that wouldn’t have worked, either.

“If someone’s not paying their overdue debts, it’s generally because they don’t have the money. There’s no point in trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Even if Glaux seized a debtor’s assets, or the borrower themself, it would still take time and effort to turn that into currency.”

Archride explained that Glaux’s liquid assets ultimately represented only around 20 percent of his fortune, 30 percent at the absolute most.

“Funding all he claimed to is impossible. He might technically have enough wealth, but not enough actual money.”

“Y-you’re right…!”

The sheer size of Glaux’s fortune had blinded Elch to the truth and made him overlook how most of it wasn’t spendable.

“But Vice-Minister Elch, the troupes putting on their propaganda are getting paid just fine! We knew in advance that putting on such a large-scale propaganda campaign would take huge amounts of money, so the Ministry of Finance has been monitoring them closely!” remarked a Ministry of Finance bureaucrat.

Elch had seen those reports and knew that was correct. The money definitely existed, and it was unquestionably changing hands. So then, where was it coming from? In a flash of insight, all the puzzle pieces came together in Elch’s mind and revealed the horrible truth.

That’s what’s going on…!

“So there is dirty money involved!” he cried.

“You mean…someone’s trying to interfere with the election monetarily?”

“But wait, Glaux is probably the richest guy in Elm! If he can’t come up with that kind of money, nobody can!”

“Not anyone in Elm, anyway.” A stir ran through the committee members, and Elch slammed his fist against the table. “Rrgh! Dammit, they got us good!”

“V-Vice-Minister Elch?!”

“A war would play into those bastards’ hands real nicely, wouldn’t it?! And they’d have no problem getting Luvirche involved! It’s the Freyjagard Empire Bluebloods that are trying to mess with Elm’s inaugural election!”

“““ !!!!”””

Until that moment, none present had known the depths of the conspiracy plaguing their country or the fact that Elm’s survival hung in the balance.

“Finance team, I want you to find me every piece of gold Glaux has ever so much as looked at since the day Elm was founded! Also, get ahold of Jaccoy and tell him to scour through the currency exchange logs, starting with when we first issued the goss! Unless we find a huge transaction there, that money’s undoubtedly dirty! Commander Zest, take your men and trace the paths Luvirche and the other troupes took through Elm, as well as everywhere Glaux went since Elm was founded! Hurry, people! If the Bluebloods are channeling funds to Glaux, there’s gotta be proof of it somewhere!”

“It was easy once we knew where to look,” Elch explained to Glaux. It had taken several sleepless nights, but he had the man trapped now. “In that inspection we conducted when Elm was first founded, we found that forty percent of your fortune was tied up in fixed assets like houses and art, and only twenty percent was liquid. The last forty percent was all credits. We didn’t look too closely at who exactly owed you what, so I don’t have all the details on hand. Still, I’d bet that there’s no way you were able to collect on all those dues in the short time frame before the election. Plus, we went through all the currency exchange logs, and there’s no record of you trading for all the imperial currency you’d need to pay off a bunch of troupes based in Freyjagard. One day, out of the blue, a pile of imperial gold half the size of your whole fortune just happened to fall in your lap, huh?”


“The Order checked the checkpoint records, and you know, your family members have been making an awful lot of trips between here and Freyjagard lately. Plus, your housekeeper confirmed that just last month, Imperial Golden Knight Karl du Glühen—who works for Archduke Weltenbruger—visited your main residence in Archride. Because you got your campaign funds straight from Archduke Weltenbruger!”

Elch and his coworkers had been rushing all over the country to build their case during the past few days. Their efforts had forged a mighty blade of truth, which Elch now wielded against the greatest villain of them all.

Glaux, faced with such compelling evidence, burst into laughter.

“Hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh! I was wondering what you had to say, but this? This is preposterous.”

“Mr.… Mr. Glaux?”

Juno stood dumbfounded, not yet entirely comprehending what was happening. Meanwhile, Glaux enjoyed his chortling for a moment more—

“Hoh-hoh-hoh, so I did. And what of it?”

—then freely confessed to the accusation. He didn’t so much as try to make excuses. It was all true.

The Principles Party candidate accompanying him went pale. “W-wait, what?! But accepting contributions from a foreign national is a major campaign finance violation!”

However, he was the only one who seemed alarmed. Glaux himself didn’t look concerned in the slightest.

“Please take care not to misinterpret my statement,” Glaux asserted with a tone that bordered on brazen. “I didn’t take a single campaign contribution from the man. You see, I sold a number of my assets to Archduke Weltenbruger, and that money was simply my proceeds. I needed quite a bit of money to run my campaign. Yet regrettably, I am only a humble moneylender. Spendable capital is not something I’m blessed with an abundance of, and to be honest with you, I was at a bit of a loss.

“It was then that I came up with the idea of conveying some of my outstanding credits to my old acquaintance Archduke Weltenbruger to raise the money I needed. The payment I accepted came in the form of imperial gold, and I believe that explains why it didn’t show up in your foreign exchange ledgers.

“If you still suspect me of wrongdoing, then, by all means, come visit my villa in Gustav. My head butler Sasuke would be more than happy to show you a detailed account of exactly which credits I sold and for how much. If you compare those numbers against my current holdings and my fortune at the time of your last inspection, it should prove my innocence.”

As Glaux laid out his explanation, a disdainful grin spread beneath his bushy mustache.

Hoh-hoh-hoh. What shallow minds the common rabble have.

As soon as anyone compared the massive expenses of his propaganda campaign against his current assets, it would only be a matter of time before they discovered the illicit contributions. Glaux had known that all along. That was why he’d never taken any illegal contributions.

When those idiot Bluebloods tried to fatten up his campaign fund, he had intentionally turned them down and instead suggested that they buy his credits so he could avoid breaking the law.

After hearing Glaux’s rebuttal…Elch gave him a nod. “Yeah, my Ministry of Finance guys went to your villa and looked over those documents this morning. According to the report they sent me, there wasn’t so much as a single misplaced zero. The files were so meticulously detailed it made a couple of us wonder if you didn’t draw them up with the express purpose of showing ’em to us.”

“Well, you aren’t necessarily wrong about that. I recognized that I was moving a lot of money around, so I made sure my records were spotless in case I drew any undeserved scrutiny.”

“I gotta say, there was some really interesting stuff in there. Y’see, it wasn’t just loans in good standing where the debtors were making regular payments you sold off. A bunch of ’em were unrecoverable garbage over a year past their payment dates, and yet you somehow sold them off for full face value. That’s quite convenient.”

“What can I say? I bought low and sold high; that’s just good business.”

Archduke Weltenbruger was the leader of the Bluebloods, a group that had loudly voiced its displeasure at Elm’s secession. It didn’t make sense for him to be doing business with anyone in Elm, much less a Principles Party member who was calling for a holy war to be waged against his country. Suspicious as it was, though, nothing illegal had actually happened. There was nothing people like Elch could do about it.

Glaux knew he was in no danger. He turned his nose up at Elch—

“Now that you’ve looked through my books, you understand as well as anyone that the money I used for my campaign was acquired in a completely legal manner. I haven’t done anything illicit, and to be quite blunt with you, I don’t appreciate the way you’ve been baiting me and making baseless accusations. Once I’m elected to the assembly, I’ll make sure you answer for this witch hunt of an investigation you’ve conducted.”

—and glared daggers at him from beneath his droopy eyelids.

Glaux is probably grinning like he’s won under that bushy white ’stache of his, Elch realized. Had the young byuma been alone, that was as far as things would have progressed. Even if he’d noticed the discrepancy in Glaux’s asset ratio and looked into it, he wouldn’t have been able to get any further than he was right now.

Fortunately, he’d had assistance.

“The thing is, proving that the money came from the Bluebloods won’t do us any good.”

“What are you talking about, Vice-Minister Archride?”

“The amount of money it took the Principles Party to run their plays all across Elm is tremendous, and there’s no way Mr. Glaux would have overlooked how much attention that would draw from the steering committee. I find it hard to imagine he would let himself get nailed for something as obvious as that. See, there’s nothing illegal about moving the money itself as long as you do it right, and I suspect he fixed that problem by selling off his assets and taking the cash as ‘profits.’ As long as it isn’t technically a donation, our campaign finance laws can’t touch him.”

“So why bother looking into his cash flow if it’s not going to get us anywhere?”

“The important part about all this isn’t where the money came from. It’s about what he sold to get it.

“Considering who stands to gain, I can all but guarantee you that it’s the Bluebloods he dealt with. If the Principles Party starts a war with Freyjagard, they can use that as leverage to oust the Four Grandmasters for choosing to appease us, so it’s in their interest to funnel as much currency to his side as they legally can. They don’t care about the details; they just want the money moved, so for Mr. Glaux, this is a golden opportunity to off-load all his bad loans in one fell swoop. Now, that brings us back to our friend Mr. Pommel. Given his workshop’s financial setup, the standard kind of short-term loan you’d offer him would come due after just a few months. If that kind of loan was still sitting on Mr. Glaux’s books after a full year, any moneylender in their right mind would write it off as nonperforming. So what if…out of all the bad loans he has, it turns out that’s the only one he intentionally chose to hold on to?”

If the cunning old Glaux von Einzgarm gave up his chance to get rid of it, that could only mean one thing. That loan itself was the true weapon behind their murder mystery.

“Vice-Minister Archride was right. It wasn’t there! We went over that tidy little transaction log you drew up for us, and out of all the piles of good and bad debt you sold off for face value, there was but one loan missing from it—your short-term loan to Jean Pommel!!”

“ !!”

A shock ran through Glaux’s body like he’d been struck by lightning.

The provisional government had been so overloaded when they conducted that initial wealth survey that they’d only checked the values of his debts, not any of their details or who owed the money. So how? How could they have known about that loan…?!

“J-Jean Pommel, you say?! Why, I’ve never loaned the man money in my life! This is slander!”

Elch responded to Glaux’s skeptical deflection by shoving the inspection documents in his face. “A year ago, when Vice-Minister Archride was Lord Archride, Jean Pommel put in a request for a tax exemption. This is what the Vice-Minister found when he investigated the workshop’s financials—loan documents with your name written all across ’em.”

N-no! It can’t be!!

Overlooking that was Glaux’s fatal mistake. However, that much was understandable. In his eyes, the lowly commoners were nothing more than livestock to be squeezed for everything they had. After spending so much time in Freyjagard’s innermost political circles, he had grown overly accustomed to thinking of nobles like himself as inherently superior. What Archride had done—actually listening to the commoner’s woes, conducting a survey of his financials, and even agreeing to a tax payment plan when total relief wasn’t on the table—was highly irregular for a noble. The possibility of such a thing happening had never even crossed Glaux’s mind.

“O-oh, that debt! Right, right, now I remember! I assure you, that loan was already—”

“What, paid off in full? Fat chance. We’ve got his ledger as evidence. You could squeeze every drop of gold from that dying workshop, and it wouldn’t even come out to a tenth of the money he owed you!”


“Two hours ago, when we found proof you still owned that credit, Commander Zest and the Order of the Seven Luminaries stormed your manor in Archride and rescued Pommel’s wife and two daughters from where you had them locked up. When we told Pommel they were safe, he sang like a bird and told us that you’re the one who put him up to lying! I hope you’re ready to face the music!”

“Lies, all of it!!!!” The last thread holding Glaux together finally snapped. “This is a frame job, nothing more!! You filthy bureaucrats are trying to drag me down so you can keep all the power for yourselves! Th-that man said the girl ordered him to do it, didn’t he?! She’s obviously the true culprit!”


“Why, using a bunch of officials to try and sully the name of a dutifully elected politician is an act that goes against the very fabric of democracy! Shame on you!!”

Nothing remained of Glaux’s former gentlemanly facade. Even the wily schemer who’d gotten the Principles Party and the Reform Party to dance on the palm of his hand was gone. He had been reduced to a hideous rat. His face was flushed scarlet, his mouth was open as wide as it could go, and he was blustering at the top of his lungs without a care for the way his spittle was flying or the fact that he had told Juno he believed her mere moments ago.

However, Glaux’s final futile line of defense crumbled—

“…Why don’t you try telling that to her?”

—when Elch and the other bureaucrats stepped out of the doorway, and he saw the woman accompanying them.

“I ”


It was almost noon, so they were in broad daylight, yet Glaux’s face changed from red to white in the blink of an eye. He looked like he’d seen a ghost, and for a good reason. The silver-haired woman leaning on prodigy doctor Keine Kanzaki’s shoulder behind Elch and the others…

…was none other than Tetra, the woman Glaux had murdered.


“C-Captain! But… But how?!” the Principles Party candidate cried.

“N-no, this isn’t possible!!” Glaux bellowed. “Y-you’re supposed to be dead! I KILLED YOU MYSELF!”

“That’s right,” Tetra replied. “You did kill me. But the thing is…”

She paused there to glance at Keine. The High School Prodigy doctor gave the room her usual bedside-manner smile.

“As far as I’m concerned, anything within the first forty-eight hours hardly counts as dead.”

Glaux lost the last dregs of his vigor and sank to his knees upon hearing that.

“By the way, I didn’t get a chance to tell you what the charges were.

“Glaux von Einzgarm.

“You’re under arrest for blackmail, assault, kidnapping, election tampering, and finally, attempted murder.”

“No… I… Rrgh… ARRRRRRRRRGH!!!!”

At last, the plot surrounding Elm’s first election had been exposed.

“Captain, you’re alive!! That is you, right, Captain?! You’re really here?!”

After Glaux was hauled off, the other Principles Party candidate rushed over to Tetra and touched her shoulder. “Y-you’re solid! You’re actually alive!” he cried. Tears of joy cascaded down his face.

Tetra wiped them away with her finger. “I’m sorry for causing so much worry. I’m back now, and it’s all thanks to this angel here.”

“Th-thank you, Dr. Keine! Thank you so, so much!”

The young man tried to prostrate himself in a show of gratitude, but Keine gestured for him to stop. She gave the two of them a pained smile. “I should warn you that I wasn’t able to get her all the way back to how she was before.”

“Anything within the first forty-eight hours hardly counts as dead.”

Keine had meant what she said, but that typically only applied to corpses that had been adequately preserved. Tetra’s body had been badly damaged and had started to decompose when Keine had started her work.

Knowing she didn’t have so much as a tenth of a second to spare, Keine had dismissed all of her assistants and had spent thirty hours straight focused on bringing Tetra back. That was why she was so late in reporting the discrepancy in the time of death. Resuscitating Tetra was her top priority.

Every moment mattered, but Tetra was saved, thanks to Keine’s speed. Unfortunately, Tetra ended up suffering significant losses to the vision in her right eye, her muscle strength, and her cardio-pulmonary and digestive capabilities. Keine blamed herself for all of that.

Still, Tetra was grateful. “You saved my life. That’s more than I could have possibly asked for.” Then, she turned to her rival, who stood motionless, still trying to comprehend everything that had happened. “Juno, I’m so sorry for all the trouble I caused you…”

Once Tetra was done, Elch took a turn bowing to Juno as well.

“I’d also like to apologize on behalf of the steering committee. We figured out that Pommel was lying a few days ago, but we intentionally held off on making that public to stop the real criminal from covering their tracks. The plan was always to tell the voters before the election started, but even so… I know that made things tougher on you than they had to be.”

Juno waved the two off with a smile. “No, no, don’t apologize. If you hadn’t done that, the full truth might never have come to light.”

Elch’s decision had been necessary to ensure the investigation’s success, and no one was going to argue that Tetra had been a victim. However—

“My blunder may have led to Glaux getting caught, but that still doesn’t excuse it.”

—the look on Tetra’s face as she responded spoke of terrible remorse.

She clenched her eyes tight for a moment, then turned to Elch as though having made up her mind.

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to withdraw my candidacy.”

“Wh-what?! B-but Captain, why?!”

The case was solved, and the culprit had been apprehended. There didn’t appear to be a reason behind Tetra’s decision.

“Unwitting though it may have been, the fact remains that I participated in a scheme to sell out this nation. I tricked people, stirred up a big fuss, and even got Ms. Juno wounded. I cannot deny my culpability in all this, and my ignorance does nothing to absolve me of it!”

When Juno saw the fierce resolve in Tetra’s eyes, her thoughts began turning. Based on what Elch had just said, the election bureaucrats were on schedule to tell the voters exactly what had happened before the polls opened. If Tetra dropped out on top of that, the Principles Party would be finished. The Reform Party would sweep the election and secure two-thirds of the seats with ease.

“…You’re right, you know. Ever since this whole scandal started, I’ve been terrified. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever had so many people hate me. That was like torture. I was so scared they were going to kill me, I couldn’t even sleep.”

Elch tried to repeat his apology. “Again, we’re so—”

“But going through that…it made me realize just how incredible Ms. Tetra is.”


“Great Scythe Tetra has been fighting to protect people weaker than she is since long before the election, and she’s had to face that same fear the whole time.

“Now I understand how much courage and fortitude that must have taken.

“Ms. Tetra, I don’t think you need absolution at all.

“If not for the inspiration your strength of character gave me, I don’t know if I’d even have been able to show my face today. Maybe the people won’t accept you back, but I don’t think that’s something you should just go and decide on your own. I think you should go out and ask them.

“…I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my opinion, this country is better off with you in it. Good people like you are the kind I want to protect this country alongside.”

If Tetra dropped out, the Reform Party’s victory would become unassailable, which was a problem. The Republic of Elm needed her Principles Party—and her.

“B-but…you and I don’t see eye to eye on anything!”

“Exactly, and that’s why I want to work together.”

Tetra floundered in confusion, but Juno remained unwavering. She had originally believed that taking a pacifist stance would be enough to prevent war from breaking out, but the debacle they’d just gone through had shown her how naive that notion was.

“There are people in this world who are so unbelievably selfish that they’d be happy to expose foreign nations and their own to the ravages of war if it meant they would get to come out on top. No matter how hard we try to take friendly diplomatic stances, no matter how much support we give the Freyjagard Empire, people like that will do whatever it takes to make us go fight anyway. If we want to stop them, we need to make sure that everyone understands how precious equality and human lives are. But a coward like me isn’t going to be strong enough to foster those beliefs on my own. I don’t have enough courage… My people won’t be able to protect those children on our own.”

And that was why…

“Please, Ms. Tetra, lend us your bravery and your strength. Our ideals and beliefs might be different, but it’s when different ways of thinking clash and we talk things over that we can find answers that neither of us might have discovered on our own, like blue and red paint mixing to become purple. I think…I think that right there is what makes parliamentary democracy such a wonderful system.”

Juno offered her hand to the woman who had the skills and qualities she lacked and who loved her country just as much as Juno did.

Tetra felt a wave of shame wash over her. She hadn’t been thinking about any of that. All she had done was try to dominate the assembly through a majority. The only kind of justice she had any claim to was a blind, self-aggrandizing sort. That was what had enabled Glaux to go on the rampage he did. It was lamentably pathetic.

Tetra knew she was a fool and that politics was too heavy a responsibility for someone like her to shoulder… On her own, that was.

But with her…

Alongside someone who was deliberate and prudent and thoughtful, she just might be able to do some good. She might be able to build a world where the horrors she’d seen under Gustav’s rule would never be allowed to happen again. And she wouldn’t do it with a war. She would do it with a superior method that she and Juno would devise together.

By that point, Tetra knew she already had her answer.

“Very well.”

She squeezed Juno’s hand back.

“If the voters will have me, then… Then I look forward to having many more conversations with you. Conversations about what we think is right and what we believe is just. Conversations for the sake of our beloved nation!”

That’s when the dam burst.

“Ah, ah…!”

Even since Tetra’s death, Juno had been holding it in. She hadn’t cried, no matter how much they cursed her name or what they threw at her, but the tears now flowed freely. She dropped to her knees and sobbed, unable to hold back her emotions any longer. Everyone rushed over and called to her in concern when they saw her sudden breakdown. Juno didn’t have the composure to reply, but she never let go of Tetra’s hand.

She squeezed it for a long time.

That night, an hour after sunset, they announced the results of Elm’s first national election.

Principles Party: twenty seats. Reform Party: thirty seats.

News of Glaux’s arrest came as a big shock. Between that and Tetra’s testimony leading to the arrest of a double-digit number of Principles Party candidates for helping cover up her murder, Principles Party supporters switched sides to the Reform Party in droves. Despite her group’s adverse situation, though, the newly revived Tetra managed to win an eye-popping 90 percent of the vote in her electoral district, massively outperforming the now-popular candidate, Juno, and allowing the Principles Party to maintain some of its dignity.

Although it had seen many ups and downs, the Republic of Elm’s first election successfully concluded. The People’s Revolution was well and truly complete.

When the tally was finished, the ballot-counting room in Dulleskoff’s Department of the Interior building looked like a war zone.

Some people were collapsed on their desks, and others were slumped against the wall. Most were lying on the floor. All of them were unconscious and snoring loudly.

The steering committee had been working around the clock, contacting and coordinating with people across Elm to solve the case, and the minute it all ended, they collapsed.

Archride let out an amused laugh as he draped the furs he’d brought over each of them in turn. As he was doing so, he glanced at the window. Moonbeams streamed through it, and beyond them, he spotted a figure out on the balcony.

A byuma was leaning limply on its railing.

“You look like a dead man walking, Vice-Minister. Aren’t the young supposed to be full of vim and vigor?”

“…I think I’ve earned a bit of rest.” As Archride strode out to join him, Elch continued hoarsely, “I’ve been up since that meeting, digging through mountains of currency exchange logs, and then there was the big roundup today, and then there was the ballot count. Everyone else is passed out inside. Cleanup’s gonna have to wait for tomorrow.”

“Oh yes, it’s like one of my old battlefields in there. I made sure to pay my respects in passing.”

Archride tossed Elch the last of his furs.

“’Preciate it.” Elch took it and draped the thing over his shoulders. Then, he leaned back against the railing and let out a long, heavy sigh. “Guess the news came as a pretty big shock to the voters, huh? Up until yesterday, the Principles Party was running away with the election, but things really turned around.”

“I would certainly think so, given what happened. Why, do you have something on your mind?”

“Thanks to the commander’s hard work, we were able to get the announcement out before the polls opened, but it was still so sudden… I figure there’s got to be many Principles Party supporters who ended up voting for the Reform Party before they had a chance to sit down and process everything. When I look at it that way, it makes me think maybe we shoulda at least told people about the different time of death earlier.”

The question continued to trouble Elch, even in his exhausted state. As chairman, was there a better path he could have taken?

His older counterpart shrugged.

“Who knows? Maybe that would have worked out for the best, or perhaps announcing the state of our investigation would have driven Mr. Glaux to kill Mr. Pommel’s family to ensure we couldn’t find them. The bottom line is, we aren’t gods. Our reach is limited, and always making the right choice is no easy thing to do. It’s like trying to snatch a star out of the sky. Regardless, I’m confident we made the best decision we could have in the moment. I think that ought to be enough. Don’t you?”

There was no point in beating yourself up for not being perfect. On hearing Archride’s reasoning, Elch broke into a wide smile—

“Hey, if the man behind cracking the case says so. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have the luxury of standing around wringing my hands like this. I feel like you shoulda been the one to make the arrest. It made me feel odd, having to stroll in there and act all smug over something I didn’t figure out myself.”

—and shot a snarky complaint back at him.

Archride let out a hearty laugh. “Ha-ha-ha. Showdowns like that are a young man’s game. Everyone knows that. It felt good, didn’t it? Getting to take down that treasonous ex-duke.”

Based on Archride’s tone, he expected Elch to agree readily.

“…Not really.”

Instead, Elch cast his eyes downward and gave Archride the opposite answer from the one he’d been expecting.

“Honestly…I was scared stiff.”

“How so?”

“Right before you showed up, Akatsuki gave a big speech about how free elections were the way people exerted their sovereignty, and how that meant nobody had the right to interfere with ’em. He made a lotta sense, and we were all totally on board, but…when we arrested Glaux, I realized we could only do so because we were overseeing the election.”


“It freaked me out. I’m just a hunter from a little mountain village, but before I knew it, I was holding all this authority. I looked at him, and I figured that if power changes people, and I had the ability to shape the course of a nation…what’s to stop me from becoming just like him?”

The prospect terrified Elch from the bottom of his heart. His face went a little pale as he hung his head. His shoulders trembled, and the nippy night air had nothing to do with it.

Archride responded to Elch’s despondent display—

“Ha-ha-ha! I see, I see. So that scared you, huh? Don’t worry, son.”

—by letting out a big laugh and rudely tousling Elch’s hair.

“I-I’m not a kid, you know!” Elch spat as he swatted the older man’s hand away.

Archride found the youth’s reaction adorable. “Sorry, sorry,” he replied without a shred of remorse in his voice. When he continued, though, his voice was solemn and booming. “Make sure you never forget that fear.”


“Today marked the true beginning of Elm as a country, and from now on, bureaucrats like us will need to work together and rely on each other, not the angels. The obstruction-of-justice charges against Glaux’s coconspirators kept them from getting elected, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people on the assembly who think the same way they did. Sooner or later, we’re going to run into folks like them again.”

If politicians were a nation’s brains, then bureaucrats were its legs. Nothing, good or bad, could get done without both halves working together. The bureaucrats’ rights could change depending on the national assembly’s decisions. They might lose the ability to arrest candidates mid-election like they had that day. Still, Archride remained aware that so long as bureaucrats were the ones who got things done, they would always hold some degree of power.

He also understood that wicked politicians would invariably seek them out for their own designs. They would come offering power and privilege to trap the unsuspecting.

However, Archride knew that the young man before him understood the dangers. He had seen what could happen, and he recognized the threat to his values.

“Remember that threat, and you will never become Glaux von Einzgarm.”

Archride mussed Elch’s hair again as he spoke.

Elch pursed his lips in annoyance—

“If you say so…”

—but he didn’t seem to mind it as much this time. He averted his gaze in embarrassment, but he made no move to shake Archride off.

Archride turned and left the balcony. His work there was done. Of course, handling the furs had been part of it, but he’d visited for a more important reason.

I’d planned on giving them a scolding if they let surviving the election go to their heads, but it looks like I was worried for nothing.

He thought back to a conversation he’d had in passing with Tsukasa in the Department of the Interior building right before the angel had left for Yamato.

“You chose not to run, Vice-Minister Archride?”

“Wouldn’t want to bail on this job right after taking it. And besides, I think I’m more cut out for bureaucracy anyhow.”

“…I see.”

Archride could still remember the expression that crossed Tsukasa’s face back then. Tsukasa was the one who’d appointed Archride to his position at the Ministry of Defense, and he felt guilty that action had narrowed Archride’s options. He was clearly pleased that the man had elected to stay on as a bureaucrat, though.

“In that case, I want you to be a mentor to the younger ones. They know the terror of being ruled by force, but none of them realize the terror of wielding that might themselves. As far as I know, you’re the only person in Elm who can do that.”

It was the greatest honor Archride had ever received, for Tsukasa believed he was worthy of serving as an example to the entire Republic of Elm. Yet Archride wasn’t so sure about that anymore.

The younger generation was far more capable than he and Tsukasa had given them credit for. Their skills were lacking, but they made up for it in character, which was the most important trait because it couldn’t be taught.

Archride reminisced on the work they’d done over the past few days, then glanced in the direction of the mountain range visible through the southeastern window. The Yamato dominion lay beyond it, as did a certain angel.

“I promise you that Elm is going to become a damn fine country.”

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