After meeting with Shuna, I need to meet with her brother now, funnily enough. Souei too, actually; we need to discuss a few things, some light and others heavier. It's been a while since I've gotten to talk with them both, especially Souei who keeps to himself most of the time. But, it's even been a long time since I've had a good sit down and chat with Benimaru too, which is a shame.
Opening the door to the scheduled meeting room, I find just Benimaru inside, but no Souei. This is strange since he's practically never late to meetings, but I guess I am a little early.
Benimaru is facing away from the door too, not even bothering to look in my direction after I opened the door, which is even stranger. Is something wrong? Why is he just staring at the wall?
"Hiya, Benimaru." I greet him cheerfully; a little put off, but not too worried.
Then he turns to me, and I see why he was hiding his face.
A big bushy mustache, plastered on his face; a fake one, of course. I'm sure his two wives wouldn't want him to grow a real one; If I was drinking something, I'd probably spit it out in surprise.
"W-what's that thing on your face?!" I sputter, any decorum I put on in public completely shattered.
Benimaru's wide grin cracks and he breaks out into laughter.
"I don't know what you mean, my Lord!" Benimaru manages to get out, choking on his own laughter at my strong reaction.
Of course, it had to be a mustache; Benimaru knows how much those things bother me. After all the negative experiences I've had with mustachioed men, there's no way I couldn't have some kind of a bias against the things!
"Yes, Lord Rimuru, I see no problem here." A monotone voice comes from behind me and I whip around to see who it is that snuck up on me somehow.
It's Souei, who's also wearing the same fake mustache as Benimaru; partially hiding a small smile that rarely shows up on his face.
Seeing Souei in on the prank just makes me laugh even harder at the ridiculousness of all this.
"I see what's going on now," I giggle. "You should know, that the only way to counter mustachioed men…" I quickly turn around, making a big show of messing with my face as I slip on a fake mustache of my own, "...is to join them!" I whip around proudly displaying my newly acquired facial hair.
Benimaru bursts out laughing immediately, and even Souei can't help but crack a grin. I smile back, man, it's been too long since I've relaxed with them.
Just then, a knock came at the door. We all whip around as the handle turns, seeing our demise but having no power to stop it. Souei immediately vanishes into his shadow, his fake mustache falling to the floor as he disappears.
Souei, get back here you traitor! I fume internally as the door clicks open, and Shuna enters, already wearing a disapproving frown. "I see you both are hard at work," Shuna points out disingenuously.
Both Benimaru and I stare in horror at Shuna's clearly angry expression as she glowers at us both, immediately picking up on the fact that we're messing around during the time I'm supposed to be having an important meeting with him and Souei. She knows my schedule, of course, so there's no escaping her vigilance.
She walks over and picks up Souei's left-behind stache, muttering "...you silly boys…" under her breath before returning her gaze to us.
I quickly rip off the faux facial hair and tuck it into my Imaginary Space, knowing it won't do me much good, but not wanting her to take my gag prop away for just having a little fun. Benimaru does the same, except he instead sets it down next to him on the couch.
"Y-yes, we are, Shuna. I was just about to speak with Benimaru about the war situation and some matters to do with the upcoming festival." I explain as calmly as I can manage.
"We are about to discuss some very important things, sister. Could you please bring us some tea to drink while we talk?" Benimaru quickly adds.
Shuna sighs, not looking very convinced, but both of us are genuinely going into 'serious mode', about to actually start discussing what we need to instead of fooling around.
"I can. Just please put those toys away and use your time wisely during this important military meeting. You are on quite a tight schedule today, Lord Rimuru, and I would not like to see you fall behind." Shuna scolds in her soft voice.
I nod meekly and Shuna seems to accept my genuine response. She is right about the tight schedule thing so I really don't have the time to fool around like this. I have multiple meetings and need to check up on some of the festival's preparations. I won't be free until dinnertime, at least, so wasting time isn't a good thing.
A few seconds after the door closed behind her, both Benimaru and I simultaneously let out a deep sigh, relieved that we didn't get punished or scolded harder for our little bit of fun.
"I thought she was holed up in her tailor's workshop all day today…what is Shuna doing in the executive palace right now?" Benimaru tiredly asks.
"I don't know…I just met with her there earlier and she didn't seem like she was going to leave there any time soon…maybe she sensed you were up to something? Like a sibling's intuition kind of thing?"
"Whatever it is, I should have expected this from her, I suppose…let's get down to business now then, Lord Rimuru."
Benimaru sits up straight from his slumped-over position, putting on a much more formal air than before, and I do similar. Souei also appears out of a nearby shadow, glancing briefly at the spot on the floor where his now-confiscated facial hair was before. He takes his place standing next to the couch that Benimaru is seated at facing toward the one I've plopped onto.
It's one of the more comfortable meeting rooms, not one of the stuffy, fancy ones that I really don't like using. Even now, those expensive luxurious things make me a bit nervous every time I use them, but it's necessary to do so on some occasions depending on who I'm talking with. If it's just Benimaru and Souei, as it is this time, we can use one of the more casual, preferred ones that I can just relax in while talking.
I even returned to my true form, increasing my comfort even more before starting our talk. When meeting with monsters and especially those I'm very close with like these two, I don't need to keep my human form for their comfort. With how little I've been dropping it lately, it sure feels nice to practically melt into a couch like this.
"I assume that security for the festival has been taken care of, right?" I ask, even though it's pretty obvious what he'll answer.
Benimaru nods "Yes, there is nothing to worry about according to Rigur despite the tense situation currently underway."
"So things have been getting worse then? I guess that can't be helped…" I mutter, not surprised but not pleased by the verification of this reality.
"You have nothing to worry about, my Lord, Testarossa has things contained. With her influence on the council, she has prevented any of the other Western Nations from interfering with the conflict between Gustrela and Floidor."
"That's good to hear; I wouldn't want the west to be thrown into a huge, multinational war. That wouldn't be good for anyone involved in that mess, directly or otherwise. It's a shame she wasn't able to stop them from warring in the first place, but I understand that she can only do so much as a third party…"
"Yes, she certainly put her best effort into stopping those fools but they simply didn't listen to her."
Testarossa has a stranglehold on the Council, but even she has said that there was nothing to be done when it came to stopping these two countries from bickering like this. It's such a mess that we're not even sure what started the hostilities between the two other nations; there are multiple entangled internal reasons, apparently, and with how little we need to get involved, the reasoning doesn't really matter much.
The extent of our involvement is taking in some refugees and, as I already said, Testarossa's needling the Council's other members to not stick their noses in this war, which would just add fuel to the fire. We've also put an embargo on the trade of war-related goods from our country to theirs to hopefully help stop them from fighting so readily. This has only been on weapons and armor for the most part (I didn't want to have food and other essential goods restricted because that would just hurt the common people).
"I expect tensions to keep rising until one side is pushed into full-out hostility, causing both sides to be thrown from a simple skirmish into blatant war."
And that's when the real casualties will happen…
It's always the people that suffer from these kinds of conflicts, not the countries themselves. I find it disgusting how easily some rulers will sacrifice the well-being of those they are responsible for over petty nonsense.
"Don't they understand that this kind of behavior will get them thrown out of the Western Council, putting them at risk if some kind of disaster might happen to them?" I grumble under my breath, mostly talking to myself.
"I believe they think we will bail them out, Lord Rimuru," Benimaru answers, sounding disgusted by the idea.
"Are you serious?!"
"Both Gustrela and Floidor have sent representatives requesting aid from Tempest in the time you have been away. They have been refused, of course, but the attempt has been made."
"Sheesh…that's pretty entitled of them."
[[Humanity has a tendency for entitlement, Master.]]
Yeah, I know that…I used to be one, after all!
It's annoying and infuriating to think about, but not something I didn't expect at all. My country and I have done a lot for humanity, and over time with decades of peace, it's not inconceivable to think that some leaders will get it into their thick skulls that Tempest simply helps humanity no matter what.
My whole view is building a structure that people want to hold up and maintain, preventing them from doing stupid things that shake the boat and threaten to make it all collapse, but it's not a flawless system.
I can almost feel Guy's arrogant 'told you so' grin in the back of my head…
His way of managing humanity was with fear, while mine is cooperation and collaboration, and here we are only a few decades after I took over already having wars break out between countries.
Ugh, I can already see Guy's smug face. I was talking a big game about the new era for humanity of peace and cooperation and here we are, back to idiots waging war.
I truly was hopeful that my approach would stop nonsense like this, but apparently, it's unavoidable. It's not a total disaster, though, so I shouldn't dwell on it too much.
"How are the refugees? I know we've taken in quite a few since this war started." I say to Benimaru changing the subject, shoving the image of Guy smirking at me out of my mind.
"Growing in number, but not at an alarming rate," he responds.
I've agreed to take in innocents from both sides since Tempest has the space and resources for such a thing. It's not all charity though, of course; I have my own interests in mind. It looks good, for one; a charitable act and a way to build further trust, but also a way to gain more people since it's inevitable that some of them will emigrate to Tempest. Taking people in from both involved countries is also a display of neutrality that makes it clear that Tempest is not going to take a side in this skirmish no matter what.
In every sense, with our abundant resources, it's a good move to make.
"Do you have anything to add, Souei? I know your team is monitoring the whole situation."
He's been pretty quiet throughout, mostly just nodding in agreement with Benimaru's statements. I'm guessing that what Benimaru's been sharing with me partly came from Souei's intelligence, so there's not much more to add to it.
"My team is continuing to monitor the situation closely, but otherwise I have nothing further to report to you at this current moment."
"I'll leave it in your capable hands then; the same goes for you Benimaru. Hey, on a lighter note, are you ready for the festival? Not in an official sense, I mean."
"I'm ready, but I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing children dress up as me," Benimaru mutters, a slight blush forming on his cheeks as he thinks about that.
"Well, you are a pretty popular guy." I point out with a chuckle.
"One of the benefits of living in the shadows is not having to deal with something that embarrassing." Souei comments, looking amused by Benimaru's discomfort.
"Harsh as always, aren'tcha Souei? I, for one, am glad people leave it at wearing those slime masks when it comes to me. I can't say I'm fond of the things, but it's better than a full-blown cosplay."
Those masks have been around since the early days of Tempest, and even to this day they still creep me out. Not enough that I want to ban the things, but still.
It's common with this specific festival, the 'Tempest Career Festival', for children to dress up as some of my patrons, as well as different professionals in Tempest. It's for the kids to dream and explore their potential, learning more about their specific interests to inspire and motivate them.
It's also a celebration and showcase of people's accomplishments, making for fun for everyone here, including both citizens and tourists that come to have a little fun. I'm looking forward to it, even if it is a bit of a hassle to arrange.
"Well, if we've covered everything that we needed to, I'll get going since I still have more things to take care of."
I hop up and change into my human form again, a little sad to leave my comfy spot, but knowing that I can't laze around all day.
"Yes, I should get going as well."
"I will return to my surveillance duties, Lord Rimuru." Souei again vanishes into his shadow and Benimaru gives me a small nod before leaving the room before me.
Decorations are being put up, stands are being constructed, and a happy feeling permeates all the people around me. I've stumbled across some of the things being set up for the festival Rimuru has been talking about and it all looks so exciting!
"Woooow!" I exclaim as I watch all the Tempestians setting up the area for what looks like it's going to be a blast.
I can't wait to enjoy all this with Rimuru, Opera, and Grandpa!
Unfortunately, many of the signs are unreadable to me, not having Japanese undertext like the more permanent ones around town. It really is annoying, not being able to read the text here, but at least I can talk to people without any trouble.
It makes me wonder why that works and not the reading thing, actually, since both of those things were taken care of instantly with one of Grandpa's spells when it comes to the Netherworld version.
I should ask Rimuru about that…
Suddenly, a hand touches my shoulder and I whip around to see who it is.
A bit shorter than me with a hood obscuring their identity, this mystery person releases my shoulder as I turn before looking up at me, revealing their face…well, kind of.
Wearing a pair of gag disguise glasses, mustache, and all, she raises a shushing finger to her lips.
I burst out laughing, the silliness of what she's wearing on her face too much for me to handle. It's Rimuru, of course, wearing the most cliche kind of disguise possible.
"Ri-" I start to say.
"I said shush! I'm incognito right now!"
Katelyn stands and watches our exchange, stunned and speechless, probably also seeing right through Rimuru's disguise now.
"I don't think something so silly works well as a disguise…"
"Pfft…I know that! The hood was doing the main bulk of the work and the glasses were just a joke." Rimuru says, removing the ridiculous glasses from her face, the funniness of them spent.
"Why don't you use actual detection warding glasses then?" I suggest, remembering the ones that Keroli uses to hide herself.
"Hmmm…that's a good idea, although those might not be strong enough for me…I was already hiding my presence somewhat and even that isn't enough to avoid recognition completely."
Rimuru ponders for a moment before two pairs of large circular glasses appear in her hand, seemingly out of nowhere, and she hands me one.
"Put these on; I bet you've had a few people recognize you from your last visit, right? We kinda paraded down the street together, so I'm sure I'm correct."
"Did you just…make these?"
"Yup, I copied them from Keroli's. Mine are a bit different, changing the nature of my aura and presence on top of suppressing any notice or recognition of me, but now we both have a way to go around without problems!"
"L-lord Rimuru?" Katelyn hesitantly asks.
"Forgive me for asking, but…why are you disguising yourself from the public?" she continues, bowing deeply as she does and visibly shaking.
"Oh, that's what you're curious about? Well, because I'd just make people nervous, just like you are right now after noticing me. I'm sure that makes sense to you…hey! Lookin' good, Iruma!"
I'd put the glasses on while the two were chatting, blinking a few times as I adjust to the feeling of wearing them. Nothing looks different to me, which is normal, but hopefully, this will stop any unwanted attention from coming my way.
Rimuru puts on her own matching pair, giggling a little to herself.
"Hehe, I kinda like the look of these on me, actually! They won't work completely on everyone, but it'll help me stay outta sight if I want to hide my identity again."
Rimuru confidently throws her hood off and looks around for any reactions, but nobody pays her even a glance, acting as if she's not there at all.
"Now I can check up on the festival preparations without lurking around all shady-like as if I'm some sort of criminal." Rimuru gleefully smirks.
"Oh, so that's why you're here?"
"Yeah, and I happened to find you here so I thought I'd say hi."
"Can I ask you something before you go back to work?"
"Why can I understand the language here, but not read it?"
"Verbal language is easier to actively translate than the visible variety. So, your ring is able to alter your understanding of the sound but isn't able to directly affect what you see with your eyes. I had the same problem when I first reincarnated, but was still able to have a read-out of the written stuff because of my skills. My point is, what you have to work with is kinda limited, so only speech is being taken care of."
I nod, mostly grasping Rimuru's explanation. Anyway, it hasn't been too much of a problem for me, fortunately.
"Maybe I could have you learn the language over this summer if you're interested. It's not an easy thing to do though."
"I can give it a shot," I offer.
"Sure…oh, and keep up the good work, Katelyn!" Rimuru says, turning her attention toward Katelyn suddenly, causing the maid to jump.
"Yes!" she diligently responds.
"One more thing…Hinata wants to talk with you about…something. She seemed rather unhappy." I add at the last second.
Rimuru stops and turns back around, now wearing a nervous smile.
"She didn't tell you what it was about? Geez, I'm not looking forward to that then. Maybe I'll go see her after I've finished checking out the festival preparations."
Kaitlyn and I watch as Rimuru wanders off, this time with her hood down, seamlessly melting into the crowd.
"Lord Rimuru is quite…free-spirited, isn't he?" Katelyn hesitantly points out.
"Uh…most of the time, I guess…what is this festival for, anyway?"
"As far as I understand, it's a sort of appreciation and celebration of all the roles Tempest's citizens fill. But, really, I think it's just another excuse to have a party. Tempest is known for its abundant and extravagant festivals, varying in size and importance."
"I bet they'll have really good food there!"
"That's a certainty. I need to visit a specific stand that I know will be there since it is well-known to pop up at every festival! Apparently, the takoyaki from there is amazingly good, but I haven't gotten the chance to try it just yet!"
Katelyn starts getting excited, her formal-ish demeanor slipping into childish glee, but she quickly catches herself and looks at me with an apologetic look in her eyes.
"My bad, sir, I got a bit carried away just then."
"No, don't worry, I'm excited too! Can you tell me the name of this stand you're wanting to get food from, so I can find it later? Wait…I can't read any signs…um, I guess I could just ask around, so can you tell me?"
"It's a strange one, so remembering it shouldn't be hard for you…'Alias Takoyaki' is the name. It's quite iconic too, being themed around the mighty Storm Dragon Veldora with the owner and his staff all wearing dragon-shaped masks while working."
Doesn't 'alias' mean the same thing as 'nickname' or something? What a weird name for a food stand…and why is it themed around Veldora?
It seems strange, but there are also many things themed around Rimuru too around here, so I guess it makes sense that some people would use Veldora's image in a similar way.
At least that makes it easier to spot, even if I can't read the sign.
"Oh, and I should mention that you can dress up in a costume for it too. It's mainly for children, but teens and adults also participate. It's not required, but it seems like it could be fun."
"I don't really have a costume, but I'm sure I could get one if I ask Ri-...um, I mean Lord Rimuru.
I catch myself addressing Rimuru too casually again, quickly correcting myself. That was close!
"Lady Shuna has a fashion workshop, perhaps you can find a costume you will like there?" Katelyn offers.
I remember Shuna, that nice lady with pink hair and white horns that helped take care of a passed-out Rimuru. I'm sure if I asked she would help me out with finding something to wear to the festival.
I don't know if I'll actually wear something that silly, but it might be fun to try them on at least.
"I think we should head back…it's kinda getting late, isn't it?" I observe as I look up at the sky, now turning pale orange. Light isn't fading yet, but it is definitely reaching evening.
"Yes, it will be time for dinner soon, we should begin walking back now."
**A Little Later**
I get back, parting with Katelyn as I enter the building. I think I know my way enough now to get to where I want to without someone helping me out, so I start weaving my way through the multiple hallways, intent on reaching Rimuru's office. I'm almost sure she's back by now, beating me back here with her teleportation magic.
I knock on the door but hear no answer.
Maybe I'm wrong about Rimuru getting here before me.
But, the knock is strangely returned, seeming to copy the way I did it a moment ago.
I knock again, tapping my fist on it three times in a little rhythm, and listen again.
Three soft knocks come from the door, copying my knocking pattern again.
Is this just Rimuru messing with me?
But oddly, the knocking seems to be coming from low down on the door, closer to my knees than my face.
Fine, I'll just let myself inside.
I grasp the doorknob, one magically attuned to only allow certain people through when locked.
"Rimuru, you really are in a silly mood today aren't you-"
Something suddenly hits me in the chest and I reflexively scramble to catch it. Bouncing a few times between my hands, slipping out multiple times, I finally clutch onto the object, holding it tight against my body.
"What…oh, it's just you…"
It's the small slime Rimuru keeps around, apparently starved for attention or something. I guess it probably has been left in this room alone all day, Rimuru being very busy with multiple different things.
"So you were the one knocking back on the door, huh?"
The slime can't respond, of course, but that's fine.
"Well, I guess I'll just wait for Rimuru to get back," I state out loud with a sigh, sitting in a nearby chair with the slime still in my hands.
I've gotten a little used to touching this little guy, initially being put off by the sensation of its little gelatinous body. I don't mind holding it now, actually finding it a bit cute.
I've really gotten used to slimes in general now, from both my interactions with this tiny one as well as the wild slimes out on the streets. I even fed one recently!
Wait…does that mean I'm not freaked out by slimes anymore?
I still remember when Rimuru has 'gone all slimy' in front of me and every time I found it sorta gross. This little blob though…I don't feel anything negative about it.
Maybe I'm not so scared of Rimuru's true form now either…?
I try picturing my memories of when Rimuru 'melted' in front of me and shudder.
"I guess I still can't handle Rimuru liquifying like that…hahaha…"
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the door to Rimuru's office swing open. I think I forgot to completely close it since I didn't hear the latch or anything.
In pops the head of a woman, one of the maids that I recognize but don't know the name of. She is a goblina, indicated by her ear shape, greenish skin, and gray hair.
"Oh, it is the young master that is a guest of Demon Lord Rimuru. May I come inside? I was about to clean in here."
"Yeah…uh, sorry for being in your way. Maybe I could help you with that?" I offer, now noticing that the room is a bit of a mess. Most of Rimuru's desk's objects have been mysteriously knocked on the floor, and I suspect the one behind that is the little blob on my lap.
"Oh no, you don't need to do that for my sake." the maid politely rejects.
"I should at least leave so you can do your job…"
"What a special divine creature you have there!" she suddenly exclaims, her eyes locked onto the slime I'm holding.
Divine…creature…? Oh yeah, slimes are sacred in Tempest, aren't they?
"The density of its magicules is unusual…has this one been spending time with our Lord, perhaps?"
"Yes, that's right."
The goblina's eyes light up even more at my answer.
"Having a party in my office without me?" Rimuru sarcastically asks as she casually strolls into the room…stepping out of the closet and not the normal door…?
Is there a secret entrance in that thing or something?
Before I can ask how the heck she just did that, Rimuru asks a question of her own.
"Whoa, what happened in here?" she asks, noticing the mess on the floor and the barren desk.
My eyes travel down to the slime I'm holding and Rimuru seems to understand who the culprit is from just that.
"I will clean this up right away, your majesty." The maid rapidly spits out, hiding any nervousness.
"Thank you. Iruma, let's leave for a few minutes so she can work, okay?" Rimuru suggests, already heading toward the actual door.
We both step out into the hallway and I take the tiny slime with me.
"Did you really walk out of a closet? What was that about?" I ask, still confused.
"What do you mean? I just entered my office the normal way." Rimuru answers in a genuine voice.
"So that one is responsible for ransacking the place?" Rimuru asks, gesturing at the slime in my hand and totally changing the subject.
"I think so."
"I guess it's my fault for leaving it alone all day." Rimuru shrugs, taking it off my hands and placing it gently on her shoulder. "There. That's better, right little guy? You were probably bored out of your m-...or uh, slime, haha…" Rimuru mumbles, breaking into a chuckle at the end.
"Oh my gosh…" I laugh, finding Rimuru's joke horribly cheesy.
"Yeah," she smiles a little awkwardly. "Not my best work… but come on! Let's get something to eat while they clean."
"Okay!" I grin, following her down the hall.