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13: A Nightmarish Resolution
Some time had passed since we'd all found our admittedly grim resolve, and the Pope summoned us to his office where we reconvened. Apart from the Pope and myself, Tena, Lily, and Leonora were all present and accounted for.
Orlaine, on the other hand, I'd sent back to deal with the construction work; her role in Aki's counter-plan had already been fulfilled. I couldn't even bring myself to part her from the Holy Bow again.
While I'd assumed that Leonora would leave too and that she would be on her way home, she had decided to stay with us and return once the dust had settled down completely.
"Did the nations respond?"
"They did. The distance did result in a few gaps here and there, but I can safely say that the nations most likely to answer have responded. For the most part, at least."
"What do you mean by 'most likely'?"
Were there even nations that wouldn't respond?
"Luxiria serves, as you well know, the headquarters for the Faith of Holy Light. It and whatever countries fall under its influence have seen fit to turn us away at the door, or so it would seem. Rather arrogant, if I do say so myself, to reject Lady Anri…"
That made sense. The birthplace of the Holy Light Faith - considering the presence of the Origin Faction that had been established in the Foltera Kingdom, I thought it would be best to refer to its actual place of origin as its birthplace - was unwilling to accept the mere existence of the Holy Lands. That could only mean that they were just as unwilling to listen to anything they had to say.
"Let's leave it at that, then."
"As you command."
While I doubted that we could paint this situation as a necessarily beneficial one, it stood itself to reason that an alliance with those lands would be challenging. Then again, we might just as well take solace in the fact that they had sent no direct objection.
"Well, what about the others?"
We'd stated that financial support would be given as a sign of good faith, so it was safe to assume that at least several demands addressing the quantity of wealth had piled up. I wondered just how much they'd ask for. My tension only increased, and a few drops of cold sweat ran down my back.
The Pope simply lifted a large sack he'd had lying at his side, hoisting it onto his desk. The bulging bag gave off the sound of metal hitting metal. It was clearly stuffed with large amounts of money.
I opened the sack, peering in and confirming my suspicions. It was packed full of golden coins.
Why all this cash? Was it supposed to be some sort of personal budget? I just didn't understand why he'd gone out of his way to show us all of this. What, was he bragging now?
"The other nations sent this along with their replies. What you see here is just a fraction."
…?! Wait, so they weren't sending us invoices? They were sending us money? How'd that even happen?!
Wait. Maybe this was supposed to be some sort of donation meant for a suffering country. There was no way the other nations hadn't had their own fair share of damage, but here they were, sending their support. They weren't even demanding that they be compensated for the damage done against them. There really was some good left in this world, wasn't there?
"Should you swear to continue observing it, then I will place my faith in you. Our own Anri will act as a guardian."
Sophie shifted her jaw in my divine counterpart's direction, who was still sitting at the middle of the table. Satisfied with what Sophia had said, she nodded.
It looked like she was willing to clean up after me. I couldn't have been more grateful.
"Got it. I'll keep an eye out and make sure she doesn't cause trouble for other nations. Is that alright?"
"Sure, I guess."
"It is. I won't argue."
"And that settles it."
My relief until now had been the result of a muddled sort of joy, but now I could feel purely relieved knowing that everything had turned out for the best.
Several days later, I decided to go out for a stroll and take the time to look over Aki's movements, walking until I reached a spot closer to the temple.
The fortification had been rebuilt after the prolonged misfortune that had befallen it, and countless faithful had come to gather in front. Adults at their peak were present, as were both the young and the elderly. Both men and women had come. They all prayed with great zeal. For a moment, I thought that I might have come to the wrong place.
I let myself blend into the crowd and looked up. Finally, I was able to make out the shape of a statue that had eased itself into a position with its rear against the ground and its legs angled backwards but not supporting her from below, instead girlishly set at its sides. As it turned out, she had assumed this position when she had been asked to hide her underwear from view.
On a side-note: while she did seem to be upright at noon, there was a rumour floating about that she would lie down on her side when night fell. I couldn't say for sure if that was the case, considering that I had yet to bear witness to that sort of thing.
I waved at her softly, making sure that no one around me would notice. She waved back, apparently aware of my presence.
The praying faithful were not at all taken back by Aki's sudden movement. Quite on the contrary, they seemed absolutely excited to have seen it happen. They had already come to terms with the fact that an idol like her was capable of autonomous movement. The people of this country were, generally speaking, a bit on the bolder side of the fence.
Happy to see that Aki was doing well for herself, I went back the way I came, walking beneath the clear skies.
For the record, I did my best to ignore all the offering boxes that had been built around the area.
And there you go, the story (?) of a daily lifestyle. The third volume's still being edited for publishing, and should be released by the twenty-fifth of May. Who knows, maybe it won't take long for it to be available in stores.
Even taking the editing into account, volume three should have more renewed text in it than volumes one and two did. (About a third would be my guess. Maybe half if we include all the revisions to the perspectives.)
I'm sure that the people more familiar with the web-novel can still enjoy it a lot, so please, don't be afraid to take a look.
I'm also starting a new series to commemorate the third volume being sold, "All-or-Nothing Pile Bunker♂".
It's the story of a young man who gets his hands on a cutting edge armament. It's a fantasy-comedy. I'll be updating it every single day until the stock runs out.
"The responses themselves are, of course, varied. But they all seem to make the same point."
"And that would be?"
"How do I put this… Well, if I were to give a brief summary… it would be something along the lines of, 'Here's the money you wanted, please don't hurt us.' Something like that."
Whatever words might have left my gaping mouth were immediately blocked. I just didn't get it.
So, simply put, this money was supposed to act as some sort of payment for their own safety. Who was the idiot who thought this might have been donation money again?
That still didn't explain what they meant when they said 'wanted'. Really, the whole situation would imply that we'd extorted money out of them somehow.
"Oh, do you think they might've misinterpreted what you said about 'being willing to offer payment as a sign of good faith' as 'pay us to show your good faith'? Maybe they even thought that Aki parading around from nation to nation was some sort of demonstration. Something to coax money of of them, you know."
How would that even happen, ever?!
Well, if Leonora's guess turned out to be on the mark - although it was fair to assume it was, given all the money in plain sight - then not only would it seem as if we'd sent out a huge statue to destroy the other nations, but that we'd even added a nice little cherry on top by actually threatening to raid them if they didn't pay up. They'd think we were the masterminds behind some evil political power move or something.
I was fully prepared to pay for whatever damages caused and apologise, no duplicity intended. Treating us like this was a bit much, wasn't it?
"What do you suggest we do now?"
The Pope's question forced me to weigh our options for a bit.
There were to things we could do. We could either send all this money back and try our hand at apologising again, or we could leave the whole misunderstanding up in the air and just take the gold.
Anyone would tell you that the right thing to do would be the former, but if we considered the image we already had, it wasn't too difficult to assume that it would sink even further if we did. If we managed to screw ourselves over, they might have just thought that we were asking for even more money. There was the legitimate threat of them getting desperate and revolting against us.
The second option was the only one that seemed reasonable. As long as I didn't send Aki out past the Holy Land borders, we should be able to find a way to resolve this. I couldn't say that it felt good to be so stigmatised, but our hands were tied. We were already nose-deep in muck anyway.
"Respond to them. Tell them we received it with no issue."
Right. That should have been the best way of keeping ourselves free from any more fuss. I had definitely, in no way, shape or form, been completely blinded by the sheer heaps of money.
For the time, we decided to pour the money we'd received into our national treasury, then decided to take a small cut to pay for the results of Aki being dispatched.