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Two months had passed since Vandalieu and his companions appeared in the city of Morksi, and the third month began. At this point, his existence was becoming known across the Orbaume Kingdom, even by those who were not powerful figures with intelligence-gathering organizations and information networks.
However, various embellishments were added to his description when word of mouth passed from one person to another, and in some cases, details and accuracy were lost. In duchies that were far away from the Alcrem Duchy, the stories had become considerably exaggerated.
However, the stories did all speak of a Dhampir boy and his Dark Elf mother being in the Alcrem Duchy.
These rumors also reached the ears of Alda’s radical worshippers hiding across the Orbaume Kingdom’s various regions. They considered members of Vida’s races to be worthy of contempt, and Dhampirs were detestable creatures that ought to be buried. Thus, these rumors were very unpleasant for them to hear.
However, they could not make any concrete moves. Although such worshippers were all lumped into one group, they were not one cohesive organization. They were individuals in small groups scattered across different regions. And unlike the Amid Empire, the Orbaume Kingdom’s law stated that Dhampirs were considered to be people.
Alda’s radical worshippers considered this to be an evil law, but their opinions did not matter to the judicial branches of the government.
And thanks to the actions of Heinz, the leader of the Five-colored Blades, the Orbaume Kingdom’s peaceful faction of Alda that tolerated Vida’s races had grown in influence. The radical worshippers, who had been in the minority to begin with, had grown even smaller.
They did not have the influence or the organizational capability to deploy assassins to the distant Alcrem Duchy, although it was likely that trouble would occur if Vandalieu and his companions were to visit cities in which these worshippers lurked.
Incidentally, the Alcrem Duchy itself had also persecuted Beast-kin until just a few years ago, so there were a considerable number of Alda worshippers with radical ideologies. They were less common in commerce cities like Morksi, but there were also some remote regions that rarely interacted with other regions, governed by uninfluential noblemen, where all of the people were radical worshippers of Alda.
However, with the Alcrem Duchy leaning towards Alda’s peaceful faction overall in recent years, people with radical beliefs were decreasing in number. But even so, assassins hired for money were deployed to the city and radical Alda worshippers visited, pretending to be travelers. The fact that this problem had not become publicly known was because the assassins were dealt with by the ‘Starving Wolf’ Michael (also known as Miles Rouge) and Isla, and because Earl Morksi’s spies were removing Alda’s radical worshippers from the city.
As far as groups that could be a threat to Dhampirs went, there were particularly radical – or perhaps even fanatical – worshippers of the heroic god Bellwood. However… although people had heard of them, they did not exist as an organization in the Orbaume Kingdom, at least not currently.
A farming village being burned to the ground and its inhabitants massacred for the simple crime of growing rice; an inventor and his entire family being murdered because they had invented something that was essentially the same as the technology of other worlds; countless gruesome crimes committed towards Vida’s races – such events had been recorded in history alongside every instance where Bellwood’s fanatical worshippers surfaced. They had been detested even by other worshippers of Bellwood and Alda, and in some cases, they had been executed as criminals who perpetrated violence with the false claim that it was in Bellwood’s name.
However, the heroic god Bellwood whom they worshipped had fallen into a slumber approximately fifty thousand years ago. He did not send Divine Messages to his worshippers or give them his divine protection. Thus, Churches of Bellwood had been converted to Churches of Alda with the exception of a few that had great historical significance.
As Churches of Alda also housed statues of Bellwood, radical worshippers of Bellwood had combined with the radical believers of Alda, becoming one group.
And as for Vampire organizations that worshipped evil gods and targeted Dhampirs for being creatures of impure blood, the one that had worshipped Hihiryushukaka and ruled the Bahn Gaia continent had recently been destroyed.
It was likely that evil-god-worshipping Vampire organizations would spread here from other continents, but that would not occur until later in the future.
Thus, as long as Vandalieu was in the city of Morksi, the only group that was hostile towards Vandalieu was the gods who worshipped Alda, the God of Law and Fate, and their heroes.
However, there were organizations that were Vandalieu’s allies… or at least those who believed that they were his allies.
“How is this? Have I written this properly? Are there any mistakes?” said Selen, the Dhampir girl under the protection of the Five-colored Blades, as she showed a letter that she had written herself to the three adults around her.
One of them was Rembrand, the leader of the Thundering Armaments – the adventurer party that was currently responsible for her guard.
The other two were a man and a woman wearing robes that signified that they were high-ranking clergymen. Each bore a holy symbol on their chest; one of them was that of Alda, the God of Law and Fate, and the other was that of Vida, the God of Life and Love.
“You’ve used kanji, and it’s easy to read. Your studying has paid off,” said Rembrand.
In Heinz’s absence, he was interacting with Selen as if she were family, not just as her guard. His praise prompted a happy smile from Selen.
“Rembrand-dono is correct. It is a letter that expresses what is in your heart,” said the gentle-looking young man wearing the robe bearing Vida’s holy symbol… High Priest Pietro Farzon, nephew of Duke Farzon.
“Yes, I’m sure the Dhampir boy who has appeared in the Alcrem Duchy will accept a letter if it’s from Selen,” said Cardinal Megan, the woman in her twenties wearing the robe bearing Alda’s holy symbol.
They were in the Farzon Duchy, and after hearing rumors that a Dhampir boy and his Dark Elf mother had appeared in the Alcrem Duchy to the north, they had conducted a detailed investigation. They were now certain that this Dhampir boy really existed, and his Dark Elf mother was a holy lady who could summon a familiar spirit of Vida.
This was good news for Cardinal Megan, who belonged to Alda’s peaceful faction, and High Priest Pietro who had proactively formed a cooperative relationship with the peaceful faction.
However, at the same time, there was some news that was not very welcome. The Dhampir boy and his mother were Vida fundamentalists – in other words, in direct opposition to those who sought peace between Alda and Vida such as Megan and Pietro.
With that being the case, it was likely that even if Megan and Pietro sent a messenger to make contact, the Dhampir and his mother would not even hear them out.
However, as a member of Alda’s peaceful faction and a High Priest of Vida who was cooperating with them, they wanted to avoid a confrontation – especially Darcia, who was able to summon Vida’s familiar spirit.
They were aiming to convert all believers of Alda to the peaceful faction, and have Vida’s followers be in a cooperative relationship with them, and they were gradually making that a reality.
“But wouldn’t a letter from me be rude? I’m a child, after all…” said Selen, sounding uncertain.
She was legally considered to be the adopted daughter of Heinz, who held the title of honorary earl. As honorary court ranks could not be inherited, many saw her to be nothing more than a commoner of an uncommon race, even if she was a noble by law for as long as Heinz lived.
Selen was worried that a letter from a child in such a social position would be rude for Vandalieu.
Pietro gave her a smile. “It’s alright. We’ll include our letters as well, and have a messenger deliver them properly, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
He bore the surname of the Farzon house of dukes, but he had renounced his right to succeed the family. He was a noble by law, but his children would be commoners unless they were adopted or married into other noble families.
And although Megan was a cardinal, her authority was that of a clergyman. In the ordinary legal system, she was nothing more than a commoner as well.
Both of them understood Selen’s current position.
“Still, fundamentalists… they are unusual these days,” said Megan.
Vida had been defeated by Alda a hundred thousand years ago, but her believers had not vanished. However, until very recently, Vida, her subordinate gods and the gods associated with her had not sent Divine Messages or granted divine protections to their believers.
Thus, much of the people’s interest was directed towards the glorious heroes of Alda, the God of Law and Fate, and the gods associated with him.
There had been heroes among Vida’s believers, like the Dhampir ‘Mercenary King’ Veld, but people like him were exceptions, not the norm.
Thus, even if the majority of Vida’s believers kept an appropriate distance from Alda’s believers and proactively engaged in debates with them, they did not show any desire to clash with them in armed conflict.
“She is apparently a Dark Elf, so perhaps she lived in a village that was isolated from society. The new races created by the goddess… those created by her greatest mistakes, such as the Majin, are still insisting on destroying Alda and eradicating mankind,” said Pietro, using the example of the Majin – the race that clashed with humans the most after Vampires.
Perhaps he was refraining from mentioning Vampires because Selen was present.
“Perhaps you are right,” said Megan. “If that is the case, let us pray that the good people of the Alcrem Duchy soften her way of thinking.”
“How do I put this… It’s kind of tricky, isn’t it? I always wonder, why can’t we just leave the issues of the gods aside and get along?” Rembrand wondered aloud.
He wasn’t a believer of any god in particular. He was superstitious, praying to various gods before departing on his adventures, and when he earned money, he donated to various Churches, making sure that he wasn’t donating an unevenly large sum to any particular god. He had done these so that clergymen didn’t give him dirty stares.
As a result of these habits, he had come to know more and more people of the peaceful faction who wished for peace to come and the conflict between Alda’s forces and Vida’s faction to cease. He had also grown close to Heinz. But he didn’t have any strong feelings towards one side or the other himself.
A bitter smile appeared on Megan’s face. “I wish that this were possible, but… once you’re a clergyman, you start thinking in complicated ways,” she said.
“While he was alive, the champion Zakkart once said, ‘Even gods make mistakes,’” said Pietro with a serious expression. “Alda and Bellwood’s actions resulted in the loss of Zakkart and three other champions, and Vida gave birth to not only Beast-kin and Titans who became new allies of mankind, but to races like Majin that became mankind’s enemies, too. Even great gods make mistakes such as these. It is only natural for mere mortals such as us to be cautious so as to not make mistakes of our own.”
His quote from the champion had indeed been spoken by Zakkart a hundred thousand years ago. Some believers of Alda saw these words as proof that he had not been worthy of being a champion, even before he was considered to be a ‘fallen’ champion.
Meanwhile, many of Vida’s believers taught that these words were a warning to not blindly believe in the gods.
Although, in truth, these had been words of criticism directed at Alda for selecting Bellwood as his champion.
“… You only ever talk about such complicated stuff. This is why people say you should talk to male clergymen for holding wedding ceremonies and leave the life counseling to the nuns,” Rembrand remarked.
“Women will offer kinder words when giving life counseling. But for wedding ceremonies, you should ask a male clergyman of senior age so as to cast no doubts that the new bride is cheating on her groom. Not that I really believe these things,” said Pietro.
“I actually think that some women will be harsher,” said Megan.
While the adults were having this conversation, Selen recalled her faint memory of Vandalieu.
The newly-appeared Dhampir is probably him, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll be able to talk next time? she wondered.
She had not mentioned to Rembrand the Dhampir boy whom she had encountered by coincidence in Niarki, who had fled when he was spoken to.
That was because Heinz and his companions had told her to keep it a secret. There had been many ominous events following Vandalieu’s fleeing of the city, such as the appearance of a Dungeon and the subsequent monster rampage that came from it.
Being careful to not give Vandalieu a strange, bad image was also… about half the reason.
And Heinz had told Rembrand and the others that he had once worked as an adventurer in the Mirg shield-nation, and captured and handed over the mother of a Dhampir to a High Priest of Alda during one of his jobs.
However, he had not told them that Vandalieu may be the child of that mother, nor had he told them that her name was Darcia.
To Heinz and his companions, it was a painful stain on their past, but… they had never imagined that Darcia would be resurrected and appear in human society.
If all went well, big profits were certain.
Following the monster rampage, there were fewer monsters in the Devil’s Nest, and since entry into it had been banned, there was no chance of running into any adventurers.
Others in the same business had apparently been captured or disappeared, so perhaps now was the chance to enter into the upper ranks of the underworld.
Telling himself this, the man had loaded his ‘goods’ into the carriage, hired two mercenaries as guards and entered the Devil’s Nest to avoid the patrol stations along the highway.
But he soon learned that he had been naïve.
“This isn’t what I signed up for!” he screamed.
There had indeed been few monsters when he entered the Devil’s Nest. But gradually, monsters such as Goblins and Kobolds had started to appear, and he was currently being chased by a troop of Rank 3 Baboons.
They were monkey monsters, not demi-humans, but they were ferocious and, more importantly, tended to attack in numbers. A Rank increase would cause them to become Large Baboons, which were a little larger than gorillas. However, these were considered easier to defeat than regular Baboons, as they tended to not form groups.
Some regions referred to these Baboons as Killer Apes or Goblin Apes.
And there were forty of them chasing the man’s carriage, shrieking and screaming.
The man’s mercenaries had already been killed by other monsters. The Baboons had their fangs bared and an insatiable hunger in their eyes, bent on claiming the carriage’s horse and driver as their own feast.
“Run faster, stupid horse!” the man shouted in panic, but he knew that the horse was at its limit.
It had inhaled the illness-causing spores of a mushroom-type monster the previous day, and yet the man had pushed on without giving the horse a chance to properly recover.
He’d figured that he just needed the horse to last until they reached the city of Morksi, but that seemed impossible now.
“Damn it, why are there so many monsters?! Aren’t there supposed to be less monsters once a monster rampage is killed off?!” he screamed to himself.
Indeed, there would normally be less monsters after a monster rampage was eradicated. However, it was no ordinary monster rampage that had attacked the city of Morksi.
A heroic spirit of Fitun, the God of Thunderclouds, had connected the entrance of his Dungeon to a Devil’s Nest near the city. Fitun had then manipulated the Dungeon to cause the monster rampage. This meant that the majority of the monsters killed after attacking the city of Morksi were from Fitun’s Dungeon, not the ones inhabiting the Devil’s Nests.
With that said, some of the monsters of the Devil’s Nest had joined the rampage and others had been killed after trying to defend their territory from the new, unfamiliar monsters.
However, this had had little effect on monsters that were plentiful in number to begin with, such as Goblins, and monsters that had been smart enough to hide warily in their nests from the unfamiliar monsters, such as Kobolds and Baboons.
The Baboon at the front of the troop gave a frenzied shriek and hurled a stone in front of it. The stone, having been thrown with the physical strength of a monster, hit its mark in the horse’s leg, causing it to tumble and the carriage to topple sideways.
The man screamed as he was thrown from the coachman’s seat onto the ground. However, the Baboons did not flood in towards him.
He looked up to see his horse neighing loudly, its legs kicking the air, seemingly unable to stand up. The horse and the ‘goods’ that had scattered from the toppled carriage were drawing the Baboons’ attention away from the man.
“N-now’s my chance!” the man groaned.
Doing his best to ignore the pain he felt across his whole body, he began trying to get away. The loss of his ‘goods’ was a painful one, but there would be no use in dying here.
He was surely near the edge of the Devil’s Nest by now. If he could just somehow make a run for it and reach the city, he would be saved. With nothing but this thought on this mind, the man ran. But there was no way the Baboons would not notice him…
Suddenly, a voice echoed out from somewhere.
A sword held by an arm made of black metal flew in to pierce the chest of one of the Baboons.
The man stopped in his tracks with his eyes wide open in shock. But the Baboons were even more astonished than he was.
“‘Rocket Punch!’” a woman’s voice shouted.
Some kind of rapidly rotating object began mowing down the Baboons.
Before the man and the Baboons could recover from their shock, a man wearing black armor and a Beast-kin woman appeared among the trees.
“A troop of Baboons, huh,” the man murmured. “Back in the day, I’d have hated to fight these, even with both my arms, but…!”
“Against us as we are now, they don’t stand a chance!” said the woman.
With that, the two of them charged in towards the Baboons.
As they defeated the Baboons one after another, Vandalieu and his companions arrived onto the scene.
“Less than ten days have passed since they first transformed, but they’ve already become quite good at sending their arms flying. Natania has become able to use the Rocket Punch I told her about as a martial skill, too,” Vandalieu observed.
“The training of Borkus-san and the others was pretty fierce, after all. Doug got caught up in it near the end, too,” said Melissa.
“Yeah, seriously. I’m totally different from those two, but they kept saying we’re similar…” Doug grumbled.
The three of them were walking around Sam, whose carriage was being pulled… or rather, pretending to be pulled, by Mähne.
To the man, the troop of Baboons had been a threat that had caused him complete despair when he first saw them, but to Vandalieu and his companions, they were nothing more than suitable enemies to see the results of Simon and Natania’s training.
The man, relieved that the Baboons had been wiped out and praising his good fortune, turned towards his rescuers. “Y-you saved me… Hey, are you guys adventurers? I’m sorry, but can you help me out?”
He had been surprised by Fang and Maroru, and his voice was shaking, but he forced himself to be calm as he continued, telling himself that there was no problem since they were wearing the collars that showed that they were tamed familiars.
“As you can see, my carriage isn’t usable anymore. Could you please load and carry my goods that are still intact? In return, I’ll give you a third – no, half of my profits when I sell them. What do you say?”
He had already intended to give up on his ‘goods.’ And the goods he had to keep up appearances were different from his real ‘goods.’ It wasn’t painful for him at all to lose half of his profits from his official goods.
“Your horse still looks healthy, though?” said Kanako, pointing at the horse that was still neighing loudly in dismay.
Darcia climbed out of Sam’s carriage, and she and Vandalieu approached the horse.
“No, its leg is broken and it’s ill, so it’ll never get from here to the city –” the man began.
Darcia examined the flailing horse’s leg. It was indeed broken and twisted.
“It’s not that bad, and not much time has passed since it was broken, so it’ll be simple to fix,” she said.
With that, she activated her ‘Demon Eyes of Regeneration’ and healed the broken leg in seconds.
“I’ve cured the illness,” said Vandalieu, before the man even knew what was going on.
“You can use healing magic! I’m very grateful. If I put my remaining goods on the horse, I think I can make it to the city,” said the man, delighted.
“Are these your goods?” asked Vandalieu, picking up a broken piece of a porcelain vase.
“Yeah, they are. It’s salt from the Arthaba Duchy that’s just east of this duchy. There’s a port there, though it’s a little small. The salt made there from the seawater apparently tastes slightly different from rock salt, so I came here thinking that I’d be able to sell it for a high price around here!” said the man, reciting an explanation that he had prepared beforehand.
“Really? It tastes the same as the rock salt from around here to me. And this vase looks like it’s made of porcelain, but it isn’t. When I lick it, it tastes like drugs,” said Vandalieu.
The man, who had been planning to carry drugs into Morksi and sell them there, laughed nervously. “Is that so? I see…” he murmured, turning away from Vandalieu.
Letting out a panicked noise, he ran past Kanako and leapt onto the coachman’s seat of the carriage that was now empty since Darcia had gotten out.
He tried to make his escape… but this carriage was no mere carriage.
“A worm crawling into the flame,” said Sam, his spirit form appearing behind the man.
TLN: This is a wordplay/variation on a figure of speech that means ‘a moth flying into the flame.’
The man couldn’t even resist as Sam put him in a chokehold, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
“Bocchan, what shall we do with this man?” Sam asked. “He was smuggling drugs, so it is possible that he consumes them himself, so I would not advise using him for food. Shall we use him as fertilizer for the forest?”
“Let’s tie him up and have Fang take him to the city along with a letter to explain the situation and a piece of his goods as proof,” said Vandalieu. “I’m counting on you,” he said to Fang.
Fang let out a happy bark.
“More importantly, are you alright after licking those drugs?” asked Kanako.
“I have ‘Status Effect Immunity,’” said Vandalieu. “Anyway, let’s take the gift he left us.”
He turned to face the horse. Its leg had been fixed and its illness was cured, so it was standing once more, but it was unable to move because it hadn’t recovered its stamina.
Mähne and Fang had pity in their eyes, and the rat sisters were squeaking to cheer the horse up. Vandalieu reached a hand out to pat it and calm it down.
The horse let out a startled neigh and reflexively kicked its legs out, striking Vandalieu with a hard hoof.
“Master!” said Natania, who had just finished taking the Magic Stones and body parts as proof of kills.
But Vandalieu felt no pain. “Hmm? Did he think I was asking for a shake?” he said, mistakenly thinking that the horse had taken his extended hand as a signal for a shake.
TLN: ‘Shake’ is the trick commonly done with dogs to have them put their paw in your hand for a ‘handshake.’
Mähne and Fang were expressing a sense of kinship in their eyes, and their pity grew deeper.
“He’s friendlier than I thought,” said Vandalieu. “Shake,” he said to the horse.
With another alarmed neigh, the horse kicked Vandalieu again, but Vandalieu was completely unfazed. The horse’s confusion gradually began turning into fear.
“I know you said you wanted another horse, but are you really going to take this one?” asked Doug.
“Horses made of my spirit form have crimson eyes and do not breathe. And if they are touched, one will realize that there is no heat in their bodies. Considering the size of my carriage, even if you take into account that Mähne has grown in strength after becoming a monster, it would still be best to have one more horse,” said Sam, explaining why the horse was needed. “I suppose I could use ‘Size Alteration’ to make my carriage smaller, but…”
Meanwhile, the horse seemed to have yielded to Vandalieu. It wasn’t attached to him; it had merely yielded.
“What are you going to name him, Vandalieu?” asked Darcia.
“If I name him ‘Hoof’… people would mistake his name for ‘married couple.’ Let’s name him ‘Hof,’” said Vandalieu, choosing a word that meant ‘hoof’ in one of Origin’s languages.
TLN: In Japanese, the English word ‘hoof’ would be spelled フーフ/fuufu, which is pronounced the same as the Japanese word for “married couple,” 夫婦/fuufu. Incidentally, I tried Google translate but couldn’t find any existing real-life language that spells/pronounces the word ‘hoof’ as ‘hof.’
Now that Hof had suddenly stopped doing ‘shakes,’ for some reason, Vandalieu patted his face.
With the addition of Hof, the group waited for Fang to return from his errand and set out once more, and found the Dungeon entrance with ease.
The horde of monsters, which had included Mountain Giants, had created a path in the forest that was wide enough for the carriage to pass through.
“So, this is the entrance to Fitun’s ‘Labyrinth of Trials’… How simple,” said Vandalieu.
If it weren’t in the middle of a forest, it looked like nothing more than a large cave.
“It doesn’t have a sign outside like the ‘Trial of Zakkart,’ said Darcia.
“Vandalieu, Darcia-dono, I created that sign because there were too many who challenged the Dungeon while misunderstanding its purpose. Dungeons created by gods are made so that only chosen individuals are able to enter, so there would be no use in creating a sign,” explained Gufadgarn, who remained invisible but was always in Vandalieu’s shadow.
“Shall we go in? We can gain prestige for being the first ones to clear the Dungeon, get Kanako and the others promoted to C-class, and take control over the Dungeon to turn it into property of Vida’s faction,” said Vandalieu.
“Alright! We don’t have much prestige as D-class adventurers. There are malicious rumors that I’m just a dancer imitating bards’ work because I’m having no success as an adventurer,” said Kanako.
“Master, leaving the matter of the lady Kanako and the others aside, we only recently turned down a promotion to C-class because we are not worthy…” said Simon.
As this conversation continued, the party entered the Dungeon with no hesitation. This Dungeon was likely equivalent to a B-class Dungeon for them; there was no danger as long as they were with Vandalieu.
The only ones who were afraid were Mähne and Hof.
“Mähne and Hof, you have nothing to fear. If necessary, I can simply take you into my alternative dimension or take you inside my carriage and move on my own!” Sam said with a triumphant laugh.
Even with the encouraging words of their carriage, the two horses couldn’t conceal their fear, but they entered the Dungeon regardless, as they would not be allowed to stay outside.