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“You want me to mediate your conversion to Vida’s faction?” Vandalieu asked, repeating the three gods’ request.
It was something that he had not expected.
Vandalieu had directly seen and was acquainted with gods like Gufadgarn and Fidirg, who were quite far from the typical notion of what evil gods were like, as well as great gods who didn’t at all match the typical image of divine beings, such as the curry and cola-loving Zuruwarn. But his preconceived impressions of the gods siding with Alda, the God of Law and Fate, had not changed.
He perceived gods of Alda’s faction as embodiments of the most terrible trait a god could have – the self-righteousness that drove them to teach their followers that oppressing and persecuting those who disobeyed their teachings was acting with justice.
During his battles against Curatos, the God of Records, and Fitun, the God of Thunderclouds, his impression of them had changed for the worse, but not at all for the better.
Thus, he was surprised and bewildered by the words of Bashas and the other two gods.
“I understand that unlike Fitun, you harbor no hostility towards me, and I do not believe that you are lying. But why do you wish to go as far as to betray Alda, the God of Law and Fate, to convert to Vida’s faction?” Vandalieu asked.
He had no idea what the three gods were thinking.
Judging from the mood of the conversation, he could tell that they were under the effect of his guidance for some reason. He understood that, but he could not accept their request with a simple explanation of, ‘Because we have been guided.’
Despite his questioning, Bashas and the others did not show any particular sign that they had been offended. In fact, they appeared more relieved than anything.
… In their position, in the worst-case scenario, Vandalieu would have killed and devoured them without giving them a chance to speak. As such, this current situation was indeed a relieving one.
“Of course, we will gladly answer,” said Bashas, directing her heavy, gloomy gaze at Vandalieu through a gap in the hair falling over her face. “We will tell you the reason why we wish to convert to Vida’s faction, even if it means betraying the chief gods including Nineroad-sama and Alda-sama. The reason is… as we looked at the images painted on the buildings of your city, we were drawn to you.”
A brief period of time passed in silence.
As none of the three gods elaborated, Vandalieu’s bewilderment grew deeper.
“… That’s all? It isn’t because you disagree with the way Alda thinks, or because you have always been treated coldly, or because you have always held a way of thinking that is similar to that of Vida’s faction from the very beginning, or because your eyes were opened by the series of events caused by Fitun? It isn’t any of those reasons?” he asked.
“It is not,” Bashas replied, shaking her head.
The three gods took a step forward, closer to Vandalieu.
“As I am a goddess of the wind attribute, I have never spoken to Alda-sama much, and although Nineroad-sama was the one who selected me for my role, that did not mean that I was particularly close to her. As for being treated coldly… I feel that I may have been, but it is also possible that I was not,” said Bashas. “And from the moment I began looking at the images painted in Talosheim, I wished to convert to Vida’s faction and serve under your command.”
“Hamul and I are subordinate gods of Alda… We may indeed have been treated poorly, but every god has their own traits, so we have never been bothered by the others,” said Zelzeria.
“Zelzeria rules over dark nights, and I over shadows. We do not have glorious histories like Fitun’s, so it cannot be helped that we have never been prominent,” said Hamul.
Due to the things that they ruled over and the qualities they possessed as gods, Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul had never been enthusiastically worshipped among the gods of Alda’s forces.
If the God of Judgment Niltark and God of Thunderclouds Fitun were like celebrities, Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul were social outcasts.
There were almost no Churches dedicated solely to them; in most cases, they were depicted in carvings and statues as subordinate gods in Churches dedicated to Nineroad and Alda. Naturally, they had few worshippers.
But it was not that they had experienced persecution. Gods had their own duties to carry out, and Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul simply had duties that were not suited for them to be standing out and shining brightly.
The three of them had accepted this and had never felt any dissatisfaction towards their positions.
Hamul had risen to become a god after originally being a familiar spirit created by Alda. Naturally, he did not have any doubt in the teachings, values, and definitions of good and evil of Alda and his subordinates, and neither did Bashas and Zelzeria, even though they had been humans before becoming gods.
The three of them explained these facts to Vandalieu, not giving him a chance to interject.
If there was anyone observing this exchange… If Zuruwarn were present, he would likely realize that their behavior was similar to that of a human who was not used to talking to others, nervously panicking after suddenly being talked to by the person they had a crush on.
“However, it is not that we had no doubts whatsoever,” Bashas continued.
“Doubts?” Vandalieu repeated.
“Perhaps the doubts themselves were only slight. Perhaps we were imprudent… or perhaps our perspectives were too narrow. And such doubts have no direct relevance to the opinions we hold now,” said Hamul. “Would you still ask about them?”
“If it’s something you are willing to speak about, I would like to hear it,” said Vandalieu. “It will be a chance for me to learn what kind of gods you are.”
Vandalieu was a little perplexed by the excitement of the three gods, but he didn’t find it unpleasant. In fact, he was a little happy to know that there were gods like them in Alda’s faction, and didn’t want to cut the conversation short.
He had a general knowledge regarding gods. He knew of the gods of Vida’s faction, the gods of Alda’s forces, evil gods – at least the gods whose names were still remembered by history, and in the case of gods who were known by Fidirg, Zozogante, Gufadgarn and the like, he knew of their traits as well.
However, he knew almost nothing about the three gods who had summoned him here. He had never even heard Zelzeria and Hamul’s names before. Because they were young gods who had reached godhood after the battle that had taken place a hundred thousand years ago, most of the gods of Vida’s faction did not know of them, and Ricklent and Zuruwarn had never met them.
Therefore, Vandalieu needed to know more about them before deciding whether to accept or refuse their request.
“Very well… As you may have already guessed, in recent years, the gods of Alda’s forces have been instructed by Alda to grant promising humans their divine protection and perform deeds in his name. This is all in order to nurture them into heroes that can be used to defeat you,” said Hamul.
“Indeed, I have already guessed that much,” said Vandalieu.
He had heard rumors of young people being called heroes or heroes in the making, people who had previously been ordinary city guards or adventurers but were now performing unimaginable deeds after suddenly receiving divine protections from the gods of Alda’s forces.
Vandalieu had indeed guessed that this was a scheme of Alda and his subordinates… one that had been created in order to defeat him.
Across history, there were countless stories where worshippers had received divine protections from gods and gone on to perform great deeds out in the world.
But it was unnatural for more than a dozen such individuals to receive divine protections in a single time period. Unless these individuals had spoken to the gods directly like Vandalieu was able to, and begged them for divine protections, it was only natural to assume that the gods were bestowing these divine protections for a certain purpose.
“That scheme… I suppose Alda and his subordinates would call it a strategy. Did you begin having doubts about it?” Vandalieu asked.
It was Zelzeria, rather than Hamul, who answered this question.
“Yes,” she said. “After all… we began to feel like we were being ordered to train our worshippers into soldiers and killers. Divine protections are a blessing that gods bestow to their worshippers, a form of aid. If we were valiant war gods, gods of justice who fought against evil, gods who watched over knights, or heroic gods, then perhaps it would be right for us to grant our worshippers divine protections and guide them to fight. Many worshippers would rejoice at the honor of receiving tasks from gods. But most of our worshippers are different… So even if we are instructed to select promising individuals and guide them to do battle…”
Most of Zelzeria’s worshippers were male and female prostitutes, bards, medicine men who treated patients, and a small portion of craftsmen who created bedding goods; almost none of them had professions that required them to engage enemies in combat. Some of her worshippers were killers and assassins who misinterpreted her teachings and offered prayers to her, but she was hesitant to grant her divine protection to these people and turn them into potential heroes.
Not many of Bashas and Hamul’s worshippers held combat-related occupations, either. There were some, but they were considerably few in number. And among those few worshippers that were capable of combat, there were none that Bashas and Hamul had a particular desire to grant their divine protections upon.
There were some worshippers who led peaceful lives but possessed a latent talent for combat and magic that they were unaware of. But granting them divine protections and ordering them to fight a desperate battle against the Demon King Vandalieu was too cruel, even for a trial imposed on a person by a god.
The teachings of Zelzeria and Hamul did not prize pacifism; they did not forbid their worshippers from taking up arms, and they taught them that fighting for justice was a noble act. But their teachings did not place a great emphasis on military prowess.
“Thus, in the beginning, Hamul and I did not select any worshippers as candidates to become heroes. The other gods knew that we did not have many worshippers, and they did not blame us, presumably because they assumed that we simply could not find any promising individuals,” Zelzeria explained.
“Although it is possible that they simply forgot about us,” Hamul added.
And yet, Zelzeria and Hamul had granted their divine protections to Arthur’s sister, Kalinia, and her friend of the heart, Borzofoy. As Vandalieu began to wonder what had led them to do this, Bashas began to elaborate.
“… If the entire world was in danger, as Alda insists, then my doubts were a small matter. Being too fixated upon my own teachings to my worshippers could be a hindrance to what needed to be done to ensure the survival of this world. That is what I thought at the time, and so I granted my divine protection to Arthur, a young hunter in a remote village, but I simply watched over him, not giving him any specific instruction. I believed that if the world was indeed in danger, Arthur would fight alongside the other potential heroes of his own will,” said Bashas.
“I see. I understand the doubts you had,” said Vandalieu.
Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul’s teachings contradicted the strategy being employed by Alda and his subordinates, creating doubts, and Vandalieu approved of the answer that they had reached in the face of that doubt… despite the fact that he was the enemy that their strategy had been targeting.
If they were a part of an army or an organization, their decision was nothing more than insubordination. But they were gods, not people. They were beings who were supposed to provide guidelines for people to follow as they led their lives, based on ideals and not on reality.
It was in people’s nature to disobey or bend the rules of gods’ teachings due to the problems they faced in reality. The people would then ask for forgiveness after their problems were dealt with.
Of course, all of this would be meaningless if the world were to be destroyed, but even so, fighting for the world’s sake was a decision that needed to be made by the people rather than the gods they worshipped, and Vandalieu believed that it was enough for the gods to simply watch over them as they made their decision.
“In any case, did you say that your request today doesn’t have anything to do with the doubts you had?” Vandalieu asked.
“It does not. We saw the images painted in Talosheim and wished to bend our knees to you and serve you. In other words, we wished to convert to Vida’s faction, and we made this request because we could not suppress that desire,” said Bashas.
The gods’ request was indeed quite unrelated to their doubts.
“I spoke to Zelzeria and Hamul, who felt the same as I did, and we heard that you were heading to Alcrem, so I asked Arthur to make contact with you,” said Bashas.
“I then granted Kalinia my divine protection, and Hamul granted his to Borzofoy,” said Zelzeria.
“There is a barrier around the Boundary Mountain Range, preventing us from making direct contact, so we had no choice but to do this… We had to make contact with you before Alda-sama or the god named Rodcorte took notice,” said Hamul.
It seemed that once the three of them came to the decision to convert to Vida’s faction, they had acted quickly. They had been unable to go to the Boundary Mountain Range, but they likely had the option to head to the barrier-free Demon Continent, but… they had likely deemed it safer to make contact with Vandalieu through Arthur and his companions.
Vandalieu questioned their decision to make their worshippers make contact with a potential enemy and put them in danger despite having been against Alda’s strategy in the first place, but it seemed that they had their own thoughts on this.
“We thought that it would be more dangerous for Arthur and his companions if you remained under the belief that they were worshippers who had received divine protections from gods such as Fitun,” said Bashas.
“Hmm. You’re right,” said Vandalieu.
He didn’t have any intention of quickly getting rid of the potential heroes that were being nurtured by the gods of Alda’s forces.
It was true that they would show hostility towards him in the future, but that was also true for every single knight, soldier, adventurer and mercenary who prayed to the gods of Alda’s faction. Before Vandalieu met them, that had been true for Kest, the city guard in Morksi, Bachem of the Tamers’ Guild, and the alchemist Jenny who was growing closer to Simon.
Thus, if Vandalieu were to kill every person who was likely to become an enemy in the future, it would be no different from a religious figure massacring all heathens.
And the truth was that Vandalieu and his companions had no way of accurately determining who the heroes-in-training were.
Few of them were making it public that they had received divine protections of gods. And even those that did had no distinguishing features about them other than that they had become more prominent in society recently. There was no mark on their foreheads or the backs of their hands that gave them away.
Thus, finding these potential heroes would require long searches conducted by a large number of people. The other option was to simply dispose of every single person that seemed like they could be one of the potential heroes, but… that would mean killing even young people who simply had talent without any divine protections.
That would be unacceptable.
And according to the explanations given by Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul, at this point in time, many of the ‘potential heroes’ were just ordinary worshippers who had received divine protections. As long as they weren’t being actively hostile towards Vandalieu and his companions, persecuting members of Vida’s races, or making plans to do so, there was no reason to kill them.
However, Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul had no idea that Vandalieu thought this way, so they couldn’t be blamed for thinking that making contact with him was the best option for their worshippers’ safety as well.
“And… forgive me for saying so, but we were certain that in the worst-case scenario, Kalinia, Arthur and the others would not meet such a fate at your hands,” said Zelzeria.
“Why did you think that?” Vandalieu asked. “If you look at my past actions, I’ve been considerably cruel to my enemies. Recently, I’ve been peeling off the faces of criminals while they’re still alive, then using them in human experiments until they die, then turning them into Golems and Undead even after their deaths to use them as sources of labor.”
This was a fate that was even worse than getting caught by the authorities and being hanged or forced into slavery in a mine until death. Vandalieu’s methods were popular with the spirits of the criminals’ victims, but still, he wasn’t unaware that others would consider them to be heinous and evil… He just didn’t see that as much of a problem.
But even as Vandalieu confessed how dangerous he was, Bashas and the others were not fazed.
“Arthur and the others are not criminals,” Bashas said.
“We told them not to take any hostile action against you, and we were sure that they understood our instructions correctly,” said Zelzeria.
“And most importantly, even if you are cruel to your enemies, that is not the case for those whom you do not regard as enemies,” said Hamul.
The three of them had been enticed by the images painted on the roofs of Talosheim’s buildings with the effects of the ‘Mental Encroachment’ Skill. But that hadn’t been the only thing that had made them decide to convert to Vida’s faction.
If Vandalieu were someone who indiscriminately killed those who adhered to the religion of Alda and turned every single person into an Undead – if he were the threat to the world that Alda claimed he was – Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul wouldn’t have changed sides no matter how enticed they had been by the images.
They had concluded that this was not the case, and that was why they had made various preparations and summoned Vandalieu here.
“I see. Very well. You said you want me to mediate your conversion to Vida’s faction, but I don’t actually have the right to make a decision. Still, I’ll tell Vida and the others about you,” said Vandalieu.
If they were willing to say such things about him, he was willing to believe in them. There was no decisive proof that they weren’t spies, but he had the feeling that there were few gods who were proficient at faking emotions.
And if he were to continue to doubt them, there would be no end to it.
“If you just need to enter the barrier, Gufadgarn can do that right away if I ask her, but I can’t make that decision on my own, so I’ll need you to wait for a while… Will you be alright in the meantime?” Vandalieu asked.
Unlike Vandalieu, Alda did not possess the power to destroy gods. However, he had the divine authority known as the ‘Stakes of Law,’ which would wound gods, deprive them of their power and prevent them from moving. Vandalieu was anxious that Alda might use these to impale Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul.
“We will likely be fine,” said Bashas. “We have taken steps to ensure that Rodcorte is unable to read the memories of Arthur and his companions… and it is unlikely that Alda is even aware whom each god has given their divine protection to.”
It was possible to prevent information regarding just a few individuals from becoming known to Rodcorte and the other gods.
Of course, such measures were equivalent to putting a cloth over the lens of a security camera, so if Rodcorte were a skillful observer who continuously observed every single human in Lambda, he would notice immediately, but… at the moment, there was nothing to suggest that this was the case.
“There is a possibility that we will be under suspicion, but… we have already separated our Divine Realms from where they originally were, so I do not believe they will be able to pursue us,” said Bashas.
“We can continue performing our duty to maintain the world’s existence, so I believe we should be able to keep them fooled for some time,” said Zelzeria.
It seemed that the three gods had left along with their own Divine Realms… the places where they resided and conducted their work. They were continuing their important work, so even if Alda and the others thought that they were suspicious, it would be some time before they realized that they had changed sides, and even if some pursued them, it would take some time to find them.
“Well then, this is my last question… Just who is this Miriam-san?” asked Vandalieu.
The final thing that Vandalieu was curious about was Miriam, the person who was accompanying Arthur and the others. Bashas’s divine protection had been given to Arthur, Zelzeria’s to Kalinia, and Hamul’s to Borzofoy. So why was Miriam, a fourth individual, with them?
Miriam was a friend of the heart to her three companions, but perhaps the gods had a different purpose for her.
“Has she been given a divine protection by another god who isn’t here?” Vandalieu asked, pressing the question.
The three gods stiffened, averted their eyes from Vandalieu, and finally began to speak.
“That is not the case… She is with them purely through coincidence, a random series of events. Though I suppose one could call it fate,” said Bashas.
“She was attacked by monsters and her life was in danger. Arthur happened to be nearby and saved her, and this seems to be the reason they are together,” said Zelzeria.
“Arthur and the others had never left their village before. Miriam, with her knowledge of society in the outside world, was a good guide and leader for them,” said Hamul.
“… I see. So, it was a twist of fate that even the gods couldn’t foresee,” said Vandalieu.
It seemed that Miriam’s meeting with Arthur and his companions was a completely unplanned coincidence. She was not a particularly talented individual; she was nothing more than a rookie adventurer who had a little more experience than the others.
But in a short period of time, she’s gained their trust to the point that they call her a ‘friend of the heart,’ so I’m sure she’s a good person, Vandalieu thought.
He believed that such personal characteristics were more important than talent. Thus, he thought highly of Miriam and held respect for her.
He wished that he could one day develop his own interpersonal skills with living people to be more like her.
“I have heard your request. Now then, what do Arthur and the others plan to do now? If you have any instructions for them, I could relay them,” said Vandalieu.
Bashas shook her head. “We will leave them to do as they wish. However, I believe they will choose to continue being adventurers.”
Arthur, Kalinia and Borzofoy were from a secluded village and even the people of their village had kept their distance from them. To them, the world was a place that was full of danger and surprises – but they were free, and everything surely felt exciting to them.
Even if the three gods didn’t give them a new mission for them to carry out, it was unlikely that they would return to their village and continue living as they had in the past.
“Very well. I will tell them that,” said Vandalieu.
Vandalieu stopped still for a few seconds.
“One moment, please,” he said.
An Elf girl suddenly appeared from behind him and began discussing something with him.
That was how it appeared for Arthur and his companions, and Vandalieu then quickly informed them that they had completed the mission that the gods had given them.
“In just a few seconds, you met the gods and exchanged words with them… Are you a saint, rather than the Demon King?!” exclaimed Arthur.
“To exchange words with the gods directly – You are like a true hero, a champion of the legends,” said Borzofoy.
Gufadgarn remained expressionless as usual, but her chest puffed up with pride. “Like the gods you serve, you have potential, humans. Give praise to the great Vandalieu Zakkart.”
Kalinia and Miriam gave nervous laughs.
Vandalieu told the four of them of Bashas and the other gods’ intentions.
“The gods are letting you decide what you want to do. They trust you,” said Vandalieu.
“Huh? Isn’t that just because they want to leave that decision to someone else?” said Miriam.
“No, I’m sure they are letting you be free because they trust you and believe that they don’t need to give you instructions, and that there won’t be any problems if they just believe in you and leave the decision to you,” said Vandalieu.
If they were unable to trust their followers, Bashas and the others would have likely thought of instructions for Vandalieu to relay to them. But since that was not the case, the gods trusted Arthur and his companions.
“I see… Being trusted by the gods, huh. Arthur-san and the others are amazing,” Miriam said, her voice full of admiration.
Kalinia placed a hand on her shoulder. “You are, too, Miri. Us making it here, completing our mission, it’s all because we had a friend of the heart like you. I’m sure the gods know that as well.”
“No, that’s not true,” said Miriam. “I don’t have any divine protection, and the gods didn’t say anything about me, did they?”
“The three gods called you ‘a good guide and leader’ for Arthur and the others,” said Vandalieu, repeating the words that the gods – or more specifically, Hamul – had said about Miriam.
“Right. See, that’s what I… Whaaaaat?! The gods said that about me?!” Miriam exclaimed, her eyes opening wide in shock.
He had recently gotten used to meeting with gods and exchanging words with them directly, but seeing Miriam’s reaction reminded him how one normally reacted to such a thing.
“M-me, a good guide and leader…” Miriam murmured to herself.
Vandalieu had the feeling that what Hamul had meant was slightly different, but his words had been delivered accurately nonetheless.
“Wait a second. Does that mean that they expect me to be taking care of Arthur-san and the others from now on?” asked Miriam.
But considering that she was always being dragged around by the whims of Arthur and the others, Miriam wasn’t particularly delighted. The gods were taken aback; they hadn’t asked this much of her, but they suspected that Arthur and the others would indeed be in her care.
“Well, in any case, I suppose this makes us friends from now on,” said Vandalieu.
“Ah, yes,” said Miriam.
And so, Miriam and her companions became friends of the Demon King.
Meanwhile, the ‘Spiritualist’ who had been hired by the duke’s house to investigate the ‘Face-tearing Demon,’ lost consciousness and collapsed, foaming at the mouth.
After he regained consciousness, he reported that Alcrem was enveloped in a terrifying swarm of spirits.
There were spirits wherever he looked, and he stared at them intently.
“It’s like an ancient battlefield… No, it is like the afterworld has manifested here! The city is filled with more spirits than living inhabitants! Finding the spirits of the victims of the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ would be impossible,” he said.
“Curses! Is this some kind of conspiracy as well?! No, even a ‘Spiritualist’ can only speak to spirits, not control them… What in the world is going on?!” muttered Bravatiyu, the ‘Knight of Roaring Flames.’
Of course, the one who had released countless spirits into the capital of Alcrem was Vandalieu.
The purpose of this was to have the spirits observe and watch for any suspicious individuals, as he had been unable to find any of the victims of the fake ‘Face-tearing Demon.’
However, even then, he had been unable to find any leads on the fake ‘Face-tearing Demon.’ Whoever they were, they had either stopped their activities and were laying low after Vandalieu’s arrival in the city, or they knew of a way to fool the eyes of the spirits.
“… Never mind the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ for now. More importantly, are there any spirits who have said anything about Vandalieu Zakkart? It doesn’t matter what it is. Anything about his personality, his character, his habits, his relationships with others… no matter how trivial it is, I want to hear it,” Bravatiyu said, seemingly prioritizing Vandalieu over the ‘Face-tearing Demon.’
However, the ‘Spiritualist’ sighed, not having any meaningful answers. “About that… Some spirits fall silent and glare at me the moment I ask about him, and others simply praise him as being ‘wonderful’ and ‘the best’… In the end, I learned nothing useful.”
“… Damn it! So, it seems that we were fools to try to pry open the mouths of the dead!” Bravatiyu cursed.
“I thought it was quite a creative idea, coming from you… More importantly, where have Baldiria and Goldie gone?” asked Serjio, the ‘Knight of Distant Thunder.’ “Ralmeya has regained consciousness, but we’re stuck because we can’t understand a thing he’s saying.”
“Who knows. Both are apparently attending to important matters,” said Bravatiyu, without even turning around to look at Serjio.
“… Important matters, huh. I don’t think there’s anything more important than a monster who is equivalent to an S-class adventurer, who we’re meeting tomorrow,” Serjio muttered.
And so, the Five Knights of Alcrem and Vandalieu headed into the informal tea party without any progress in their investigations.