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Several hours previously, around the time Vandalieu’s group was being questioned at the gate, a certain E-class adventurer party had gathered in the dining room of an inn.
“… The time has come,” said Arthur, a muscular swordsman with thin eyebrows and a ruthless-looking face.
He was the man with the divine protection of Basha, the Goddess of Rain Clouds.
“The Divine Message has come true, Brother,” said Kalinia, Arthur’s beautiful younger sister who had wavy, waist-length hair and gloomy, slanted eyes with a sharp gaze.
She had received the divine protection of Zelzeria, the Goddess of Dark Nights, and served as her priestess.
“With this, we can finally move to achieve our true goals,” said Borzofoy, a Dwarf Mage who was young but had thin hair and a weak constitution that made him look like an old man, the gaze of his bulging eyes wandering aimlessly.
He was the person who had received the divine protection of Hamul, the God of Shadows.
There were few people in the dining hall at this time of day, but the presence of these three gave it a suspicious atmosphere, as if it were a place used for shady dealings.
This was despite the fact that they were potential heroes who had been chosen and received the divine protections of gods who were respectable gods, not evil gods – one of the wind attribute and two of the light attribute.
“U-umm, what are these ‘divine messages’ and ‘true goals?’ Nobody’s told me anything about them!” said Miriam, with confused tears rising in her eyes.
She was a rookie adventurer who had been an adventurer only a little longer than Arthur and the others. “If there’s something worrying you, please talk to me about it. I almost forget sometimes, but I’m the leader of this party, you know!”
People who had heard only rumors were under the mistaken impression that Arthur was the party leader, but it was in fact Miriam.
As Arthur and the others had lived their lives in a remote village, they did not have the common sense that people in the city had, nor did they have common sense as adventurers. Thus, they had earnestly requested the more experienced Miriam to be their leader.
… However, Arthur and the others’ erratic behavior often meant that she did not have much leadership and was instead often dragged around all over the place, so people often thought she was a victim of the three strange people, or that she was a strange person herself.
Arthur suddenly opened his eyes wide and stared at Miriam. Several seconds of silence passed.
“Arthur-san, I get the feeling that you’re steeling yourself to confess something that is very difficult to say… You’re very scary,” said Miriam.
“Miriam… You have worked very hard on the behalf of us country folk, but staying with us any longer will be dangerous. We have not told you, but we have received divine protections from certain gods, and we have been given a task,” said Arthur.
Borzofoy burst into deep laughter, and his dilated pupils wandered even more wildly as he spoke to Miriam. “Leaving our village and coming to the large city of Alcrem, becoming adventurers – from the very beginning, it was to accomplish our task. Miriam-san, you were used by us,” he said.
A customer who had just entered the inn turned around and ran back out the door after hearing Borzofoy’s ominous-sounding voice.
But Miriam simply sighed. “Borzofoy-san, don’t force that weird laughter. And you’ve been avoiding making eye contact with me even once this whole time, haven’t you? You have a habit of avoiding eye contact when you’re lying.”
“Gah, you’ve seen through me?!” Borzofoy said in surprise.
“Miriam-san, there’s at least a little truth in what Borzofoy says… We have received divine protections and a mission from some gods,” Arthur whispered.
“Ah yes. I did suspect that,” said Miriam, nodding simply.
Arthur and the others were astonished that she had suspected a truth that they had kept a secret from her.
“Well, I mean… it’s just strange for people who were hunters and domestic servants just months ago to be this strong with just a little instruction in magic from a priest. And you three are wearing handmade charms in the shape of the holy symbols of Bashas, Zelzeria and Hamul,” said Miriam. “That’s why I kinda thought that maybe you were some of those potential heroes with divine protections who’ve popped up lately.”
Miriam had noticed what everyone fearful of Arthur and his companions had failed to see.
“So, you realized that my brother had received the divine protection of Bashas-sama,” Kalinia murmured, looking shocked.
“Huh? You mean you and Borzofoy-san hadn’t, Kalinia?” Miriam asked.
“I now have the divine protection of Zelzeria-sama, but… I received it after we met you, around a month ago. I’m sorry, but I am just a domestic servant who happens to be strong,” Kalinia replied.
“I also received my divine protection around a month ago. It seems that I had strong qualities for magic, considering that I am a Dwarf,” said Borzofoy.
“I see. Well, I guess… I’m sorry,” said Miriam, apologizing for having underestimated Kalinia and Borzofoy.
They had turned out to be far more talented individuals than Miriam had initially thought.
“Leaving that aside… it is surprising to hear that you were aware of our secret, but that is even more reason for us to not allow you to travel with us any further. The mission given to us by the gods is a very dangerous one,” said Arthur.
“I’m well aware. The potential heroes that people talk about in rumors all accomplish amazing things,” said Miriam.
The potential heroes in the rumors were said to have resealed rampaging fragments of the Demon King, cleared previously-undiscovered Dungeons, and more recently, slain a Noble-born Vampire who worshipped an evil god. It was even said that there were some who were currently going through Dungeons created by gods, as one of the trials set for them.
From the perspective of a rookie adventurer like Miriam, their deeds seemed great enough to call them heroes, not potential heroes.
She was unsure if she would be able to continue following Arthur and his companions if their mission from the gods was similar to such deeds.
“But I’m stubborn,” said Miriam. “It’s true that you’ve been dragging me around all over the place, but even so, I can’t forget my debt of having been saved by you.”
Miriam had begun travelling with the peculiar trio when she visited their village in the fall of last year on a request to gather some rare medicinal herbs.
The remote village was far from the highway and didn’t even have a branch of the Adventurers’ Guild. As Miriam searched for medicinal herbs in the forest surrounding the village, she had been attacked by an Ogre.
Encountering a Rank 4 Ogre in an ordinary forest that wasn’t even a Devils’ Nest had paralyzed Miriam with shock, and she hadn’t been able to even try to escape.
And she had been rescued by a fully armed Ogre… or rather, Arthur. He had intimidated the Ogre with a ferocious roar, and as it flinched, he had engaged in melee combat with his hatchet and managed to emerge victorious.
“Are you alright, my lady?” Arthur had said with a smile, his face completely red with the Ogre’s blood.
Miriam had reached her limit and fainted on the spot.
She had then been nursed back to health by Kalinia in Arthur’s house, and Borzofoy, a childhood friend of Arthur and Kalinia, had taught her about the plants growing around the village, allowing her to successfully harvest the medicinal herbs.
The events of those several days had taught Miriam that Arthur and his companions were good people despite their appearances, and when they told her that they were thinking of becoming adventurers, she had been determined to be the one to help them this time.
She had decided to guide Arthur and the others to a city with a Guild branch and spend some time acting as their senior and teaching them the ropes.
… They had gone into a Devils’ Nest far from the village to defeat monsters because they needed money to buy equipment, and after guards on the highway expressed suspicions that they were bandits, for some reason, they helped the guards exterminate some real bandits in order to prove their innocence. The three of them had dragged Miriam into all kinds of trouble since before they became adventurers, but looking back, these had been good experiences for her.
“It may be true that I lack strength. But we’re friends, aren’t we! We’re comrades belonging to the same party, aren’t we! You can’t leave me behind just because it’s dangerous!” Miriam said.
“But from this point onwards, it really will be –” Arthur began, still trying to persuade Miriam otherwise.
But Kalinia raised her voice to interrupt him. “Stop it already, Brother!” She stood from her seat, took Miriam’s hands and enclosed them in her own, and looked at her with teary eyes. “My brother understands that we’re only here because of you, Miriam. Even after receiving Bashas-sama’s divine protection, he never sought to leave the village. I also knew that I was a burden to him, but I was afraid of the outside world. We siblings have always been misunderstood by others in the past, so… But it was you who changed us.”
“Huh? Did I really do such a significant thing?” Miriam said, bewildered.
Kalinia nodded. “None of us three had anyone we could call friends but each other. Miriam, you were the first person from the outside world who became our friend… a friend of the heart!”
“U-umm, Kalinia-san, what do you mean by ‘friend of the heart…?’”
“Indeed… It is as Kalinia says. Even those from our village found the three of us to be unpleasant, and yet you call us your companions… your true friends,” said Borzofoy. “Arthur, I believe that we should not completely ignore what she wishes for.”
“B-Borzofoy-san, I didn’t say anything about ‘true friends’…!” said Miriam, unable to conceal her bewilderment at her ranking up from an ordinary friend to a friend of the heart and then a true friend.
TLN: There’s a Japanese play on kanji going on here which probably isn’t very interesting or funny when explained in English, but here we go. ‘Friend of the heart,’ the word used by Kalinia, is 心友/shinyuu. ‘True friend,’ used by Borzofoy, is 真の友/shin no tomo, but if you remove the hiragana in the middle, it becomes 真友 which is also read as ‘shinyuu.’ Both are very exaggerated terms; you would never see these words used in real life. These two are both plays on the word 親友/shinyuu, which is an ordinary, commonly used word to say ‘close friend.’
“It is as they say. Miriam-san. I was wrong,” said Arthur in a solemn tone, taking Miriam’s hands in his.
Seeing the tears of emotion pouring from his eyes, it was very much impossible for Miriam to tell them that they were wrong.
“You are a companion of our party, risking your life with us on our adventures, a friend who is bound to us by a bond stronger than any other. The four of us will be together, whether we live or we die!” said Arthur.
It seemed that he, Kalinia and Borzofoy had an innocent outlook on what it meant to be ‘companions of an adventurer party.’ Not abandoning each other no matter what the predicament, being connected through their hearts, things of that kind.
That was likely why they deemed Miriam, a member of their party, a friend of the heart and a true friend.
That’s not true, Arthur-san! There are parties of people who don’t get along with each other outside of work, break up because they have bad chemistry and there have even been cases where people kill members of their party and make it look like an accident! Miriam screamed internally.
But the words that came out of her mouth were words of agreement. “Yes, you’re right,” she said.
She was the one who had asked Arthur and the others to tell her their secret; she found herself unable to say that it was too heavy a burden to bear now.
“Very well, Miriam-san. I shall tell you of the mission given to us by the gods… We are to make contact with Vandalieu, the Dhampir boy who arrived in Alcrem today… the one whom the gods call the next Demon King, and we are to travel with him,” said Arthur.
Miriam instantly regretted her decisions, realizing that there was nothing good about the gods’ trials for Arthur and his companions.
Arthur knew that Vandalieu was headed to the Tamers’ Guild this afternoon. He, Kalinia and Borzofoy intended to wait for him on the path Vandalieu and his companions would take to return to their accommodation, planning to hand him a letter, but Miriam, through great effort, persuaded them not to.
However, there was no scout in their party, and nobody had the ‘Silent Steps’ Skill other than Arthur, who was originally a hunter. Considering that, and the fact that it would be unwise for women to be in a back alley with a dangerous criminal known as the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ on the loose, Arthur ended up delivering the letter on his own.
Arthur succeeded in dropping the letter at Vandalieu’s feet and smiling at him when their eyes met to show that he meant no harm. He returned to the party’s inn, certain that he had made great progress in accomplishing their mission.
That night, The Great Church of Ricklent was quiet as always.
It was known as the Great Church as it was the largest church in Alcrem, with a longer history than any other Church. However, the worship of Ricklent was not very widespread in the Alcrem Duchy.
Several thousand years ago, a mage who worshipped Ricklent had sealed away a fragment of the Demon King that was rampaging out of control. This large, sturdy church had been built to reward his achievement – and also to keep the seal on the fragment under protection.
Numerous nations had fallen and risen over the many years that followed, and the people’s worship had shifted from Ricklent to Alda to Vida, but the Great Church had remained.
The fragment that had been sealed shortly before the time of its construction had been moved to a Church of Alda by the ruler of the land at the time, but the heads of the Church had always preached that it was not the fragment that was important; the important thing was to keep the fragment sealed, and pass the knowledge required to maintain the seal onto the next generation. Even now, the Great Church of Ricklent still possessed the reputation of being the greatest church with the longest history.
But the topics being discussed by the high-ranking clergymen of the Church were not virtuous topics by any means.
“The earnings of the Great Library are satisfactory, I suppose. It has been making a loss recently, so that is quite a relief.”
“The generous contributions from the duke’s family to reward our collaborative research with the Mages’ Guild were substantial.”
“The contributions of other nobles and merchants have been fewer as of late, after all. Although I suppose it cannot be helped that the people’s prayers and donations will go to the Churches that are visited by heroes.”
“Of course, all of those heroes have left Alcrem all of a sudden, so I am sure the contributions and donations will return once more. The heroes that remained in Alcrem also left the other day. At the time, I did think it strange that they all left at the same time, but…”
“I suppose it is likely related to the Divine Message that the head of the Church received. And considering the timing, the ‘Patron Saint of Transformation Equipment’ Vandalieu… We could certainly use a sample piece of that equipment.”
“The reports from Morksi state that they can only be used by the individuals they are made for, did they not? Just who are you planning to have it made for?”
The teachings of Ricklent, the Genie of Time and Magic, had never preached a correct way for people to live, but had stated the importance of the correct way to conduct oneself as a researcher.
It was important to look at one’s ideals, have a vision and use the imagination. These were the driving forces of progress.
However, it was important to not forget that the feet walked across the ground of reality.
No matter what kind of important research one was conducting, no matter what kind of knowledge they were trying to obtain, it was necessary to have the means to preserve it.
“In that regard, I suppose we could say that he helped us, but what should we do? I do not intend to disobey a Divine Message that I heard so clearly, but…”
“Let us reveal the truth only to him. He would not leak any information.”
“Indeed. Well then, I must hole myself up in the Great Library tonight and investigate things until morning.”
“Let us say that I drank some alcohol, which I do not habitually do, and slept in my chambers until sunrise, shall we?”
“Wait, you can’t drink alcohol, can you? Are you alright?”
“I cannot, and that is why the bottle will be filled with fruit juice, not wine. Please consider this to be highly classified information.”
“Good grief… Well then, I suppose we’ll say that I stayed up three nights in a row, so I was sleeping very soundly.”
“That is the truth, is it not? You are not young, so do not stay up all night too often.”
Having come up with excuses to not notice anything that night no matter what, the high-ranking clergymen of the Church disbanded, and they spent the time until the next morning uneventfully, just as they had decided to.
The next morning, it was established that the fragment of the Demon King sealed by Randolf ‘the True’ – the Demon King’s oviduct – as well as one other unknown sealed fragment, had been replaced by fakes.
The high-ranking clergymen of the Church stopped that information from spreading in order to prevent panic among the public and reported to Duke Tackard Alcrem that they had been stolen by an unknown culprit.
And then they told the truth only to Randolf ‘the True.’
Under instructions from Ricklent, the Genie of Time and Magic, they had allowed an intruder to sneak in in the middle of the night and steal the fragments of the Demon King that had been entrusted to the Church.
However, neither the high-ranking clergymen of the Great Church of Ricklent nor Randolf had a good awareness of the current situation, so the news of the truth was delivered to Randolf’s main hideout – the one in the royal capital, at the heart of the Orbaume Kingdom.
Thus, Randolf, who was currently undercover in the city of Morksi… the bard named Rudolf, remained unaware of it.
A pompous atmosphere enveloped the meeting room inside Alcrem Castle, which had been built back when the Alcrem Duchy was still known as the Alcrem Kingdom.
“Just what is the meaning of this… I heard that Randolf made the decision to leave Juliana and another captured female adventurer alive and leave them in the care of an adventurer in the city of Morksi, but… just what events took place to lead to this situation?” muttered Duke Tackard Alcrem, sitting at the round table in the room.
His face had aged; he looked like a completely different person from when he met with Bachem here not long ago.
“I did not plan the willful murder of Juliana,” he whispered. “I had no idea that it was Minotaurs, not bandits, that were hiding in that village… and I certainly had no idea that it was a horde led by a Minotaur King that had absorbed a fragment of the Demon King.”
The duke’s retainer, who filled a prime-minister-like role and managed the internal affairs of the duke’s house, nodded.
“I know, Your Excellency. I am also aware that you sent the group of knights led by Juliana-sama because you took into account the tiny possibility that it would be monsters, not bandits, that awaited them. Everyone present here is aware that you had no intention of murdering Juliana-sama,” he said.
“That’s right. After that, when it became clear that Juliana and the others had been captured by monsters, there was no ulterior motive in my request to Randolf that he behead her rather than rescue her. Time had passed since her capture. I only gave that order because I thought that it would be too cruel to allow her to keep living after that,” said the duke.
“Of course, Your Excellency. I am sure that your father, the previous duke, would have taken pity on Juliana-sama and made the same decision if he were still alive,” said the retainer.
In this world, being defiled by monsters inflicted deep harm upon women. That was especially true for the daughter of a noble family. Favorable talks of marriage would be impossible afterwards, and they would either have to spend their lives away from their mansions or join a Church in a remote location.
If the daughter’s house was incredibly powerful, they would be able to conceal the fact that she had been defiled by monsters, and it would be possible to have her marry into the house of lower-class nobles such as barons or knights. However, that would only be possible if her body… and more importantly, her mind, remained intact.
It would have been very much impossible for Juliana, whose limbs had been cut off at the elbows and knees, had Minotaur young implanted inside of her, and lost her mind completely.
“If you saw Randolf’s eyes when I made that request of him, it would be clear that he thought that the power of the house of the duke… its money and political influence, would be able to save Juliana in some way as long as she was still alive,” the duke continued. “Indeed, it would have been possible to keep her alive. It would have been possible to discard the monster young in her womb and use expensive Potions to regrow her limbs. However, I would have been forced to have tight-lipped servants continue to take care of her needs, hoping that her sanity would return, not having any idea how many years it would take. And that would have continued for years, until she either woke up or until she died… But in this case, would you have been able to say that she had been saved?”
Randolf might have insisted that there was still a chance. Indeed, he had partially helped Juliana and the female adventurer who was with her. But even with that result, it was clear that Duke Alcrem did not think well of it.
But Bravatiyu, the ‘Knight of Roaring Flames’ – one of the Five Knights of Alcrem – wished to put aside the events that had led to this situation, and whether decisions made in the past had been correct or not.
“Your Excellency, this is not the time to be talking about events of the past. We must come up with a method to dispose of the Dhampir and the Minotaur child that is a living replica of Juliana-dono,” he said.
“W-wait, Bravatiyu! Would it not be too hasty to dispose of them? I did not gather you here with such intentions in mind!” said the duke.
“But Your Excellency! Their ulterior motives are clear as day!” said Bravatiyu, paying no heed to the duke’s words of caution.
Another knight gave a small laugh. “Roaring-Flames-dono, what may these ‘ulterior motives’ you speak of be? There is no information to suggest that they have any such motives, from what we have heard from our spies.”
“‘Knight of Distant Thunder’ Serjio, you are too young to understand. Very well, I shall say it clearly,” Bravatiyu said. “There are various things about that Dhampir that are simply too unnatural! He may be a subordinate of one of the other duchies… no, of the Amid Empire!”
“W-where is the evidence of this?!” said the duke.
“There is none! But think about it – a young child who has barely passed the age of ten is taming monsters, and even increasing their Ranks and producing species that have never been seen before, one after another! Not only that, but he has invented Magic Items known as transformation equipment that even the alchemists employed by the Alcrem house cannot explain the functions of, and he is openly ruling over the slums and red-light district of Morksi!” Bravatiyu argued. “If it were just one of these things, then I too would think that he is simply a boy who is blessed with talent. But all three? It smells like nothing other than a conspiracy!”
“Th-then what are his ulterior motives?”
“He plans to wound the influence of the Alcrem Duchy and plunge the Orbaume Kingdom into chaos, of course! There is no doubt that he gave the name ‘Juliana’ to the Minotaur child who was presumably given birth to by Juliana-dono for this purpose, and he wishes to spread news that she died in a power struggle over the position of head of the house in order to create a scandal!”
As Bravatiyu pointed out, putting Vandalieu’s achievements into words made it clear just how difficult it was to believe that they were the accomplishments of a single young boy.
Thus, the rest of his arguments did sound convincing to some extent as well.
Serjio was willing to admit this, but he was still skeptical.
“I see. Indeed, he has accomplished too much. I am sure the fact that he is a Dhampir, the fact that one of his eyes is artificial and the claws on his hands are all because of some trick or disguise, aren’t they? I’m sure there is someone else who provided the powerful Ghouls of new races and the transformation equipment. Oh my, how terrifying,” he said sarcastically towards the older knight who treated him like an inexperienced rookie.
“… You bastard, what is it that you want to say?!” Bravatiyu demanded.
“Bravatiyu-dono, perhaps this is the point that Serjio-dono is trying to make? He is indeed suspicious, but if it really is a conspiracy, a disproportionate amount of work and cost has gone into it,” said Baldiria, the ‘Knight of a Thousand Blades.’
She was the sole woman among the Five Knights of Alcrem, but… because she was a Dwarf, she looked like a little girl at first glance.
Hearing her summary of Serjio’s argument, Bravatiyu sat back down in his seat, grumbling under his breath.
“And it is the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ that is causing a stir in Alcrem, not the Dhampir boy and the Juliana-dono lookalike, isn’t it? The ones who have been killed so far are all villains and villains who pretend to be virtuous, and proof of their evil deeds have been left behind alongside the skins of their faces, so it has not caused a panic among the citizens. However… at this rate, the authority of the guards and us knights will be undermined, and the people’s trust in us will plummet to the ground,” said Serjio.
“Indeed… I have heard that these days, the people praise the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ as some kind of virtuous criminal, and look at us with cold gazes. The Dhampir and his companions have not taken any particular actions, so I suppose we should simply keep an eye on them or maybe just investigate them a little further, and focus our attention on the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ as planned,” said the duke.
The reason he had gathered the Five Knights of Alcrem here in the first place was to apprehend the ‘Face-tearing Demon,’ the virtuoso assassin whose trail the ordinary guards and knights had been unable to find.
Of course, the duke was still worried about Vandalieu and Juliana, but the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ was the bigger problem.
“So, you understand… It’s true that we can’t ignore the Dhampir Vandalieu and Juliana. But we still don’t know what objectives he has, or whether he is simply an extraordinary boy who will be spoken of in legends in the future,” said the duke. “Considering the current situation, it will likely be us who will be showered in criticism if we make any hasty moves on him.”
Officially, Juliana had died, and that ‘Juliana’ was a familiar who had been born as a result of a woman named Julia having been attacked by Minotaurs. The Tamers’ Guild would likely criticize the duke heavily if he killed her just because she resembled his younger sister.
As the duke’s house had many Dragon Knights in its employment and was thus dependent on the Tamers’ Guild, a crack in that relationship would be a painful one.
Considering the power of the duke’s house, it was likely possible to keep the truth concealed, but… the presence of her master Vandalieu and his mother Darcia was too influential.
According to the knights the duke had posted at the city’s gates, Vandalieu was accompanied by new races of Ghouls, an Arachne, a Scylla and a mysterious demi-human-type monster who possessed the characteristics of praying mantises. Vandalieu claimed that the Ghouls were just ordinary Rank 3 and 4 Ghouls and that the Arachne was an ordinary large-type Arachne, but it was unclear as to whether this was true.
More investigation was needed to determine how to proceed.
“I am thinking of having the ‘Knight of Keen Insight’ Ralmeya be in charge investigating Vandalieu and the others,” said the duke.
The man named by the duke, who wore a robe instead of armor and carried only a single small knife, nodded. “Very well. Using the ‘Demon Eye of Appraisal,’ I shall survey the Attribute Values, Skills and Levels of the Dhampir and his companions and present them to you.”
Strictly speaking, Ralmeya was not a knight, but something of a technical spy. The Unique Skill he possessed, the ‘Demon Eye of Appraisal,’ surveyed objects that he looked at and displayed information as numbers.
It displayed their size, weight and momentum, but it could also give a rough measurement of Attribute Value and the Levels of targets’ Skills if he observed them in battle or using the Skills.
It took longer to work than ‘Demon Eyes of Analysis,’ which could read information with a single glance, but it was still effective for gathering information.
“Yes, I am counting on you,” said the duke. “I will have the rest of you focus on the ‘Face-tearing Demon.’ And listen to me, ‘Knight of the Collapsed Mountains’ Goldie. I will be having you leave your task of watching over the sealed evil god, but…”
“I have no objections,” said the ‘Knight of the Collapsed Mountains’ Goldie, who had been silent up until now, with a very serious nod. “The seal on Forzajival, who was sealed by the heroic god Farmaun under the collapsed mountains during the age of the gods, will not be shaken so easily. My duty is to merely obey the will of the one to whom I have pledged my sword as a knight.”
“I see. I am relying on you all. The peace of Alcrem rests on your shoulders,” the duke said to the Five Knights of Alcrem.
And so, the Five Knights of Alcrem began to take action, the duke’s stress was released, and his retainer breathed a sigh of relief.
However, the report from the Great Church of Ricklent the next day caused a sharp increase in the duke’s stress once more. He gathered Knights once more, with the exception of Ralmeya, and divided them into two teams – one to hunt the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ and the other to chase down the fragments of the Demon King.
Late at night, in a dilapidated house that nobody lived in, a man was begging for his life.
“W-wait, p-please, spare me! You’re the ‘Face-tearing Demon,’ aren’t you?! You’re wrong about me, I’m different!” the man pleaded desperately, his face stained with tears and mucus.
Standing before him was a person holding a liquid-filled bottle in one hand and a knife in the other.
“I did commit crimes, I’m a villain! But I’m not the kind of evil person who deserves to have his face torn off by you!” the man cried.
The ‘Face-tearing Demon’ only targeted villains. And even among villains, they were atrocious fiends, the kind that would receive no sympathy from the people even if they died horrible, gruesome deaths.
The ‘Face-tearing Demon’ didn’t pay any attention to criminals like petty swindlers and thieves that swiped goods from benches at markets. Most victims were people like those running drug trade rings, other similar high-ranking members of criminal organizations, capable assassins, black-market slave traders that dealt in illegal slaves, and the nobles who benefited from dealing with such criminals.
But this man didn’t fit into the latter category.
“It’s true that I sold drugs, but I’m one of the lower-ranking dealers! I haven’t killed anyone! I mean, it’s true that the store I worked as a bodyguard for was apparently involved in illegal slavery under the table, but I didn’t know anything! You’ve already torn off the face of that store’s owner and the leader of that slavery ring, haven’t you?! So why are you coming after me at this point –”
The ‘Face-tearing Demon’ poured the water in the bottle over the man, causing him to sputter.
“This is holy water. It is an instruction from me for the gods to accept even a criminal like you into heaven without hesitation, so be grateful… and become a foundation. You will not be killed because you are a criminal, but you will become a foundation for the extermination of the Demon King,” the ‘Face-tearing Demon’ said. “Until then, the evidence I fabricate will portray you to be an accomplice in human trafficking, but I promise you that the dishonor on your name will be erased once things are settled.”
“W-what are you saying?!” screamed the man, who had been tied up. “I don’t understand anything –”
The ‘Face-tearing Demon’ poured more holy water over him, then began peeling off his face.
The next morning, the skin of the man’s face was discovered alongside money supposedly accepted from a black-market slave trader and a note that incriminated him.