It wasn’t snowing yet, but cold enough for the breath of the men in the unit led by the knight Karcan to turn white as they took the side road south.
There were about fifty of them, and although they belonged to the Knights’ Order, only three men other than Karcan, including the vice-captain, had formally been decorated as knights.
The unit was made up of those with the social position of Equestrians, future knight candidates and the apprentices of knights. They were less skilled than knights, but equal to or slightly above the average soldier.
They were wearing old leather armor with numerous patches and stitches rather than suits of armor and helmets bearing the crest of the Hartner Duchy. At one glance, they appeared to be an orderly mercenary band.
“This is certainly not a pleasant mission, but this is for the sake of Lord Lucas, for the sake of the Hartner Duchy’s future and for the sake of our people. Don’t make those faces; you look like the remnants of a defeated army,” said Karcan.
“But is this really necessary? Isn’t Lord Lucas’s succession to the family already almost certain at this point?” a man asked, voicing his opinion.
He was Froto, the spy who was participating in this mission as a staff officer, the man whom Vandalieu believed to be a virtuous priest of Alda.
Lord Lucas was the eldest son but his mother was a concubine, so people had thought it would be difficult for him to succeed the family. But as Froto said, Lord Lucas’s succession to the family was now more or less decided.
The great scandal caused by Kinarp, the former Guild Master of the Mages’ Guild, and his subordinates, who revealed that numerous noblemen had connections with Vampires who worshipped an evil god. Lord Belton, the second son born to the duke’s legal wife, had been almost certain to succeed the family, but he had been caught up in the big waves caused by this scandal.
He had managed to protect himself, but the fact that his subordinates had been working with the Vampires had been revealed, so he had withdrawn from the dispute to succeed the family. Becoming a duke in the Orbaume Kingdom meant gaining the rights to be a candidate to become the king. Those of the other duchies and the current king himself had expressed their opinions one after another that they couldn’t entrust this position to someone whose followers had been traitors to humanity.
Meanwhile, Lord Lucas had given a performance where he conducted a strict investigation to find out if any of his supporters had connections to Vampires and personally hunted and sentenced them.
Lord Belton was trying to appeal his innocence by doing things such as hiring the Five-colored Blades, but people already doubted him, people wondered whether he was simply a lizard sacrificing its own tail to survive.
Now that he had lost the people’s confidence and his prominent supporters, every Church, including the Church of Alda, had distanced themselves from him and nobody sympathized with him. Lord Belton had lost his standing.
Of course, the worst-case scenario was that he would be taken somewhere to rest to recover from a “sudden illness” or be made to live a religious life in a remote church somewhere, so the result of losing his standing wasn’t particularly unsatisfactory.
Once Lord Lucas succeeded the duke, Lord Belton would live on as the head of the branch family.
And it seemed that the current Duke Hartner wouldn’t last until the spring. With the circumstances as they were now, Lord Lucas’s succession to the family was all but confirmed.
Froto couldn’t be blamed for doubting whether there was any meaning in crushing Lord Belton’s cultivation project now.
But Karcan whispered in Froto’s ear. “You may say that, Froto-dono, but if you do nothing now, you will return to your previous meaningless position.”
Froto’s face stiffened. He had been content with his meaningless position in the Mages’ Guild, but the reason he had disguised himself as a priest and gone around the cultivation villages gathering information was all for the sake of becoming one of the duke’s personal mages.
He had gone through a lot of trouble in order to become more renowned. That trouble would all go to waste at this rate.
“Either you perform one more job and acquire the reward you wanted, or receive thanks for your cooperation up until now and a little money before returning to your original position. It is one or the other,” said Karcan.
“… I understand,” said Froto. Being pressed like this, he was unable to refuse.
The truth was that the actions of Karcan and his unit would not be of any benefit to Lord Lucas. In fact, it would cause slight harm.
But Karcan’s seniors had been busy dealing with the recent series of events; they hadn’t given him any orders to cancel the plan to destroy the cultivation project.
“Standby for now.”
That was the order that Karcan had been given. Lord Lucas himself and the high-ranking members of the Knights’ Order supporting him had made it clear that now was not the time to make careless moves.
But Karcan had read too much into this, assuming that he had essentially been told, “We have no expectations of you lot anymore so don’t make a move.” He feared that he would be discarded for not having been of any use in Lord Lucas’s victory in the dispute to succeed the duke.
Now, he was trying to execute his originally-devised plan of having his unit pretend to go on an expedition, enter a side road far from the city, disguise themselves as bandits and destroy the cultivation villages.
If one just thought calmly for a moment, they would give up on such a plan, but as Karcan had been assigned to do all the dirty work, his sense of suspicion was greater than most people; his perspective had grown narrow.
If he didn’t make a move, would the consequences he had threatened Froto with not also happen to him? That was how paranoid his thoughts were.
But Karcan showed not the slightest sign of having been driven into such a mentality as he looked around the unit he was in charge of. He had managed to convince Froto; he was carrying on silently alongside the fake traveling merchant who had been a spy right from the beginning. But the morale of the other men didn’t look high.
Things won’t go well at this rate, he thought.
The cultivation villages had no significant ability to defend themselves in battle. The largest village was the Seventh Cultivation Village with a population of two hundred and fifty; none of them were soldiers in occupation. There were three former refugees who were adventurers, but according to the information available, they were E-class adventurers whose D-class promotion had only just become a realistic dream for them. In terms of ability, they were probably no different from the Equestrians of Karcan’s unit.
With fifty armed men, it wouldn’t be difficult to slaughter the entire village. They would need to be careful of the adventurers, but there would be no problems if they did.
The only concern was the Dhampir boy. He had fled the city for some reason so his whereabouts were currently unknown, but even if by some tiny chance he was in the cultivation villages right now, he was only about as strong as a D-class adventurer other than his healing magic (or so they thought). If the True Knights with Froto’s enchantments, including Karcan, surrounded the villages, they would be able to dispose of the people in the villages one-sidedly.
But the low morale wasn’t good. If they were careless, unexpected failures could occur. Villagers might survive after seeing their faces, or even kill one of Karcan’s men when they let their guard down.
Karcan wanted to avoid that.
Deciding that it couldn’t be helped, he spoke to his men to get them into the mood to work. “Gentlemen, I know this mission is an unpleasant task,” he said. “Even if we succeed, officially speaking, we will have done nothing more than conducted an expedition, so we will not be praised for our work. However, due to the nature of the mission, it is necessary for us to disguise ourselves as bandits. And what is it that bandits do when they attack helpless villages?”
At first, the Equestrians gave Karcan a puzzled look before suddenly being taken aback at what he meant.
What bandits did in villages was pillaging, violence, rape and kidnapping.
“Commanding officer?! Is that really alright?!”
Equestrians lived their everyday lives under strict discipline. As they were those who would soon succeed their True Knight parents, they had to motivate themselves to learn the art of combat and study academic subjects on a regular basis; they had to become an example for the soldiers.
In the future, they would command soldiers and defend their nation with their swords. Because of the position they were in, they couldn’t openly enjoy gourmet foods and drinks or make love to the women of the red-light districts.
Especially since the Sauron Duchy had fallen to the Amid Empire, there was a lingering atmosphere that they needed to be ready for combat at all times, so they couldn’t loosen their restraints by even the smallest amount.
These were the Equestrians that Karcan was speaking to.
“Of course,” he said. “But we will not be kidnapping anyone. Once you have enjoyed them like bandits, dispose of them like bandits. Don’t loosen your restraints too much just because there is no risk of making any children! Those who injure their backs and can’t ride their horses will be dragged back by force!”
The Equestrians were suddenly excited. Some of them were more in anticipation of the extra money they would earn rather than the women, but given the strange circumstances of being told that they could rape the women as much as they liked, most of them were unable to hide their excitement.
Froto turned pale as he imagined what the men would do in the cultivation villages.
His original role had been that of an informant; he had never imagined that he would have to directly witness the villagers suffering and being killed.
He would suffer a greater impact by seeing the corpses with his own eyes and watching the villagers suffering as they died.
But now that he had come this far, he couldn’t say that he would quit, nor could he escape.
If you are going to resent anyone, resent the Amid Empire who took your homeland from you. I have done nothing wrong; all I wanted was to gain a social position befitting of someone like me, thought the fake priest, shifting the responsibility away from himself.
Having gone around the villages and seen that their preparations for winter had gone well, Vandalieu performed his usual healings and secretly stationed Golems at each village before returning to the Seventh Cultivation Village.
He caught Rank 2 Bloodsucking Rats on the way there. He had the owner of the jack-of-all-trades store cook their meat, which was richer than it appeared, and shared it with everyone.
And then he stayed the night in the same room as Kasim and his friends.
Things are going well for now, he thought.
Now that the slave-run mine was gone, traveling merchants no longer came to the cultivation villages, but it seemed that there would be no problems lasting until spring. Once it became warmer, Kasim and his party would have to escort the young men to buy things at the city, however. While they were there, they planned to consult the Commerce Guild to see if they could arrange other traveling merchants to visit the cultivation villages.
Despite not being citizens of Talosheim, these people were people who adored Vandalieu. Despite it having been for the sake of rescuing the Titan slaves, he felt a little guilty that he had caused such an inconvenience to the village.
If the Fangs of Dark Nights were still functioning, I would have been able to take measures against that, but… I wonder if these people would come to my nation?
If they did that, Vandalieu wouldn’t have to hold back when it came to various things. He would be able to give them houses, furniture and food and offer them work, just like he had done with the people from the First Cultivation Village.
He would be able to have them eat delicious dinosaur meat, fully seasoned with all kinds of flavors, instead of preserved Gobu-Gobu.
There wouldn’t be any need to station dozens of Lemure lookouts, Stone Golems and Death Iron Golems at every village. No matter what the Hartner family did, they would be able to live in safety inside Talosheim, which was currently having its sixth outer wall built.
It did occur to Vandalieu that he should just tell the villagers everything.
But that would be equivalent to pressing the people of the cultivation villages to separate themselves from human society.
Vandalieu wasn’t confident that this would lead to their happiness.
If the Hartner Duchy was a little more trustworthy, if the innermost members of its government and Guilds didn’t have connections to the Pure-breed Vampires, then he would have had more options, however.
In the end, the Pure-breed Vampires and Heinz’s party are in my way. I have to erase them somehow… or at least reduce their numbers.
If Vandalieu took direct measures, the Pure-breed Vampires would interfere. If he took indirect measures, Heinz’s party would interfere.
The Pure-breed Vampires and Heinz’s party were supposed to be enemies to each other, but they were hindering Vandalieu as if they had joined forces.
I could get rid of one member under the right circumstances. If things go well from there… Ah, but I suppose it’s dangerous to presume that there is a chance of things ‘going well.’ I don’t know how much they were cornered by the information I made Kinarp reveal; if the timing doesn’t match up… The spirits of Chipiras and the other Vampires were horribly damaged, so I can’t get any good information out of them. With Isla’s information alone…
Heinz’s party had done things in a flashy way. Thanks to that, the Lemures stationed in the sky over the city had been enough to let Vandalieu know that battles had been occurring, and he had been able to find the spirits of the dead to communicate with them, but… Couldn’t anything be done about heavy damage to spirits?
Vandalieu had turned the ‘Hound’ Isla, one of Ternecia’s ‘Five Dogs’ that were her trusted retainers, into an Undead straight away, so there was almost no damage to her memory. But the spirit of the ‘Fine Dog’ Chipiras, who had been split in two by Heinz, was damaged all over.
The only other spirits Vandalieu could obtain were those of the ‘Mad Dog’ and the ‘Fighting Dog.’ The fifth, the ‘Foolish Dog,’ was apparently not moving from a hiding place. Vandalieu just hoped that he could get good information from the Mad Dog and the Fighting Dog.
As these thoughts ran through his mind, he looked at the room’s ceiling, which he could see clear as day thanks to his Dark Vision skill.
He couldn’t fall asleep.
For some reason, Pete and the other insects that Vandalieu had equipped inside his body with the Insect Binding Technique skill were moving around inside him late at night, disturbing his quiet sleep with the sensation of them squirming beneath his skin.
It tickled, so he was inadvertently letting out stifled laughter.
The Status Effect Resistance skill kept sleep deprivation at bay, so Vandalieu was completely awake now. There’s no helping it, he thought, deciding to get up.
Sunrise was close. Vandalieu decided to pass the time by doing some morning training.
He silently crawled out of the bunkbed, spread a handkerchief-sized piece of tanned leather on the floor so as to not wake Kasim and his friends who were still sleeping and then began to do push-ups with his tongue.
It was harsh training that required not his arms, but his tongue extended with the Body Extension (Tongue) skill, to support his entire body weight. The tongue was a muscle, so it would surely be very effective training.
It would be quite the problem if he were to be seen by Kasim and his friends, but the three of them were humans and they couldn’t really see in the dark, so there wouldn’t be any problems if he just stopped right after they woke up.
But Vandalieu did only a few of these push-ups before stopping. The Lemures stationed around the village had detected several shadows of what appeared to be bandits.
… Who are these guys?
Through the Lemures, he could see a group of several dozen armed men wearing leather armor and cloths over their faces. Seeing this, Vandalieu would assume they were just bandits, but for some reason, many of them were riding horses.
One or two bandits might have been normal, but there were around twenty mounted men. They were all sturdy horses; the one at the front carrying a man holding a kite shield was particularly sturdy-looking, so muscular that Vandalieu would feel the urge to touch it.
Normal bandits might have carriages to carry the items they pillaged, but they would not have a cavalry. Horses cost money to feed, as they didn’t simply eat anything they were given, and they were normally cowardly creatures. And the bandits themselves were farmers and residents of slums who had gone broke, so they didn’t have the technique for fighting on horseback. That was why having war horses would just be a waste of money to feed.
Selling those horses would actually yield more profit than attacking one small village.
In fact, Vandalieu had never encountered a single mounted bandit among all of the bandit groups he had attacked and robbed.
Then maybe these bandits are mercenaries who have gone broke.
There were people in Lambda who would normally do mercenary work, then act as bandits to make a living when there was no work available.
And because such people sold their strength on the battlefield to earn their money, they were far stronger than normal bandits.
At the very least, they were stronger than ordinary soldiers, possessed skills and used martial skills.
Though it was late, Vandalieu now felt a reaction from Danger Sense: Death. At this rate, it was possible that the village would be annihilated… no, its annihilation was certain.
“This is bad…” he muttered to himself.
As enemies, they weren’t a threat to Vandalieu. If the bandit group were to aiming only for Vandalieu, he would be able to overwhelm them, just like he had done with the Goblin King and the pack of one thousand Goblins.
The difficult thing was to defeat them without losing any of the villagers as casualties. If he held back as he had been doing up until now, he would definitely lack the manpower to accomplish this.
… There was no helping it. Vandalieu decided to get a little serious.
He quickly cast Energy Absorption and Bloodshed Enhancement on the equipment of Kasim’s party that was in the room.
And then he used his Scream skill to let out a loud voice, waking up Kasim’s party.
“IT’S A BANDIT ATTACK!”
“On this village?!”
Even though they were novices, they were adventurers. Despite being surprised, they got out of bed quickly. Vandalieu quickly explained the situation to them.
“Several dozen strong bandits are closing in on the village,” he said.
“Yes, my insects have told me.”
Vandalieu had noticed the bandits so quickly because he had been unable to sleep due to Pete and the other insects had been making so much noise, so this wasn’t exactly a lie.
Hearing this, the three young adventurers hastily began equipping their weapons and armor.
“If it was Fester saying it, we would have doubted him,” said Kasim.
“We trust you because it’s you, Vandalieu!” said Zeno.
“Unlike me, you don’t say things while half-asleep!” Fester added. It seemed that he had a history of speaking nonsense while half-asleep.
“But will we be enough to handle strong bandits?” asked Zeno.
“Don’t complain; there are dozens of them. Even if we’re not enough, we have no choice but to do this!” said Kasim.
There was audible tension in their voices.
“I think you’d manage if you were fighting them one-on-one,” Vandalieu told them. I’ve applied enchantments, too.
In fact, yesterday, Kasim’s party had told him that they would soon be allowed to take the D-class promotion examination, so they were already stronger than average soldiers. As long as they could kill people and have their minds stay normal after killing them, there was no way that they would lose in a one-on-one battle.
But surprisingly, it wasn’t Kasim or Zeno, but Fester who called out to Vandalieu with a serious look on his face. “Hey, Vandalieu. Do you have any tips? For kill… fighting people.”
They seem to have sensed that Vandalieu was experienced in fighting other people while they repeated their training and practice battles with him. Since the only human-shaped creatures they had killed so far were Goblins and Kobolds, they were asking him for advice.
“Tips?” Vandalieu repeated.
He was hard-pressed to answer this question. He had killed multiple people with his own hands, drank their blood and used their corpses as Undead, but he didn’t remember thinking anything in particular about doing so. For him, killing people was no different from preparing fish after catching them.
Meanwhile, the bandits had made their preparations for the attack. They were split into three groups; the archers and infantry would go around to surround the village, and once they were in position, half of the cavalry would attack the front gate facing the highway while the other half would attack the smaller rear gate.
The cavalry would cause chaos while the archers and infantry would bring down the fleeing villagers.
Golems, activate. Exterminate the enemies as they approach.
Princess Levia and the other Ghosts, stay transparent and standby in the sky.
Hmm, what advice should I give Fester?
Vandalieu’s head was working hard, using the Parallel Thought Processing skill to give orders to the Lemures and Golems as well as telling Levia and the other Ghosts to stand by.
The response he gave in the end was a cliché one.
“Imagine what will happen if you don’t fight or what will happen when you are defeated,” he told Fester.
“Yes. What will the bandit group do to this village, what will they do with Lina-san, if we are defeated?”
Lina was the poster girl of the jack-of-all-trades store, the sole employee of the Adventurers’ Guild branch in the village. What the bandit group would do upon finding a young woman like her didn’t need explaining.
Fester, who had feelings for her, gripped his sword tightly.
“… Alright. I’m still not confident that I can kill someone, but I’ll leave the feelings of fear and vomiting for afterwards,” he said.
Vandalieu had used a line that he had seen a heroine in a manga on Earth say to encourage the protagonist who disliked fighting, but it seemed to have been more effective than he had expected.
I was contemplating between this and telling him to imagine that his enemies are pumpkins or something, but I suppose this was the right choice.
“Don’t worry. I’m the Shield-bearer; I’ll protect you properly,” said Kasim.
“I’ll watch your back, but I’m not going to pat it,” said Zeno. “Ask Lina to do that for you afterwards.”
“No, I didn’t mean that I’d actually vomit… Shit, Vandalieu, where should we go?” Fester asked. “Do we go to the front gate?”
“I’ll leave the back gate to you,” said Vandalieu. “Around ten mounted men will come that way; please hold out until I arrive. Tell the villagers not to leave their houses. I’ll handle things at the front gate.”
Normally, they would stop a boy half their age saying that he would handle things on his own, but Kasim’s party knew that Vandalieu was so strong that they couldn’t defeat him even if all three of them attacked him at once. They watched him open the wooden door and fly out without stopping him before heading for the back gate.
“ATTACK! ATTACK! BANDIT ATTACK! CLOSE YOUR DOORS AND STAY IN YOUR HOUSES!”
Vandalieu was using the Scream skill to warn the villagers who would slowly be waking up around this time.
“It’s so noisy. Could it be that they’ve noticed us?” asked one of Karcan’s subordinates, seemingly afraid.
“Even if they have, the plan does not change!” Karcan shouted, drawing his sword.
He had a bad feeling about the high-pitched voice that he could hear coming from the village, but he ignored it and commenced the plan.
“Don’t hold back, pillage and kill! This is for the sake of justice! Let’s go, you sorry bastards!” he roared.
Seeing their commander charge forward, the Equestrians disguised as bandits let out violent war cries as they followed.
“Hyih! They really came?!”
“You stupid fool, stay calm!”
The men who had been keeping watch at the front gate during the night trembled with pale faces at the fearsome war cries and hoofbeats drawing closer.
It seemed that bandits were far more terrifying than Goblins or wild beasts.
“Doctor! We’ll leave the rest to you!”
“Let’s see here*,” said Vandalieu, whom many had started to call “Doctor” because he had been conducting medical treatments every time he visited the village.
TLN*: I’m not entirely certain on this, but I believe this line is often said by doctors when examining their patients, as if to say, “let’s have a look.”
He prepared his method for killing all of the bandits.
These men were probably mercenaries acting as bandits, but they were nothing but small fry for Vandalieu with his current power. He would simply need to fire Death Bullets as they approached and swing his claws a few times, and that would be the end.
But they were riding horses.
The horses should provide quite a bit of income for this village.
He wanted to leave the horses alive. If the wind had been blowing the other way, he could have just released volatile paralyzing venom into the air, but unfortunately, the village was downwind.
“Now then, I’m counting on you,” he said.
Eight spears of black flames appeared.
“Uwah, is this magic?!” one of the villagers cried.
“Yes, this is fire-attribute magic,” said Vandalieu, lying without hesitation as he released a Dead Spirit Magic spell.
“I’ll destroy the gate with my martial skill; follow me – GAH?!”
A spear of black fire pierced the chest of the man at the front who was raising his sword. A second and third spear followed, incinerating the internal organs of the man – of Karcan.
Karcan opened his eyes wide in astonishment as he stared at small, white-haired boy floating above the wooden gate.
Impossible?! He wasn’t just a user of healing magic and the Unarmed Fighting Technique?!
With the astonishment still etched on his face, he tumbled off his horse.
Seeing Karcan’s subordinates and Froto stop their horses, their formation falling apart, Vandalieu saw a chance and released more spears of black flames and threw kunais at them.
“S-Stone Wall! GUAAH?!”
“Gah… It’s poison! There’s poison on the… Kahah!”
One after another, Karcan’s subordinates had their chests pierced and their organs burned from the inside, or fell to the poison on the kunais made by Datara and Tarea (which had also been turned into Cursed Weapons).
There were some who immediately raised their shields and used their martial skills, but martial skills like Stone Wall with level 1 Shield Technique were meaningless against Vandalieu’s Dead Spirit Magic and Throwing skills.
The kunai that he had turned into Cursed Weapons, made of Dragon bones and Death Iron, thrown with his level 4 Superhuman Strength, were about as powerful as cannonballs. And since they were coated with poison, even a graze would spell the end for these men.
Froto, who had been at the back, let out a scream of terror as he tried to flee. Vandalieu raised a kunai to throw into his back… but upon hearing the words of the spirits of Karcan and his men, who had approached him due to the Death-Attribute Charm affecting them because they had died, he stopped.
“Pete, everyone, please capture him alive.”
Several dozen insectoid monsters, including Pete, flew out of Vandalieu’s body and chased after Froto.
He had his remaining insects inject paralyzing venom into the horses and used Death-Attribute Magic to turn the bandits who were still breathing into ashes.
“You didn’t have to go that far…” one of the villagers murmured.
“They were still breathing, so I had to do it just in case,” said Vandalieu, lying to them again. He had now lied to them so many times that he had lost count. But he had no choice; these bandits… Karcan and his men, were knights of this nation.
Vandalieu hadn’t heard the fine details of why they had attacked this cultivation village yet, but…
Things have turned out badly. Now that it’s come to this, I have to kill the knights so they can’t be recognized, he thought as he turned around.
“By the way, what are those insect-looking things?!”
“They are my pleasant companions,” said Vandalieu. “You don’t have to worry about them. Now then, I’m going to take a look at the back gate.”
Hearing the villagers’ shouts of “Alright!” and “We’re leaving it to you!” behind him, Vandalieu headed for the back gate where Kasim and his friends were fighting.
“Doctor was a tamer, huh.”
“Yeah, he’s amazing. Ah, but should we say something to him about bringing them into the village without mentioning them?”
“Maybe we should… he did cure my athlete’s foot only yesterday, though.”
“Now that you mention it, he did something about my toothache as well… I suppose we’ll just give him a slight warning.”
The gate guards, who were now tying the horses up so that they wouldn’t run away, didn’t know that insectoid monsters had been deemed untamable by the Tamers’ Guild.
This was the level of knowledge of people who had never actually seen a Tamer.