“What am I to do?”
Hihiryushukaka was pondering his options, having confirmed that the one he could see through Gubamon’s sight was Vandalieu.
No matter how much he thought about it, Gubamon’s chance of defeating Vandalieu was less than ten percent; in fact, it was questionable as to whether that chance was even one percent.
Now that the Demon King’s army had lost its powerful central figure, the Demon King, its remaining evil gods didn’t have a community through which they could exchange information and cooperate with each other. Some of them might form alliances with their own self-interests in mind, but that was it.
Therefore, Hihiryushukaka was unaware that Vandalieu had already defeated a monster with the divine blessing of Luvesfol, the Raging Evil Dragon God, and his spirit clone, in the southern region of the continent.
But Hihiryushukaka had noticed that Luvesfol had fled the continent’s southern region.
That event was probably not unrelated to this Dhampir. How much stronger had Vandalieu become after pushing the weakened Ternecia to the brink of death and stealing her fragment of the Demon King?
“I shall measure him by using up this broken body of mine.”
The minds of the Undead were muddy. These artificially-created Undead had been made like this to begin with.
In the midst of that obscure mess, in which their own consciousness was mixed in, the order of their creator, Gubamon, was the only thing that resounded clearly. That was why the Undead instinctively obeyed his orders.
But the moment they saw that, Gubamon’s voice had become terribly unclear for them.
And then the Vampire Zombies and Zombie Giants gathered around Vandalieu, as if it were only natural. They had no awareness of having betrayed Gubamon.
Gathering under Vandalieu’s command was just as natural for the Undead as their own arms and legs obeying the commands of their brains.
But the Undead heroes that Gubamon had made through special methods remained on his side.
“I-I am… eh… roo… support… shieh… mahi, maih.”
“It seems that the Demon Path Enticement that I’m always letting out unconsciously can’t overcome the obsessions of a madman that have carried on for tens of thousands of years,” said Vandalieu, dropping his shoulders in disappointment.
“Fuhahaha! So it would seem! You appear to have a special skill, but it seems that it is not enough to steal the Undead heroes that I have taken great efforts to create!” Gubamon gloated.
But there were about forty Undead heroes around Gubamon. Meanwhile, Vandalieu had over a hundred Undead gathered at his side.
The situation looked clearly favorable for Vandalieu.
And blood was still dripping from the black horn that was still embedded in Gubamon’s stomach.
“What is he doing? Can’t he just push through with the numbers advantage…?” murmured one of Miles’s subordinates.
“You idiot, try thinking a little harder,” said Miles. He was still holding Iris, who was watching the situation quietly. “Even if he wanted to rely on numbers to suppress the Undead heroes, the ones that Vandalieu… Vandalieu-sama has with him are the mass-produced type. They are nothing but small fry for Gubamon, since he can wipe them out with a swing of his claws or a single incantation. No matter how many of those Vandalieu-sama has, it’s pointless.”
“I-I see,” said Miles’s subordinate.
“In other words, this battle is hopeless…” Iris murmured. For some reason, she was watching the scene with a tragic look in her eyes.
“No, I haven’t said anything like that,” Miles said to the woman in his arms.
The look in Iris’s eyes didn’t change; it seemed that she had interpreted Miles’s words as a poor attempt to comfort her. “I don’t know who that child is or what his objectives are,” she said.
From Iris’s point of view, Vandalieu and Miles seemed to be trying to save her. But they had used an absurd method to accomplish this, killing Raymond and utilizing his corpse as if it had been only natural to do so.
She had no doubts that they were Gubamon’s enemies. But it was difficult to say that they were her allies.
But Iris couldn’t help but wish for one thing.
“Please. Please win and set my father free!”
Alda. I have been unfaithful, turning away from preserving order by becoming a part of the resistance that sought to break it. But please, hear my prayer! Please bring victory to this Dhampir called Vandalieu!
Iris’s prayer would have likely caused an enormous frown to spread across Alda’s face if he were to hear it. As if this prayer was some kind of signal, Gubamon and Vandalieu both opened their mouths at the same time.
“My heroes, dispose of those good-for-nothing Undead and stop that brat’s movements!”
“Please follow me and suppress the Undead heroes.”
At that moment, Gubamon was certain that he would win the opening engagement. The Undead heroes were few in number, but each of them would be capable of fighting at least two of the lower-quality Undead at once and emerging victorious.
Once he stops moving, I will tear him to pieces with my Demon Eye! Gubamon thought to himself.
Gubamon didn’t think that this alone would be enough; his enemy was someone who possessed fragments of the Demon King, the one who had caused Ternecia’s death. He would activate his fragment of the Demon King first, force the level of his Demon King Encroachment Degree skill to increase to allow the fragment to go wild, and find an opening to use his fragment to defeat Vandalieu.
That was Gubamon’s plan. A large part of his collection would likely be destroyed in the process, but it couldn’t be helped. He needed to survive before hoping for anything else.
But Gubamon’s plans began falling apart immediately.
“They are evenly matched with my Undead heroes?!”
To his disbelief, the mass-produced Undead that he had not spent any effort in creating were battling evenly against the Undead heroes.
Of course, the mass-produced Undead were fighting two-on-one and three-on-one battles, but they were still suppressing the Undead heroes that should have been able to overwhelm them.
“It seems that I can make better use of Undead than you,” Vandalieu said to the astonished Gubamon.
The truth was that the Attribute Values of the mass-produced Undead had increased drastically under the effects of the Guidance: Demon Path skill. But Vandalieu had no obligation to politely tell Gubamon the truth, so he kept quiet about this… not to mention that outsiders like Iris were still present.
Right before Gubamon’s eyes, a hero from a savage tribe with characteristic tattoos had his arms pinned down behind him by Vampire Zombies, and an elderly Dwarf hero disappeared inside a Zombie Giant as if being swallowed whole. A female unarmed fighter of a Beast-person race was surrounded on all sides and was being beaten to a pulp, unable to make use of her agility.
They were all heroes that had possessed imposing Titles such as ‘Thousand-man slasher,’ ‘Boulder Cutter,’ and, ‘Genius of Claws,’ but they had lost their ability to coordinate with allies and their decision-making abilities had drastically diminished after they became Undead, allowing them to be captured easily.
“No, that is not all,” said Gubamon. “My Undead heroes’ movements are poor; what is the meaning of this?!”
As Gubamon had realized, the movements of his Undead heroes were more sluggish, more exaggerated and clumsier than usual.
The Undead heroes were letting out groans that sounded as if they were fighting some internal struggle.
Vandalieu’s Demon Path Enticement had lost to Gubamon’s power over them, but by a smaller margin than either Vandalieu or Gubamon had thought.
The Undead were constantly in a dream-like state so that they would obey Gubamon’s orders more easily, but Vandalieu’s Demon Path Enticement was at least effective enough to give their own consciousness a form.
For the first time since they had been turned into Undead, they were mustering all of their strength to defy Gubamon’s orders with everything they had.
“Y-you bastard!” Gubamon said furiously, as if his precious lover had been stolen away from him.
“It seems that I’m more popular than I thought,” Vandalieu joked casually – but he wasn’t drawing closer.
He was standing at the front, but he had stopped there.
“Everyone, that’s how it is, so please secure them,” said Vandalieu.
And then a countless number of monsters and people emerged as if exploding from his back.
Pete let out a loud hiss, and the Cemetery Bees began buzzing.
It looked as if the insectoid monsters were attacking the Undead, but they were actually carrying the immobilized ones away.
“Good grief, you are being eccentric as usual. I do not think ordinary people would go this far,” said Bellmond as she used her metal threads to sever the limbs of a skilled Undead hero, who was still struggling despite the fact that his movements had grown more sluggish. “But Danna-sama, it seems difficult to find opportunities to use the Petrifying Demon Eye that you were so kind to transplant for me.”
“That’s because it’s a Demon Eye that’s actually harder to use when capturing enemies alive, isn’t it?” said Vandalieu. “Can’t you just petrify their limbs or something?”
“If I concentrate, it may be possible, but… it is easier to simply sever the limbs if I wish to capture them,” said Bellmond.
If she were to petrify the entire body, there was a chance that the thin parts such as the limbs or neck would break during chaotic battles. This was especially true when fighting enemies that could smash boulders just by carelessly swinging their limbs and weapons around; it was very possible that stone statues in unnatural positions would be turned into rubble.
Thus, it was easier to capture the Undead by severing their arms and legs if their conditions post-capture were of no importance.
“Please recover the severed limbs as well,” said Vandalieu. “I’ll be reattaching them afterwards. And please don’t treat them too roughly.”
“Certainly,” said Bellmond.
Just what on earth was severing the limbs if not rough treatment?
Though it was likely not searching for an answer to this question, a Zombie hero mowed down the Vampire Zombies around it with a Mythril spear, which resembled the Orichalcum one that Sam was currently in possession of, and closed in on Bellmond with a screech.
“Ah, you can be rough with that one,” said Vandalieu.
“Certainly,” said Bellmond
“Gigih, stop… gagagah?!”
The Undead hero… the one who had once been praised as Mikhail, the Divine Spear of Ice, continued flying towards Bellmond with full force, even after she had severed each of his limbs at three different points and reduced him to nothing more than a dismembered torso.
And then, with a swing of Bellmond’s tail, he was sent flying away with a dull sound, shards of his shattered Adamantite armor scattering across the floor.
But some Cemetery Bees recovered him from where he landed. Vandalieu apparently had an idea that could make use of Mikhail, depending on what Rank he possessed after becoming an Undead.
But there were other Zombie heroes like Mikhail who couldn’t stop their own resistance because of how exceptionally powerful they were in combat.
The Zombie Bearheart groaned as it swung weapons using its three pairs of arms. Gubamon had seemed disappointed with how he had turned out, but the mass-produced Undead and the insects couldn’t approach him because of his absurd strength and number of arms.
Jeena, the ‘Saint of Healing,’ who was spouting a shining gas of a poisonous-looking color from the numerous pipes protruding from various places on her body, was using a mace and shield of sinister design that was unfitting of her Title to repel the Zombie Giants and keep the Vampire Zombies in check.
Her back was being protected by the ‘Tiny Genius’ Zandia. Her wrist that had been severed by Mikhail had been fused with a strange-looking staff, and she was screeching loudly as if in pain.
She had been a genius mage with an aptitude for all attributes (except for the death attribute) while she was alive, but she was supposed to have lost the ability to recite incantations and the willpower needed to cast spells after becoming an Undead. Despite this, through some unknown principles, she was releasing spells from her staff.
All of them were simple, elementary level spells such as Flame Bullet, Wind Blade, Earth Spear, but each swing of the staff released another spell, repelling Vandalieu’s monsters.
There were about ten other Undead that were resisting stubbornly as well.
“Now then –” Vandalieu began.
“I will not let you steal any more of my collection!” Even if Gubamon was willing to sacrifice his Undead himself, it seemed that he was unable to endure having them stolen by the enemy.
He attacked Vandalieu, who had stopped moving, with the Demon Eyes of Destruction.
Vandalieu reflexively raised his two layers of defense, the Magic Absorption Barrier and the Impact-negating Barrier, but this made Gubamon certain that his attack had succeeded.
The effect of the Demon Eyes of Destruction acted directly upon the target within its vision. Whether there was a sheet of glass or a magical barrier in front of its target, it made no difference. As long as Gubamon could see the target, the effects would not be blocked.
Vandalieu had been unaffected by Eleanora’s Charming Demon Eyes, and he hadn’t been exposed to the effects of the Petrifying Demon Eye. Because of this, he had been negligent in preparing a defense for Demon Eyes and put too much trust into his barriers.
There was no response from Danger Sense: Death, but sensing something unusual, he hastily turned the floor into Golems to use them as a shield. But it was too late. Of course, Bellmond and the others who were fighting the Undead heroes behind him wouldn’t make it in time to save him.
“Now explode!” Gubamon cackled.
The image of Vandalieu that Gubamon saw twisted and then burst, painting his entire vision red.
“GYAAAAH!” Gubamon screamed.
“… That hurts,” said Vandalieu.
Gubamon was clutching his ruptured eyeballs. Meanwhile, Vandalieu had suffered lacerating wounds from which he was bleeding, and though they were not deep wounds individually, they covered his entire body.
“Your Majesty?!” cried Princess Levia.
“Hey, are you alright?!” Orbia shouted in concern.
The two of them had been instructed to be on standby, but they showed themselves after seeing Vandalieu being injured for the first time. Vandalieu turned to them, dropped his shoulders and shook his head.
“Mentally speaking, I’m not alright,” said Vandalieu. “I let my guard down. Even though I’ve been improving myself and training hard to be prepared for danger.”
“Umm, you’re covered in blood. What about physically?” Princess Levia asked.
“The wounds have not reached my bones or organs,” Vandalieu told her. “My muscles and tendons have been severed in several places, but that’s all… Ah, I’m so embarrassed that if there was a hole, I’d crawl into it. I need to do some serious reflection.”
In truth, the fact that Vandalieu had almost died because he had let down his guard had caused more damage to him than the wounds themselves. But how had he managed to suppress the effects of the Demon Eyes of Destruction to this extent and reflect it back to Gubamon?
“Judging from the sensation, I feel like a skill activated… this is the effect of the Abyss skill, maybe?”
As Vandalieu had instinctively sensed, this was the effect of the Abyss skill. This skill, which stared back at those who tried to peer into its owner, countered effects such as Demon Eyes that activated through looking at the target.
“GYAAAAAH! MY EYES, MY EEEEEYES!” Gubamon was shouting words resembling those of a certain captain* as he writhed in agony.
If his eyeballs had simply been crushed, they would have regenerated in less than ten seconds, given the nature of the Pure-breed Vampires’ immortality.
But because the eyeballs had burst while still in their sockets, the force had broken the bone surface behind them, sending fragments of bone backwards and damaging Gubamon’s brain.
The optic nerves had been turned into mincemeat, and half of the brain behind them was now in a state resembling crushed tofu. It was surprising that Gubamon was still managing to writhe around so energetically. It was surprising, but it would likely be a while before his eyeballs regenerated.
But it would take Vandalieu a while for his severed muscles and tendons to heal as well, so his physical ability would be decreased during this time.
The actions that the two of them chose to take in this state were unintentionally very similar.
“This is the perfect opportunity. Demon King’s fragments, activate.”
“AAAAGH! Demon King’s Carapace, activate!”
Both of them activated their fragments of the Demon King at almost exactly the same time.
With a burbling sound, Gubamon’s body changed form in a sinister way, a black carapace growing around him as if bursting from the inside of his body. A large shell appeared on his torso, and smaller shells of appropriate sizes covered his upper arms, forearms, fists, thighs, shins and feet.
Rather than looking like a turtle, Gubamon appeared as if he had put on a suit of armor that had been made by joining a series of shells together.
“Guboaaagh! Defense… form!”
Gubamon tore out the sucker-covered Demon King’s horn that was still piercing his torso, along with his own organs and spine, and then covered himself in this full-body carapace that even covered his head.
It had a misshapen appearance, but if Armor Technique martial skills were to be activated with this, this suit of armor would be unrivaled; even an Orichalcum weapon wouldn’t be able to pierce it easily.
Gubamon was confident that it would hold strong, even if Vandalieu used the Demon King’s horns.
If Ternecia was the one with the greatest fighting strength and offensive power among the three Pure-breed Vampires who worshipped the Evil God of Joyful Life, Gubamon was the one with the most powerful defense, capable of fighting in a steady manner.
“Divine Iron Armor!”
This is my most powerful Armor Technique martial skill! With this activated, even Ternecia herself would not have been able to break through my defense! Come, if you dare!
Now that his vision had been destroyed, he had no choice but to solidify his defense and use it to buy time for his body to regenerate. Even if meant activating a dangerous fragment of the Demon King.
“We’re capturing more and more of them,” said Vandalieu.
Gubamon had decided to defend himself, but although Vandalieu was wary of the strange new appearance that the linked shells gave Gubamon, he made no attempt to attack.
He had used Out-of-body Experience, using his spirit form to check what was happening behind him, and using the Demon King’s blood that he had activated in order to capture the Undead heroes that were continuing to resist.
“Orbia, please help as well. Controlling liquids is your specialty, isn’t it?” Vandalieu was requesting Orbia, who had become a Water Ghost, to help him with managing the Demon King’s blood using the Dead Spirit Magic skill.
“I don’t know if I have any specialties considering the fact that less than three days have passed since I became a monster, but… What is this?! Just touching it a little is making me go nuuumb~?!” Orbia went limp and started letting out unladylike noises the moment she tried to help.
“Your Majesty, this is Orbia-san’s first time; using the raw liquid is too much of a stimulus!” said Princess Levia. Her words sounded like they could cause a misunderstanding, but their truth couldn’t be denied.
“… Ah, so it’s stimulating even without turning into a Potion,” Vandalieu noted.
Despite this carefree-sounding exchange, the red-black Demon King’s blood that was spraying from the wounds all over Vandalieu’s body was forming bundles of tentacles and attacking the Undead heroes.
The tentacles coiled around the Undead heroes’ legs, tied them up, covered them and then turned frozen solid.
Bearheart and his slow movements were helpless against this, and even Zandia’s struggles were in vain as she, too, was imprisoned.
The ones who had succeeded in escaping were the heroes that were Harpies or Drakonids who could fly, and Jeena.
The moment the blood tentacles trapped both of her legs, her upper body separated itself from her lower body at her waist, leaving only her upper body suspended in the air. It seemed that she had the ability to use the shining gas that she was emitting from the pipes all over her body in order to stay afloat.
“How unlucky,” said Vandalieu.
In the next moment, the Zombies who had fled into the air began falling back down, one after another.
Though the underground church was tall, it had numerous pillars and a ceiling that made it a poor environment for airborne combat.
The Undead heroes that had flown into the air were being surrounded by Cemetery Bees as well as Pete and Kühl, who had crawled up the pillars. They were brought down to the ground, where they were restrained by the Demon King’s blood.
Even Jeena, perhaps unable to fight to her best ability with the lower half of her body missing, was easily caught by Bellmond’s threads, which wrapped around her pipes and brought her down into the reach of the Demon King’s blood.
“Was there any meaning to incorporating that trick into her?” Vandalieu wondered.
In some situations, it was probably advantageous to be able to separate the upper and lower bodies and having them act separately, but right now, it was nothing more than a futile act of resistance.
Gubamon would have said that it was the imagination and romance of a craftsman, however.
The Undead heroes’ movements were considerably inferior to when they had been alive, but they wouldn’t have been defeated so one-sidedly and even captured in the end if their own wills had been preserved like in Borkus’s case.
But although they were once heroes, they had been turned into puppets made of dead flesh. And puppets could only move as well as the puppeteer.
And now that his vision had recovered a little, that clumsy puppeteer was currently looking through the gaps in his carapace with his eyes open wide in anger.
“You would go as far as to use a fragment of the Demon King to steal my entire collection from me?!” he howled.
Growing suspicious at the fact that no attacks were coming his way after he had activated the Demon King’s carapace and waited, Gubamon had taken a look to see the astounding sight of Vandalieu ignoring him and collecting all of the Undead heroes.
Gubamon’s ability to reason had been restored by the danger that Vandalieu had put him in, and he could see that Vandalieu had treated the Undead heroes as the main course while Gubamon was just a side dish.
“If they are going to be stolen from me, then I shall just crush all of you!” Gubamon shouted, pouring even more Mana into the carapace as the announcer in his head informed him that the level of his Demon King Encroachment Degree skill had increased.
The carapace that had a round appearance before was now covered in rugged protrusions. It was just like the shell of an alligator snapping turtle, a carnivorous species of turtle.
“He’s going to throw it,” said Vandalieu.
“Consecutive Spinning Chaotic Strikes!”
Despite his heavy appearance, Gubamon began spinning with light steps, throwing pieces of the Demon King’s carapace everywhere.
The pieces of carapace were only a little larger than a person’s fist, but they were spinning at high speeds and were covered in protrusions that were harder than Adamantite. Even a graze would gouge out a large chunk of flesh.
A countless number of these projectiles were fired haphazardly, but although they hit the Undead heroes as he intended, the Demon King’s blood merely cracked; the Undead heroes remained mostly unharmed.
The same applied for Vandalieu himself.
“They are not as powerful as Ternecia’s horns, are they,” Bellmond remarked.
Using her metal threads, she was deflecting the projectiles from their intended trajectories far more easily than she had once done to the attacks of her former master. She was even able to protect the Undead and monsters around her.
“Kuh! So, this is the end,” Iris muttered. Powerless against this fragment of the Demon King, she prepared herself for the worst.
Meanwhile, Miles gave a throaty scream, tears welling up in his eyes. “NOOOOO! I don’t want to diiie~!”
They tried to use spells and martial skills to repel the projectiles, but unlike Bellmond, they were not capable of instantly performing any attacks that would be effective against a fragment of the Demon King that could even slay a god.
“We’re done for~!”
The other Vampires were screaming in despair as well as the pieces of the Demon King’s carapace closed in. But before the spinning shells reached them, a wave of blood engulfed them and black horns flew in to repel them.
Orbia seemed to be in a strange state due to the Demon King’s blood.
“Ah, don’t go any further past that point, okay?” Vandalieu said, pointing at Raymond’s empty corpse.
Vandalieu had protected everyone, including Rick, who seemed to have gone from mad to dumbfounded.
“He… protected us? No, not just us!” said Iris.
She looked around the battlefield to see that all of the pieces of the Demon King’s carapace that Gubamon had released had been blocked by the Demon King’s horns and blood. Not only the insectoid monsters that Vandalieu had produced, but even the Zombie Giants and Vampire Zombies that were far away from Bellmond were unharmed.
“Is he intending to defeat a Pure-breed Vampire without suffering any losses?”
“Yeah! That person is a true hero! My hero!” said Miles.
Vandalieu seemed to have won over Miles’s heart rather than the princess knight’s.
Seeing that his attack had been completely blocked by Vandalieu, Gubamon quivered, and then gave a loud laugh. “Fuhahahahaha! The trouble you went through to protect not only the Undead heroes, but the pieces of trash as well! Very well, protect them as much as you like!
In his blurred vision, he could see that a large amount of liquid was still spurting from Vandalieu’s body.
If Vandalieu wanted to say naïve things like wanting to protect everyone and refusing to make sacrifices no matter what, then Gubamon would let him say them as much as he wanted. It was convenient that he was exhausting so much of his power defending the slow-moving small-fry.
A second time, a third, Gubamon repeated the indiscriminate release of his carapace projectiles, and Vandalieu blocked all of them in the same way. And then Gubamon unleashed his secret technique to deal Vandalieu the final blow.
“It is time! Consecutive Spinning Chaotic Strikes! And take this! Great Demon Carapace Pulverization!”
After releasing yet another attack at Miles, Iris and the others who couldn’t protect themselves, Gubamon began moving, turning himself into a projectile and launching himself at Vandalieu.
His secret technique was an original martial skill that he could only use while the Demon King’s carapace was active, combining the Throwing and Unarmed Fighting Technique skills.
Vandalieu, who was already using several fragments of the Demon King simultaneously, wouldn’t be able to block this easily. This was the reality in Gubamon’s head.
“Err, Ice Blood Death Water.”
Before Gubamon’s attack could reach its target, Vandalieu cast a new Dead Spirit Magic spell that transformed Orbia into a cloud of intense cold that enveloped Gubamon. Even the carapace couldn’t completely protect Gubamon from the cold; he let out a scream as the surface of his body froze.
But as expected, the Demon King’s carapace had withstood the Dead Spirit Magic spell that Vandalieu had poured a lot of his Mana into. At this rate, Vandalieu’s life would still come to an end after only causing Gubamon some moderate damage.
But Vandalieu cast a second Dead Spirit Magic spell.
“Bone Flame Jailing Destruction Bullet.”
Princess Levia transformed into huge, black flames in the shape of a skull that engulfed Gubamon.
“GAAAAH!” Gubamon screamed. “But once I endure this… what?!”
The Demon King’s carapace was a step behind in offensive power, but it possessed an absolute, impenetrable defense. And yet, cracks were loudly appearing on its surface, and it was breaking apart.
The contraction and expansion caused by rapid cooling and heating had damaged the Demon King’s carapace.
“Have you heard of tortoise shell divination*?” Vandalieu asked.
An enormous lump of ice, Vandalieu’s Death Ice Bullet, struck Gubamon’s thin body that was now exposed.
“Your fortune is… so broken that I can’t tell.”