Even after Bugitas had usurped the throne, the Noble Orc empire still had a strange order to it.
During the few days following Bugitas and his vassals’ successful coup d’état, they had employed violence. They had killed those who disobeyed them and committed the previously-forbidden cannibalism. They confined the priests of Mububujenge, the evil god of degenerate corpulence who had provided many blessings to the empire up until then, as well as the flesh-wives that had been given for the Orcs to marry, in the churches.
However, after those few days, large incidents stopped happening. A number of women had been gathered, and some of the upset citizens and Orcs had been killed. This was indeed tragic, but on the whole, the damage and number of casualties hadn’t been enough to shake the empire.
That was because Bugitas had sent generals like Budirud and Bufudin out to lead armies in various other regions, so there were less rulers in the empire. Most importantly, Bugitas had restrained his subordinates to some extent.
He couldn’t inflict great damage to the empire that he himself ruled, and if he cornered Mububujenge too hard, there was no telling what she would do in desperation.
The evil gods who had once been a part of the Demon King’s army were not involved in the maintenance and control of Lambda.
The gods of Lambda needed to hold back a certain amount of power to maintain the world, but the evil gods could wield their power as they wished.
They could even descend upon the world and go on a rampage until they were extinguished.
That was true for both the gods who had joined Vida’s side like Mububujenge, and for the gods on Vida’s side who had been forced out of their positions as gods.
Such an act was equivalent to self-destruction, and not something that a sane god would do. But for the evil gods, insanity was sanity.
As Mububujenge and the other gods maintained the barrier that protected the southern region of the continent from Alda, they were unlikely to lose themselves to desperation so easily, but caution was still needed.
If Mububujenge was alone, Ravovifard would be able to defeat her, but if the other gods were to sympathize with her and join her in her desperate act, Ravovifard would be at a disadvantage.
Thus, it was necessary to make them realize that nothing could be done even if they were to perform such desperate actions.
Ravovifard’s objective was to take the other gods of the southern region of the continent into a religious system where he, the evil god of release, was standing at the top.
He would bring the gods over to his side, one by one. Ravovifard’s power of release had weak effects on other evil gods, but there were many classic methods to employ, even without his special ability. Intimidation and persuasion were effective, even against gods.
But even this goal was nothing but a checkpoint. He would take in gods that obeyed him, seal away gods that disobeyed, increase his power, defeat Alda, the god of law and fate who was slowly but surely exhausting his power, and hold this world in his own hands.
This was Ravovifard’s ambition, and the ambition of Bugitas who worshipped him.
An army was marching towards the empire that was working towards this ambition.
As the scout on the watchtower reported this news, the Noble Orcs looked and cheered at the sight of the army.
“Those are the flags of General Budirud, General Bufudin and General Bukyap! They’ve returned!” one of the Noble Orcs cried. “Hurry and open the gate!”
But another Noble Orc stopped him. “Wait!”
“Why?! If we show disrespect to the generals by making them wait, there’s no telling what kind of punishment we’ll receive!”
“You fool! Leaving aside General Budirud, as his army was sent to attack the Ghoul nation, why are General Bufudin and General Bukyap’s armies here as well when they were supposed to have been dispatched to the High Kobold and High Goblin nations?!”
Having this pointed out, the first Noble Orc looked more closely at the armies led by the three generals.
Budirud’s army might have returned after successfully conquering the Ghoul nation, but there was no way that Bufudin and Bukyap’s armies would return from the nations they had been dispatched to unless Bugitas, the emperor, were to call them back.
No, if one thought about it, it was strange for Budirud’s army to return as well. Even if they had succeeded, a large amount of it should have remained behind with only messengers being sent to deliver the news of success unless they had slaughtered every single Ghoul.
And the three generals were supposed to have been in separate places; why had they joined together to return to the empire?
And then the Noble Orc realized.
“R-rebellion! It’s a rebellion! The generals have betrayed us! Report this to His Majesty Bugitas and Chief General Buzazeos!”
“It seems that they’ve noticed. Well, then… Hold up the true flags! Hold up the flags of Prince Budarion and Talosheim, and deploy the army!” Budirud commanded, seeing that there were no signs of the gates opening and realizing that the rebellion had been seen through.
The generals’ flags that had been held up high were thrown to the ground, and the flags of Prince Budarion and the empire were raised in their place.
And the air around Budirud was filled with tragic cries.
“I can’t run, I can’t run, I can’t run, I can’t run.”
“I want to run, I want to run, I want to run, I want to run, I want to run.”
“Impossible, impossible, impossible! We’re done for!”
“This is the end! There’s nothing but despair for me! Mommyyyyy!”
Bufudin, Bukyap, as well as Gargya who had usurped the throne of the High Kobold nation and Gido who had been ruling the High Goblin nation, were wailing with expressions of despair on their faces, their teeth chattering.
“You people… Nothing will change by being frightened and crying,” Budirud told them.
“If nothing’s going to change, let us do as we want! This is already the end for us!” said Bufudin.
“That’s right! Look at the other soldiers, too!” said Bukyap.
The Orcs, Noble Orcs and the lookouts of the empire’s gates hadn’t noticed, but at the back, there were the High Kobolds and High Goblins that had been Gargya and Gido’s subordinates. They were so frightened that their fear would be clear even to those not familiar with other races.
There were deep wrinkles in their faces and they were crying loudly. They looked as if they were about to go and die meaningless deaths.
… Though there were more than a few of them who were letting out broken laughter, too.
“See! We’re not the only ones crying!” Gargya said, fully open to how pathetic he was.
“Bufuh,” Budirud sighed, not looking particularly shaken. “You and I are commanders. Even if our soldiers are crying, how can we cry with them? Morale will drop, order will be lost and the army will stop functioning as an army. That would be like walking into a death that is right in front of our eyes,” he said rationally.
“Our deaths, you say… we’re already dead. We’re dead, and so are you,” said Bukyap with dull, lifeless eyes.
Indeed, the army marching upon the Noble Orc empire was made of Undead that Vandalieu had created from the corpses. A Zombie army.
Only the Magic Stones had been taken from the corpses of Bugitas’s subordinates that had been killed in the various places, with no further dismantling carried out on their bodies, so that this Undead army could be created.
However, at first, Vandalieu hadn’t intended to use almost all of the defeated enemies. In addition to the formerly important figures like Budirud, creating several hundred Undead and spreading them across sparsely in front of allied forces would have been plenty to use as a meat shield. That was what had been intended at first.
Recently-created Zombies have considerably lower Ranks than the abilities that they possessed while alive. By becoming Undead, these Zombies had lost the effects of Bugitas’s False Guidance: Beast Path and, in Gargya and Gido’s case, Ravovifard’s divine protection… Of course, using Familiar Spirit Descent was impossible, too.
And their current master Vandalieu had no intention of guiding them, so they received only minimal effects from Guidance: Demon Path.
Thus, they had become far weaker than they were while alive. There would be no point in moving such a large number of such weak soldiers, increasing the time it took to move.
But things had changed when Vandalieu acquired the Corpse Demon Commander Job and the Group Binding Technique Skill.
Up until now, Vandalieu’s Plant Binding Technique and Insect Binding Technique had allowed him to equip plants and insects inside his body and transport them, but with the restriction that he couldn’t transport large numbers of them for long periods of time.
This was because of a limitation of the Skill’s effects – living creatures took the nutrients they needed from Vandalieu while they were equipped.
Even if they were fine for short periods of time, Vandalieu wouldn’t be able to provide enough nutrients for large numbers of living creatures, and he would die of starvation if he kept them equipped for more than half a day.
That was why Vandalieu always equipped insectoid and plant monsters that were resistant to hunger, such as Pete, Cemetery Bees, Eisen and the Slime Kühl.
Isn’t there a Demon King’s hump that can store large amounts of nutrients like a camel’s hump? he had thought from time to time.
And then he had become able to equip Undead.
Of course, Undead didn’t need nutrients. They could eat, but it wasn’t a necessary act to maintain their own existence. Thus, Vandalieu wouldn’t starve to death even if he equipped as many as it was possible to equip for long periods of time.
Thus, he had relied on the effects of the Zombie Maker Job and his vast amount of Mana to create Zombies from all of the intact enemy corpses, equipped them and then released them in a place some distance away from the Noble Orc empire.
Of course, as Vandalieu hadn’t been present when the enemies in the High Goblin nation died, he had failed to gather a lot of their spirits, so Bukyap’s and Gido’s armies had much less Zombies.
And the reason the Zombies other than Budirud were in sorrow and despair was because of the words that Vandalieu had spoken to them as he released them.
“You are acting as a decoy and meat shield. Please draw the Noble Orc empire’s eyes to yourselves, act as a wall for everyone from Zanalpadna and the Ghoul nation behind you, and fight the enemies. But don’t cause harm to the empire’s citizens or defensive installments such as the walls. And those who have not performed to my satisfaction and those who have disobeyed my orders will have their souls broken later,” he had told them.
Since they were Undead, they hadn’t really cared about the first part of these orders. They had already died, and their sense of pain was much different from the pain they had felt while they were alive. They wouldn’t go out of their way to choose to experience a second death, but with Vandalieu ordering them, they didn’t feel particularly reluctant about it.
After all, they had only just become Undead, so they hadn’t spent effort to increase their Levels or Skills. Even if they died, they would just return to being spirits. They had nothing to lose.
But if their souls were destroyed, they would be annihilated in the truest sense of the word. With that said, having their souls broken wasn’t the only thing they feared.
“We’ll be neglected by him, thought of as nuisances and stepped on and broken like pieces of trash!” cried Bufudin.
“Ah, I want to end this, I just want to end it… how nice would it be if death was the end!” said Gargya.
Vandalieu had been their enemy while they were alive, but now, they perceived him to be charismatic.
Gargya in particular hadn’t had anyone he considered precious to him other than himself while he was alive, so Vandalieu was now the only one that was more important to him than Gargya was to himself.
Vandalieu wouldn’t even recycle his spirit to use as a power source for Golems; he would simply decide that he was unnecessary and dispose of him. The fear and despair at that thought was far more than the fear and despair of a second death.
But Budirud didn’t look sorrowful at all. “Is that what you’re worried about?” he said with a laugh.
“Is that what, you say?! Has your fear driven you mad?!” Bufudin shouted.
“What are you saying? I am very much sane. And thus, I shall tell you that if we achieve greatness during this battle, our souls will not be broken, even though we did all of those terrible things.”
“Wha–?! How easy do you think that is?! We no longer have the Guidance or divine protection, and our Attribute Values have decreased! Many of our subordinates have even lost their Skills from the severe damage to their spirits! We’re essentially papier-mâché soldiers, you know?!” Bukyap pointed out.
“And our enemies are the elite soldiers led by Chief General Buzazeos! Even with our joined forces, there is no way that we can defeat them!” said Bufudin.
Buzazeos was the general of the Noble Orc empire with the highest rank among those who had followed Bugitas. He was a powerful individual who had thus been given the rank of Chief General, and while Budirud and Bufudin had been dispatched outside the nation, he had remained to protect the empire along with the elite soldiers he had raised himself, acting as Bugitas’s right-hand man.
He excelled not just as a commander but in his own fighting strength as well, and there was such a difference in physical strength between him and the other generals like Budirud that they wouldn’t be able to defeat him in one-on-one combat. Now that they had become Undead with lower Attribute Values, it was possible that they wouldn’t be able to defeat him even if they all fought him together.
And since he was behind sturdy walls, they wouldn’t even be able to cross swords with him unless they approached and climbed over the walls.
There was an enormous pile of unfavorable circumstances in front of their eyes.
But Budirud spoke to Bufudin and Bukyap once more. “It’s exactly as you say, and there is no path of escape for us. Even if we beg for our lives, even if we lick the feet of the families of those we have killed and press our foreheads against the ground to beg for forgiveness, it will all be meaningless to that person. In fact, it would only anger him more,” he said. “With that being the case, we have no choice but to fight as we have been ordered. If you think that, your head will feel lighter and you will feel cheerful. Don’t you think so?”
Bufudin and Bukyap exchanged looks.
“Now that you mention it, that’s reasonable. You’re right that we have no choice but to fight.”
“There is no other way to make a favorable impression on that person now… we have to fight.”
The fear and despair vanished from their faces as if melting away, replaced with the flames of insanity.
“That’s right, we simply need to fight with everything we have,” said Bufudin. “Raise your spears and fight! If your spear’s tip is broken, then fight with the handle, and if the handle is broken, then with your fists and fangs. If your arm is torn off and your fangs are pulled out, grasp your arm with your other hand and wield it, or pull out your own ribs to use them as weapons. Come and fight! Even if this becomes your final fight, even if your soul is broken in the end, at least become a piece of trash with some value!”
As if responding to Budirud’s words, the light of insanity glowed in the eyes of the Undead Noble Orcs.
“Crush Buzazeos! If we can’t defeat him as a group, then defeat him as a swarm!”
“Kill! Kill before you are broken!”
Before he knew it, Budirud had become the center of the Undead army, a position different to the one he had possessed while alive.
I’ve heard somewhere that there isn’t a single madman that believes that they’re insane, Vandalieu suddenly thought to himself as he walked towards the center of the city.
The Noble Orc empire’s townscape was impressive, just as he would expect of a large nation.
Since the citizens were two-meter-tall Orcs and three-meter-tall Noble Orcs, each of the buildings were large and built to be sturdy. And the building materials had appeared to be stone at first glance, but it was something similar to concrete.
Earth, gravel and some kind of powder had been mixed, shaped and dry-hardened with small stones attached to it to create walls.
Vandalieu had only seen stone, wood or brick houses in human cities, so he was very impressed at how modern it was… though the truth was that if one didn’t consider the cement of the concrete, it wasn’t as modern a building material as Vandalieu thought.
But the empire’s townscape was somewhat dusty now, with no sense of liveliness.
It was likely that the inhabitants didn’t have the time to clean and take care of garden trees now, and the government had no intention of maintaining a lively, clean townscape.
“How sad,” Vandalieu muttered as he walked boldly down the Noble Orc empire’s main road.
Of course, there was a large number of other people going back and forth on the main street.
“Noble-Orc-sama, what happened?”
“Buh… Silence! You citizens are in the way! Go and stay inside somewhere!”
“Business is over! Close your stores!”
Armed Noble Orcs and Orcs were heading towards the gate in a great hurry. They were pushing the citizens on the main road away in a haughty manner, and the citizens had fear and bewilderment on their faces.
In an extremely ordinary manner, Vandalieu walked straight past them.
Vandalieu had killed every enemy that he had encountered so far, so the soldiers of the Noble Orc empire weren’t aware of his existence. Thus, he wouldn’t be noticed once he was inside the walls.
Of course, Vandalieu’s appearance stood out enough to be conspicuous. If his odd-colored eyes and fangs were noticed, one could immediately tell that he was a Dhampir, and the fact that he was not a citizen of the empire could be revealed.
But if a small child like Vandalieu walked along while looking down, the large-bodied Noble Orcs and Orcs would only be able to see the color of his hair.
And since this was a time of emergency, nobody even gave Vandalieu a glance as he walked along the side of the road.
It was fortunate for Vandalieu that the Noble Orcs who followed Bugitas weren’t wary of citizens.
“Well, if this didn’t work out, I’d just fly through the sky and charge in directly,” Vandalieu murmured as he headed towards the empire’s castle.
He was infiltrating inside while Budirud and the Undead Noble Orc army were drawing the attention of Bugitas’s subordinates. The plan was to continue on and slaughter Bugitas.
It was the age-old plan of taking out the leader because there were too many enemies.
There were all kinds of reasons for this – The empire would take too much damage before Bugitas was defeated if normal war was waged; it would take too long for Bugitas to step onto the frontlines himself; it would be tragic if things turned into a large-scale urban battle and the non-combatant civilians and Orcs and Noble Orcs on Budarion’s side were to suffer losses; and Vandalieu had received reports from Iris and Miles that there was something suspicious going on in the Sauron Duchy – there were spies being sent in more frequently to conduct direct reconnaissance, so he didn’t want to take too long here. But there was another logical reason for using this ancient tactic.
According to the information he had heard from the spirits of the generals that he had defeated so far, it was highly likely that Bugitas possessed a Guidance Skill or something similar to one, as well as the divine protection of Ravovifard, the evil god of release.
As Vandalieu was aware, the Guidance Skill provided more blessings to those around the Skill owner than just simple increases to Attribute Values. And for those being guided, the Guidance Skill’s owner became a mental support to them.
Thus, if they lost Bugitas, who was thought to possess a Guidance-type Skill, wouldn’t Bugitas’s subordinates become weaker, experience a large drop in morale, and stop functioning as an army?
That was what Vandalieu had concluded.
Also, Bugitas, who possessed Ravovifard’s divine protection, was apparently an important figure to Ravovifard.
According to Zozogante, the evil god of the dark forest, those who possessed a god’s divine protection were like living billboards to spread fear and belief for that god, acting on the world’s surface in the god’s place. Thus, if the ones who possessed Ravovifard’s divine protection were to be eliminated, it was possible that he would be left with no way to intervene with events in the world other than spending a great amount of his power to descend upon the world himself.
And divine protections were not things that could be given to anyone so easily.
One needed a certain mental connection to the god or be of a race that was close to the god to receive their divine protection.
Ghouls or plant-type monsters with Zozogante, Scylla with Merrebeveil and Lizardmen with Fidirg – these were races that were ‘close’ to their gods.
“But there aren’t any races that are ‘close’ to Ravovifard, who only invaded the southern region of the continent recently. So, it’s impossible to gain his divine protection without taking the time to form a mental connection with him. But this ‘evil god of release,’ I wonder what he is supposed to release you from. Considering what he’s been doing, wouldn’t ‘evil god of usurpation’ or ‘the evil god of tyranny’ be more fitting?” Vandalieu wondered.
“Danna, are you talking to yourself a lot because you’re nervous?” whispered Kimberley, who was remaining invisible.
“Yes. I am in enemy territory, after all,” Vandalieu replied in a small voice as he pressed on.
Along the way, he had passed by a unit of soldiers led by a clearly powerful Noble Orc wearing an impressive suit of armor, and a young man who seemed to be a Majin, leading several Lesser Demons.
That was probably Chief General Buzazeos and Gargya’s Majin counterpart, Gerazorg.
They were quite slow, but it seemed that the attention of Bugitas’s forces was solidly concentrated outside the city’s gate.
“… They’re taking too long to mobilize their forces. Aren’t this Bugitas fellow and his subordinates too carefree?” said Kimberley, who had been a member of the Amid Empire’s army himself while he was alive.
“Not that we’ll take advantage of it,” Vandalieu whispered back. “Maybe they’re not under the assumption that there would be traitors if an enemy army closes in on the empire? And the people under Bugitas’s influence generally have a tendency to become simple-minded, so I’m sure Bugitas himself will also…”
“You feel like you know his limits?” asked Orbia.
“By the way, Your Majesty, perhaps this conversation should not be heard by the prince…?” said Princess Levia.
“It’s fine. He can’t hear it unless I intend to let him hear it,” said Vandalieu.
“Then it is all right.”
As he conversed with the invisible Ghosts, Vandalieu finally arrived at the plaza facing the castle. Now that he had come this far, there were almost no people going back and forth, since the soldiers had headed to the gate.
“UWAAAAH! Help meeee!”
“Please forgive us! Please forgive us!”
There was a commotion coming from several Noble Orcs, a girl about five years old who had been grasped and was being lifted up by one of them, and a woman clinging to her who appeared to be her mother.
“I see some Noble Orcs who can’t fight on an empty stomach and spotted a mother and her daughter who were late in evacuating for some reason, and now they are trying to eat the girl as a snack,” said Vandalieu.
“You can understand the Orc language, Your Majesty?!”
“No, that’s just my intuition.”
But it seemed that Vandalieu was right in guessing that they were intending to use the girl as food. The Noble Orc holding her opened his mouth wide, exposing his fangs, to bite into the girl’s head.
“MOMMYYYY! I’M SCAAARED!”
Vandalieu’s Dead Spirit Magic spell turned Princess Levia into a skeleton made of black flames, and her jaws tore the Noble Orc’s head to pieces.
“Get up. Give that child back,” Vandalieu ordered.
Right before the petrified mother’s eyes, the headless Noble Orc Zombie bent down onto his knees and politely returned the girl back to her.
The other Noble Orcs and the other people in the plaza froze in astonishment. The mother and daughter were no exceptions, but the mother was the first to recover her senses; she took her daughter and ran off.
Vandalieu glanced at her for only a moment before looking forward again.
“… Danna, I don’t have any complaints, but isn’t that a situation where you would normally harden your heart for the sake of your plan?” said Kimberley.
“Kimberley, I’m a half-Vampire, so I’m already a demon without trying,” said Vandalieu.
“That’s not what I mean, but… Well, we’ve made it in front of the castle, so I suppose it’s fine,” said Kimberley.
“And we’ve already been seen,” said Orbia.
The Noble Orcs, who had been petrified with shock at their comrade suddenly being decapitated and continuing to move while headless, returned to their senses and finally noticed that there was a strange child nearby.
They didn’t understand the exact reasons, but they were certain that Vandalieu was the cause of everything and tried to attack him.
“BOOOOOH!” a voice roared.
A slashing attack was released from behind them, slicing them in two and continuing forward, closing in on Vandalieu like a whirlwind. The headless Noble Orc Zombie jumped in front of it, trying to block it… but he was cut apart easily as well, being of no use.
“Demon King’s carapace, activate, Stone Wall.”
The Demon King’s carapace appeared over Vandalieu’s arm, and he used it as a shield to block the attack.
The citizens remaining in the plaza screamed and fled, and the Noble Orcs nearby hastily fell back.
“I’ll accept your loyalty for now,” Vandalieu said to the Noble Orc Zombie’s spirit as he looked at his enemy… the scythe-wielding Bugitas, who had attacked through his own subordinates.
“Bukukuh, you were mentioned in Ravovifard’s Divine Message, after all. You monster, who holds multiple fragments of the Demon King,” Bugitas said, giving a bold laugh as he acknowledged the defensive strength of the Demon King’s carapace that didn’t have a single scratch on it despite being struck by a martial skill from his enormous scythe. “To think that you would appear before me alone… No, with the monsters that are your subordinates, which means that the army outside is a decoy. A clever scheme like this could not have even been thought of by any of the wise men who have left their names in history. I suppose that is to be expected of a monster who possesses the Demon King’s fragments and is capable of even destroying a god’s familiar spirit.”
Despite his words, Bugitas was behaving in a leisurely manner. His voice was deep and yet unpleasantly sticky, as if gooey strings were attached to it.
“I haven’t been talked to with such clear sarcasm since my aunt’s lectures on Earth…” Vandalieu muttered.
“Van-kun, I don’t think it’s sarcasm; he’s being serious,” said Orbia.
“That’s right, Your Majesty. You said it yourself, didn’t you? Bugitas has no knowledge when it comes to military strategy,” said Princess Levia.
Vandalieu had thought that Bugitas was being sarcastic regarding the ancient tactic that he had used, but his mood improved upon hearing Orbia and Princess Levia’s words.
Incidentally, Orbia and the other Ghosts had already revealed themselves, but Bugitas couldn’t hear Vandalieu’s whispered conversations with them.
“What is that look in your eyes? Don’t tell me you’re going to say that you’re displeased with the way I cut through those useless fools as I attacked you,” Bugitas sneered.
“I am displeased,” said Vandalieu. “If you cut their bodies in half and let their contents spill onto the floor, the organs will be spoiled, won’t they? Did nobody teach you to treat food with care?”
“… Are you a demon?”
Vandalieu was completely serious, but he was being called a demon for it. Wasn’t that too much? And he was a half-Vampire, so he was a demon even if nobody called him one.
“Buguuh! On top of being strange, you’re messed-up! Fine, I’ll dispose of you before my loser of an aniki!” Bugitas recovered from his surprise and raised his giant scythe once more, filled with bloodthirst.
“… No, your opponent shall be me.”
Golden hair and an enormous body emerged from within the unmoving Vandalieu.
Prince Budarion’s arm and eye were stained black, and there was a black magic sword in his hands.
“… Hoh, you seem to have regained the arm and eye that I took from you, but you have stooped low enough to become a monster’s underling, Ani-ue?” Bugitas said with a cruel smile as he looked at his brother.