About half a month after the planting of the spring wheat had been completed, the people living in one of the farming villages built on the land that had been reclaimed from the Devil’s Nest watched the expedition army as they marched.
All of the villagers had bright faces; each one of them were cheering for the expedition army in their hearts.
They were the sons born third or later in farming families, former tenant farmers and people who had been living in slums. By participating in Viscount Balchesse’s land cultivation project, they had acquired simple houses in which they could live with their families and land that still possessed magical traces of the Devil’s Nest, which had allowed it to produce crops from the first year. They had even been exempt from taxes.
Even with this expedition happening, Viscount Balchesse’s tax exemption plan had not been cancelled, nor had any of their food supplies been requisitioned. Of course, because the troops in the expedition army were only the elite, none of the villagers had been conscripted, either.
If the expedition succeeded, the Mirg shield-nation would gain new territory beyond the mountain range, and the cultivation of that land would begin as well. If that happened, the crops produced by this village could be sold for use in that cultivation.
The profits would be small at first, but by their children’s or grandchildren’s generations, their village would be a stopping point between the Mirg shield-nation and the new territory, and it could even develop into a town.
Of course, if the expedition failed, the Mirg shield-nation’s economy would enter a slump. But the villagers didn’t doubt that the expedition would succeed.
The soldiers were a collection of the Mirg shield-nation’s finest. Even ‘the second coming of the hero Mikhail’, the Green Wind Spear Riley, as well as the Vampire hunter Bormack Gordan whose name was known across the entire Amid Empire, were participating in the expedition.
The expedition army’s sights were set on Talosheim, where the Mirg shield-nation had once been victorious at the cost of significant casualties. They would recover Ice Age, the Artifact left behind by Mikhail, and this time they would suppress Talosheim once and for all. These were the objectives that had been officially announced.
The villagers had heard that the Boundary Mountain Range was a dangerous land, but with an A-class adventurer who could even defeat Dragons and a high priest who had slain numerous Vampires, the expedition army would be fine. Furthermore, Talosheim had already been conquered once before, two hundred years ago. The fortress-city would be in shambles now, and the enemy would be a disorderly gathering of Undead and monsters. They would be no match for the group of Alda-sama’s priest-warriors.
There was no doubt that the expedition army would exterminate the fiendish Undead and plant the Mirg shield-nation’s flag upon Talosheim.
These were the thoughts of not only the villagers of this reclaimed land, but also the thoughts of many of the Mirg shield-nation’s citizens.
“Do your best!”
“We’re cheering for you!”
The expedition army headed for the Boundary Mountain Range’s tunnel as they received the villagers’ encouragement.
A little over a month after the expedition army departed the royal capital of Mirg, they arrived at the Mirg shield-nation’s side of the tunnel in the Boundary Mountain Range.
From here, they planned to spend three days traveling through the tunnel and then another week or so to reach Talosheim.
Today, they would receive their last supplies at the simple fort-barrier that had been built at the Mirg shield-nation’s entrance to the tunnel and make sure the soldiers had plenty of rest. The tunnel had been completely cleared of monsters by Riley, but they would be marching while fighting the invisible enemy of claustrophobia.
It was commonly known even in Lambda that spending long periods of time in complete darkness would produce psychological abnormalities. Of course, they would be marching while using Magic Items and lanterns to light the way, but if the soldiers were pushed too hard, a drop in morale would be inevitable.
That was why they would be allowed to rest their bodies, drink alcohol and eat undried meat on the day before entering the tunnel.
“So, what is the situation on the other side of the tunnel?” asked Gordan.
All of the important figures in the expedition army had gathered in a tent, conducting one final war council before crossing the Boundary Mountain Range.
Because the fort-barrier that had been built at the tunnel’s entrance was small, it was more comfortable in this tent.
“The terrain is the same as it was two hundred years ago. No matter how much the Devil’s Nests have spread, it is not as if volcanoes or lakes will suddenly appear out of nowhere. But the roads cannot be used.” Chezare Legston, second son of the current marshal of the Mirg shield-nation and second-in-command in this expedition, pointed a finger at an old map as he answered Gordan’s question. “The expedition two hundred years ago approached Talosheim through a relatively safe route through the mountain range, but we will use a different path this time. We must not proceed while clearing through the forest. But…”
“But what? It would be problematic if you do not give us accurate information, Chezare-dono,” said Earl Langil Mauvid, a man of an age between the prime years of his youth and middle age, who was wearing a splendid overcoat and sitting in a chair further inside the tent. He was the supreme commander of this expedition.
Mauvid’s attitude towards Chezare was as if Chezare was far inferior to him, beyond the difference between a supreme commander and second-in-command, but that was how the Empire treated its nations.
“… But, it seems that there was a large-scale conflict between monsters; traces of their battle have been left behind,” Chezare reported. “Considering that, there are few powerful monsters in the area near the tunnel’s exit.”
“Yeah, that’s because I hunted some of them,” said Riley.
Chezare frowned in displeasure at Riley’s interruption of his report. He wanted to say something about this insolent adventurer, but the supreme commander had instructed that Riley should be treated as if he were of the same rank as the upper officials of the expedition as he was a necessary, core part of the expedition army’s fighting force. There is no way that he can pick an argument with Riley here.
And strictly speaking, High Priest Gordan was also no different from a commoner, so forcing only Riley to leave would cause problems.
Mauvid nodded. “Yes, thanks to you, we were able to hold out until the C-class adventurers were deployed. Keep up the hard work in Talosheim as well.”
“Leave it to me, General. Even if Dragons or whatever come at us, I’ll slaughter them with my spear!”
Chezare and Gordan found it difficult to conceal their displeasure at the sight of Mauvid and Riley smiling.
When one becomes an A-class adventurer, he gains influence surpassing less prominent noblemen, and many of them build relationships of trust that are beyond mere shallow connections with noble families and wealthy merchants. However, Chezare and Gordan felt a strange, unpleasant feeling.
“I don’t care if there are huge, unexplored Devil’s Nests or whatever; I’m sure they’re nothing special compared to the mountain range, which is the dangerous part that we’re passing straight through,” said Riley. “That means this expedition was made possible by the tunnel you found for us, Earl-sama.”
Riley was flattering Mauvid, but everyone here knew that what he said was the truth.
In fact, at the fort on the other end of the mountain range had been attacked by Dragons multiple times, but all of the attacks had been repelled by Riley. The other monsters that had attacked were Rank 3 monsters with some Wyverns and enormous reptile-like monsters (dinosaurs) that were Rank 5 or 6 mixed in.
The attacks had been frequent and ordinary adventurers and soldiers might have been easily defeated, but the Boundary Mountain Range was far from as fearsome as they had been told.
The reality was that this was because Borkus and the others had exterminated a Goblin King’s nation and multiple Dragons while searching for the tunnel, however.
In any case, this region, including the area surrounding the tunnel, was close to Talosheim’s territory. There were many parts that had been Devil’s Nests even in Talosheim’s glorious days, but Titan warriors thinned the monster numbers in order to protect their villages in the lands that they had reclaimed.
That was why even now, there were only a few Dragons inhabiting the area. Monsters appeared one after another in Devil’s Nests, but it would be rare for an explosive increase in the number monsters over Rank 10 to happen within two hundred years.
There were no such limits on Demi-human type monsters, which bred and grew up faster than Dragons, but it seemed that other than Goblins, there were not many of them and they rarely bred outside Dungeons.
“So, Chezare-dono, we have not yet encountered any Ghouls, have we?” asked Mauvid.
“That is right,” replied Chezare. “The only demi-human-type monsters we have encountered are Goblins and a single reported encounter with an Ogre.”
Gordan, who had joined the expedition because of the Divine Message from Alda, made a disgruntled noise at the news that there were still no leads on the Dhampir even after passing through the tunnel. But he understood that the Dhampir and his companions would have built their nest further into the mountain range.
It was certainly possible that the Dhampir had occupied Talosheim, the destination of the expedition. Demi-human-type monsters often set up villages in ruins no longer inhabited by people. Dhampirs and Ghouls would be no exception.
“Now as for what we will do after exiting the tunnel, we will send out a leading force that will confirm the existence of danger as we proceed,” Chezare announced. “I would like you to join that scouting force, Riley-dono.”
“Yeah, of course,” said Riley. “If a big fish like a Dragon were to show up, it’d be tough without me. Ain’t that right, old man?” he added, looking at Gordan.
“Hmph. Don’t underestimate me, youngster.”
After that, things like the planned marching route, the organization of the scouting force and methods of communication with the supply unit that would transport supplies were confirmed, and finally, the conquest of Talosheim was discussed.
They would march on while exterminating the monsters with Gordan and Riley as the core part of their force, and once they arrived in Talosheim, the knights would command the troops and defeat the monster rabble, reducing their numbers. After that, they would search important locations where monsters might hide such as the royal castle and the ruins of the Church of Vida, and then begin the extermination of the more powerful monsters. Such things had already been mostly decided right from the beginning.
Everyone in the expedition force didn’t think of what they were conducting in Talosheim to be a war. They considered it as work to purify the Devil’s Nest and search for the lost national treasure. For Gordan, even if the Divine Message was true, it was merely a monster extermination, so he did not advocate that they needed a more detailed plan.
After that was finished, Gordan quickly departed the tent. As he had no intentions of flattering the noblemen, participating in a war council was an overly-formal, suffocating task. He had never intended to stay for long.
Chezare also left the tent, saying that he would go and check on the conditions of the soldiers and knights.
“So, General-sama, when are we going to get rid of those two?” asked Riley.
“How problematic that would be, Riley,” said Mauvid. “Leaving the senile priest aside, I must have Chezare take the position of supreme commander when I step down for health reasons. If he were to die before that, there would be nobody to take responsibility for this expedition now, would there?”
Now that Gordan, Chezare and Chezare’s protégé subordinate had left, Riley and Mauvid began the real war council with the rest of the people remaining in the tent.
Including them, those left in the tent all knew the true purpose of this expedition; they were people with connections to the Vampires who worshipped Hihiryushukaka, the Evil God of Joyful Life, with the exception of three people.
“Jeez, that’s troublesome talk for a rising adventurer like me,” Riley complained. “Right?”
“That may not be true, Riley-dono. Our world is more complex than it seems, you see.” The one who replied to Riley was a man who seemed to be a veteran mercenary. He had blonde hair, blue eyes and numerous scars on his face.
However, in the next moment, he turned into a woman in her thirties. It was as if the mercenary and the woman had switched places through teleportation. But in reality, the woman had been disguising herself as a mercenary man.
“Sometimes it is even more complex than human societies,” the woman continued. “That is why we understand your circumstances. Do as you please.”
The woman, whose voice had changed as well as her appearance, smiled to reveal sharp, white fangs.
She was a Noble-born Vampire who had been dispatched by the Pure-breed Vampire Ternecia, and she was currently participating in the expedition as part of a mercenary band that General Mauvid had hired specially.
Mauvid nodded. “That is why we are helping you deal with the problematic Dhampir and the Vampire traitors, isn’t it, Isla-dono?”
“Of course,” replied the Vampire, Isla. “Well, the traitor Eleanora is nothing special as long as care is taken with her Charming Demon Eyes, and there is a high chance that Sercrent is dead. If it looks like it will be difficult, I will lend you a hand. Discreetly, so that I will not be discovered.”
Isla’s role was to dispose of the Vampire traitors. The majority of the expedition army were unaware that there were Vampires in Talosheim, so it was likely that the Vampire traitors would be able to escape. That was why Isla, who was borrowing a Magic Item that indicated the location of a blood sample’s owner, would hide in confusion and dispose of them.
She was also there to assassinate the evil Vampire hunter during the expedition, and most importantly, she was a trump card to ensure that the Dhampir, whom the evil god had even sent a Divine Message to command the Vampires to slay him, would be disposed of.
“That is why Ternecia-sama has sent me here,” she said. “I am a Vampire Countess, one of Ternecia-sama’s five strongest subordinates.”
Vampire Countess. A Rank 10 Vampire named after the court rank of count.
A-class adventurers would be needed to defeat such a Vampire, and even that would only apply if the Vampire were to stand and fight head-on. There was no small number of such powerful Noble-born Vampires hiding in Kyojou* that were even more dangerous than lower-level Dungeons, with many Subordinate Vampires in their command.
As a result, these Vampires were beings that could even turn the tables on a party of A-class adventurers. Even Gordan had never defeated a Vampire Count.
And including the Vampires dispatched by Birkyne and Gubamon, there were thirty Vampires under Isla’s command. The weakest of them were Rank 7, and there were even two Rank 9 Vampire Viscounts, only a single Rank beneath her.
They formed a large fighting force that would be sufficient to annihilate the entire expedition army on their own.
Riley laughed. “There’s no need for that. That Dhampir that you’re all so obsessed about, I’ll get rid of it for you.”
Despite that, Riley regarded Isla and the other Vampires to be no match for an A-class adventurer hero like himself, and sneered at them. He was telling them that the achievement would be his.
Isla smiled, showing no signs of displeasure at this. “I’m looking forward to it, hero-dono.”
For her, completing her mission took priority; there was no use in being obsessed over something as worthless as achievements. If Riley were to kill the Dhampir, she would be satisfied with that.
“But is that really alright?” Mauvid asked. “As this is an expedition, we will be fighting in during the day.”
Battle would occur in a time of day where the sun, the natural weakness of Vampires would be in the sky. The Vampires would have measures against it, of course, and the enemy traitors would be affected by it as well. But as Isla’s side would be the attackers, they were at the disadvantage.
Isla’s smile widened as Mauvid pointed this out. “It is not a problem. And in any case, Talosheim is a city surrounded by mountains. You already destroyed the mercury mirrors left behind by Zakkart for us two hundred years ago, so the sun will set quickly.”
In Talosheim, which had now become warm and cozy, Vandalieu opened his eyes. He stared silently into the empty air without blinking.
“They’re here. Those guys are here.”
The surveillance Golems and Undead set up around the tunnel saw bustling activity around the fort that had been built by the Mirg shield-nation.
As Vandalieu switched his vision to that of a familiar he had dispatched, his Lemure, he saw more people inside the fort than he had ever seen since coming to Lambda.
Several thousand. Their numbers were unlikely to be over ten thousand, but there were at least five thousand.
“Are there Vampires?” asked Eleanora.
“I can’t make them out just be looking,” Vandalieu replied. “There are quite a lot of knights wearing plate armor, too.”
Other than their pupils, fangs and their pale skin that appeared as if it had lost all of its blood, Vampires did not look much different than the races that they had been converted from. But they would have to wear thick capes and hats made of cloth and furs and hoods low over their faces to prevent their skin from being burned by the sun, so they would normally be conspicuous if they went outside.
However, in situations where wearing the armor and a helmet of a soldier was normal, they would not stand out.
“I don’t think there will be any among the knights,” Eleanora told him. “They should be mixed in among the mercenaries and adventurers.”
“In times like these, the Mirg shield-nation has a troublesome custom of doing their best not to hire free adventurers,” Kachia added. “So, if they’re going to be sneaking in, it’s going to be with the mercenaries.”
Eleanora offered her knowledge about the Vampires and Kachia, a former adventurer in the Mirg shield-nation, added to it.
“In that case, maybe it’s that group?” Vandalieu wondered.
Vandalieu noticed one group wearing different armor and holding different shields from the other troops. All of them were equipped with heavy armor and helmets, but they were marching in line with the rest.
There were about thirty of them. And of course, as they couldn’t expose their skin to the sunlight, Vandalieu couldn’t see their faces.
“Well, if we’ve already confirmed that there will be Vampires among them, I should leave before the end of today,” said Zadiris. “East or west, which way should I go?”
“To the east then,” said Vandalieu. “If they come, it will be in the afternoon.”
“Very well, leave it to me.”
After sending Zadiris off, Vandalieu and the others began moving. They recalled their allies from the Dungeons and made their preparations.
Vandalieu had predicted things would come to this and began his preparations two years ago, so there was no reason to be hasty. He had prepared numerous hidden weapons and trump cards. Judging from the voices that Vandalieu was hearing, there was an expedition army of six thousand approaching the city, but none of them felt any sense of despair.
Even if the expedition army’s numbers were double what they were now, their attitude likely wouldn’t change.
“Just to make absolutely sure, even if you kill expedition army troops, please refrain from eating them on the spot,” Vandalieu told Talosheim’s inhabitants.
“I know, King. Make sure you give us lots of mayonnaise instead!”
“Yeah, fried dinosaur with miso is better than human meat anyway!”
“I want a board for that shogi thing!”
“Yes, yes, I’ll make lots of mayonnaise, miso and shogi sets to celebrate our victory, so everyone should do their best and make sure not to die,” said Vandalieu. “I’m not going over to the next world to give you your rewards.”
“You’re telling Undead not to die? We got it, Eclipse King!”
The atmosphere in the town was even brighter than usual. Shelters for noncombatants like Pauvina had been prepared, so there wouldn’t be scenes like from disaster films on Earth where civilians would run for their lives… not that there was anywhere to run to even after escaping Talosheim.
It didn’t need to be said that Talosheim was the only safe part of the southern region of continent surrounded by the Boundary Mountain Range.
“We’ll be constantly fighting with our backs to the wall, so it’s only natural to take care of yourselves and prepare well before you fight, isn’t it?” said Vandalieu.
Even if they were to cross the Boundary Mountain Range again, the Ghouls and Undead Titans would be hunted as monsters in the Orbaume Kingdom.
That was why they had to repel this expedition army. And they were mostly unable to take prisoners.
Even if they were a gathering of the most elite soldiers, they would think about retreating once they lost around a third of their forces. For this expedition army in particular, there were many unfavorable conditions for a war here.
The fact that there were no safe areas nearby was true for the expedition army as well, and for now, they could be on guard against mindless monsters like Goblins and Needle Wolves or small packs of other monsters that attacked where defenses were weak. But if their numbers were reduced and they scattered as they ran, the monsters would slaughter most of them.
Even if they maintained their formation as they retreated, it would take them several days to reach the tunnel through the Boundary Mountain Range.
If Vandalieu were to ask them to surrender, there might be hundreds or perhaps even a thousand who would decide that it would be impossible to escape from the Ghouls and Undead, becoming prisoners of war.
“But taking them as prisoners after that…” Vandalieu began.
“Would be impossible,” said Sam, finishing his sentence. “During times of war, prisoners of war are either released after the enemy pays a ransom or simply sold as slaves, but the Amid Empire and Mirg shield-nation has no intention of negotiating with us, and it would be difficult to use them even as slaves.”
In a normal war, the treatment of prisoners of war was exactly as Sam described it, but the Amid Empire and Mirg shield-nation didn’t see Talosheim as a nation or Vandalieu as a king. They were nothing but monsters.
Negotiations would never take place, even if Vandalieu made attempts to make them happen. The Empire and Mirg shield-nation would never acknowledge a nation of Ghouls and Undead with a Dhampir as their king.
Nuaza nodded. “We might be able to manage a few dozen slaves, but a hundred or two hundred would be impossible to control.”
As he said, turning prisoners of war into slaves would be difficult. Collar-shaped Magic Items that forced obedience from slaves existed in this world, but since there were none in Talosheim, they would have to monitor them and force them to work like in prisons on Earth.
They were not hoodlums and ruffians, but elite soldiers who had experienced harsh training and battles.
Even if their minds were broken upon surrendering, they might regain their desire for revenge and faith in Alda as time passed.
“We don’t have the numbers to begin with,” said Vandalieu. “We only have two thousand people; there’s no way we could watch over hundreds of slaves.”
Excluding the Cemetery Bees and Immortal Ents, the current population of Talosheim consisted of around a thousand Undead Titans, seven hundred Ghouls including the children, and two hundred members of the new races Vandalieu had created such as Braga. Around nineteen-hundred in total.
If the monitoring of the prisoners was left to Golems, Vandalieu could only foresee a future where the prisoners would take them by surprise, and the same would happen if he hastily made some Zombies to do the job. They were elite soldiers capable of defeating a Rank 3 monster on their own. Even if they were unarmed, they would likely be able to fight evenly against a Rank 2 monster, and if they cooperated, they might even be able to bring a Rank 3 monster down. With the martial skills of the Unarmed Fighting Techniques of this world, even a boulder could be easily smashed.
These were people who would be able to somehow defeat bears with their bare hands.
And even if they managed to turn the prisoners into slaves, there was the problem of what they would do with them afterwards.
Even if they were to be forced to work until they died, Talosheim had tireless Undead and Golems, so slaves would be inferior as a labor force.
It would be easier to make a miracle happen than try to persuade them to become Vandalieu’s allies. If Talosheim was a nation of humans, the soldiers might be persuaded with some perseverance even if they were born in an enemy of that nation.
But for the soldiers of the expedition army, Vandalieu and the inhabitants of Talosheim were not people. They were monsters. They would be enemies who had taken them prisoner, killed their comrades, enemies that ought to be defeated according to Alda, the god of their national religion.
And most importantly, not a single person in Talosheim had any knowledge in how converting them could possibly be done.
“But could it not be possible if you use your Death-Attribute Charm skill, Holy Son?” asked Nuaza.
“Meeting the requirements of that skill to take effect would be equivalent to torturing them to death,” Vandalieu pointed out.
Kachia and the other former human adventurers had demonstrated that even living humans could be affected by Death-Attribute Charm.
However, for that to happen, they had to be in a mental state of complete despair in life, where they desired salvation in death.
So to convert the prisoners to Vandalieu’s side while they were still alive using Death-Attribute Charm, they would have to be tortured in ghastly ways and have their hearts broken into tiny pieces until they were in a state where they were unable to do anything other than whisper, “Kill me,” and, “I want to die.”
“If I’m going to do that, wouldn’t it be more humane to simply kill them and turn them into Undead in order to convert them to our side?” Vandalieu pointed out.
“Indeed,” Sam agreed, “Even when it comes to gaining information, it would be faster for you to kill them to make them speak, Bocchan.”
“But Holy Son, why are you only now worrying about how to handle enemy soldiers?” asked Nuaza. “Was it not decided long ago that we would slaughter them all?”
“That’s true, but now that it comes to it… I was thinking that they will definitely have something to say about it,” said Vandalieu.
“Yes, the others who are going to be reincarnated here.”
Vandalieu would slaughter the entire expedition army and cut down the Mirg shield-nation’s strength.
Those reincarnating here from Origin would likely see this as an evil act. Vandalieu fell into a gloomy mood as he realized this.
“Well, they’ll understand if I explain the situation to them properly… maybe? I have to get stronger for the possibility that they don’t understand, too.” This was the conclusion Vandalieu came to in the end.
There were too many reasons in this world for him to grow stronger.