“You’ve gone and done it now, Dhampir!” An outraged Ternecia smashed her fist onto a table that was sturdier than it looked, destroying it. “How dare you, how dare you, how dare you!”
“Calm down,” Birkyne told her. “Although you do seem calmer than when I am having a fit.”
“Indeed,” Gubamon agreed. “Even if you howl from here, it cannot be heard in Talosheim.”
Ternecia clicked her tongue in response to the carefree words of Birkyne and Gubamon, but she didn’t swing her fist a second time, lowering it gently instead.
“So, what are we discussing today? Are we going to have a review meeting about the lost war?” asked Ternecia.
It had been around a month since the Undead expedition army had closed in on Balcheburg and was destroyed. The Pure-breed Vampires who worshipped Hihiryushukaka, the Evil God of Joyful Life, were surrounded by identical tables.
“Of course, we are going to do that, but… We also need to discuss how we will kill the Dhampir at this point,” Birkyne replied.
“Hihi, we have to share information, after all,” said Gubamon.
Indeed, the Vampires had been defeated. They had manipulated the Amid Empire from the shadows, made the Mirg shield-nation send out an army and attempted to kill Vandalieu with overwhelming numbers. However, this plan had ended in a spectacular failure.
Despite that, Birkyne and Gubamon remained quite composed, in contrast to Ternecia’s angry mood. The reason for this was simple – the one who had come up with this plan and suffered the greatest losses was Ternecia.
The Mirg shield-nation’s elite soldiers, Balcheburg’s guards, the assets of the villagers in the cultivated lands and their future – these were all trivial matters to the Vampires.
But the loss of a cooperative individual, who had allowed them to sink their claws deep into the Empire, wasn’t a happy event for them.
Ternecia had numerous allies apart from Earl Mauvid who had returned as an Undead, but this incident had apparently allowed the Empire to catch their tails. Not all of them had been caught, but quite a lot of them had been disposed of.
It seemed that Earl Mauvid had investigated other Vampire allies and leaked information about them to protect himself.
He had leaked information not only of individuals linked to Ternecia’s faction but also those linked to Birkyne and Gubamon’s factions. These individuals had all been eliminated by the Emperor’s subordinates and the Thunderclap Schneider. However, Ternecia was still the one who had lost the most.
And then there were the Noble-born Vampires that had been dispatched as part of the expedition army. Birkyne and Gubamon had provided ten each, while Ternecia had used ten of her own with Isla as their commander.
Their deaths were a painful loss indeed.
Isla had been a Noble-born Vampire with the court rank of countess. As her Title of ‘Ternecia’s Hound’ suggested, she had been a loyal retainer who supported Ternecia’s faction for tens of thousands of years.
She hadn’t been insignificant among Ternecia’s close aides – she had been performing important duties within Ternecia’s faction. In terms of strength in battle, she had been among the three most powerful of Ternecia’s subordinates.
One might think that Ternecia’s subordinates were relatively weak, considering that she had ruled from the darkness for over a hundred thousand years, but this wasn’t the case.
Though those in lower positions obeyed the ones in higher positions, they were always looking for opportunities to take down those above them.
Those in higher positions trampled those in lower positions underfoot so that those below them wouldn’t surpass them.
Raising a new generation of capable individuals in a society with such values would take a miracle. And, since none of the Vampires had a limited lifespan, the older generations would never be replaced.
Vampires of Leader or Baron status weren’t particularly unusual, but those of Viscount status and above competed with each other fiercely, leaving very few that survived more than several centuries.
Of course, many also lost their lives to the tempers and whimsical, unreasonable orders of the Pure-breed Vampires.
In such an environment, a subordinate like Isla who had reached Countess status was precious… It was possible for Noble-born Vampires to increase their Rank further and become known as Marquises or Dukes, but they would actually be eliminated because they caused problems by being so powerful.
In any case, there was no mistaking that Ternecia’s faction had lost a lot of its power.
Gubamon cackled. “I have my regrets as well. I had my eyes on the one who was called the second coming of the hero, but he was completely destroyed on the battlefield and burnt to ashes. I cannot even claim him as an Undead.”
Though Gubamon said this, nobody believed that he had ever been truly interested in a falsely-created hero like Riley.
Ternecia glared at him, grinding her teeth loudly.
“The most painful thing is that information has been concealed from us,” said Birkyne, interrupting. “Though we have learned one thing. The Dhampir… Vandalieu, is able to control Undead like us.”
As he said, they had gained very little information despite the great losses suffered in this incident.
No matter how much they didn’t want to admit it, the fact that Vandalieu could control the Undead was clear from the way the expedition army had risen as Undead.
However, how Vandalieu was creating Undead was still unclear.
“The Pure-breeds who worship Vida are cooperating with him,” said Ternecia. “I’m sure they’ve come up with a new technique over the past hundred thousand years.”
“Hmm, but I wonder, isn’t the number of Undead simply too large?” asked Gubamon. “I have heard that there were thousands of them coming out of the tunnel. Even we would need to invest a considerable amount of effort to create that many Undead.”
“We might manage if it was just Rank 1 Undead,” said Ternecia. “Not all of them, but some were apparently Rank 3 and 4, weren’t they? Even if we used the corpses exactly as they were and created one Undead every hour, it would take us a year to create that many.”
Birkyne nodded. “Yes, that’s what the surviving soldiers who had been on lookout reported. Good grief, what an unbelievable turn of events. With this, tempting humans will probably be impossible as well.”
“The most problematic thing is that Isla and the other Vampires were not among the Undead,” said Gubamon.
The Noble-born Vampires and their commander Isla hadn’t been among the expedition army that had come back as Undead.
Birkyne nodded. “Eighty or ninety percent of information about us has probably been leaked.”
Vandalieu had likely turned the Vampires into Undead and gained information from them. It had already been confirmed that he was capable of creating Undead above Rank 3. This was a headache-inducing problem for everyone present here, not just Ternecia.
Though none of the other dispatched Vampires had been as powerful as Isla, there had been a need to send reasonably strong subordinates. This meant that the locations of several bases, meeting places and information regarding other subordinates had been leaked.
The fortunate thing was that the Vampires sent to Talosheim had been working in the Empire and its vassal nations; these were regions that Vandalieu couldn’t freely wander into.
But in contrast, the Pure-breed Vampires who worshipped the Evil God of Joyful Life would find it difficult to gain information about Vandalieu. The lookouts that had been left around had all been hunted down, and the ritual that revived dead Noble-born Vampires as Undead couldn’t bring back Isla and the others that had gone to Talosheim.
They were already Undead at Vandalieu’s side.
Even if Isla and the others were somehow destroyed, the ritual wouldn’t work on Vampires who had already become Undead once. Even if that wasn’t the case, Birkyne expected that Vandalieu would have used some kind of trick.
“Fortunately, though we don’t know whether he’s connected with Vida’s lot or another evil god, it seems that he is planning to seclude himself in the southern region of the continent for a while,” said Birkyne.
Ternecia nodded. “You’re right. He wouldn’t have destroyed the tunnel himself otherwise.”
“We must come up with a plan in the meantime,” said Gubamon. “My word, how troublesome.”
They needed to gather a great amount of information and fighting strength.
The next few decades will be busy, thought Ternecia, Gubamon and the Noble-born Vampires who were present.
But Birkyne alone had a different opinion.
He destroyed an army of six thousand, created thousands of Undead… Perhaps I should persuade him to become my pawn, even if it means disobeying Hihiryushukaka’s Divine Message. Fortunately, the ones who killed his parents were Gubamon’s subordinates, and the one pulling the strings in the expedition was Ternecia. Depending on the conditions, it is likely possible. The next few decades should be quite enjoyable.
Two months had passed since the extermination of the Undead expedition army that attacked Balcheburg.
“He got us good,” Thomas Palpapek whispered to himself, looking down at a single document in his office.
The expedition with General Mauvid as its supreme commander had ended in a far greater failure than he could have imagined, and the losses were far greater than he had predicted.
He wanted to go back in time and call the Thomas Palpapek of one year ago a fool.
Not a single member of the expedition army, comprised of six thousand of the Mirg shield-nation’s nine thousand elite soldiers, had returned alive. This was quite a painful loss. It would take years to train that number of soldiers to the same level of ability, and knights couldn’t be easily replaced as they were men of noble families.
There was no way that the sons of heads of exceptional families who had died in battle could be told that they needed to become commoners as great adventurers would become knights in their place.
There was also the equipment the soldiers had been wearing, the war expenditures paid for the expedition to take place and the cost of building the forts at the mouths of the tunnels… Yes, the loss of the men’s lives had been great, but the economic damage wasn’t small, either.
The next painful thing was the setback of Viscount Balchesse’s cultivation project.
For some reason, the Undead that came out of the tunnel had taken their time going through the villages in the cultivated lands instead of just heading straight for Balcheburg… Their marching speed was reasonable, but for an army of Undead that could move day and night with no need for rest or sleep, it was slow.
That was why the inhabitants of the cultivated land had all been evacuated successfully. All of the Undead were defeated at Balcheburg, and once they were all burned so that no diseases would spread, the people were supposed to return to the cultivated land.
At that point, the villagers and Viscount Balchesse would have been prepared to see the fields laid waste to by the Undead, the houses destroyed and perhaps even a few Undead remaining in the villages.
But who would have guessed that there would still be a thousand Undead left behind?
Because of this, soldiers and adventurers were gathered once more and organized into an extermination force to get rid of them. Fortunately, the extermination itself went without any problems.
As some of the Zombies had been Poison Zombies that spewed venom from their mouths, a mage investigated the dirt in the fields and the water in the irrigation channels to check whether they were poisoned.
For some reason, all of the dirt in the fields had been contaminated with deadly poison, and the water reservoirs and aqueducts were polluted as well, rendering them unusable. This was the worst possible outcome.
Purifying this poison was so difficult that even a renowned master of the Mages’ Guild had said it was hopeless, and leaving it to degrade naturally would take decades or even a century.
The same applied to every village in the cultivated land. There was no way that the cultivation project could continue.
The cultivation project itself was the project of Viscount Balchesse’s family, but he had received significant financial assistance from the nation, as well as many noblemen who had been interested in the project. Though it hadn’t shown that great an interest, the Palpapek family of earls was one of them.
The fact that all of this had vanished was a shock not only to those in Viscount Balchesse’s territory, but to the entire nation.
To top it all off, Gordan and Riley had been leading the Undead in the attack on Balcheburg.
Those who had been called heroes by the people moved in ways too cruel to watch, killing those same people. It could only be described as a nightmare.
That was a thorn in the Mirg shield-nation’s side, and blood was flowing freely from the wound.
“Two hundred years ago, we could at least tell ourselves that we were victorious. But now, we are forced to admit that we were defeated,” Thomas murmured. “Because of those fools who kept shouting loudly even after death, mud has been thrown at the faces of the army, the adventurers, the Church of Alda, all of them.”
Keeping such information secret was almost entirely impossible, as soldiers and adventurers had been gathered from numerous different towns to defend Balcheburg.
False information was being spread so that the uproar would be extinguished, but it would be a topic of conversation among the people for some time to come.
Because of this, the air in the Mirg shield-nation was continuing to become darker.
And unfortunately, there was no small number of people in the royal capital and the army shouting that revenge needed to be taken for this incident.
If the target of this revenge was the Amid Empire that ruled the nation, it would not be a stretch to call it a step towards Thomas’s dream, that of the Mirg shield-nation’s independence.
However, the people were directing their hatred beyond the Boundary Mountain Range, towards Talosheim.
“This isn’t a joke. The Dhampir… Vandalieu. He really got us good. I’m sure it can be said that everyone was dancing on top of that half-Vampire’s palm.”
Thomas was certain that the numerous losses suffered by the Mirg shield-nation had all been caused by Vandalieu.
The unusually slow movements of the Undead, the unusually low casualties apart from the expedition army and the unusually strong effects of the poison in the cultivated land that was too strong to have been created by the Poison Zombies among the Undead.
Everything was too unnatural to be put down to coincidence.
“He has driven this nation into a corner and baited it into a reckless battle for revenge. And then I suppose he intends to lie in wait, just as he did previously. The reason he killed so few outside of the expedition army was so that there would be as many people left as possible to advocate revenge. I have heard that he is a young child, but he is crafty to the point of being terrifying.” Thomas made a strange misunderstanding of Vandalieu’s intentions.
Oblivious to the misunderstanding, of course, he returned his gaze to the document on top of his desk.
“And I’m sure this is all within his calculations.”
There were all kinds of things written on the page, but it was essentially a request from the Mirg shield-nation for Thomas to be reinstated as marshal following these difficult events.
Earl Legston’s second son, Chezare, had been the second-in-command of the expedition army. Legston had been forced to pass on his family leadership to his eldest son who had quit his job and retired. But because Chezare hadn’t been seen among the Undead army, and because the Amid Empire had hastily named General Mauvid as being primarily responsible, Legston had suffered no further punishment.
The problem was that the position of the next marshal had come around back to Thomas.
“Vandalieu, it seems that you are under the impression that you will be able to dispose of me like you did General Mauvid, but things will not go your way. I will prevent a foolish battle for revenge no matter what it takes. And one day, as you make your nest in the continent’s southern reaches, I will teach you your place in this world.”
A little while after Thomas Palpapek was reinstated as marshal, it became the time of year where the season was transitioning between the beginning of summer and the middle of summer. In a room that was easily three grades higher in quality than Thomas’s office, a handsome man was sitting with his hands clasped together, listening to the report of his close aide.
His face was young with thin lines in his features, but his eyes contained a strong light and there was an extraordinary air of charisma around him.
His ears were long and pointed, though not as much as an Elf’s.
“Is that everything you have to report?” he asked in a beautiful voice that made it difficult to tell his gender.
“Yes, Amid Emperor Marshukzarl von Bellwood,” said the man who appeared to be from the army.
Indeed, this young half-Elf man was Marshukzarl, the current emperor of the Amid Empire.
Vandalieu would likely be surprised if he knew this. In most fantasy works he had seen on Earth, half-Elves were subject to discrimination and persecution. But in the majority of the world of Lambda, half-Elves were not treated this way.
In this world, humans, Elves and Dwarves were comrades who had fought against the Demon King’s armies alongside the champions, and the Church of Alda labeled these three races as races of ‘people’. Many written records still remained, detailing how the champions had formed true friendships with numerous Elves and Dwarves.
And as for races to discriminate against and persecute, the races created by Vida provided plenty in the Amid Empire.
Of course, despite this, there were noblemen who would object to a half-Elf with a long lifespan being on the throne, and there were those who believed in human superiority.
But Marshukzarl had silenced his opposition with his sheer capability and ascended to the throne.
The report he was listening to was about the expedition.
“It seems we have accomplished our first objective of revealing and disposing of the traitors who allied themselves to the Vampires hiding within the Empire, but… this is a rather unexpected situation,” Marshukzarl commented, having finished hearing the report.
When the expedition had first been brought up, Marshukzarl had already been aware that General Langil Mauvid was allied with the Vampires.
While the Vampires’ attention had been focused on the expedition proposed by the general, he had been gathering evidence and ordering his close aides to dispose of the traitors.
As a result of unofficial offers, searches and secret maneuvers, the names of many individuals with deep connections to the Mauvid family of earls had come up. From there, several of the Vampires behind the scenes had been arrested and tortured, allowing Marshukzarl to gain information about many more Vampires and traitors.
As a result, the Vampires’ influence in the Empire had successfully been reduced a considerable amount.
That was something to be happy about. It was not an achievement that could be celebrated openly, as news that many noblemen had been involved with Vampires wasn’t information that could be made public, but it was a great achievement nonetheless.
“Are you referring to how the expedition army was annihilated, with the vast majority of them turning into Undead and attacking the town, the setback of the Mirg shield-nation’s cultivation project and the sudden collapse of the tunnel in the Boundary Mountain Range?” asked another aide.
“Of course,” replied Marshukzarl. “The original plan was to have the expedition succeed, take Mauvid’s head and offer the Mirg shield-nation financial assistance with its cultivation project as an apology, was it not?”
Marshukzarl and his aides had expected the expedition to succeed. At the very least, the Dhampir who had led several hundred Ghouls across the Boundary Mountain Range was supposed to have been killed. The Mirg shield-nation should have lost a moderate amount of its elite soldiers and the power of Earl Palpapek, who desired the Mirg shield-nation’s independence, should have been cut down – In exchange, the cultivation project would have been greatly supported, but the fangs of Palpapek and his supporter would have been blunted.
Marshukzarl wanted a foothold in the continent’s southern region, but a foothold that would become unusable with the collapse of a single tunnel would be even riskier.
Also, preventing the independence of a vassal nation and making it easier for the Mirg shield-nation to merge with the Empire in the future would provide greater gains in the long run.
That was what Marshukzarl had thought.
“But who could have expected that an army that outnumbered the enemy almost ten to one would be repelled… overwhelmingly, at that. Just what methods did this Dhampir, Vandalieu, use?” Marshukzarl wondered out loud.
“That is still unclear,” replied the aide. “There were no survivors, and the Necromancy of all of the Spiritualists we had prepared has failed.”
“I see. The only thing we do know is that he tames the Undead… No, he turns corpses into Undead and controls them.” Seemingly greatly interested, Marshukzarl ran his eyes down the document detailing the little available information regarding Vandalieu. “How curious. If possible, I want to acquire him –”
“Would the Church of Alda not forbid such a thing?”
“It will be fine if we have them turn a blind eye to it. It is just as well that the Vampire hunter has fallen. Those priests are too fussy, anyway.”
Unlike the Emperors before him, Marshukzarl was not a devout follower of Alda, the god of law and fate. He didn’t believe that he was truly a descendent of the champion Bellwood, either.
He was a realist by nature, a pragmatist.
That was why he always took policies that would benefit the Empire most.
The teachings of Alda that emphasized law and order were effective as a tool to rule the people, so he used them. The name of Bellwood was also effective for maintaining his authority.
Vida’s races, including Dhampirs, were convenient scapegoats to discriminate against, keeping the people happy, so he had kept things as they were up until now. Changing things would have great effects, and Vida’s races were a minority in the Empire anyway.
“But would it not be difficult to capture him?” another aide asked.
“Of course,” replied Marshukzarl. “Who said we’re going to be capturing him? I said I want him as a subordinate.”
“As a subordinate?!”
Some of the aides had served the Emperor for a long time and heard all kinds of outrageous words spoken by him as a result of his realism and rationalism. But even they were taken aback by the Emperor’s expressed desire to take the Dhampir as a subordinate.
“I-it is too dangerous! The Empire could collapse if this were ever discovered!”
“You’re exaggerating,” said Marshukzarl. “How far I will go depends on how much use this Dhampir called Vandalieu can be of to me. Everything can be sorted out if I just have the Pope of the Church of Alda authorize it by saying that it has been allowed by the god.”
“This is certainly impossible!”
“I can simply appoint someone willing to say it to the position of Pope. My beloved citizens can’t tell whether he has really received a Divine Message or not, can they?”
As Marshukzarl’s tone became terrifying, cold sweat began to form on the backs of his aides.
“However, it would be easier to have him work for me from the shadows,” he continued.
The aides all sighed in relief.
“But Your Majesty, the only thing we know at present is that this Dhampir can create Undead and control them. Would it not be difficult to make use of him with only this much information?”
In fiction works on Earth, there are sometimes powerful people or companies that turn the dead into undying soldiers and use them for military purposes. However, even if that were possible, Marshukzarl would never do this.
The reason for that was because the Amid Empire was an empire of living people.
It was easy to imagine that doing such a thing would cause religious and moral problems, and more importantly, that the soldiers and people would never accept it.
If the soldiers were told to become Undead and continue fighting after they died, they would begin doubting whether their commanders were building battle plans designed to have them die.
The people wouldn’t accept their husbands and sons being made to continue fighting after their deaths.
And it wasn’t certain whether the Undead soldiers would swear loyalty after their death, either. All of the Undead could rise in rebellion with a single whispered word from Vandalieu.
“Well, I’m not really planning to turn the Undead into soldiers,” said Marshukzarl. “I just thought it would be interesting if we could turn all of the bones lying around on ancient battlefields into Skeletons and sent them all towards the Orbaume Kingdom.”
“I see,” said an aide. “Undead would rise and head to the Orbaume Kingdom, without any relation to us. This would cause no problems.”
“But wouldn’t the realistic problem be the difficulty in making contact with the Dhampir?” asked another. “Even if it is possible, there is a possibility that the Dhampir resents you, your majesty.”
As for the incident of the death of the Dhampir’s mother, it was possible that the Dhampir’s hatred would soften when he learned that Marshukzarl’s true sense of values differed from the teachings of Alda, no matter what his official stance was.
However, though Mauvid had been allied with the Vampires, he had still been a general of the Amid Empire and the expedition was something that had been authorized in Marshukzarl’s name.
“In that case… that simply means that this is the extent of the worth of this child called Vandalieu,” said Marshukzarl. “One cannot do great things without casting aside his personal grudges. However, he is likely planning to spend at least a decade secluded in the Boundary Mountain Range. When he comes out, do not let him get away and make sure to make contact with him.”
“Understood. We will observe in secrecy.”
“Also…” Marshukzarl turned his mind towards other matters. “The Mauvid family of earls must be crushed. His eldest son who is being held captive, have him commit suicide after leaving a note saying that he regrets allying himself with the Vampires.”
“Certainly. There is also a movement saying that the Thunderclap Schneider should be requested to investigate the continent’s southern region.”
“Ah, my cousin, huh.” Marshukzarl sighed as he recalled the face of his cousin with whom he had argued over many things. Schneider was an eyesore, but he was a strangely convenient person. As long as he was kept alive, those opposing Marshukzarl would rely on Schneider and gather around him, making them more conspicuous.
But sending that man to the southern reaches of the continent was too dangerous.
“Schneider would refuse… probably. If he does accept the request, stop him. But do not make him an enemy, no matter what,” Marshukzarl warned his aides. “Now is not the time.”
“As you will. What will be done about the Mirg shield-nation?”
“Hmm...” Marshukzarl thought for a moment. “I suppose we need to give them something sweet.”
He had heard that there were movements in the Mirg shield-nation to fight a war of revenge.
If the Mirg shield-nation did something like that, it would lose more than a moderate amount of its power as a nation. They needed to be given something sweet enough to dissolve their desire for revenge.
“Then how about constructing a fort in Viscount Balchesse’s territory to keep watch over the Boundary Mountain Range?” an aide suggested. “It would also serve to keep an eye on the Dhampir that you have set your sights on, Your Majesty. Of course, the Empire would fund its construction.”
“I see, that is an excellent idea,” said Marshukzarl.
The people’s broken hearts would consider the fort as more than a defense; it would allow them to regain their composure. It would tell the people that the incident hadn’t been taken lightly, and could even soften the people’s opinions towards the Empire.
Most importantly, the Empire would only pay for the fort’s construction. The Mirg shield-nation would still have to use its own money to maintain the fort and pay soldiers to man it.
In the future, it would also help deter the Mirg shield-nation from acquiring too much military power.
“Well then, make it happen,” Marshukzarl ordered.
And so, thanks to the fort construction project led by the Amid Empire, Viscount Balchesse’s region narrowly managed to recover from its loss.
… In the future, the clearly pointless fort in this territory would only cause suffering, but it would likely be the viscount’s son’s generation who would have to worry about that.
The Pure-breed Vampires, Earl Thomas Palpapek and the Amid Empire. These three parties had two things in common other than having acknowledged Vandalieu’s existence.
The first was that like Alda and the other gods, they were cautious to not carelessly refer to Vandalieu by other names and derogatory terms, ensuring that he didn’t acquire a Title.
The other was that they were all under the assumption that Vandalieu was planning to spend at least a decade secluded in the Boundary Mountain Range, gathering strength.