In terms of actually protecting the village, the battle to defend the Seventh Cultivation Village from Karcan’s unit of knights disguised as bandits was going well.
By the time Vandalieu killed Karcan, half of the thirty archers and infantry surrounding the village had already been killed.
“UOH! A Golem?!”
“WAAAAH! What the hell is this Slime?!”
The Equestrians who were on standby after surrounding the village should have only needed to be shooting the villagers who had barely escaped with their lives, the only things that approached them were Stone Golems and Golems made of liquid Death Iron, which looked like Slimes at first glance.
The Golems that Vandalieu had diligently made and placed in the ground were ten Rank 3 Stone Golems and three Rank 7 liquid Death Iron Golems. All of them were affected by his Strengthen Followers and Strengthen Subordinates skills; they were as powerful as monsters one or two Ranks above them.
If the Equestrians were all gathered together, even if they couldn’t defeat the Golems, at least half of them would have been able to escape because the Golems were slow to move. But because they had been surrounding the village, they were all separated.
“W-why are there so many Golems and black Slimes in a place where there are only supposed to be Goblins?!” shouted the final knight, before being covered an engulfed completely by a Death Iron Golem.
The Death Iron was a liquid, but it was just as heavy as the iron it had originally been made from. And since the Golem had its own superhuman strength as well, escape after being swallowed by it would be impossible without a tremendous amount of physical strength.
And then the Golems groaned as they carried the Equestrians’ corpses to the small-scale Dungeon that Vandalieu had created in order to hide them.
Kasim and his party were putting up a good fight against the ten mounted bandits.
“UOOOOH! Stone Shield! Shield Bash!”
Unable to withstand the blow of Kasim’s strengthened shield that he had swung with all his might, one of the Equestrians fell off his horse.
Zeno aimed for that fallen Equestrian, but one of the other Equestrians stood in his way, blocking his line of fire.
“Guh! Are you trying to show off?!” shouted the Equestrian. Fortunately for him, the leather armor he was wearing was lighter than what he normally used, so he got to his feet quickly.
As usual, Kasim’s skill level was still too low to use Shield Bash. “It’s the embodiment of my fighting spirit!” he yelled back.
They were being forced to fight three against ten; they wouldn’t last without some fighting spirit.
Fester was swinging his sword bravely next to Kasim as well. “UOOOOH! Lina, I’ll protect you! Triple Thrust!” He used a Swordsmanship martial skill, releasing three swift, consecutive thrusts, aiming at one of the enemies on horseback.
The Equestrian twisted his body to avoid the first thrust, deflected the second with his own sword and was hit by the third, though the third thrust only took a little flesh off his side.
“There’s your… weakness?”
Triple Thrust was a martial technique with three consecutive thrusts at a fearsome speed, but once the three thrusts were endured, there was an opening where the user was vulnerable.
The Equestrian knew this and had planned to launch a counterattack after enduring the three thrusts despite having suffered a slight wound, but all of his Vitality was taken away by what was supposed to be a light wound in his side, sapping his strength.
This was the effect of the Bloodshed Enhancement enchantment on Fester’s sword.
“ZEYAH!” Finding the Equestrian’s opening instead, his regular thrust slipped through a gap in the Equestrians armor. The Equestrian’s eyes rolled back as he fell off his horse.
“WHO’S NEXT!” Fester roared. “COME AT ME! I WON’T LET YOU LAY A SINGLE FINGER ON LINAAA!” He was making full use of Vandalieu’s advice to endure the mental shock of having killed someone for the first time.
“Who is that?!”
The Equestrians were shaken after watching their ally fall.
“This is for Anton!” an Equestrian shouted as he and another Equestrian charged at Fester.
“You idiot, what are you provoking them for!” said Zeno.
Zeno’s arrows kept the Equestrians at bay while Kasim used the Provocation, a martial skill that forcibly directed an enemy’s hostility to himself.
“These guys are stronger than we heard they would be,” the unit’s vice-captain whispered to himself.
Kasim and his party were strong. The three of them were E-class adventurers, but they already had abilities worthy of D-class. In terms of ability, they were more than a match for the Equestrians. With Vandalieu’s enchantments added to their equipment, they had become threats that couldn’t be taken lightly, even ten against three.
To the point that the vice-captain now feared that they would all be individually defeated as a result of having split up to aim for the villagers.
What’s taking Captain Karcan so long?!
The Equestrians were supposed to have charged through both the front and back gates, cause chaos and crush every adventurer and villager that tried to resist, but at this rate, even if they weren’t defeated, they would suffer heavy losses.
Thinking that it would be bad if more casualties were suffered, the vice-captain of the unit turned to give orders to the agitated Equestrians.
“I’ll deal with the swordsman! Two of you keep the Shield-Bearer busy and the rest of you take care of the Archer!” he shouted, riding his horse towards Fester.
As someone with the Job and social position of a True Knight like Karcan, he possessed greater abilities than Fester. He wouldn’t be defeated easily if he utilized his advantage of being on horseback, even with the enchantments on Fester’s equipment.
“Shit! Zeno, try to run around!” Fester shouted as he moved to engage the vice-captain.
And then he felt something flying over his head at incredible speed.
The head of the enemy he was trying to engage vanished with the sound of a bursting fruit.
Fester and the Equestrians let out foolish-sounding noises of surprise. Not noticing that its master’s head had exploded, the vice-captain’s horse continued running right past Fester.
The long sword dropped from the vice-captain’s shaking hand.
“I almost hit the horse. It’s hard to aim this Telekinesis rifle, even though it could be useful because I don’t have to worry about the bullets exploding since they’re made of liquid Death Iron. I suppose it’s no use without a gun barrel,” said a voice from overhead.
Everyone looked up to see Vandalieu floating there, surrounded by several black, fist-sized spheres floating around him.
“Well then, I’ll go for the remaining ones the normal way.”
Before the very eyes of the Equestrians, who still hadn’t recovered from their astonishment, numerous black spears of flames appeared around Vandalieu.
“Black Flame Spear.”
Starting with the one who looked like he was about to surrender, Vandalieu released his magic at all of the Equestrians, one by one.
“Hang on – Oi! Weren’t they trying to surrender?!” Kasim shouted.
“Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself in time,” said Vandalieu. He had lied so many times now that he was starting to feel bad, but there was no helping it.
“I see… Well, I suppose it was just my imagination. They were still holding their weapons, after all,” said Kasim, having lost interest in the Equestrians who were now corpses. From his perspective, the Equestrians were simply bandits, so he hadn’t had any intention of criticizing Vandalieu for killing them mercilessly to begin with. It seemed that he had simply shouted out in surprise. “You saved us. If you were any later, things could have gone badly. It’s the second time you’ve saved us now,” he said.
“Is this all of them?” asked Zeno. “Well then, we need to clean up the corpses and gather the horses inside to make sure they don’t run away.”
“… Fester, you go and explain what’s happened to the village chief,” said Zeno.
“L-leabe it to be,” said Fester, struggling to speak.
“There is one bandit who escaped, so I am going to chase after him,” said Vandalieu.
“Are you alright on your own – Hmm, I think you are, but do you want help with anything?” asked Kasim.
“It’s fine. Rather than help me, I will ask you to take care of things here.”
Kasim watched Vandalieu fly off and then grimaced as he realized that he had to pick up the broken fragments of the enemies’ heads that Vandalieu had smashed to pieces.
“I should have asked him to just burn them all,” he muttered to himself.
Terrified at the fact that his body refused to move, as if it was now made of stone, Froto looked in despair at the countless compound eyes that were gazing at him.
Rank 3 Paralyzing Moths that scattered scales with paralyzing venom from their wings.
Rank 2 Carrion Flies that used their acidic saliva to dissolve weakened creatures as they consumed them.
Rank 3 Clear Dragon Butterflies, which could turn transparent for short periods of time.
Rank 4 Chameleon Mantises, the assassins of the forests.
And then there were the Rank 5 Cemetery Bees that had poisonous stingers and jaws that could destroy metal armor as if they were decorative pieces of candy, as well as a Rank 4 Lance Centipede with horns and a carapace tougher than iron.
To Froto, the sounds of their jaws and wings sounded like the countdown to his death.
He was an outstanding mage, but since he was fundamentally a researcher, he had little experience in real battles. Karcan had brought him not for his ability in battle, but because he knew all of the villagers’ faces.
Even so, he might have been able to manage to repel the small number of monsters present except for the Cemetery Bees and the Lance Centipede. If there was only one type of venom to deal with, he might have been able to counteract it.
But even though the monsters were all insectoids, Froto didn’t have the strength to fight against over a dozen monsters of different races, nor did he have the ability to counteract multiple types of venom.
Th-this cannot be! Someone, please save me! I’m not the kind of person that can be allowed to die in a place like this! My death would be an immeasurable loss for this nation!
His eyeballs, the only moving part of his body, searched for help, but there were no signs that any help would come. Karcan, Froto’s superior, had been killed right at the beginning, and his subordinates had quickly shared the same fate. Froto had the feeling that the spy had been among them.
Considering that, it was likely that all of the other Equestrians had been slaughtered by Vandalieu as well.
Even if there were survivors, they weren’t close enough to Froto to come and save him, and even if they did come, it was difficult to imagine that they would be able to defeat these monsters.
Just as Froto gave up hope, a crimson and purple eye appeared from behind the insectoid monsters.
“It’s been a while,” said Vandalieu. He had killed Karcan and his men in a flash, and now he was looking down at Froto. There was no emotion in his voice or on his face.
Unable to speak, Froto screamed internally.
“I’ve heard the gist of the story from the spirit of the man named Karcan,” Vandalieu continued, extending his hand towards Froto. “You were a hired mage who infiltrated the cultivation villages in order to destroy them, not a priest. Your objective was to gain a better position for yourself, it seems.”
He knows everything?! He was a Spiritualist as well?!
Froto felt surprise and fear, and cursed Karcan in his mind for selling him out so quickly after dying and becoming a spirit.
Wait, I stopped! I knew this attack was pointless, but Karcan forced me into it!
Before this attack, several of the other cultivation villages were supposed to have been destroyed by plans that Froto had put in place himself, and he had conveniently forgotten this. But his tongue, paralyzed by the venom, was unable to produce any words.
“It seems that you have something to say, but there is nothing I want to hear from you,” said Vandalieu. “But you really have done something troublesome.”
He had repelled bandits to protect the village. There would be no problem with that. But the fact that the bandits were actually knights was a problem.
Normally, Karcan and his men would have been treated as a shame to all knights. But there was the fact that the cultivation project to alleviate the refugee problem was actually a plan to leave the people to fend for themselves, and the fact that Karcan had been acting according to Lucas’s will, even if he had been making decisions mostly independently towards the end. Thus, it didn’t seem that things would end so simply.
It seemed that they had come out on the pretense of going on an expedition, but… It was certain that the people of the Knights’ Order would realize that the missing Karcan and his men were the bandits who had been massacred in the cultivation villages.
When that happened, what would they do? It would be convenient for Vandalieu and the cultivation villages if they didn’t make a move.
If the Knights’ Order and the noblemen acted as if nothing had happened and treated the death of Karcan and his men as them having gone missing during their expedition, then nothing would happen.
However, considering what had happened up until now, Vandalieu had no faith in the Hartner family or the noble families close to the Hartner family.
They would definitely try something.
“If I knew they were knights before I killed them, I could have taken them alive and possibly tried various things to cover it up, but… your disguises were too elaborate,” said Vandalieu. “To actually die so quickly like real bandits, how unf… I suppose going as far as to say that would be unreasonable.”
Vandalieu’s hand drew steadily closer to Froto. Froto was waiting in suspense, wondering when black flames would appear from that hand, when claws would extend from its fingers.
But that didn’t happen. Vandalieu’s hand lifted Froto’s face up. Froto wondered whether he was being spared.
Thank you, truly, thank you! I’ll tell you everything I know, and I’ll do anything for your sake! So spare –?!
Insects silently emerged from Vandalieu’s cold hand that was touching Froto’s cheek.
Just as Froto saw the eyeless heads of numerous colorful, venomous-looking Worms coming out of Vandalieu’s hand, their long bodies began twisting and crawling over his face.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” said Vandalieu. “These are creatures that live as parasites in the bodies of other creatures. They can infest all kinds of places, like the brain or other internal organs. I’ll tell you now that your consciousness will not be taken over. You will feel the pain and everything else vividly.”
The slimy parasite creatures began entering Froto's body through his mouth, nose and ears.
He let out stifled screams.
Watching him tremble and convulse ominously, Vandalieu made a confession. “I’ll say this now because perhaps you haven’t noticed. I am very angry.”
Vandalieu felt anger and disappointment at Froto’s betrayal. He had admired Froto and thought he was a good person for a believer of Alda.
But he had betrayed Vandalieu like this. Vandalieu wanted to erase the past where he had worried for Froto’s safety.
“Well, as you were a spy to begin with, I’m sure you thought that I was a fool for not noticing,” Vandalieu continued. “Your eyes are telling me that I was a fool to be deceived, too.”
I’M NOT THINKING ANYTHING LIKE THAAAAAT!
The voice of Froto, who was still alive, couldn’t be heard by Vandalieu.
Vandalieu waited for the parasites to finish infesting Froto and then grabbed his body.
And then Froto’s body silently began entering Vandalieu’s hand.
W-WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MEEE?! SOMEONE SAVE MEEEE!
With his screams unheard by anyone, Froto disappeared inside Vandalieu.
“This is an underhanded trick, but I can equip creatures infested by parasitic insects with Insect Binding Technique,” Vandalieu explained.
In order to use Dungeons to transport the Ghouls who had been living in the Devil’s Nests of the Hartner Duchy and the livestock he had received in trade with the farming villages, Vandalieu had made parasites infest them, equipped them inside his body and then teleported to Talosheim.
Of course, he had only used a single harmless parasite for each person, only having them infested just before teleporting and then quickly releasing them straight after arriving in Talosheim.
If Vandalieu transported Froto to Talosheim alive and disposed of him there, his corpse wouldn’t be found by the villagers, nor would there be even a sliver of a chance for him appearing near the village if he turned into a Ghost.
Death-Attribute Charm wasn’t flawless, so Vandalieu was sure to take precautions where he could.
But perhaps because his capacity had decreased after equipping Froto; he was now one insect short of equipping all of them.
“I suppose unexpected, troublesome situations like this arise if I equip so many insects close to my limit,” Vandalieu murmured.
Click-click-click? Pete seemed to be asking what they would do. Now that his Rank had increased and he had become a Lance Centipede, he was now larger than an anaconda.
“… Well, the gatekeepers already saw you, so I’m sure it will be fine.”
Vandalieu might be scolded a little, but it would probably be fine for him to bring Pete with him.
“Once the bandits are all disposed of, I have to set some Lemures around Niarki and Nineland. Then I have to release some Undead Insects and…”
Vandalieu’s words trailed off as he let out a sigh.
The villagers of the Seventh Cultivation Village were shocked by the bandit attack and praised Vandalieu and Kasim’s party for defending them. It was still morning, so there wasn’t a feast thrown to celebrate. They stripped the bandits of their equipment, had Vandalieu burn the corpses and bury the ashes so that they wouldn’t rise as Undead, and gathered all of the horses. Then it was noon and the celebrations began.
“Don’t go screaming my name like that!” said Lina.
“B-but I was desperate to protect you!” Fester told her.
“So I’m telling you, don’t go shouting that to everyone! … Say it when we’re alone together.”
Fester seemed to have recovered from the mental shock of having killed someone for the first time, and his relationship with Lina was moving forward as well.
Apparently, a couple consisting of an Adventurers’ Guild employee and an active adventurer couldn’t get married until one of them retired, so their goal was still far off, however.
“… I don’t really get it,” said Kasim. “But I did know that he’s liked Lina for a while.”
“More than not really getting it, it’s just lonely,” said Zeno. “Being single, that is.”
“Did you know? That Morris went and got engaged at that age, apparently.”
“Yeah, with his childhood friend… I wonder how you get a girlfriend?”
Kasim and Zeno were both staring into the distance.
That reminds me, Braga and his single companions were saying the same thing until this spring, thought Vandalieu.
“Vandalieu, you probably don’t understand at your age, but… make sure you get along with girls,” Kasim told him.
“… I’ll do that.” This was the only response Vandalieu could give, as he imagined how they would complain if they learned of his circumstances.
Also, he was staying silent about Froto, who was currently convulsing inside Vandalieu’s body.
After that, Lina, as an employee of the village’s branch of the Adventurers’ Guild, reported that twenty bandits had been repelled and paid Kasim’s party the reward… The villagers didn’t even know about the existence of the other thirty that had been defeated by the Golems.
The horses that Karcan and his men had been riding were now all Vandalieu’s. He was the one who had defeated most of the bandits, after all, so the rewards went to Kasim and Vandalieu got the horses.
But Vandalieu had no use for the horses, so he divided them among the cultivation villages. They would live new lives as farming horses.
“I’m currently still just a civilian, so if I receive money, it would count as doing business and I would have to pay taxes. So please just pay however much you want to the adventurers,” Vandalieu told the people of the other villages.
“Hmm, are you sure about that? We don’t really have anything we can offer you as a collateral…”
“It’s fine. I’m leaving all of the responsibilities of taking care of the horses to you, after all.”
And besides, if Vandalieu brought living horses back, Sam would be upset.
Vandalieu had accidentally been given a farming horse when he was collecting livestock from this region’s villages. This was the conversation that had taken place when he brought that horse back to Talosheim:
“Bocchan! You have me, and yet you would use a living horse as your legs?!”
“Sam, you don’t have to say it like you’re reprimanding your husband for having an affair…”
It seemed that Sam felt threatened by the fact that Vandalieu could spend long hours flying through the sky and had now even gained the ability to teleport between Dungeons.
Maybe I should register at the Commerce Guild as a horse leasing business.
This idea suddenly occurred to Vandalieu, but where he had obtained the horses would be problematic to explain, so it was probably best to see how things went for a while.
After that, having prepared themselves mentally during the fight against the bandits, Kasim’s party apparently managed to get through their D-class promotion exam that they took at the city of Niarki.
At that point in time, nothing had happened yet.
『The levels of the Insect Binding Technique, Coordination, Strengthen Subordinates, Strengthen Followers, Death-Attribute Charm and Throwing skills have increased!』
『You have acquired the Thread Refining skill!』
Shortly after the new year, Lord Lucas looked at his completely-petrified subordinate, feeling no desire to bring his mouth to the mulled wine that had been poured into his cup.
Lord Lucas’s office preserved the heat well, but his subordinate looked as if even his innards had frozen solid. His face and shoulders were completely stiff.
Perhaps it was not Lord Lucas that needed the hot wine, but this subordinate. However, it was not warmth, but a businesslike question that Lord Lucas gave.
“So, where is Karcan Lassen and his unit?”
The subordinate’s face stiffened even further.
The problem was that the knight named Karcan Lassen, who had planned to go on a two-week expedition, as well as his entire unit, had gone missing.
To Lord Lucas himself, Karcan’s name and face were things that he could barely recall from the corner of his mind. Karcan was the man in charge of one of the background operations conducted in Lord Lucas’s dispute with his younger brother Belton over the succession of the Hartner family.
Karcan was a man from the Lassen family, who had served as knights for the Hartner family for generations… In other words, he was a man from a family who had never risen above the mere status of knights despite having been around for generations; a very ordinary knight.
Of course, there was nothing wrong with being a mere knight. They had the splendid duty of protecting the land from monsters, criminals and enemy nations, as well as acting as role models for the soldiers and the people.
However, Karcan had desired a position above his own ability. The petrified subordinate before Lord Lucas… The captain of the Red Wolf Knights’ Order, Pablo Marton, had noticed him and entrusted him with one of Lord Lucas’s plans.
“That is… There has been no contact despite the expedition’s planned duration having already passed, and when we sent people to investigate, it was found that they were not at the expedition’s destination. Also, the Adventurers’ Guild apparently received a report that a cultivation village was attacked by about twenty bandits on horseback, but the bandits were repelled safely.”
Hearing Pablo’s response, Lord Lucas felt dizzy despite not having drank any of the wine.
“I see,” he said. “That cultivation village was attacked by twenty wealthy bandits with horses, but they repelled them successfully. That small village? … Pablo, is there any chance that there were fifty of those bandits, not twenty?”
“No; according to the Adventurers’ Guild’s records, there were twenty. However… I am thinking the same thing,” said Pablo.
In other words, it was likely that Karcan had led his unit out of the city, pretending to go on an expedition, then attacked the cultivation village disguised as bandits, where they were defeated.
A small cultivation village had annihilated a unit of three True Knights and fifty Equestrians. Even considering that they had lowered the quality of their equipment in order to disguise themselves as bandits, it was difficult to believe.
However, numerous unbelievable events had occurred in the Hartner Duchy last year.
Both the actions Karcan had taken and the fate that he had met were nothing more than more of these unbelievable events.
“I believe I ordered him not to lay a hand on the cultivation villages… No, I believe I ordered the cancellation of every secret plan after Belton’s scandal, did I not?” said Lord Lucas.
Lord Lucas had ordered all of his secret plans to be cancelled, knowing that it was no longer the time for him and Lord Belton to be pulling at each other’s feet.
Belton himself was apparently innocent, but the fact that several influential noblemen had connections to the Pure-breed Vampires caused an unbelievable scandal. If this wasn’t dealt with correctly, it wasn’t a matter of the Hartner family losing the trust of the other duke families. It was more than possible that many would demand that the Hartner family’s status as a family of dukes be revoked.
No, before that, perhaps rebellions would begin occurring all over the duchy.
It was a critical moment that could have spelled the end of the Hartner family if Lord Lucas and Lord Belton had continued dragging each other down, which was why Lord Lucas had ordered all secret plans to be cancelled, but… Why had Karcan made a move?
“That is… It seems that he was desperate for success,” said Pablo.
“I see. With people like this selected to work for us, I suppose it cannot be helped that things turned out this way.” Lord Lucas sighed as he thought about how to deal with this problem.
It would not be good to treat all of them as having gone missing in an accident during their expedition. It wouldn’t be good, but it wouldn’t be a big problem, either.
The Equestrians led by Karcan were apprentices of knights; there were the second and third sons of noble families among them as well. Of course, their families were those that supported Lord Lucas. Naturally, they knew of the conflict between the brothers.
That was why they would probably not be satisfied with the explanation that they had simply gone missing. Although it would cause some displeasure, it would be possible to silence them by brandishing the power of the nation.
However, the problem was that there was something ominous going on in this cultivation village.
“What do you think of the people in this cultivation village?” Lord Lucas asked.
“Most likely… they are threatening us, perhaps,” said Pablo.
“My thoughts exactly,” said Lord Lucas.
The Adventurers’ Guild had received news that it was twenty, not fifty bandits. Lord Lucas interpreted this as the cultivation village declaring to him, “You know that we’re keeping quiet about this for you, don’t you?”
In fact, a scandal at a time like this would be bad. Normally, scandals would be dealt with one way or another, but the king and the other dukes were currently scrutinizing the Hartner Duchy. There was no telling what kind of faults they would find with the Hartner family.
That was why knowing the truth behind the incident was more than enough for the cultivation village to blackmail him.
Thus, Lord Lucas thought that the villagers and adventurers from the village somehow managed to kill Karcan and his men in retaliation.
If Lord Lucas and Pablo had received a detailed report on Vandalieu, they would have come to a different conclusion. However, until the moment of his death, Karcan had believed that Vandalieu was someone who could be dealt with by his unit alone, so he hadn’t provided much detail in his reports out of fear that his ability would be doubted.
“Perhaps knights of the Sauron Duchy were among the refugees,” Pablo suggested. “It could even be that they are planning to establish their own independent power. There are no Devil’s Nests around there, and that incident occurred in that slave-run mine, so not many will approach those villages from now on.”
Lord Lucas sighed as he listened to Pablo’s words, realizing that he couldn’t just leave the cultivation village alone after all.
He had treated the refugees cruelly and tried to turn them into disposable, low-grade soldiers, and he had even intended to use secret plans to destroy several of the other cultivation villages. Thus, he was now unconsciously thinking of this village as an enemy that would harm him if given the opportunity.
And he couldn’t leave these people from the Sauron Duchy alone when they possessed an unknown amount of military might and political power in the Hartner Duchy that he would soon be in charge of.
“Pablo, this is your responsibility,” said Lord Lucas. “Use the Red Wolf Knights’ Order to deal with this.”