Chapter 25: The journey by carriage, pushing through the mountains
As Vandalieu and the others made a triumphant return home, they were welcomed with cheers from the Ghouls who had remained in the village.
They had expanded the village beforehand in preparation, but since the population had increased by over a hundred Ghoul women who had been held captive, it now exceeded the villages limits. But nobody cared about that.
And then the rescued Ghoul women and adventurers were allowed to rest while Vandalieu undid the Undead transformation on the food and spoils of war that had walked here on their own two legs so that they could be properly dismantled.
The tongues and eyeballs of the Kobold Mages could be used as materials for Alchemy. The fur of the Kobold Generals could be used for armor and clothing, while their fangs would make good knives.
The only thing to be gained from ordinary Orcs was their meat, but the tendons of the Orc Generals could be used to make bowstrings. Meanwhile, the tongues, eyeballs and livers of the Orc mages would be used as more ingredients for Alchemy.
And every part of the Noble Orcs bodies could be used as materials. Their meat would be used for food; their intestines would be used in Alchemy or to make medicine; their skin would be used to make leather items; their bones would be used to make armor or weapons; their genitals would be used in medicines that boosted sexual function; their golden hair would be used to weave stab-proof clothing.
And, of course, their Magic Stones.
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If one were to bring these to an Adventurers Guild, they could be paid a hefty sum for them.
「Ufufufu, materials~ materials~ I wonder what I should make~」
Its a bit gruesome but shes having a lot of fun, Vandalieu thought as he saw Tarea skillfully handling a knife to dismantle Bugogan into pieces while humming to herself. As he did so, she suddenly turned around.
「Come to think of it, Van-sama, what will you do from now」
The knife dripping wet with blood and fat that she was holding close to her face was gruesome indeed, but it seemed that she was concerned about what Vandalieus future plans were.
The Ghoul King was a role that only existed while multiple Ghoul villages unified against a common enemy; it was different to the King Title of other races like Goblins or Kobolds.
Now that the Noble Orcs had been defeated and the rest of the enemies eliminated, there was no point in Vandalieu continuing to be the Ghoul King, nor was there a reason for all of the Ghouls to continue to stay in one place. Tarea and her followers would return to their original village and go back to living their normal lives.
(That is precisely why I must take Van-sama back with me!)
Tarea held this thought in her heart as Vandalieu replied.
「About that, there is something I want to discuss tomorrow.」
「Eh! Something you want to discuss with just the two of us~」
「No, with everyone.」
「I-I guessed that would be the case. Ho, hohoho…」
That nights dinner was a feast to celebrate their victory; the Ghouls praised each others deeds over grilled skewers and soups made from Orc meat. The appetites of the women who had been held captive were particularly fierce.
They devoured the Orc meat greedily, as if in repayment for having been treated as playthings for so long.
Even the female adventurers who had only been desiring death had vigorous appetites. Right now, they only wanted to undergo the Ghoul transformation to become Vandalieus followers, so it seemed that Zadiriss advice of,「Your bodies wont be able to handle the ritual if you dont build up your strength a little」had been effective.
Vandalieu had never imagined that the【Death-Attribute Charm】skill would be effective on humans that had lost the will to live and only desired death.
「If I was on Earth right now, I could probably make a lot of friends just by standing near famous suicide spots.」
Well, if he actually did that, he would probably end up as the founder of a new religion, so even if he was on Earth, he probably wouldnt do it.
Vandalieu munched on a Noble Orc skewer as he thought about this.
The meat had been smeared with tare sauce* made from fruits and herbs that grew in the Devils Nest before being cooked. Each bite filled his mouth with the meats juice and melted fat, but the tare sauce provided it with a clean aftertaste; it was the kind of food that he could eat endlessly.
He couldnt help but to be emotionally moved by the taste of the meat.
Among the foods that he had eaten since reincarnating in Lambda, the wild boars had been tasty, but the meat of the Huge Boars that he had been eating since he starting living in this village had been even tastier. But the meat of the Noble Orc surpassed even that.
Even high-quality pork from Earth couldnt compare to this. It was so delicious that Vandalieu was sure of this, even though he had never eaten high-quality pork.
「Uu, I won, I finally won one against them…」
While eating the meat of the Noble Orc that he would definitely not have been able to taste on Earth, he felt proud of his victory against his uncles family.
The first step in the ritual to turn human women into Ghouls was to dig a hole in the ground large enough to contain all of the women undergoing it. Next, Ghoul blood and the venom secreted by their claws were added to the mud while offering prayers to the goddess Vida.
And then more mud was put back into the hole, submerging the women.
They would then be transformed from humans into Ghouls after three days.
「It just looks like were drowning them…」
Staring at the mud that Kachia and the other female adventurers had been submerged in, he repeatedly used his magic to check that he could still detect signs of their life; he couldnt help it. After all, in normal circumstances, they would be suffocating to death.
「There is no problem with this. This is the method that has been used since long ago. Though if we tried this on races other than humans, such as monsters or other races created by Vida, they would drown.」
「Van-sama, this is how I transformed from a human into a Ghoul.」
Hearing the approval of the two elders, Zadiris and Tarea, and sensing that he could still detect the female adventurers signs of life after ten minutes, Vandalieu was convinced.
「More importantly, we must continue the discussion from the other day, must we not」
A night had passed since the victory feast, and the Ghouls festive mood had faded away. They were gathered together and were waiting for Vandalieu. Including Tarea, they thought that Vandalieu would now begin discussing the allocations of the one hundred Ghoul women whose home villages had been destroyed and now had no place to go and the female adventurers that were being turned into Ghouls, the promised Magic Items that would increase the birth rate of Ghouls and Vandalieus future.
The women who had been made pregnant by the monsters would heal back to normal a few months after childbirth, and there wouldnt be a problem allocating ten of them to each of the other villages. And they had even just obtained so much food that it would actually decompose before they could finish it all if it werent for Vandalieus method of preserving it.
The female adventurers would probably all be treated as Vandalieus spoils of war. That way, it wouldnt take any time or effort to teach them various things after their transformation into Ghouls, and Vandalieu had achieved enough to deserve that.
It was strange that one of them wasnt undergoing the ritual and under Vandalieus personal care; that was probably Vandalieus favorite.
Vandalieu had promised to distribute the Magic Items when he made them. Zadiriss and Tareas villages would compete for which village would have Vandalieu stay with them, so there was no need for them to say anything about that.
The great number of Ghouls gathered here expected that these were the topics that would be discussed.
However, Vandalieu proved those expectations wrong with the tone of his first word.
「Everyone, please listen to me calmly. By summer at latest, there will be a large army of humans coming here to kill us all.」
It was April. About two months after the news that the Noble Orcs village had been annihilated by a pack of Ghouls led by a Dhampir, an extermination force of a thousand, organized under Marshal Palpapeks leadership, invaded the Devils Nest forest.
There were three hundred D-class adventurers and a hundred Class adventurers. There was also a brigade of Holy Warriors of Alda with High Priest Gordan as their leader, the B-class【Green Wind Spear】Riley who had formerly belonged to the Five-colored Blades as well as the soldiers and knights.
For the sake of perfection, the marshal had wanted to hire several more B-class adventurers, but gathering too many adventurers of B-class or above in one place would cause problems in dealing with monsters elsewhere, so he had gathered capable Class adventurers instead to create an extermination force of this size.
「Heheheh, sorry, but the Dhampir is mine. Back then, I had to let it escape because Heinz didnt agree with me, but Im free now. Ill add this to my list of achievements.」
「Do as you wish! As long as the blood of an evil Vampire and witch is stamped out, the god will give his blessings no matter who performs the task!」
The grinning Riley and High Priest Gordan whose mouth was turned down at the corners were the centerpieces of the extermination force, and everyone expected these two to defeat the higher-Rank Ghouls and the Dhampir.
Even the other adventurers and knights followed their commands.
Both of them were top-notch among adventurers, and since they possessed the strength of B-class that surpassed the boundaries of human capabilities, it was only natural that they were being treated this way as the extermination force contained no adventurers of A-class or higher.
Marshal Palpapek had constantly stationed Spies between the town and the Devils Nest to make sure that the Ghouls didnt come to attack the town, but the Ghouls had shown no movements until now.
「The Ghouls are expecting us to come to them. I can only pray to my god that they do not strike you when your guard is down, turning you into Experience Points for them.」(Gordan)
The fact that the Ghouls werent coming out of the Devils Nest despite knowing that the humans were on the move no doubt meant that they had prepared themselves and were planning an ambush. That was the conclusion that the leaders of the extermination force, including High Priest Bormack Gordan, had come to.
That was why all of the members of the extermination force looked nervous.
「I dont need you to tell me that. Theyll just become stepping stones for me to surpass that nave Heinz.」
Since Riley had left the Five-colored Blades, the number of direct requests and the way the Guild treated him had changed remarkably. He was still an obscure individual, so he was desperate to build achievements for himself by accepting the marshals request. That was why the expression on his face was that of excitement, not nervousness.
His head was full of thoughts of raising the Dhampirs severed head in the air, deepening the trust that Marshal Palpapek had in him, having a successful career and becoming a marquesss personal knight and spearmanship instructor.
And so the extermination force entered the Devils Nest and began searching for the enemy. They knew where the Noble Orcs village was, but the locations of the villages of the Ghouls who had destroyed it were unknown.
Since it was a dangerous Devils Nest, they had hesitated to send in adventurers to investigate the Devils Nest beforehand. They couldnt send Spies in, as they were weaker in combat despite their information-gathering abilities. The reason for this was because they had concluded that the Dhampir was a Spiritualist.
Spiritualists could communicate with the spirits of the dead to gain information. If the Spies and adventurers were discovered, they would be killed mercilessly and then the Dhampir would gain information from their spirits. Since the dead were talkative, they had to be careful about losing personnel.
The search for the enemy was difficult.
「Weve only found Goblin and Kobold villages. Weve encountered two or three Orcs, but not a single Ghoul has been seen.」
「Yeah, and other than that, theres been Huge Boars, the Mad Boars that are superior to them, Impaler Bulls, Iron Turtles, Giant Rats… nothing but beast-type monsters.」
It wouldnt have been unusual to at least come across a small platoon of Ghouls keeping an eye on this area, but the extermination force couldnt seem to find any Ghouls.
No, they did find a Ghoul village, but…
「No good, all we found there were Goblins who had settled in.」
There was nothing left in what seemed to be the remainder of a Ghoul village that they found.
「The Ghouls are definitely gathered all in one place, waiting to ambush us! This is bad, even though we have a thousand people, if they were to come attacking all at once…」
「So what! Im going to take revenge for Rikken, my younger brother!」
The older brother of an adventurer thought to have been killed by Orcs made this angry declaration, but nobody reminded him that it was the Orcs, not the Ghouls, who had killed his brother.
「Well, the women might have survived, but…」
「Theres a high chance that theyve been turned into a Ghoul, right We have to save their souls as soon as possible.」
The male adventurer didnt object to the words of the devout Alda follower. Even he agreed that after being treated as playthings and then turned into Ghouls, they would be happier simply being killed.
The extermination force set up an encampment in the place where the Orcs village had been as they continued their search of the Devils Nest.
However, their search turned up only monsters that werent Ghouls, and even after several days, there were no signs of the Ghouls coming to attack them.
Of course, that made no difference to the fact that they were staying in a dangerous Devils Nest, but since they had more than enough manpower gathered to deal with the normal monsters appearing in this forest, the air of tension around the extermination force began to loosen.
「More carriage wheel tracks. What could this mean」
「Doesnt that mean that weve passed through here before」
「You idiot, the carriages are back at the encampment.」
The extermination force was using multiple carriages to transport supplies. Even though this Devils Nest was a forest, there were five-meter-long Mad Boars rampaging around and knocking down trees, so there were plenty of large animal trails that carriages could travel through.
However, those carriages were either back at the encampment set up in the ruins of the Orc village or outside of the Devils Nest entirely, going back and forth from the town to bring in more supplies. There was no way that those carriages could be using this animal trail that was in a completely different direction from the town and encampment.
「Then what are these wheel tracks Do they look like monster footprints to you」
「Adventurers probably passed through here a long time ago. The lack of horse hoof-prints is proof of that; the rains washed away everything except the deep wheel tracks.」
The soldiers and adventurers here decided that this mans deduction was reasonable, so they didnt bother reporting it to the higher-ranking individuals of the extermination force.
Parties of adventurers brought carriages into the Devils Nest from time to time to transport large quantities of materials. Defeating Orcs and Huge Boars would yield a lot of meat, while cutting down Ents would yield valuable timber, but carriages were necessary to transport these items that would weigh hundreds of kilos through the Devils Nest.
There were space-attribute mages that could transport luggage in a subspace, and there were also Magic Boxes created through Alchemy by these space-attribute mages. But both of these were rare, so the vast majority of adventurers didnt have access to these.
And so these members of the extermination force assumed that these wheel tracks had been made by such adventurers.
They would discover that this was an incorrect assumption two weeks later. By that time, Marshal Palpapek and Viscount Balchesse had grown increasingly impatient and the extermination forces tension had all but vanished.
「There are carriage wheel tracks leading outside the Devils Nest! Why did nobody realize this earlier!」
Gordan shouted in rage at the subordinate who had delivered this news.
「Since the wheel tracks were heading in the complete opposite direction from the town, towards the Boundary Mountain Range, nobody paid it any attention. And while Vampires might use a carriage, nobody had thought that the Ghouls would be…」
Monsters like Goblins and Orcs generally didnt use carriages. No, they couldnt use them. They didnt possess the knowledge required to build them.
Monsters like Vampires who hid in human societies and lured humans to cooperate with them had ways to obtain carriages, but the only cases in which Goblins and Orcs possessed carriages were when they plundered them from humans.
They would use the carriages roughly without being able to perform maintenance on them and often eat the animals needed to pull them, so the carriages usually broke and were abandoned or taken apart for materials to build houses.
Even though Ghouls were far more intelligent than Goblins and Orcs, the same should have applied to them. That was why even the experienced adventurers hadnt come to the conclusion that the Ghouls were using carriages for transport.
The knights and soldiers who had been instructed to listen to the advice of the adventurers had thought the same as them.
But they had searched the Devils Nest over and over without finding a single Ghoul, and the Ghouls had never attacked. And there were deep wheel tracks leading outside the Devils Nest, as if dozens of carriages had all passed through the same place.
There was only one possible conclusion.
「Sheet, that Dhampir used carriages to run away with the Ghouls! How did nobody notice, what the hell are the spies doing!」
Riley shouted these words, but everyone knew the answer to his question, including himself.
The Spies had been keeping a proper lookout. Between the Devils Nest and the town.
What Marshal Palpapek had been cautious of was the potential of the Ghoul advancing on the town from the Devils Nest, not the possibility that they would escape in the opposite direction towards the Boundary Mountain Range to the east.
That was why all of the precious Spies had been positioned to the west, between the town and the Devils Nest.
「To think that the Dhampir leading a pack of hundreds of Ghouls would run away without fighting… Weve been tricked!」
High Priest Gordan let out these words with a frustrated groan, and the extermination forces expedition came to an end.
But other than him and Riley, who had missed out on a chance to add more achievements to his name, the rest of the extermination force returned to the town with expressions that were happy rather than bitter.
They had also missed out on the chance to gain money and add achievements to their own names from defeating the Ghouls, but they had collected quite a lot of materials, Magic Stones and body parts that served as proof of having killed monsters from defeating the other monsters in the Devils Nest. And since the nation had funded the expeditions expenses, they hadnt lost anything.
The knights and soldiers had been getting paid higher salaries for being on a dangerous expedition, and they had been eating the meat of Mad Boars and such that they wouldnt normally get to eat often, so they were very satisfied.
Viscount Balchesse was dancing for joy inside when he heard the news that the Ghouls had escaped towards the Boundary Mountain Range and the extermination force hadnt sustained any casualties. If soldiers and knights had died, he would have had to pay money to their families as compensation and find replacements for the lost personnel.
He was a little uneasy about the fact that the Ghouls hadnt been exterminated and the threat hadnt completely disappeared. But beyond the mountain range, there were countless Devils Nests so large that his entire territory could easily fit inside them, and the monsters living inside them werent on the level of Noble Orcs. It had been told since the age of the gods that numerous Dragons, which were designated as disaster-level monsters, lived there.
He had a strong feeling that there wouldnt be much difference if a few hundred Ghouls were added to those monsters.
Viscount Balchesse was more interested in the forest-like Devils Nest, whose monster population had been largely decreased by the one-thousand-strong extermination force. Since there were no longer any powerful monsters living there, if the rest of the monsters were hunted down and mages were hired to purify the tainted Mana there, there was a chance that this Devils Nest could be transformed into prosperous farmland.
With thoughts like these running through his mind, he didnt have many brain cells spare to devote to worrying about the Ghouls and Dhampir.
「To think that they would run away…」
With an expression as if he had swallowed dozens of bitter bugs*, Marshal Palpapek dispatched Spies to check whether the Ghouls had really run away towards the mountain range, and then turned his attention towards other things.
Now that the Ghouls had escaped, he would have to enter a political battle with the finance minister who would be making complains such as,「Was such a large budget really needed」and,「Could it be that you were simply planning on using the nations funds to help purify the Devils Nest in the viscounts territory and turn it into usable land」
The one who had benefited the most from this incident was Viscount Balchesse, whose territory had increased and could potentially benefit greatly in an economical sense.
And because the adventurer who had obtained the information regarding the Dhampir Vandalieu had promptly vanished and the expedition had ended in failure, none of the information that he had provided was recorded in the written reports. The only place that information remained was in the memories of a few of the people involved.
In the discussion on the day after the victory feast, Vandalieu told the Ghouls of the humans that were going to march on the Devils Nest. Naturally, their angry response was,「Well ambush those humans!」
「Weve become strong! No matter how many hundreds of humans come, we wont be defeated!」
As Vigaro raised his fist valiantly into the air, many of the Ghouls agreed with him. Their levels had increased in the battle with the Orcs, and more than a few of them had increased in Rank as well.
Indeed, the Ghouls strength in battle had grown substantially. However…
「Sorry, Vigaro. We cant win this battle.」
Vandalieu declared that they wouldnt be able to win against the humans.
「King, were strong! We wont lose to the humans!」
「With you here, we can win! Why are you saying we cant!」
「Lets fight them together!」
The Ghouls opinion seemed to be unanimous, and Vandalieu chose his words carefully as he replied.
「Yes, weve become strong. If humans attacked with equal numbers as us, we would win. But unlike Orcs, the humans will make the preparations they need to defeat us, and they will come into the Devils Nest from outside to kill us. This time, we are the ones on the defense.」
A surprise attack like when they had attacked Bugogans village would be impossible.
The humans would gather numbers and add high-quality individuals among their army as well.
「And they will keep coming at us until we are defeated. If we defeat their first extermination force, theyll send another, and if we defeat that one, another after that. There will be no end to it.」
Even if the first extermination force was successfully repelled, the shield-nation of Mirg would certainly not leave such a dangerous pack of monsters alone; they would definitely send in a second extermination force.
If this were a conflict between humans, there would be movements to find a middle-ground and suppress the conflict at this point, but Ghouls were monsters to humans. And the Devils Nest was only three days travel from the town. There would be no compromise.
Unless the Ghouls did something about the entire shield-nation of Mirg, they wouldnt stop… No, the Amid Empire would step in before Mirg came to ruin. There was simply no end to this for Vandalieu and the Ghouls.
「It is as the boy says. Since the humans originally gathered their forces to exterminate the Noble Orcs, there will be numerous adventurers and knights strong enough to have defeated that Noble Orc boss.」
As Zadiris voiced her opinion, Vigaro said no more, only giving a low growl.
But even as Zadiris spoke against Vigaros advocacy for war, she had a bitter expression on her face. They had just managed to defend the village from the Noble Orcs; it was only natural for her to feel this way.
The Ghouls werent even thinking of attacking the human town. They would be satisfied if they could just continue living in the Devils Nest as they had been up until now.
Despite that, the humans were deeming them dangerous and sending an extermination force to kill them. For the Ghouls, it was absurdly unreasonable.
And though Vandalieu didnt show it in his expression, he felt ashamed. He felt bitter that he couldnt grant the wishes of the Ghouls he thought of as his family, the Ghouls who loved him so dearly.
If he could build dozens of sturdy fortresses, erect a stone wall surrounding the whole Devils Nest and make an army of thousands of Golems, he would be able to protect this Devils Nest.
「And we have people that we need to protect.」
Most of the women that had been rescued were pregnant; they were in no state to fight.
Of course, there were also Bilde and the other Ghoul women who were also pregnant with Ghoul children.
Nobody wanted to expose them to danger.
「Yes… What we want is the survival of the species. We should choose a defeat where we save as many people as possible over a victory where we sacrifice many and only a few survive.」(Tarea)
As Tarea spoke with a sigh, the Ghouls desire for war subsided completely.
There were still many who truly wanted to fight. But Zadiris was clever, Vigaro was silent and Tarea was convinced.
In this situation, the Ghouls whose society was founded upon respecting the powerful couldnt voice their objections and simply had to agree.
「But what will we do from now Hiding would be impossible, and even if we were to run…」
Ghouls needed a Devils Nest to live in. The Ghouls reproductive capabilities declined even further outside Devils Nests and there wouldnt be enough prey to feed this population.
It would also likely be impossible for them to suddenly cultivate the land to start using agriculture for food.
「I have an idea of where we can escape to, though its a bit far away.」
However, as Vandalieu explained about the Devils Nest found by the Undead bugs that he had released in case the Ghouls were unable to defeat the Noble Orcs, the problem of where they would escape to was solved.
Their destination was a Devils Nest ruin, past the western edge of the Boundary Mountain Range.
Best of all, he had discovered that there were Undead in that Devils Nest. Because of Vandalieus【Death-Attribute Charm】skill, they would instantly become allies.
With that being solved, discussions were over quickly and the Ghouls immediately began preparing for the big move.
The first step was to deforest the Devils Nest to the point of making the Ents that lived here extinct. Vandalieu used the gathered lumber to make carriages, Cursed Carriages, one after another.
『It seems that I have many kouhais* now.』
The spirits used for these carriages were those of the Orcs and other monsters that they had killed in large numbers several days ago, so they didnt possess skills like【Precise Driving.】But as long as they were sturdy carriages that moved on their own, that was enough.
And then the female adventurers completed their transformation into Ghouls. They didnt even get a chance to get accustomed to their new bodies before they and the pregnant women were loaded into carriages to leave the Devils Nest.
Vandalieu had confirmed that there were no Spies in the direction of the mountain range using Lemures and Undead bugs, so it was not a particularly hurried departure.
And then it was April. Over a month had passed since the Ghouls had left the Devils Nest forest.
As part of the leading group of the Ghouls, Vandalieu was sitting in Sams carriage.
The road was steep, but the journey was going well apart from three problems.
「Surprisingly, the mountain range isnt anything special.」
「Its funny to say that while completely wrapped in furs.」
Cold-weather clothing for crossing the tall mountain range had been made from the furs of animals that they had hunted in the Devils Nest forest.
Ghouls were far sturdier than humans, so they were mostly unaffected by altitude sickness.
The Ghouls energy had decreased a little from having left the Devils Nest, but that was compensated for by Vandalieus【Strengthen Followers】skill. The mountain climbers of earth would question whether their current equipment was enough, but they could proudly say that it was.
The one thing that was more likely to be a problem than their equipment or materials was the road. Steep paths and cliffs that even mountain climbers would have to risk their lives to climb were frequent.
「Boy, Ill leave the road to you.」
However, as long as Vandalieus Mana didnt run out, it wasnt a problem after all.
After turning the mountain surface into Golems, he could just use【Golem Transmutation】to make roads that the carriages could pass through. If the roads were narrow, he would make it wider, and if there were steep cliffs, he would dig tunnels through them.
At first, Vandalieu had thought of using【Golem Transmutation】and his Mana to brute-force his way through the mountain range, tunneling under it instead of trying to cross over it. But a tunnel large enough to fit carriages going through could potentially cave in, and there would be huge problems if they came across an underground water reserve, so he decided against it.
And not long after the Ghouls passed through, the roads would turn back into narrow paths and steep cliffs. Worried that the shield-nation of Mirgs Spies might discover them, Vandalieu had made it so that they couldnt be followed and this turned out to be a great success.
In fact, several days later, the Spies dispatched by Marshal Palpapek around a month behind Vandalieu and the Ghouls were at the foot of the mountain range. They decided that further chase would be impossible and returned to the town.
So if there were any problems, they were… monster attacks, nursing the weakened Ghouls and the rush of babies.