34. Facing the Demon Lord (3)
Tom, who had crossed the ridge of the mountain range, took a bite out of the sandwich in his hand and chewed on it for a while. He looked around with the telescope that was gifted to him by Kulvo. It had a telescopic strength of 2.
Tom spotted the encampment of the Hero’s Allied Army. He could discern that they had fortified with something similar to a barricade made of some equipment well covered in cloth. The well-equipped Holy Knights were busy while the soldiers were gathered in a line, prepared to lay a siege.
In the distance opposing them, there was a bulwark constructed of tree spikes crudely embedded into the ground, which made up Demon Kingdom’s frontline fortress. There were orcs wearing primitive leather armor and worn-out equipment, often holding weapons they had gathered from dead soldiers.
‘By their numbers and equipment alone, the Hero’s Allied Forces looked superior, but…’
“…Why do they look so pitiful?”
The corpses littering the battlefield in the distance were mostly that of humans. It looked as though Karakul was easily fending off the invaders.
‘Well, he had been standing against the Hero’s party for dozens of years. After all that experience, he should be rather competent at it. The average person shouldn’t stand a chance.’
“In any case…”
Tom scratched his head, looking troubled.
‘That Goblin, why did he lead me to the Hero’s Army?’
He was closest to the camp of the Hero’s Army. It was close enough that he would be able to arrive by foot in a day. The goblin must have sent him in this direction after seeing Tom’s outfit.
‘Well, it would indeed have been a big deal if I tried to cross over the demonic border with this attire.’
The demonic army would have definitely not let him in. Regardless, he couldn’t turn back now.
‘Should I change my appearance?’
‘Something similar to Demons…?’ Tom looked around his surroundings; all he could see were grass and wildlife. He blinked and clapped as he thought of an idea.
The night approached quickly, and the two forces held torches to fight the encroaching darkness. The entrenchments became lighter, and the orcs defending the Demon Kingdom’s borders let out a long yawn.
They had been facing the assault from the Hero’s Army. They didn’t care if it was day or not as they continued to launch the offensive. They used slaves as meatshields during the day and poured siege equipment to dish out attacks during the night.
The defenders had managed to fend off these attacks effectively, but they couldn’t help but be exhausted. The orcs clad in leather armor and shabby spears felt something get near them from the front and put on wary expressions.
“What is it? Who approaches?”
The orcs watched the one drawing near in the darkness. The figure was wearing a hood, but they could see that his body was covered in leaves and an animal hide from head to toe with a crudely made horn assembled from branches attached to his head.
Anyone looking at him would see the person as a lunatic based on his appearance, but that was from the human perspective. The orcs tilted their heads and narrowed their eyes as their gaze swept across the figure standing before them cautiously.
“Who are you? Why have you come to this place?”
Tom, the monstrous figure standing before them, pulled down his hood a bit further before answering the orc’s question.
“I’m a lost demon. Would it be possible to be a burden for a little bit…?”
“… Are you an Other Kin?”
The orcs approached him, their eyes sweeping across his body and their noses sniffing around for every bit of his smell. For Other Kins, it wasn’t just their eyes that judged appearances. Instead, they recognized each other with not only their faculty of sight but also used their sense of touch and scent, even comparing cries, often enough. In the case of orcs, they relied more on the other’s voice and smell to differentiate each other than appearance.
“…Hm? This guy, he smells like a human?”
“Are you sure that the smell is of a human? It’s similar, but… a bit different? I can also smell faint scents of magic. He might not be human…”
“There are black mages among humans as well, remember? They have magic power too!”
Tom looked back at them and lied through his teeth.
“Ah, if I smell like a human, it’s because I’m a mixed blood.”
The watchmen looked even more repulsed. No one could say for sure which side people of mixed blood stood on. There was almost no chance that they allied themselves with humans, but there were some poor demons that grew accustomed to them and were used by them in the end.
The orcs spoke to Tom warily.
“How will you prove it? Prove you’re not with humans! Just know that we’ll chase you out after beating you to a pulp if you are!”
An orc roared and threatened him. Tom held both his hands to his ears due to the loud sound. He then simply smiled and replied, “A proof, huh… Well, something like that… Ah! How about I insult the God that humans praise? Mm… damned God? Artarrk, that rotten bastard?”
“…Even a half-blood also hates humans! I’ve heard that those that mock their God receive horrendous torture.”
The orcs appeared disgusted, but they looked at each other awkwardly.
“That’s still not enough!”
“Don’t you have more proof?”
Tom raised his head at their words. Inside the dark hood drawn deeply around his head, a golden light began to shine brilliantly. The orcs who saw this were surprised and retreated instinctively. Even though they were flabbergasted, they managed to calm their hearts.
“Y-your eyes are shining! It’s glistening even more than the gold refined by the midgets!”
“H-he’s a demon for sure! There’s no way a human would have that kind of fierce eyes!”
There really was no way for a human to have eyes that could cut through the darkness like his.
“So, is this bastard really a wandering demon? He smells similar to humans, but a bit different as well… I can also feel some magic power.”
“Yea… What do we do? Mmm… I can’t. Still can’t do it! We have the Hero’s Allied Forces right in our sights. It’s quiet now, but we don’t know when they’ll ambush us. If they attack, people in the campsites are more dangerous.”
The guards shook their heads. They looked to be concerned with the security of their nation but also apologetic toward Tom. After giving it a thought, they pointed toward the forest a small distance away.
“Make a camp there. We’ll bring you food and water. There are other wandering demi-humans there, so you won’t be bored.”
The average demon was accustomed to the wild. Besides, there were some that were nocturnal, their hides and fur allowing them to withstand the cold and heat. These species could camp out anywhere except the most extreme regions. The orcs had taken it into consideration while making the decision.
Tom scratched his cheek awkwardly when he heard this. In reality, there was only one reason he had sought this place out: it was to meet Karakul. Only after meeting him could Tom hear whatever information Karakul had managed to gather and ask for more. However, it was becoming complicated as he was being held at the entrance.
‘…I guess I have to come tomorrow morning again. Well, it’s kind of an adventure to camp out leisurely in the wild!’
Tom decided to take a step back. He could see that the orcs were obviously exhausted. Regardless, they looked apologetic rather than irritated, so it would be rude to remain insistent.
Tom smiled brightly and bowed his head.
“I appreciate it.”
Tom entered the forest afterward. There was a campfire within this bug-infested area where all manners of demons were gathered. A bunch of wandering orcs, and even ogres, were seated here. They were either warming themselves by the fire lit before them or sharing some meat to eat.
“Anyone looking to cook their food?”
“Ah, I prefer it raw…”
“Oi, could you bring that hot water over here?”
“You got it.”
Tom saw them and naturally smiled. It was foreign to him to see all manner of different demi-humans, each with a different appearance, gathered to break bread.
Tom spoke to them, “Hey, can I join?”
“Hm? Ah, of course. Well, we’re short on meat, but it’s half the fun to share what we have.”
A gnoll spoke with a smile curled on his lips.
“Ah, how are you going to eat it? Raw? Or cooked?”
“I would appreciate it if it was cooked. Also…”
Tom peered over at a place beyond the camp. In the distance not too far, corpses of the Allied Army of the Hero were all lying buck naked, with the majority of them decapitated. Tom, who saw the gruesome scene with maggots wriggling and flies buzzing, looked at the meat awkwardly. The Demon Kingdom could naturally reuse their equipment, but he felt creepy about the fact that they were headless.
“Is this… human meat?”
All the demons, including the gnoll, looked at Tom in surprise. The gnoll then covered his mouth with his hands and looked as if he was forcing himself to keep from hurling.
“Y-you bastard! Do you perhaps eat humans?! You’re truly disgusting! Can you actually stomach those bastards’ flesh?”
The gnoll shouted angrily, but also covered his mouth in surprise as though he had made a mistake.
“Ah, I apologize. I have a bit of a bias, you see. Well, there are all kinds of tribes, so there out to be some demi-humans that eat humans.”
“Demons don’t eat humans?”
The gnoll looked at Tom with ridicule as if to say, ‘You don’t even know that?’
“Are you talking about demi-humans? Or are you talking about wild demons?”
When Tom grew silent, the gnoll shook his head as he continued.
“Ains don’t eat people that look like you. They would feel like a cannibal eating someone that resembles them so much, so they try to avoid eating human meat even if they’re starving. Well, as for wild demons… they don’t distinguish between human or demi-human meat.”
“Is that so?”
“…Think about it. They have the same shape as us! Those bastards also speak, walk, and use tools just like us. Besides, what do you think will happen to our digestion, eating the flesh of those crazy bastards screaming ‘For the blessing of God…!’? Uwek! My stomach is turning just thinking about it… I want to puke.”
“Really, I’ve been told that some hunt and eat wild demons, but this is the first time I’ve heard anyone say they eat humans. Well, they say humans also hunt and eat demons, so…”
Was there such a rumor?
“Ah, shoot! I made another mistake… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to look down on you merely because you eat humans.”
Tom waved his head in response.
“I was just joking.”
“Ah, that’s all?”
The gnoll looked relieved.
“Then, this meat is…?”
The gnoll waved the meat in his hand.
“Ah, this? It’s some wild demons around here we’ve hunted.”
“…Wild demons. I see. I appreciate your kind intentions.”
Looking at the big picture, humans and beasts were categorized as animals, while demi-humans and wild demons were categorized as Demons. They referred to each other differently, but they shared a lot of similarities.
The gnoll held out the cooked meat. It was dark enough to look burnt, but the inside must have been cooked well as he could see the golden color on the inside and oil drizzling out in between the hardened crust.
Tom took a big bite out of curiosity. He winced from the burnt flavor, but the meat tasted mellow with the juices making the overall taste pretty good. Rather, it couldn’t be compared to wild animals at all. It was the best tasting meat out of all that Tom had tried so far, and it had left such a deep impression as to cause his face to relax once more.
Tom let out an exclamation with a bright expression. He instinctively licked the remaining oily juices left on his lips.
“…Delicious! It’s a completely different taste than that of wild animals!”
“Of course! Don’t you know how precious wild demon meat is? It’s difficult enough finding wild demons, but even harder to hunt one. Still, their supple meat tastes really great!”
“This… is dangerous. It’s the first time I’ve tasted one, but I feel like I’m getting addicted.”
Tom spoke honestly as he looked at the demon flesh. Now that he thought about it, he had heard rumors that sovereigns of the continent, such as emperors and kings, often ate demon meat. It had always remained hearsay, and the Holy Kingdom had forbidden it for being ominous, but now he wasn’t so sure.
‘That rumor could be true!’
With this kind of flavor, the nobles could be secretly eating demon meat.
An ogre, who had been watching Tom, tilted his neck curiously then scratched his bald skull. He was rubbing the bump on his head before clapping his hands together as though he had recalled something.
“Ah, I remember! You… Uh… You’re the person that hit me on the head, right? Huh? Maybe not…? That person was definitely a Holy Knight…? But… Doesn’t he look similar?”
The ogre tilted his head back and forth, looking confused. Tom was surprised and looked back at the speaker. He had never met the ogre himself since he had been at the Holy Palace for 30 years, and when he left, he had only visited the Golden Palace, spending most of his time lost in the forest. To have met the ogre in that process…
The arena at the Stronghold of Money within the Golden Region! There was an incident where he had smacked an ogre in the head to knock him out.
Tom began to sweat nervously. He was concerned whether this might lead to some commotion, but the gnoll timely spoke to the ogre in frustration.
“Ey! You must be wrong! If you just look at him… Huh? Now that I look at you, you do seem strange. Leaves… a beast’s hide… horn like branches. Mmm…? But you smell different than humans! You must be a demon! Ey! Apologize! Don’t you think you’ve hurt his feelings, comparing him to a Holy Knight?!”
The ogre put his hands together and bowed in apology in response to the gnoll’s conclusion.
“I… am sorry.”
“No, it’s ok.”
A part of Tom’s heart stung, but he decided to get over it. It wasn’t a lie anyways. In truth, his identity as a Holy Knight was a false one, and he was also not human.
“Mr. Unknown demi-human, just relax. Forget that you were compared to some dirty Holy Knight. Now, now. I’ll ask forgiveness in his stead.”
The gnoll said as such and pulled a bottle from his leather pouch.
“Ah, I’ve alcohol as well. Want a drink?”
“Thank you. I was feeling a bit thirsty.”
Tom received the pouch and took a swig. The ogre continued to watch him, however, while scratching his head, speaking sluggishly, “I was mistaken… That female Ell… what was it? Our savior… Anyways, I saw a similar Holy Knight where we met her.”
“Stupid! How can you forget your savior’s name?!”
“…But I remembered her smell.”
“Still, you should have at least memorized her name! She’s the one that brought us all the way here!”
The surprised ogre kept slapping his rotund belly in annoyance.
“It’s Miss Ellin! Miss Ellin! Remember it well…!”
Tom spat out the drink in his mouth, and because of his abrupt reaction, the gnoll sitting beside him got drenched.
“…Do you have some grudge against me?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to… Haha.”
Tom apologized while laughing awkwardly. At the same time, he also sighed in his heart. Ellin, who he believed he had misdirected within the Golden Region, had arrived at the border on the battlefront.
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