37. Facing the Demon Lord (6)
Aris approached the slaves hurriedly. The moment her walking stick was directed to the slaves, they got startled and shrunk back. This woman clearly wanted to treat them harshly too! But it was just a brief thought as their eyes grew big after witnessing how their scars got healed by the light coming out from her walking stick.
Aris smiled bitterly as she looked at the slaves and talked to the soldiers, “I have a request. Give them something to eat and drink, please.”
“Yes? But…” The soldiers frowned. For them, all they had to give to the slaves were leftovers. They believed handing any more than that to be inappropriate and a waste of food. Yet, they couldn’t help but grant her request since the hero party’s order had been dropped.
“They also need to eat in the middle of a battle. After all, they wouldn’t be able to fight well if they don’t do so.”
The slaves held both of Aris’s hands while looking at her with appreciation.
“Don’t mention it… Please don’t hate Ludin too much because he’s also working hard. Who he’s angry with now most is himself, that he couldn’t do anything about your sacrifices. So I hope…”
“Aaah! Sor-sorry. And thank you!” The slaves looked at Aris and bowed.
At that moment, a soldier approached Aris and whispered in her ear, “The Hero’s speech has ended.”
“Ah, really?” Aris smiled and walked away. She kept staring at her hands that the slaves held even as she was going to the tent where the hero was in. The blood due to abuses mixed with filthy dirt was smeared on her hands. She frowned while staring at her hands.
“…It feels terrible. Dirty and stinky. Ludin wouldn’t say I’m smelly or something, right? Well, they said thank you, so I guess it’s not an unpleasant feeling! I’ve done something nice again today! I should go and brag to Ludin!”
Aris hurriedly made the soldiers fetch some water and washed her hands. Then she finally stepped into the hero’s tent. In the middle of the military tent, a table that was used in operational meetings, a map, and wooden figures of Orc and Holy Knight were projected.
“Ah, Aris! Welcome,” Hero Ludin smiled and said. Aris also smiled back at him.
“Your speech, I could hear even from afar, though?”
“Ah, rea-really?” Hero Ludin scratched his head shyly.
The sun set as the night came, and the torches everywhere around the tent were soon lit. In the evening, the soldiers hustled about. They were busy preparing for the last battle of the border war this time around.
Aris approached Ludin, who stayed at the camp alone and kept staring at the map sharply with his arms folded.
“…So a frontal breakthrough it is, as expected? Oh, my goodness… How can I not drill through it even when I know the enemy well? Was it that the opponent’s equipment was too good? Or did they cast some weird magic? Why can’t I make a hole in their defense? I’m sure they used some low methods!” Hero Ludin shook his legs while gritting his teeth.
It had been dozens of days, but he hadn’t been able to break through the Demon Kingdom’s line of defense. A mountain range was barring his path forward, and the only entrance was the Twilight City, which was also the region of Demon Kingdom’s frontline border.
He had to conquer this city and punish all the demons for him to receive support and supplies from the surrounding kingdoms and empires. Also, if he couldn’t finish the job this time around, as an ‘incompetent hero’, his position might be forfeited. If that really happened, he wouldn’t be able to avoid the responsibilities that came with it.
Ludin gritted his teeth while cementing his determination. ‘Of course, it can’t happen! In this situation where I should raise my family’s name… how could I ruin it instead?! I’ll rather die before that!’
Aris held Ludin’s shoulder as his face darkened. “Calm down, Ludin.”
“Uh? Ah, sorry.” Ludin held Aris’s hand after he snapped back from his thoughts.
“…It seems like you’re in a difficult situation. Haha! This kind of appearance of you is so entertaining!”
“He does seem so, Big Brother. You look nervous, unfitting for a hero’s duty, right?”
Ludin got startled by the sudden sound and looked behind.
A man in his early 30s with disheveled white hair and fair skin and a sexy woman in her late 20s were standing there. The man named Bludifer was in a luxurious royal outfit, while the woman called Karina was in a full dress. Both of them were demons with the highest position, ‘Vampires’.
Aris was surprised and hurriedly aimed her walking stick. She was shivering in fear, not knowing how demons appeared here. Ludin, however, stopped Aris from doing anything rash.
“What are you doing here? Wicked vampires!”
“…Ha, your way of speaking is so strict. I don’t think that’s the right way of speaking to a benefactor, though? I already gave you all the detailed information about the Orcs’ troops and the map to go there. Tsk tsk, this is why humans are…!”
“Oh my, you can’t even defeat the Orcs even though he gave you all that help? I can’t believe you keep getting overpowered by those stupid green lump of muscles. You’re really incompetent, huh?”
Aris looked at Ludin with a shocked face. In fact, Ludin had gained intel from these vampire siblings, including geographical information about how to get near the Demon Kingdom without troubles, the number of troops and militarization status of the Orcs, and other related particulars.
But though he had all those details, Ludin couldn’t win against the Orcs’ corps even with an overwhelming number of troops. And the reason was simple, too: lack of experience. After becoming a hero, he got support from many kingdoms, but he was merely someone with a strong military force. He lacked the mind to lead such large numbers, showing a tendency of falling behind in terms of experience and strategy as a commander and managing the troops.
Ludin made excuses at the vampires’ remarks while gritting his teeth. “Who would believe a wicked vampire?! It was your information that was weird! The map might be accurate, but the number of orc bastards was too big! The quality of their equipment was also much better!
“Moreover, I’m sure they used strange magic! Or else, it would be impossible for the strong Holy Knights to experience that! Don’t you think so?! They must’ve used some cowardly moves!”
“…Oh my, are you using such a lame excuse? Did you hear that? Big Brother! This hero’s eyes must’ve been rotten. Oh my goodness… On top of that, coward? He’s not thinking that he used tactics after confidently making the Holy Knights charge frontally, right? Huhu!”
At Karina’s ridiculing voice, Bludifer also licked his lips and said, “I know, right… Though he does smell like delicious blood, is it just the smell, I wonder? Will an empty-headed dude really taste any good?”
Both of them burst into loud laughter. The moment Ludin pulled out his holy sword, the two vampires got surprised and grinned. “Are you thinking of going against us? Hero, you truly mustn’t be that wise, huh. Even if you fight against me… you won’t be able to cut the Demon Lord’s throat, though?”
Ludin’s eyes grew bigger at Bludifer’s mocking way of speaking, his heart clenching in fear. ‘The Demon Lord?! The Demon Lord is here?!’
Bludifer slanted his eyes at Ludin’s reaction. “Yes. The Demon Lord has arrived in that city. I came to tell you that.”
“…Is that true?”
“Would I dare to give you fake information?”
Bludifer glanced at Hero Ludin, his eyes displaying his inner thoughts.
Ludin gripped his hands tighter at the obvious look in the demon’s eyes that were filled with mockery.
“…Why are you helping us? You’re a demon, after all?”
“Just for fun… If I say that, you wouldn’t believe me, right? It’s simple! I want the Demon Lord to die! Because she’s such an eyesore female…!”
Ludin immediately understood what the siblings in front of him were trying to do: Coup d’état!
The two vampires were thinking of taking over the Demon Kingdom. But that wasn’t a problem for Ludin. His goal was to kill the present Demon Lord, and he never had any thought about killing whoever would be the next Demon Lord. He already had his hands tied with taking care of himself now.
If what the two vampires in front of him said was the truth, he would be hailed as a hero that took over the Demon Kingdom’s frontline border city and even killed the Demon Lord. If that really happened, he would gloriously revive his family’s name. But then if he failed, the family’s name would be destroyed, and he would get punished as well. He couldn’t even fathom what his outcome would be.
Ludin swallowed drily as his thoughts galloped. “It’s not a trap, right? Because even if it is, as long as I throw myself into it, your frontline will collapse!” he said confidently.
Karina laughed at his remark, and Bludifer also smiled contentedly as he said, “I believe that. I hope you can sweep the Orcs away… and kill the Demon Lord for sure as a bonus!”
Their bodies gradually turned into a bat-shaped black fog and disappeared out of the tent.
Aris looked at Ludin and asked, “…Ludin. What just happened?”
“I struck a deal with them.”
“Oh my goodness…! You believe the demons?”
“No, I don’t! I don’t believe such wicked beings. But…”
But he was already pushed into a corner; if he returned empty-handed, the Holy Kingdom would scalp him. Ludin gritted his teeth. He was planning on leading the Holy Knights as the spearhead to charge headlong into the Twilight City a few hours later.
“Yes. I did. This is why they say humans are stupid, controlled by their desires. Even though they became heroes for their race, in the end, they might be disposed of because of the humans; that’s what a hero is!”
Karina doubled up while replying.
“That human, I want to eat him! I want to catch and eat him! How fresh the blood of a hero would be…!”
Karina’s fair face reddened as if she were aroused. She bit and sucked on her finger, as though she was forcing herself to hold back.
“Well, the blood of the Demon Lord is more tempting for me…! That female scent smells so good! I just want to catch and ripen her as livestock. But there’s something more important to deal with for now.”
Bludifer looked at the orcs’ bivouac. The Demon Lord and the orcs were surely present there. “The Demon Lord isn’t in the capital of the Demon Kingdom, nor are the nettlesome Apostles! The orcs’ general Karakul and the ogre’s royal soldier Kuman are with the Demon Lord.”
“The military engineering supply unit Kolbo is not here as well. Well, though even if they were, there I could beat them down by myself anyway! I should put off the troublesome things as much as possible. Shouldn’t we use our brains a bit? There are some other Apostles, but it would be enough to beat them down with only the slave wolves. What I’m saying is I don’t have to do it myself! Haha! I’m smart, aren’t I?”
“You’re cool, Big Brother!”
Bludifer’s eyes sparkled in delight.
“The throne is empty. And the Demon Lord’s assistants are split up fighting with the heroes. Ha, there’s no better timing than this!” He hugged Karina. “Let’s go, sister! To the capital! Let’s go and sit in the vacant seat! I will be the Demon Lord. I will rule everything as a Lord! The demons would be slaves, and let’s throw up a festival of blood where humans would be livestock!”
Bludifer and Karina laughed together as their bodies became fog and disappeared, flying far away. A black crow that had been watching them from the Hero’s Allied Forces’ side tilted its head with its golden eyes twinkling.
“Is it a coup d’état…?”
Karakul looked questioningly at Tom, who was walking in the orc’s outpost, at the sound of his mumble and asked him, “What are you talking about?”
“…Well, I think it’s better to handle the hero’s party now.”
“…Did you, by any chance, find out new intel?”
Tom could reconnoiter by summoning crows. Their eyes and ears could penetrate better than any demon, and they could catch even small sounds. If he had summoned a crow and was snooping around the hero’s camp, he must’ve bumped into something.
“Yes. It seems like the hero’s side is planning to attack tonight, probably around dawn.”
“…I see. We should prepare then.”
“On top of that, a few bats that escaped were seen.”
“By bats, you mean…?”
Karakul instinctively recalled Bludifer and Karina at the word ‘vampire’. Vampires were indiscriminate and had a violent tendency. They could live by drinking beasts’ blood but had a hobby of enjoying the blood of humans and demons, raided small villages or downtown areas—on a larger scale, and extorted blood.
In short, they were creatures that impulsively followed their instinct, so they also ravaged humans without any rhyme or reason, piling up anger and hatred. That was also the primary reason why the image of demons was perceived as ‘demons eat humans!’
‘Even among the vampires, Bludifer and Karina are overly evil. Those bastards, are they scheming something?’
Those two had a track record of indiscriminately raiding humans and demons at the Demon Kingdom’s frontier, thirsting for blood. Karakul wanted to suppress them, but they were opponents that he was reluctant to fight against. That indicated how strong they were, and the slaves they managed—the werewolves—were mighty warriors that were hard even for orcs to defeat.
“The vampire said something about ‘sitting on the throne’.”
Karakul’s eyes grew bigger in shock. Even if they were high-rank vampires, they lacked the strength to fight against an army consisting of powerful demons and the Apostles. Besides, the Apostles had crowned Lily as the Demon Lord while keeping him in check because they knew if he became the Demon Lord, the Demon Kingdom would be ruined entirely. Though someone powerful should be the Demon Lord, someone that did things impulsively just to shed some blood was also inappropriate for the position.
“…What are you going to do?”
Karakul had to give up the Twilight City and turn the Demon Lord and the troops to at least run after the vampires and catch them while they still had a chance. He needed to do it to block the coup d’état. In this situation where even if he contacted the capital, there were no troops to respond to the emergency. It would be hard to stop the vampires with only the remaining Apostles.
‘I can’t stop them with only the Orc army and myself. But one of the 12 Apostles, Kuman, is also here.’
2nd on the rank, Kuman the Ogre’s Royal General was there as the Demon Lord’s guard. With him, even though he couldn’t kill the vampires, he would be able to at least kick them out.
Karakul asked Tom for his opinion, but he smiled after thinking carefully and said, “Let it be.”
Karakul stiffened but soon bowed his head.
Even though curiosity rose up at the back of his mind, what he had to do now was to stop the hero’s party. If he faltered in his defense, it would be the same as putting the Twilight City under fire and opening the way for humans to invade the Demon Kingdom.
The ogres were standing in front of the outpost where the Demon Lord Lily Golt was at.
Most of them were 4m with bulky builds, and the weight could be felt through just their appearance—their whole bodies were wrapped in an armor made of demon’s bones, including the helmets. Still, there were others that were even bigger and gave off a much stronger impression than them.
Ellin got into the orc’s bivouac, her face lightening up as she saw the ogre.
“…Ah! Mr. Kuman!”
Her build reaching 5m, a pair of horns on top of her head, and fangs sticking out from her mouth, her fist was like a big rock, and her skin seemed solid and stiff, just like armor.
Even so, she was clad in heavy armor, feeling out of place—It seemed as though one could pierce through her armor with an ordinary sword, they wouldn’t be able to puncture her skin. Additionally, the mace Ellin was holding appeared to be more than twice her height.
One of the 12 Apostles, the Demon Lord’s bodyguard, protection, and the one that directed the ogre cavalry, a collaborative strategy with the orcs, was an Apostle named Kuman. 2nd on the rank, he was also the second monster to vampires that possessed absolute power.
“It’s been a long time, Ellin.”
Kuman bowed his large body and looked at Ellin. Even though he spoke slowly, his body was reacting fast. Happy to see Kuman, she also tiptoed, pretending to make herself taller and then lifted up both her hands.
“Whoa… you got taller, didn’t you?! You’re still growing in height, right?”
“We don’t grow taller. But did Ellin you?”
“I’m tall enough! For doppelgangers, transformation is useful, so it has nothing to do with age.” Ellin smiled faintly.
“I heard that you rescued someone of my kind, huh? Thank you.”
“You’re welcome! We live helping each other out!”
Kuman tilted his head. “Is that so? If you need a hand later, tell me. I’ll help.”
Ellin nodded at Kuman. “You’re cute as expected, just like the mascot that represents the Demon Kingdom. You might be gaining more popularity than slimes!”
“Thanks. But I think slimes are cuter. Besides, they’re small. That’s why I like them.”
Ellin looked at the tent through Kuman’s legs. “Uhm… What about Ms. Lily…?”
“She’s inside. You want to meet her?”
“Really?! Thank you!”
“But, the orc’s corps commanders are here too.”
“What…? Those stuffy old men? Ugh… Ms. Lily must be feeling suffocated for sure!”
Kuman smiled at the sight of Ellin getting worried. “Still, try to go in. She would be happy that you came.”
Ellin fixed her posture and cleared her throat as her outfit gradually started to change, transforming into a uniform made of black, neat clothes.
Doppelgangers characteristically had the quality to just alter parts of their body; they didn’t need clothes as a result. That was also why they didn’t need separate weapons since they could make swords, armors, and shields. Still, such hard properties required them to extend and use their bones to be built, and they felt the same pain when their armor got cracked.
Moreover, for clothes, since it was also skin, they couldn’t help but get sensitive because of the feel of it on their own skin. In that sense, Doppelgangers wore clothes like hoodies when they made clothes personally from their bodies.
She took off the hoodie off her uniform and passed it to Kuman. “Please watch it for a while!”
She then went into the tent with a nervous look on her face.
— Ω —