68. Aylans Kingdom (3)
‘In reality, there isn’t a need for security.’
Tom had strength similar to a Hero while Ellin had also trained enough to stand toe-to-toe with the average Holy Knight. With the two of them, it would be more than safe to travel… The problem, however, was that they were too conspicuous in trying to deal with this incident.
The Werewolves looked at each other, while Wolf watched Tom, seeing him shake his head.
‘It’ll be a bigger headache if you step in,’ was the message implied through their silent exchange, and Wolf was tactful enough to understand and nod in agreement. There was bound to be chaos if Werewolves appeared, but they still needed to do something, so they opened their mouths and howled.
The howl of the Werewolves rang throughout the forest and beyond, surprising and frightening the bandits.
“W-wait… What was that? A wolf? Was that a wolf?”
Hearing the uncertainty in the bandit’s voice, Tom didn’t miss the opportunity to fan the flames.
“That sounds like the cry of a Werewolf.”
“A Werewolf? Like the Demon!?”
“Yes, I ran into one while traveling. They’re horrifying and violent things. When they see a human… they just rush in mindlessly, hoping to tear into their flesh.”
Seeing his men losing their cool, their leader frowned and said,
“Are you sure that’s really a demon? Isn’t this bastard lying…?”
When the bandit leader voiced his doubts and turned to the forest, another set of cries was heard. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was slowly approaching their location.
The bandit leader’s face suddenly grew pale.
“I-is it a wolf? Or is it really a Werewolf? Let’s just book it for now! No, they might still be far away! The kids…! At least, take the kids! It’ll be dangerous if we miss this opportunity! It’ll be winter soon! We won’t be able to do this work once war breaks out! If we’re going to survive in the mountains over winter, we need to grab everything that looks valuable!”
At their leader’s command, the bandits grabbed the lightweight children. These young ones were nothing more than walking sources of gold. They would sell them as slaves to keep themselves warm through the winter.
“Wait…! What are you trying to do with the children!”
“Please, anything but them…!”
The parents shouted at the bandits who were trying to take their kids away. They grabbed onto the bandits’ legs and begged, but the bandits didn’t want to wait around any longer if demons were nearby. They began to swing their weapons wildly.
“Let me go! I’ll kill you?!”
“Shit, these bastards-!”
The bandits kicked at the refugees. Ellin was surprised by their actions as a woman, who looked like a mother, endured a flurry of kicks while protecting her daughter.
Ellin just watched the scene, dumbfounded, before one of the bandits noticed her and tried to drag her along as well.
“Ey! You come too, bitch! E-ey…?”
But his anger turned to confusion when he felt the strength leave his arm. Looking back, he found his wrist bent in a strange direction, as though his bones had been turned to dust. The muscles in his arm couldn’t retain their shape.
After staring at his limp arm for a moment, the bandit began to scream in pain after the shock wore off. Ellin jumped in surprise, then smiled at Tom awkwardly to show that she had reacted unconsciously.
“S-sorry… I wasn’t aware of it… but since it’s already happened… it should be fine?”
“…It should be okay if we keep it at an appropriate level.”
Ellin nodded in response to Tom’s warning.
“I got it! It’s fine if we hold back a bit, right?”
Tom shook his head helplessly.
When the bandits looked at her in shock, Ellin threw her body toward the mother and grabbed the bandit that had kicked her by the head, slamming him onto the ground. The bandit’s skull cracked like a watermelon, and blood gushed out. As the mother and daughter trembled in fear, Ellin reassured them.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, ah, yes. W-we’re fine.”
The mother and daughter looked dumbstruck, but they tried their best to nod their heads.
Seeing Ellin began to fight back, the bandits hesitated. In reality, they weren’t all that experienced with banditry. They mainly picked weak targets to ambush, and as their targets gave up all too easily, they hadn’t expected it to be different this time either. But for there to be such a struggle…? All because of a woman as well! They couldn’t help but be hesitant.
“Shit, what are you all doing! They said a Demon is coming! Don’t dawdle because of a single woman!”
The bandit leader looked at Ellin, and upon seeing her face properly for the first time, his face turned red as he stared at her, stunned.
“I see. I understand now why you bastards won’t give her up. Okay! I’ll bring the bitch with me! There wasn’t much of a haul today, so I can ease my nights with you at least…!”
The bandit leader approached Ellin and held out his hand. His thick muscled arm twitched as he grabbed her shoulder and pulled on her roughly, but she didn’t budge an inch.
The bandit leader looked surprised, and Ellin took the opportunity to grab his hand. His arm immediately bent and the awful noise of bones breaking could be heard.
“Uwaaaa! It hurts! It hurts…! I-it’s broken… Uwack!”
The refugees spectating the fight were left shocked by the turn of events. This slim woman was fighting the large bandit leader who was twice her size, and winning. Those that weren’t aware of the situation might have believed it was just two people acting.
Halsem looked at Ellin and trembled in fear. They were people that had turned a whole territory into a desolate land. Mere bandits were no match for them.
‘W-we have to run! Getting caught by these two is terrible news!’
As he hurriedly got back on his wagon, someone grabbed Halsem’s shoulder. He jumped in surprise and turned around with a stiff expression.
“… It’s been a while, Mr. Halsem.”
The one who had turned the Golden Fief into a desolate wasteland and drove the continent into hysteria, the Devil of Lania, was smiling behind him.
Canibar Territory, a border territory of Aylans, was more of a strategic military fortress than a city. Also, as it stood between the rest of Aylans and the Holy Kingdom, it had become crowded with refugees.
Accordingly, there were often many visitors arriving at Canibar, but they weren’t always good people. During these tumultuous times, spies from neighboring nations or an agent of the Holy Kingdom might enter as well. This was a period that required the most caution, but the lord that governed this place continued to accept all foreigners.
The Lord, Count Shabel Canibar, was a gracious man, well-known for his great character. He was also soft-hearted, and thus, refused to callously abandon the refugees. That did not mean he was completely incompetent, though. Instead, he was vicious to his enemies, and he was a veteran of defensive wars with his oppressive tactics, giving him the moniker ‘The Iron-clad Castle Wall’.
Despite the hassle, Shabel had each and every refugee thoroughly searched before letting them through. Currently, he was thanking the ones who had saved the refugees that were ambushed by bandits.
“I am grateful. You’ve protected our Aylsandians as they fled the borders. I’m not sure how I should express my gratitude…”
There was a table with a cup of tea in front of Count Shabel. There was also a small pouch filled with money, as remuneration. It was a token of gratitude from Count Shabel for helping the refugees safely arrive at the Canibar Territory after they were ambushed.
“In any case, it is truly amazing. You’ve helped others in such a way. Even without any financial incentives! So the name was…” Count Shabel spoke to one of the three people sitting on the sofa before him. “…Mister Halsem? Are you a merchant…?”
Halsem sat awkwardly. His pale face was drenched in a cold sweat as he continued to peek to his right without saying a word.
“Ah, our merchant boss is very humble. Look, he’s prepared jobs for a couple of muscle-heads like us.”
Halsem twitched upon hearing Tom’s explanation, and then looked to his left.
“Yes, that’s right. Our boss is a very kind person!”
Ellin nodded emphatically. Halsem was so addicted to gambling before because of the thrill, but, presently, he was experiencing enough thrill to make his heart stop.
‘I don’t want this kind of thrill!’
This pair of people—no, monsters with human faces, sitting on both sides of him had ‘requested’ his cooperation. They were asking for him to help them enter Canibar with his identity as a ‘merchant’. As merchants often hired mercenaries, they wouldn’t draw any suspicion. Also, they had helped refugees, making it that much easier to operate with the favor of the local lord.
‘More than anything, there is already a merchant’s certificate drawn up in Halsem’s name. As in, he already has the identity as a merchant, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem to move around.’
The only issue was that he was registered as a merchant of crafts, but that could be changed at any time. To a Slave Merchant, that is.
Count Shabel looked strangely at Halsem’s pale face.
“You are looking quite pale. Are you unwell?”
Halsem tried to respond to Shabel’s question.
‘What should I do? Tell the truth? What should I say…? Won’t these monsters kill me if I speak the truth? But if I don’t…?’
Halsem recalled the events in the Golden Fief. The Devil of Lania had descended in that place, causing hundreds of Undead to appear and swallow the region whole. The only saving grace was that the atrocious Undead and the Devil of Lania himself had vanished, causing the entire territory to remain abandoned.
‘What if the same thing happens in this place as well…?’
It was a huge problem! Countless would die! In that case, it was smarter to just let them know of their identity!
Halsem tightened his fists.
‘Be brave! Have the courage to save others!’
When Halsem tried to speak, Ellin whispered into his ears.
“I’ll chew you up?”
Halse immediately froze and shut his mouth. It wasn’t that difficult for him to tell whether she was joking or not. She was a Demon, and it was well-known that they ate humans.
He spoke to Shabel, who was looking right at them.
“N-no, it’s not…hing… My stomach… is a bit upset…”
Halsem replied while avoiding his gaze. He had ended up submitting to his fears. Shabel looked surprised at his response.
“Is that so? Then let me call the mages right away. Ah, I have moved all your luggage to my estate. It won’t bother me if you choose to stay a few days there. Also…” Shabel looked apologetic on this final point as he scanned the three companions. “Would it be okay if I inspected your luggage? I would also like to see your identity cards. As these are such times, we must maintain our security.”
Tom peered over at Halsem, who remained limp, having given in to defeat. So, Tom spoke in his Halsem’s place.
“Yes, of course.”
The estate’s guest room was humble. It had an appropriately sized table and bed, along with simple furniture such as a shelf and a sofa. Ellin jumped onto the bed immediately upon entering the room. She felt drunk on the soft sensation of the sheets and rolled around on top.
“Aaaah-! So good! This feeling…! Humans are so clever! How did they make such a bed? The straw beds in the Demon Kingdom are so rough!”
‘Are those really beds?’
Tom smiled bitterly at Ellin’s words. In reality, he was also thinking of the beds they were used to; they were of primitive design, with only a piece of cloth on top of some straw. If one put in a bit more effort into it, they would use bamboo as well. It was like heaven and hell in comparison to the ones made by humans.
Tom looked to the side. Halsem was sitting on the sofa, bouncing his leg with his hands clasped together, muttering to himself like a madman.
“I-I’m going to die. I’m going to die…! I’ll be eaten and killed! I’ll be chewed up and killed…!”
“…Just what did you say to him?”
When Tom spoke to Ellin, she simply waved her hand dismissively.
“Hm? Ah, well… I was so happy that we’ve met after so long. I joked around with him without meaning to…”
“It looks like he’s traumatized because of the joke.”
“I-is that right…? Ah, I’m also sorry. I promised to move without drawing any attention, and it ended up like this…”
Ellin looked worried, in case she had caused wrinkles in the plans. It wasn’t good for them to have met human nobility. However, Tom shook his head reassuringly.
“No, it is rather a good thing. It would have been different had we arrived here with a traveler or mercenary identity at a time like this.”
If they had been refused entry due to the current political climate, they would have had to sneak in during the middle of the night.
“The biggest problem is that security is tighter than I reckoned. Well… I thought we could just move the Dwarves after purchasing them, but we might catch unwanted attention if we purchase close to a hundred of them. Rather, we might be suspected of being an agent of the Holy Kingdom, redirecting valuable labor away from Aylans.”
“Is that so? Well… there must be no way to send them to the kingdom after buying them now.”
Tom shook his head in response.
“It isn’t that there is no way. There is still Warp Magic.”
He was aware of the coordinates of the Demon Kingdom, and he had drawn out the seal of Warp as well. At Tom’s level, he should be able to move a hundred or so Dwarves at a time.
‘…The problem is that the limit is about 100. Would it be okay if we move them a day at a time?’
Warp magic required a dozen people to move even a single person, with mana consumption in proportion to the distance traveled. There were many that said ‘such magic shouldn’t exist in the first place’, or ‘it’s only used in emergency situations’. It was so extreme that people said it was magic made by perverts that enjoyed mana exhaustion. Even for Tom, about a hundred was his limit.
“W-what are you planning on doing with me?”
Tom and Ellin looked at Halsem. He mustered all his courage to look them in the eyes but ended up lowering his gaze again. He stuttered fearfully.
“A-are you going to eat me? O-or are you going to make me into an undead?”
Tom smiled in response to Halsem’s question as he sat down on the sofa across him. There was an oppressive atmosphere around Halsem, like a prisoner waiting for his execution as he continued to peek at Tom again and again.
Tom looked serious while trying to speak to Halsem again.
“I wish to ask for your help.”
“Help? Hah… w-what kind of help? Mister Holy Knight… No, monster…!”
Halsem pointed his finger at Tom. When Tom smiled, he pulled his finger back and retracted his attitude immediately.
“Even if you call me Sir Monster, I will still be hurt.”
“I-in any case… W-what do you want…? For someone like you, you shouldn’t need help from someone like me, right? You’re not trying to ask me to help you make this whole territory into hell? I-I might be some gambler that makes a living off the backs of others, but I’m not that cold! I-I won’t take part in it!”
“No, no. We don’t wish to make any kind of spectacle. We’re not some perverts drunk on murder…”
When Halsem asked him seriously, Tom simply scratched his head and looked troubled.
“Yes, we have only come here with one objective.”
“That objective is…?”
“To buy slaves.”
— Ω —