Chapter 339: Failure to move on from being a lackey
“Don’t even dare ask him what he did while he was hospitalized,” Randolf warned.
“I know,” Meorilith said. “The balance of power in the Orbaume Kingdom changed in just a single day yesterday, to a degree that it can’t be concealed. The truth of what happened to cause that is beyond a mere principal of a school.”
Vandalieu and Elizabeth hadn’t said anything, but their silence was precisely why Meorilith and Randolf were troubled and making various speculations.
The house of Elizabeth’s patron, Earl Reamsand, had been succeeded by his son, and the now-former earl had been hospitalized. Duke Jahan, who had no connection to the Reamsand house, had become her new patron and guardian.
And Elizabeth herself was not even living at the mansion of the Jahan house; she and Mahelia had moved into the mansion of Honorary Countess Zakkart.
“If we used common sense to think about this… Even if we consider that common sense can’t be applied to any of these events, it likely means that Duke Jahan has formed a connection to Duke Alcrem through the house of Honorary Countess Zakkart, and is now plotting something against the Sauron Duchy. He was likely trying to have Elizabeth become head of the Sauron house and strengthen the authority and influence of both the Jahan and Alcrem houses,” said Randolf.
The other only possible option was that perhaps Duke Jahan and Duke Alcrem were considering the scenario of Amid Empire’s army being pushed back in the war, allowing an invasion of their territory, and they wanted to be in advantageous positions when it came to the distribution of the newly acquired land.
“But no matter how I look at it, I can only imagine it’s not the Alcrem and Jahan houses that are behind the house of Honorary Countess Zakkart; it’s her house that is behind them. Or to put it a different way, Vandalieu is the mastermind behind all this,” said Meorilith.
“I agree, but don’t think about it too deeply. I mean, thinking about it is fine, but don’t speak those thoughts out loud, or you’ll find yourself in over your head,” said Randolf. “It’s got nothing to do…”
It had nothing to do with them – or so Randolf was about to say, but he stopped mid-sentence.
He suddenly felt uncertain as to whether he would be able to continue being truly uninvolved.
As an S-class adventurer, he had formed connections with important nobles through accepting their commissions. He stayed as uninvolved in politics as he could, and he had no interest in politics as long as the sparks created by political conflicts didn’t land on him or those around him.
But the events of the past few years had been too large for him to remain uninterested.
Indeed, he had even disguised himself as a bard named Rudolf and gone undercover to investigate Vandalieu, even though nobody had requested for him to do so.
“It’s got nothing to do with us, but maybe we should at least prepare ourselves for the possibility that we’ll get caught up in the storm. I shall get in touch with a contact and investigate,” Randolf said, wearing an expression like the one he had worn when he was an active adventurer as he stood up to leave the room.
“Wait!” said Meorilith.
“There’s nothing to worry about. I’m just going to reach out to someone who usually is the one making requests of me,” said Randolf. “It’s nothing dangerous.”
“Nobody’s worried about anything. I know how skilled you are better than anyone,” said Meorilith. “What I want to say is… you have lectures scheduled until the afternoon, so it would be problematic if you were to just disappear right now.”
“… You’re right,” said Randolf as he was reminded that he had been hired as a teacher.
Randolf and Meorilith weren’t the only ones being affected by Vandalieu’s actions. The students of the Hero Preparatory School were as well – though many students didn’t realize that they were being affected.
“Have you heard? Duke Jahan’s house has become Elizabeth-sama’s patron.”
“Yeah, I heard. Apparently, the council suddenly convened at the royal castle yesterday, and Duke Jahan himself told the administrator of the Sauron house outright.”
“Are you serious? The administrator is Veedal Sauron, was it? The one who’s Elizabeth-sama’s older half-brother?”
“No, that’s not right. The administrator is a trusted servant of Duke Sauron; it’s not her half-brother.”
The students were boys and girls aspiring to become adventurers, but many of them were children from noble families. Thus, they were also aware of the big news that was flying around the nobles’ society in Orbaume… though they didn’t know about the fragments of the Demon King, as those who had attended the council had been forbidden from speaking of them.
“Either way, now that the Jahan house is her backer, we can’t speak carelessly about her anymore.”
“You’re right. Lately, she’s been a little… how do I put it… different.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t walk around with her followers as much as before, and she’s stopped trying to invite Alex to her party.”
“She does walk around with her followers, doesn’t she? The members have just changed.”
“Huh? Those are… her followers?”
Although the students referred to Elizabeth with ‘-sama,’ that wasn’t a form of endearment; they were either admiring her from something of a distance or trying to curry favor with her.
Currently, she was at the center of conversation in a variety of ways.
Meanwhile, Alex, whose name was being spoken as he was one of the topics of conversation about her, was currently sitting in a classroom with his chin resting on his hands.
Nothing had changed in particular for him compared to before Vandalieu came to this school. He hadn’t been restricted from using his ‘Demon Eyes of Great Appraisal.’ He’d only promised that he wouldn’t tell anyone other than his own party members about Vandalieu’s Status or the Statuses of Vandalieu’s companions, including Elizabeth and Zona.
Thus, everything was the same as before… He was still achieving exceptional grades, other than that one practical cooking training. He and his party members were still honor students at this school.
But it couldn’t be denied that Elizabeth and her companions were catching up to him.
“I wonder what it is… It’s true that Vandalieu knows my secrets, but that’s it. He’s not threatening me or anything, but I still feel like I’ve been driven into a corner,” Alex muttered.
“I think it’s because Elizabeth and her party are catching up to us. I mean, they are getting stronger at a terrifying rate,” said Robin, the dual-spear wielder in Alex’s party.
“Yes. If we were to fight them, party against party, I think it would be hard for us to win. Of course, that’s even without Vandalieu, given what you told us about him,” said Anabelle, the mage.
Elizabeth’s party was catching up to Alex’s party. Alex’s party was still ahead in grades, but they didn’t think that this would be the case for long.
That was how striking the improvement of Elizabeth’s party was.
“Real-battle training with coaching from the ‘Heart Warrior Brigade,’ and… you know, that,” said Robin.
He was being vague because of the promise made with Vandalieu. Alex had told his party that Elizabeth and her companions had received ‘Vandalieu’s Divine Protection,’ but they couldn’t talk about that at school.
“Yeah, it makes sense that they’ve been improving so quickly. Graduating at the top of our year might be hard. Not that I plan on giving up,” said Alex.
If Elizabeth and her party continued to improve at their current pace, they would overtake Alex and his party. The only way to stop that would be for some god somewhere to give Alex and his party their divine protection, and even then, that would only work if Elizabeth’s party didn’t receive further divine protections or start doing even harsher training.
Alex’s goal that he wanted to achieve before graduating was to go from rivaling a C-class adventurer’s strength to becoming just as powerful as a C-class adventurer or better. But at this rate, it seemed that Elizabeth and her party would rival or become as strong as B-class adventurers.
With that being the case, Alex’s party couldn’t compete against them, as they could only enter the training Dungeon where the Dungeon Boss was a Rank 5 monster.
Of course, grades weren’t determined by sheer fighting strength alone, but… Elizabeth and her companions were being properly trained in the other areas by the ‘Heart Warrior Brigade,’ who were their seniors when it came to adventuring, as well as Vandalieu’s familiars.
It would be difficult for Alex’s party to retain their lead.
But they weren’t willing to give up and settle for second best – after all, those who didn’t aim for first place couldn’t even achieve second or third.
And they didn’t intend on giving up on achieving greatness as adventurers after they graduated, either.
“Then let’s change our plans and make sure we pile up achievements at an even steadier pace after we graduate,” Alex said.
“Ah, you’ve finally snapped out of it,” said Robin.
“You’ve kinda been deflated ever since that incident, after all,” said Anabelle. “Well, I understand how you feel, but try not to make Towa-chan worry about you so much.”
“Sorry,” Alex said. “I’ve overtaken a lot of people so far, but I’ve never been on the verge of being overtaken by someone else before, so it seems like I’ve been in shock ever since.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was in an empty classroom that she was using as a meeting room.
She was sitting next to Mahelia, with a lifeless look in her eyes. Zona, Macht, and the others were standing in a row in front of her.
Vandalieu was kneeling on his own between the two groups. “So, I’m the person who appeared in your dreams and granted you a divine protection. But the dream wasn’t something that I did intentionally, so I don’t remember what kind of dreams I made you have.”
“Vandalieu…kun? I can still call you that, right? Thank you for your divine protection. But the dream was very scary. You were enormous, and you were running away from a huge crowd of people that worship you, and you stepped on me. I thought I was really dead,” said Macht.
“My dream was just going around picking up your decapitated heads to attach to your headless body, but I thought I’d gone insane,” said Taurus.
“I’m fine, I guess. I don’t remember what kind of dream it was. But I think it was a scary one,” said Yuzef.
The three of them were being reserved in their complaints about the dreams.
The original plan had been to explain the circumstances that Elizabeth had kept a secret to Zona, Macht, and the others – her mother’s hospitalization and her financial struggles – and renew their unity as a party. After that, Vandalieu had been supposed to explain various things that he had kept from them… but for some reason, things had turned out this way and he had been made to apologize for making them have terrifying dreams.
It wasn’t entirely his fault, given that he hadn’t done it intentionally, and it had been for the sake of giving them his divine protection, but he still did feel bad for doing such a thing to them while they were still of an impressionable age, so he wasn’t particularly opposed to apologizing… though he hadn’t spoken a word of apology to Godwin, the former Majin king for making him have a dream where Vandalieu’s decapitated head was chasing him around.
“As for me, well, hmm, I slept well, but… I can’t help but feel weird that I slept well despite having a dream like that. Could you introduce me to a good doctor?” said Zona.
“I have one in mind, but he’s currently in poor health and recuperating,” said Vandalieu.
“Well that’s no good, is it?!”
“He is a very skilled doctor who works hard, except for the examination that he carried out on me,” said Vandalieu. “But it seems that he accumulated too much stress… and he ate too much.”
Vandalieu was unwilling to accept Dr. Hoover’s examination of him, but he did accept his skill as a doctor.
“So, if you’re worried, I could examine you myself,” Vandalieu offered. “I’ve gained experience and produced results at the hospital, so I’m sure it will at least give you some reassurance.”
“Hmm, I don’t feel like having you examine me would solve anything, so I’ll pass, Vandalieu-kun,” said Zona.
“More importantly, thanks to these events, we’ve really learned that Vandalieu isn’t ordinary, haven’t we?!” interrupted Elizabeth, forcibly redirecting the conversation.
With her eyes shining with life again, she faced Zona and the others and began a passionate speech.
“I’m sorry for keeping my situation a secret from you all. I would be glad if you were willing to continue being in my party. But that would mean being with Vandalieu for the rest of your lives! I mean, my mother is under the belief that Vandalieu is her husband, and nobody is denying it, and my Status shows a Title that calls me his daughter! I don’t think I can ever escape from him for the rest of my life! If you’re fine with that, then follow me!”
“… Umm, by the way, it doesn’t mean you’ll be having dreams every night or anything,” Vandalieu added.
“Vandalieu-san, please be quiet for a while. Following you is quite a big decision to make,” said Mahelia.
The previous day, Elizabeth and Mahelia had been greatly shocked to learn the truth, to the point that they were forced to accept that their lives had been changed completely after meeting Vandalieu, and there was no going back.
Of course, Elizabeth and Mahelia were grateful to him. But they hadn’t imagined that he was actually a Demon Emperor with a son that was literally the size of a mountain, with the ability to do things that only gods could do – grant divine protections and send split entities of himself to his companions – despite obstinately insisting that he was human.
I mean, I never thought that Vandalieu was just an ordinary child from an honorary noble house in the first place. He was clearly hiding his real strength and doing things that were clearly not something a normal person can do. To begin with, I knew that curing Mother, taking over that hospital in just a week, and brainwashing that earl are all normally impossible… But when I met Bakunawa yesterday, I felt like shouting at my past self for being so na?ve, Elizabeth thought.
Elizabeth had been transported to Silkie Zakkart Mansion in Sam’s carriage, which was far larger than anyone would imagine from its exterior appearance, and moved in her belongings while being confused by the somewhat complicated hidden mechanisms in the mansion. And after dinner, Gufadgarn had appeared, then teleported her to some place where she met Bakunawa… In fact, Tiamat had been there as well, but Elizabeth didn’t even remember that – because she had immediately fainted.
Honestly, she and Mahelia wanted to praise themselves for being able to go to school today rather than staying in bed all day.
“Vandalieu-san, perhaps I don’t have the right to say this to you, as you are my lady’s stepfather while I am a lowly attendant, but… at least let us mentally prepare ourselves!” Mahelia said.
“Mahelia-san, don’t worry about your social status and things like that. At school, we’re both students, and we’re members of the same party. Amelia thinks of you as her own daughter, so you’re like family to me as well,” Vandalieu told her.
“The way this conversation is going makes it very difficult to be honestly grateful, but thank you very much!” said Mahelia with tears in her eyes.
Macht and the others looked at Elizabeth, contemplating how they should respond.
“Elizabeth-sama, I don’t know what we’re supposed to say to that…” said Macht.
“You know, it already became a problem before this point…” said Taurus.
“To be frank… It’s too late for us,” said Yuzef.
“Too late?” Elizabeth repeated. “… Could it be that you already knew?!”
“No, it’s not that…” said Macht. “We already had a vague feeling that Vandalieu-san is not normal, not ordinary, someone that seems like he’s not from this world, or however you want to put it.”
“But we really learned it clearly over the course of this week – probably about the same time as you, Elizabeth-sama,” said Taurus.
“It’s just… It’s kinda filled in the gaps. Our parents and siblings all believe we are part of Duke Alcrem’s side, which is more accurately described as Vandalieu’s side, so I feel like we don’t really have a choice but to accept it,” said Yuzef.
Macht, Taurus, and Yuzef were children from low-ranking noble families of the royal realm, who had been in a position where their lives were greatly influenced by the house of Earl Reamsand.
All kinds of events had been taking place in recent days. The rise of the Alcrem house’s influence. The encounter between Katie, the eldest daughter of the Hartner house, and Vandalieu (even though that was all it seemed to be on the surface). Earl Reamsand being succeeded by his eldest son. The sudden involvement of the Jahan house.
In addition to that, there were rumors that if one tried paying an assassin or assassination organization for a commission, the assassin or organization would suddenly become unreachable. That was one of the tamer rumors; some said that the hired assassin would warn people trying to employ them not to get involved any further, or even come to kill their employer instead.
Indeed, numerous nobles and merchants with connections to criminal organizations had gone missing in the past week.
Such events had made the parents of Macht and the others, who were low-ranking nobles, tremble in fear. Even though their familial relationships with Macht and the others were almost non-existent already, they had become even more distant, as if they were trying to avoid getting caught up in all this.
“Ah, the people connected to the Alcrem house and Jahan house might have made them too worried. I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused. If you’d like, I could visit to explain and clear up any misunderstandings,” said Vandalieu.
“No, don’t worry about it. We’re not that close to our families to begin with,” said Macht.
“I’m just a backup for the backup to the eldest son that will succeed the house… though I’d like to think that they have at least some love for me,” said Taurus.
“And I think once we make a name for ourselves as adventurers, we’ll be able to reconcile with our families… I mean, from our point of view, they’re the ones who have created distance from us,” said Yuzef.
Nobody would have blamed Macht and the others for resenting their families and feeling like their families had cut them off completely rather than just creating some distance.
But ever since they started their special training with Vandalieu, they had gained enough mental fortitude to make a living as adventurers. Thus, the distance their families had from them hadn’t made them suffer to their limits.
“Huh, you guys have grown up quite a bit, haven’t you?” Zona remarked.
“What about your family, Zona?” Macht asked.
“I took the initiative to threaten my family before they could create distance from me, so I’m fine,” Zona replied. “I told them that if they make too much noise, maybe I’ll tell on them to Vandalieu-kun.”
“… Now that you’ve said it, it’s not just a threat anymore,” said Macht.
“Now that you’ve told on them to me, should I do something about it? Come to think of it, I haven’t introduced myself yet. Should I make things convenient and ask your father, ‘May I have your daughter’s hand in marriage?’” asked Vandalieu.
Zona laughed and shook her head. “My real father and I don’t consider ourselves to be father and daughter, so don’t worry about him! And I’ve already told my mother and the rest of my family.”
“I see. That’s good,” said Vandalieu.
“More importantly, what’s up with Elizabeth-sama becoming your daughter? I’m more curious about that,” said Zona.
“To tell the truth, we’re even more curious about that then our own progress…” said Macht.
“Zona, Macht, I’ll tell you the details later,” said Elizabeth. “And just to confirm, you’re going to continue to follow me?” she asked again.
She wanted them to follow her because they wanted to, not because they had no other choice.
Zona, Macht, and the others nodded and bowed their heads to her.
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth-sama. All of us had our own objectives for approaching you in the beginning,” said Macht.
“I’m sure you were faintly aware, but we were obeying Earl Reamsand’s orders that he gave us through our families,” said Taurus.
“I never intended to trap you in a difficult situation or anything, and I didn’t hold back in our practical training or do anything to help make your invitations to Alex-kun fail, but…” said Zona.
“It might be impudent of us to ask you this, but please allow us to continue following you, Elizabeth-sama!” said Yuzef.
Elizabeth nodded without hesitation to the five of them. “Of course. You’re the party members that I chose, after all!”
“Thank you, Elizabeth-sama!”
“I’ll follow you with no ulterior motives from now on!”
“I’ll follow you.”
Seeing Elizabeth and her companions’ bond grow even stronger, tears of emotion welled up in Mahelia’s eyes. She was certain that her lady, whom she had grown up with as a sister, had matured a lot in a short period of time.
“But… why are you standing there with them?!” Elizabeth demanded the fifth person, who was standing next to Yuzef… Vandalieu, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him back and forth.
“Of course, it’s because I’m going to continue to follow you as a follower or lackey, Elizabeth-sama,” said Vandalieu.
“How about you move on from being your own daughter’s follower or lackey, Stepfather?!”
“Even if you say that… If I stop being your lackey, I won’t know what position I should take in this school, Elizabeth-sama.”
Vandalieu had no intention to stop being her lackey. If he did, he wouldn’t know what he was supposed to do at school or what kind of distance he should keep with Elizabeth and the others, who were his party members.
It had gotten to the point where he had started to relate to Gufadgarn, who was always following him.
“It’s fine, isn’t it, Elizabeth-sama? It’ll help us keep appearances up with those who don’t know much about him yet,” said Macht.
“And I’d be happy to hear an explanation about this stepfather and daughter thing,” said Zona.
“I think you should let this matter go, my lady,” said Mahelia. “Vandalieu-san has times where he listens to you and times where he doesn’t. This is one of the times he doesn’t.”
Elizabeth made an annoyed noise. “It looks like I have no choice. I’ll give up for now! And I need to explain Mother’s situation to Zona and the rest of you… Is there enough time before the next lecture?”
“Ah, and I forgot to mention. I don’t know when it will be, but there will be a big event that decides the future of the Orbaume Kingdom soon, so be prepared,” Vandalieu said.
“W-what?!” Taurus shouted.
“What is the meaning of this, Elizabeth-sama?!” Yuzef demanded.
“I don’t know either!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “W-w-w-w-what are you talking about?!”
“Well, I don’t know if it’s going to be that big of an event, but… Prime Minister Urgen Tercatanis seems to be plotting something that’s not anything good,” said Vandalieu.
The mastermind behind this conspiracy was the person who was effectively the greatest political force in the Orbaume Kingdom. Upon learning this, Elizabeth and the others understood that this would determine the nation’s fate and, in the worst-case scenario, even split it into two or more separate nations.
“And the Five-colored Blades, the heroes of the Orbaume Kingdom, are my enemies and we will have a battle to the death in the future, but –”
“We were already aware of that,” Elizabeth interrupted. “When we mentioned the Five-colored Blades during our special training, Eisen-san and Zadiris-san would get moody all of a sudden.”
“We’ve already heard that you’ve actively kept your distance from the peaceful faction,” added Mahelia.
“Well, we didn’t imagine that you’d actually be trying to kill each other, but…” muttered Zona.
“More importantly, tell us more about the prime minister’s secret plot!” the others said in unison.
It seemed that Elizabeth and the others had already been mostly aware of the hostile relationship between Vandalieu and Heinz. Indeed, given how Vandalieu and his companions behaved and spoke, anyone would notice that they had a poor relationship with Alda’s peaceful faction, which Heinz belonged to.
And to Elizabeth and the others, a future battle to the death between Vandalieu and a hero was less of a threat to them personally than a plot by the prime minister that could end the nation as they knew it, so they were more interested in the latter.
“I’m still investigating and don’t have any definitive proof yet, but given the timing, I don’t think it’s completely unrelated to us,” Vandalieu said.
A group of people in black clothing were hiding in the shadow of Orbaume’s royal castle.
They were all former assassins… those who had attempted to kill or kidnap Vandalieu or someone connected to him.
As one would expect of assassins hired by nobles and wealthy merchants, they were very experienced in their profession, and they even knew routes into the royal castle, which was normally impenetrable.
But even they weren’t capable of entering and leaving any place in the castle. In fact, they were only able to reliably enter a limited part of the castle, and nothing out of the ordinary had been happening there.
“I apologize. Infiltrating any further will require us to take risks,” one of them reported – an assassin who had been killed by Vandalieu and his allies and turned into an Undead.
“We exchanged some of the exterior barriers for fakes and broke others without being noticed, but it seems there are double and triple layers set up inside the interior of the royal castle,” said another, who was still alive but had sworn loyalty to Vandalieu.
“I see. Good work,” said the one receiving their reports.
This flat-toned voice was pleasant to their ears, but seemed somewhat displeased. The assassins took this to be a sign of their incompetence, and were quick to try and prove their loyalty.
“… If you order it, we shall show you even greater results,” a living assassin said.
“We can even bring you the prime minister’s head…!” an Undead living murmured.
“Don’t say such foolish things,” the voice refuted. “Your worth has already been determined by the great Vandalieu. The great Vandalieu is reluctant to sacrifice you here. That is his will. You must obey the will of the great Vandalieu.”
Vandalieu’s will was being relayed to them by Gufadgarn. Indeed, the assassins had accomplished plenty.
They had broken some of the exterior barriers. Some barriers activated upon the usage of a certain quantity of Mana, including space-attribute teleportation, and other barriers raised an alert when spirits, Undead, Demons, and other monsters tried to enter. But due to the assassins’ efforts, teleportation could be cast and entry was possible, though only to certain parts of the castle.
And with Gufadgarn’s entry inside, she could open teleportation gates and allow her allies to enter and leave as well. The assassins had done more than enough.
Even without their help, the same thing could have been accomplished if Duke Alcrem or Duke Jahan had assisted with the infiltration. But this way helped things to proceed while allowing both dukes to avoid risking suspicion from Prime Minister Tercatanis as well as other nobles who weren’t on his side.
… The reason Gufadgarn was displeased was because she had to separate herself from Vandalieu, even though it was only temporary.
“I shall do the rest,” said Gufadgarn.
The beautiful, silver-haired Elf girl’s body split in two, and spider-like legs extended from within, along with the ‘King Slayer’ and ‘Head-hunting Demon’ Sleygar, the Black Goblin ninja Braga, and Legion.
“Leave the rest to us,” said Sleygar.
“This is where the ninja comes in,” said Braga.
Pluto laughed cheerfully. “We’re all working together today.”