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Chapter 264 - The Knight of the Collapsed Mountains bares his fangs, and the former Demon King strikes back

Death Mage 264 – The Knight of the Collapsed Mountains bares his fangs, and the former Demon King strikes back

The woman rolled on the floor, in a state where she was unable to even tell whether her eyelids were open or shut.

The only thing she knew was that the scratch on her cheek felt hot. She couldn’t even remember how she got the scratch.

Images flashed through her mind, and she wasn’t able to tell whether they were fragments of her memories of the past or whether they were complete delusions created by her imagination.

How long had she been in this state? She suddenly became aware of an enormous being approaching her.

What is that?

In the hazy, vague world she was in, the only thing that she could sense clearly was the presence of this enormous being.

Even with all of her years of experience, its presence wasn’t something that she could express with one word. Still, if she were to compare it to the closest thing she knew, it would be the Demon King fragment that she had sealed when she was under the command of the previous generation of the Five Knights of Alcrem.

But even as this comparison occurred to her, she could feel that this being was completely different from the rampaging Demon King fragment she had encountered.

The rampaging Demon King fragment radiated anger and agitation… desperation… I don’t feel that?

Rampaging fragments of the Demon King that infested and took complete control over a host would seek out other fragments in order to resurrect Guduranis.

Such fragments possessed only instinctual desire, a longing, similar to a starving person craving for food. They had no sanity, constantly screaming in their desire to unite with other fragments.

In contrast, the enormous being was very quiet. Perhaps even gentle.

What is… this? I’m…?

The atmosphere around the enormous presence was not sinister; it even gave off a sense of holiness. Perhaps it was best to seek help from this presence.

But what did she want to be saved from? This current state that she was in, or… She couldn’t remember.

How was she even supposed to seek help from the presence? She couldn’t even speak right now, let alone stand up. Even when she moved her arms and legs, she couldn’t tell whether they were actually moving or whether she was just dreaming that they were.

As she deliberated on what to do, the enormous being let out a groan. Its gaze shifted restlessly, and its appendages – thin arms, or perhaps tentacles; it was impossible to tell – were wriggling.

Is it looking for something? Perhaps… for me?

Upon realizing this, a desire formed deep within her heart. She wanted to answer the enormous presence and be found by it. That desire gave her strength, and although the change was slight, her mind began working.

In order to be found, she needed to leave this hidden room. But in her current state, it would be impossible for her to operate the mechanism inside the concealed door.

With that being the case, what could she do? As she asked herself this question, she instinctively knew the answer. She needed to use the item that was hidden in her breast pocket.

If I… take this out and use it…

This small task, which she would normally be able to do in seconds, demanded every shred of strength that she could gather in her body and mind.

Barely managing to lift her head, she took the item from her pocket and placed it against her neck… and let her head fall to the floor once more.

The floor around her neck was now decorated with what looked like a fragrant red flower. The enormous presence would surely take notice now.

As if answering her hopes, the red flower spread even wider.

Sleeping while surrounded by a flower, how feminine of me… she thought, and then, as if she had run out of strength to process any more thoughts, she fell into a deep slumber.

Instead of taking out the antidote Potion hidden in her breast pocket, Baldiria had taken a Mythril knife and used the weight of her head to cut her own throat.

She possessed strength equivalent to an A-class adventurer; ordinarily, doing such a thing would only cause a slight scratch on her neck, but… as she was weakened by the venom and on the verge of death, this was enough to greatly reduce the amount of time she had left to live.

Meanwhile, in the back garden, Duke Takkard Alcrem was astonished to hear that there was someone on the verge of death nearby.

“W-what?! W-what do you mean by that?!” he shouted in alarm, unable to tell whether Vandalieu meant exactly what he said, or whether he was making a threat in some roundabout way.

Takkard’s face was pale; he looked as if he would start foaming at the mouth and collapse at any moment, prompting some servants to come running.

“Lord Duke! Please remain calm!” one of them said.

“He means exactly what he said. My son has a very good intuition, and is able to sense when people on the verge of death are nearby,” said Darcia.

Hearing this, the duke managed to regain his composure. “I-is this some sort of Unique Skill, or something of the like?”

“Yes, it’s something like that!” Darcia asserted.

The tension among the duke, the servants… or rather, the knights and mages pretending to be servants, and even the spies hiding in the garden, eased a little.

Without a moment’s delay, Myuze spoke up. “Is there somebody with a chronic disease or a weak heart on the villa’s grounds? If there is, Van-dono or Darcia-dono should be able to cure them! Van-dono is skilled with all kinds of medicines, and Darcia-dono is a master of life-attribute magic!”

While Myuze and Darcia had everyone’s attention centered on them, Kimberley, Princess Levia and the other Ghosts were busy searching the villa, and Gizania, Fang and the others remained alert, ready to deal with any problems that arose.

“Van-kun, is there really someone on the verge of death?” asked Orbia.

“Yes,” Vandalieu replied telepathically. “They aren’t triggering ‘Danger Sense: Death,’ so they’re not anywhere within sight, but… I can still kind of tell. By the faint smell, the presence of insects, by the restlessness of the spirits.”

He hadn’t directly sensed Baldiria being on the verge of death in some unseen place. However, he had noticed the faint smell of fresh blood.

On top of that, Baldiria was currently inside a barrier that spirits couldn’t pass through, but she had been outside it before Goldie and his partner dragged her inside. Thus, there were some spirits who had witnessed their crime… though they were simply making noise about it, unable to understand what had happened.

And insects, which were unhindered by the barrier, had noticed that Baldiria was on the verge of death and were trying to reach her.

With this information, Vandalieu had concluded that someone had died or was close to dying.

“It might be related to the fake Face-tearing Demon. We can’t ignore it,” Vandalieu said telepathically.

“Yeah. If the duke and his people aren’t aware of it, there’s something unusual about this,” Orbia agreed.

“There shouldn’t be any such people in this villa, but…! Someone, check if there is anyone who has collapsed!” said the duke, hurriedly giving orders to the servants. “There might be an intruder who is committing violence!”

The duke was aware that every person at this villa, including the ones disguised as servants, were all capable in combat. None of them had any chronic diseases that would suddenly cause them to have a fit and become unable to move.

The duke could see Vandalieu and all of his companions – everyone who had come to the capital, from Simon and Natania to Juliana who had come here as a familiar – right in front of him. It didn’t seem possible to him for them to be pulling off some kind of ploy.

Thus, he was likely under the impression that there were assassins who had made their way in from the outside, sent by forces who didn’t want this meeting to happen… people from the radical faction of Alda or one of his political enemies.

He couldn’t check on the wellbeing of the spies hidden among the garden’s trees and the pond right in front of Vandalieu, but the knights acting as servants began running towards the building to look in and around it.

At that moment, a window on the second floor of the villa flew open, and a fully armed, late-middle-aged knight leapt out of it… Bravatiyu, the ‘Knight of Roaring Flames.’

He made a nimble landing that one would not expect from a heavily-armed man of his age.

“Get away, Your Excellency!” he shouted.

“Bravatiyu?! Why did you come out here?!” asked the duke, his eyes wide open in astonishment.

Bravatiyu rushed over to the duke and placed himself between him and Vandalieu’s group. “A moment ago, the spiritualist I hired vomited and collapsed with his eyes rolling into the back of his head! I am certain that he is the one whom these people speak of.”

“I-I see. Then we must treat him quickly at once! This is of utmost importance!” said the duke.

“A spiritualist, so that means… Huh? This isn’t the development I expected,” said Vandalieu.

It had been revealed that the Five Knights of Alcrem had been laying in wait, and it was too late to do anything about a number of problems, but the duke wanted to save himself from losing face any further.

Vandalieu had expected that Bravatiyu and the other Knights would be here, but he was bewildered now because he hadn’t expected them to reveal themselves of their own will. On top of that, the one who had collapsed was a spiritualist, so it was likely that he had caved in to the pressure or something of the sort exuded by the countless spirits around Vandalieu, so that confused Vandalieu even more.

“What is he doing,” muttered Serjio, the ‘Knight of Distant Thunder,’ putting a palm on his forehead.

If the spiritualist had collapsed, couldn’t Bravatiyu have just treated him? He was capable of performing first aid, wasn’t he?

“There’s no need for that. First aid has already been carried out for the spiritualist, and he is in the care of a subordinate,” Bravatiyu said.

“Th-then, why?!” the duke asked, looking at Bravatiyu.

“Your Excellency, this must be the doing of this Dhampir! He must have become aware that I hired a spiritualist and set the spirits on him to make him faint in order to draw people away from you because he is planning something! Therefore, please escape while you still can!” Bravatiyu shouted. “Everyone, I will buy you as much time as I can! Take the duke and get away!”

“W-what foolish nonsense are you spouting?!” the duke said, unable to believe what Bravatiyu was saying.

“… What shall I do,” Vandalieu wondered quietly to himself, not knowing what to say – after all, he was indeed the reason that the spiritualist had collapsed.

“P-please wait! What proof do you have of this?! There is no way that he could control spirits!” said Juliana, ignoring the voices of agreement from the Ghosts behind her.

Indeed, only those with the ‘Spiritualist’ Job were able to see and hear ordinary spirits that had not become Undead.

And even those with the ‘Spiritualist’ Job could not control spirits at will. The Job only allowed for them to communicate with spirits, nothing more.

With that being the case, given the information known to Bravatiyu and the others, they should have concluded that it was impossible for Vandalieu to make spirits attack someone.

But Bravatiyu didn’t waver. “Yesterday, I had the spiritualist investigate you. It seems that the spirits like you considerably, Dhampir. I was told that every spirit sings your praises. This is proof that your talent as a tamer extends to spirits! I suspect you possess a rare Unique Skill that allows you to control spirits to a greater extent than a spiritualist!”

His line of argument was irrational, paranoid, and far-fetched, and he simply explained away the inconvenient parts that didn’t fit with the theory of a Unique Skill. But the most unbelievable thing was how close his irrational argument was to the truth.

“Th-that is…!” Juliana stammered, flustered because she couldn’t immediately think of a response.

“The theory that we are planning something and wish to reduce the number of personnel around the duke doesn’t hold if we have no motive, does it? And there is no benefit to me from there being less people around the duke. Our discussion was going well and we were just getting to the point where we can be frank with each other,” said Vandalieu, as he wasn’t actually plotting anything despite Bravatiyu being very close to the truth.

Ordinarily, he might have been flustered behind his usual, expressionless appearance. But now was a time of emergency.

It was highly likely that there was someone nearby on the verge of death that wasn’t the spiritualist who had already received first aid.

It would weigh heavily on Vandalieu’s conscience if that person died because he was too late to find them due to the commotion here.

“I-is that a declaration that us being here or not makes no difference?!” Bravatiyu roared, misinterpreting Vandalieu’s words as a roundabout provocation. “Curse you! On my honor as a knight, I shall defend His Excellency the Duke and this capital –”

“Bravatiyu! Stand down, for goodness’ sake, stand down!” shouted the duke, trying to force him back.

“Please stop right there!” said a voice, interrupting them.

It was Ralmeya, the ‘Knight of Keen Insight.’ His pupils were dilated and his eyes looked far from calm.

“Ralmeya?! Why are you here?!” the duke demanded.

“Lord Duke, I have confirmed that none of the spies hiding on the grounds of this villa, nor any of the knights who are disguised as servants, are on the verge of death! None of them are dying!” Ralmeya declared.

“RALMEYA?!” the duke shouted.

Bravatiyu revealing himself had been bad enough; why had Ralmeya come out and blabbered out all of his secrets?

“Are you certain of that?” Gizania asked.

“I am certain. I examined everything with my ‘Demon Eyes of Appraisal,” Ralmeya replied clearly, unfazed by the duke’s reaction… even revealing the name of his Unique Skill.

His report was true. He had looked over the hidden spies with his ‘Demon Eye of Appraisal,’ and checked that he could see functioning Skills for all of them, such as ‘Silent Steps.’

It was difficult to imagine that any of them would be able to have their Skills functioning while they were on the verge of death, so it was almost certain that the spies were all fairly healthy.

Then there were the knights and mages disguised as servants, but they weren’t hidden. They were carrying out servant-like duties, so it would be unnatural for them to be hiding themselves, and they had all been assigned to groups of three or more.

And yet, no heavily-wounded or otherwise unwell personnel had been discovered, so it could be assumed that none of them were on the verge of death.

“… Thus, I believe that it is one of the Five Knights other than Bravatiyu and myself who is on the verge of death,” Ralmeya concluded.

“RALMEYA!” the duke and Bravatiyu shouted in unison.

“I already suspected that the others would be here as well,” said Vandalieu, trying to calm them down.

The duke and Bravatiyu were in horror at the fact that Ralmeya had revealed almost exactly how many fighting forces had been placed at the villa, and Serjio, who was still staying hidden, was even more shaken than them by this development.

But even more shaken than Serjio was the Mimic Human Goldie, the ‘Knight of the Collapsed Mountains.’

Damn it! I didn’t think he would have lost his sanity to this extent! If I knew this was going to happen, I would have disposed of him when he returned in his deranged state, even if I would have had to force the issue a little! he cursed to himself.

Bravatiyu showing himself to Vandalieu had been unexpected, but also convenient for Goldie. He hadn’t expected that Vandalieu would manage to sense that Baldiria was on the verge of death through means other than information given to him by spirits, but Bravatiyu would cause enough confusion to keep the situation regarding Baldiria uncertain.

But Ralmeya had shown up, and not only that – for some reason, he was behaving in a friendly manner towards Vandalieu, the one who had driven him insane in the first place, and offered secret information despite the shouted protests of the duke and Bravatiyu.

As a result, instead of the situation regarding Baldiria becoming unclear, it had gone the other way – It had been ascertained that the one on the verge of death was one of the three members of the Five Knights who had not shown themselves yet.

“What shall we do, partner? Would you kill me, and pretend that you have disposed of an intruder?” asked Goldie’s partner.

As his words suggested, Mimic Humans possessed a weak sense of their own individuality. As they reproduced by creating copies of themselves that shared their memories, they had an instinctual sense that they were replaceable.

The only exception to that was Goldie, who had been granted the divine protection and spirit clone of his creator Zerzoregin, the Evil God of Cannibalism and Pillaging, to act as the commander of his plan.

“No. Even if I dispose of you and show them your corpse, we still have no idea how Vandalieu sensed Baldiria’s current state. And there is no guarantee that your spirit will not submit to him,” said Goldie.

“Impossible,” his partner muttered. “Partner, do you doubt my faith and loyalty to our gods, to Zerzoregin-sama?”

Mimic Humans possessed a weak sense of individuality, but they were fiercely loyal to Zerzoregin. That loyalty surpassed their need to eat, sleep, or reproduce; if Zerzoregin were to command them to not sleep, they would remain awake until they died. If he were to command them to march to their deaths, they would do so without question.

Thus, all forms of torture were useless against Mimic Humans. Even if they pleaded for their lives and promised to change sides, it would be but yet another form of mimicry, a trap.

However, it was unclear as to whether these things would remain true after their deaths.

“No. Our lord gained information from his familiar spirit, which he disguised as a familiar spirit of Borgadon, and gained information regarding Vandalieu. I am simply placing my trust in that information. The spirits and Undead created from the ones killed by him serve him not unwillingly but with joy. There are even some that were once Noble-born Vampires who worshipped an evil god, but now take the greatest pleasure from being treated like dogs. We should work under the assumption that not a shred of your pride, loyalty, or your faith in our master will remain,” said Goldie.

“… How terrifying,” said Goldie’s partner, trembling at the thought of once-proud Noble-born Vampires wagging their tails like pet dogs after their deaths. “I understand how he is feared as the second Demon King, while Zerzoregin-sama is not. But we cannot simply hide here.”

Indeed, if Goldie and his partner remained hidden here, the situation would only continue to grow worse.

Because of Ralmeya, the identity of the person on the verge of death had been narrowed down to one of the three members of the Five Knights who had not revealed themselves. Goldie had moved Baldiria into a hidden room that had been made into a holy ground, away from where she was supposed to be posted, but the spies knew of all of the hidden rooms in this villa.

They would discover Baldiria within less than ten minutes.

The only remaining hope was that the duke and the others would simply decide that Vandalieu’s claim that someone was on the verge of death was a lie, and deny that this was the case, and –

“Serjio or Baldiria is on the verge of death? How can you say such nonsensical things one after another?! Serjio is a youngster, but he possesses strength worthy of being one of the Five Knights of Alcrem. Baldiria is even more experienced than I am, and while Goldie is young, he is as skilled in combat and magic as his predecessor. Unless one of them was betrayed by a comrade, it is hard to imagine that any of them have been heavily wounded without anyone taking notice!” Bravatiyu shouted. “Wait! Could it be that this is a ploy to learn how many forces have been stationed at this villa?! Have you foreseen all of this?!”

While Bravatiyu touched on the truth, his protests were exactly what Goldie was hoping for. Goldie had never thought of Bravatiyu as dependable up until this moment.

“No, I simply asked whether there is anyone on the verge of death. I think it would be impossible to predict that things would turn out this way and complicate themselves to this extent. Also… I expected from the very beginning that there would be people hiding in the garden and the pond,” said Vandalieu, not becoming angered and remaining calm despite Bravatiyu’s exceptionally rude tone.

“Bravatiyu, our preparations have been revealed and things have come this far. It would be best for Serjio and the others to come out. Fortunately, it seems that Vandalieu-dono and his companions have no intention of criticizing us. Let us begin our discussions once more,” said the duke.

He didn’t seem to be interested in listening to his knight’s opinion. Not only that, but he was asking for the rest of the Five Knights to come out.

“What should I do? Just two. I just need to steal two of his presumably numerous Skills. With how many Skills he has, and how small he is, and my abilities, I should only need to eat half of an arm,” Goldie muttered. “And then… It can’t be helped. In the end, I’m going to need you to die, partner.”

“Very well,” said Goldie’s partner.

After a short conversation in the hidden room to explain the plan to his partner, Goldie moved swiftly to execute it.

With a heavy explosion, a part of the villa’s wall crumbled and broke from the inside.

“What?!” Bravatiyu shouted, immediately moving to protect the duke.

Vandalieu and his companions vigilantly watched the space behind the dust cloud rising into the air.

Goldie appeared, supporting a blood-covered Baldiria on his shoulder.

“H-help!” he cried, staggering as he stepped forward. “Baldiria has been wounded, and the enemy is over there…”

In normal circumstances, this act would have been perfect.

The smell of blood was certainly authentic to the noses of both Vandalieu and Fang.

But Ralmeya’s ‘Demon Eye of Appraisal’ saw through it immediately, as only Baldiria’s appearance had been copied, and not her Skills.

“That isn’t Baldiria!” he warned.

I can’t sense any danger of death, thought Vandalieu.

Despite Baldiria being within his vision, there was no response from ‘Danger Sense: Death,’ so he knew that the blood covering Baldiria was just for show.

He immediately cast ‘Detect Life,’ which he had not used up until now to prevent a misunderstanding that it was a hostile spell.

“Mom, behind that wall. They could die at any moment, so treat them quickly,” Vandalieu said.

He began approaching the two people who were pretending to be heavily wounded and asking for help.

That’s right! There are still knights disguised as servants in the villa behind us. I knew you wouldn’t use magic in this situation! Goldie thought gleefully.

The Mimic Humans made their move. Goldie threw the fake Baldiria who was pretending to be unconscious towards Vandalieu, and the fake Goldie raised his treasured sword and charged.

The fake Baldiria hissed as it transformed instantaneously into a monstrous form with fangs and claws, but its movements were full of openings.

Thus, Vandalieu decided that the fake Baldiria was a disposable pawn, and the real threat was the treasured sword of the fake Goldie, who was rushing forward with a powerful, threatening movement. He swung the claws of his left hand to cut down the fake Baldiria, and attempted to prepare himself for the fake Goldie.

The claws of his left hand cut through the fake Baldiria’s arms, pierced her torso, and – without any resistance whatsoever – sank into her head.

Before the surprised Vandalieu could pull his left hand back, it was sucked deeper into the fake Baldiria. With the dull sound of breaking bones, his left arm was severed at the elbow.

“AAAAH! I’ve taken it, half of your arm!” the fake Baldiria… Goldie, the ‘Knight of the Collapsed Mountains,’ laughed triumphantly.

《The ‘Dark King Magic’ and ‘Demon King’ Skills have been stolen!》

Vandalieu opened his eyes wide in shock from losing half of his left arm and the notification in his head, and then –

“To start off with, ‘Skull Bash,’” Vandalieu said, producing his Gyubarzo staff from his shadow and striking Goldie, who was partway through reverting to his original form, from above.

Mid-laughter, Goldie was beaten down and sank into the dirt.

While regrowing his left arm, Vandalieu raised his staff towards the fake Goldie… Goldie’s partner, who was petrified with the smile from seeing their plan succeed still frozen on his face.

“Y-you bastard, did my partner not steal your Skills?!” Goldie’s partner shouted in surprise.

“‘Mana Bullet,’” said Vandalieu, firing a projectile that was about a meter across, resembling a Mana cannonball more than a Mana bullet.

Goldie’s partner yelled out as he desperately attempted to deflect it with his treasured sword.

“Van-kun?! That guy was saying something about your Skills! And is your left arm okay?!” shouted Privel.

“Yes, some of my Skills were stolen. It seems that these guys can steal Skills from people by eating their bodies, so be careful when engaging them at close range,” said Vandalieu. “My left arm is already back to normal. Sorry to make you worry.”

“Steal Skills?! Not just temporarily being able to use them?! Master, isn’t that really dangerous?!” exclaimed Natania.

“Ah, I see!” said Kachia. “It was your ‘Cooking’ or ‘Whip Technique’ or something that was stolen, and your magic and unarmed fighting skills are still fine! In that case –”

“No, one of my pretty important Skills was stolen,” said Vandalieu.

“That’s bad, isn’t it?!” Kachia shouted. “What are we going to do?! Do we have to make it vomit your arm back up?!”

Vandalieu looked over at Darcia and confirmed that she was treating the person who was really on the verge of death… likely the Dwarf woman that Goldie had disguised himself as.

“No, if he uses those Skills on us, the situation will be very dire, so… let’s prioritize neutralizing him rather than getting my Skills back,” Vandalieu told his panicking companions. “We can’t let him steal any more Skills, either.”

Goldie, who had partially sunk into the soil, slowly lifted himself off the ground. He looked up and shuddered as he saw Vandalieu looking down at him with a vast amount of Mana emanating from him, and a countless number of spirits and Ghosts surrounding him.

“Y-you fool…! If you kill me, your Skills will be gone forever!” he spat.

“I expected that to be the case, but if I can’t get them back, then so be it. If my friends were to die because I was trying to get them back, that would be a far greater loss. Sometimes, you need to cut your losses,” said Vandalieu.

He could simply relearn ‘Dark King Magic’ starting again from ‘Death Attribute Magic.’ He would learn it much faster this time round, as he would even have bonuses to learning it from his Jobs.

As for ‘Demon King’… Well, perhaps he didn’t mind not having that Skill.

It would be best to kill this enemy quickly before he could kill anyone or steal any more Skills.