The knight in full plate armor stood before the girl and her little sister, his sword raised high.
His blade gleamed in the sun, and he poised himself, ready to end their lives in a single merciful stroke.
The girl squeezed her eyes tightly shut and bit her lower lip. She had never asked for this. She had been forced into her present circumstances. If only she had some strength, she might have resisted the enemy in front of her and fled.
However — the girl did not have that strength.
Thus, there could only be one outcome to this situation.
That would be the girl’s death, at this very place.
The longsword fell—
—And yet there was no pain.
The girl gingerly opened the eyes which had been squeezed shut.
The first thing she saw was the suddenly motionless longsword.
Then, she saw the sword’s owner.
The knight in front of her was frozen in place, his eyes looking somewhere off to the girl’s side. His completely defenseless posture clearly displayed the fear that filled him.
As though drawn by the knight’s gaze, the girl could not help but turn and look in the same direction as him.
And so — the girl gazed upon despair.
What she saw was darkness.
It was an infinitesimally thin, yet unfathomably deep blackness. It was a half-oval of obsidian that seemed to protrude from the earth. It was a mysterious sight that filled the ones watching it with a powerful sense of unease.
Was it a door?
The girl could not help but think so after she saw what lay before her.
As her heart lurched, the girl’s conjecture was confirmed.
Something seemed to be coming out of that shadowy passage.
And in the moment that it resolved itself in her eyes—
—A deafening shriek came from the girl.
It was an opponent which humanity could not overcome.
Twin points of crimson light burned brightly within the empty orbits of a bleached skull. Those two points of light coldly scanned the girl and the others present, like a predator sizing up its prey. Within its fleshless hands it grasped a magic staff that seemed divine in nature, yet inspired dread in equal measure. It was like a crystallization of all the beauty in the world.
It wore an intricately detailed black robe, and it resembled nothing so much as an incarnation of death, born from the darkness of another world.
In an instant, the air seemed to freeze.
It was as though time itself had stood still in the wake of a Supreme Being’s advent.
The girl forgot to breathe, as if the sight had stolen her soul away.
Then, in this silent realm, the girl began choking, and gasped for air.
This avatar of death must have manifested itself in order to guide her to the land of the dead. It was only natural to think so. But then, the girl who thought this way suddenly realized that something was wrong. That was because the knight who had been planning to kill her from behind was now completely still.
A cry that sounded like a wail crept into her ears.
From whose mouth had that sound come? It felt like it could have come from hers, or that of her little sister, shivering in fright, or from the mouth of the knight that had been about to kill her.
A skeletal hand slowly extended itself — its fingers spreading as though reaching for something, and they moved past the girl, toward the knight behind her.
She wanted to look away from it, but fear kept her gaze in place. She had the feeling that if she averted her eyes, she would see a far more horrible sight instead.
The incarnation of death clenched its fist, and the girl heard the sound of crunching metal from behind her.
Her eyes did not leave the figure of Death, but driven by her curiosity, the girl wrenched her eyes away, and saw the body of the knight. He was sprawled motionless on the floor, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
He was dead.
There was no doubt that he was dead.
The danger that had almost claimed the girl was no more. But this was no cause for celebration. The death that stalked her had merely taken a more concrete shape.
That death drew close to the girl, who watched it with terrified eyes.
The darkness in her field of vision grew ever larger.
It’s going to swallow me up.
As the girl thought this, she clutched her sister tightly to herself.
The notion of escape no longer existed within the girl’s head.
If her opponent were human, she might be able to cling to some faint hope and struggle desperately for her life. But the being before her shattered that hope like spun glass.
Please, at least let me die without pain.
That was all the girl could hope for.
Her shuddering sister hugged her tightly. All she could do was apologize for her weakness, for being unable to protect her sister’s life. She prayed that her sister would not be lonely as they went on to the afterlife, because they would be travelling there together.
The End and the Beginning
In the year 2138 AD there was a term: DMMO-RPG.
That word was an acronym for “Dive Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game”.
These games were played by connecting a dedicated console to the brain via a neuronal nano-interface— an intracerebral nanocomputer network, created from the fusion of cyber- and nano-technology.
These were games that allowed one to enter a virtual world and experience it as though it were real life.
And among the myriad DMMO-RPGs that thronged the market, one of them stood head and shoulders above the others:
This game had been painstakingly developed and released 12 years ago, in 2126.
Compared to other DMMO-RPGs of the time, YGGDRASIL’s selling point was “player freedom”.
It had over 2000 basic and advanced job classes.
Every class had a maximum of 15 levels, and so in order to reach the overall level cap of 100, one would need to take at least 7 different classes. However, players could take as many classes as they wanted as long as they met each class’ prerequisites. A player could even take 100 classes at level 1 each, although that was very inefficient. As such, in this system, it was virtually impossible to make identical characters unless one was deliberately trying to do so.
In addition, one could use various creator tools (sold separately) to fully customize one’s armor, weaponry, flavor text, appearance, and other cosmetic settings.
A vast playing field awaited its players. There were nine worlds in total: Asgard, Alfheim, Vanaheim, Nidavellir, Midgard, Jotunheim, Niflheim, Helheim, and Muspelheim.
It boasted a massive world, numerous classes, and freely customizable appearances.
These features ignited the creative spirits of its Japanese players, and sparked what would later be known as a stylistic revolution. So popular was it that whenever the word “DMMO-RPG“ was mentioned in Japan, listeners would immediately think of YGGDRASIL.
—Still, all these were things of the past now.
♦ ♦ ♦
A gigantic table carved of gleaming black stone sat in the center of the room, surrounded by 41 luxurious chairs.
However, most of those seats were empty.
Once, every single place had been filled, but now only two were occupied.
One of the seated people was clothed in a magnificent black academic robe, edged in violet and gold. The collar seemed excessively gaudy, but somehow it fit the overall design.
However, the exposed head was a bare skull. Points of dark red light glowed in its large orbits, and behind that skull glowed a halo of black radiance.
The being in the other seat was not human either, merely a mass of a black, sticky substance. Its tar-like surface roiled and writhed continuously, never staying in the same shape for more than a second.
The former was an Overlord — the highest-ranked of those magic casters who had become undead in order to learn the most potent spells. The latter was an Elder Black Ooze, which boasted the most powerful corrosive ability of the slime families.
One might encounter these monsters in the most difficult dungeons. Overlords could use powerful spells of the highest tiers of magic, while Elder Black Oozes were dreaded for their ability to degrade weapons and armor.
However, they were not game monsters, but players.
In YGGDRASIL, players could choose their character races from three broad groups; humanoid, demihuman and heteromorphic.
Humanoids were the basic player type and comprised humans, dwarves, wood elves, and the like. Demihumans tended to be ugly, but possessed superior attributes to humanoids. Examples of demihumans were goblins, beastmen, ogres and so on. Finally, heteromorphic races had monstrous abilities, but despite their stats being generally higher than those of other races, they also possessed various drawbacks. There were around 700 playable races in total, including the advanced versions of these races.
Naturally, the Overlord and Elder Black Ooze were among the high-tier heteromorphic races that were playable.
The Overlord — who was speaking at the moment — did not move his mouth. That was because even the most advanced DMMO-RPGs of the time still could not overcome the technological hurdle of properly modelling the changes on a character’s face in response to emotions and speech.
“It’s really been a while, Herohero-san. Although this is the last day of YGGDRASIL, I didn’t expect you to show up.”
“Indeed it has, Momonga-san.”
The two of them spoke with the voices of grown men, but compared to the voice of the former, the latter’s words lacked force, or perhaps it could be said that they lacked energy.
“You stopped coming online after you changed your job IRL, so how long has it been... about 2 years?”
“Ah — seems about right — wah, it’s been so long… This is bad. I’ve been doing so much overtime recently that my sense of time is starting to go weird.”
“That’s really bad, right? Are you okay?”
“My body? Well, it’s a mess. I haven’t had to see a doctor yet, but I’m almost there, it’s really bad. A lot of times, I feel like I want to run away from it all, but then I think about how I need money to live and then I go back to work like a whipped slave.”
The Overlord — Momonga — lowered his head in an “I can’t take it” gesture.
As though following up on Momonga’s comment, Herohero delivered a grim monologue, his words laced with an unimaginable reality.
The two of them griped loudly about the foolishness they encountered in their working lives.
Subordinates who did not know how to report, communicate and discuss things, spreadsheets that changed by the day, scoldings by their superiors for not meeting various KPIs, working late every day until they could not go home, gaining weight because of their irregular lifestyles, and the increasing amounts of medicine they had to take every day.
Herohero’s grievances burst forth like a broken dam, and Momonga lent his ear to him.
A lot of people were averse to discussing reality in a virtual world. It was fairly normal for people to not want to talk about their offline lives in a game.
However, this was not so for the two of them.
The guild they belonged to — a group that was founded and managed by players — Ainz Ooal Gown, had two conditions that each of its members had to fulfil. The first was that everyone had to be a working member of society. The other was that they had to play heteromorphic characters.
Because of these rules, the topics they discussed often revolved around their jobs in the real world. Any member of the guild would field these questions and as such, the conversation between the two could be considered standard fare for the guild.
After about ten minutes, the torrent of words that flowed from Herohero dwindled to a trickle.
“...I’m sorry for making you listen to my whining. I can’t complain much IRL.”
The place corresponding to Herohero’s head seemed to sway, as though he were bowing in apology. Thus, Momonga replied:
“Don’t worry about it, Herohero-san. I made you come online despite you being busy, so listening to your complaints is only expected. I’ll hear you out, no matter how many you have.”
Herohero seemed to have recovered some of his old energy, and with a somewhat more energetic laugh, he replied:
“Ah, I’m grateful for that, Momonga-san. I’m glad I could meet a friend after signing on.”
“I’m very happy to hear you say that too.”
“...Although it’s about time for me to log off.”
Herohero’s tentacle waggled in mid-air, as though he were operating something. Indeed, he was operating a menu.
“You’re right, it is getting pretty late…”
“I’m sorry about this, Momonga-san.”
Momonga sighed gently, as though he didn’t want Herohero to sense the regret in his heart.
“Well, if it’s like that, then it’s a shame… time flies so fast when you’re having fun.”
“I really did want to stay with you to the end, but I’m about to fall asleep.”
“Ah — well, you do sound pretty tired. Then, you should log out soon and have a good rest.”
“I’m really sorry… Momonga-san. Although, how long do you plan to stay, Guild Leader?”
“I intended to stay on until I was automatically logged out once the servers shut down. Since it’s still a ways off, maybe someone might come by in the meantime.”
“Is that so… still, I really didn’t expect this place to be so well preserved.”
At this moment, Momonga was grateful that he had no way to show his expressions. If he did, Herohero would probably have seen his face twist up. Even then, his voice would betray how he truly felt, so Momonga kept quiet, in order to suppress the feelings surging up within him.
He had worked hard to maintain the guild precisely because he had built it up along with everyone else, but hearing words like these from one of his guild members sparked a mix of complicated emotions in his heart. However, these feelings dispersed like mist as Herohero continued.
“Momonga-san, you must have kept the guild going as its leader so we could come back to it at any time. Thank you very much.”
“...It’s because it was a guild built by everyone, so it’s my job as guildmaster to keep things going so that the members can come back at any time.”
“Yes. We had fun with the game because you were our guildmaster, Momonga-san… I hope that when we meet again, it’ll be in YGGDRASIL II.”
“I haven’t heard anything about a second game… but like you said, I’d be glad if we could meet like that.”
“I’ll look forward to it! I’m having trouble staying awake… I think I’ll log off first. I’m glad I could meet you at the end. Goodnight.”
Momonga wanted to say something, but he hesitated for a moment, and then he spoke:
“I was very happy to meet you too. Goodnight.”
A smiley appeared near Herohero’s head. Since characters in YGGDRASIL could not express emotions through their facial expressions, they used emoticons instead.
Momonga worked his control interface, and produced a similar smiley.
Herohero’s last words were: “Let’s meet up again somewhere.”
—And so, the last of the three guild members to come online tonight vanished.
Silence descended once more — it was as though nobody had ever been here in the first place. Nothing was left behind.
Momonga looked at the place where Herohero had been sitting, and he muttered the words he wanted to say.
“Today’s the last day of the game, I know you’re tired, but we’ll never have a chance like this again, why don’t we stay together until the end—”
Of course, there was no response, because Herohero had already returned to reality.
Momonga’s sigh came from the bottom of his heart.
In the end, it was better that it had remained unsaid.
During their brief exchange, he could already tell how tired Herohero was from the sound of his voice. Still, despite his fatigue, Herohero had still responded to the e-mail he had sent, and logged on for the last day of YGGDRASIL before it closed down. He should have been grateful enough for that. Asking him to stay on would not just have been a matter of being thick-skinned, but actively causing him trouble.
Momonga stared at the seat Herohero had occupied until just now, and then turned to look at the other 39 seats. Those were the places where his old comrades had once sat. After going a circle around the table, Momonga returned his eyes to Herohero’s place.
“Let’s meet up again somewhere… huh.”
Let’s meet up again somewhere.
See you again.
He had heard these words several times before, but they had never come true.
Nobody had ever returned to YGGDRASIL.
“When and where will we meet again—”
Momonga’s shoulders shook violently, and the words he could no longer hold back exploded forth:
“—Are you kidding me?!”
He pounded the table as he shouted.
The YGGDRASIL system registered this action as an attack, and began the complex calculations of Momonga’s barehanded attack strength against the table’s defensive strength to determine the final total of damage inflicted. In the end, the area Momonga had struck emitted a simple .
“This is the Great Tomb of Nazarick that we built together! How could you abandon it just like that?!”
After he shouted the words in his heart, the only thing left in there was emptiness.
“...No, that’s not right. They didn’t abandon it lightly; they simply made the choice between reality and fantasy. It couldn’t be helped. Nobody would betray the guild. Everyone who made that decision must have found it painful…”
Momonga muttered like he was trying to convince himself, and then he stood up. He walked toward the wall, where an elaborately decorated magic staff was kept.
—Seven serpents twined around the body of the staff, which resembled the kerukeion carried by Hermes Trismegistus. The serpents’ mouths gaped open in agony, and each mouth held a gem of a different color. The grip was exquisitely carved out of crystal and glowed with blue light.
Anyone would be able to recognize this staff as a supremely high-quality item, and it was a Guild Weapon that was unique to this guild. One could call it the symbol of Ainz Ooal Gown.
This staff, which should have been a treasure held by the guildmaster, was instead kept in this room as a decoration.
That was because there was nothing else which represented the guild quite like this.
Guild weapons were typically kept hidden away in safe places and not used for their tremendous powers because a guild would be disbanded if its associated guild weapon was destroyed. Even Ainz Ooal Gown, a guild which existed at the peak of YGGDRASIL, was no exception to this.
This was the reason why the weapon had been kept here, and Momonga had never touched it, despite the fact that it had been tailor-made to complement his abilities.
Momonga extended a hand to the staff, but stopped halfway. This was because at this moment — in the last few minutes before YGGDRASIL shut down for good, he realised that soon the glorious memories he had made with his comrades would be lost forever, like tears in rain. The confusion he felt over this made him hesitate as he struggled to come to a decision.
♦ ♦ ♦
Everyone had adventured every day, with the sole purpose of assembling the guild weapon.
Back then, they had held contests to see who could collect more raw materials more quickly, and there had been many disputes over the appearance of weapon. But slowly, after everyone’s opinions were gathered, the weapon gradually took shape.
That period of time had been the prime of Ainz Ooal Gown, when all his glorious memories had been made.
People had dragged themselves online after a gruelling day at work, others had argued with their wives because they played until they neglected their families, and some even laughed and said they had taken special leave to stay home from work and log on to the game.
There were times when they had spent entire days doing nothing but talking about silly things for amusement. There were times when they would draw up plans for adventures, and times when they went looking for treasure. They had also mounted raids on enemy guilds’ home bases and laid siege to their strongholds. Once, they had been attacked by a World-class Enemy — an immensely powerful, hidden boss monster — and the guild had nearly been destroyed as a result. They had also discovered many previously unknown resources, and they had placed all sorts of monsters in their guild base in order to eliminate invading players.
However, nine of them were left as of today.
Of the 41 members of the guild, 37 of them had quit. The other three were still registered as members of the guild, but Momonga had already lost count of the number of days since they had last come here.
Momonga opened a system console and connected to the developers’ website to inspect the official guild rankings. Right now there were just under 800 guilds in YGGDRASIL. In the past, they had ranked as high as the 9th place, but now — as of the last day of the game — they were in the 29th place. At their lowest, they had fallen to 48th place.
The reason why their ranking had not fallen even further was not because of Momonga’s efforts, but because of the items left behind by his former comrades.
One could call this a hollow shell of a guild, a relic of past glories.
—This was the incarnation of those days.
This was the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown.
♦ ♦ ♦
He did not want to let this weapon and its memories of their golden days stay here to be a painful reminder of the past. Yet, contrary thoughts wormed their way through Momonga’s heart.
Ainz Ooal Gown had always decided things by use of a majority vote. Momonga might have been the guildmaster but his job was mainly communicating with people and other minor tasks.
Because of that, now that there were no other guild members present, for the first time, Momonga thought to exercise his powers as the guild’s leader.
“This is a pretty sad state of affairs.”
Momonga muttered to himself as he operated his player console. He intended to equip himself in the gear that best suited the leader of a top-tier guild.
YGGDRASIL’s equipment was classified according to how much data each item possessed. Items with more data were ranked higher. From the lowest to the highest rank, they were low-class, middle-class, high-class, top-class, legacy-class, relic-class, legendary-class and what Momonga was currently selecting, divine-class.
On his ten bony fingers he wore nine rings, each with a different ability. Then there was the matter of his necklace, his gloves, his cape, his shirt and his circlet, all of which were divine-class items as well. If they had a price, it would be a jaw-dropping one.
The flowing robe which covered his torso was grander than the one he had worn earlier.
A red and black aura rose slowly from beneath his feet, and at a glance it seemed extremely ominous. This aura was not the result of any skill Momonga activated. It was simply because there had been extra room in the robe’s data capacity, so the special effects data for a [Disaster Aura] had been added into it. Touching that aura would not cause any harm.
In the corner of Momonga’s vision, he could see various indicators which showed his stats increasing.
After changing out his gear, the fully-equipped Momonga nodded, satisfied that he looked the part of the guild’s leader. Then, he reached out and grasped the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown.
As Momonga grasped the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown, it radiated a nimbus of reddish-black light. Tormented faces occasionally coalesced out of the roiling light, and then they crumbled and vanished again. They looked so realistic one could almost imagine them wailing in agony.
“...I wonder if they went overboard with the details.”
The staff that had been made but never used had finally found its way into its rightful owner’s hands, in the twilight hours of YGGDRASIL.
Momonga rejoiced as he saw his parameters rising rapidly, but at the same time he felt sad.
“Let’s go, symbol of the guild. Or no — my symbol of the guild.”
Momonga left what was known as the Round Table Room.
Guild members had a ring reserved for their use. Anyone who wore that ring would automatically appear in this place when they logged into the game, barring special circumstances. If any guild members returned, they would do so in this room. However, Momonga knew that the other members of the guild would not be coming back here. In the last few minutes of the game, the only player who remained in the gigantic Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick was Momonga himself.
Momonga suppressed the emotions that were rising like a tide, and walked through the halls.
This place was like a castle built of alabaster, a magnificent world suffused with a regal atmosphere.
If one raised their head to look to the ceiling, they would see crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling at fixed intervals, radiating a warm light.
The broad hallways had brilliantly-polished stone floors, which reflected the light from the chandeliers in a way that made it seem like twinkling stars were embedded in its surface.
If a visitor opened the doors on both sides of him, his attention would be captivated by the decadent furnishings within.
A third party observing this scene would probably be staring in awe.
The much-hated Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick had once been attacked by the largest invading force ever assembled in the game’s history. Eight guilds banded together with their allies to bring a force of over 1500 players, mercenaries and NPCs to bear on Nazarick, but in the end, they had been miserably defeated. That legendary dungeon was now reduced to this.
♦ ♦ ♦
The Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick had once been a six-floor dungeon, but it had been dramatically altered after Ainz Ooal Gown took control of it.
Currently, it was a ten-floor dungeon, and each floor had its own unique theme.
The first to third floors were modelled after a tomb. The fourth floor was an underground lake. The fifth floor was a frozen glacier. The sixth floor was a rainforest. The seventh floor was a sea of magma. The eighth floor was a wasteland. And the ninth and tenth floors were the realm of the gods — in other words, the home base of Ainz Ooal Gown, which had ranked among the top ten of YGGDRASIL’s thousands of guilds.
♦ ♦ ♦
The sound of Momonga’s footsteps and the tapping of his staff rang through this holy sanctuary. After turning several corners in this vast hallways, Momonga saw a woman in the distance, heading in his direction.
She was a sensual beauty, whose lush, golden hair grazed her shoulders.
She was dressed in a long, elegant maid’s outfit, with a large apron.
She was roughly 170 cm tall, with a slender build. Her ample bosom looked like it would burst out of her bodice at any time. Her overall appearance was attractive and gave the impression of being graceful and kind.
As the two slowly approached each other, the maid darted to the side of the hallways and bowed deeply to Momonga.
In return, Momonga raised his hand in acknowledgement.
The maid’s expression remained as it was, and she kept the same smile on her face from just now. In YGGDRASIL, facial expressions did not change, but this girl was slightly different from player characters with their unchanging expressions.
This maid was a Non-Player Character. She was not controlled by the game, but by a set of AI routines. Simply put, she was a mobile doll. Even if her design was incredibly realistic, her bow was nothing more than a programmed action.
Momonga’s acknowledgement of her bow was nothing more than a foolish gesture, because she was nothing more than a doll. However, Momonga had reasons for not treating her coldly.
There were 41 maid NPCs in the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick, each with their own unique design.
Their creator was a mangaka who had broken into the industry with his maid illustrations, and who was currently serialized in a monthly magazine.
Momonga studied the maid carefully. Apart from her looks, he also scrutinized her uniform.
The intricacy of the design, especially the fine embroidery that speckled her apron, was enough to make people gasp in awe.
Their design had been exceptionally detailed because of the declaration, “Maid uniforms are their secret weapons!” Momonga couldn’t help but feel nostalgic as he remembered the complaints from the other guild members who had helped with the design.
“Ah… that’s right. I think it was from then that he started saying that ‘Maid uniforms are justice!’ Come to think of it, I think the manga he’s drawing now has a maid as a main character. Do his assistants cry when he goes overboard on the designs? Ah, Whitebrim-san.”
The maids’ AI routines had been programmed by Herohero-san and five others.
In other words, this maid was the personification of his past friends’ hard work. He could not simply ignore her without feeling bad about it. After all, this maid was also a part of the glorious history of Ainz Ooal Gown.
Just as Momonga was contemplating these matters, the maid raised her head, as though she had spotted something, and tilted her head in surprise.
The maids would do this if anyone lingered around them for longer than a certain period of time.
As Momonga searched through his memories, he could not help but be impressed by Herohero’s elaborate programming. There should have been other hidden poses programmed into them as well. Momonga wanted to see them all, but time was very tight.
Momonga glanced at the translucent watch on his left wrist and checked the time.
As he thought, there was no time for him to spend waffling around.
“Thank you for your hard work.”
Momonga walked past the maid after that painful farewell. As he passed the maid, there was no response, but that was only to be expected. Still, even if she did not reply to him, Momonga still felt that it had to be said, because it was the last day of YGGDRASIL.
Momonga continued forward, leaving the maid behind.
After a while, a gigantic staircase appeared before Momonga’s eyes. It was wide enough that over 10 people could walk down it side by side, arms outstretched, with no problems. A luxurious red carpet lay on the steps. Momonga slowly descended the stairs, until he reached the lowest floor — the 10th floor of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
The place where he had arrived was a large receiving room, with several figures within.
The first to enter Momonga’s line of sight was a distinguished old gentleman in a butler’s outfit.
His hair was pure white, even the beard and moustache near his mouth. However, the old man’s back was ramrod-straight, like a sword forged of steel. His face was deeply wrinkled and gave onlookers the impression that he was a kind and gentle person, but his keen eyes were like those of an eagle sizing up its prey.
There were six maids standing behind the butler. However, these maids were different from the one Momonga had met earlier, in looks and equipment.
The maids wore gauntlets and greaves of gold, silver, black and other colored metals. Their armor was designed to look like the outfits of maids in manga. They did not wear helmets, but instead white headdresses. In addition, every girl was armed with a different weapon. They were the picture of battle maids.
Their hairstyles were also varied; they wore their hair in buns, ponytails, long and straight, French curls, and so on. The one thing they had in common was that every single one of them was attractive. The exact way in which they were attractive also varied within them; one was sporty and athletic, one resembled a demure Japanese maiden, one of them had a seductive allure, and so on.
These girls were NPCs, but they were distinctly different from the other maids, who had simply been designed for entertainment. Their purpose was to defend against invaders.
♦ ♦ ♦
In a game like YGGDRASIL, guilds enjoyed several benefits if they possessed a guild base of castle-tier or higher.
One of these was NPCs for base defense.
The NPCs that the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick could field were undead monsters. These automatically spawning NPCs — or “pop monsters” — had a maximum level of 30. Even if they were destroyed, after a while they would be respawned by themselves, at no cost to the guild.
However, players could not customize the AI and appearances of these “pop” NPCs.
As such, they were hardly useful in deterring intruders, who were universally players.
There was also another type of NPC; the ones designed from the ground up to their makers’ satisfaction. If a guild possessed a castle-grade guild base, the owning guild would be allowed 700 levels to be distributed between any number of NPCs they wanted.
Because the highest level in YGGDRASIL was 100, by those stipulations, a guild could make 5 level 100 NPCs and 4 level 50 NPCs, or any combination thereof.
When designing an original NPC, one could customize weaponry and other equipment in addition to clothing and appearances. As a result, one could create NPCs that were far stronger than the automatic spawns and place them in key locations.
Of course, not every NPC had to be designed for battle. A certain guild which called themselves the “Kitty Kingdom” fielded no NPCs other than cats or cat-related creatures.
In this way, each guild could freely determine their unique style.
♦ ♦ ♦
Momonga placed his thumb on his chin, and looked at the butler and maids who were bowing to him. Momonga typically used teleportation magic to move through the various rooms, so he had not had many chances to come this way. Looking at the staff filled him with nostalgia.
He reached his hand out and touched an invisible menu, opening a page that only guild members could see. Then, he selected an option from several choices. As he did so, the names of the butlers and maids appeared over their heads.
“I see. So that’s what they were called.”
Momonga laughed softly, at himself for forgetting their names, and also because of the fond memories they brought up in him. There had been quite a few arguments between his colleagues when they had chosen names for the NPCs.
The butler — Sebas’ — design was that of a house steward.
The six maids beside him were combat maids loyal to Sebas. Together, they were called the “Pleiades”. In addition to these maids, Sebas was also in charge of the Tomb’s manservants.
The text box for Sebas contained more detailed information, but Momonga did not feel like reading it. The servers would shut down soon and he had to be somewhere before then.
As an aside, all the NPCs apart from the maids were also very well fleshed-out. This was because the guild members were all fans of complex backstories and details. Many of the guild members were artists and programmers, and a game like this which emphasised the customization of appearances — allowing them to indulge their desire to create and design — was a godsend to them.
Originally, Sebas and the combat maids were intended to be a last line of defense against invaders. However, if enemy players could penetrate this deeply into the tomb, they would be able to handily defeat Sebas and the maids, so they were little more than speedbumps to buy time. However, no player had ever made it this far, so they had been waiting here for orders.
Without orders, all they could do was wait for a chance to be of use.
Momonga tightened his grip on the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown.
He knew it was foolish to feel pity for NPCs. They were nothing more than a collection of electronic data, and the closest they could come to real emotion was a very skilled set of AI routines.
“As guildmaster, I shall put the NPCs to good use.”
Momonga could not help but laugh at himself for that incredibly lame line, and then he gave them a command.
Sebas and the maids bowed respectfully, to show they had heard and acknowledged the order.
Leading them away from this place was not what the guild members had intended for them. Ainz Ooal Gown was a guild that respected the will of the majority. It was forbidden for an individual to selfishly manipulate the NPCs that everyone had made together.
However, this was the day when the curtains would fall on everything. Given that, everyone would probably forgive his indulgence.
As Momonga thought about this, he continued moving forward, followed by the sounds of many footsteps.
♦ ♦ ♦
Eventually, the group arrived at a vast hemispherical dome-shaped hall. Four-colored crystal lamps glittered from the ceiling, and there were 72 niches in the walls. Most of them were filled with statues.
Each statue was modelled after a demon’s appearance, and there were 67 of them.
This room was called “The Lemegeton”. It was named after the Lesser Key of Solomon, which was a magical grimoire.
The statues in the niches were designed to resemble the 72 demons mentioned in that book, and in truth they were golems, made out of extremely rare magical alloys. There should have been 72 of them, but there were only 67, because their creator got bored of the project and quit halfway.
The four-colored crystal lamps on the ceiling were a type of monster, and the moment an enemy entered their range, they would summon high-ranking elementals of earth, water, wind and fire, in addition to bombarding them with area-of-effect attack magic.
If these crystal lamps all attacked at once, the firepower they unleashed could easily defeat two parties of level 100 players, which would be roughly 12 people.
This room could be said to be the final defensive line of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
Momonga led the servants behind him past the magic circle, and laid eyes on the giant doors before him.
The majestic set of double doors were over five meters in height, and covered in intricate carvings. The left side was shaped into a beautiful goddess, while the right was made to resemble a cruel demon. So realistic was their design that even from across the room, Momonga thought that they would attack him.
Still, while the carvings looked like they could move, Momonga knew that they had never moved before.
—Since they made it all the way here, we should gather in glory and welcome these brave heroes. Let others slander us as they will, but we shall welcome them proudly and openly, like the magnanimous lords that we are.
That idea had been passed, in accordance with the majority vote rule.
Ulbert Alain Odle. He was arguably the most obsessed with the idea of “evil” in the guild.
“Was it because of chuunibyou…”
Momonga felt that way as he looked around the large hall.
“...Will these two statues attack?”
He was right to feel so uneasy.
Even Momonga did not fully grasp the secrets of all the mechanisms in this dungeon. It would not be strange if one of the retired guild members had left a strange sort of present for him. And the one who had designed this set of doors was just such a person.
In the past, he had designed a very powerful golem, but shortly after activation, a flaw in the combat AI made itself known and it had attacked everyone around it.
To this day, Momonga still had his doubts about whether that “mistake” had been on purpose.
“Hey, Luci★Fer-san, if they really attack me, I’ll be mad, you know.”
However, Momonga’s caution in reaching for the doors was unfounded. As he touched them, they opened by themselves — although they did so slowly, in deference to their massive weight.
The air changed.
Although the atmosphere from earlier was filled with quiet solemnity, the scene before his eyes now exceeded that by far. The air became a pressure that weighed heavily on the entire body.
It was an exquisite piece of work.
And in this wide, high room —
Even packing several hundred people inside would not make the room feel crowded. The high ceiling and the surrounding walls were a predominantly white color, with golden decorations as highlights.
The numerous chandeliers which hung from the ceiling were made in precious stones of all colors of the rainbow, and they emitted a fantastic, dreamlike radiance.
Numerous flags emblazoned with different symbols hung from flagpoles sunk into the walls. A total of 41 of these flags swayed gently in the wind, from the ceiling to the floor.
In the center of this room that was tinted gold and silver, there was a flight of stairs about 10 steps high. Atop these stairs was a gigantic throne, carved out of a single piece of crystal, whose back was high enough to touch the ceiling above it. A huge red banner hung down behind it, proudly displaying the symbol of the guild.
This place was located in the deepest reaches of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. It was also its most important place — the Throne Room.
Even Momonga could not help but gasp at the sheer magnificence of this room. He felt that it was easily the second most impressive location in YGGDRASIL, if not the first.
This was the most suitable place for him to welcome the final moments of the game.
As Momonga advanced through the room that seemed to absorb the sounds of his footsteps, his eye fell on the female NPC that stood by the side of the throne.
She was a beautiful woman who wore a pure white dress, and the faint smile on her face was that of a goddess. In stark contrast to her dress, her hair was a flowing, lustrous jet-black that reached down to her waist.
Although her golden irises and vertically-slitted pupils were somewhat odd, apart from those she could easily be considered a world-class beauty. However, a pair of curled horns sprouted from the sides of her head. In addition, a pair of black-feathered wings emerged from her waist.
Perhaps it was because of the horns, but her divine smile seemed like a mask that concealed her true feelings.
She wore a golden necklace that patterned after a spiderweb. It extended from her shoulders down to the tops of her breasts.
Her slender wrists were covered in a pair of lustrous silk gloves, and in her hand she held a strange weapon that looked like a wand of some sort. It was roughly 45 cm long, and a black orb hovered at its end, floating lightly in the air but holding its position at the end of the wand.
Momonga had not yet forgotten her name.
She was the Overseer of the Floor Guardians of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick, Albedo. She was in charge of the seven NPC Floor Guardians. In other words, she was the highest-ranked character in the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
Because of that, she was permitted to await orders within the Throne Room, in the deepest reaches of the Tomb.
However, Momonga turned a sharp look on Albedo:
“I knew there was a World-Class Item here, but how is it that there are two of them here now?”
In YGGDRASIL, there were 200 ultimate items in the game, known as World-Class Items.
World-Class Items possessed unique abilities, and some of them were so balance-breaking that they could even request changes in the game’s rules from the developers. Of course, not every World-Class Item possessed such insane power.
Even so, a player who possessed even a single World-Class Item would be catapulted to the highest echelons of fame in YGGDRASIL.
Ainz Ooal Gown possessed 11 items like this, the most of any guild. Even that was far in excess of any other guild. The guild in second place only possessed three such items.
With the permission of the other guild members, Momonga was allowed to possess one of these ultimate items, and the rest of these World-Class Items were scattered throughout Nazarick. However, most of them were stored in the depths of the Treasury, defended by its Avataras.
The only reason why Albedo could possess such a rare treasure like this without Momonga’s knowledge was because the guild member who designed Albedo had given it to her.
However, since today was already the last day of the game, Momonga felt that he should respect the wishes of his comrade who had given the item to Albedo, and so he did not take further action.
“This is a good place.”
Momonga’s words were directed to Sebas and the Pleiades as they reached the base of the stairs leading to the throne.
After that, he began climbing the stairs, but stopped when he heard footsteps behind him. Momonga could not help but laugh, although his skeletal face could not show any expressions.
The NPCs were merely inflexible AI routines. If he did not give a specifically-worded command, they would not recognize it as an order. Momonga had forgotten this and thus he had not properly commanded the NPCs.
After his guild members left, Momonga had begun solo hunting by himself to a nearly ridiculous degree in order to earn the gold needed to maintain Nazarick. He did not build friendships with other players and avoided them, as well as the high-difficulty areas he used to visit when his guild members had still been around.
Then, he would deposit his earnings in the Treasury before logging out. This had been his routine for almost every day. As such, he did not have much contact with the NPCs.
The sound of footsteps stopped.
After Momonga gave the correct command, he ascended the final steps and arrived at the throne.
He stared openly at Albedo, who stood by its side. Though he had entered this room before, he did not recall her eyes tracking him in his memories.
“What kind of backstory was she designed with?”
All Momonga knew about her character was that she was the Overseer of the Guardians, as well as the highest-ranked NPC in Nazarick.
Driven by curiosity, Momonga opened up a console and began scrolling through the details of Albedo’s flavor text.
A flood of densely-packed characters filled his vision. It was like reading an ancient epic poem. If he took his time to read it in detail, he would probably still be reading until the game ended.
Momonga felt like he had stepped on a land mine. If he could move, he would be trembling now.
He wanted to scold himself for having forgotten that Albedo’s creator was obsessed with this sort of thing.
However, since he had already opened it, he had no choice but to abandon his resistance and continue scrolling.
He didn’t even skim the text for the important points; he simply scrolled to the bottom as fast as he could while looking at the title.
After skipping past vast expanses of text, Momonga’s mind settled on the last line, and froze.
“She is also a slut.”
He could not help but stare.
“...Eh? What does this mean?”
A cry of disbelief escaped Momonga’s nonexistent lips. He looked the words over several more times, eyes filled with suspicion, but in the end, he could not find any other meaning to them. After several rounds of thought, he could only come to the conclusion he had started with.
“A slut… it must be an insult of some sort.”
Each of the 41 guild members had designed their own NPCs, so he could not understand why anyone would want to treat the NPCs they had designed themselves in this manner. Perhaps he would understand why after reading that long essay of flavor text.
However, there were guild members who would come up with these unconventional designs.
Albedo’s designer, Tabula Smaragdina, was one of those people.
“Ah, is this what they call gap moe? Tabula-san… even so…”
Isn’t a backstory like this far too much?
Momonga could not help but think that. All the NPCs made by everyone were an inheritance of the guild. Designing the highest-ranked NPC Albedo in this manner made him think that Tabula Smaragdina was beyond saving.
Would it be fine to change an NPC’s backstory based on a personal decision? After thinking about it for some time, Momonga came to a conclusion.
“Should I change it?”
Currently, with the guild weapon in his possession, Momonga could be said to be the master of the guild. It should be all right to exercise the guildmaster’s authority he had never used before.
Momonga’s doubts vanished like mist, as he steeled himself to right the wrongs of his guildmate.
He extended the staff of Ainz Ooal Gown that he was holding. Normally, one would need developer tools to change a character’s backstory, but by through his power as guildmaster, he could directly access her settings and edit them. After some action on his console, the “slut” line vanished.
“Well, it should be like that.”
Momonga thought a bit more, and looked at the gap in Albedo’s flavor text.
I should probably fill that up...
“This feels a little silly.”
Although he was laughing at himself, he still typed out a few words on the console keyboard. The words formed a sentence:
“She loves Momonga.”
“Uwah, how embarrassing.”
Momonga covered his face with his palm. It felt as though he were designing his ideal girlfriend complete with love events for himself, which embarrassed him so much that his heart began pounding. Although he wanted to rewrite it again out of shame, in the end he changed his mind and decided against it.
The game would end soon, after all, and his shame would vanish with it. Besides, the sentence he added matched the gap left by the deleted sentence exactly. It would be a shame if he deleted it and left an empty space again.
Momonga sat on the throne, scanning his surroundings with eyes filled with satisfaction and a little embarrassment. He noticed that Sebas and the maids were still standing by in a dormant state. It seemed a little lonely, and a little odd, to have them standing motionless like that.
I think there was a command for that.
Momonga recalled the words he had heard before, and extended a hand before lightly bringing it down.
As one, Albedo, Sebas and the six maids fell to one knee in obeisance.
Momonga raised his left hand to check the time.
He was just in time.
In all likelihood, the GMs were probably flooding the public channels and setting off fireworks. Momonga, who had put his heart and soul into this place and cut off all contact with the outside world, was unaware of that.
Momonga leaned against the back of the throne, and slowly raised his head to look at the ceiling.
He believed that even on the last day of the game, some invaders might come to Nazarick.
He would wait for them. He would accept any challenges in his position as guildmaster.
He had sent emails to all the guild members, but only a few had come.
He would wait for them. He would welcome his comrades back in his position as guildmaster.
“A relic of the past, huh—”
Momonga sank into thought.
Although the guild now was just an empty shell, he had enjoyed his time with it.
He turned his eyes to look at the huge flags hanging from the ceiling. There were 41 of them in total, the same number as there were guild members. Each of them displayed the personal symbol of each guild member. Momonga extended a bony finger and pointed to one of them.
Then, he turned his attention to a nearby flag. That flag represented one of the strongest players in Ainz Ooal Gown — no, in all of YGGDRASIL. He was the one who had started the guild, and the one who had gathered the “Original Nine”.
The symbol on the next flag he pointed to belonged to the oldest member of Ainz Ooal Gown, who was a lecturer in a university in real life.
His finger moved faster than before as he shifted to the flag which belonged to one of the three female members of Ainz Ooal Gown.
Momonga fluidly recited the names of the various symbols’ owners: “Herohero, Peroroncino, Bukubukuchagama, Tabula Smaragdina, Warrior Takemikazuchi, Variable Talisman, Genjiro—”
It did not take long for him to name all 40 of his former comrades.
Their names were still branded deeply in Momonga’s brain.
He sprawled tiredly on the throne.
“Yeah, it really was fun…”
Even though the game did not have any subscription fees, Momonga had still spent a third of his monthly salary on it. It was not because his salary was high, but because he had no other hobbies, so he funnelled all his income into YGGDRASIL.
There was a cash gacha in the game where players could pay for a chance to win a prize. Momonga spent nearly his entire bonus on it, and barely managed to get a rare item out of the experience. When he heard that one of his guild members Yamaiko had won that item for the cost of a lunch, Momonga had been so envious that he wanted to roll around on the ground.
(TL Note: gachas are slang for game-based lotteries or lucky draws. Named after gachapons, which are coin-operated vending machines which randomly dispense a prize.)
Because almost all of Ainz Ooal Gown’s members were productive members of society, most of them were willing to spend money on this hobby, and among them Momonga was one of the bigger spenders. He was probably one of the top few on the server.
That was how dedicated he was. Adventuring was fun, but his greatest joy was found in playing with his friends.
To Momonga, whose parents had passed away and who had no friends in real life, the guild Ainz Ooal Gown was a shining memory of the good times he had had with his friends.
And now, this guild would disappear.
His heart was filled with regret and reluctance.
Momonga gripped the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown tightly. He was just an ordinary salaryman, and he lacked the financial power or connections to change that fact. He was just another player who could only watch the closing time as it approached.
The time on his watch read [23:57]. The server would shut down at 00:00.
There was little time left. The virtual world would end, and he would have to go back to reality the next day.
That was only natural. Nobody could live in a virtual world, which was why everyone had left, one by one.
He had to wake up at 4 tomorrow. He had to sleep the moment the servers shut down in order not to affect the next day’s work.
[23:59:35, 36, 37]
Momonga set his watch to count out the seconds.
[23:59:48, 49, 50]
Momonga closed his eyes.
The countdown finished. He waited for the curtains to fall on his fantasy world—
He waited for the automatic logout—
Momonga opened his eyes.
He had not returned to his familiar room. This was still the Throne Room in YGGDRASIL.
“What’s going on?”
The time was right. He should have been forcibly logged out by the server shutdown.
It was definitely past midnight. The clock could not have gone wrong because of a system error.
Confused, Momonga looked around him, searching for any clues in the vicinity.
“Could it be they delayed the server shutdown—?”
Or had they extended play time as a form of compensation?
Although numerous reasons appeared in his mind, they were all far from the truth. However, the most likely reason was that an irresistible force had cropped up, and extended the server shutdown time. If that was the case, the GMs would have made an announcement. Momonga hurriedly worked to reopen the message panel he had closed — and then he stopped halfway.
There was no command console.
“What… on earth happened?”
Momonga was filled with panic, frustration and suspicion, but he was also surprised by how calm he was considering the circumstances. He decided to call on other means. Forced connections that did not require a console, the chat function, a GM call, a forced logout—
None of them responded. It was as though they had been deleted from the system.
“...What the hell is going on!”
Momonga’s angry voice echoes through the Throne Room, then vanished.
Today was the last day of YGGDRASIL, yet all these things were happening on a day that should have marked an end to the game. Was this some kind of prank they were pulling on the players?”
Momonga was quite unhappy that he could not meet the end of the game in style, and the words he muttered clearly illustrated the anger inside him. There should not have been any reply to his hostile suspicion.
“What’s wrong, Momonga-sama?”
It was the first time he had heard that beautiful woman’s voice.
Momonga was startled, but he still kept searching for the source of the voice. When he found the one who had spoken the words from just now, he was speechless.
The person who had answered him was the NPC raising her head — Albedo.
It was located on the border of the Kingdom at the Empire, near the southern tip of the Azellerisia Mountain Range, just outside a patch of woodland named the Great Forest of Tob.
For a frontier village of the Re-Estize Kingdom, its population was unexceptional — 120 souls, distributed among 25 families.
The village made its living from the resources of the forest and agriculture. Apart from doctors and herbalists who came to collect herbs, the only visitors to the village were the yearly tax collectors. Time seemed to stand still for the few residents of this village.
Village life was very busy even in the early hours of the morning. Villages did not possess the magical illumination of [Continual Light] which could be found in cities, so the villagers would rise with the sun and work hard all day until the sun went down.
The first thing Enri Emmot did after getting up extra early in the morning was to carry water from the nearby well. Hauling water was a woman’s job, and once she finished filling the big water tank in the house, that chore was complete. By this time, her mother would have prepared breakfast for their family of four.
Breakfast was barley or wheat porridge, as well as cooked vegetables. Sometimes, they would have dried fruit as well.
After breakfast, she would tend the fields with her parents. Her 10 year-old sister would go into the forest to gather firewood or help with the field work. When the bell in the middle of the village — the village square — rang to signal noon, everyone would break for lunch.
Lunch would be black bread baked several days before, as well as soup with some shredded meat jerky sprinkled in.
Field work would resume after lunch, and when the sun set they would return home for dinner.
For dinner, they would have the same black bread that they had for lunch, as well as bean soup. If the village’s hunters managed to bag any prey, they might be able to get some meat to go with their dinner. After dinner, the family would gather around the light of the hearth-fire to take care of household chores, such as mending worn or damaged clothes.
They would go to sleep around 8.
The girl Enri Emmot was born 16 years ago and had become a part of the village since then. She had lived these days all her life. In her heart, she wondered: how much longer will these unchanging days continue?
♦ ♦ ♦
Today was no different from any other. After waking up, Enri went to the well to carry water.
After filling her buckets at the well, she would need three trips to fill the house’s water tank.
Enri rolled up her sleeves, exposing her untanned skin, which was pale and stood out. Long years of farm life ensured that although her arms looked slender and frail, they were actually very strong, with just a hint of muscle on them.
The filled buckets were very heavy, but Enri hoisted them up like she always did.
If the buckets were bigger, I could make fewer trips, wouldn’t that make things easier? Then again, if the buckets were bigger, I probably wouldn’t be able to lift them…
As Enri thought about that issue on her way back home, she heard a sound and turned to look at it. There was tension in the air over there, and the seeds of fear began sprouting in her heart.
Her ears seemed to pick up something like wood being broken, and after that—
It sounded like a strangled bird, but there was no way it could be a bird’s call.
A chill ran down Enri’s spine. Unbelievable. There must be some kind of mistake. It couldn’t be a human’s voice. She tried to erase her unease with these thoughts, and then they vanished.
She had to run to the source of the scream, because it was coming from the direction of her home.
Enri cast aside the water buckets. She could not run while carrying that heavy burden.
Although she nearly tripped over her long skirt, she managed to keep her balance by some stroke of luck.
The sound rang through the air once more.
Enri’s heart lurched in her chest.
There was no mistake about it — it was a human scream.
She ran, and ran, and ran.
Enri could not recall going faster than this in her life. She was running so fast that her legs were about to tangle each other up.
The neighs of horses. The screams of people, and shouts.
These sounds were becoming clearer and clearer.
In the distance, Enri could see an unfamiliar man in armor swinging his sword at a villager.
The villager collapsed to the ground with a howl of pain, like a puppet whose strings had been cut, and a swift thrust from the sword dealt him a fatal blow.
There were no strangers in a small village like this. Everyone was as close as kin. As such, Enri knew exactly who had been killed before her eyes.
Mr. Morga was a loud but pleasant man. He had done nothing wrong, and did not deserve to die like this. Enri wanted to stop — but in the end she gritted her teeth and ran on.
The distance that felt fairly close while carrying water now felt like an endless stretch. As the sounds of shouts and cursing filtered into her ears, she finally saw her home before her.
“Dad! Mom! Nemu!”
Enri opened the door as she shouted for her family.
She found three familiar faces with unfamiliar looks of fear. They were motionless. However, when Enri opened the door and entered, their faces softened, the fear replaced by relief.
“Enri! Are you all right?”
Her father hugged her in his strong arms, which were brawny and tough from field work.
Her mother’s gentle arms embraced her.
“Good, Enri’s back, then we’d better flee too!”
The Emmot family was in grave danger. They had stayed at home because they were worried about leaving Enri behind, and so they had missed the best chance to escape. The threat to their lives would be catching up with them any moment now.
As she thought about that fear, it became a reality.
Just as the family was about to run, a human figure appeared in the house’s doorway. The man silhouetted by sunlight, glittered. He was a fully-armored knight whose breastplate bore the insignia of the Baharuth Empire. He held a longsword in his hand.
The Baharuth Empire was a neighbor of the Re-Estize Kingdom, and the two of them had waged frequent wars against each other. Until recently, the flames of war were mostly limited to the region around the Fortress City of E-Rantel, and had not spread to this village.
However, the quiet life they had enjoyed would end here.
Enri could feel the man’s cold eyes on her from between the vision slits of his helmet, as though he were counting up how many people were in Enri’s family. It frightened her.
The knight clenched the gauntlet holding his sword, and a creaking sound came from where metal rubbed against metal.
And then, just as he was about to enter the house—
—Her father lunged at the man, tackling him out of the doorway and out of the house with his momentum.
“Hurry up and run!”
Blood streamed from a small cut on her father’s face. He must have gotten hurt while bull-rushing the knight.
Enri’s father was rolling around as he grappled with the knight on the ground. The knight grabbed the hand of Enri’s father which was holding a knife, while he in turn kept the knight from drawing his shortsword.
The sight of blood on the body of one of her family members made Enri’s mind go white. She wavered over whether to help her father or run away.
Her mother’s shouts returned Enri to her senses, and as she looked at her mother, she saw the older woman shaking her head, with a heart-breaking expression on her face.
Enri grabbed her little sister’s hand and ran after her mother with big strides. Guilt and hesitation clawed at her heart, but in the end, she knew they had to flee into the Great Forest of Tob.
The neighing of horses, angry shouts, the clash of steel, and the stench of burning flesh.
All these assaulted Enri’s ears and nose from the direction of the village. Where had it come from? Enri ran with all her might as she tried to make sense of matters. When fleeing to an open space, she had to make her body as small as possible, or hide in the corners of houses.
The violent beating of her heart chipped away at the fear that threatened to freeze her body solid. In addition, the small hand she held in hers spurred her on.
Her mother, who was running ahead of her, suddenly froze, and immediately doubled back, her hands frantically gesturing at them to run somewhere else.
As Enri realized why her mother would do that, she bit her lip, and forced back her tears.
She clenched her little sister’s hand and ran, trying desperately to get away from here, because she did not want to see what would happen next.
“Is something wrong, Momonga-sama?”
Albedo kept asking him questions. Momonga did not know how to respond. As it was, there were far too many things he did not understand, so his thought processes short-circuited.
Momonga could only stare dumbly at Albedo, who was standing by his side.
“Are you all right?”
Albedo’s beautiful face drew close to Momonga’s as she studied him. A faint fragrance entered his nostrils. The scent seemed to restore Momonga’s ability to think, and his mind, which had been hitherto out of comission, slowly returned to normal.
“No… nothing is wrong… No, nothing.”
Momonga was not the sort of person who made a habit of speaking politely to dolls. However… hearing Albedo’s questions instinctively made him want to respond with deference. Her movements, her speech patterns, her whole being radiated an undeniable humanity.
Momonga still had the feeling that something was terribly wrong about Albedo and himself, but he had no way of understanding exactly what the problem was. All he could do in this ignorant state was to suppress his fear, shock and other unnecessary emotions. However, Momonga was a common person, and could not do that.
Just as Momonga was about to cry out, the words of one of his guild members came to mind:
—Panic is the seed of defeat, so you must maintain your calm and think logically. Remain calm, look beyond your surroundings, and don’t waste your effort on unnecessary details, Momonga-san.
As he recalled these words, Momonga slowly regained his composure.
Momonga silently thanked Punitto Moe, the Zhuge Liang of Ainz Ooal Gown.
“Is something the matter?”
She was close to him now. Albedo was so close he could feel her gentle breaths. Her lovely face dimpled in an adorable way as she asked her question. Momonga, who had calmed himself after much effort, was in danger of being driven into panic again from her nearby face.
“...The GM Call function does not seem to be working.”
Entranced by Albedo’s limpid eyes, Momonga could not help but question the NPC.
In Momonga’s past life, he had not received romantic attention from the opposite sex, let alone those of a sexual nature. Although he knew that she was just an NPC, he could not help but be moved by her realistic expressions and movements.
However, as his passions stirred within his heart, they were quenched like they had been earlier, and he returned to normal.
Momonga felt uneasy at the lack of strong emotions within himself, and he wondered if it was related to the words of his comrade from just now.
But was that really the case?
Momonga shook his head. Now was not the time to ponder these things.
“...Please forgive my inability to answer the Supreme One’s questions about this ‘GM Call’. I apologize for not meeting your expectations. Nothing would please me more than a chance to make up for my prior mistake. Please, command me as you see fit.”
...The two of them were conversing. There was no doubt about that.
Learning this fact shocked Momonga so greatly that he could not speak.
Impossible. This should have been impossible.
The closest thing NPCs could come to conversations was with macroed responses to being addressed in a certain way. There was audio data for roars and cheering for players to download, but actually allowing an NPC to engage in conversation was an impossible task. Even Sebas from just now could only accept simple orders.
Why had such an impossible event occurred? Was this phenomenon limited to Albedo?
Momonga dismissed Albedo with a wave of his hand, and disappointment flashed across her face as she retreated. Momonga turned his eyes from her body to the butler and the six maids, whose heads were still lowered.
Their voices chorused out as one, and then the butler and maids raised their heads.
“Approach the throne.”
They responded as one, and then rose to their feet. After that, they proudly strode to the front of the throne before dropping to one knee and lowering their heads again.
Momonga had learned two things from this.
The first was that he did not need to specially enter commands on a keyboard; the NPCs would understand his intentions and execute his orders.
The second was that Albedo was not the only one who could speak.
At the very least, all of the NPCs in this room were exhibiting anomalous behavior.
As Momonga thought about this, he suddenly felt that there was something very wrong about himself and Albedo. In order to discover exactly what that something was, he fixed Albedo with a piercing gaze.
“—I-Is something wrong? Have I made a mistake…?”
As he finally realized what the problem was, he did not shout, nor did he keep silent, but he simply sighed imperceptibly.
That unexpected breadth of facial expressions. The reason why her mouth could move and why she could speak—
Momonga hurriedly placed a hand on his mandible, and spoke.
—His mouth was moving.
This should have been impossible, going by what he knew about DMMORPGs. A character’s mouth would not move with their words.
The basic premise was that external appearances were fixed. Because of that, facial expressions were impossible to design.
In addition, Momonga’s face was a skull, without a tongue or a throat. He looked down to his hands, and they were the same fleshless pair that he was used to. He could also see that he had no lungs or indeed, any other internal organs. But then, how was he speaking?
Momonga could feel the certainty he had in the world evaporating away, replaced by an ever-growing uneasiness. He suppressed his desire to shout out. and like he expected, his surging emotions were suddenly quashed.
Momonga slapped forcefully at the throne, but as he expected, no damage values appeared.
“...What should I do… Is there anything I can do?”
He knew nothing about what was going on. Nobody would help him even if he got angry.
Then, his first priority should be — looking for clues.
He could see an earnest, sincere expression on Sebas’ face. He looked like a real person.
It should be fine to give him orders, right? Although he had no idea what would happen, he could assume all the NPCs in the Tomb were loyal to him, right? For all he knew, the people in front of him might not be the NPCs that everyone had made together.
Numerous questions rose up in his mind, floating on a sea of uneasiness, but Momonga forced aside all these emotions. In the end, the only choice he had for reconnaissance was Sebas. He glanced briefly to Albedo, but then Momonga steeled himself and decided to order Sebas out.
The mental image of a department chief giving orders to his subordinates appeared in his mind. Momonga took on a superior, commanding attitude, and spoke:
“Exit the Tomb and investigate the surrounding region. If you encounter intelligent creatures, interact peacefully with them and invite them to the Tomb. Attempt to accommodate the other party as much as possible during negotiations. Do not stray more than one kilometer from the tomb and avoid unnecessary combat.”
“Understood, Momonga-sama. I will do so immediately.”
In YGGDRASIL, NPCs made to protect a guild base could not leave it under any circumstances. However, it would seem this ironclad restriction had been overturned.
No, he could only be certain of that once Sebas returned.
“...Select one of the Pleiades to accompany you. If battle begins, retreat immediately and tell me everything you have learned.”
That was simply the first step.
Momonga let go of the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown.
The staff did not fall onto the ground, but floated in the air as though someone were still holding it. This was in complete defiance of physics, but it was a common sight in the game. There were quite a few items in YGGDRASIL which would continue floating in the air when left unattended.
The aura of tormented spirits seemed to cling to Momonga’s hand as he let the staff go, but Momonga paid it no heed. He was long since used to that sight...or not. Thinking that the macro command would have already been built in, Momonga snapped his fingers and deactivated the aura.
Momonga folded his arms.
The next step would be—
“...I should contact the game company.”
The game company would know the most about Momonga’s present situation.
The problem was actually contacting them. Normally, simply using the /shout command or a GM call would put him in touch with a GM instantly, but if these methods did not work either...
This was a spell used to communicate in the game.
Normally, its use was restricted to certain places and conditions, but perhaps he might be able to make good use of this spell in this current situation. The problem was that this spell was originally designed to communicate with other players, so it might not be able to reach a GM.
And in this extraordinary situation, there was no guarantee that the spell would work either.
He had to give it a try.
Momonga was a level 100 spellcaster. If he could not cast spells, his mobility, his ability to gather information, and of course his fighting power would plummet drastically. In these unknown circumstances, he had to verify that he could use magic, and quickly.
Now where can I go to test my magic... As Momonga thought about that question, he looked slowly around the Throne Room and then shook his head.
Although this was an emergency situation, he had no desire to conduct magical experiments in the silent, nearly sacrosanct Throne Room. He contemplated suitable locations for magical testing, and then a promising place came to mind.
There was one more thing he wanted to confirm, in addition to his own abilities.
He wanted to be certain of his authority. He had to know whether his powers and privileges as the guildmaster of Ainz Ooal Gown still existed.
Until now, all the NPCs he had met were loyal to him. However, in the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick, there were several NPCs with levels equal to his own. He had to make sure they were still loyal.
Momonga glanced at the kneeling Sebas and the maids, and then at Albedo beside him.
Albedo was smiling. It was a beautiful smile, but it seemed to be concealing something else behind it. As he wondered what that “something else” might be, unease crept through Momonga.
The NPCs were loyal to him, but would they stay that way? If this were in the real world, subordinates would no longer be loyal to superiors who constantly screwed up. Would the NPCs be that way as well? Or was it that once they were programmed to be loyal, they would stay that way forever?
If their loyalty to him wavered, how should he regain it?
Rewards? There was vast wealth in the Treasury. Although it pained him to expend the treasures left behind by his former comrades, they would probably understand if it was for the sake of Ainz Ooal Gown. The question would then be how large of a reward he should give.
In addition, was he superior to others by virtue of being higher-ranked?. But what criteria could he use to quantify his superiority? He was not clear about that yet. He had the feeling that as long as he kept this dungeon going, he would eventually come to understand these things.
Or did that mean—
He opened his left hand and gripped the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown that sailed into his grasp.
The seven gems set into the staff gleamed brightly, as though imploring their master to use their colossal might.
“...Forget it, I’ll take my time to think about that later.”
Momonga released the staff he held, and the wavering staff fell to the ground as though it were angry at him.
In any case, as long as he acted the part of the leader, they would probably not raise their hands against him right away. Be it among animals or humans, enemies would probably not attack if their intended prey did not reveal any weaknesses.
Momonga declared in a powerful voice:
“Pleiades. Other from the maid selected to accompany Sebas, the rest of you will head to the 9th Floor and repel any invaders from the 8th Floor.”
The maids behind Sebas acknowledged his orders respectfully.
“Understood, my master!”
Once more the chorus of voices rang out. Sebas and the maids bowed once more to their lord who sat upon the throne, then stood and left simultaneously.
The giant doors opened, and then closed again.
Sebas and the maids vanished beyond the doors.
It was good that they had not replied with a “No” or something similar.
A great weight seemed to lift off Momonga’s chest, and at the same time he looked at the person who had stayed by his side. That person was Albedo, who had stood by, awaiting orders.
She smiled, and asked him, “Then, Momonga-sama, what will you have me do next?”
“Ah, ahhh… got it.”
Momonga rose from the throne to retrieve his staff, and as he did that, he spoke:
“Come to me.”
The smiling Albedo drew closer. Although Momonga was wary of the black wand and orb she had been carrying, that caution passed in an instant, and he decided to temporarily ignore its existence. Just as Momonga finished thinking that, Albedo was close enough that he could embrace her if he wanted.
She smells nice — wait, what am I thinking.
Momonga cast out the thoughts which had rose up inside him again. Now was not the time for fooling round.
He reached out his hand to touch Albedo’s.
A pained expression flickered across Albedo’s face. Momonga drew his hand away, like he had received an electric shock.
What’s this? Did I make her feel uncomfortable?
Several bad memories ran through his mind — like being hit by loose change that fell from the sky — but in the end Momonga found his answer.
Overlords required levels in the Elder Lich racial class, and among the abilities Elder Liches possessed was the ability to inflict negative energy damage on anything they touched. Was that the reason?
Although, even if it really was the reason, he still had some questions to ask.
In YGGDRASIL, the monsters and NPCs that appeared in the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick would be recognized as belonging to the Ainz Ooal Gown faction. Since every member of the guild was also flagged as belonging to Ainz Ooal Gown, there should be no problems even if they attacked each other.
Could it be that she no longer belongs to our guild? Or has friendly fire been enabled?
The latter possibility was more likely.
With that conclusion in mind, Momonga apologized to Albedo.
“Forgive me. I forgot to deactivate my negative energy touch skill.”
“Please pay it no heed, Momonga-sama. That damage hardly counted as damage. And as long as it were Momonga-sama, I would gladly endure any kind of — kya!”
“Ah… mm. Is… that so… No, no, I must still apologize.”
Momonga was caught off-guard by Albedo’s adorable yelp and the way she shyly covered her face, and his reply ended up being less dignified than he had hoped for.
So it was due to the negative energy touch after all.
Momonga turned his eyes from Albedo, who was going on and on about how this was nothing compared to the pain of losing her virginity, and began thinking about how to temporarily deactivate the always-on skill — and then he suddenly knew how to do it.
To Momonga, who wielded the power of an Overlord, it was as simple and natural as breathing.
He could not help but laugh at the strange situation he found himself in. After all the shocks and surprises he had received so far, this was hardly worth panicking about. It was frightening how well he had adapted to his condition.
“I’m going to touch you.”
After deactivating the skill, he touched Albedo’s hand. Thoughts like “her hand’s so slim”, “her skin’s so white” and so on raced through his head, but he cast aside these male desires and focused on one thing — the pulse at her wrist.
— It was there.
It was a steady rhythm, lub-dub, lub-dub. She was a living being, so it was only natural.
Yes, she was alive.
Momonga released her hand and looked at his own arms. All he saw was an expanse of polished white bone, bereft of skin or flesh. Because he had no blood vessels, he could not feel a heartbeat. Indeed, an Overlord was an undead creature, a being that had transcended mortality itself, so obviously it would not have a heartbeat.
He shifted his gaze to Albedo.
Momonga saw himself reflected within Albedo’s moist golden eyes. Her cheeks were pink, probably because her body was rapidly heating up. The changes in her body surprised him.
Is she not an NPC? Is she not pure electronic data? Why does she feel like a real person? What kind of AI could do this? More importantly, why is it that YGGDRASIL feels like the real world...
Momonga shook his head in denial. There was no way such a fantastic scenario could have occurred. But once the idea took root, it was not easy to eradicate. Momonga was not sure how to proceed given the changes in Albedo.
The next step… yes, the final step. If he could confirm that, then all of his predictions would be vindicated. Was this real life, or was this just fantasy?
He had to do this. If she attacked him with that weapon of hers, it could not be helped.
“Albedo… I, may I touch your breasts?”
The air between them seemed to freeze.
Albedo’s eyes went wide.
A wave of depression washed over Momonga as he considered his words.
“I have to do this”, what the hell was he thinking, saying that to a woman? He wanted to scream “Despicable!” at the top of his voice. Indeed, using one’s superior position to commit sexual harassment was the most despicable thing imaginable.
But he had no choice. Indeed, he had to do this.
As Momonga convinced himself with all his strength, his composure gradually returned to him. Resuming the air of a proper ruler, he continued forcefully:
“That... should be fine, right?”
It was not fine at all.
In contrast to Momonga’s nervous request, Albedo seemed to be overflowing with joy. She gave him a glittering smile.
“But of course, Momonga-sama. Please, help yourself.”
Albedo straightened herself up, presenting her ample twin peaks for Momonga’s inspection. If he still had saliva, he would have swallowed several times by now.
Her breasts swelled up through her dress. And now, he was going to touch them.
On the other side of his abnormal tension and nervousness, a quiet, calm part of Momonga’s brain was observing his own actions. He noted how foolish he was, and wondered why he had thought of this, and why he was still going to follow through anyway.
He sneaked a peek at Albedo, and found that her eyes were shining, jiggling her bosom as though to say “hurry up and touch me”.
Not knowing whether it was because of excitement or embarrassment, Momonga steadied his hands with sheer force of will, steeled his resolve, and reached out.
The first thing Momonga felt was something hard under the dress, followed by a soft, yielding sensation.
As Albedo moaned wetly, Momonga completed yet another experiment.
If his brain was normal, there were two possible explanations for his present situation.
The first was that this was a new DMMORPG. That was to say, the moment YGGDRASIL had shut down, a new game, “YGGDRASIL II”, had immediately taken its place.
However, in light of this experiment, the probability of that being the case was vanishingly small.
This was because R-18 actions were strictly forbidden in these games. Who knew, perhaps even R-15 actions might be banned as well. Violators would be publicly listed on the game’s official website, and their accounts would be deleted, or worse.
Once the records of these R-18 actions were publicly released, they might be punished for damaging moral culture and thus violating the Social Order Maintenance Act. As such, most people would consider these acts off-limits.
If they were still in a game world, the company should have made it impossible for players to do such things. If the GMs and the game companies were watching, they would have prevented Momonga from performing lewd actions. However, there was no sign of any resistance or opposition.
In addition, one of the fundamental rulings which pertained to DMMORPGS was that forcing a player to participate in a game without permission could be treated as a form of cyber-kidnapping.
As such, forcing a player to test out a game in this manner was a prosecutable offense, especially if there was no way to force-quit the game. It would not be unexpected for a company to receive fines or jail time for such things. If a situation arose where a player was not able to log out of the game, up to a week’s worth of game activity could be stored in a legally-mandated record, which would make it easy to prosecute the company for their violations of the law.
Therefore, if Momonga did not report to work for a week, someone would have found it strange and come to his house to check on him. Then all the police would need to do was to access the records with a specialized console and the problem would be solved.
Which company would risk arrest or worse to commit a corporate crime like this? Of course, they could try to muddy the waters by saying “this was a closed beta test for YGGDRASIL II”, or “there were third-party programs used here”. But in truth, such a risky matter would have no benefits at all for the game company.
That being the case, the only answer for his present circumstances would be that a third party was doing something here, and it had nothing to do with the game company. If that was the case, he would need to throw out all his previous theories and think in other directions, otherwise he would never find the answer.
The problem was that he had no idea where to start. And there was another possibility...
...The possibility that the virtual world had become reality.
Momonga promptly rejected that idea. How could such an illogical, foolish thing happen?
But on the flip side, the more he thought about it, the more strongly he felt it was the right answer.
And then — Momonga remembered Albedo’s scent.
In accordance to the software legislation for virtual reality games, such games were not allowed to provide sensory data for smell and taste. Although YGGDRASIL had food and drink items, consuming them was little more than changing a value in the game system. In addition, the sense of touch was heavily limited, in order to prevent confusion with the real world. These limitations meant that VR systems were not very useful for the sex industry.
However, none of these limitations were in effect now.
Realizing these facts shocked Momonga. Countless questions like “What about tomorrow’s work?” , “What’ll happen if this keeps up?” flashed through his mind, but then he cast them all to the back of his mind.
“...If this virtual world is just a simulation of the real world… then the quantity of data involved must be unimaginable…”
Momonga swallowed with a nonexistent throat. Though his mind could not comprehend the situation, his heart could.
His hands finally left Albedo’s ample bosom.
He realised that he had been groping her for a long time, but Momonga justified it to himself by saying that he had no choice but to grope her for that long, and it was definitely not because squeezing her supple flesh felt so good that he reluctantly let go of her… or something.
A sensual moan came from the red-faced Albedo, and he could practically feel her body heat raising the surrounding temperature. After that, she shyly asked Momonga:
“Will I have my first time here?”
Momonga was caught off guard by her question, and before he could think clearly, he replied:
His mind was suddenly frozen, and was unable to parse her question,
First time? What’s that? What’s this all about? And why does she look so shy?
“May I ask how you wish to dispose of my clothes?”
“Would it be better if I disrobed myself? Or would you like to unwrap me, Momonga-sama? Or if we did it while I was wearing the dress, afterwards… it would get dirty… no, if you want me to wear this dress, I have no objections, Momonga-sama.”
His brain finally managed to make sense of Albedo’s words. Although, whether there really was a brain under that skull remained to be seen.
As Momonga realized why Albedo had this reaction, an immense struggle took place within himself before he finally said:
“Enough, that’s all for now, Albedo.”
“Eh? I understand.”
“Now is not the time for… no, there’s no time for that sort of thing.”
“My, my apologies! I allowed myself to be ruled by my desires despite the urgency of the situation!”
With a swift movement, Albedo made to genuflect in apology, but Momonga stopped her:
“No, all this is my fault. I forgive you, Albedo. But other than this… I have an order.”
“Please give me any command you desire.”
“Tell the Guardians of each Floor, with the exception of the 4th and the 8th Floors, to meet at the Colosseum on the 6th Floor in an hour’s time. I will contact Aura and Mare myself, so there is no need to inform them.”
“Understood. Allow me to repeat the order; aside from Aura and Mare of the 6th Floor, I am to inform all the Floor Guardians to meet one hour later at the Colosseum.”
Albedo swiftly departed the Throne Room.
As he watched the retreating Albedo, Momonga let himself sigh, in a way that suggested he was thoroughly exhausted. Once she left the Throne Room, Momonga groaned painfully:
“...Oh, what have I done? It was supposed to be a silly joke… If I’d known I wouldn’t have done it. I’ve… I’ve soiled the NPC Tabula Smaragdina-san created…”
When he thought about it, there was only one reason why Albedo would react like she had.
It must have been when he was editing her backstory, and changed that line to “She is in love with Momonga.”
That must have been why she acted that way.
Momonga muttered to himself, thinking about how Tabula Smaragdina had painstakingly created his masterpiece Albedo out of whole cloth, and then someone else had splashed paint all over his work at will, and now she had become like this.
The knowledge that he had ruined someone else’s hard work made him feel miserable.
However, the frowning Momonga — although it could not be seen because he was a skeleton — eventually rose from the Throne.
Momonga told himself that he had to leave this at the back of his mind. After the important things were taken care of, he could agonize over it later.
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