There were two routes leading northeast to Carne Village from E-Rantel.
One headed north, and then east along the outskirts of the forest. The other went eastwards, then north.
This time, they went by the first route.
Travelling along the edge of the forest meant that there would be a higher chance of encountering monsters. It was the wrong choice, from a bodyguard’s perspective.
That said, everyone still wanted to go by that route. This was because Ainz wanted to fulfil the job Peter and friends first offered them, that of monster hunting. Although it seemed like they were taking a great risk — in the same way that a hunter chasing two hares would catch neither — the presence of the mighty Momon and Nabe meant that they could take that route with peace of mind. Another reason was that Nabe had demonstrated the spell [Lightning] outside the city, in order to prove that she could cast 3rd-tier spells.
In addition, they would not be entering the forest, just travelling along the edges. Thus, any monsters that appeared would not be too strong, and could be taken down by everyone working together. It was also a good chance for each adventurer team to observe the other’s strength. They had taken these points into consideration before making their decision.
After leaving E-Rantel, the sun was at its zenith, and the travellers could see a vast stretch of dense and primeval dark-green forest in the distance. The thick tree-trunks stood tall, while their leafy branches spread wide. Because light could not penetrate into the depths of the forest, there was a feeling that they would be swallowed by the blackness. The gaps between the trees looked like a gaping maw waiting for prey to throw themselves into it, which contributed to the sense of unease that they felt.
♦ ♦ ♦
The group was arrayed around the wagon as they moved forward. Naturally, Nfirea was driving the wagon. Lukrut the ranger walked ahead of him, Peter the warrior was on the left of the wagon, while Dyne the druid and Ninya the magic caster were on the right. Finally, Momon and Nabe brought up the rear.
Visibility was good, so everyone was not too tense. However, Peter’s voice contained its first hint of severity as he spoke:
“Momon-san, this stretch is a dangerous area. Although we should be able to handle any monsters that appear, please be careful all the same.”
As Ainz nodded, he suddenly thought of something.
If he was in a game, he could tell what sort of monsters would spawn in a given location, but in reality, that would be impossible. Only the gods knew if a troublesome enemy would show up.
After the Battle of Carne Village several days ago and after interrogating the prisoners of the Sunlight Scripture, Ainz was quite confident in his strength. Of course, that was in his capacity as a magic caster. Now that Ainz was wearing a suit of magically-created plate armor, there were very few spells that he could cast.
Could he serve as an effective frontliner with all his strengths sealed off? In addition, as a bodyguard, his victory condition was not defeating the enemy, but protecting Nfirea from any harm. Ainz felt uneasy as he thought about that.
If the situation warranted it, he would remove his armor and use magic. But if he did that, he would have to kill his companions or alter their memories, and Ainz did not want that at all.
It’s a pain in the ass.
Ainz turned to look at Narberal, who nodded under his gaze.
The two of them had already discussed their plans for emergencies. Narberal would cast magic of the 5th tier if things came to that. And if that did not work either, Ainz would shed his armor and take the situation a little seriously.
As he saw the two of them make eye contact — although Ainz was still wearing his full helm — It would seem that Lukrut was under some sort of misconception. He addressed Narberal in an airy, light-hearted tone:
“It’ll be fine, don’t worry. Things won’t be too troublesome as long as we don’t get ambushed. And nothing will escape my eyes and ears when I’m in charge. I’m great, aren’t I, Nabe-san?”
In response to Lukrut’s earnest demeanor, Narberal merely sneered:
“Momon-san, may I have permission to pulverize this… inferior lifeform (Aedes mosquito)?”
“Ah, Nabe-san graced me with her cold words!”
Everyone smiled bitterly as Lukrut raised his thumb, but they did not seem to mind Narberal’s harsh retorts. They did not think that Narberal really thought of humans in general as inferior lifeforms, just certain individuals (Lukrut) in particular.
Ainz denied Narberal’s heartfelt request, feeling a cramping pain in his nonexistent gut. If only she could hide her inner thoughts while travelling around humans...
Nfirea seemed to have misunderstood something, and he interrupted from the side:
“It’ll be fine. In truth, the region from here to Carne Village is the territory of the “Wise King of the Forest”. Therefore, we shouldn’t meet any monsters unless our luck is very bad.”
“The ‘Wise King of the Forest’?”
Ainz recalled what he had learned in Carne Village.
The Wise King of the Forest was a monster that could use magic, and it was frighteningly powerful. Because its lair was in the depths of the forest, there were virtually no eye-witness reports about it, although its existence had been a topic of discussion since very long ago. Some people called it a four-legged silver beast with a snake for a tail, which had lived for hundreds of years.
Ah, I’d like to see it. He did not know if the stories were true or false, but if it really had lived all these years, it should possess a surprising intellect. After all, it was called the Wise King of the Forest. If he could capture it… he should be able to strengthen Nazarick.
Ainz pieced together a hazy image of what he thought the monster looked like in his mind.
With a name like “Wise King of the Forest”, it might be an animal previously thought extinct… like a monkey perhaps… ah, an orangutan? That name means “man of the forest”... or was that “sage”? And it has a snake for a tail… does a monster like that exist?
Ainz felt that Yggdrasil might have a monster like that. After racking his brains, he found an answer:
A Nue! ...That creature has a monkey’s head, a raccoon’s body, the limbs of a tiger and a snake’s tail… although I’m not sure if it really is an Yggdrasil monster. It might have been summoned, just like those angels.
Just as Ainz thought of Yggdrasil’s Nue, Lukrut called out to Narberal again in a flighty tone:
“Well then, if we complete this mission perfectly, I wonder if my lovely Nabe-chan’s affection towards me will go up a little more?”
Narberal clicked her tongue, her disgust welling up from the bottom of her heart.
Lukrut put on an exaggerated look of shock, but nobody spoke up for him. Everyone seemed to treat them as a comedy duo.
In this way, everyone chatted as they progressed forward, under the blazing sun that tanned the skin. Their boots were covered in the juices of trampled grass and smelled of plants.
As he watched everyone wiping their sweat, Ainz was extremely grateful for his undead body. The strong sunlight did not fatigue him, and even wearing this clumsy, heavy armor did not tire him out.
Only Lukrut remained energetic and cheerful, talking and laughing with the others, who were marching in silence:
“It’s okay guys, you don’t have to be so alert. After all, nothing escapes my eyes and ears. Even Nabe-chan trusts me, look how relaxed she is.”
“It’s not because of you. It’s because we have Momon-san.”
Narberal frowned. Sensing that something drastic might happen, Ainz put his hand on Narberal’s shoulder and her face immediately softened.
Seeing their interaction, Lukrut tossed out a question:
“Huh, so it looks like you and Momon-san really are lovers?”
“His, his lover! What are you saying! That should be Albedo-sama!”
“You!” Ainz shouted despite himself. “What are you saying, Nabe!”
Narberal’s eyes went wide and she covered her mouth. Ainz coughed, and then coldly said:
“...Lukrut-san, could you not make baseless speculations?”
“...Ah — sorry about that. It was just a joke. But ah — does that mean you have a significant other already, Momon-san?”
The bowing Lukrut did not look remorseful at all, but Ainz was not as angry as he was just now. It would seem picking Narberal for this expedition was a foolish decision.
Still, despite his poor choice, Ainz had no alternatives in the matter. After all, he had nobody else to draw upon besides her. Almost all the NPCs made by the guild of heteromorphic beings, Ainz Ooal Gown, were heteromorphic beings themselves. There were very few among them who could be brought into a human city. As for Narberal, at least she had a human appearance, even if it was a disguise. Thus, she was one of the few people he could use… though he had not factored her personality into the equation when he made his choice.
Given the present circumstances, perhaps another battle maid, Lupusregina Beta, might have been a better choice, but it was too late to regret his decision at this point.
Narberal’s face was ashen white from her gaffe. Ainz patted her on the back several times to put her at ease. A good boss had to forgive the first mistake his subordinates made. The scolding would come when they repeated their mistakes. It would be bad if she fell into despair or withdrew from them, thus affecting their movements.
The important thing was that she had only mentioned Albedo’s name. There was no need to alter their memories… probably.
“Lukrut, don’t talk nonsense and stay alert.”
“Momon-san, I’m very sorry for my colleague’s rudeness. We know that prying into other people's’ private lives is taboo.”
“No, no. I’m willing to let it be water under the bridge as long as you can be more careful in the future.”
The two of them looked at Lukrut’s back in unison, and they heard something along the lines of “Ah — Nabe-chan hates me now. Uuu, her affection value must be a negative number,” as Lukrut rounded his shoulders in defeat.
“That idiot…! I’ll scold him after this. I pray you will pay no heed to what he just said.”
“Well, about that… Hm. I’ll leave that task to you, then. Since Lukrut’s on lookout duty, we can leave that to him, and I’ll talk a bit about myself.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. We’ll make him work hard for the trouble he’s caused you.”
After Peter smiled to him, Ainz advanced to Dyne and Ninya. Dyne — switching places with Ainz — fell back to walk alongside Narberal.
“I have some things to ask you about magic.”
After seeing Ninya nod his head, Ainz began with his questions. Nfirea seemed interested in their conversation and looked over.
“People who have been charmed or dominated by magic might reveal the information they carry. Is there a magical countermeasure that causes people to die after being questioned several times?”
“I’ve never heard of a spell like that.”
Ainz turned, and his helmet faced Nfirea.
“Me neither. There are ways to modify a spell so it activates at a certain time, but I don’t think they’re as elaborate as what you describe.”
Ainz was slightly disappointed when he did not get the answer he was looking for.
If that was the case, he would have to worry about how to deal with the surviving members of the Sunlight Scripture later.
Since there were so few survivors left, it would be a waste to expend them to no effect. In order to discover why they vanished after death, he had vivisected them with magical medical techniques, but it had ended up as a bust. If they died from that, should he continue prying information from them? After all, losing one man meant losing the chance to ask three questions.
Even more regrettable was the case of Nigun, who had been the first to die. They had lost Nigun, who knew the most, for the sake of a few simple questions.
Still, that loss let Ainz know that he could not take on this world with his knowledge of YGGDRASIL alone, so that could be counted as a lesson learned. At the very least, they had learned how to proceed from that failure.
As Ainz thought distractedly about that, Ninya continued speaking:
“That said, I only know a little bit about magic. Perhaps countries which trained magic casters on a national level could create spells like that. The Slaine Theocracy has academies for clerics — divine magic casters — while the Empire has institutes which produce their arcaners, sorcerers, wizards and other arcane magic casters. Then there’s places like the Agrand Republic, which uses something like the spells born of the wisdom of the dragons.”
“I see. In other words, spells like that could be created with the assistance of an entire country.”
According to the information obtained earlier, the Agrand Republic was a nation of demihumans, ruled by a council. It was in opposition to the Slaine Theocracy, which championed the concept of human supremacy. The most interesting thing about them were five of their councillors, who were dragons said to possess awesome power.
Ainz was interested in that country, but he had not found his feet in this world yet, and did not have the excess energy to spread his tentacles to that nation at the moment. Just keeping his current schemes running required a considerable amount of Nazarick’s manpower.
“Then, may I ask about something else?”
Ainz continued questioning Ninya as he walked, until he was satisfied.
He asked Ninya and Peter so many things that the other Swords of Darkness looked at him with eyes that said, “Are they still talking?” The topics he touched on were quite diverse, including magic, martial arts, adventurers, the politics of the region, among other things.
Although he had to ask his questions carefully, the answers were still very helpful. Ainz was certain that this had greatly increased his knowledge about this world.
Yet, he did not feel that was enough. Learning about one thing made him curious about other things, especially when it came to the topic of magic. It was quite surprising what a world would become if it was based on magic.
The greatest influence of that could be seen in the technological level of this world. It looked like it was in the Middle Ages, but in truth it was closer to the Modern Age. The reason for these advances in technology was magic.
After knowing this, Ainz gave up on trying to understand the technology of this world. As a person born in a world advanced through the power of science, there was no way for him to draw parallels between what he knew and a world that had developed with the aid of magic. For instance, there were spells that produced salt, sugar, and spices, as well as spells which restored nutrients to the soil, removing the need for a fallow period in agriculture.
Then, there was the fact that the sea was apparently not salty. All these facts about the world were vastly removed from what Ainz had expected from his knowledge.
Ainz lost track of time in the process of carefully satisfying his curiosity.
“Movement.” Lukrut suddenly said, in a voice which held a hint of tension. It was completely different from the flighty attitude he had taken while flirting with Nabe. In his place was a professional, seasoned adventurer.
Everyone turned to the direction where Lukrut was looking, and readied their weapons.
“There. Over there,” Lukrut said in response to Peter’s question. He pointed at a corner of the forest, but nobody could see anything through the clutter of the forest. Even so, none of them doubted him.
“What should we do?”
“We shouldn’t force our way in. If they don’t leave the forest, we’ll leave them alone.”
“Then, the smartest thing to do is follow the plan and have Nfirea-shi fall back!”
As they discussed their next move, there were movements in the forest, and then monsters slowly revealed themselves.
There were 15 creatures that were the size of children, surrounding six huge creatures.
The first group were the demihumans called Goblins.
Their twisted faces had flattened noses, while two fangs thrust forth from their ravening maws. Their skin was a bright brown, while their filthy, matted black hair looked like it had been styled by wax.
They wore tattered clothes, which were a burnt sienna, though it was unknown whether it was dyed that color or stained that way by dirt. On top of that, they had fashioned tanned animal hides into a crude form of armor. Each held a wooden club in one hand and a small shield in the other.
They were evil-looking monsters, born of the mating of human and apes.
The less numerous creatures were huge, roughly 250 to 300 cm in height.
Their lower jaws jutted out, and they looked retarded.
Their heavily muscled arms looked like tree trunks. Their hands nearly dragged on the ground due to their hunchbacked stance. They used logs as clubs, and wore animal skins around their waists. They reeked so much that the adventurers could smell them over the long distance separating them.
Their tanned brown skin was covered in warts, while their muscular chests and bellies looked quite striking. At a glance, they looked to be very strong, and they resembled shaven, distorted chimpanzees.
They were demihumans known as Ogres.
Almost all of them seemed to carry tattered bags, as though for a long journey.
The monsters watched the adventurers warily as they advanced onto the grassy plains. They might have been some distance away, but there was an unmistakable hostility on their ugly faces.
“...There’s quite a number of them. Looks like we can’t avoid a fight.”
“Mm, that’s right. Goblins and Ogres are the kind who’ll attack once they outnumber their opponents. Or rather, I should say that intelligent beings would probably not judge their opponents’ strength simply by their numbers.”
Ainz could understand and accept this, but the fact that it was completely different from how it was in the game left him somewhat confused.
Be it in height or skin color, the Ogres and Goblins before him all differed from each other. In other words, they were not identical individuals. It felt like he was faced with 21 unknown monsters.
“Reality’s different from the game, huh.”
He felt like he was fighting unknown monsters in an unexplored region, without the benefit of a walkthrough site. As he recalled the feeling of that battle in Carne, Ainz began muttering to himself.
“...Oh, is something the matter?”
“Earlier, we agreed to divide them in half, but how shall we assign them now?”
“Can’t we split into two teams and dispatch the enemy as they come to us?”
“It would be troublesome if they all went to one side. Nabe-san, can you use [Fireball] to eliminate all the Goblins in one go?”
“I cannot use [Fireball]. The strongest spell I can use is [Lightning].”
Ainz thought about the restrictions he had given her earlier.
“[Lightning] is a spell that pierces in a straight line, right?”
“Then, what if we got the enemies to form up into a line, and then take them all out in one shot from the side?”
“In that case, we’d need a defensive line that can take the enemy’s charge…”
“Let me handle that. Can I trust you gentlemen with protecting Nfirea-san on the wagon?”
“If a few Ogres could give me a hard time, then I’d be all talk. Everyone, please watch how I slaughter those Ogres.”
As they heard Ainz’s confident voice, understanding dawned on the faces of the Swords of Darkness. Their hearts filled with the peace of mind which came from knowing that they could leave that task to him without having to worry.
“Understood. However, we can’t just watch the enemy attack, so we’ll support you from the side as much as possible.”
“Do you need any support magic?”
“Ah, not for us. Friends from Swords of Darkness, please focus on supporting your comrades.”
“Please permit us to refuse. If we begin the engagement so close to the forest, there’s a chance the enemy might slip past.”
“If that’s the case, shall we do the usual and lure them out first?”
“An excellent idea! Momon-shi will block the enemy’s charge, but how will we deal with any fish which slip the net?”
“I’ll hold down the Ogres with the martial art [Fortress]. Dyne, you’ll handle the Goblins. Ninya will cast a defensive spell on me, and while it may not be necessary, you should also watch out for Nabe-san’s safety and use attack spells whenever possible. Lukrut, go take care of the Goblins, and if any Ogres make it past the defensive line, you’ll have to block them too. If that happens, change your priority to wiping out the Goblins, Ninya.”
Everyone looked to each other and nodded, showing that they understood Peter’s instructions. Their combat strategy was smoothly decided, and their silent teamwork was flawless.
Ainz, who was thoroughly impressed by this display, made a noise of quiet approval.
He recalled YGGDRASIL once more. Back then, Ainz and his comrades hunted monsters with the same repeated movements; baiting, luring, blocking and then attacking. They could fight well as a group because they were thoroughly familiar with each others’ strengths.
Perhaps he was being biased, but Ainz earnestly believed that their coordination was not an easy thing to replicate. The Swords of Darkness could not possibly compare to them, though he could see something like his own teamwork in their movements.
“Momon-san, do you need any assistance other than magic?”
“No, there’s no need. The two of us will be enough.”
“That’s… pretty confident.”
There was some unease in Peter’s words. If the person responsible for holding the line fell easily, it might lead to a domino-like reaction that would end in the team breaking apart. He should have felt uneasy about that.
After all, this was not a game, but a battle on which they were betting their lives.
“You’ll see once it begins,” Ainz said, terminating the conversation with a curt reply.
“Peter-san, we’ll start once your preparations are finished.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Lukrut drew the string of his composite longbow to its limits, until its limbs began creaking. With a whoosh, the bowstring sliced through the air, launching an arrow in a straight line. It struck the ground about ten meters away from the Goblins on the plain.
The sudden attack made the Goblins sneer at Lukrut from behind their shields.
The object of their mockery was the missed arrow. Of course, the Goblins could not hit a target that was over 120 meters distant either, but they seemed to have forgotten that.
The vast disparity between the attack they had received and their numbers made the Goblins’ violent instincts swell. They shouted in unison, and charged at Lukrut with wild abandon. The somewhat slower Ogres followed from behind them as well.
Driven into a frenzy by their bloodlust, they did not form up into ranks, nor did they protect themselves with their shields. Their minds were a sea of white.
As he verified that fact, Lukrut smiled thinly.
He sent another arrow downrange when the enemy was 90 meters distant. This time, the arrow did not fall short, but pierced a Goblin’s cranium. The Goblin at the end of the formation took a few wobbly steps before collapsing to the ground, where he died.
The distance between them shrank, but there was no worry in Lukrut’s hand, which was holding his bow. This was because he was confident that someone would protect him, even if the enemy reached him.
Ninya cast a spell from behind Lukrut, hearing his colleague’s voice, Lukrut nocked another arrow to his bowstring.
Fifty meters out, an arrow went through the head of another Goblin, who collapsed and did not get back up. Dyne decided to make his move as well.
Although Goblins were agile, the Ogres had large strides, and so their speeds were roughly the same. That said, over a charge of nearly 100 meters across a grassy plain, the Ogres with their stronger legs ended up in front while the Goblins lagged behind. The two groups drew away from each other and Dyne could not get too many of them in the area of his spell’s effect.
Still, that was enough. After, Dyne’s first objective was to pin down one Ogre.
Dyne cast his spell, and vegetation moved under the feet of one of the Ogres, turning into vines that tangled around its feet. Immobilized by the abnormally resilient plant life, the Ogre roared in frustration.
At the same time, Ainz — followed by Narberal — strolled leisurely forward.
They walked like they were taking a stroll, not standing fast against charging monsters.
As the Ogres running at the head of the mob approached him, Ainz reached his hands behind his back to grasp the hilts of his swords. Narberal too reached under her cloak and brought forth her sheathed sword.
Momon brandished his greatswords, tracing two great arcs in the air.
The dazzling light reflecting off the blades made the Swords of Darkness gasp in surprise.
The swords that Ainz wielded — each over 150cm long — looked exceptionally ornate. They resembled works of art more than tools of war.
A pair of intertwined serpents were carved into the blades. Their tips were rounded and wider across than the rest of the sword, like a pair of opened fans. The edges radiated a cold, sharp radiance.
They were the weapons of a hero.
Ainz was holding a pair of hero’s swords.
As they beheld his majestic figure, Swords of Darkness drew a breath in unison. If what they had seen before made them gasp, what they saw now was a scene that struck them dumb.
Swords got heavier the longer they were. Long swords like the ones Ainz was holding could not be wielded easily, even with weight-reducing magic. Granted, they already knew that Ainz possessed preternatural arm strength from their short time with him, but even so, they could not believe anyone could swing those greatswords with such ease.
Ainz casually whipped them through the air like a pair of sticks. Truly, it was an awe-inspiring sight.
“Momon-san… what kind of a man are you…” Peter breathed, as though speaking for everyone else.
As a warrior himself, he immediately knew just how strong one’s arms would have to be to pull off a stunt like that. His shock was because he had no idea how long Momon had trained to reach that level of ability. Although he had always felt that Momon was on a different level from himself, being confronted with the truth made his legs tremble uncontrollably.
Even the unintelligent Goblins were terrified by the sight of Ainz, their legs slowing from their mad dash as they went around him to go for Peter and the others.
Only the Ogres, who were too stupid to be afraid and who were supremely confident in their brawn, continued heading toward Ainz.
As they closed in on him, the Ogres raised their clubs.
Ainz’s greatswords might have been be huge, but the Ogres, with their massive greatclubs, had a longer reach than him. But just as the Ogres were about to make their move, Ainz stepped forward.
His movements were as swift as the wind. And then, faster than that, he swung the greatsword in his right hand. The flashing blade left a silvery afterimage in its wake as it cleaved through the air.
The stroke was an astounding one — it raised goosebumps on the onlookers’ skin. Even though the blade was not aimed at them, they could not help but feel that death stood by their side.
It was over in a single blow.
Ainz turned his gaze from the Ogre in front of him, seeking another target. As though waiting for Ainz to look away, the upper body of the Ogre slid off and fell wetly to the ground, leaving its motionless lower body still standing. Yet, the spray of blood and organs and the vile stench that hung in the air proved that this was not an illusion.
The Ogre had been cut diagonally in half.
The battle was still on, but both sides were motionless. They were staring at this awesome sight.
It was slain in a single blow. Not even an Ogre’s mighty physique could save it from the fate of being cut in two.
Someone muttered those words, which carried clearly across the silent battlefield.
“...Absolutely incredible. This is beyond mithril or orichalcum… no, could he be adamantite?”
Cleaving a foe into two parts.
This was not an impossible feat of arms. A rare few exponents of swordsmanship — or those bearing powerful magic weapons — might be able to do it. However, it was common sense that one could not use one’s full strength when wielding a two-handed greatsword with one hand. After all, two-handed weapons were, as the name implied, intended to be wielded with both hands, using the weight of the weapon and the leverage of its length to do damage. They were not intended to be wielded by arm-strength alone.
Therefore, from Ainz’s movements, the possibility existed that his sword might be enchanted with magic beyond the ken of normal magic items, or that Ainz with one hand was stronger than a regular warrior with both arms, or both.
In the face of this jaw-dropping sight, the ogres unconsciously stopped moving, and began backing off with looks of fear on their faces. Ainz strode forth, shrinking the distance between himself and the ogres.
“What’s wrong? Not coming?’
His casual, relaxed words resounded through the battlefield.
These simple words filled the ogres with fear. After all, they had seen with their own eyes the vast disparity between their own power and Ainz’s.
On his part, Ainz closed the gap to the ogres with startling speed. His movements were swift, with a speed that someone wearing a suit of full plate armor should not have possessed.
With a cry that sounded like a cross between a wail of despair and a shout, the ogre before him raised his great club to smite the oncoming Ainz. However, everyone here knew in their guts that the ogre was far, far too slow.
As Ainz closed in, he swung the greatsword in his left hand horizontally.
The ogre’s upper body spun through the air, landing some distance away from the rest of its body.
This time, it had been transversely bisected.
“Momon-shi… are you a monster…?”
As yet another breathtaking scene unfolded before their eyes, none of them could bring themselves to refute Dyne’s words.
“...Then, as for the rest of you...:”
Ainz stepped forward. The ugly faces of the ogres froze, and they retreated even faster.
The Goblins circled around the ogres and Ainz’s defensive line to attack Peter and the others. Swords of Darkness, stunned by the sights they had just seen, managed to react to the assault and began moving.
Peter raised his broadsword and large shield, prepared to take on the ten or so Goblins headed toward him. He slashed forward, sending a Goblin’s head flying into the air, and then Peter evaded the arterial spray before entering melee with the other Goblins.
The yellow-toothed Goblins responded with a garbled cry that was hard on the ears.
Peter adroitly blocked the Goblin’s club with his shield, while his magically reinforced armor took the rest of the hits with a low-pitched sound.
Two magical missiles struck the Goblin trying to attack Peter from behind. It collapsed like its strings had been cut.
Half of the Goblins surrounding Peter rushed the other three adventurers, but none of the Goblins dared attack Narberal, who stood beside the storm of death called Ainz.
Lukrut put down his composite longbow and drew a short sword from his waist. Together with Dyne, who wielded a mace, the two of them ran to Ninya and placed their backs against his.
Lukrut and Dyne were matched against five Goblins, and the odds seemed roughly even. Although the Goblins were being eliminated one by one, it was still very time-consuming, under the present circumstances. Lukrut’s face was a mask of pain as he endured the pain from his arm — it had been struck by a Goblin’s club — as he thrust his shortsword into the gaps of his opponent’s leather armor. Dyne had taken several hits as well, and as a result his movements slowed down, but he was not in any mortal danger.
Ninya surveyed the battlefield anxiously, with an eye toward conserving his spells. Although some of the ogres were immobilized by magic, he might have to deal with them if the situation changed.
As for Peter, he was engaged in a fierce battle with six Goblins, and the struggle went back and forth several times.
The reason why they had not been overwhelmed by eleven Goblins was because the Goblins’ charge had been blunted. After seeing Ainz’s preternatural ability to kill ogres in one blow, the Goblins’ morale plummeted, and they could not make up their mind whether to flee or fight.
Then, Ainz swung his sword in a grand, sweeping arc, as though announcing his intent to utterly demoralize the Goblins.
As the sound of the displaced air swept into everyone’s ears, they could hear the sound of a heavy weight hitting the ground. It was soon followed by two more such sounds.
Just as everyone had expected, the number of Ogre corpses steadily increased. There were two more Ogres struggling to hold on to life. One of them was pinned down by the grass, while the other was quaking in fear before Ainz.
Ainz’s helmet turned to face the last ogre who was still opposing him. The ogre seemed to sense Ainz’s expression through the slits of his closed helm, because it made a strange cry before turning to flee, discarding its greatclub as it ran for the forest. It was moving faster than when it charged, but there was no escape for it.
“Nabe, do it.”
As the merciless order rang through the air, Narberal — who had been standing by behind Ainz — nodded slightly.
The electrical discharge thundered through the air as it leapt forth, and the stroke of lightning cleanly pierced the fleeing ogre’s body. It even went through the ogre behind it, the one which had been entangled by Dyne’s spell.
That single spell put paid to two ogres.
“Run away! Run away!”
The Goblins, who had watched this scene in stunned silence, began fleeing as they screamed in terror. However, Peter was too fast for them, and the demoralized Goblins were no threat to him.
The adventurers felled the Goblins two and three at a time. In addition, Ninya — no longer bound to conserve mana — began throwing attack spells into the fray. In the blink of an eye, the Goblins had been crushed, with no survivors.
♦ ♦ ♦
Amidst the vile corpse-stench that hung in the air, Dyne healed Lukrut’s and Peter’s wounds with the spell [Light Healing]. With nothing else to do, Ninya began cutting off the Goblins’ ears with a dagger.
They would be paid for turning in the ears to the guild. Of course, adventurers did not claim their bounty with monsters’ ears alone. Rather, they submitted different body parts as appropriate for different types of monsters, However, Goblins and Ogres were demihumans, so for the most part, ears were used in their case.
Ninya cut the ears off with practiced ease, and then he noticed that Ainz and Narberal were looking around the place where most of the Ogres had died. They seemed to be searching for something.
After hearing Ninya’s question, Ainz lifted his head and replied:
“Ah, I was just thinking… do these monsters drop items, in particular, crystals or the like?”
“...Crystals? I’ve never heard of ogres carrying anything like crystals.”
“I see. I was just wondering if they carried treasure.”
“Indeed. I’d be jumping for joy if Ogres had treasure too,” Ninya replied as he removed the ogres’ ears with practiced movements.
“Still… you’re amazing, Momon-san. I knew you were a warrior who was proud of his abilities, but I didn’t think you’d be that amazing.”
As they heard Ninya’s words, the other three adventurers, who had finished with their healing magic, began saying to Ainz:
“That was great! I’m in awe of you, as a fellow warrior. How did you train up your arms like that?”
“I thought you were quite wealthy from the way you were accompanied by Nabe-chan, but what kind of swords are those? I’ve never seen such valuable-looking swords before.”
“I know now that what you said at the guild was not a bluff. Truly, you’re on par with the Kingdom’s mightiest warrior.”
Narberal held her nose high as she watched from the side. However, Ainz was frantically waving his hands about:
“Oh, there’s no need to say that, it was nothing much.”
Peter and friends smiled bitterly.
“...After that battle, I finally understand what they mean by ‘always someone better’.”
“I’m sure you’ll all be able to surpass me with ease.”
Ainz’s reply made the smiles of the Swords of Darkness’ faces even more bitter.
Peter and the others had worked hard to make themselves stronger, and they had carefully saved all their earnings, using them to strengthen themselves. They could get along because they all shared the same goal. However, even when they looked back on all the effort they had put in since becoming adventurers, none of them could imagine themselves on Ainz’s level. To the Swords of Darkness, Ainz stood upon a pinnacle that almost nobody could reach.
This person travelling with them would someday become a hero, whose name would be known to all. He would become a great person that would stand atop all other adventurers.
Everyone was certain of that.
Although it was some time from dusk, the adventurers were already setting up camp.
Ainz took the wooden poles handed to him by others and erected them around the campsite. Because they had to shelter a horse and wagon, the campsite in question was around 20 meters on each side and covered a fairly large area.
The poles went into four points around the campsite, and then thin, blackened ropes were tied around the poles, forming a perimeter. Finally, they tied a knot in one of the ropes and pulled it over to their tents, where they attached a big bell to it. This was their alarm system.
As Ainz was driving the poles into the ground, Narberal came around.
...Narberal should have some work to do… maybe she’s finished. But if that man (Lukrut) made her mad again, all I can do is gently reprimand her...
With those thoughts in mind, Ainz turned around. As he did, Narberal spoke, in a low voice that suggested that she was holding back feelings of anger:
“...They should not be troubling you with work like this, Momon-san.”
Ainz sighed in relief as he learned the reason for her anger. He looked around, and then quietly replied:
“Everyone’s working together to pitch camp. It would be odd if I was the only one not doing anything, no?”
“Have they not seen your extraordinary fighting skill? People should do what they are suited for, so this sort of work should be left to weaklings like them.”
“Don’t say that. Listen, we need to establish ourselves as powerful individuals, but we mustn’t project an image of arrogance while we do it. You need to check yourself a little too.”
Narberal nodded to show that she understood, but her displeasure was evident on her face. She was only going along with this because it was an express order from Ainz himself.
He could tell that her loyalty was enough to overcome her unhappiness. On the other hand, the thought that this might cause a slip-up at an inopportune time made Ainz feel uneasy.
The truth was that Ainz was having a lot of fun with these outdoor activities. After all, this was something he could not experience in the virtual world of YGGDRASIL, let alone real life, and thus it was filled with novelty. Although the whole thing had taken too much time, it also reminded Ainz of the adventures he had exploring unknown places in YGGDRASIL.
If I was the only one who came to this new world, without the whole of Nazarick with me, I’d probably have gone travelling without a second thought.
The undead did not need to eat, drink, or breathe. That being the case, they could climb high mountains with their own two legs, or walk into the ocean depths. He would have enjoyed himself by witnessing the unknown vistas of the world.
However, now that his comrades’ treasures — his loyal subordinates — were here, Ainz felt that he should repay their loyalty by ruling Nazarick well.
Ainz cast his thoughts aside and calmly returned to his work. After hammering the four wooden poles into the ground, he tied the rope around them and then raised the tent over it.
“Thanks for your hard work.”
“Think nothing of it.”
Lukrut was inside the tent, and he thanked Ainz without looking at him. It was kind of rude, but it was not as though he was slacking off either. He had been digging a hole for a stove ever since just now.
The magic caster — Ninya — was pacing about the surroundings, incanting a spell as he went. This was an [Alarm] spell, and as the name suggested, it was a spell of warning that would trigger if anything trespassed on their camp. Though it had a small area of effect, it was still useful just in case.
This spell, which did not exist in YGGDRASIL, made Ainz narrow his eyes.
Although he had handed the task of learning about unknown magic to other people, as a magic caster, he still felt the desire to know about spells he had never seen before.
The magic Ninya used was a spell of the arcane type, like the kind that Ainz could cast. In addition, it looked very similar to a YGGDRASIL spell. Ainz had used a racial skill called Dark Wisdom to perform a rite which increased the number of spells he knew.
Could I learn spells that weren’t in YGGDRASIL by making a live sacrifice? Or is there another way? There’s so many things I know nothing about...
As Ninya realised Ainz was staring at himself, he smiled and drew closer to Ainz.
“Ah, there’s no need to watch me so intently. It must be pretty boring, right?”
“Well, I’m curious about magic, and I’m interested in what you’re doing, Ninya-san.”
“No way… I’m probably far below Nabe-san, aren’t I?”
“It’s because you know spells that Nabe doesn’t.”
Narberal nodded slightly, but Ainz noticed from the corner of his eye that the look on her face was more of jealousy than regret.
“I’d like to cast spells like you, Ninya-san.”
“You’re greedy, Momon-san. To think you’d want spellcasting ability even though your swordsmanship is so amazing… no, I should say that you’re being an adventurer, right?”
“Magic doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you can learn in one or two days. Well, you need to connect to the world, but only people with the appropriate talent can do it. If not, you’ll need to take a long time to experience it.”
Those words came from Lukrut, who had cut in without turning to look from where he was setting up the campfire. Ninya’s face turned serious:
“Mm. Momon-san, I think you have that talent. You’re different from other people… kind of like you’re not human at all…”
Ainz’s non-existent heart seemed to lurch in his chest. Ainz wondered if Ninya had sensed that he was undead.
Although he had already veiled himself in illusions and counter-detection spells, Ninya might have seen through Ainz with an unknown spell or some other special ability. Therefore, Ainz asked Ninya:
“...Is that so? I feel that I am strong, but not inhumanly so. You’ve seen my face as well, so wouldn’t you think that as well?”
“I’m not talking about appearances… it’s just that after seeing you fight, you’re clearly beyond the realm of humanity. Taking out an Ogre in one blow… as I thought, a real man gets by on strength, not looks. And you’ve got a beauty like Nabe-san with you.”
Upon closer consideration, Lukrut seemed to be saying that the illusionary face which Ainz showed them was an ugly one. However, when he thought about the looks of everyone he had met so far, Ainz could only sit down and accept his opinion.
There’s too many handsome men and beautiful women in this world! Even the passers-by look attractive. After coming here, I’ve got a worse opinion of my own looks...
“Appearances aside, Lukrut has a point. A hero is someone who surpasses the realm of human possibility. I get that feeling from you too.”
“No, that’s too much… I wouldn’t dare claim to be any sort of hero, even if it was to be polite.”
As Ainz feigned embarrassment while answering Ninya, he resisted the urge to sigh in relief.
“If it’s convenient for you… would you like to meet my master? Master’s talent lies in detecting an individual’s magical power. If you were born with magical potential, Master should be able to sense it. When it comes to arcane magic casters, Master can even differentiate between them by the tiers of magic which they can cast.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask for a while… is that talent the same as the one possessed by the Empire’s head magician?”
“Yes, it’s the same talent.”
Ainz could not let information like this slip through his hands. He had to continue asking about it.
“...What is this ability like?”
“Ahh, according to Master, we magic casters radiate something like an aura from our bodies. The more adept one becomes in magic, the stronger this aura becomes. Master has the ability to see these auras.”
Ainz immediately suppressed the quiet surprise in his tone, and in order to cover it up, promptly responded in a more normal tone.
“This was how Master gathered up talented children and trained them in magic. I was recruited by Master in that way,” Ninya continued.
Ainz nodded and cursed silently in his heart. There’s people with abilities like that. This could be troublesome...
“Then, if I wanted to learn how to cast spells, where should I begin?”
“For starters, you’d need a proper teacher.”
“...And how about becoming your disciple, Ninya-san?”
“Hm… you should probably find someone more skilled than myself. However, schools in the Kingdom are very exclusive and people without connections can’t join the guilds that handle magic. Even if you could join, most of the recruits would be immature kids. It would be very difficult for someone of your age to get in without some kind of special networking, Momon-san. On that note, the Empire has a full-fledged magical academy, and the Theocracy has a very high standard of magical education as well, though that’s for divine magic.”
“I see, so if I entered the Empire’s magical academy, I could learn magic?”
“That would be pretty difficult. The academy is an educational institution run by the government, so I think you’d have to be a citizen of the Empire to study there.”
“Is that so…”
“And as for becoming my disciple, though I apologise for it, I must refuse. I have something I want to do, and I don’t have the free time to train people.”
Ninya’s face went grim. There were hints of hostility amidst the negative emotion there.
Maybe I shouldn’t pry too deeply. There’s no merit to doing so.
Just as Ainz came to that conclusion, Lukrut interrupted his train of thought with casual words:
“Oi~ sorry to interrupt your conversation, but dinner’s ready. Do you mind calling those three back here?”
“Let me go, Momon-san.”
“Ehhhh~ Nabe-chan, you’re going off? Why not stay with me and make a dinner filled with love?”
“Die, inferior being (centipede). Unless you want me to pour boiling oil down your throat so you can’t utter such nonsense again?”
“Enough, Nabe. Let’s go together.”
After thanking Ninya, Ainz approached the two people working quietly on the ground, a short distance from the tent.
Peter and Dyne were focused on caring for their weapons. They oiled them to prevent rust from building up, inspected them carefully to see if they were bent, and so on.
There were fresh dents on their armor, and cracks on their swords from where they had clashed with the Goblins’ weapons. Naturally, these defects had to be remedied as soon as possible, and the two of them were so focused that Ainz did not know whether he should call out to them.
After telling them that dinner was ready, he informed Nfirea about the matter at the place where the wagon was tied up, a short distance away.
♦ ♦ ♦
The sun touched the horizon, and the group had their dinner against the ruby radiance of its dying light.
In their hands, they held bowls of thick stew flavoured with bacon bits, as well as toasted bread, dried figs, walnuts, and other nuts. This was today’s dinner.
Ainz looked at the bowl of stew in his hands. It appeared to be very salty. He could not feel the heat of the bowl through his metal gauntlets, but judging from the way everyone else was digging into it with big mouthfuls and not blowing on it to cool it down, it should have been just the right temperature.
Now then, what shall I do?
Ainz was undead, and he could not eat with this body of his. In addition, he had disguised his appearance with an illusion. If he tried to drink soup with his skeletal mouth and body, it would probably spill out right away.
He could not let the others see that, no matter what.
This was unknown food and drink from an unknown world. Though the dishes before him were plain fare, Ainz felt that it was a shame to not be able to enjoy them.
Though he no longer had a need or desire to eat, he was unhappy with the fact that he could not consume the delicious-looking food that piqued his curiosity.
For the first time since he had come to this world, he regretted this undead body of his.
“Ah~ is there something you’re scared of eating?” Lukrut asked as he noted that Ainz had not touched his food.
“No, it’s just a personal matter.”
“Is that so? Then you don’t need to force yourself, right? Although, we’re eating now, so could you take off your helmet?”
“...It’s a religious reason. I can’t eat with more than four people on a day when I take life.”
“Oh… that’s an unusual faith you follow, Momon-shi. Still, the world is large, and religions like that aren’t particularly strange.”
The doubt in their eyes faded away once they learned that it had something to do with religion.
It seems religions in this world are a complicated matter.
As Ainz thought that, he gave silent thanks to the gods he did not believe in for somehow letting him muddle through this. Then, he asked Peter:
“I recall your team name is Swords of Darkness, but I don’t see a black blade among you…?”
On the topic of the group’s weapons, Peter used a longsword with an ordinary enchantment, Lukrut favored the bow and arrow, Dyne used a mace, and Ninya used a staff. Peter’s sword and Lukrut’s backup shortsword were both blades, but neither of them had a color that was anywhere close to “dark”.
There was a technique to tint metal a different color by depositing a special powder on its surface, so creating a black sword was not a difficult task. Rather, it seemed odd that none of them bore a blade of that color.
“Ah, so it’s that kind of question.”
Lukrut smiled bitterly, as though someone had brought up an embarrassing memory. Ninya’s face flushed bright red, a distinctly different color from the fire’s glow.
“They’re the swords of Ninya’s dreams.”
“Come on, that’s enough, I was just being childish.”
“That’s nothing to feel bad about! It’s important to have a great dream!”
“Give me a break Dyne, I’m serious.”
Good-natured laughter accompanied Ninya’s teasing by the other Swords of Darkness. Ninya, on the other hand, was so embarrassed that he was looking for a hole to crawl into. It would seem the name Swords of Darkness contained a secret that only its members knew.
“Well, the name ‘Swords of Darkness’ refers to the swords borne by one of the Thirteen Heroes.”
The smiling Peter stopped there, seemingly unwilling to go any further.
Even if he says that, I’m not sure what’s going on… still, I know that the Thirteen Heroes were the superheroes who destroyed the Demon Gods, who were rampaging across the world two hundred years ago. If I’m ignorant about these heroes and their gear… would it be embarrassing? Or should I just say that I know?
Just as Ainz was agonizing over this issue, Narberal cut in from aside.
“What are they?”
Wonderful. Ainz struck a victory pose in his heart, but surprise crossed the faces of the members of Swords of Darkness.
Just about anyone would be shocked that someone knew nothing about the magic weapons for which the team was named.
“Nabe-chan, you didn’t know?… Well, it’s not as though it’s unforgivable. He was one of the Thirteen Heroes, but because people thought he had demonic ancestry, he ended up being more of an anti-hero instead. Therefore, his origins were covered up in the saga of the Thirteen Heroes… though I’ve heard that he was a very powerful person.”
“The Swords of Darkness belonged to the man known as ‘Black Knight’. It was one of the four swords he possessed. There was the demonic blade Kilineyram, which could emit dark energy, the blade of rot, Crocdabal, which inflicted wounds that would not heal, the fatal blade Sfeiz, which could kill with the merest scratch, as well as the evil blade Hyumilis, whose powers are unknown.”
Everyone smiled bitterly at Narberal’s unenthusiastic reply.
However, Ainz tilted his head in pensive musing. Those abilities seemed familiar.
After careful thought, the image of a vampire appeared in his mind. Those special abilities were similar to the skills possessed by Shalltear Bloodfallen, who had levels in the Cursed Knight class.
Cursed Knights had the backstory of being corrupted cleric-knights who had been cursed, and they were considered to be a very strong class in Yggdrasil. However, they had a lot of drawbacks, so they were not very popular. Among the skills Cursed Knights could learn was the ability to release waves of darkness, inflict cursed wounds which could not be healed by low-level healing spells, instant-death curses, and so on.
Ainz narrowed his illusory eyes under his helmet. This was not a coincidence. While the Swords of Darkness might be weapons with powers similar to those of a Cursed Knight, it was more likely that the hero himself was a Cursed Knight.
If that were the case, when one considered the prerequisites to become a Cursed Knight, it was certain that this “Black Knight” was at least level 60 — no, if one considered that he had to actually learn all those skills as well, he would have to be at least level 70.
It would seem the Demon Gods were evenly matched against heroes like that, so it was a reasonable hypothesis that their levels were roughly the same. However, Nigun of the Sunlight Scripture said that the Dominion Authority which he summoned could defeat a Demon God, so it would seem that the Demon Gods and the Heroes were not on the same level.
After comparing this new information with what he already knew, it seemed logical that the Demon Gods were not all equally powerful. However, the only way to know for sure would be to meet that hero or obtain that sword.
As Ainz pondered this, the rest of the group continued talking. Ainz hurriedly shifted his attention to their conversation; it would be a shame to miss out on a chance to learn something because he was distracted.
“—So finding those swords was my first objective. There’s a lot of legends about weapons out there, but some of them have been proven to exist. The thing is that the existence of the Swords of Darkness is still a mystery—”
“Ah, there’s someone out there who possesses one of the Swords of Darkness.”
After Nfirea calmly dropped that bombshell, the Swords of Darkness turned on him:
“Who, who’s that?!”
“Uwah! Really? So that means there’s only three left!”
“Oh, that means we won’t be able to distribute them evenly to everyone now…”
Nfirea gingerly replied:
“Er, about that… the person who owns that sword is the leader of the adventuring party called ‘Blue Rose’.”
“Geh, adamantite, you say? Adventurers like that? Then it can’t be helped.”
“That’s true. Still, there’s three of them left; let’s work hard so we can be strong enough to take them into possession.”
“Indeed. Since one of them is the real deal, that means that the other three exist as well. I hope these swords are hidden in a place that nobody’s discovered until us.”
“Ninya, you’d best write it down in your diary so you don’t forget.”
“I know, I’ll write it down for sure. However, the stuff in there is personal, so shouldn’t you memorize it instead?”
“It’s better to have a hard copy!”
“Is that the problem, Dyne…”
“Still, we have ‘that’.”
“What is ‘that’?”
Peter took a dagger with four jewels embedded into its scabbard. It had a black blade.
“Before we discover the real thing, I planned to use this as the party’s symbol…”
“Still, ‘Blade of Darkness’ would work just as well as ‘Swords of Darkness”, right? Come to think of it, it’s not as though it’s a fake. It’ll make the perfect symbol of our group!”
“Oooh, Lukrut’s making sense for once!”
The adventurers laughed, radiating an air of camaraderie.
Ainz was affected by this as well, and smiled in response. They probably felt the same way about that dagger as Ainz did about the staff which represented the guild.
The dinner conversation continued, and Swords of Darkness, having the advantage of numbers, tossed questions out at Ainz, Narberal and Nfirea.
Ainz responded as best as he could, but he still felt a barrier separating him from Swords of Darkness. This was because Ainz lacked knowledge about this world, and he could not engage too fully lest his ignorance be revealed. Thus, Ainz kept quiet about things he did not know, which in turn led to him drawing even further away from the adventurers in a vicious cycle.
Though the adventurers tried to chat up Narberal, all she did was respond with the verbal equivalent of a home run, leaving them with no way to respond. Eventually, they slowly stopped trying to speak to her.
Nfirea, on the other hand, was handling this quite well.
As a native of this world, he got along better with the others than Ainz. He was observant and could follow the adventurers’ discussion well.
...It’s nothing. I had friends like these once.
These childish thoughts, almost like a tantrum, ran through Ainz’s head as he watched the others chatting happily in the campfire’s light.
They seemed very close to each other, but that was only to be expected of a group of comrades who trod the edge of life and death in each other’s company. Nfirea had a look of envy on his face as he looked upon them.
Ainz recalled his friends from the past, and under his helmet, he quietly ground his teeth in jealousy.
—Once, he had been like them.
“...Well, you seem like a chummy bunch. Are all adventurers like that?”
“I should think so. After all, adventurers are colleagues who face death together. It’d be dangerous if they didn’t understand each other and what they planned to do. So somewhere along the way, adventurers end up being quite close to each other.”
“Indeed. After all, we don’t have any women in our team. I heard that parties with women tend to have a lot of arguments.”
With an indecipherable smile, Ninya continued:
“And if there were, Lukrut would be the first to raise questions. After all, our group has a very clear objective, right?”
Peter and the others nodded in unison.
“...Just like that. It feels completely different when everyone is of one mind.”
“Hmm? Momon-san, were you in an adventuring party before?”
Ainz did not know how to answer Nfirea’s question, but right now, he had no need to make up some strange excuse to cover it up.
“We probably didn’t count as… adventurers.”
He could not help but take a somber tone as he thought about his past friends. After all, he still had emotions — even though his body was undead — and his friends were the people that Ainz treasured most.
Sensing Ainz’s difficulty in answering, nobody pursued the matter, and silence fell upon the group.
Amidst this quiet, so deep and so total that it felt like they were the only people in the world, Ainz unconsciously raised his head and looked into the star-studded night sky.
“When I was still a weakling, a paladin of pure white with sword and shield in hand saved me. Through him, I met four more comrades. And so, we formed a team that numbered six people, including myself. In addition, after that, we met three more weak people like ourselves, and we ended up as a team of nine people.”
“Ohh—” someone exclaimed quietly, amidst the crackling of the campfire. However, Ainz was not bothered, and he continued recounting the story of the original nine members of what would become Ainz Ooal Gown.
“They were all excellent companions. A paladin, a swordmaster, a priest, an ass… a thief, a two-sword nin… a two-sword thief, a sorcerer, a chef, a blacksmith… they were all irreplaceable friends. We had countless adventures together, and until now, I still haven’t been able to forget these days.”
Through them, he had learned the meaning of friendship. He once thought he would have been ignored in YGGDRASIL, like in the real world, but unlike reality, they ended up being the best of friends, who would extend a helping hand to each other at any time. And so, as the number of group members steadily increased, they shared their joys and their sorrows together.
Therefore, the guild called Ainz Ooal Gown was a treasure to Ainz. He would ensure its brilliance was never diminished, even if he had to discard or destroy everything to do so.
“I’m sure you’ll find companions like them again someday.”
In response to Ninya’s comforting words, Ainz snapped:
“That day will never come.”
The hostility in Ainz’s tone startled everyone, even himself. Alarmed by what he had said, Ainz slowly rose to his feet.
“...Forgive me. Nabe, I’ll have my dinner over there.”
“Then I shall go too.”
“Really… well, if it’s a religious matter, then it can’t be helped.”
There was a hint of regret in Peter’s voice, but he did not insist on their staying.
Although Ainz noticed the depressed look on Ninya’s face, Ainz did not intend to say anything more to him.
Perhaps a simple “I’m not bothered by it” would have sufficed.
♦ ♦ ♦
The two of them had their dinner in the corner of the roped-off campsite area.
The ones who stayed behind discussed the pair which had left. It was only to be expected, given what the absent people had accomplished today.
Then, the conversation grew to a halt, and silence descended upon the group. The campfire crackled and spat glowing embers which danced into the sky. As Ninya watched the glowing traces vanish into the air, he muttered in a self-chastising tone:
“...I think I said something I shouldn’t have.”
“Umu. It seems like something happened in their past.”
Dyne nodded deeply, and then Peter continued:
“I guess they were all wiped out. I’ve seen that sort of reaction from people who lost all their friends in battle.”
“That... must be hard to bear. Even if we’re used to walking the edge of death together, losing a friend is still…”
“That’s right, Lukrut. The words spoken just now were not the best that could have been said.”
“Well, what’s said cannot be unsaid. Therefore, we need to do something that makes him change his mind about those words.”
Ninya looked quite depressed as he replied, and then he quietly continued, “I know what it’s like to lose someone, so why didn’t I put myself into his shoes?”
However, nobody responded to him.
The campfire’s logs cracked loudly and spat embers amidst the silence.
In an attempt to lighten the heaviness in the air, Nfirea gingerly spoke:
“...Momon-san’s fighting was really spectacular.”
As though waiting for these words, Peter immediately added:
“Yeah, I didn’t think it would be so amazing. He cut an ogre clean in two…”
“That was seriously over-the-top.”
“Beating an ogre in one blow is amazing in it’s own right, but how good do you have to be to cleave it in half?”
The Swords of Darkness looked at each other after hearing Nfirea’s puzzled question.
Nfirea was a young man who was famous for his innate talent, as well as an excellent magic caster. Although he might well shake the world with his abilities, it was difficult for him to understand the full extent of Ainz’s prowess without another warrior for comparison.
With that in mind, Peter began explaining to Nfirea, in a way that was as easy to understand as possible:
“Normally, greatswords are used in a hacking fashion, but he employed a slashing method. Usually, when using a greatsword one-handed, it would be very difficult to sever the limbs of enemies as large as ogres… but it would seem there’s an exception to that now.”
Nfirea gasped as he heard Peter’s words. Peter felt that Nfirea was not sufficiently awed, and decided to name someone he might be more familiar with:
“Honestly speaking, I think Momon-san is on the same level as the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain.”
Nfirea’s eyes widened in astonishment. He finally understood what the Swords of Darkness thought of Ainz’s abilities.
“...That is to say, he could be an adamantite-ranked adventurer… those people who are the highest-ranked adventurers, living legends, in other words, the mightiest human beings?”
“Indeed,” Peter replied as he nodded gently. Nfirea looked around at the other members of the Swords of Darkness, who were also nodding in approval.
He was dumbfounded.
Adamantite-ranked adventurers possessed guild plates made of adamantite, a rare magical material which was the hardest metal known to man. If adventurers and their numbers formed a pyramid, then adamantite-ranked adventurers would occupy the peak, and would be correspondingly scarce. Both the Kingdom and the Empire only boasted two teams of adamantite-ranked adventurers each.
Their abilities were at the zenith of human potential. One might even call them heroes.
And Momon was a person who could rival them.
One could hear the utter amazement in those words.
“At first… The first time I saw Momon-san, dressed in a suit of stylish full plate armor while wearing the copper-plate belonging to the lowliest of adventurers, I felt pretty jealous, but now that I’ve seen that he has the skills to match his looks, there’s nothing more I can say. He — Momon-san’s abilities are worthy of his full plate. I’m kind of jealous of how strong he is...”
Peter the warrior did not wear full-plate. Instead, he sported a suit of banded armor, which was somewhat less protective. This was not by personal preference; rather, it was the best body armor he could afford with his limited resources.
“Don’t worry about it; I’m sure you’ll be able to buy a suit of full plate soon, Peter.”
“Indeed. You should work hard towards that goal. Really, you should be glad that you’re fortunate enough to be able to witness an example of what it’s like to be at the top.”
“Ninya’s right, all you need to do is work hard to reach the target of Momon-san. We’ll support you too, so let’s move forward together.”
“That’s right! Slowly but surely, your hard work will pay off! I’m sure that Momon-shi must have trained even longer than you did!”
Dyne’s words awoke doubts in Nfirea’s heart:
“Have you seen what Momon-san looks like under his helmet?”
Ainz had not removed his helm after meeting Nfirea, not even while eating. How he drank was also a mystery.
“Yes, we have. He looks like an average person… though not one from nearby. He and Nabe-san have black hair and black eyes.”
“Is that so… did he say which country he was from?”
The Swords of Darkness looked at each other, and they suddenly realized that Nfirea seemed very interested in that topic.
“Well, he didn’t elaborate much on that…”
“Really now… ah, no, I was just thinking that if he came from a distant country, he’d use different potions than what was available in the surrounding region. It’s just my curiosity as a herbalist talking.”
“I see — well, he does seem to be from the same place as Nabe-chan, yet their looks are worlds apart — he doesn’t look handsome at all. Would anyone like people like that—?”
“Well, he doesn’t look like much, but with his strength, I’m sure there must be countless girls throwing themselves at him.”
Powerful individuals were popular. This was because this world had monsters in it, and humans were on the bottom end of the power curve. As a result, the innate instincts of women made them desire strong males.
“Haah~ don’t tell me my feelings will never bear fruit~”
“Nah, it’s impossible. I don’t think there was even a flower to begin with,” Ninya replied with a bitter smile as he recalled Narberal’s reaction.
“Utter nonsense. In any case, the important thing is to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. Eagerness is the key. ‘Sides, she’s a super-hot girl, right? If she’s just a little bit nicer to me, it’ll mean I’ve won at life.”
“...She does look very pretty…”
Halfway through his somber reply, Dyne noticed that Nfirea had a bitter look on his face.
“Nfirea-shi, is something wrong?”
“Ah, no. Er, it’s nothing…”
Lukrut grinned lewdly. “What, you’re in love with Nabe-chan?”
“Of course not!” Nfirea retorted with unnecessary loudness. From the intensity of his reaction, Peter sensed that they should not keep pressing him. Instead, he said:
“Lukrut, you’re being rude. Think before you talk.”
Nfirea looked uncomfortable, and he was not sure how to respond to Lukrut’s sincere apology.
“No, it’s not like that. Well… I’m just a little uneasy… would Momon-san really be that popular?”
“...Looks aside, he’d be a hit just going by his strength alone. Plus, he looks pretty wealthy, given the armor he wears and the swords he carries…”
Nfirea’s face was cast in shadow. With the tone of a senior speaking to a junior, Peter carefully asked:
“Is something the matter?”
Nfirea wanted to speak, but cut himself off halfway. The effect repeated itself over and over again, making him look like a goldfish. However, Peter and the others did not press him — there was no need to force an answer out of him if he did not want to talk about it. Soon, however, Nfirea made up his mind, and finally managed to speak.
“Um — it’s because I don’t want to let the person I like in Carne Village fall in love with Momon-san.”
The Swords of Darkness deftly picked up on the hidden message within those words, and then smiled warmly.
“All right then, young man. Onii-san here will teach you his amazing technique—”
Peter punched Lukrut, drawing a queer howl from the latter. The Swords of Darkness paid no heed to the look of agony on Lukrut’s face and made to comfort the stunned Nfirea.
Lit by the radiance of the campfire, the boy finally smiled.
♦ ♦ ♦
At the same time—
The thrust went through the steel helmet, along with the forehead beneath it.
The body shook violently, and then collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. The metal armor clanged loudly in the night. He prayed that someone would hear the sound, but nobody would come to E-Rantel’s beggars’ district, which had practically been abandoned by the residents. That was why the client had arranged to meet them here, after all.
The man glared at the young woman before him. However, it was clear that he was just putting on a brave front. He had lost the will to fight after seeing the woman casually kill three of his fellows.
The young woman who had murdered his colleagues flicked her bloodstained stilettos. The ichor scattered in all directions, and the blades recovered their cold shine.
“Nfufufufu~ and then there was one, onii-san~”
The woman revealed her canines with a predatory grin.
“Why, why are you doing this?”
He knew it was a stupid question, but the man had no idea why this was happening to him.
These men were the dropouts among adventurers. The term for them was ‘Workers’, or dusk workers. They took on jobs which were borderline, or sometimes outright illegal.
This might have been the result of some sort of grudge, but he had never worked in this city before. Neither had he seen this girl before.
“Ah, why I did this? Well now~ I just wanted you, onii-san~”
The man could not understand what the girl was talking about. He blinked several times, and then asked:
“What, what do you mean?”
“That famous herbalist’s grandson isn’t at home~ I wanted someone to keep an eye on them for me and see when they got back. I can’t be bothered with such troublesome things~”
“Then all you needed to do was ask! Weren’t you planning to do that in the first place?!”
Workers like themselves would gladly take illegal jobs, so he had no idea why this girl was slaughtering them.
“Nonono, you might have betrayed me~”
“We will never betray our employer once we’ve been paid the appointed fee!”
“Hmmm~? Then how about this? I like killing people, I love it, I’m absolutely crazy about it. Ah, and I like torture too,” the young woman added with a giggle.
After hearing this nonsensical reply, the man’s face hardened and he said: “You’re insane! Why?!”
The young woman’s voice changed. The joking, teasing tone from just now was gone.
“Hmmm… I wonder why? Perhaps it was because my job involved killing lots of people? Maybe it was because I was constantly compared to my amazing big brother? How they loved him instead of me? Or how I was raped constantly before I became strong? Because my friends died in front of me? Or maybe it’s because I messed up and got captured and tortured for several days? Heated choke pears hurt, you know~”
It seemed as though there was only a little girl before him. But in the blink of an eye, a smile bloomed on the woman’s face.
“Just kidding~ I was making it all up, it’s a lie, a lie — never happened to me. Still, even if you knew, would it change anything? I’m this way because things piled up — ah, speaking of which, I need to thank Khazi-chan for helping me suss out all this info, I’m so glad I could meet you all right away~ you should know how long it takes to find help~”
The girl released her stilettos, which were pulled down by gravity and sank into the ground. Judging by their abnormal sharpness, they must have been made of something other than simple steel.
“This is orichalcum~ More precisely, its orichalcum alloyed over mithril. Pretty good stuff.”
The fact that she bore such exotic weaponry was a sign of the woman’s prowess. In other words, he had no chance of victory.
“Then~ time for the next step. I can’t use you if you’re heavily wounded, onii-san… buuuut Khazi-chan can heal you with divine magic no matter how much I hurt you~ which means I get to enjoy torturing you as muuuuch as I like, no?”
As she uttered those bone-chilling words, she drew another pair of stilettos from under her robe.
“These should be good… sorry if I miss~”
It was adorable, the way she stuck her tongue out at him. However, her filthy, blackened heart was visible for all to see.
The man turned his back to her and ran. Although he heard an exaggerated gasp of surprise from the young woman, he still ran with every ounce of strength in him. He was proud of his sense of direction, and he used it to the full as he ran through the lightless dark.
However, there was a clattering noise from behind him, followed by the woman’s calm voice.
Searing pain filled his shoulder. His first thought was that he had been stabbed by a stiletto, and then a shadow fell over his thoughts.
The man desperately tried to resist, but that only mired his consciousness further in darkness.
The voice of “a friend” came from behind him.
“Ah~ Are you all right? Is the wound deep? “
“Mm, no, it’s fine,” the man smiled as he turned to face “his friend”.
“Is that so. That’s wonderful~”
A dreadful smile bloomed on the young woman’s face.
The group set out at daybreak, along a hidden path on the plains.
“We’ll be at Carne Village soon.”
The other travellers nodded in response to Nfirea, the only person who had been to Carne Village before (barring Ainz). Apart from that, they walked on in silence. Nfirea seemed somewhat put off by that.
An air of awkwardness hung between them. Ainz, who was the cause of this situation, hid his guilt underneath his helmet.
Ninya kept peeking at him, and it was annoying. However, this was all his fault, so he could not say anything about it.
This was the result of what he had said last night.
Ninya apologized at breakfast, and Ainz should have accepted the apology on the spot, but for some reason, he could not say a simple thing like “I forgive you.”
Though he felt he was being petty, Ainz could not simply let bygones be bygones.
Because of this undead body, my mind has changed as well, huh...
After becoming undead, his strong emotions were suppressed, but the less intense ones did not vanish. The best proof for this was how long his mild anger lasted. Ainz’s friends had a very important place in his heart. Though he cared deeply for them, he began to feel that it might not be good to let things go on like this.
However, he could not bring himself to take the first step in changing the mood.
It was because he could calmly deduce that the slight changes in his feelings — like those of a petulant child — that he felt anger at his own immaturity.
The only one who stood out among the awkwardness was Narberal. She was so happy to not be bothered by Lukrut that she was practically humming in delight.
The group advanced in silence, and they soon made it to the outskirts of Carne Village.
“Ah, yes! It seems pretty wide here, so maybe we don’t have to stay in a line as we move,” Lukrut announced, seemingly with some other motive in mind.
A glance to the sides revealed stretches of emerald forest around them, so the deliberate mention of being wide and open seemed somewhat suspicious. In addition, the point of being guards was that they could not lower their guard in an open area, so moving in a column like they were doing now was the wisest choice.
It was just that they all knew their silent advance in a line was not due to their adventurer’s sense of caution.
“...It’s important to stay alert. So let’s… mm. Let’s get to the village first.”
“Indeed! We need to stay on guard at all times lest we get attacked!”
Lukrut put on an “as if” expression in response to Peter and Dyne’s statements.
“Maybe a dragon might attack us from far away,” Ninya mumbles. Lukrut immediately shot back:
“What kind of shitty plot development would that be? Logically speaking, how could such a thing happen, Ninya!”
“You’re right, it’s impossible. The stories of dragons near E-Rantel are nothing more than that, stories. Although they say that in the ancient past, there was a dragon which could shake the heavens and the earth… nobody’s seen any dragons recently. Or no, I think there’s a colony of Frost Dragons living along the Azellisia mountain range, towards the north…”
They existed in the past? According to the Sunlight Scripture, dragons are the mightiest beings in this world…
In YGGDRASIL, dragons were the strongest enemies one could encounter. They boasted great physical attack and defense power, boundless stamina and wielded numerous skills and spells.
They were in a class of their own.
There were countless monsters in YGGDRASIL. Among their number were all sorts of named monsters, and area monsters, as well as those super-monsters called World-Class Enemies. Even a legion, composed of six parties of six men each, would not have much of a chance against these unimaginably powerful creatures.
Apart from the “Devourer of the Nine Worlds”, there were the “Eight Dragons”, the “Demon Lords of the Seven Sins”, the “Ten Archangels of the Sephira”, as well as the six bosses known as the “Celestial Lord of the Sixth Heaven”, and the “Five-Colored Buddhas”, from the expansion pack “Valkyrie’s Downfall”. There were 32 of these extraordinary monsters in total, and one could infer the dev team’s love of dragons from the number of draconic entities among them.
I need to be careful if dragons exist. Dragons could live forever in Yggdrasil’s backstory, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to encounter dragons with mind-boggling powers.
“Ah — could someone tell me the name of that dragon which could shatter the sky and shake the earth?”
Ainz was not nearly thick-skinned enough to nonchalantly ask a question of someone feuding with him, so he merely spoke in a low voice. However, that was loud enough for everyone to hear, and Ninya jerked his head back to look.
This was like a pair of quarrelling lovers looking for a chance to make up.
Ainz recalled a time when he had heard a pair of sweethearts talking in a coffeeshop, and could not help but compare their words to his present situation.
That said, Ninya’s expression seemed a little brighter since it was Ainz who made the first move. The Swords of Darkness and Nfirea were all smiles as well. Only Narberal remained unmoved. Come to think of it, the awkwardness in the air since this morning had hardly affected her.
“I’m very sorry! I’ll look it up for you when we get back to the city!”
Ah, no need to get so excited about it… it’s fine if you don’t know… I was just looking for something to say…
However, he could not bring himself to utter those words.
“Mm, Ninya-san. Could you help me find out, if time permits?”
The way everyone nodded with exaggerated satisfaction made Ainz feel a little ashamed of himself. It might be different if the situation was the other way around, but he was filled with regret as the oldest one here.
“All right, we’re almost at Carne Village now…”
This was the first cheerful thing which anyone had said since this morning, but Nfirea clammed up almost immediately.
Everyone looked at the village before their eyes. It was a rustic hamlet at the edge of the forest. There was nothing strange or unusual about it, so Nfirea’s silence was a mystery.
“What’s wrong, Nfirea-san? Is something the matter?”
“Ah, no, it’s fine. Just… I don’t recall seeing a sturdy fence like the one in front of us...”
“Really? But it looks like an ordinary fence. Actually, it’s kind of shabby for a frontier village fence, right? It wouldn’t be a surprise that a village at the edge of the forest would have a sturdy fence to protect against monsters, right?”
“Hm — you might be right… but Carne has the Wise King of the Forest, so they’ve never put up a fence before…”
Everyone looked to the village. The village was surrounded by a fence as far as they could see, and the fence was made of logs which were resilient to cutting.
“How strange… did something happen...?”
Ainz remained silent, even after hearing the lad’s uneasy question. In the past, he had come here as the magic caster Ainz Ooal Gown, but now he was the adventurer Momon.
Ninya cut in, a serious expression on his face:
“Maybe I’m worrying too much… but I grew up in a village, and I still remember life there, so there’s two things I find suspicious. The first is that the fields haven’t been tilled yet even at this time, and the other is that they’ve already harvested some of the wheat.”
They looked in the direction Ninya was pointing and indeed, part of the wheat had already been taken in.
“I see. Looks like… perhaps something happened?”
Ainz turned to the group, all of whom had uneasy faces, and said:
“...Gentlemen, let us handle this. Nabe, go invisible and scout the village with flying magic.”
After acknowledging Ainz’s instructions, Narberal turned herself invisible with magic and vanished. Shortly after, they heard the sound of flight magic being incanted, and Narberal no longer left any tracks behind her. The travellers waited on the road, and after a while, Narberal reappeared where she had left.
“...The villagers seem to be moving normally around the village, and I did not sense that they were being controlled or ordered. The villagers are working on the fields on the other side of the village.”
“...Huh, looks like I was just being paranoid.”
“It should be fine. Then, let’s move on… shall we?”
Peter looked expectantly to Ainz and Nfirea, and they both replied in the affirmative.
The road narrowed as they went on, so they had to form up into a column as they approached the village’s entrance.
The wheat fields on either side of the road were a brilliant emerald, waving gently in the wind. The travellers looked as though they were submerged in a pool of green water.
The wagon advanced with a clattering noise. Behind it, Lukrut made a noise of suspicion and studied the wheat fields closely. It was not yet time for the harvest, but the stalks were over 70 centimeters high, and they were as impenetrable as the ocean’s depths.
“What’s wrong?” Nfirea asked from his place at the back.
“Hm? Oh, nothing, maybe I was thinking too much…”
Lukrut tilted his head in bafflement, then quickened his pace, drawing closer to Peter.
Ninya looked in the same direction, and then opened up his steps once he made sure there were no other movements.
The wheat fields spilled over onto the road that led to the village, like the sea swallowing up the land. They wanted to cut down the stalks to ensure stable footing, but if they did that, problems would result in the future.
“I hope the villagers can tend their fields properly. This seems terribly wasteful.”
Peter walked at the head of the group and because his armor touched the wheat stalks, it was soon covered in wheat grains. Peter muttered as he saw this, feeling that something was wrong.
This was a warning born from his instincts, which had been honed through countless brushes with death. Would the green grains fall off so easily?
Driven by instinct, he looked back into the wheat fields, and saw a pair of eyes staring at them. It was a small creature, its body even smaller as it hunkered down in the wheat. Although its face was obscured by the wheat stalks, it was clearly not human in nature.
The shocked Peter wanted to shout a warning to his colleagues, but the creature — a demihuman — spoke first: “Could you put down your weapons, please?”
The diminutive demihuman already had its blade drawn, and no matter how fast Peter moved, his opponent could still stab him first.
“Yo, please put down your weapons. Could you tell the people behind you too? We don’t want to have to shoot them with arrows.”
There were faint sounds from another direction. When he looked to the source of those sounds, he found that there was a marvellously camouflaged hole in the wheatfields, with half a demihuman sticking out of it. The demihuman was covered in wheat stalks as further camouflage.
Peter was filled with doubt. It would seem there was room to negotiate with these creatures.
“...Could you spare our lives?”
“Sure we could. If you surrender, that is.”
Peter was at a loss for what to do next.
He had to stay in front and make sure the arrows did not hit Nfirea on the wagon. He also needed to figure out the enemy’s number and organization.
Verifying the opposition’s objectives was also important. At the moment, he could not surrender, but neither could he entirely deny the enemy’s proposition.
As though sensing Peter’s confusion, the two demihumans rose from the plains with a rustle.
“—Goblins,” Ninya breathed.
The demihumans who stood before them now were of the same species as the Goblins from yesterday. They had their bows raised, and their eyes were keen as they took aim.
Should they fight?
Ninya, Lukrut and Dyne looked at each other, pondering that question.
Goblins were inferior to human beings in height, weight, muscle power and other physical parameters. They were hard to deal with in the dark because they possessed darkvision, but under the light of day, they were hardly fearsome opponents for the veteran Swords of Darkness.
In addition, they had Ainz, who could take care of them easily like he had yesterday.
Peter was confident that they could make it through even a pincer attack, as long as their opponents were Goblins.
However, there was a reason why Peter could not immediately make that decision.
His adventurer’s instincts told him that these Goblins were different from the ones he had fought yesterday.
Simply put, the Goblins in front of him seemed trained and experienced. In addition, they were in good physical shape. In contrast to the scrawny, weak Goblins from yesterday, these Goblins had bodies of rippling muscle.
In addition, the Goblin archers had an excellent shooting stance. If the Goblins yesterday were children playing with sticks, these Goblins were warriors adept at using their bows.
Finally, their weapons were well-made and well-maintained, easily rivalling the weapons of the Swords of Darkness.
Just as humans could become strong through training, monsters could as well. Demihumans like Goblins could certainly do so too.
Therefore, it was quite possible that the Goblins before the Swords of Darkness were stronger than any demihuman foe they had ever fought.
Just then, a voice cut through the wind blowing over the wheatfields, and Lukrut hurriedly looked behind.
“...Hehe, you caught me, huh?”
A Goblin popped his head out from the fields and stuck his tongue out at them. He must have been trying to sneak up on them behind, but his stealth skills were not good enough to evade the senses of Lukrut the ranger. However, their situation was hardly improved even after discovering the Goblin infiltrator.
A calm look at their surroundings revealed movements throughout the wheat fields, as though something was hiding inside them. These movements were centered on the wagon, and slowly drew closer.
They were in a very bad situation.
The Swords of Darkness could not think of any way to break through their current difficulties.
♦ ♦ ♦
Ainz raised his hand to stop Narberal from killing them all. After examining the Goblins, he was certain that his guess was correct.
“They should be the Goblins summoned from the Horn of the Goblin General.”
If the girl who had received that horn was controlling these Goblins, then he had to avoid antagonizing them, as much as possible. If that was not the case they would have to think of something else. However, they were not enemies of Ainz and Narberal, so it should be fine.
The Goblin from before looked over to Ainz, who stood tall and steady, and said:
“We hope you don’t make any sudden moves, chap in the full plate. We don’t want to start a fight.”
The voice was stiff and full of caution as Ainz stopped Narberal from lashing out.
“Relax. If you don’t attack, neither will we.”
“Thanks for that. These nii-sans are strong, but they aren’t scary. You, however, are a different matter, and so is that nee-san beside you. When I think about the two of you as enemies, my hairs stand on end.”
Ainz did not reply, but shrugged.
“Then, please wait here for a bit before Ane-san arrives.”
“Who’s that Ane-san you’re talking about?! Did she take over Carne Village?!”
Nfirea’s agitation was reflected in the obvious surprise on the Goblins’ faces.
“Nfirea, calm down a little. It should be pretty obvious who has the advantage here. In addition, there’s a few more oddities about the village based on Nabe-san’s words. I’m hoping we can avoid pointless fighting before the truth comes out.”
Nfirea was hard-pressed to hide his anxiety despite Ninya’s words.
The look of immediate confrontation on his face became one of barely-restrained frustration. He clenched his fists tightly, and then slowly released them.
Ainz was surprised and confused by Nfirea’s intense reaction as well.
Granted, they had not travelled together for long, and he did not know the lad all that well. However, he did not think that Nfirea would be so excited about something like this. It was possible that this village was not just a simple place to gather herbs, but it had some other significance to him.
Ainz turned a doubting eye on Nfirea. On the other side, the Goblins seemed to have sensed Nfirea’s anger, and they looked at each other in confusion.
“Hm — this seems different from before…”
“Ane-san’s village was recently attacked by people dressed up as Imperial knights, we’re just staying on guard.”
“The village was attacked…! Is she all right?!”
As though in response to Nfirea’s shouts, a girl appeared at the entrance to the village, escorted by more goblins. As he saw the girl, Nfirea’s eyes went wide, and he shouted her name with all his strength:
The girl heard the shout, and responded in turn. Her voice was gentle and filled with kindness, as though addressing a close friend.
At this moment, Ainz recalled what he had heard earlier.
“Ah… it would seem that her herbalist friend was not a woman, but a man.”
Demiurge walked through the 9th floor of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. The hard soles of his leather shoes clacked loudly against the ground, and the echoes faded away into silence. Many vassals had been set out to maintain security, but they did not impair the mythic atmosphere in this place.
Suddenly, Demiurge looked around, and smiled.
The object of his admiration was the entirety of the 9th floor. It was a place which complemented the 41 Supreme Beings, the entities for whom Demiurge would abandon everything and pledge his utmost loyalty. Therefore, Demiurge loved and cherished everything here.
Joy filled Demiurge’s heart every time he walked through this place, further reinforcing his devotion to his creators. It was not just Demiurge who felt this way; even the clowns, musicians, and other noisy fellows were awed into silence by this floor, and strove to preserve its quiescence.
Anyone who was not delighted by the sights here, who was not sufficiently loyal to the 41 Supreme Beings, must surely have “disloyal tendencies”.
As these thoughts passed through Demiurge’s mind, he turned a corner. His destination was before his eyes, the room of his unquestionable superior, the supreme ruler of Nazarick, the last and only one who remained with them, Ainz Ooal Gown.
As he approached the room’s door, he saw several people open it and leave.
These people noticed Demiurge, and waited courteously for him to approach.
One of them was dressed like a butler, but he was dressed entirely in black aside from his white gloves. It looked less like a set of butler’s clothes than a combat uniform.
He was one of the ten manservants of Nazarick, but not even Demiurge could tell which of the ten he was. This was because they all wore full-face battle masks, like faceless mooks, and only communicated in strange noises.
In addition, there was the being standing before the butler.
The ridiculous mental image of a naked man in a tie appeared in Demiurge’s mind.
It was a penguin.
It was the very picture of a penguin, and it wore a black tie.
“It has been a while, Assistant Head Butler-kun.”
Upon hearing Demiurge’s warm and genial greeting, the penguin responded with a beaming smile (probably):
“Indeed, it has been a while, Demiurge-sama.”
He then bowed deeply.
This was not a simple penguin, but the assistant head butler of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. He was a heteromorphic being known as a birdman, and its name was Eclair Aicler Egglayer.
As a birdman, like Peroroncino of the 41 Supreme Beings, he should have had a bestial head and wings, and his limbs should have had avian characteristics. Yet for some reason, he looked like a penguin. Still, Demiurge had no doubts about his appearance.
The reason for that was because he was a creation and relic of the Supreme Beings.
“Is Albedo inside?”
“Yes, Albedo-sama is within.”
Albedo was in charge of Nazarick while Ainz was out. It was also common knowledge that she did not conduct her business in her own room, but in this room.
All her actions were taken with Ainz’s approval, so the only one to voice any objections to this arrangement was Shalltear Bloodfallen, who was herself abroad on business.
Demiurge had once whispered to Albedo: “Shouldn’t a good wife wait for her husband at home and mind the house in his absence?” Therefore, he was completely unable to refute her when she replied, “What’s wrong with a wife standing watch over her husband’s room?”
He nodded to Eclair, and then asked:
“It’s rare for you to come here, Eclair-kun. Are you not assigned to the guest rooms?”
“I must work hard in Sebas-sama’s place when he is not around. In fact, I was discussing the finer points of my duties with Albedo-sama.”
“Indeed. Since he is not around, the 9th floor of the Great Tomb of Nazarick is now your responsibility.”
“Exactly. I must work hard now, so I may one day rule the Great Tomb of Nazarick.”
The smile on Demiurge’s face did not change, despite Eclair’s strange statement.
It was widely-known that Eclair hungered after the throne of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. He was a creation of the Supreme Beings, so he was beyond question.
Of course, if the order was given, Demiurge would eliminate him without mercy, but until then, he had no objections.
“Indeed. Work hard, then. Speaking of which, what do you intend to take care of first?”
“Cleaning, of course. What other work is there to do? Nobody cleans better than me! One could eat off the toilets I clean.”
Demiurge nodded in satisfaction as he heard Eclair’s confident reply.
“Excellent. Your work is very important. A stain on this floor is an insult to the Supreme Beings.”
The nodding Demiurge then asked another question:
“I know your job is very important, but who will be in charge of this floor while Sebas is out?”
“That would be the head maid Pestonya. Managing this floor is nothing compared to cleaning it.”
“I see… so the vassals made by the Supreme Beings have already been assigned their duties… come to think of it, is it not difficult to carry out your duties with these penguin hands of yours?”
“My talent lies in overcoming the clumsiness of these hands and cleaning house,” Eclair confidently replied, his chest puffed out. Then, in a somewhat unhappy tone, he continued:
“Come to think of it, this is not something that a being like you -- whose wisdom is second only to my own -- would say, Demiurge-sama.”
Eclair took a comb from the butler behind him, and began preening the golden feathers on the sides of his head.
“I am no mere penguin, but a rockhopper penguin made by Ankoro Mochimochi-sama of the Supreme Beings. Please do not confuse me with such animals. Also, these are not my hands -- but wings.”
“It seems I have been rude.”
After seeing Demiurge lower his head in apology, Eclair signalled that he had not taken it to heart. Then, he ordered the butler behind him:
The manservant tucked Eclair under his arm.
Eclair’s usual walking gait was a series of short hops, which was quite slow, in some ways.
Therefore, he was typically carried around by a manservant in this manner.
“Then, I shall take my leave, Demiurge-sama.”
“Mm, farewell. Eclair-kun.”
After looking briefly at the Assistant Head Butler being held under a manservant’s arm like a doll, Demiurge knocked gently on the room’s door:
“This is Demiurge. Pardon the intrusion.”
He was exceedingly polite, despite the absence of the room’s owner. This was because to Demiurge, the room itself was a place to be respected.
Demiurge entered the room, which should have been empty.
He looked around, and did not see Albedo anywhere. Demiurge sighed softly, then opened another set of doors and proceeded deeper within.
The rooms of the 41 Supreme Beings were modelled after royal suites, and featured a vast bathroom, a bar counter, a living room with a grand piano, a main bedroom, guest rooms, a dedicated kitchen, a dressing room, and so on.
Demiurge advanced to the bedroom without a second’s hesitation.
He knocked on the door and entered without waiting for an answer.
There was only a single bed within, but the king-sized bed was adorned with a stylish canopy. There was a large lump, slightly larger than the size of a human, and it was squirming.
Unable to bear Demiurge calling out to her, a world-class beauty revealed her face from under the sheets. Her skin was an uninterrupted stretch of silky smoothness down to her shoulders, so she was probably naked under those sheets. Perhaps it was because she had burrowed into those sheets, but there was a faint blush of arousal on her cheeks.
“...What fell sorcery are you working there?”
“I want Ainz-sama to be enveloped in my fragrance when he returns.”
It would seem her wiggling and squirming was to mark her territory.
Demiurge was dumbstruck. All he could do was silently watch the highest-ranked NPC created by the 41 Supreme Beings, the Guardian Overseer of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. Then, he tiredly shook his head.
He did not say, “Ainz-sama is undead, he probably will not sleep on a bed” or “Even if he did sleep on a bed, the sheets would probably be changed right away” or something like that. If she was satisfied with that, then so be it.
“You should probably not take it too far.”
“...I don’t know what you mean by too far, but I understand. Right, Ainz-sama?”
The person lying in bed beside Albedo suddenly revealed his face.
Demiurge was so shocked that he had no words to say.
For a moment, he thought it was Ainz Ooal Gown himself, but it was not nearly thick or imposing enough.
“That must be… a hug pillow… who made it?”
Demiurge’s nearly-closed eyes widened slightly as he heard Albedo’s prompt reply. He had not expected her to be possessed of such skills.
“Be it cleaning, washing clothes or sewing, I possess all these skills at a professional level.”
Elated by Demiurge’s surprise, Albedo continued showing off in a self-satisfied tone:
“I’ve already made socks and clothes for our future baby, up till the age of five.”
Albedo’s full-faced smile and her kufufufu laugh left Demiurge feeling a little powerless. He considered simply leaving her here and departing forthwith.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl… ah! What if the child is a hermaphrodite, or sexless?”
Demiurge could not say anything. All he could do was watch Albedo, who was muttering to herself.
It was true that Albedo excelled in the management of the Great Tomb of Nazarick, and in that respect she was far superior to Demiurge. However, she was not as talented in terms of defense and military administration, so she needed Demiurge’s help in that field.
All would be well as long as there were no known enemies, like now.
With that in mind, Demiurge tamped down his uneasiness. His master had ordered him to leave the Tomb, and Demiurge could not resist that command.
“Then, in accordance with Ainz-sama’s orders, I will be setting out now. That being the case, the only Guardians remaining in Nazarick will be yourself and Cocytus. There is nothing which needs to be said, but I do hope you will take care of yourself.”
“So, after Aura, Mare, Sebas and Shalltear, it’s your turn? Mm, leave it to me. I’ll have my sisters help me in an emergency. I will also mobilize the Pleiades. They should be enough to hold on until everyone returns.”
“...I believe that your little sister cannot be deployed without Ainz-sama’s permission, even in an emergency. The same applies to the Pleiades. I believe two of them are already out on missions, so you will not be able to assemble all of them. Perhaps you should move Victim to a higher floor, depending on the circumstances?”
“Still, going that far… preparations have been made in case of such a situation. If something goes awry, please return as soon as possible. Speaking of which, how will you deal with the surviving members of the Sunlight Scripture? Ainz-sama has granted you the right to dispose of them, am I wrong? You could hand that to me as well, but I have no idea what you plan to accomplish with them…”
“Ah, them, you mean? By order of Ainz-sama, they are helping us with experiments.”
Demiurge seemed very happy, but Albedo wrinkled her elegantly-shaped eyebrows.
“First are the healing magic tests. When we cut off an arm and heal the wound with magic, the severed hand disappears. Now, if we had them eat the severed arm and then healed the wound, would the nutrients derived from the arm vanish? If we repeated this over and over again, would the people who ate the arms starve to death?”
“Ah — indeed.”
“In addition, we allow them to vote on who should become the others’ food, and who should be the one to cut off the food’s limbs with a blunt axe. We do so by a registered vote.”
“Is there a reason for that?”
“But of course. There will be a hierarchy among the prisoners, from those who will become food and have their limbs chopped off, to those who will chop the limbs off, and those who will eat those limbs. This creates hatred, and once they are gripped by that hatred, all we need to do is gently urge on the ones who were used as food. This encourages them to revolt, and the effects are very obvious. Beings that hate everything are truly fearsome.”
“...That is quite disturbing. We of Nazarick are beings created by the Supreme Beings, and there is no way we could betray Ainz-sama. But to think these humans would betray their own masters… well, they have hardly any loyalty to speak of.”
“That is what makes it interesting. You could enjoy the humans in that way too, could you not, Albedo? All you need to do is treat them as toys.”
“I cannot understand your way of thinking.”
“What a shame. All right, staying here and chatting will delay the execution of Ainz-sama’s orders. If anything happens, let me know and I will return right away.”
“Mm. I don’t think it’ll come to that, but I will inform you depending on the circumstances.”
Albedo’s alabaster-white hand emerged from under the sheets to wave Demiurge goodbye.
“Then, I will be off. Right… since you wanted to make boys’ clothes, you might want to know this. Did you know that the Supreme Beings seem to prefer boys in girl’s clothing?”
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