Herd of Predators
“What kind of food is this?!”
A shrill, nigh-hysterical voice cut through the air, and then the sound of crashing cutlery echoed through the dining room.
Several people turned to look at the girl who was kicking up a fuss.
The girl was so beautiful that using the word to describe her seemed inadequate. Her looks could rival those of the Kingdom’s most beautiful woman — the one with the appellation of “Golden” — and her anger only added to her charm.
In addition, every move she made was elegant and refined, even while throwing a tantrum.
She must have been nobility in some country, the heiress to a highborn family. She flicked at her long French curls in annoyance, and glared at the food before her in dissatisfaction.
All manner of dishes packed the table before her.
There were freshly-baked loaves of bread, still steaming in their basket. The plates were laden with thick, rare cuts of juicy red meat, served with sweetcorn and buttered mashed potatoes. The sight of them stimulated the appetite. The fresh vegetables which made up the salad were still crisp and soft, and their fragrant dressing filled the room with a citrus scent.
The highest-class inn in E-Rantel — the Shining Golden Pavilion — used [Preservation] magic to keep their ingredients fresh. Naturally, only the finest of chefs were allowed to turn said ingredients into meals.
However, despite the best efforts of the most skilled chefs that used the finest ingredients to produce culinary works of art — which only nobility, royalty or the wealthiest of merchants would be privileged enough to taste — the girl turned her nose up at the plates before her.
It was only natural to feel shocked by her complaint, but beyond that, the people who heard her also felt curiosity about what she normally ate.
“It tastes horrible!”
The words she uttered after that were singularly inappropriate to this place, and they left everyone in the room speechless.
However, the old butler behind the girl kept his expression neutral and did not change his stance Even when the girl turned and glared at him, he remained unmoved, as though he could not make any other facial expressions.
“Ahhhh, I can’t bear to stay in this run-down city any further! We’re setting out now!”
“But Young Mistress, it’s already evening—”
“Silence! I said we’re going, so we’re going, do you understand me?!”
Only after hearing the girl’s childish tantrum did the butler’s posture change. He lowered his head and replied:
“Understood, Young Mistress. I shall begin travel preparations immediately.”
“Hmph! If you understand, then hurry up and get ready, Sebas!”
The girl tossed away the fork she was holding and rose to her feet, before flouncing out of the dining room. She was still fuming as she did so.
After the storm had passed, a solemn, dignified voice lightened the heavy mood in the room:
“I apologize to everyone for the disturbance.”
The butler picked up the chair which the girl had knocked over and replaced it, then bowed deeply to everyone in the dining room as a sign of contrition. Quite a few of them accepted the old man’s immaculate apology with pitying eyes.
A man who had been waiting in the wings approached the butler.
“Once again, I apologize for startling everyone. Though I know it will not excuse this offense, I hope you will allow me to pay for the meals of everyone here.”
Looks of delight bloomed on the faces of several of the diners as they heard those words. A meal in a first-rate inn like this would certainly not be cheap. If this old man was willing to pay for their food, that would be a good enough reason to forgive that girl.
On the other hand, the innkeeper’s face remained impassive as he bowed politely in response to the butler’s proposal. That natural reaction of his was proof that scenes like this had been seen many times, ever since this pair of master and servant had taken up lodgings at the Shining Golden Pavilion.
Sebas looked toward a corner of the dining hall, at a destitute-looking man shoveling food into his mouth. As the man noticed Sebas’ eyes on him, he rose to his feet and quickly walked towards Sebas.
Compared to the other guests, the man seemed completely out of place. He lacked both style and class, and so he stood out from everyone around him.
Although his clothes were no shabbier than those of the people nearby, they did not go well on him. In fact, it was quite comical — like a clown in fancy dress.
“What is it, Zack-san?”
The other guests frowned as they heard the smarmy tones in which Zack spoke. The way he wrung his hands went very well with the way he was toadying up to Sebas.
However, Sebas’ expression remained unchanged.
“As a hired man, I have no room to propose an alternative… but would it not be better to reconsider the decision to set off immediately?”
“Are you saying you have difficulty driving a wagon at night?”
“That is one of the reasons, and… I have some… other business to take care of.”
Zack scratched his head over and over again. Though his hair looked clean enough, the way he was scratching made it seem like he was going to start throwing off flakes of skin. Quite a few peoples’ frowns deepened further. However, whether he had noticed or not, he ended up scratching even harder.
“However, the Young Mistress will most likely not accept that suggestion. Or rather, given the Young Mistress’ personality, she will not change her earlier decision.”
With a steely, unyielding look on his face, Sebas concluded:
“Therefore, we have no choice but to set out.”
Zack’s eyes darted around, looking for some other excuse to give. However, he found none, and he grimaced.
“Of course, we will not be leaving right away. We will need some time to load the Young Mistress’ luggage onto the wagon. During that time, please prepare for our departure.”
Sebas noted the wily gleam in the eyes of the improverished-looking man before him as he scrabbled for something to say. However, Sebas did not show any signs that he cared.
This was all to cover up the fact that all was going as planned.
“Then, when will we be leaving?”
“How about two, maybe three hours later? If we leave later than that, the streets will be shrouded in darkness. That is probably the limit.”
That disgusting, calculative look appeared in the man’s eyes again. Sebas once again pretended that he had not noticed it. After licking his lips several times, Zack replied:
“Hehe, that should be fine.”
“Excellent. Then, can I ask you to begin preparing right away?”
♦ ♦ ♦
As he watched Zack’s retreating figure, Sebas waved his hand, as though to clear the air around him. It seemed polluted somehow, and it clung to him.
Sebas — his face a mask of neutrality — fought the urge to sigh.
Frankly speaking, Sebas had no love for such despicable characters. Perhaps his colleagues Demiurge and Shalltear could derive some minor amusement from these people by treating them like toys, but Sebas did not want to let people like that near himself.
There were some shared opinions in the Great Tomb of Nazarick, such as “Everything which does not belong to Nazarick is an inferior lifeform” and “Other than a rare few exceptions, humans and demihumans are weaklings that must be trampled”. Sebas operated by his creator’s credo that “those who do not save the weak cannot call themselves strong”, and thus he had his doubts about those opinions. However, he began to feel that there might be some truth to them when he met wretched individuals like Zack.
“Good grief. Humans should be an outstanding species…”
After raising his hand to stroke his neatly-trimmed moustache, he turned his thoughts to what he should do next.
The plan was going quite well. However, he still needed to confirm the details with his observer.
Just as Sebas was thinking about the direction in which he would proceed, he noticed a man approaching him.
“It must be quite hard on you to have to set out at this time.”
The person addressing him was a clean-shaven man in his late 40s. His black hair was streaked with white, and due to age and heavy meals, his pot belly was soft and rounded.
He was tastefully-dressed, in clothes that both reflected his high station and his sense of style.
“Bardo-san, I presume?”
Sebas dipped his head in acknowledgement. The man (Bardo) extended a hand to stop him.
“Ah, no, no, there’s no need for such formality.”
The man called Bardo Lofley was a merchant, who controlled a large portion of the grain trade in this city. For some reason, he had come over and begun speaking to Sebas.
The Fortress City was a strategic location in war. Bardo was heavily involved in the food trade here, which made him quite a big figure among the city’s many merchants.
Once one had a fighting force of over 10’000 men, feeding them became a task which consumed great amounts of time and manpower. Therefore, the Kingdom’s policy on that matter was to march their troops to this city with minimum rations, whereupon they would resupply upon arrival. Therefore, merchants who dealt in food and weapons were quite influential in this place, unlike regular cities.
Anyone in E-Rantel with such power would never chat up someone else simply because they were eating in the same restaurant. Therefore, he must have had some motive for reaching out to Sebas.
Still, Sebas had been expecting this.
“Sebas-san, that person’s not a good sort.”
Sebas’ expression changed for the first time as he smiled while answering courteously. His response implied that he knew exactly who Bardo was referring to.
“He’s not a trustworthy fellow. I have no idea why you would employ someone like him, Sebas-san.”
Sebas thought quickly, looking for the answer which was most appropriate to the present circumstances.
He could not tell the other man the true reasons behind hiring Zack. However, if he said that he had hired Zack because he was a nobody, Sebas would look bad in the eyes of others and their opinions of him would suffer.
Although they had decided to leave this city, he wanted to avoid Bardo thinking poorly of him. In the future, they might need to make use of the man.
“That might be correct, but nobody has sold himself the way he does. Granted, his personality is flawed, but the Young Mistress appreciates his passion.”
Bardo smiled uncomfortably, and his opinion of the young mistress in question fell by another notch.
She was there for precisely that purpose, so it could not be helped, but Sebas still found it difficult have her take the blame for this.
“I fear I have gone too far. I hope you will remove those words from your memory; though I would still suggest that you try to persuade your mistress otherwise.”
“There might be merit in your words. However, when I think of the Young Mistress’ father; that is to say, the kindness that he showed me, I simply cannot…”
“Of course, loyalty is important…”
Bardo’s voice trailed off, and the rest was unintelligible.
“In that case, would you like me to send a few reliable men along with you?”
“There is no need for you to go to such lengths for us.”
Those words may have been spoken with kindness and warmth, but they were an ironclad denial. Perhaps Bardo sensed the firm determination hidden within that reply, which was why he decided to try a different angle of approach.
“Is that so? I personally feel it would be better to be escorted by competent bodyguards. The way to the Royal Capital is long, and unlike the Empire, the roads of the Kingdom are not very safe. I could recommend some reliable mercenaries.”
The security of the roads in the Kingdom fell to the nobles who owned the land through which those roads passed. In turn, they would collect a toll from travellers. This was the privilege of the nobles, but in truth, it was little more than a means of collecting a road tax, and the security of the roads was riddled through with holes in many places. It was quite common for travellers to meet brigands or sellswords who had turned to banditry while on the road.
In an effort to solve this problem, the “Golden Princess” had worked hard to have the roads patrolled by guardsmen loyal to the Crown. However, there were far too few of these patrolmen for the plan to have any effect. In addition, the nobles were worried that their privileges would be infringed upon, and worked to get in the patrolmen’s way.
In the end, the situation was one where the country could not ensure the safety of its own roads.
Therefore, travelling merchants typically hired adventurers or a band of trusted mercenaries to defend themselves. A powerful and prestigious person like Bardo would surely know of well-trained and reliable mercenaries. However, Sebas could not accept his offer.
“Indeed, you might be right to say so. However, the Young Mistress does not like having people by her side, and so I am bound to comply with her requests as much as possible.”
“Is that so.”
Bardo was now frowning in an exaggerated manner, a troubled expression on his face. This was how an adult would react in the face of a child throwing a tantrum.
“I apologize for having to reject your kindness.”
“Please don’t say that. In truth, I wanted to do you a favor, with the hopes of building a stronger relationship with you.”
Sebas and company had lodged in this inn under the backstory of being an heiress and her faithful butler who hailed from a city in some part of the Empire. They had then shown the ample purchasing power such a background would merit, in order to see how the people around them would react. The favor Bardo wanted to do was calculated to ingratiate himself with such wealthy people.
Sebas smiled gently at the fish which had taken the bait:
“I will relay your kindness to the Young Mistress’ father (my master), Bardo-san.”
A faint gleam crept into Bardo’s eyes, but he swiftly concealed it. Normal people would not have perceived that momentary glittering. However, that brief exposure was more than enough for Sebas to notice it.
“Then, though I apologize for my rudeness, I must make a move first, for the Young Mistress is waiting.”
Sebas took the initiative before Bardo could speak.
Bardo — who had been seen through — blinked and studied Sebas’ expression briefly, before sighing:
“—hm, it can’t be helped, then. Sebas-san, when you come to this city again, please look for me. I will welcome you warmly.”
“Very well. When the time comes, we will be in your care.”
As he watched Bardo leave, Sebas muttered to himself:
“Humans really are a varied bunch.”
Sebas could sense that Bardo’s actions were not purely motivated by personal gain. He was genuinely concerned for the girl and her butler.
It was because of people like these, who wanted to help those in need, that he could not bring himself to hate humanity.
An unforced smile bloomed on Sebas’ face.
♦ ♦ ♦
Sebas knocked several times, announced himself, and then entered the room.
“Forgive my unsightly conduct from earlier, Sebas-sama.”
As Sebas closed the door after himself, a bowing girl greeted him. Anyone who had witnessed the scene in the dining room from earlier would probably be stunned, because the girl who greeted him was the selfish, temperamental, tantrum-throwing heiress from just now.
She had a serious expression on her face, as though her hysterics from just now had been nothing more than an act.
Her attitude was one which a subordinate would use to greet a superior.
Her clothes and her face were the same, but it seemed as though she were a completely different person.
Another thing was that she had one eye — her left eye — closed. She had not closed that eye while she was in the dining hall.
“There is no need to apologize. You were simply doing your job.”
Sebas looked around the luxurious suite. Of course, it was hardly impressive to Sebas, who was in charge of the 9th Floor of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. His lack of surprise was simply because it was a poor choice for comparison.
From what he could see, there were stacks of luggage in the corner of the room. They were packed and ready for travel, and not by Sebas. The preparations had been completed by the only other person in the room.
“I’ll tidy up the rest.”
“What are you saying, Sebas-sama? How could I possibly inconvenience you any further?”
The girl who raised her head to answer him was one of the battle maids (Pleiades) — Solution Epsilon.
“Really now? But I am playing the role of your butler now, am I not?”
There was a mischievous grin on Sebas’ wrinkled face.
After seeing Sebas’ smile, Solution’s face changed for the first time, to an uncomfortable smile.
“Indeed, you are my butler for now. However, I am also your subordinate, Sebas-sama.”
“...Well, that’s true, Then, as your superior, I shall issue an order to you; your tasks are complete, and it is my turn to work. Rest here until we set out.”
“...Yes. Thank you.”
“Then, I shall go meet Shalltear-sama on the coach and inform her when we are leaving. She must be getting tired of waiting.”
Sebas easily lifted up one of the biggest pieces of luggage before suddenly speaking, as though he had just thought of something.
“Speaking of which, is he moving as we expected?”
“Yes, all is proceeding as predicted.”
Solution pressed the skin which covered her tightly-shut eye.
“That’s good to hear. Then, what’s his situation?”
“Yes — currently, he is meeting with a dishevelled-looking man. Do you wish to hear what they are saying?”
“There is no need for that. I’ll be moving the luggage, so give me a summary report afterwards.”
Solution’s face suddenly twisted.
The corners of her eyes dropped while her mouth curved upwards. While it vaguely resembled a smile, the contortions required to produce such an expression would be impossible for a human being to achieve. Perhaps it would be better to describe it as a distorted face made of clay.
“—Ah, that’s right. Sebas-sama, please permit me to change the topic.”
“What is it, Solution?”
“...After all this is over, may I dispose of that man?”
Sebas freed up a hand to stroke his moustache and considered the matter.
“—Only with Shalltear-sama’s permission. However, if she allows it, you may do as you please.”
Solution’s forehead furrowed slightly, the disappointment on her face speaking for herself. As though to comfort her, Sebas continued speaking:
“It’ll be fine. Giving you one human should not be a problem.”
“Is that so? I understand. Then, please tell Shalltear-sama that I would like that man, if possible.”
Solution was all smiles. That sunny, cheerful expression would entrance anyone who saw it.
Sebas simultaneously pitied and wanted to know more about the man who could put a look like that on Solution’s face. Therefore, he asked her:
“What did that man say?”
“Oh, something about ‘I can’t wait to have fun with her’, so since these chances are hard to come by, I intend to have fun with him as well.”
Solution’s smile beamed ever brighter.
That smile — as innocent as a child’s — looked forward to what would come next.
A pitiful life.
As Zack moved with hurried steps, he thought about how pitiful his life had been.
He had been born to a farmer’s family in a village of the Kingdom. It could not be considered a happy life by any stretch of the word.
The fruits of their hard labor were taken away by the lord of the land. If he took 60% of their harvest, it might still be bearable. They could still live on the remaining 40%, albeit in poverty.
However, if he took 80% of their harvest, they would be in big trouble. It was hard enough to survive on 40% of the crops. If they only had 20% left, their lives would be extremely difficult.
During that year when they had only been allowed to keep 20% of their harvest, Zack returned home, exhausted from a day of hard fieldwork, and found that his little sister was missing.
At that time, Zack was young and did not know what was going on. His beloved little sister had disappeared, yet his parents had not gone looking for her. Zack understood now that she had probably been sold off. Slavery was now outlawed through the efforts of the “Golden Princess”, but at that time it had been quite widespread throughout the Kingdom.
Therefore, whenever Zack went whoring and passed a hooker, he could not help but look at the girl’s face. Of course, he did not think he would actually be able to find his little sister, and even if he did find her, he did not know what he would say to her. Even so, he could not help but keep looking.
And amidst this miserable life of poverty, he was conscripted.
The Kingdom periodically mobilized its armies against the Empire, and when it did so, the Kingdom would round up all the able-bodied men in the villages and send them to the battlefield. The absence of their strong young men for a month had dire consequences for the villages. However, some people were grateful for this conscription.
After all, the less mouths to feed, the less food the families would need. In addition, the young conscripts would be fed by the Kingdom. For some, it might be the first time they had ever eaten their fill.
Still, that was all the merit that situation held. No matter how hard a man fought, he would not be rewarded unless he had made outstanding accomplishments. No, sometimes these men would not be rewarded no matter what they did. Only the lucky would be rewarded. Then, when they returned to their villages, they still had to face the despondent reality that the harvest was poor, because there had been too few hands to take it in.
Zack had been conscripted twice, but his third tour of duty had seen his fortunes change.
That war had been the same as all the others, ending after a few minor skirmishes. Zack, who had held on to his life, was about to head home when he stopped. He looked at the weapon in his hand, and it was as though he had received a sign from the heavens.
Instead of returning to his village, why not live differently?
Still, Zack was a mere farmer with just a bit of basic training. He had few choices in the sort of new life he could lead.
He did not possess exceptional physical abilities, nor did he possess a talent, a special ability only had by a few special people. His learning was largely related to farming — when to sow which seeds, and so on.
What Zack decided to do pertained to the sole trump card he possessed; in other words, running away with the weapon that the Kingdom had temporarily issued him. He had not considered the difficulties it would cause for his parents because they had sold off his little sister — even if it was to keep the rest of the family alive — and thus he did not love his parents.
But how could someone who did not know the land or have any backers desert so easily? In the end, he managed to find people to help him, which was fortunate, in a sense.
The people who aided him in deserting were a band of sellswords.
Of course, a farmer like Zack was hardly of any use to a mercenary band. However, the band had lost many of its members during the war, and their aim was to replenish their numbers as soon as possible.
This was the reason why the mercenary band let him join so easily. However, they were not a proper, law-abiding organization. While they fought as mercenaries in wartime, during peacetime they were essentially bandits.
After that, Zack led a life filled with unspeakable deeds.
Having was better than not having. Taking was better than being taken from. It was better to make people weep than to cry bitter tears.
This was the life Zack lived.
He did not feel it was wrong, nor did he regret it.
His faith in that grew ever deeper every time he heard the wails of the oppressed.
♦ ♦ ♦
Zack ran through the pauper’s district. He ran toward a world that was a deeper red than the setting sun.
Having run continuously ever since leaving the inn, he was panting heavily and his forehead was covered in sweat. His building fatigue made him want to stop, and he wondered if he should take a break. However, time was tight, and so Zack spurred his tired body forward and continued running.
Just then, as Zack took a sharp turn—
“That was close~” mumbled the figure on the other side of the corner as it somersaulted away, accompanied by the clattering of metal.
A startled Zack looked at the black shape which had leapt clear.
She was a pretty girl. She wore a black cape which made her seem to blend into the shadows, but her shiny purple eyes, filled with curiosity, were looking straight at Zack.
Tired and out of patience, Zack yelled at her.
“That’s my line! It’s dangerous! Watch where you’re going!”
The girl did not seem afraid of Zack’s ranting. Instead, she smiled coldly.
That spine-chilling smile made Zack retreat instinctively, without the courage to so much as draw his weapon. It was like a lion glaring at a mouse.
Perhaps the sound of metal he heard when the girl had leapt back came from the armor she was wearing.
An armed and armored girl — perhaps she was an adventurer.
He had picked the wrong person to antagonize.
Danger sirens blared through Zack’s head, and at the same time he thought of something.
He did not look down on her as weak because she was a woman. Zack knew that there was an adventurer team composed purely of strong women. The strongest man in the mercenary band he belonged to had brought it up once.
On the other hand, Zack might have been a mercenary, but he was one of the weakest members of their fighting men. This was why he had been given a job like this.
He was covered in sweat from running, and as Zack began regretting what he had done, it quickly became another type of sweat altogether.
Just as a look of fear completely covered Zack’s face, the girl’s smile lost its frightening quality.
“Hm~ Ah well, forget it. I don’t have time for this. Still, if I run into you again, you’re going to have a bad time~”
The girl went around him, leaving those words behind. Interested, Zack turned to watch as she left. He mused that the place in front of him was an uninhabited part of the pauper’s district.
What was a beautiful woman doing out here so late? The thought piqued his curiosity, but he had something more important waiting for him, so he cut his introspection short and moved on.
Soon, he arrived in the pauper’s district, at a corner which was filled with many run-down houses. He looked around to see if anyone was following him.
The sun slowly sank beneath the horizon, painting the world in shades of black, so Zack focused on whether anyone was hiding in dark corners. He had already checked several times before now, but just to be safe, he took one last look.
Zack nodded in satisfaction, and as he got his breathing under control, he knocked thrice on a door. After waiting five seconds, he knocked four more times.
After giving the prearranged signal, he received an immediate response. The creaking of wood came from the other side of the door, and the wooden shutter which blocked the peephole slid out of the way. Zack could see a man’s eyes on the other side of the door, looking him up and down and verifying his identity.
“It’s you. Ah, wait a minute.”
Without waiting for Zack’s reply, the man slid the peephole shut, and that sound was followed by that of a heavy lock disengaging. The door cracked open slightly.
There was a faint scent of rot coming from within the room, which was as far removed from the place Zack had been as the heavens were from the earth. Hoping that his nose could get used to the smell, Zack nimbly wriggled into the room.
Once the door shut, he saw that the interior was tiny and dark.
The door led directly to the kitchen and dining room, which was furnished with a table. There was a candle on the table, whose feeble light somewhat dispelled the darkness of the room.
A filthy man who looked like he dealt in violence for a living pulled up a nearby chair and took a seat. The chair creaked as he sat on it, as though moaning in pain. The man was heavily muscled and had a barrel chest, and the exposed parts of his arms and his face were lightly scarred. The chair looked like it was going to give way under his weight.
“Oh, Zack. What’s wrong, what happened?”
“There’s been a change in the situation… The prey is preparing to move.”
“Ah — so we’ll have to make our move as well.”
Zack nodded silently. The man quietly grumbled, “Why now… can’t they think of us a little?” as he reached up to scratch his messy hair.
“Can’t you delay them somehow?”
“That’ll be difficult, because it was that woman’s request.”
The man had already heard Zack talk about that woman several times, and he frowned deeply.
“That old man should use his brains a little and try to talk her down. The roads at night are nasty places to be, with scary bandits showing up and all. Give me a break… even an idiot knows about that sort of thing. Ah, how about sabotaging a coach wheel and dragging out the departure until tomorrow?”
“That won’t work — he’s already loading the luggage. It would be better to act quickly, right?”
“Mm, that’s true…”
The man stared into the air as he thought.
“Then, when are they moving out?”
“In about two hours.”
“That’ll be cutting it really close. Ah — what should I do. I’ll need to contact the others after this… With only two hours… It’ll be hard, but they’re prize catches…”
The man twiddled his thumbs as he considered how much time the entire process would take. Zack simply listened to his musings in silence, looking down at his hands.
“Rich people like that piss you off, right…”
Zack thought of the delicate, dainty hands of the girl who was addressed as the Young Mistress.
Nobody who worked on a farm would have hands as pretty as that. Their skin was split from icy water and thickened by swinging a hoe, and even their nails grew gnarled. A farmer’s hands were like that.
He knew well that the world was unfair. However—
The corner of Zack’s mouth twisted up in a lewd smile that bared his teeth.
“Can I have some fun with that woman?”
“You’ll have to wait for us to finish first, and since we’re going to ransom her off, you can’t go too far! Don’t hurt her too badly.”
The man sneered in lasciviously. Perhaps it was because of his rising desire, but he suddenly got to his feet.
“All right, we’ll do it. I’ll contact the chief.”
“We’ll send about ten guys ahead to the usual place to ambush them. You should move too and get them there in about four hours’ time. If you haven’t arrived by then, we’ll make the first move. So keep the prey obedient and lower their guard.”
A stagecoach galloped away from the Fortress City.
It was a large vehicle that could comfortably seat six people, pulled by a quartet of horses.
The disc of the full moon shone in the night sky, illuminating the land with surprising brightness. That said, racing at full speed through the night was still a foolish course of action. The wisest course of action would have been to pitch tents, light lanterns, and post sentries while they spent the night here.
The world at night was not under mankind’s control. No, that would not be entirely accurate — no place without light could be considered part of humanity’s world. The night concealed all manner of animals, demihumans and monsters. Many creatures possessed the gift of darkvision, and these creatures often attacked humanity.
Still, the passengers in the stagecoach barely felt their vehicle galloping through the perilous night.
This was not because of good shock absorbers or the like, but because the coach was travelling along a cobblestoned road.
The paving of roads had begun after the suggestion of the “Golden Princess”, but the only places where it had been completed were in those demesnes held by the Crown and by Marquis Raeven, one of the Six Great Nobles. This was because the other nobles protested this gesture, feeling that such roads would only benefit the Empire when they attacked the Kingdom.
The maintenance costs for those roads had also sparked much debate. The reason why Princess Renner had reached out to traders to foot the bill was because the nobles in charge of the areas through which the roads passed were dragging their feet on the matter. Thus, the paving work was in this a sad state of affairs.
Since this region was not too far from E-Rantel — which was administered by the Crown — the work here was of quite a high standard.
Still, it was not perfect. The wagon wobbled a little as it travelled along the street, and some faint vibrations made their way to the passengers.
These tremors terminated the conversation between the occupants of the vehicle.
Among these occupants were Sebas, with Solution by his side. Opposite him was Shalltear, flanked by two of the Vampire Brides who were her minions-cum-concubines. Zack was obviously driving the wagon from the driver’s seat.
A brief silence filled the air inside the wagon, and then at great length, Sebas spoke to break it:
“There is one thing I have been meaning to ask you for a while.”
“Mm? What do you have in mind?”
“I noticed that you and Aura-sama do not get along very well. Is there any particular reason for that?”
“...Actually, I feel we do get along quite well.”
As Shalltear answered quietly, she stared at the nail of her pinky finger, as though bored.
The pearly-white fingernail was about 2cm long. Although she had a file in hand, the nail looked quite neatly trimmed, so there was no need to work further on it. Shalltear also felt that further action was unnecessary, so she tossed the file to one of the Vampire Brides by her side.
After that, she made to grope the breasts of the vampires beside her with her now-empty hands. However, when she noticed the expressions on the two people in front of her, she retracted her hands, a somewhat embarrassed look on her face.
“It does not seem that way,” Sebas continued. Shalltear’s face wrinkled up, like she had eaten something bitter, and then she replied:
“I… I think we do get along. I simply tease her a little because my creator, Peroroncino-sama, designed me to feud with her. Still, there is no real enmity there. Perhaps Bukubukuchagama-sama designed that girl to not get along with me as well.”
Shalltear waved her hand, as though she were very bored, and then met Sebas’ gaze for the first time.
“Speaking of which, my creator Peroroncino-sama and that girl’s creator — Bukubukuchagama-sama — were elder sister and younger brother. So in that sense, she and I are also sisters.”
“A sibling relationship — I see!”
“In the past, Peroroncino-sama discussed the matter with other Supreme Beings — Luci★Fer-sama and Nishiki Enrai-sama — when they came to my domain.”
A look of reverence crept into Shalltear’s eyes as she recounted her memories of accompanying these exalted personages.
“Peroroncino-sama once mentioned that Bukubukuchagama had the profession of a seiyuu. So popular was she that she even lent her talents to things called ‘aerogays’, so whenever he purchased a game he eagerly anticipated, he would end up thinking of his sister’s face and he would lose his motivation.”
Shalltear added that she did not know what he meant by that. A somewhat baffled Sebas tilted his head and said:
“A seiyuu… I remember that seems to be a line of work which involves the use of sound. It seems they are skilled in singing, so perhaps it should be similar to a bard.”
After hearing Sebas’ answer, Shalltear laughed, like the tinkling of silver bells, and replied in the negative:
“That is not the case.”
“It is not? How so?”
“I once heard Bukubukuchagama-sama say that being a seiyuu meant giving a soul through sound. In other words, a seiyuu is a job which creates life.”
“Ohhh! I see. It seems I was laboring under a grave misconception. Thank you very much for your correction, Shalltear-sama.”
Sebas and all the others created by the Supreme Beings were infused with knowledge upon their creation, but that was all they had. Because they did not know real life, amusing mishaps sometimes occurred; like say, making a mistake about their revered masters’ jobs.
Feeling terribly uncomfortable, Sebas muttered to himself, engraving the meaning of being a seiyuu into his heart so he would not make the same mistake again.
“There’s no need to take it to heart… ah, right, Sebas, since we are fellow travellers, there’s no need to be so formal.”
“Is that so, Shalltear-sama?”
“Don’t address me as -sama… we are all servants of the Supreme Beings. They may have handed down our positions and set some of us over others, but the truth is that we’re all basically the same.”
She had the right of it. Solution was only obeying Sebas because she had been ordered to do so. Originally, she and Sebas were of the same status.
“I understand, Shalltear. Then, I shall address you in this way from now on.”
“That’s good to hear. Come to think of it, you don’t get along with Demiurge either, do you?”
Sebas remained silent. Shalltear narrowed her eyes, like a playful child, and continued asking:
“The Supreme Beings did not design you that way, so why is that?”
“...I wonder. The truth is, I don’t know why that is the case as well. It must be some sort of instinct that makes me dislike him. However the same should apply to him as well.”
“Hmm — it doesn’t seem that way to me… still, it might be because the feelings of our creators, the Supreme Beings, were deeply engraved within our hearts.”
“That is very likely to be the case.”
Shalltear carefully studied Sebas, who nodded to her. Then, after considering his position, Shalltear felt that he would know the answer to the question which had long hidden in her heart:
“What kind of people are found in the 8th Floor? I know about Victim, but who else is there besides him?”
Sebas frowned at the sudden query. He looked at Shalltear, a stern expression on his face, trying to discern what she was up to. From where she was seated to the side, Solution’s expression changed as well, though it was subtle enough that the others did not notice.
“...In the past, there were fools who defied the Supreme Beings and invaded Nazarick, breaching the defenses of the 7th Floor. However, they did not reach the 9th Floor, where the Supreme Beings resided. That being the case, they must have been stopped at the 8th Floor, right? Though I do not have any recollection of the event, the opposition must have brought fearsome fighting power with them to make it that far in, so I believe they were halted with equally extraordinary might. However, I have no idea who intercepted the intruders. No, Albedo should know. After all, she is the Guardian Overseer of Nazarick. It would be strange if she did not know that.”
As though ignoring the silent Sebas, Shalltear continued asking:
“...It’s kind of annoying to hear she’s one step ahead of me. What sort of mysterious beings are found on the 8th Floor? Characters personally crafted by Ainz-sama, perhaps?”
Sebas was made by Touch Me. Demiurge was made by Ulbert Alain Odle. Cocytus was made by Warrior Takemikazuchi. However, even Shalltear did not know what sort of NPC that Ainz — or Momonga, the highest-ranked of the 41 Supreme Beings — had created.
Surely he had created somebody, right?
That being the case, it was reasonable to conclude that this mysterious character resided on the 8th Floor, about which Shalltear had no knowledge.
“...No, that should not be the case. This is just a rumor, but I heard that the NPC Ainz created is called Pandora’s Actor, and his strength is comparable to the rest of us Guardians. Apparently, he defends the depths of the Treasury.”
“Does someone like that really exist?”
Unlike Albedo, Shalltear had not been infused with knowledge about everyone in Nazarick. Therefore, this name was new to her.
Granted, the Treasury was a place which one could only enter with the Ring of Ainz Ooal Gown, but it would be strange to leave it unguarded.
The depths of the Treasury.
All the highest-end magic items that Ainz Ooal Gown had collected were stored in there. It was also said that it contained several World-Class Items. That being the case, it was the most suitable location for the NPC created by the greatest of the 41 Supreme Beings, Ainz, to defend.
Shalltear’s pride was somewhat bruised as she considered that she had not been chosen to guard such exalted ground, but she consoled herself with the thought that it was unavoidable. To Shalltear, keeping intruders from straying beyond the 3rd Floor was also a crucial task, every bit as important as protecting the Treasury.
And now, her master had given her another vital task.
“Indeed, but I have not seen that person before. After all, one cannot travel to that place without a Ring.”
Shalltear’s answer was devoid of energy, as though she had lost all interest in the whole thing. However, Sebas did not seem to mind.
“Still, the 8th Floor is a mysterious place… it’s kind of a shame.”
“Indeed. After all, it is a place that even we cannot enter. There must be something inside.”
“And what exactly is that something?”
“Could it be there’s a trap in there which might even attack us?”
“Mm, that’s not a bad idea, though if I had to guess… could it be a deathtrap that indiscriminately kills anyone who enters it?”
“The Great Tomb of Nazarick was hand-crafted by the Supreme Beings, and defended by us, who have pledged our lives in service. Anyone who could penetrate an impregnable fortress like that and breach the 7th Floor would probably not be stopped by a trap like that…”
“Do you want to take a look?”
Shalltear had a smile on her face, like a child up to some mischief. Sebas’ smile was the same as always, but there was a certain nuance to it now.
“Do you intend to defy Ainz-sama’s wishes?”
“Just kidding, just kidding. It was just a joke, no need to look so scary.”
“Shalltear… curiosity killed the cat. We should wait quietly until Ainz-sama tells us otherwise.”
“You’ve got a point there… then, has our prey taken the bait?”
Sebas did not ask about the sudden change in topic. Instead he directly replied:
“Yes, they’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker. All we need to do is reel them in.”
Shalltear nodded slightly, and then she lightly licked her lips. Her crimson pupils blazed.
Sebas immediately realized what would put Shalltear in a mood like that. Sensing that this was the perfect time to do so, he decided to bring up Solution’s request from earlier.
“I have a request to make concerning this matter, Shalltear.”
“...What is it?”
The reply was one of annoyance, given that Sebas had jolted Shalltear out of her delight over what was soon to unfold. As though to comfort her, Sebas continued:
“Could you give the driver of our coach to this girl?”
“...Is he an underling?”
“Indeed. One could call him a messenger.”
Shalltear closed her eyes and pondered the request. After considering several possibilities, she seemed to have come to a conclusion, and she nodded.
“That should be fine. Besides, he doesn’t look like he’d taste good if I fed on him.”
“You have my sincerest thanks for your generosity, Shalltear.”
“Thank you, Shalltear-sama.”
“Ah, you’re welcome, think nothing of it.”
Shalltear was quite surprised by how tenderly Solution smiled to her. She had not expected such a sincere expression. Then, Shalltear composed herself and turned to Sebas.
“Then, we’re even for that little mistake of mine just now.”
“I understand… In truth, I didn’t expect you to do anything quite as foolish as that. It was merely a jest, was it not?”
“Indeed, you’re right. If you had said such a thing, Sebas, I would have taken it as a joke as well. Then I would have my subordinates watch you in silence. At the first sight of any treachery on your part, I would remove your limbs and have your torso dragged in chains before Ainz-sama.”
“I’m hardly as ruthless as you are, Shalltear.”
“No? Things like that only make me doubt your loyalty more — you would do that too, wouldn’t you?”
Sebas and Shalltear locked eyes, and smiled from the bottoms of their hearts.
“Besides, I like cute girls the best. There might be a different sort of entertainment in giving him to Solution.”
“—Then, how do you intend to capture them? Through [Paralysis] or [Hold Person]?”
Before they had set out for E-Rantel, Ainz had given Sebas an order: “I want to capture humans who know martial arts or magic. However, you will only go after criminals whose absence will go unnoticed.”
Therefore, Solution and Sebas had played the role of a stuck-up, stubborn heiress and her easily-bamboozled butler, with the intention of hooking a fish like Zack.
Shalltear’s mission, on the other hand, was to use a fish like that to net the entire school which followed him.
“Why would I go to such great lengths? Ainz-sama did say that it was alright to drain them dry and turn them into slaves. The important things was that I absolutely had to capture them. Still… investigating them all one by one would be a hassle, so I might as well just suck them all dry.”
Sebas did not speak the words in his heart — “I see” — but instead nodded. Still, he had to acknowledge that he was not entirely comfortable with Shalltear’s interpretation of her orders. With that in mind, Sebas could not help but say:
“From that point of view, Demiurge-sama would be the most suitable for that sort of work. After all, he can control his opponent’s thoughts, much like Aura-sama can with her breath.”
Demiurge possessed a skill known as [Command Mantra]. It was a powerful mind-affecting ability which would be invaluable during a capture operation like this.
“...Hah?” Shalltear exclaimed in an unbelievably low tone.
The mood within the coach turned grim immediately, as though a fog of bone-chilling cold hung in the air.
Even the horses pulling the coach seemed to have sensed this, because the vehicle suddenly lurched. The bloodless faces of the Vampire Brides flanking Shalltear turned even paler than usual, while Solution shuddered in her place beside Sebas. Even Sebas, whose might should have been on par with Shalltear’s, could feel goosebumps breaking out on him.
This was the murderous intent emitted by the strongest of Nazarick’s Floor Guardians. The hostility which wreathed her made her previous spats with Aura seem like child’s play. If the situation was mishandled, it might lead to a life-or-death melee.
As Shalltear chilled the air ever further, the color of her crimson pupils began to spill out into her sclera, dying her eyes red as though they were filling with blood.
“Sebas — could you say that again? Or are you saying that a Dragonoid like yourself, in that form, wants to —”
Her eyeballs — now completely red — twitched:
“—Wants to start a fight with me?”
“I misspoke, please forgive me. I was merely a little uneasy. It would be fine as long as your ‘Blood Frenzy” doesn’t kick in.”
Shalltear’s response was silence.
Sebas could tell that the brief silence was a sign of her unease toward herself.
In YGGDRASIL, strong classes were typically balanced out with weaknesses and penalties. One of the penalties Shalltear suffered from was called “Blood Frenzy”. The more fresh blood that covered her body, the greater her urge to slaughter. While this made her stronger, in return she would no longer be able to control her actions.
The reason why Ainz had made use of Shalltear for this mission — who might have ended up ignoring orders or even going berserk — was due to a process of elimination.
Albedo had to remain in the Great Tomb of Nazarick in Ainz’s absence, and among the two remaining Guardians — Shalltear and Cocytus — Shalltear looked more like a human being from a distance.
After that, Shalltear took several deep breaths. She seemed to be trying to suck her anger back up, or perhaps she was trying to quell the uneasiness in her heart.
With her last breath, Shalltear resumed her normal expression — an attractive young girl with a seductive air about her — and her pupils returned to their original color.
“...For the most part, they’ll become my slaves after I drain their blood, which should make things simple. Besides, we don’t need to bring them back alive. Ainz-sama brought it up before as well. Also, I will definitely keep my Blood Frenzy under control.”
Vampires were a species which could drain a victim’s blood and turn them into perfectly loyal minions. Most Vampires could only create unintelligent Lesser Vampires in this way, but the Vampires which Shalltear could make had nearly as much intelligence as a normal human.
As long as one did not care if the prey was alive or dead, Shalltear qualified as quite a good hunter, although the number of Vampires she could create was limited.
“That’s right, so there’s no need to say more. I will accomplish the mission Ainz-sama gave me without fail, so he will praise me with ‘Well done, Shalltear, you are my most important slave’, and then say, ‘You are the one most worthy of standing by my side.’”
“Please forgive my shallow comments.”
Sebas’ apology was sincere and came from the heart. It was not just directed to Shalltear, but to someone else.
“I did not realize that my statements were a slight on Ainz-sama, who chose you for this task, and I apologize for that as well. I hope you will forgive me for displeasing you.”
Then, he bowed to Solution and the Vampire Brides in apology — Just then, the coach shuddered, and they heard neighing from the horses which drew the vehicle.
“...It seems we have stopped.”
Shalltear — lost as she was in fantasies of the praise her master would lavish on her once she succeeded in her task — returned to her senses. She smiled, like a girl who had just thought up a wonderful prank to play. Sebas too was stroking his moustache as he smiled.
About ten strong men had emerged from the forest, forming a semicircle around the coach. None of these men was equipped in exactly the same way. Still, while they were not masterworks, their equipment was not of poor make. It was clear that they had hand-picked their weapons.
The casual way in which they were discussing how to deal with their target and the order in which they would go sounded like they already had their prey in the bag. Indeed, they had done this sort of thing countless times in the past. It would be strange if they had felt worried.
After Zack leapt off the driver’s seat, he jogged over to the men who had appeared.
While dismounting from the driver’s seat, he had cut the reins so the coach would not be able to drive off, and after monkeying with the coach doors, they would only open on the side facing the men.
The men brandished their weapons so their prey could see. This was a wordless warning: if they did not come out quickly, they would be in trouble.
In response, the coach doors slowly opened.
A beautiful woman revealed herself under the moonlight. The gathered sellswords and bandits laughed coarsely and looked on her with lustful eyes. It was clear from their expressions that they were delighted.
However, one person among them was taken aback. That person was Zack.
His surprise could be summarized in three words: “Who is this?” Zack had never seen this beauty before. However, the coach was very familiar to him, and the contrast between the two plunged Zack into confusion and left him speechless.
After that, another beautiful woman appeared, dressed much like the first. Doubt began blooming on the men’s faces. Their targets should have been an heiress who did not know how the world worked, as well as an old butler.
And then, a girl who might have been considered “little” showed up, and their doubts vanished.
Her silvery hair gleamed in the moonlight, and her dewy, crimson eyes held a seductive radiance.
The bandits could only gasp at the sight of these beauties, unable to so much as muster up the words for praise. In this moment, even their bestial lust shrank away in the face of true beauty.
Shalltear smiled lewdly as she bathed in the enthralled gazes of the men. She advanced unguardedly before them and said:
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming all this way here for me. May I know who is your leader? May I negotiate with him?”
After seeing the bandits look toward the same person, Shalltear learned what she needed to know. That was to say, everyone else here was expendable.
“You… what do you want to talk about?”
The man who looked like their leader seemed to have come to his senses after his close encounter with these beautiful women. He strode forward.
“Ahh, please forgive the misunderstanding. What I meant by ‘negotiations’ was just a joke for me to learn what I needed to know. Sorry about that.”
“Who are you people…”
Shalltear looked to Zack, who had asked that question.
“You must be that Zack fellow. I will give you to Solution as promised, so could you please step aside for a while?”
Some of the bandits sought an answer for their confusion in each others’ faces. However, among them —
“Hmph, you’ve got a good body for a brat. I’ll make you cry for me in a bit.”
The bandit who happened to be standing in front of Shalltear reached out to grope that ample bust of hers, which did not match her age.
And then — the appendage tumbled to the ground.
“Could you not touch me with your filthy hand?”
The dumbfounded man looked at his now handless arm, and after a moment’s delay, he wailed:
“Ahhhhhhhh! My, my haaaaaaaand—!”
“You’re making so much noise over losing a single hand. Are you even a man?”
Shalltear casually flicked her hand as she muttered quietly, and the man’s head fell to the earth as well.
How had she chopped his head off with her unarmed, dainty and slender hands? The nightmare before them hardly seemed real. The bandits were terrified beyond all capacity for rational thought, unable to react in the wake of this tremendous shock. However, what they saw next snapped them back to their senses.
The fresh blood spurting from the severed portions of the body moved as though it had a will of its own, gathering above Shalltear’s head and forming an orb of blood.
Shalltear and company knew this was the effect of the skill called [Blood Pool]. However, the first thing these clueless bandits thought as they saw this inhuman ability was:
“She’s a magic caster!”
Anyone who understood magic should have been able to give a more accurate warning. “Magic casters” was a very broad term which referred to many professions and jobs, and the means of dealing with them were just as varied. In particular, one might think of Shalltear — who only wore a dress — as an arcane magic caster, or perhaps a spiritual magic caster. However, none of them spoke a warning like that. One could thus conclude that none of them knew anything about magic. In other words, they thought of anything they could not understand as magic.
As Shalltear realised this, she looked disinterestedly at these panicking bandits, who desperately raised their swords against her.
“How boring. Clean this mess up. Also, leave this one and that one… understood?”
The Vampire Brides waiting behind Shalltear on either side stepped forward, and one of them punched the face of a bandit trying to attack Shalltear, sending him flying.
It looked as though someone had swung a metal pole into his face with all their strength.
The bandits arced through the air, accompanied by the sound of something like a filled balloon popping. All manner of bodily fluids — blood, brain matter, and more — burst forth from his skull. The gore gleamed under the moonlight, looking all the more beautiful for its horrific appearance.
More than half of the bandit’s head went flying, and pinkish brains sprayed from the shattered cranium. Pulled by gravity, the bandit’s corpse rolled to the ground with a great thud. That sound was a starting bell which filled the bandits with terror, and Shalltear with delight.
♦ ♦ ♦
Zack smiled stiffly as he watched the scene in front of him.
It was a truly horrific sight.
He wanted to vomit as he smelled the blood which came from the carnage before him.
Men had their hands and feet torn off like scraps of paper, and skulls popped between paired hands like ripe pomegranates.
A breastplate was ripped off and a hand stabbed into the now-exposed belly. When it came back out, it took several meters of gleaming, slippery intestine with it. The fact that the victim was still alive after that spoke of the resilience of mankind.
A man was squirming on the ground, trying to flee even with both legs broken. White-colored objects — his broken bones — protruded through his skin and flesh. He was desperately trying to crawl away with his hands, struggling to get himself away from the source of this horror, wanting to stay alive for just one moment longer.
The beautiful girl looked at the man grovelling at her feet, and her shrill laugh was unpleasant.
How had things ended up like this...
Zack thought as hard as he could.
No matter how one tried to cloak it in politeness, the world still ran on the principle of the strong feeding on the weak. It was utterly natural for the strong to oppress the weak. After all, Zack had been doing so himself. However, was it right for the strong to go so far and do so much?
Of course not. He could not accept their cruel methods of killing. Then, what should he do? The enemy was simply choosing not to attack him, so if he tried to flee, they would probably do something to him to make him not dare to escape again. Something painful and nausea-inducing, for instance.
Zack felt for his hidden shortsword through his clothing.
Why was his sword so small? How could it possibly stand up to these monsters which could twist off men’s arms so effortlessly?
What had he done to them? He had never thought of doing anything to those monsters.
Zack hugged himself, as though trying to conceal his presence. The rhythmic grinding of his teeth suddenly struck him as extremely grating — what would happen if those monsters heard it and went after him?
He tried to stop himself, but his teeth would not listen to him and continued grinding.
Speaking of which, what kind of people were they? Zack did not recognize them at all.
And just as he thought about that —
“Zack-san, come this way.”
—A gentle, dulcet voice came from behind him, completely at odds with the cruel scenery in front of him.
Zack looked fearfully behind himself, and saw his employer standing before him.
Her expression did not match the haughty and argumentative heiress that he knew her for. If he had been calm enough, he might have felt suspicious about this, but Zack — who had been driven into confusion by this bizarre world and the stink of blood — had no energy left to suspect anything.
“What are those monsters?!” Zack wailed, his voice cracking, at Solution, the moneyed daughter of nobility who knew nothing of the world.
“Why didn’t you tell me there were monsters like these around?!”
Indeed. If he had known about this beforehand, things would not have ended up like this. The bitch before him was responsible for the frightening scene before him.
“Don’t keep quiet, speak up! Let’s get this straight, this is all your fault!”
Anxiety and terror combined to impel him forward, and a furious Zack could no longer bear it. He reached out to grab Solution by the collar and roughly shook her.
“...I understand. Please follow me.”
“You… are you going to save me?!”
“No, I simply wish to take this last chance to enjoy you.”
An ivory-pale hand, cold as ice, gripped Zack’s own, and then Solution stepped forward, pulling him away.
“Even though I already have permission, Sebas-sama does not like this sort of thing, so I would rather do it at a distance.”
He had no idea what she was talking about. However, Zack felt that if he alone was being led away, there might be a chance that he could survive.
Zack pretended not to hear the horrific screams from behind him.
That could not be helped. Zack was too weak. He could not possibly save those comrades of his which were supposed to be stronger than him.
“Please don’t be too excited. If possible… I’d like you to be gentle with me. It would make me very happy.”
Behind the coach, Solution spoke softly to Zack as she waved him over, then reached behind her back, as though to undo her dress. As Zack saw this, he stared with his mouth open; what was this woman up to? Zack looked at Solution like she was some sort of exotic creature.
Solution’s hands had not stopped at all during all this, and so a thoroughly confused Zack asked:
“You… What are you doing?”
“What do you think?”
With that, Solution easily peeled off her figure-hugging bodice.
As though waiting for that moment, her tightly-bound breasts sprang forth. They were firm, springy globes, and her skin seemed vaguely translucent under the moonlight.
Zack gulped at the sight before him.
Solution thrust her chest out, as though inviting him to fondle her.
“What do you want me to…”
Zack had forgotten himself as he fixated on the body before him.
She was beautiful. This was the most beautiful female body Zack had ever seen in his life.
Of all the girls Zack had partaken of, the most beautiful was one who belonged to a caravan which he had atacked. However, by the time it was Zack’s turn, the girl was exhausted. She lay motionless, only spreading her legs like a frog. Still, it had not detracted from her beauty in the least.
However, the girl before him was even more beautiful, and she was not unresponsive like the other girl.
Desire lit the flames of Zack’s lust, and the heat in his lower body began spreading out from his crotch. Panting like a dog, he reached out for Solution’s body.
It felt like — like silk.
Zack could no longer hold himself back, and he seized the more shapely of Solution’s breasts.
And then his entire hand sank into her.
Zack thought for a moment that her body was so soft that it felt as though his entire hand had gone into her. But as he looked at his hand, he realized that this was not the case.
Zack’s hand had literally sunk into Solution’s body.
“What… what the hell is this!”
Zack screamed in surprise and tried to pull his hand back, but he could not budge it. Not only did it not move back, it was sucked further in. It seemed as though there were many writhing tentacles inside Solution which had latched onto Zack’s hand and were drawing him in.
Solution’s beautiful face did not change even under these strange circumstances. She simply watched Zack in silence. Her expression was that of a scientist watching as a lab animal was injected with some lethal chemical, blending a cold dispassion with curiosity and excitement.
“Oi, stop! Let go of me!”
Zack balled up his other hand into a fist and swung with all his strength at Solution’s pretty face.
Once, twice, three times—
Zack swung at full force, punching heavily and not caring if his fist was injured. That beautiful face remained unmoved despite a grown man striking it with all his might. It did not seem to hurt her at all.
Instead, Zack was frightened by what he felt when he hit her.
That sensation was like punching a soft, filled waterskin. Under normal circumstances, there should have been some resistance to his punch, but he did not feel that he had struck bone at all. This was not how punching a human being should have felt.
The unreal scene of carnage behind him — forgotten due to his excitement — suddenly flashed through his mind.
Zack choked back the impulse to scream.
Eventually, it dawned upon him.
The woman baring her chest to him before his eyes was also a monster.
“Did you finally realize it? Then, let’s begin the fun part, shall we?”
As she said that, a pain like the stabbing of hundreds of needles radiated from his stuck hand.
“I am now dissolving your hand.”
Zack could not understand these cold words through the agony which gripped him. This was no longer in the realm of his comprehension.
“The truth is, I deeply enjoy watching things dissolve. Therefore, I felt it was a happy coincidence that you wanted to be inside me, Zack-san.”
“Giiiihh—!! Damned monster, go to hell!”
Fighting back the pain, Zack drew his shortsword as he shouted at her. Then, he forcefully stabbed at Solution’s pretty face, and her body quivered.
However, Zack immediately realized that he had been far too hasty.
What good would stabbing the surface of a lake with a shortsword do? It would merely make more ripples, and that was what happened.
Solution turned to look at Zack, still with a short sword sticking out of her face, and then she gently said:
“I’m sorry, but I am resistant to physical attacks, so a blow like that cannot harm me. Then, I shall dissolve it.”
An acrid stench seared his nose, and within seconds, the shortsword fell from Solution’s face, its blade half-dissolved. Just as she had said, her beautiful, unmarred visage lay before his eyes.
“Who the hell are you?!”
The agony in his hand was slowly spreading up the rest of his arm, but the fear of impending death overrode his his pain, and Zack asked his question even as tears brimmed in his eyes.
However, the answer made him want to stuff his fingers in his ears to deny it.
“I am a predatory Slime. Since time is limited, I will need to swallow you up.”
Zack’s arms were pulled into Solution’s body. So forceful was the suction that Zack could not resist it, even if he were capable of doing so.
“Stop stop stop stop stop! Spare me, spare me, spare me please!”
Zack cried and begged, but the force drawing him into Solution’s body was still very strong, enough that a human being could not resist it. His arms, his shoulders, all of them were steadily devoured by her body.
With that last scream, Zack’s face was sucked into Solution’s body.
And so, Zack was swallowed whole, as though he were a python’s prey.
♦ ♦ ♦
After a few minutes had passed, there were no longer any survivors. The place was one which reeked of a foul stench.
No, one man still survived. He worked his tongue as he squatted near Shalltear’s feet, licking her high-heeled shoes clean of the brain matter which had spattered them after she had playfully crushed a bandit’s skull underfoot.
Shalltear looked on her now-cleaned heels in satisfaction.
“Well done. Then, in accordance with our agreement, I shall not take your life.”
The man, his frightened features scrunched up into a ball, looked up at Shalltear with a grateful expression on his face and kowtowed repeatedly to her in thanks. Shalltear looked lovingly upon this puppy-like man, and then snapped her fingers.
Once the two Vampire Brides came to his side, the man finally understood what those words meant.
“The undead are technically still alive, so I was not lying to you.”
The Vampire Brides bit eagerly into him, and Shalltear looked out of the corner of her eye at the man as his life-force was drained away from him. She turned to Solution — who was rearranging her messed-up collar as she emerged from the direction of the coach — and said:
“Oh, is it over?”
“Yes, I was quite satisfied. I am profoundly grateful to you for this.”
“No need to stand on ceremony. We’re all servants of Nazarick, after all. Speaking of which, did that human have fun?”
“He is currently enjoying himself. Would you like to see?”
“Hm? May I? Then, let me have a quick look.”
A man’s arm suddenly erupted from Solution’s face, accompanied by a vile stench that stung the nose. The source of the odour was that arm. Its muscles were badly dissolved after being exposed to powerful acid, and the reaction of the blood from within the muscles and the acid created gouts of thick fumes.
The arm thrashed about like it had emerged from the surface of a lake, desperately struggling to find a grip on something. Juices flowed from the exposed muscles with every twitch.
“My apologies, I did not know he was still so full of energy.”
Solution was a bizarre sight as she bowed in apology, what with the arm sticking out of her face. She then shoved the arm back into her face, smiling after the flailing arm had been completely swallowed up once more.
“It’s amazing how you can swallow a man whole and look as though nothing had happened.”
“Thank you for your praise. It is not outwardly visible because the interior of my body was originally empty. In addition, I have always been a creature like this, so this must be the effect of some sort of specialized magic.”
“Oh~ Hm, this might be a bit nosy of me, but when will he die?”
“I could secrete a stronger acid to kill him immediately if you wish, but since a human who wishes to enter me is a rare occasion, I would like to let him enjoy it for an entire day.”
“I didn’t hear any screams, did you corrode him with acid?”
“No, I did not. If I dissolved his throat with acid, he might suffocate due to being unable to breathe. Therefore, I inserted part of my body into him to suppress his voice, and it also has the effect of preventing bad smells.”
“I’m quite impressed by your attitude of paying close attention to your toys and playing with them for as long as possible. Incidentally, can you corrode specific places with your acids? For instance, only corroding a certain place?”
“Indeed, that is an easy task to accomplish. The proof of that are the scrolls, potions and other magic items within my body, and the fact that those items are intact. I could move freely even if I were to take your body within mine, Shalltear-sama, though I would have to ask that you did not move too much.”
“Predatory slimes sure are amazing… Mm. Do you want to play together next time?”
“That will be fine. Although… where do you plan to get the toys from?”
Shalltear smiled happily when she found Solution looking at the Vampire Brides behind her.
“Those girls aren’t half bad, but I want to wait until someone tries to invade us and then plead with Ainz-sama to give them to us.”
“Then, please do not forget about my share. I would like to swallow them up to the chest and expose the rest of them. That ought to be quite interesting as well.”
“Not bad. Do you get along with that interrogator?”
“Neuronist-sama? The Special Intelligence-gathering Officer? Regretfully, I cannot understand that person’s aesthetic sense.”
Shalltear planned to continue, but she was interrupted by a voice behind her.
“Solution, I’ve finished up over here. We can move out any time,” Sebas called out from the driver’s seat, having replaced the reins.
“Understood, I’m coming. Then, Shalltear-sama, though it pains my heart to leave, allow me to bid you farewell.”
Shalltear looked to Solution as she hurried back into the coach, and then to Sebas, who was seated at the driver’s place.
“Then, we shall part ways for the time being, Sebas.”
“Is that so… does this mean you have already discovered the bandits’ hideout?”
“Indeed. We shall invade them afterwards and look for any interesting people who might know something which would please Ainz-sama. Otherwise this would have all been a waste of time.”
“I see. It was a pleasure travelling with you, Shalltear-sama.”
“Thank you for that. Let us meet again in Nazarick.”
“Oh, we’ll be off, then—”
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