Chapter 1: Departure
The Azellisian Mountain Range lay between the Baharuth Empire and the Re-Estize Kingdom. Its southern foothills were surrounded by a sprawling forest — the Great Forest of Tob — and there was a huge lake at its northern edge.
This lake was over 20 square kilometers in size, and resembled an inverted gourd. It was divided into the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake. The Upper Lake was very deep, and was home to larger creatures, while the Lower Lake was where the smaller creatures lived.
The southern end of the Lower Lake was surrounded by wetlands, and countless structures had been erected in this large, marshy region. Each of these houses was built in the marsh and supported by about ten stilts each.
Among the many stilt-houses, one of them had its doors open, its owner revealed to all under the golden rays of the sun.
He was a member of the demihuman race known as Lizardmen.
Lizardmen resembled a cross between humans and reptiles. To be precise, Lizardmen had human-like hands and feet and were essentially bipedal lizards, although their heads bore no resemblance to those of humans at all.
As demihumans — along with such races as Goblins and Ogres — they were easily dismissed as savages, due to a lack of technology and the way of life which subsequently resulted. However, they still had a civilization of their own, though it was not very advanced.
Mature male Lizardmen averaged around 190 cm tall and weighed over 100kg. Their body mass was not composed of fat, but of bulging muscles, which contributed to an impressive and imposing physique.
Reptilian tails sprouted from their waists, which they used to maintain their balance.
Their feet were large with webbed toes, being optimized for movement in water and marshlands. Therefore, they were not as adept at overland movement, but it did not pose a problem for them given their living environment.
Their bodies were covered in scales, whose colors ranged from a dirty-looking green to gray to black and so on. Instead of lizard-like skin, they had tough hides which might remind onlookers of crocodiles, and they were more protective that lower-end human armor.
They had five-fingered hands, like those of humans, and each finger was tipped with a moderately long claw.
The weapons they used were quite primitive, because they had never had the chance to mine and refine ores for armaments. Thus, their most commonly-used weapons were spears made from the fangs and claws of monsters, as well as stone-headed clubs.
The blinding sun hung high in the azure sky, with only a few ephemeral clouds to interrupt the endless expanse of blue. The weather was very good, and one could clearly see the towering peaks in the distance.
This Lizardman had a broad field of vision, and he could see the blazing sun above even without turning his head. He — Zaryusu Shasha — glanced downward briefly, and then descended the stairs at a steady pace.
Zaryusu clutched at the brand on his black-scaled chest.
That brand represented his position in the tribe.
Lizardman tribes were a strictly-ordered society, and the highest authority among them was the tribe’s chief. The position was not hereditary; it was awarded to the strongest person within the tribe. Every year, they would conduct a ceremony to select a new tribal chief.
In addition, there was a council of elders who would advise the chief, composed of the eldest members of the community. Below them were the warrior Lizardmen, the regular Lizardmen, the Lizardwomen, and the juvenile Lizardmen. Together they comprised Lizardman society.
Of course, there were some Lizardmen who stood outside this hierarchy.
First, there were the priests — more of druids, actually — who predicted upcoming danger by forecasting the weather or aiding the tribe with curative magic.
Then, there were the rangers, who formed hunting parties. Their main task was to catch fish, but the regular Lizardmen would help in that task as well. Thus, their most important job was their activities in the forest.
Lizardmen were omnivorous, but their main diet was fish which were around 80 cm long, and they disliked vegetables and fruits. Even so, the hunters still had to enter the forest for logging purposes. The land was not safe for Lizardmen; thus specialists were needed when they went to fell trees.
While they could move as they pleased and make their own decisions, they were ultimately subject to the tribal chief’s authority. Lizardman society was patrilineal, with clearly defined rules and responsibilities for its members.
And yet, there were some who were outside the tribal chief’s authority.
Those would be the travellers.
One might think of foreigners when one heard the word “travellers”. However, that was impossible. Lizardman society was fundamentally a closed one, and it did not admit anyone outside the tribe.
That being the case, what were these travellers?
They were Lizardmen who wanted to explore the world.
Fundamentally speaking, Lizardmen would not leave their birthplaces unless it was a matter of life and death — for instance, when prey had run out — or a similarly dire emergency. Still, there were a rare few Lizardmen who thirsted for the chance to see the outside world.
When a traveller decided to leave his tribe, he would receive a special brand upon his chest. It represented his departure from the tribe — and its authority.
Often, those who left to travel the outside world did not return. Sometimes they died far from their homes, sometimes they found a place to stay in the wide new world they had discovered, and so on. However, a rare few did come home after taking their fill of the world.
Those travellers who returned to their hometowns were highly acclaimed for the knowledge of the outside world which they brought back with them. They might have been outsiders who had evaded the chief’s authority, but in an instant they could become local celebrities.
In fact, there were some villagers who kept a respectful distance from Zaryusu, but for the most part the others viewed him with awestruck eyes. However, that was not just because he was a traveller. There was another reason for their admiring gazes—
As he stepped onto the marsh from the stairs, his favored weapon clattered at his waist as it touched his scales.
That weapon had a pale, razor-sharp edge and emitted a dull glow. It was bizarrely shaped, resembling a sai whose blade and grip blended into one, but the blade grew thinner the further it went from the hilt, until it was paper-thin at its tip.
There was no Lizardman who did not know of this weapon. It was one of the magic items regarded as the Four Great Treasures of the surrounding Lizardman tribes — Frost Pain.
The fact that he possessed that weapon was a major source of Zaryusu’s fame.
Zaryusu strode forth.
He had two destinations in mind. On his back was a present which he would take to one of those places.
That present was four fish, each of which was one meter long. He carried them on his back as he strode on, and their odour did not repulse him, but instead tantalized him.
How I’d like to eat these fish — Zaryusu had to cast that desire aside while sighing several times as he splashed through the shallow water towards the Green Claw Village.
The children, whose green scales were still bright and shiny, giggles and laughed as they ran around Zaryusu, but they ground to a halt once they saw the big fish on his back. He could see growing kids with their ravenous appetites peering at him from the gaps between the houses, their eyes focused on Zaryusu — no, on the fish he carried. Almost all of them had their mouths slightly agape, most likely drooling in anticipation. Even as he drew away from them, their eyes were still glued to him. Those were the eyes of children begging for snacks.
Zaryusu smiled bitterly at this and pretended that he had not noticed. Instead, he continued on. He had already decided who would receive this present, but unfortunately it would not be these children.
The fact that the glow in the children’s eyes was not entirely due to hunger pleased Zaryusu, because it was a sight which would have been unimaginable several years ago —
After leaving those longing looks behind him, Zaryusu passed several houses along the way before he found the dwelling that was his destination.
He was now at the outskirts of the village, and if he carried on any further, he would no longer be in the marsh, but in a fairly deep part of the lake. The houses built on this subtle dividing line seemed quite sturdy in appearance and were larger than Zaryusu’s own.
The odd thing was that the house was slightly tilted, so half of it was submerged in the water. However, this was by design, and not by some external force.
Zaryusu approached the house, splashing loudly as he went.
As he came close, a playful cry came from within. Perhaps its occupant had scented something.
A serpentine head poked out of what should have been a window. It was a snake with deep brown scales and amber eyes. When it spotted Zaryusu, it stretched its neck out and coiled playfully around him.
“That’s a good boy.”
Zaryusu caressed the snake’s body in a familiar way. The snake seemed to find it very comfortable, and closed its eyes — both its eyelids and its nictitating membranes. Zaryusu too enjoyed the feeling of the scales under his fingers.
This creature was Zaryusu’s pet, Rororo.
He had raised Rororo from a young age, so it seemed as though it was actually carrying on a conversation with its owner.
“Rororo, I’ve brought food for you. Eat it slowly and don’t fight over it.”
Zaryusu tossed the fish into the house through the window, and soft thuds came from within.
“I wanted to play with you, but I have to go check on the fish now, so maybe later.”
Perhaps the snake understood what its owner was saying, but it reluctantly nuzzled against Zaryusu’s body several times before returning to the house. Soon, the sound of flesh ripping and vigorous chewing reached him.
The way Rororo ripped into his food suggested that he was in good shape, and so Zaryusu was relieved as he left the little house behind him.
♦ ♦ ♦
After that, Zaryusu’s destination was the lakeside some distance from the village.
His feet slapped against the ground as he walked into the forest. While swimming would have been faster, Zaryusu had a habit of checking his surroundings to see if anything was going on while he was moving on land. However, given that visibility was very poor in the forest, staying alert took a mental toll even on someone like Zaryusu.
Before long, he saw his destination through the trees. That fact that nothing had happened filled Zaryusu with a sense of relief. Zaryusu quickened his pace through the forest now that he was close, .
After dodging one branch after another, Zaryusu emerged from the woods. It was then that his eyes went wide. That was because he saw someone surprising before him.
That someone was a black Lizardman who looked very similar to Zaryusu.
The black Lizardman turned to regard Zaryusu with a keen gaze. This Lizardman was the chief of the Green Claw tribe, as well as Zaryusu’s older brother — Shasuryu Shasha.
He had defended his title as chief on two previous occasions, and with nobody to challenge him this time round, he had retained his chief’s position. His muscular body was one of staggering proportions. If one stood them side by side, Zaryusu and his more balanced body type would appear smaller in comparison.
An old white scar marked his black scales, like a thunderbolt arcing through storm clouds.
The greatsword on his back was an unadorned, heavy sword almost two meters long and forged of steel. It was the symbol of the chief and it had been enchanted with spells to prevent rust and improve sharpness.
Zaryusu approached the lakeside and stood beside his brother.
“Why did you come here?”
“...I should be asking you that, right, ani-ja? You don’t need to come down in person as the tribe’s chief, right?”
Unable to respond to that, Shasuryu grunted and turned back to the lake before him.
Sturdy pillars emerged from the lake’s surface, enclosing an area between them. Densely-woven nets had been strung up between the pillars. Their purpose was immediately obvious.
This was a fish farm.
“Could it be… you came here to pinch food?”
Shasuryu’s tail sprang up in response to Zaryusu’s words, and it pounded the ground several times.
“Muu... As if. I merely came to see how the breeding went.”
“Seriously, little bro. Do you think your ani-jather is someone like that?”
After that forceful statement, Shasuryu took a step forward. Though Zaryusu was a hardened veteran of many battles from his time as a traveller, that looming sense of pressure — like an encroaching wall — made even someone like him want to back off.
However, Zaryusu now had the perfect way to respond to him.
“If you were only here to see how they were growing, then that implies you don’t want any. What a shame. I was thinking of giving you a few if they had turned out well.”
The sound of pounding faded away, and Shasuryu’s tail drooped limply.
“They’re really delicious, you know. I gave them lots of tasty feed and raised them up nice and fat. They’re better than the ones caught in the wild.”
“Fresh and lovely juices flow out once you bite into them. Once you actually chew off a piece, the meat practically melts on your tongue.”
The sound of a thumping tail rang out again, more intense than just now.
Zaryusu stared at his elder brother’s tail, and in a playful tone he added:
“Big Sis always did say that your tail was too honest, ani-ja.”
“What? Damn woman, how dare she make fun of her husband like that. Besides, how is it honest?”
Zaryusu had no idea how to respond to his elder brother, who was staring at his own motionless tail. Eventually, he mumbled something along the lines of “That’s true…”
“Hmph, that damn woman… if you’ve ever been with one, you’d understand how I feel now.”
“You know I can’t get married.”
“Hmph, what nonsense is that? You mean that brand? Who gives a damn about those elders, anyway? Not a single female in this village would reject you if you went after them… even if she had a tail that was out of this world.”
The tails of Lizardmen were used to store nutrients. Thus, a thick tail was very appealing to members of the opposite sex. Zaryusu would have preferred large-tailed females in his youth, but after growing up and seeing the world, he chose to avoid them as much as possible.
“Given the current state of the village, I’m not into females with thick tails. If I had to go by tails, I’d rather have one with a slimmer tail. Personally, I think someone like Big Sis would be alright.”
“Well, you would think that way, given your personality… But honestly, you shouldn’t bed females like that. You might get hurt. Haa, you should go learn how bad marriage is as well. It’s unfair that I’m the only one who has to go through such suffering.”
“Oi oi oi, ani-ja, if you’re not careful Big Sis will find out about this.”
“Muu… see? That’s part of why marriage is bad. People like you can threaten me, your ani-jather and your chief.”
Cheerful laughter pealed out over the quiet lake.
After Shasuryu calmed down from his mirth, he studied the fish farm before him once more. As a complex mix of emotions played through his heart, he murmured in awe:
“Still, you’ve really done some outstanding work here with this…”
Sensing his older brother’s loss for words, the younger brother gave him a helping hand.
“The fish farm?”
“Yes, that’s it. Nobody’s done this before in our tribe, and now everyone knows that raising fish is a workable plan. If this keeps up, a lot of people will begin imitating us in envy.”
“That’s all thanks to you, ani-ja. I know you’ve been selling the idea to everyone.”
“Zaryusu, what good would it do to just spread the word? It’d be nothing more than idle chatter. What really counted was your hard work in breeding all those delicious fish from this farm.”
Of course, he had failed many times when he had first begun setting up the fish farm. After all, it was merely an idea he had after being inspired by what he had seen and heard of in his travels. Even the surrounding net had broken down countless times, and it had taken a full year of trial and error before he could build a functioning fish farm.
And yet, things had not ended there.
The fish had to be tended, and they had to be fed.
He had tossed in all sorts of feed to see which would be most effective, and as a result he had killed all the fish in the farm more than once. There had even been cases where monsters had broken down the net penning in the fish, setting him back to square one.
People had pointed and whispered behind his back about how he was using caught fish as toys, and some had even gone and called him an idiot to his face. However, his hard work had now borne fruit.
Large fish swam placidly beneath the surface of the lake. They were bigger than fish caught in the wild. No Lizardman would believe that they had been raised from fry. Well, nobody except for Zaryusu’s elder brother and his sister-in-law.
“...You did good, Zaryusu.”
Shasuryu murmured his praise as he looked on the same scenery as his younger brother. His voice contained undertones of various emotions blending together.
“It’s all thanks to you, ani-ja.”
His younger brother’s reply was colored with similar complexity.
“Muu, what did I do?”
Indeed, his brother — Shasuryu — had not done anything to help. However, that was only in reference to taking direct action.
Whenever anything had happened to the fish, a priest would immediately show up. Many people had come to help him collect materials to weave the nets. And when the tribesmen brought fish back to share, they would give him the liveliest fish. Meanwhile, the hunters had delivered fruits for use as feed.
All of these helpers adamantly refused to reveal the identity of the person who had sent them, but no matter how stupid Zaryusu was, he could tell who had asked them to give him a hand, as well as the fact that said person did not wish to make his identity known.
That was because a tribal chief helping someone who had separated himself from the tribe was very inappropriate.
“Ani-ja, when the fish get bigger, I’ll make sure you’re first in line to get one.”
“Oh, I’ll look forward to that.”
Shasuryu turned to walk away, and then he quietly said:
.”...What are you saying, Ani-ja? ...After all, you did nothing wrong.”
He did not know if Shasuryu had heard those words. All Zaryusu could do was watch silently as his elder brother left, following the shore.
After inspecting the conditions at the fish farm, Zaryusu returned to the village. Then, a strange hunch made him suddenly look to the sky.
There was nothing unusual there. The only thing he could see in the clear blue sky were the cloud-wreathed peaks to the north.
In other words, the scenery was perfectly normal.
There was nothing unusual there. Just as he wondered if he might be imagining things, he noticed a strange cloud in the sky.
At the same time, thick clouds which blotted out the sun suddenly appeared over the center of the village. They were so dense and widespread that they plunged the entire village into darkness.
Shocked, everyone looked to the sky.
The priests had said that today would be sunny. Their weather predictions were quite accurate, being that they were based on magic and knowledge gained over long years of experience. Thus, it was quite a surprise that their weather forecast had turned out wrong.
However, the strange thing was that there were no clouds in the sky except in the air directly above the village. It was as though someone had summoned those clouds into being there.
This strange scene continued to play out.
The clouds began revolving around the village, and as they did, they spread out to cover a wider area. It was as though the sky was being rapidly eaten away by these mysterious clouds.
This was highly unusual.
The Lizardman warriors hurriedly prepared for battle. They children fled into the houses. Zaryusu lowered his stance and glanced around himself, one hand closing around Frost Pain’s hilt.
The dark clouds now filled the air overhead, but in the distance one could still see the blue sky. The clouds only covered the village. It was at this moment that he heard a sound made by Lizardmen, which came from the center of the village. It was a shrill piping carried on the wind.
It was a warning. It warned of a powerful enemy, and the need to flee right away.
As he heard the warning, Zaryusu immediately began running through the marshes, at what passed for a sprint among Lizardmen.
He ran and he ran and he ran some more.
While it was hard to sprint in the wetlands, Zaryusu kept his balance by shifting his tail’s position. With a speed no human being could attain — although Lizardmen were better suited for this terrain — he reached the place from which the warning had come.
Zaryusu and the warriors formed a circle that looked at the center of the village. His eyes followed theirs, and soon he was staring as well.
Their many lines of sight converged on one place — a monster which resembled a cloud of roiling black mist.
Countless fearsome, ever-changing faces emerged from within the mist. The faces belonged to many races and species, but the one thing they all had in common was the fact that they all bore agonized expressions.
The wind carried the sounds of weeping, cries of agony, the gnashing of teeth and the last gasps of the dying to them. The endless tide of spine-chilling noise made Zaryusu shiver in fear.
...This is bad… We should let the others flee so ani-ja and I can take care of this. But if we do that…
Zaryusu was easily one of the top combatants among the scattered tribes, and yet even he was afraid of the powerful undead being before him.
Right now, the only people who could hold their own against this sort of opponent were probably himself and his elder brother. The most important thing was that Zaryusu still did not know what special abilities that undead creature possessed.
Glancing around, he noticed that all the warrior Lizardmen around him were panting and nervous, like frightened children.
The monster which had seized the center of the village had not made a single move yet.
He did not know how much time had passed. In this tense atmosphere, the slightest movement, even that of the wind blowing against the grass, might signal the beginning of a cataclysmic battle. The best proof of that was the warriors, who were slowly edging towards their foe. They shrugged off the immense stress bearing down on them and moved.
Zaryusu saw Shasuryu draw his sword from the corner of his eye. With a speed to match his, Zaryusu raised his weapon as well. If there was to be fighting, their plan was to take the lead and charge the enemy before anyone else.
This shouldn’t count as reckless if we manage to reveal the enemy’s special abilities to everyone...
The tension in the air grew thicker — and then the wails suddenly stopped.
The monster spoke with the voices of many, blended together into one. Unlike the vague, unfocused curses from earlier, this voice had a clear purpose.
“—Listen well. I am a minion of the Supreme One, come to relay a message to you.”
A wave of commotion spread through the crowd. Everyone looked at each other. Only Zaryusu and Shasuryu remained focused on the monster.
“I formally proclaim that your days are numbered, for the Supreme One has dispatched his troops to eliminate you. However, in his mercy, the Supreme One shall grant you the freedom to struggle — however futilely — for your lives. Eight days from now, your tribe shall become the second sacrifice among the Lizardmen tribes of this lake.”
Zaryusu’s face turned feral. He bared his teeth and gave voice to a threatening growl.
“Struggle with all your might, then. The Supreme One shall delight in mocking your efforts.”
The mist-like, polymorphic monster floated into the sky.
“Do not forget — in eight days’ time…”
The monster floated into the clear blue sky, toward the forest. As the other Lizardmen watched it leave, Zaryusu and Shasuryu merely stared into the distant heavens.
The largest hut in the village — the one which typically served as a meeting place — saw little use under normal circumstances. After all, the chief held absolute authority within the village, so there was hardly any need to hold meetings. Thus, it was a meeting place in name only. However, a bizarre energy filled the hut today.
It was currently jam-packed with many Lizardmen, and the originally spacious interior was now very cramped. Apart from the warrior Lizardmen, the priests, hunters, elders and the traveller Zaryusu were present. They sat cross-legged on the ground, looking towards Shasuryu.
As the tribe’s chief, Shasuryu announced the beginning of the meeting, and then the head of the priests was the first to speak.
She was an aged Lizardwoman, her body painted with sinister-looking white markings. Apparently they had some sort of significance, but Zaryusu did not know what that significance was.
“Does everyone remember the clouds that covered the sky? That was magic. I know of two spells which can control the weather. The first is [Control Weather], a spell of the 6th tier. However, that cannot be the case here, because a magic caster who could wield such magic would be a legendary figure. The other is a spell of the 4th tier, [Control Clouds]. Only a powerful magic caster could work such a spell, and only a fool would oppose such a person.
The similarly-painted priests nodded in approval from where they were lined up behind the High Priestess.
Zaryusu understood how powerful that was, but many others could not understand how powerful the spell was even after being told that it was magic of the 4th tier. The room soon filled with puzzled muttering.
The High Priestess looked baffled, unsure of how to explain the situation to them. Then, she pointed to one of the Lizardmen. Said Lizardman had a baffled expression on his face as well, and pointed to himself.
“Yes, you. Do you think you could beat me in a fight?”
The indicated Lizardman hurriedly shook his head.
He might be able to win if the fight was limited to weapons, but if the use of magic was also allowed, then his odds of victory were slim. No — slim did not cover it; a mere warrior like him would have no chance at all.
“Even so, someone like me can only use magic of the 2nd tier at best.”
“In other words, that person’s twice as strong as you, High Priestess?”
The High Priestess did not know who had asked that question, but she sighed and shook her head as she heard it.
“It isn’t just being twice as strong. Anyone who can use 4th-tier spells could kill our chief easily.”
She fell silent after qualifying her statement with “Well, it’s not a given, but it’s very likely”.
Now that they knew how powerful 4th-tier spells were, the interior of the meeting hall fell silent. Then, Shasuryu spoke again:
“So what you’re trying to say, High Priestess, is that—”
“I think we’d be better off fleeing. We stand no chance no matter how hard we fight.”
“What the hell are you saying?!”
An imposing-looking Lizardman leapt to his feet with a bass growl. He was easily the size of Shasuryu, and he was the Head Warrior of the tribe.
“You’re telling us to run without a fight?! How could we flee from mere threats?!”
“—Are you retarded? I’m saying that by the time we fight, it’ll be too late for us!”
The High Priestess jumped up as well, her angry eyes locked with those of the Head Warrior. Both of them began growling in low, dangerous tones. Just as the words “powderkeg” flashed through everyone’s minds, a cold voice spoke:
“...Get a grip, both of you.”
The Head Warrior and the High Priestess blinked, like they had been struck by a bolt from the blue. Then, they turned to look at Shasuryu. They apologized, and then sat down.
“Head Hunter, tell me what you think.”
“...I understand the opinions of the Head Warrior and the High Priestess, and agree with what they have to say.”
Shasuryu’s question was answered by a skinny Lizardman. That said, calling him skinny was doing him a disservice; his build was more on the wiry than the musclebound side.
“Therefore, since there is still some time, should we not carefully observe the changes around us? The opposition says they will send an army, so it makes sense that they will encamp. That requires a lot of preparation work, so why don’t we decide after seeing what the enemy does?”
There’s no point going back and forth while we don’t know anything — murmurs to that effect could be heard in the background.
“I can’t make a decision here. All the opinion stated have their merits. The rest is up to you, our chief.”
Shasuryu’s eyes shifted and met Zaryusu’s. His gaze seemed to convey an approving nod. Thus, with a feeling like he had been gently pushed forward from behind — and perhaps into danger — Zaryusu raised his hand to share his opinion.
“Chief, I would like to say something.”
The attention of all the Lizardmen converged on Zaryusu. Everyone looked expectantly toward him. Of course, some of those eyes were filled with anger.
“How dare you address us, traveller! You should be glad we allowed you in here at all!” came the rebuke from one of the elders.
“Now sit down and—”
There was a loud thump of a tail forcefully striking the ground. It cleaved the elder’s words in half like a sharp blade.
There was a frightening undertone to Shasuryu’s voice. It was laced with the low growling any Lizardman made when their blood was up. Nobody dared interrupt him when he was like this, and the tension in the hut rose like the tide. The mounting heat in the air was frozen solid.
Just then, one of the elders spoke up. However, he had not realized that there were many reproachful looks directed at him, urging him not to cause any more problems.
“But Chief, you can’t give him special treatment even though he might be your brother. Travellers are—”
“Did I or did I not tell you to shut up?”
“Everyone at this meeting was invited because they have some relevant insights on the issue. Is it strange to ask a traveller his opinion?”
“But travellers are—”
“The Chief has declared that it is fine. Or are you saying that you intend to defy my orders?”
Shasuryu turned his eye from the now-silent elder to the other tribal leaders.
“High Priestess, Head Warrior, Head Hunter, do you also think there’s no point in hearing him out?”
“There is value in Zaryusu’s words,” the Head Warrior replied before anyone else. “No warrior would reject the opinion of the bearer of Frost Pain.”
“I think so too. It’s worth listening to him,” the Head Hunter said in a casual tone. The last was the High Priestess, who simply shrugged and replied:
“Of course we should hear him out. Only an idiot would choose to ignore the advice of an experienced individual.”
The council of elders frowned under this barrage of mockery. Shasuryu nodded at the replies of the three leaders, and then raised his chin to indicate that Zaryusu should speak. While still seated, Zaryusu said:
“If I had to choose between fleeing or fighting, I would choose the latter.”
“Oh… and why is that?”
“Because it is the only real option we have.”
Normally speaking, he would have to explain his reasons for saying so if the chief asked for them, but Zaryusu did not elaborate. His attitude seemed to say, “that’s all there is”.
Shasuryu cupped his chin with his hand, and he looked like he was deep in thought.
...Don’t tell me you’ve seen through that as well… ani-ja.
As Zaryusu struggled to keep his thoughts from showing up on his face, the High Priestess spoke up, a discomfited expression on her face.
“...Still, can we win?”
The Head Warrior shouted with an intensity that could evaporate the unease in the air, but the High Priestess merely narrowed her eyes.
“...No, I think given our present situation, our chances of victory are very low.”
Zaryusu answered on her behalf, denying the Head Warrior’s words.
“...And what do you mean by that?”
“Head Warrior, the enemy should be fully aware about us — about our fighting strength. Otherwise, they would not sneer so openly at us. That being the case, if we fight them with our current strength, we will not be able to win.”
Then what should we do? As that thought flickered through everyone’s minds, Zaryusu concealed his true intentions and seized the initiative:
“That means we’ll need to defy their expectations… does everyone still remember that war from the past?”
“Of course,” someone replied.
Nobody here was stupid enough to have forgotten the incident that had happened several years ago. Or rather, they would have remembered the fighting no matter how stupid they were.
Seven tribes had occupied this marsh in the past. They were the Green Claw, Small Fang, Razor Tail, Dragon Tusk, Yellow Speckle. Sharp Edge and Red Eye tribes.
However, only five of those tribes remained now.
That was because there had been a war which had taken many lives and wiped out two tribes.
The cause of that war had been the inability to catch enough fish to feed their people. Eventually, the hunters were forced to leave their territory and fish outside it. Every tribe had done this.
Before long, the hunters from each tribe encountered each other at their fishing spots. Since this concerned the rations of the entire tribe, they could not back down.
Soon enough, arguments turned to violence, and that violence claimed lives.
After that, their respective warriors began travelling with their hunters to back them up, and thus battles broke out over food.
The war dragged in five of the seven tribes, with the Green Claw, Little Fang and Razor Tail tribes on one side against the Yellow Speckle and Sharp Edge tribes. It became a state of total war that did not just involve their warriors, but even the average male and female Lizardmen.
After repeated all-out battles, the alliance containing the Green Claw was victorious, while the other two tribes were so worn down they could not function as tribes any further and disbanded. However, the tribeless Lizardmen were absorbed by the Dragon Tusk, who had not taken part in the fighting.
The irony was that the lack of food which had led to the war was solved by the decrease in the Lizardman population in the marsh, because everyone who survived now had enough fish to live on.
“What does that war have to do with what’s happening now?”
“Think about what our enemy said. He mentioned that this village was ‘the second’. That implies that they sent messengers to other villages, right?”
Murmurs of understanding rose from the crowd as they realised what Zaryusu meant.
“In other words, you want to reform the alliance, then!”
“He’s right. We should renew our alliance.”
“Like the war from the past…”
“Does that mean we could win?”
The whisperings from the gathered Lizardmen grew louder and louder. Everyone within the hut talked about the plausibility of Zaryusu’s suggestion, but Shasuryu remained silent. He did not seem like he was going to speak. Zaryusu did not dare look his brother — and that gaze of his which seemed to see through his thoughts — in the eye.
After enough time had passed for everyone to discuss the matter, Zaryusu spoke again.
“I hope you don’t get the wrong idea. What I mean is for us to ally with all the tribes.”
The Head Hunter — who was the second person present to realize what he was getting at — exclaimed in surprise. Zaryusu stared intently at Shasuryu, and every Lizardman in their way cleared a path for them.
“I would suggest forming an alliance with the Dragon Tusk and the Red Eye tribes as well, Chief.”
That bombshell sent ructions through everyone present.
They had not had any prior dealings with the Dragon Tusk and Red Eye tribes, and they had abstained from fighting during the tribal war. In addition, the Dragon Tusk had taken in the survivors of the Yellow Speckle and Sharp Edge tribes, so it made sense to consider them a potentially problematic tribe in future.
Still, if they could ally with those two tribes, it would form a five-tribe alliance.
If it worked out, they might have a chance to survive. Just as everyone dared hope for that, Shasuryu asked tersely:
“Who will be our envoy?”
“Let me go.”
Zaryusu’s prompt answer did not startle Shasuryu. He knew Zaryusu well, and in all likelihood, he had already anticipated an answer like this. The lizardmen around them murmured about how there was no better candidate for this, but one person expressed his dissatisfaction.
“—Sending a traveller?”
It was Shasuryu. His icy-cold gaze pierced Zaryusu.
“That’s right, Chief. This is an emergency, and if the other side won’t hear me out because I’m a traveller, then they’re not worth allying with.”
Zaryusu returned the cold stare. After looking at each other for a while, Shasuryu smiled sadly. Perhaps he had given up on his brother, or on persuading him from his course, or he had already acknowledged that he was the best man for the job, but it was a genuine, unclouded smile.
“—Take the Chief’s seal with you.”
The seal symbolized that the bearer acted with the chief’s authority, and it was not something a traveller could be allowed to possess. Several members of the elder council made to speak, but they withered under Shasuryu’s keen glare and swallowed their words.
“Thank you very much.”
Zaryusu bowed deeply in thanks. After that, Shasuryu continued:
“...I will appoint our envoys to the other tribes. First—”
♦ ♦ ♦Night fell, and with it came a cool breeze. The humidity and heat made the marshlands feel oppressively hot, but once night came, that feeling slowly subsided. In fact, once the night winds blew it even felt a little chilly. Of course, these changes in the weather meant nothing to the Lizardmen and their thick hides.
Zaryusu padded along the marsh, headed for his pet Rororo’s home.
While there was still some time, an emergency might crop up. In addition, there was no guarantee that the enemy might stick to their agreement, and they might do something to impede Zaryusu. After considering these factors, Zaryusu came to the conclusion that riding Rororo out was the best course of action.
The sound of Zaryusu’s footsteps slowed down, and eventually they stopped. He carried a pack filled with all manner of items, which shuddered mightily as he ground to a halt. The reason why he had stopped was because he saw a familiar-looking Lizardman emerge from behind Rororo’s hut, under the moonlight.
They exchanged glances, and then the black-scaled Lizardman tilted his head in puzzlement at the stationary Zaryusu. Then he closed the distance between them.
“—I’ve always felt that you ought to have been Chief.”
This was the first thing that Zaryusu’s elder brother Shasuryu had said since he had approached him.
“...What are you saying, ani-ja?”
“Do you remember the war?”
Zaryusu had been the one who had brought it up before the tribe — how could he not remember? Then, he realised that Shasuryu had probably been thinking the same thing as well.
“...Do you know how much I regretted branding you when you became a traveller after the war? I thought that I should have tried to stop you, even if I had to use force.”
Zaryusu shook his head. His brother’s face from back then was still stuck deep in his heart.
“...But because you granted me permission to be a traveller, I could return after learning how to farm fish.”
“You could probably have figured out a way to do that by staying in this village. A smart man like you ought to be leading us.”
One could not take back the events of the past. Therefore, talking about maybes was meaningless at this point. Still, were they discussing these matters because they were actually weak inside?
No, that could not be.
“...I’m telling you this, not as the tribe’s chief, but as your brother. I’m not going to ask, ‘WIll you be alright by yourself?” but you must come back safely. Don’t push yourself too hard.”
Zaryusu smiled at those words.
“Of course. I’ll come back after completing my mission. It ought to be easy.”
Shasuryu went “Muuu”, and then smiled bitterly.
“So if you fail, I’ll be helping myself to the fattest fish in your farm, then?”
“Ani-ja, that sort of thing doesn’t bother me. And really, saying things like that at this juncture doesn’t make you look strong at all.”
And then, the two of them smiled.
Eventually, they looked at each other again, with serious expressions on their faces.
“Then, are your intentions merely to secure an alliance?”
“...What are you saying? What are you trying to say?”
Zaryusu’s eyes narrowed, and then he thought, crap. Given his brother’s keen insight, his reaction just now was very bad for him.
“...You seemed to be holding something back during the meeting. It was almost as though you were trying to guide everyone’s thoughts.”
Shasuryu continued speaking to the dumbfounded Zaryusu.
“...I believe that one of the reasons for that war was because the petty disputes between each tribe went away and the number of Lizardmen increased.”
“Ani-ja, please don’t say any more.”
Zaryusu’s iron tones only seemed to lend credence to Shasuryu’s words.
“So… that was it.”
“...It’s the only way to keep a war like that from happening again.”
Zaryusu spoke those words with a hint of resignation in his voice. He felt his scheme was a wicked and despicable one. If possible, he would like to have kept it from his brother.
“...Then, what do you plan to do if the other tribes refuse an alliance? There’s no way we can compete with them if our people have been depleted by flight and warfare.”
“If that happens… we’ll have to eliminate them first.”
“So we’re going to start by killing our own people?”
As he heard the pleading note in Zaryusu’s voice, Shasuryu laughed, as though he thought nothing of it.
“I understand. There’s nothing wrong with your way of thinking. In fact, I agree with it too. The leader of a tribe must concern themselves with the survival of their tribe, so don’t worry, brother.”
“Thank you. Then, shall I bring the other tribes to our village?”
“No. If that monster was telling the truth, our village will be the second target. So in all likelihood, the fiercest fighting will occur at the first village to be attacked. Under normal circumstances, it would be best to gather at one of the later targets or at a more defensible village. However, if our villages are burned down, life after the war will be very hard for us. Therefore, it would be best to make our stand at the first village to be attacked. As for information exchange… I’ll ask the High Priestess to keep in touch with you using magic, so could you guide the other leaders directly to the rendezvous point?”
It would be difficult to send a lot of information using the spell his brother had in mind, and it would not work at all if the distance between them was too great. It was a barely passable communication method. However, Zaryusu felt that it would suffice, given the circumstances.
“Also, I’ll be taking the fish in your farm as rations.”
“Naturally. However, I hope you’ll leave the fry and the young fish. The farm’s just gotten on track recently, and even if we have to abandon the village, sparing the fry will help the farm in future.”
“I promise you that. Then, how many people can those fish feed?”
“...If you include the dried ones, there should be enough for about a thousand people.”
“Is that so… then our ration problem will be solved for the time being.”
“Mm, I’ll leave that to you. Then, I’ll be heading out, Ani-ja. Rororo?”
A serpent head poked itself from the window in response to Zaryusu’s call. Its scales gleamed wetly in the pale moonlight. They sparkled faintly as their angle changed, producing a scene of phantasmal beauty.
“We’re heading out. Can you come to me?”
Rororo looked at Zaryusu and Shasuryu, and then pulled its head back in. That was followed by a burbling and the sound of something heavy on the move.
“Then, ani-ja, I’d like to ask you something. How many people do you plan to evacuate? Depending on the circumstances, I may need to use that number as a negotiation tool.”
Shasuryu only hesitated for a moment before answering:
“...12 warriors, 20 hunters, 3 priests, 70 males, 100 females… and some of the children.”
“...I see. I get it.”
Zaryusu fell silent after seeing Shasuryu’s tired smile. Then, the sound of water splashing echoed through the oppressive atmosphere. The two of them looked to the sound’s source, and they smiled nostalgically.
“Muu… It’s grown up pretty well. I was quite shocked when I entered its hut.”
“Mmm. Same here, ani-ja. I didn’t think it’d get so big. After all, it was pretty small when I found it.”
“I find that hard to believe. After all, it was already quite big by the time you brought it back to the village.”
Just as the two of them reminisced over the way Rororo looked when it was young, four serpentine heads popped out of the water near the hut. They approached Zaryusu and Shasuryu.
Just then, the serpent heads suddenly reared up, revealing a massive form hidden within the water. Its four reptilian heads were joined to its body by long necks, and said body had four legs.
It was a magical beast — a Hydra.
That was the name of Rororo’s species.
It was no simple snake, given the fact that it made chewing noises when Zaryusu had tossed it fish.
Rororo was five meters long, but it was a nimble navigator, and soon made its way to Zaryusu’s side.
Like a monkey climbing a tree, Zaryusu gracefully clambered onto Rororo’s body.
“You must come back safely. Also, don’t worry too much about things. Getting worked up and shouting, ‘I won’t let anyone die today’ is your style.”
“...It seems I’ve grown up a little now.”
Shasuryu snorted as he heard this.
“And so the brat has become a man who can stand on his own… Forget it. In any event, take care of yourself. If you don’t return, then we’ll know who to attack first.”
“I’ll come back safely. Wait for me, ani-ja.”
After that, the two of them looked at each other with emotionally charged expressions in their eyes — and then, they parted ways.
There were many rooms on the 9th Floor of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. The private quarters of the guild members and the NPCs notwithstanding, there was also a large bath, a dining room, a beauty salon, a clothing shop, a convenience store, a skin care center, a manicure parlor and so on. A stunning variety of facilities were available here, encompassing just about every form of service or good imaginable.
These facilities were largely meaningless in the game. They had most likely been created because their creators were sticklers for detail and wanted the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick to fit the image of an arcology. Alternatively, it might have been a psychological response to the miserable living conditions they faced in the real world.
And then, there was the interior of one of these rooms.
It was run by the Sous-Chef of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. While he normally showed his skills in the dining room, on certain times and dates, he would come to this place to prepare food for all to enjoy.
This room was themed to resemble a small cocktail bar with few regular patrons, and the interior was gently lit with dim lamps.
It contained a liquor cabinet, a counter, and eight chairs before it. Though the room was simply furnished, the Sous-Chef thought of it as “a place where people could quietly drink in peace”. This place which had been granted was like his personal fortress, and it filled him with satisfaction.
However, a few minutes after receiving this first-time customer, he realised that the atmosphere was directly related to the nature of its clientele.
♦ ♦ ♦
Glug glug glug, fuwaaah~
Judging by the sound, the customer in question had just finished a drink in one gulp.
As he cleaned a wineglass, the Sous-Chef idly thought: If you want to drink like that, there’s better places for you to be.
And indeed, there was a social bar and a club on the 9th Floor, so there was no need for her to come here and drink like this.
With a thump, the glass — probably a shotglass, judging by the size — slammed down on the counter. The Sous-Chef struggled against the anger which threatened to twist his face.
“Give me another!”
Sous-Chef obliged, filling the glass once more. After pouring distilled vodka into it, he added some No. 1 Blue food coloring.
Then, he gently mixed it before handing it over.
“This drink is called ‘Maiden’s Tears’.”
He had made the name up on the spot as the girl before him gave him a doubtful look. Apparently, she had never seen a drink being mixed before, because her expression immediately turned to one of gratitude.
“Oh, so the spreading blue color represents tears, then?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
He spoke that lie without any hesitation whatsoever.
She raised the glass and downed it in one gulp, like she was polishing off a coffee milk after a hot bath.
Then, like before, she slammed the glass down on the counter with all her might.
“Hoo, I think it’s getting to me.”
“Well, you have been drinking it too quickly. How about going back to rest for tonight?”
“...No. I don’t want to.”
Sous-Chef picked up his glass and began polishing it again. His irritation built as the girl stared at him.
If you want to say, it, then just come out and say it. That’s why women are so troublesome. My clients should be elegant gentlemen, not annoying women. Can I ban women from this place… I guess not. That would disrespect the Supreme Beings. Still, that was a mistake on my part.
This woman had been invited here by nobody other than himself. When he had met her on the 9th Floor, he had seen her from behind and worried that she was depressed. Thus he had made conversation with her, something which he now regretted. Still, since he had invited her here as a guest, then he ought to treat her as a bar’s owner would.
I need to be hospitable, even if I am serving her drinks I’ve slapped together out of whatever’s handy!
After preparing himself, he asked a question.
“Is something wrong, Shalltear-sama?”
In that moment, the girl — Shalltear — opened her mouth. It would seem she had been waiting for that question for a long time.
It would also seem that his guess had been off the mark.
“Sorry, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Are you kidding me?! — and then his face wrinkled in a frown. However, Shalltear could not interpret the facial expressions of Myconids, and so she did not comment on it. Instead, she used her finger to toy with the glass before her.
(TL Note: Myconids are mushroom creatures. Sous-Chef is one of them)
“I think I’m a bit drunk.”
Shalltear might have felt that she was drunk, but Sous-Chef was utterly convinced that it was not the case.
Drunkenness was similar to being poisoned. Thus, it was impossible for someone who was immune to poison to get intoxicated. As one of the undead, Shalltear was invincible to poison, so she could not possibly be drunk. The fact was that the people who came here removed the items which made them immune to poison, or they came to enjoy the atmosphere while knowing that they would not get drunk.
Still, Shalltear believed that she was drunk. That was probably true — she was intoxicated by the ambience.
Just as Sous-Chef was wondering what he should do next, he heard a most wonderful sound. He turned and bowed to its source.
He had gained that nickname because he looked quite similar to a certain mushroom. The person who had addressed him by that nickname was one of his regular customers — Assistant Head Butler Eclair. He was accompanied by the manservant who was carrying Eclair by his waist.
Eclair was deposited onto one of the stools, as was customary. This was because Eclair was only 100cm tall and had trouble climbing onto the stools by himself.
Peachy was baffled by why two of his customers — who were seated side by side — had not greeted each other. Then, he glanced over to Shalltear and found that her head was lowered and she seemed to be muttering to herself. He could faintly make out something which sounded like an apology to the Supreme One (Ainz Ooal Gown).
With a somewhat exaggerated motion, Eclair signalled for a drink.
“I’ll have that one.”
There was only one drink which came to mind when he said “that one”.
That would be a ten-colored cocktail made with ten different liquors — Nazarick.
Not only was the cocktail visually attractive, but its taste was pleasing to the palate. His frequent customers approved mightily of it and felt that it was worthy of the name “Nazarick”, but this was not something he would recommend to others.
Peachy had experimented repeatedly to fine-tune the flavor, but he did not know when it would be complete.
With practiced movements, he poured the ten-colored cocktail and placed it before Eclair.
“This is for you, miss.”
And then, what followed was a whoosh and a crash.
Perhaps Eclair was trying to slide the glass across to her over the counter, but only a manga character or a very skilful person could do so. A penguin was neither.
Peachy picked up the fallen glass and breathed a sigh of relief after he saw that it was undamaged. He wiped up the spilled liquor and then fixed Eclair with an unhappy look:
“Could I trouble you not to flail around with your flippers? If you insist on doing so, I will have you carted out in a bucket.”
“...My sincerest apologies.”
Shalltear raised her head. It would seem she had realized Eclair’s presence thanks to their two-man act.
“Ara, if it isn’t Eclair? It’s been a while.”
“It’s been a… Well, it seems I keep running into you whenever you come to the 9th Floor.”
“Yes. Still… I didn’t expect to find you here. I always though only Demiurge came here, among the Guardians. I believe once he came here to drink with Cocytus.”
Shalltear’s eyes went wide as she heard about her colleagues.
“Still, what happened to make you like this?”
“I just made a big… no, I made a terrible mistake. So I came here like a dejected Guardian to drown my sorrows in drink.”
A puzzled look came over Eclair’s face, and he asked Peachy through his eyes: what’s with this girl? However, Peaky did not know either, so all he could do was shake his head in response.
However, he still hoped that everyone could be happy here while they drank. With that in mind, Peaky suggested something which surprised the two of them.
“How about trying something to change your moods? A glass of apple juice, perhaps?”
The two of them froze as they heard this.
“Made with apples harvested from the 6th Floor.”
Those words seemed to interest them, and they nodded in unison. Peachy was pleased to see their earnest response.
Soon, he had two cups of ordinary-looking apple juice on the counter. Peachy glanced to the manservant, wondering if he wanted any as well, but the offer was silently declined as usual.
Naturally, he had a straw for Eclair, who was an avian.
“It tastes delicious.”
“It’s pretty good, but it lacks impact… perhaps it’s not sweet enough?”
That was the feedback the two of them gave after downing their drinks in one shot.
“Well, it can’t be helped. I’ve had those apples before and they’re not as sweet as the ones stored in Nazarick.”
“Is there an apple tree on the 6th Floor? I don’t recall one.”
Apparently, Shalltear had heard of that before, because she answered before Peachy could.
“Could those be the apples Ainz-sama brought back? I heard from Albedo about a plan to replenish our consumables, where we’d grow seeds from the outside in Nazarick to see if they would bear fruit.
Peaky had heard of that as well.
He had also been ordered to use all sorts of food from the outside to make dishes, in order to see if they could boost their eaters’ stats.
“Yes, I heard that too. If it works out, there’s going to be an orchard too. However, it just isn’t sweet enough.”
“No, it’s not undrinkable yet. Perhaps this fruit juice would be perfect if you wanted to cleanse your palate.”
“...Still, who’s planting them? Aura and Mare are both outside… Are the magical beasts in charge of it?”
“No, no, that would be the Dryad Ainz-sama brought back from the outside.”
Eclair’s face seemed to be saying, “Who?” In contrast, Shalltear’s seemed to be saying “Ah!”
“...I see, so this is a case of the right person for the job. Could it be that Ainz-sama was thinking about something like this from back then?”
“What’s the matter? Has someone new come to Nazarick?”
Shalltear answered Eclair’s question. He had seen the Dryad before, but he did not know the details. Thus, he pricked up his ears and listened.
The Dryad had been brought back after that battle to gauge the Guardians’ ability to fight as a group. Apparently, there had been some sort of deal made with the Dryad which resulted in the Dryad being brought to Nazarick to be an apple farmer.
“Which means Nazarick is constantly improving and growing, right?”
Peachy and Shalltear nodded at Eclair’s words.
Peachy was the Sous-Chef, so he was not quite sure about the details of this matter and the future plans for the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. However, he now understood that the last Supreme Being who remained here, Ainz Ooal Gown, was attempting to conserve their strength in this world and planning to grow his power further.
“I see. That means that in future, Nazarick might have many more newcomers like the Dryad… am I correct?”
Shalltear puffed up her cheeks in displeasure after hearing Eclair’s words.
“...I certainly hope not. How can we let these trash walk freely about the places which the Supreme Beings built?”
Peachy felt the same way too. He could not help but frown as he thought about the dwellings of the Supreme Beings being stained by outsiders. However, there was one thing which overshadowed these feelings.
“Still, we have to bear with it, because that is Ainz-sama’s will.”
The word of the Supreme Being, Ainz Ooal Gown, was absolute. If he said that something white was black, then it would certainly turn black.
“I, I don’t intend to defy Ainz-sama’s decision!”
The other two nodded to the shrieking Shalltear.
“Then, we will need to be ever more loyal to Ainz-sama, as examples for the masses. Of course, I feel that nobody other than you will betray Ainz-sama.”
“Exactly. Ah yes, Shalltear, what do you think? Right now, I can guarantee you a lofty position—”
Eclair began his usual — and never successful — recruitment spiel, but it was drowned out by a bizarre cry.
Shalltear grabbed her head as she shrieked before them.
Her moaning was filled with pledges of loyalty.
“...What happened? Her tone seems different from usual.”
In response to Eclair’s question, Peaky merely shook his head and shrugged:
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