Chapter 3: Army of Death
“Oh, I can see it.”
Zenberu — seated near the back of Rororo — laughed as he looked forward.
A few hundred meters ahead, they could see the first tribe marked for extinction — the village of the Sharp Tail tribe. While it was about the same size as the Green Claw village, there were more Lizardmen here, probably because the Lizardmen from other tribes had steadily flocked to it.
Now that they were preparing for war, everyone was very busy.
“It’s hard to hold myself back with the mood in the air.”
There was an audible intake of air from Zenberu’s nose as he inhaled the ambient scent. It was an odour that boiled one’s blood. However, Crusch had never smelled it before, and she said something different from the other two.
“Is it safe to ride over with Rororo?
Having sensed the tense atmosphere from a distance, Crusch the plant-monster was starting to feel nervous, and she said as much. She was worried that the battle-ready Lizardmen would rush Rororo if he got close.
They might know Zaryusu, but not Crusch or Zenberu, and it was not as though everyone in the the Sharp Tail tribe knew Zaryusu either.
“No, it’s the opposite. We’re safer mounted on Rororo.”
A puzzled look appeared on Crusch’s face (obscured by leaves as it was). Sensing her confusion, Zaryusu elaborated:
“My brother should have come by earlier, and he should have told them that I’d be riding Rororo. Therefore, news about us on Rororo’s back should have reached him by now, so all we have to do is advance slowly.”
In fact, as Rororo was splashing through the marsh, a black Lizardman emerged from the village. Zaryusu waved to the familiar figure.
“And that would be my brother.”
The two of them spoke as one. Crusch was genuinely curious, while Zenberu was like a beast that had sighted a powerful entity.
As Rororo moved forward, the distance between the two of them — between Zaryusu and Shasuryu — grew shorter. Soon, they were close enough to see each other’s faces, and the brothers looked at each other.
They had only been apart for two days. However, they had prepared themselves for the eventuality that they would never see each other again, so their reunion was particularly touching.
“I’m glad you’re back, Zaryusu!”
“Mm, and I have good news, Shasuryu!”
Shasuryu’s gaze fell on the two people seated behind Zaryusu. Zaryusu felt Crusch’s arms tighten somewhat around his waist, due to her tension.
Once they were in front of Shasuryu, Rororo stopped in front of the familiar face and nosed at him with its four heads.
“Sorry, I didn’t bring any food with me.”
In the instant Rororo heard those words, its heads immediately recoiled from Shasuryu, like a child throwing a tantrum. The Hydra might not be able to understand Lizardmen, but it must have telepathically sensed his thoughts. Either that, or it did not smell any food on him.
“Let’s get off, then.”
After waving to the other two, he lightly hopped off Rororo’s back, and then took Crusch’s hand as she jumped down. Shasuryu looked at Crusch with a look of puzzlement on his face.
“And what’s that plant monster?”
The fact that everyone reacted the same way left Crusch a little demoralized, but she had no desire to contest it. That was probably due to Zenberu’s constant needling of her. But the words which followed were a bombshell that made Crusch stiffen up.
“She’s the female that I love.”
Shasuryu murmured in awe. Then, he turned his attention to the still-frozen Crusch, who was holding his little brother’s hand.
“Muu… One thing, is the person inside beautiful?”
“Mm, and we’re considering marr—!”
The sudden pain in his hand shut Zaryusu up, because the person holding it had jabbed her claws into Zaryusu’s hand, and very forcefully too. Shasuryu looked at them with some displeasure.
“I see… To think someone like you who went on and on about appearances and said… what was it, ‘You know I can’t get married’? You were just trying to act cool. You just didn’t have anyone to fall in love with… anyway, back to business. I am Shasuryu Shasha, chief of the Green Claw tribe. Thank you both for joining us.”
The way Shasuryu spoke did not solicit confirmation of their alliance but radiated the certainty that they would help. However, Crusch and Zenberu were not the sort to be rattled by small things like that.
“We should be the ones thanking you. I am the acting chief of the Red Eye tribe, Crusch Lulu.”
Everyone expected Zenberu to introduce himself after Crusch was done greeting Shasuryu, but they did not hear anything of the sort. Instead. Zenberu eyed Shasuryu from head to toe.
After he was satisfied with what he had seen, he nodded and spoke with a bestial expression on his face:
“Oh, so you’re the one — the warrior who uses priestly skills in battle. I’ve heard of your deeds.”
“I’m quite surprised that even the Dragon Tusk tribe knows of me.”
Shasuryu’s response felt like two wild animals circling each other.
“Until your brother agrees to take the position, I am the chief of the Dragon Tusk tribe, Zenberu Gugu.”
“Thank you for coming. You certainly seem suited to be the chief of the tribe which values strength.”
“How about a go, then? We need to show each other our strength, right?”
“...That’s not a bad idea.”
Zaryusu did not feel like stopping them. It was true that once they figured out who was stronger, many things would become much simpler in the future.
However, Shasuryu raised his hand before they could get into it, and put out the flames of Zenberu’s eagerness for battle.
“—At least, I think it’s a good idea, but now doesn’t seem like the right time.”
Shasuryu smiled as Zenberu frowned.
“...The scouts we’ve sent out ought to be returning soon, so we’ll be able to learn about the enemy. It won’t be too late to spar after they’ve given their report, no?”
♦ ♦ ♦
There was a small house that was being used as the meeting room for the various chiefs.
All the chiefs and Zaryusu were here, for a total of six people.
The name of Zaryusu — bearer of Frost Pain and slayer of the former chief of the Razor Edge tribe — was famous among the tribes. In addition, he was the hero who had persuaded the Red Eye and Dragon Tusk tribe to join their alliance, so none of the chiefs here opposed his presence.
The six of them sat in a circle within the cramped interior. The three chiefs had been hard-pressed to hide their surprise when Crusch had revealed her snow-white skin, but they had calmed down now.
After greetings were done with, the first to speak was the chief of the Small Fang tribe.
He was small-framed for a Lizardman, but he had honed his limbs until they were as hard as steel. He had originally been a hunter, so he was probably the best ranged attacker among all the Lizardmen around this lake. In fact, he had eliminated all of his opponents during the chief selection trials with a single well-aimed stone apiece.
After mobilizing all the hunters to scout, he now understood the disposition of the enemy.
“The enemy numbers around 5000.”
This figure was far in excess of the Lizardmen’s troop strength, but it was still within the range they had expected. Someone even sighed in relief as they heard that figure.
“...Then, who’s the enemy leader?”
“We’re not sure. The scouts spotted huge monsters that looked like giant blobs of red meat, but it was hard to get close to them.”
“How about their makeup?”
“It’s an undead army, with skeletons and zombies.”
“Did they use Lizardman corpses?”
“No, the corpses did not come from Lizardmen. I don’t know land-dwelling creatures too well, so I’m not confident in identifying them, but they were probably humanoids of some sort and I didn’t see any tails.”
After hearing about those characteristics, Zaryusu was sure that they were from a plains tribe — humans.
“Can’t we take the initiative and launch a preemptive strike?”
“That would be difficult. The enemy is using a clearing in the forest as a staging area, but how long did they take to clear it? I didn’t even see the logs which should have been left over — ah, I’ve gone off-topic. In any case, they’re in the forest. It’s questionable whether we could get into position by ourselves. It would be very difficult if we had to bring the warriors too.”
“Then how about sending the hunters to ambush them?”
“Spare us, Crusch-kun. There’s only 25 hunters. How could we defeat 5000 undead? All we’d accomplish is dying.”
“Hm… then how about mobilizing the priests?”
Several people nodded at Shasuryu’s suggestion, and turned to Crusch. However, Zaryusu answered the question.
“I think it would be better if we did not.”
“Ah? Why is that?”
“The opposition has honored their agreement so far, but I don’t think it’ll extend to allowing us to launch a sneak attack.”
“Indeed. Seems like it would be best not to make the first move before all the tribes gather.”
“Then are we going to prepare for a siege?”
“Defending sounds hard.”
That inarticulate voice came from one of the Lizardmen, the chief of the Razor Tail tribe.
He was dressed in a suit of white armor, which shone with a lustre not born of metal.
The armor radiated a faint magical aura. It was one of the Four Treasures — the White Dragon Bone Armor.
This armor was made from the cold-infused bones of the Frost Dragons which laired within the Azellisian Mountain Range. Of course, armor made of mere bones — even the bones of powerful beings like Dragons — could not possibly be magical. Yet, somewhere along the line, that suit of armor had taken on magical properties.
The problem now was that said properties might have been the result of a curse.
That was because the White Dragon Bone Armor converted intellect into defensive strength. If an intelligent person put it on, it would become harder than steel — it might even be able to rival the strength of mithril, or the legendary metal adamantite.
However, the lost intelligence would not return even if the armor was removed. That was why the legends surrounding that item said it was cursed.
The armor’s wearer had originally inhabited the peak of Lizardman intellect, and after he put on that armor, it became tough enough to deflect any and all weapons the Lizardmen possessed — even Frost Pain of the Four Treasures. Its hardness might well be on the same level as adamantite.
Also, the armor’s wearers generally lost their powers of reason and became retarded, but he was still capable of thought, which was a testament to his original intellect. As a result, the Razor Tail tribe no longer decided chieftainship succession through combat after he was born.
“Here, here is swamp. Poor foundation. Walls… easily broken.”
“I see. Then, shall we sally forth?”
“Hm, why not? Feels better taking the offensive than to defend. I think each of us has to face three, no four enemies? Easy enough; all we’ll have to do is take them down.”
As they heard Zenberu’s words, the others looked at each other. Eventually, Crusch changed the subject.
“The question now is if the enemy has reinforcements… they might still be marshalling their strength.”
“Hmmm… that’s hard to tell. Given the size of that clearing, there shouldn’t be any more space to fit more undead… that said, all they’d have to do is position them throughout the forest.
The undead did not need to eat, drink or rest, and they did not need large campsites. Therefore, it was very hard to tell their numbers from the size of their camps.
“It seems we had best consider a defense scenario for safety’s sake.”
“In that case, we of the Red Eye tribe will strengthen our walls to tide us through the siege. I hope everyone else will help us with that.”
The other chiefs nodded in agreement, even the disappointed-looking Zenberu.
“In any case, let’s start preparing our defenses. We also need to establish a chain of command.”
“For starters, we’ll assign command of the priests to Crusch-san. She’ll have authority over them in combat as well.”
Everyone agreed, save one.
“All the chiefs should form a separate squad of their own.”
Everyone’s eyes went to Zaryusu.
“I see… So that’s how it is, little brother.”
“That is, you want us to form an elite unit, then?”
“Correct. The enemy is numerous, and if we don’t eliminate their commander, we might well lose this battle. In addition, if they deploy monsters like the ones they sent to each village as messengers, we won’t be able to overwhelm them with numbers. We’ll need to destroy them using small teams of elite troops.”
“Still, won’t leaving our men leaderless result in confusion?”
“Just... pick, pick... replacement from head warriors.”
“So even if there aren’t any commanders, all they have to do is attack the enemy before them with all their might, huh…”
“...What about having the elite squad give orders from behind and only move out when they find the enemy’s headquarters or if the situation turns bad?”
“That ought to be pretty good, right? Then, let’s form a six-man squad with everyone here, including Zaryusu.”
“No, let’s divide it further, into teams of three.”
Dividing into two teams meant that they could fight in two places, but it also meant their strength would be divided and weakened.
“One team will be a search-and-destroy unit to deal with the enemy commanders, while the other will be responsible for tying up their garrison troops.”
“In that case, I think having we three chiefs form one team ought to work. Zaryusu-san can group up with the chiefs he brought along. We’ll adapt the team objectives to suit the circumstances.”
“Hm, that sounds good. Will that be alright, Zaryusu?”
“Yes, I got it. Crusch, Zenberu, do you object?”
“I don’t mind?”
“Me neither. It’s a shame we won’t get to show our stuff, but I’ll obey the winner.”
“Then, there’s still four days to the enemy attack?”
“Then, is there anything which needs to be prepared ahead of time?”
“We need to stockpile stones for throwing and to strengthen our walls. In addition, we need to let the various tribes mingle and establish working relationships so they can function in harmony.”
“We of the Small Fang tribe would like Shasuryu to handle this, as before.
“We also… feel it should be fine… and you two?”
Crusch and Zenberu nodded in agreement.
“I’ll be taking command, then. After this, we’ll decide on our tasks for the next three days.”
♦ ♦ ♦
After the day’s work was done, Zaryusu walked silently through the bustling village. Several Lizardmen saw the brand on his chest and Frost Pain at his waist, and greeted him respectfully.
It felt a little troublesome, but he had to respond to them in order to boost morale. Therefore, he put a confident, dignified look on his face, and replied in a bold, fearless voice.
In this way, Zaryusu reached the location of the walls surrounding the village. Many Lizardmen were there, all their attention focused on erecting the walls as quickly as possible.
First, they used vegetation to serve as the foundation for wooden pillars and to fill the spaces between them. Then, they covered them with somewhat drier mud. The priests would then enchant them, and the walls were complete. There were cracks on the surface of the walls, probably because their water content had completely evaporated. Then, they repeated the same process on the other side.
“Oh, Zaryusu. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, I just wanted to see what you were doing.”
Zaryusu splashed softly over the wet ground as he walked up to Crusch, who was still in her plant monster getup. Then, he pointed to the unceasing activity before him.
“What is that?”
“That’s a dirt wall. We don’t know what sort of enemies we’ll face, so I wanted to make it difficult for them to attack us… though we haven’t even finished half of it yet, since we don’t have enough time.”
“I see… Still, isn’t it going to break easily, being made of dirt and all?”
“It’ll be fine. While a thin layer of dirt is easily broken, that’s not the case for a thick wall of dirt. Granted, we haven’t been able to gather enough material for it due to the hasty construction and it’ll be weakened if it rains, but it won’t fall apart so easily.”
When he thought about it, just about anything would be difficult to destroy if it was made thick enough.
Dozens of Lizardmen were working as fast as they could before Zaryusu as he agreed with that conclusion, but they were proceeding at a turtle’s pace. Even if they pushed themselves for three days straight, the wall still would not be that long, but it was better than nothing.
“Currently, we’re changing the structure of the fences on the places we can’t cover up, so they can’t be pulled down.”
In the direction where Crusch was pointing—
They had uprooted the wooden pillars and erected them on a triangular clearing. The space between them was laced with loose ropes that had been woven from plant fibers. Zaryusu felt that they seemed similar to the fence surrounding the Red Eye village.
“And what is that?”
“We’re going to put heavy objects in those triangular openings to ensure that the fence doesn’t fall if it’s pushed or pulled. Those ropes are meant to obstruct the enemy’s movements. If they’re drawn taut, they can be easily cut with swords or other bladed weapons, which is why we’ve left some slack in them on purpose,” Crusch eagerly answered Zaryusu’s question.
She had been the recipient of Zaryusu’s wisdom during their journeys over the past few days, so she was delighted to be able to dole out wisdom for once. In addition, there was another emotion behind that.
“I see… That way, it can’t be easily destroyed.”
Those words of respectful praise filled Crusch with pride.
Zaryusu nodded vigorously.
They were accelerating the plan to convert this village into a fortress as much as they could. While they could not begin to hold a candle to the defenses of humans or Dwarves, it was the best they could do on these wetlands where movement was difficult.
“Come to think of it, Zaryusu, did you tell the warriors…”
Just as Crusch said that, the wind carried the clamor of the warriors to them. Their voices were filled with excitement and seemed quite hot-blooded.
“What’s happening? This cheering sounds familiar… that’s it! They’re cheering for a fight. Could it be that your brother is dueling Zenberu now?”
Zaryusu nodded. Then he realized Crusch had revealed her face and seemed quite worried.
“...Your brother’s the supreme commander. Won’t things be troublesome if he’s beaten?”
“I don’t know. Still, my brother’s strong too. Once he has an opening to use his priest spells, he’ll get even stronger. For all I know, I might lose to him as well.”
Shasuryu’s strength was extraordinary after applying several buff spells to himself. In addition, while he probably would not use offensive spells during a mock battle, if he did, even Zaryusu — before he had come into possession of Frost Pain — would not be a match for him.
After all, when Zaryusu had defeated the previous owner of Frost Pain, the only reason why said owner had not used its special ability — limited to three uses a day — on Zaryusu was because all three instances had already been expended on Shasuryu.
Just as Zaryusu thought he should show the worried Crusch his brother’s fighting form, he recalled the hidden worry he had not brought up until now.
He did not know if he should mention it, but in the end he decided to do so.
It was somewhat despicable to talk about something he had chosen not to speak of earlier, now that everything was largely settled. However, he could not hold back the pure and intense feelings he had, and he did not want to hide anything from her.
“There’s one thing which worries me—”
Crusch laughed as she heard the unease in Zaryusu’s voice. She seemed to be making fun of him. The look on her face did not suit the mood in the air — or her character, for that matter — and Zaryusu was left speechless. Therefore, it was Crusch who spoke in his place.
“—It’s what you didn’t bring up earlier, right? What if the enemy had already seen through our plans and anticipated that we would form an alliance, am I correct?”
Zaryusu was silent because she had hit the nail on the head.
In other words, the possibility that the enemy might have given them all this time to prepare, informed them of the attack order, and allowed Zaryusu to form his alliance, all for the purpose of gathering the tribes together so they could all be crushed in one fell swoop.
“Well, you would be worried, given that you’re so prone to introspection. Still, no matter what, it would be best to fight the enemy first and worry about things like that later.”
“Even if we win, the enemy probably won’t give up. No, in all honesty, there’s very little chance the enemy will give up.”
“That may be so, but you were right about what you said that night. And look —”
There did not seem to be anything in the direction where Crusch was pointing. However, Zaryusu understood that she was referring to the entire village.
“Do you see how all the Lizardman tribes are struggling together for the same goal?”
Indeed, the Lizardmen were all working towards the same objective.
Zaryusu recalled the great feast which had been held to celebrate the alliance of the Five Tribes. The people of each tribe had mingled without reserve. Of course, it would be wrong to say that the survivors of the two destroyed tribes bore no grudges, but at the very least, they had managed to swallow their resentment.
“How ironic,” Zaryusu muttered to himself. He had always thought they would keep themselves secluded for all time, but he had not expected to see everyone united as one due to an external enemy.
“We should protect the possibilities that the future holds, Zaryusu. The tribes coming together will surely spur us to grow.”
Zaryusu had never seen the technology of building walls with mud. However, now that all the other tribes knew it too, the Lizardmen tribes would surely build such walls in future. These sturdy walls would be able to keep out monster incursions. If that happened, the number of attacks on children would drastically decrease, and the Lizardmen’s numbers would increase in turn.
And as the number of people went up, they could use Zaryusu’s fish farms to feed them.
Perhaps in the near future, this marsh might become the home of a large, united tribe of Lizardmen.
“Let’s win this, Zaryusu. We can’t predict what will happen in the future, and for all we know, all this might be cleared up after we win this battle. If that happens, we’ll be able to expand, and that might bring about a world where we won’t need to worry about killing each other or food shortages.”
Crusch smiled. Zaryusu fought back the surge of emotion within him, because if he let it run wild, the consequences might be irrecoverable. Still, there was one thing he had to say, no matter what.
“You really are an outstanding female — after this battle, please tell me the answer to the question I asked when we first met.”
Crusch’s smile grew even brighter.
“Yes, Zaryusu. I’ll tell you after it’s all over—”
♦ ♦ ♦
Demiurge hummed happily as he worked.
He picked up a polished bone and considered where best to put it. Before long — perhaps he had already decided — he shaved off part of its tip and slotted it into the article before him, which he was building.
The shaved bone fit snugly into its place, as though it had always belonged there.
If building a house without nails was called “timber-frame construction” then Demiurge’s technique could be called “bone-frame construction”.
“I have a good feeling about this.”
Demiurge smiled as he ran his fingers over the bones. He sensed that he would produce an outstanding work if he carried on like this.
“Still… I need a thigh bone from a male of about 120cm in height.”
He could still complete it without the bone, but the finished product would not look as good.
Under normal circumstances, he would close one eye to it, but this gift was intended for the beloved master to whom he owed his loyalty, so he had to complete it to the best of his ability.
“If only I could find a suitable bone.”
In high spirits, Demiurge moved on.
The truth was that Demiurge enjoyed making objects like these. It was not a love for bonecrafting, but a love for crafting in general. He was very interested in that field, covering items ranging from objets d’art to furniture, and his techniques had surpassed those of a casual dabbler.
In fact, his current piece would draw gasps of awe from just about anyone who looked upon it, provided one disregarded the materials from which it was made.
This tent contained other items as well, such as a statue of his master made from solidified lava, all sorts of chairs, assorted clamps, and so on. All of them were the handiwork of Demiurge. While those pieces were all built for functionality and were not ornamented, they were still excellent specimens of workmanship.
Demiurge picked up a piece of raw material from the corner of the tent and began evaluating it. Just then, he sensed movement from the tent’s entrance.
He gently put the bone back and squeezed the irreplaceable item which his master had lent him, before focusing his attention on the movement outside. Under normal circumstances, the person outside ought to be one of his vassals or his comrades. Nobody could breach that triple-layered defense without Demiurge’s knowledge. Still, it was true that he had to be wary of the enemy who had dominated Shalltear.
Several seconds later, someone opened the tent flap. He was dressed in white and wore a black bird-like mask with a long nose.
It was Pulcinella.
He was a clown who had been created by the Supreme Beings, much as Demiurge had. He had been assigned to assist Demiurge for this operation.
After ensuring that he was not under mind control, the tension left Demiurge’s eyes. At the same time, he released his grip on the artifact in his hand.
“Demiurge-sama, the skinning is complete.”
Demiurge felt a twinge of regret at those words.
Originally, Demiurge would have done that work in person to savor it, but the need to be wary of their mysterious and powerful foe meant that he could not leave this place under most circumstances. Thus, he had handed the task to Pulcinella.
Taking care to keep his emotions hidden, Demiurge gave Pulcinella new orders.
“Well done. Then, begin the next step immediately. It would be rude to directly present something in that state to Ainz-sama.”
As Pulcinella bowed gracefully, Demiurge asked him:
“So, how many died?”
“None. Thanks to the torturer, they only passed out, so we should be able to skin them soon. While some of them were unwilling to accept healing magic… it was well within acceptable parameters, so it is not a problem.”
Gathering the raw materials was an arduous task, and they had to perform several skinnings to recoup their investment. Even so, he had not used anesthesia or painless methods to remove the skins.
“I want to make everyone happy.”
This sudden interjection made Demiurge think of Pulcinella’s personality.
Pulcinella was famous in Nazarick for his kindness and mercy. He had been created to make everyone happy, and so everything he did was intended to fulfil that purpose.
“Everyone in the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick is happy to serve Ainz-sama.”
Demiurge nodded in agreement.
“I see. Then, a question for you, Pulcinella: do you mean that others will be happy to serve Nazarick?”
“How could that be? That was not my meaning. Serving Ainz-sama is truly a blissful thing, one that makes me want to shed tears of joy, but it cannot be counted as true happiness if it is forced.”
“Ohh, then what should be done?”
“Simple. Pick one person, and chop his arm off. Then, the others will compare themselves to that person and count themselves fortunate. How wonderful! And then, to make the person whose arm was chopped off happy, you simply chop off someone else’s legs! Oh, how happy I have made them!”
Demiurge nodded at the clown, who was laughing to the high heavens.
“I see. You do have it at that.”
It felt long if you spend all your time waiting, but when you prepare for something with a deadline, you would feel that time passes by in a flash.
The promised time had come.
That day, the burning sun crawled up in the sky as slow as a tortoise, the sky was blue and devoid of clouds. There was no sound from the wind, the world seemed so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
Some of them gulped, others breath in deeply.
An unknown amount of time passed since the gathered lizardmen had turned silent.
Suddenly, a dark cloud that seemed to appear from a hole in the sky spread speedily across the blue sky just like it did before.
Shortly after, the cloud blocked out the entire sky, and the surrounding dimmed with the absence of sunlight—
The lizardmen saw countless undead march slowly from the border dividing the forest from the wetlands. With the trees in the way, it was impossible to tell how many of them there were, they just kept emerging like an endless flood.
The invaders included 2,200 zombies, 2,200 skeletons, 300 undead beasts, 150 skeleton archers, 100 skeleton riders. An army of 4,950, not including the commander and its guards.
Opposing them was the five tribe alliance of lizardmen.
‘Green Claw’ has 103 warriors, 4 druids, 7 hunters, 124 male lizardmen, and 105 female lizardmen.
‘Small Fang’ has 65 warriors, 1 druid, 16 hunters, 111 male lizardmen, and 94 female lizardmen.
‘Razor Tail’ has 89 heavy armor warriors, 3 druids, 6 hunters, 99 male lizardmen, and 81 female lizardmen.
‘Dragon Tusk’ has 125 warriors, 2 druids, 10 hunters, 98 male lizardmen, and 32 female lizardmen.
‘Red Eye’ has 47 warriors, 15 druids, 6 hunters, 59 male lizardmen, and 77 female lizardmen.
Their combined strength were 429 warriors, 26 druids, 45 hunters, 491 male lizardmen, and 389 female lizardmen. A total of 1,380 troops, excluding the tribal chiefs and Zaryusu.
The battle where one side outnumbers the other by three to one thus began.
♦ ♦ ♦
It was a house made from wood.
There were no decorations, the wooden structure was plain to see and the design was as plain as a cabin. But the ceiling was five meters from the floor while the length and breadth were more than twenty meters either way.
There were barely any furniture inside, just a giant mirror on the wall, a huge and sturdy table as well as the chairs around it.
Several people were seated on the chairs, and parchments rolled into scrolls were placed on the table before them— scrolls imbued with magic.
“And finally, this is the last set. These are teleportation scrolls.”
After the loud voice of a young girl said so, another scroll was placed on the table.
The one who took out the scrolls was a human female in maid attire.
The young girl had a cute face, with her hair tied up into buns on either sides of her head. But she had a distinct aura about her, with the most exceptional thing being her eyes.
Her eyes were big and round, but there was no light in them, just like low grade glass balls, and she never blinked.
Her petite body was covered by a modified maid costume, with propped collars covering her neck completely. Aside from her face, she didn’t show any skin at all.
She was one of the battle maids, Entoma Vasilissa Zeta.
“And, this are the ‘Message’ scrolls, but there are a lot. Could someone please tidy up the table?”
Entoma requested the figure occupying the seat of honor and that person nodded slowly.
“Tidy it up.”
“Alright~, please clean it up quickly then.”
With Cocytus’ acknowledgement and Entoma’s instruction, the figures surrounding the table started working together.
They were all of the heteromorphic race, some had the form of praying mantis, some looked like ants, there were even ones that seemed to be an exposed brain.
They might all appear different, but they had two common points. They were all servants of Cocytus and they belonged to the organization of Nazarick.
That was why they obeyed the command of Entoma who was weaker than them.
In the power structure of the Great Tomb of Nazarick, the most important thing wasn’t combat power, but the fact that one was a creation of the Supreme Beings. From this point of view, Entoma had a high level of authority.
After confirming that the tables had been cleared—
“Well then, please accept this, Cocytus-sama.”
— Entoma said without moving her mouth, picking up the bag by her feet and fished out several scrolls of parchment.
“These are ‘Message’ scrolls. According to Ainz-sama, these are made from skins Demiurge-sama went through great effort to obtain. Ainz-sama conveys that he wants a report if there are any problems when using them.”
“I see… Understood. I will test this out.”
Cocytus used one of his four hands to pick up several of the scrolls.
“Demiurge has pulled further ahead.”
Cocytus said to his subordinates with a wry smile. When his subordinate heard that, they smiled along too.
With the parchment in his hand, Cocytus fell into deep thought.
He had heard about the stock of low level magic scrolls being diminished gradually.
Finding a place that would provide the raw ingredients to make various types of items was an important issue that needed to be resolved. They had plenty of stock right now, but it would deplete with constant use. And so, a lot of people started taking action, including their master.
Cocytus heard that the apple tree in the 6th floor was one part of the plan.
For Cocytus whose duty was to guard Nazarick, he couldn’t do anything, which was obvious since he wouldn’t be able to move out and search for ingredients.
Demiurge who was creating an outpost outside would definitely solve the problem. This was something he expected.
His comrade completed his duty.
Cocytus should be happy for him, and he actually is, but he couldn’t completely suppress the fire of jealousy in his heart. For his colleague to be of use to the Supreme Being— the master they adored, made him envious.
His mission was to defend Nazarick.
This important task was probably more crucial than any orders received by the other Guardians. No matter who you asked, they would answer that this was a crucial task. They had to keep the lowly ones from desecrating the residence of the Supreme Beings.
However without invaders, there was no way to prove Cocytus’ loyalty and hard work.
That was why Cocytus wanted to achieve something.
For the Guardians, aiding their master would bring strong sense of joy. Cocytus wanted to taste that happiness too.
And that chance was right before him now.
Cocytus turned his head and looked at the scene reflected in the mirror and tightened his grip on the scroll.
What was shown wasn’t indoors, but a location somewhere in the wetlands. That’s right, the scene shown in the Mirror of Remote Viewing was the reason why Cocytus was holed up for two days in this wooden house built by Aura.
The battle this time— No, in the face of the absolute strength of the Great Tomb of Nazarick, it would be a one sided slaughter, so it was just a means of collecting carcasses. When Cocytus received this harvesting mission, his master gave him several orders.
One, Cocytus was prohibited from taking to the field. This included his servants. The issue had to be solved with the troops that were allocated.
Two, the Lich assigned as the commander was to be held in reserve until the last moment.
Three, he was to carry out the mission by his own judgement.
There were some other minute details, but the main points were these three.
He had to use the soldiers dispatched to the lakeside region to obtain victory. If he were to succeed, Cocytus could then display his loyalty to his glorious master.
“Thank you for your hard work, please relay my thanks to Ainz-sama.”
Entoma nodded weakly.
“And so… Will you be going back?”
“No, I received orders to witness the battle here 'til the very end.”
So she was here as an observer.
Cocytus concluded, and felt hot blooded thinking about the heavy responsibility bestowed on him.
Well then, time to begin.
Cocytus activated ‘Message’ and issued an order to the undead commander.
♦ ♦ ♦
Two bonfires on elevated platforms illuminated the surrounding with flickering light.
On the stage stood several lizardmen, comprising of the tribal chiefs and key figures.
Before the stage was a large group of lizardmen preparing for battle, the noise they were making undulating like waves. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear— They tried their best to conceal these emotions, but they couldn’t hold down their worries, that was why they were so noisy.
What followed next would be war. The friend beside you might become a corpse the next moment, the one who might fall in battle could be themselves. What they would be marching into would be a cruel field of battle.
Shasuryu Shasha stepped forward from amongst the tribal chieftains to stop the rowdiness.
“All lizardmen, listen up!”
The majestic voice echoed out and the open space became silent, making Shasuryu’s voice exceptionally clear.
“I know that we face a great number of foes.”
No response, but the uneasiness could be seen clearly in the eyes of all present.
Shasuryu paused momentarily and continued loudly.
“But do not fear! For the first time in history, we the five tribes have formed an alliance. After this alliance, we are now all of one tribe. That’s why, the ancestral spirits of the five tribes will watch over us— and bless us even if we were of a different tribe in the past.”
“Head Druid of all tribes!”
Taking the cue, Crusch led the five head druids of tribes and stepped forward. She removed the dress covering her and revealed her white scales.
“Leader of Head Druids, Crusch Lulu!”
In response to Shasuryu’s introduction, Crusch took another step forward.
“Let our ancestors descend!”
“—Listen, children of this large tribe!”
What was this new tribe?Time passed slowly if all one did was wait. However, it practically flew past when one was preparing for a task with a time limit.
Countless roars rang through the air.
The appointed time had come.
Today, the searing sun crawled slowly into the sky, which was a cloudless clear blue. There was no sound of wind, and the world was shrouded in a silence so profound that one could hear the proverbial pin drop.
Pre-battle tension filled the air.
Someone gulped, and someone’s breathing quickened.
And after who knew how long since the gathered Lizardmen collectively decided to remain quiet—
A hole appeared in the heavens, and a cloud billowed forth. It expanded as swiftly as it had earlier, until it enveloped the entire sky.
Soon, when the clouds obscured the firmament, when the sun’s light was gone and when all was darkness—
The Lizardmen saw countless undead lurch out of the forest and over the border it shared with the swamp. The trees obscured them and prevented them from getting an exact count, so all they could see was an endless tide shambling forward.
The attackers were 2200 Zombies, 2200 Skeletons, 300 Undead Beasts, 150 Skeleton Archers and 100 Skeleton Riders, for a total of 4950 troops, not including the commander and his retinue.
The defenders were the army of the Five Tribes.
The Green Claw tribe had 103 warriors, 5 priests, 7 hunters, 124 males and 105 females.
The Small Fang tribe had 65 warriors, 1 priest, 16 hunters, 111 males and 94 females.
The Sharp Tail tribe had 89 armored warriors, 3 priests, 6 hunters, 99 males and 81 females.
The Dragon Tusk tribe had 125 warriors, 2 priests, 10 hunters, 98 males and 32 females.
The Red Eye tribe had 47 warriors, 15 priests, 6 hunters, 59 males and 77 females.
Their combined fighting strength was 429 warriors, 26 priests, 45 hunters, 491 males and 308 females, for a total of 1380 people, not including the chiefs and Zaryusu.
A lopsided battle of over three-to-one odds was about to begin.
♦ ♦ ♦
This was a log cabin.
It was simply designed and made of bare wood, with little ornamentation to speak of. However, it was a full five meters from floor to ceiling, and it was over 20 meters long and wide.
There was hardly any furniture here, only a huge mirror hanging on the wall, a massive, sturdy table, and the chairs surrounding it.
There were several people seated on those chairs, and on the table were many rolled-up parchments — magic scrolls.
“And this is the last one, a teleportation spell scroll.”
As the high-pitched voice — which called to mind the image of a young girl — spoke those words, another scroll was laid on the table.
The person doing so was a humanoid girl in a maid’s outfit.
She was adorably cute, with her hair done up in two buns on the side of her head. However, she was surrounded by a strange air, and her eyes were quite unique.
Said eyes were full and round, but like cheap glass marbles, there was no glow in them. In addition, they did not blink.
Her slender body was fully encased in an enchanted maid’s uniform, and the high collar completely obscured her neck. Besides her face, none of her flesh was exposed.
She was one of the Pleiades Battle Maids — Entoma Vasilisa Zeta.
“And then there are the [Message] scrolls, but the table is getting cluttered, so could someone please clear the table?”
Entoma looked at the highest-ranking person seated at the table, who nodded slowly in response.
“Then, please go ahead.”
“Yes. Then. Please. Tidy. Up. Move. Quickly.”
After hearing Cocytus acquiesce to Entoma’s directions, the people around the table began working to clear the table.
Each of them was a heteromorphic being. Some looked like praying mantises, some looked like ants, and one even looked like a gigantic brain.
Each of them had a different appearance, but they had two things in common. The first was that they were Cocytus’ vassals, and the second was that they all served Nazarick.
For that reason, they obeyed Entoma despite the fact that she was weaker than them.
Within the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick’s chain of command, the most crucial factor was not raw power, but whether or not they had been created by one of the Supreme Beings. From that point of view, Entoma ranked very highly.
After verifying that the table had been cleared—
“Then, please take these, Cocytus-sama.”
—Entoma spoke those words without moving her mouth, and then she picked up the bag by her feet and produced several rolled-up scrolls.
“These are scrolls of [Message]. According to Ainz-sama, they were made with the skin that Demiurge-sama worked hard to obtain. Ainz-sama also said that he would like feedback if any problems came up with their use.”
“Is. That. So. I. Understand. I. Will. Inform. Him. If. Such. Problems. Occur.”
Cocytus took the scrolls from Entoma with one of his four hands.
“Now. It. Seems. Demiurge. Has. Pulled. Even. Further. Away. From. Me.”
He smiled bitterly to the servants around him as he said that. His servants responded with wry grins of their own.
As he picked up the scrolls, Cocytus sank into contemplation.
Cocytus had once heard that the supply of parchment for Nazarick’s low-level spell scrolls was running low.
Finding a place to replenish the stores needed to produce various items was a problem which had to be solved sooner or later. The reserves were still ample for the moment, but if they kept drawing on them, they would eventually run out one day. Therefore, everyone — their master included — had begun work on rectifying that situation.
The apple trees on the 6th Floor he had heard of was part of that.
However, this was a problem which Cocytus — who was responsible for the safety of Nazarick — could do nothing about. After all, since he was assigned to protection duties, he could not go searching around outside.
Demiurge — who had gone around laying foundations outside, would surely solve this problem in the end. One could say that it was only to be expected.
His friend had accomplished his mission.
It was an admirable deed, and Cocytus was glad for him. However, the flames of jealousy smoldered within him. The fact that his comrade could aid one of the Supreme Beings — the master whom he worshipped — filled him with jealousy.
His own calling was the defense of Nazarick.
This weighty task was arguably more important than any order given to the other Guardians. If questioned, any vassal would agree that it was an important task. After all, they could not let common riffraff set foot into the sanctum of the Supreme Beings.
However, Cocytus could not prove his devotion and loyalty without any intruders.
That was why Cocytus wanted to prove himself here by obtaining good results.
To the Guardians, aiding their master was a source of great delight. Cocytus wanted to experience that joy as well.
Currently, a chance for that stood before him.
Cocytus turned to look at the image within the mirror and gripped his scroll tightly.
The mirror did not reflect the interior of the room, but instead it showed part of the swamp. The scene within the Mirror of Remote Viewing was the reason why Cocytus had spent the past two days in the log cabin which Aura had built.
This battle — no, when one considered the absolute power of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick, it was more like a slaughter — was little more than a way to recover corpses. When he had received this sacred task, Cocytus’ master had also laid down several stipulations.
The first rule was that Cocytus was forbidden to set foot on the battlefield. Naturally, that extended to his servants as well. He was to use the forces allocated to him to deal with this problem.
The second rule was that the Elder Lich who had been designated as the army’s commander was to be held back until the end.
The third rule was that he had to make as many decisions by himself as possible.
There had been other details besides that, but those were the most important of the orders he had been given.
His task was to achieve victory using only the forces deployed to the lakeside. However, if he could do it, he could demonstrate his loyalty to his great master.
“Thank. You. Very. Much. Please. Convey. My. Thanks. To. Ainz-sama.”
Entoma nodded disinterestedly.
“Then… Will. You. Be. Returning?’
“No. I was given instructions to observe the outcome of this battle.”
So she was to be an observer, then.
Cocytus’ blood boiled as he realised the importance of his task.
Then, it was about time to begin.
Cocytus cast [Message], and gave his orders to the commander of the undead army.
♦ ♦ ♦
Two bonfires blazed on either side of the raised platform, bathing the surroundings in flickering light.
On the platform were several Lizardmen, including the chiefs, leaders and other important figures from each tribe.
Before the platform were many battle-ready Lizardmen. The clamor from them rose and fell like the tide. It stemmed from their unease, worry and fear — they struggled to hide all these emotions, but they could not hide the quaking in their hearts.
This was the eve of battle. The friends beside them might become corpses in an instant, or they themselves might fall in combat. They would soon be heading to the cruel place that was the battlefield.
Shasuryu Shasha stepped forward from the assembled chiefs and interrupted their commotion.
“Gathered Lizardmen, heed me!”
A majestic voice rang through the air. It silenced the immediate surroundings and made Shasuryu’s words sound exceptionally resonant.
“I confess that our enemy is numerous.”
Nobody made a sound, but everybody could sense the tremors in the air.
After a brief pause, Shasuryu spoke again.
“But there is no need to fear! For the first time in our history, the Five Tribes have come together as one! Through our alliance, we are now one tribe! Therefore, the ancestors of the Five Tribes will watch over us — even the spirits from other tribes will protect us!”
At this command, Crusch stepped forward, at the head of the priests from the Five Tribes, and then she shucked her clothing to reveal her white scales.
“This is Crusch Lulu, the leader of the High Priests!”
Crusch took another step forward as Shasuryu called her by name.
“Summon the ancestors upon us!”
“—Listen well, children of the Great Tribe!”
How would this newly-formed tribe turn out?
With an iron determination in her voice, Crusch went on and on. At times her voice was high-pitched, at times it was low-pitched, at times it sounded like she was growling, and at times it sounded like she was singing.
At first, almost everyone was repulsed by Crusch the albino. However, after seeing her unwavering confidence, that distaste gradually vanished.
Crusch’s body swayed gently as she spoke, Her white scales glittered in the light of the bonfire — the reflected light making it seem as though the spirits of the ancestors had descended upon Crusch.
There were looks of worshipful awe on everyone’s faces.
“Now that the Five Tribes are one, it means the spirits of the Five Tribes will protect us all! Behold, ladies and gentlemen! Witness the advent of the numberless ancestors through the generations as they take their place beside you!”
Crusch forcefully cast open her arms and pointed to the sky. Everyone looked up, but all they saw was an expanse of ordinary night sky. There was no spirits descending or anything.
However, someone muttered something.
“Isn’t there a light there?”
The faint voice grew louder, and several Lizardmen added, “I see it”. Someone said they saw a faint light, someone shouted about a Lizardmen, someone muttered about a gigantic fish, someone exclaimed that there was a child there, and someone muttered incredulously about an egg.
There was only one thing within the hearts of the Lizardmen — that the spirits of their ancestors really were with them.
“The spirits have come to protect us!”
Thus, it only made sense that someone shouted exactly that.
“Feel it! Feel their power entering your bodies!”
Crusch’s voice seemed to speak directly to their souls. It sounded like it was coming from a faraway place and very close by at the same time.
As the Lizardmen heard her voice, they felt some kind of strength filling them.
“Feel it! Feel the strength which the ancestors of the Five Tribes have gifted you!”
Now, all the Lizardmen here definitely felt it.
They could feel the intense power within them. This sense of hot-bloodedness wiped away their prior unease; their bodies glowed from within with warmth, as though they had just drunk wine.
This was certain proof that the spirits of the ancestors had descended to the mortal realm.
Crusch turned her eyes away from the crowd of intoxicated-looking Lizardmen, and nodded to Shasuryu.
“Hear me, all you Lizardmen. The ancestors are now with us. The enemy outnumbers us, but will we lose?”
The air shook as the Lizardmen — with vaguely drunken looks on their faces — answered Shasuryu in unison.
“That’s right! Now that the spirits of the ancestors are with us, there’s no way we can lose! Let us defeat the foe and offer this victory to them!”
Everyone’s morale was through the roof. In place of the uneasy Lizardmen from earlier were now warriors hungry for battle.
This was not the effect of charm magic. Even with this many druids, they did not have the luxury of casting spells on everyone here before the battle started.
Rather, this was the result of the special beverage the Lizardmen had drunk before this ceremony began.
Said beverage was a recipe passed down through the generations, which gave its drinkers courage. It was made with herbs which induced a brief period of intoxication, euphoria and hallucinations in those who consumed it.
The net result was a state of altered perception.
Crusch’s spiel had been intended to buy time for the effects to kick in.
When one knew the truth, it hardly seemed impressive at all. However, for the people witnessing this spectacle with their own eyes — in other words, the Lizardmen who saw the proof that their ancestors were walking with them — this ritual ignited the courage within them.
“Then, we shall begin applying the warpaint. Originally, every tribe would have their own color, but now that the spirits of the Five Tribes reside within us all, we shall use the colors of each tribe for everyone!”
Several priests took up clay pots and walked among the Lizardmen.
The Lizardmen decorated themselves using the paint from the pots. They believed that the ancestor spirits within them were guiding their hands, so they let their fingertips wander freely, tracing designs all over their bodies.
Many of them painted their entire bodies, possibly thanks to this “advent”. However, almost none of the Green Claw Lizardmen applied paint to themselves. This was because Zaryusu, Shasuryu and the elite members of the tribes had not done so. In other words, it was a form of idol worship.
After looking around and satisfying himself that everyone was done, Zaryusu drew his greatsword and pointed it at the village gate.
Countless roars rang through the air.
The troops from the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick were divided into two groups and stationed in the swamp.
The Zombie division was on the Lizardmen’s left flank, while the Skeleton division was on their right. The Skeleton Archers and Skeleton Riders were stationed behind the other Skeletons.
The Beast Zombies were kept in the rear, as though they were a command company.
The Lizardmen facing them were also divided into two forces, despite their comparatively thin numbers. The hunters and the females were on the Zombies’ side, while the males and warriors were on the Skeletons’ side. Meanwhile, the priests remained within the village, defended by the walls.
The Lizardmen had come out of the village because they knew that there was no point in laying up for a siege. There was no help coming for them, and the walls were anything but sturdy. In addition, the enemy was an army of the dead, who did not need rations or rest.
Given these deeply unfavorable circumstances, a siege was a very bad idea.
However, once the Lizardmen had formed up outside, they keenly understood the tremendous disparity between their forces and those of the enemy.
A situation where one faced three could still be compared to that of 10 facing 30. But if 1000 had to fight 3000, the vast difference in their respective strengths became very apparent. Even if 3000 undead beings did nothing but stand in ranks, they were still a very intimidating sight.
Despite the circumstances, the Lizardmen did not show any signs of fear. Their ancestors were with them now — numbers counted for nothing to them.
Soon, the undead forces began a slow advance. The Zombies and Skeletons began to move, while the Skeleton Archers and Skeleton Riders remained where they stood. Perhaps they were being held in reserve.
The Lizardmen advanced as well.
The wetlands echoed with an ear-piercing shout, accompanied by the sound of countless splashes. Water was churned into foam and dirt flew everywhere.
The two armies continued advancing, until they were on the verge of a ferocious clash. However, an abnormality arose in the Nazarick army.
The Zombies and the Skeletons had begun their advance together, but as they moved forward, they gradually drew apart. This was because the Zombies were slow while the Skeletons were swift. In addition, the wetlands were very difficult terrain.
When slow monsters like Zombies were mired down in mud, their movements became even slower. However, agile monsters like Skeletons were not as badly affected.
Therefore, the first engagement was between the Skeletons and the Lizardmen warriors.
The Lizardmen employed no formations, simply crashing into the Skeletons. There was no art in their technique; they simply swung whenever they saw an enemy.
Leading the way were the five Head Warriors of the various tribes. To some extent, it was foolish for a commander to lead from the front. However, they were the highest-ranked warriors of their respective tribes, and morale would suffer if they did not fight at the head of their troops. Instead, the Lizardmen were all in high spirits.
They were backed by 89 armored warriors from the Sharp Tail tribe. They wore hide armor and carried hide shields, and they possessed the highest defensive strength of any group among the tribes.
They raised their shields, charging the Skeleton horde as a single, united wall.
Then, they clashed — the vanguards of the Skeletons and the Lizardmen colliding with each other.
In that moment, countless bones flew in all directions, and the Lizardman squadron tore into the Skeleton horde.
The sounds of carnage shook the heavens and the sounds of bone crunching seemed endless. There were occasional cries of pain, but those were drowned out by the sounds of shattering bone.
The Lizardmen had an incontestable advantage in this first engagement, and the tide of battle favored them.
If the combatants were not Lizardmen, but humans, the opposite would probably be the case.
Skeletons were made of bones, so piercing weapons were almost completely ineffective against them while they resisted slashing weapons to a certain extend. Therefore, human troops — who used blades and swords as their primary weapons — would have a hard time damaging those Skeletons.
The advantage of the Lizardmen stemmed from the fact that they used crude maces and clubs as their primary weapons, which inflicted bludgeoning damage — the bane of Skeletons.
The Lizardmen easily crushed the bony bodies of the Skeletons with every swing of their weapons. Even if they survived one hit, the second would pulverize them. In contrast, the rusty longswords that the Skeletons used were deflected by the tough scales and hides of the Lizardmen. While some of them were hurt, nobody sustained any fatal wounds.
This was the first charge.
Almost 500 Skeletons lay in fragments from that clash alone.
♦ ♦ ♦
Cocytus’ jaw dropped as he stared at the vision within the mirror.
This was only the first time they had stood toe to toe, but the strength of the Lizardmen had exceeded his expectations. As an excellent warrior himself, Cocytus possessed a degree of insight into the strength of his enemy.
It was true that as individuals, the Skeletons were clearly weaker than the Lizardmen and they had no hope of victory. However, their numbers should have compensated for that weakness.
Even so, this outcome had taken place. What was the meaning of this? It made him wonder if they Lizardmen had been strengthened by some other power.
In all likelihood, only the Skeleton Archers and Skeleton Riders could claim victory over the Lizardmen as they were now.
The Skeletons crumbled one after the other as he watched the battle. The Skeletons and Zombies would probably only serve to sap their opponents’ stamina.
At this rate, the only effective troops we have are the 300 Beast Zombies, the 150 Skeleton Archers and the 500 Skeleton Riders. The weight of numbers is now against us.
Cocytus calculated the odds in his mind. .
The undead were strong, especially in extended battles; almost nobody could beat them at that. The undead did not feel anything — not fear, not pain, not fatigue, or the need for sleep.
The advantages those characteristics bestowed in warfare hardly needed to be stated.
For instance, if one swung a mace at the head of a living creature, there was a high chance said creature would die, or if it survived, it would bleed profusely and suffer great pain. The person receiving the attack would naturally lose the will to fight. Of course, an exception had to be made for warriors who had been trained to endure great pain, but most people would not want to fight on.
That was a perfectly natural reaction from living beings.
But what about the undead?
Crack their skulls? They would continue attacking while they leaked their brains with every blow.
Break their arms? They would keep attacking with their shattered limbs.
Chop off their legs? They would crawl to launch the next attack.
Indeed, as long as the negative energy which served as their lifeforce was not depleted, the undead would keep fighting. As long as the conditions for instant death were not met — decapitation was quite a common one for most low-tier undead beings — they would not lose the will to fight like humans would. In other words, the undead were perfect soldiers.
It could not be denied that the Lizardmen were currently superior, going by individual strength. However, that state of affairs might not carry one.
Cocytus’ opinion of the Lizardmen went up by a notch, and he concluded that they were not a foe which could be instantly destroyed. That being the case, he had to draw out the battle.
“Should. We. Pull. Back. And. Wait. For. A. Chance. To. Launch. Another. Attack?”
“Your servant feels that would be the wisest move.”
“Your servant is of the opinion that it would be better to mobilize the archers and cavalry.”
“No, no, we should continue the attack until the enemy is exhausted.”
“But what good does it do to exhaust the foe? If we cannot smash their headquarters, the enemy will eventually recover their strength.”
“Indeed. The enemy seems to have a strong defense, but they are hiding behind those fragile walls. What about taking the village and then encircling them?”
After listening to his servants’ responses, Cocytus picked up the [Message] scroll and glanced at Entoma, trying to read her expression.
Entoma looked disinterestedly at the mirror. She produced a green biscuit from somewhere and brought it to her chin, and soon, the sounds of crunching echoed through the room. That attitude seemed to be saying that she was unconcerned about the events that were unfolding. Perhaps that was why she had no expression on her face.
—No, that expressionless face was nothing more than a decoration.
Cocytus thought about her true nature, and realised that trying to read her expression was a foolish gesture.
She was a Familiar Eater. Even Cocytus’ friend, Kyouhukou of the Five Worsts in Nazarick, had bluntly stated that “she is a most frightening person”. That was her true nature.
Cocytus abandoned the plan of trying to divine her thoughts by reading her face and unfurled the scroll, sending a [Message] to the army’s commander.
♦ ♦ ♦
“—Are they looking down on us?” Zenberu muttered. He did so quietly, but it was still loud enough that everyone watching the enemy from the wall could hear it.
“They aren’t mobilizing their archers or cavalry. That makes me think that they’re looking down on us.”
“Yes, I thought they’d come at us all at once…”
“Zombie fight, going well.”
There were only 45 hunters fighting the zombies. They launched hit and run attacks with thrown stones, slowly drawing the Zombies away from the Skeletons. The females slowly moved to a position where they could flank the Skeletons.
“Don’t you think their movements are very suspicious?”
The Zombies were not so much diverted as completely distracted by the hunters. Would any commander permit such movements? No, it should not have been possible, yet the Zombies were moving as described. That being the case, what did the enemy have in mind? Nobody present had any idea.
“I don’t quite understand what they’re doing.”
“Mm, I’m with Shasuryu.”
No matter how hard thought about it, they did not feel there was any particular significance to the Zombies’ movements.
After observing for a while longer, Zaryusu shared his thoughts with the others.
“Could it be that there’s no commander?”
“No commander…? Ah, do you mean to say that the undead have been acting on the orders they were given at the beginning of the battle?”
The lowest-tiered undead like Zombies and Skeletons did not possess intelligence. Therefore, giving them orders at the appropriate moment was the best way of commanding them. However, the Zombies and other enemies seemed to have received orders to kill any nearby Lizardmen. That was what they were getting at.
“In other words, the enemy thought they could beat us by sheer weight of numbers… no, could it be that this battle is just to see how well they can fight without a commander?”
“Seems that way.”
“Bastards! Are they fucking with us?!”
It was Shasuryu, not Zenberu, who was cursing. Even Shasuryu could not tolerate this sort of thing. After all, the Lizardmen were all betting their lives on this.
“Calm down, Shasuryu. We don’t know if that’s the case yet.”
“Mm, sorry… though I guess it’s good that we’re doing well so far.”
“Nii-san, you’re right, because we need to cut down the enemies’ numbers as much as possible right now.”
Battle was a very fatiguing activity, and a pitched melee was unimaginably taxing on one’s mental strength. On a battlefield where one did not know if the enemy would be coming from the front, rear, left or right, merely swinging one’s weapon a few times was several times more exhausting than normal.
However, the undead did not feel fatigue, and they would continue attacking without respite.
This was the difference between the living and the dead, and as time went by, that difference would become more and more apparent.
In other words, time was the Lizardmen’s enemy.
“Cheh, it would be fine if only I could fight…”
Indeed, if a mighty warrior like Zenberu took the field, they could probably wipe out the Skeletons in moments. However, that would mean revealing their ace in the hole. Zaryusu’s half dozen people was their secret weapon. While they would obviously need to play their trump card in times of emergency, they could not reveal their true power as as long as the situation was not dire and if their greatest foe had not shown up yet.
“Still, if the enemy doesn’t advance, doesn’t that play right into our hands?” Zaryusu told the others, who responded in the affirmative. Then, he turned to Crusch and asked: “Are things still okay on your side?”
“...Yes, and the ritual’s going well too.”
Crusch answered Zaryusu’s question as she looked around the village. The ritual which the priests were conducting in the village might well be another trump card for the Lizardmen. Normally, it would have taken a very long time, but since all the priests of all the tribes were gathered together, it was progressing at a tremendous pace, quickly enough to be used in this battle.”
“So this is the power of cooperation…”
“Mmm… yes. Granted, we did exchange some information after that war in the past… Still, there’s a lot of things I want to do after the war now.”
The other chiefs nodded vigorously at Shasuryu’s suggestion. They had shared a lot of knowledge thanks to this battle, and they had seen with their own eyes the importance of everyone working together towards a common goal. The three chiefs who had allied in the past but not exchanged information were particularly forceful in their agreement.
Zaryusu looked at those five people, and smiled.
“What’s so funny?”
“It’s nothing. I just felt really happy despite our circumstances.
Crusch immediately picked up on what he was thinking.
“—Me too, Zaryusu.”
As he looked on the smiling Crusch, Zaryusu’s eyes narrowed as though she were shining. They had looks of admiration and kindness in their eyes.
It was only natural that they were not embracing. After all, they could not indulge their desires while Lizardmen were dying before them. However, Zaryusu’s and Crusch’s tails seemed like independent creatures as they twitched, occasionally touching and separating.
“Do you know what this situation is, as an older brother?”
“We’ve been completely shut out.”
“Aw, they really do love each other.”
“In short… good to be young, future is bright.”
The four older Lizardmen nodded as they looked on their adorable juniors.
Of course, there was no way Crusch and Zaryusu could not have heard that. Their tails moved and twitched without pause, but they had serious and proper expressions on their faces.
“Ani-ja, the enemy’s making their move.”
Shasuryu and the other chiefs could not help but smile bitterly at the sudden change in Zaryusu’s attitude. At the same time, they cast their eyes toward the enemy formation. The Skeleton Riders were advancing en masse.
“Oi oi oi, don’t tell me they’re heading for us?”
“The cavalry? Are they planning to shake our morale by striking directly at us?”
“No, they should be planning to circle around the warriors and the males and then flank them, right?”
This was bad.
Everyone reached that decisions without words. The mobility of the Skeleton Riders was hard to deal with.
If the Skeleton Riders had moved out at the beginning of the battle, they would have prioritized their destruction. However, the warriors and the male Lizardmen were currently locked in melee combat, the hunters were drawing off the Zombies, and the females were flanking the Skeletons with thrown rocks, so there was precious little manpower left to block the Skeleton Riders.
“It looks like it’ll be better if we make the first move.”
Shasuryu nodded after the Small Fang tribe’s chief spoke.
“The question now is who we should send out… or rather, who we should allow to fight first...”
♦ ♦ ♦
They were lance-wielding Skeletons mounted on Skeletal Horses. They had no special characteristics beyond their enhanced mobility, but said mobility was outstanding on this marshy terrain. Their bodies were made of bone and would not sink too deeply into the mud, which meant that they could advance at the speed of a regular horse.
Nearly a hundred Skeleton Riders were moving forward, intent on circling around behind the Lizardmen to destroy them from behind.
They saw three Lizardmen approaching from their front and left — in other words, from the village — but the Skeleton Riders paid them no heed. They had not received orders to engage them, so they would ignore them as long as they did not attack. Unintelligent undead were such creatures.
Just as they were about to reach the rear of the Lizardman forces, the leading Skeleton Rider’s world was suddenly flipped and turned upside down. The horseman flew far into the air and crashed heavily to the marsh.
A human would have been confused and been unable to act. However, the Skeleton Rider was an unintelligent undead being, and it immediately continued moving to fulfil its orders.
Though it rose quickly, it had been injured, and so it moved with a bit of a limp.
Just then, it was hit by another unhorsed Skeleton Rider, and the shattered bones of the two Skeleton Riders were scattered all over the marsh.
Scenes like this were happening everywhere.
Why had something like this happened on the wide-open wetlands? The answer was simple — it was a trap.
There had been open wooden boxes buried in the marsh, and when the Skeleton Horses stepped into them, they had fallen.
The Skeleton Riders fell one after the other. If they were humans, they would have slowed their pace. However, the Skeleton Riders would not do that. While they had enough judgement to avoid a hole they were aware of, they had no ability to be wary of traps. This was because they had no orders to do so, and no intelligence to allow them to adapt to the situation.
Their headlong rush into the traps looked like a form of mass suicide.
Still, while the traps were very effective, they were ultimately only a delaying measure. They could inflict some damage, but they could not eliminate the Skeleton Riders by themselves. The fallen Skeleton Riders rose to their feet, covered in mud.
Just then, there was a whoosh and the sound of the air parting. Just like that, one of the fallen Skeleton Riders had its head knocked off.
The Skeleton Riders judged this to be enemy action, and looked around.
Just then, another Skeleton Rider’s head flew off its shoulders, shattered like a glass marble.
The Skeleton Riders spotted three Lizardmen about 80 meters away from them. They also saw them launching stones from the slings in their hands, crushing the skulls of the Skeleton Riders—
The Skeleton Riders began moving.
♦ ♦ ♦
At the same time, the battle situation with the Skeletons began to change.
After the sound of countless bowstrings being pulled taut, the sound of arrows filled the air like the falling of rain.
The 150 Skeleton Archers fired at the melee with the Skeletons and the Lizardmen. They did not just discharge one arrow each, but two, three...
The Lizardmen had not expected an arrow storm like that.
Many Lizardmen were hit by arrows and collapsed. They could not fight the Skeletons and block the arrow attacks at the same time.
Of course, the Skeletons were hit by the arrows as well, but they were not hurt.
Using the Skeletons — who were nigh-immune to piercing damage — as screens and then having the Skeleton Archers fire from behind them was a near-perfect strategy. They would have enough time to wipe out all the Lizardmen in the time it would take to bash through the 2000 Skeletons screening them.
The problem was that they had used that tactic too late. If they had opened with that move, the fate of the Lizardmen would have been sealed. They would have been drowned under the overwhelming tide of enemy forces and victory would have been decided. However, the outcome of the battle was largely decided by this point.
The Lizardmen ignored the skeletons Skeletons, and charged the Skeleton Archers in the rear.
150 arrows fell like rain, and several Lizardmen hit the ground as a result. Yet, that was only a small portion of their forces.
The Lizardmen had thick skin and strong scales, so even without armor, they had the same defensive strength as humans in leather armor. Even if an arrow somehow pierced their hides, their thick layer of muscles kept them alive.
In addition, the Skeleton Archers did not have much strength behind their draws. That was another reason why they could not kill the Lizardmen.
The Lizardmen roared fearlessly as they charged. They crossed their arms over their heads as the arrow storm fell upon them, and even if they were impaled by the shafts, they continued regardless.
Three arrows —
This was the most each of the Skeleton Archers managed to loose. If they had any intelligence, they would have fallen back. It would be better if they had retreated momentarily, and then regrouped to fight with the surviving undead troops.
However, the Skeletons’ minds could not process such complicated orders, and such orders had not been given. Therefore, they could only carry out the orders they had been given — keep firing on the Lizardmen even if they got close.
There was a mighty roar — and then the Skeletons and Skeleton Archers alike drowned under the rising tide of Lizardmen. The Skeleton Archers could no longer show their stuff at this range. Their part was to be punching bags for their enemies, and so they fell steadily, in twos and threes.
Currently, the Zombies were still alive, but the Skeletons had been almost completely beaten into the ground.
This was when the enemy sent out new foes.
Those were the Beast Zombies.
These monsters — made from the corpses of wolves, snakes, pythons and so on — combined the strength of Zombies and the agility of wild animals.
The Beast Zombies ran at the Lizardmen. The swift ones surged ahead while the slow ones lagged behind; it was a ragged charge with no formation to speak of.
Attacks from below were unexpectedly hard to avoid. The Beast Zombies would tear at their foes’ legs and finish them off once they were immobilized. It was a truly savage combat technique.
The increasingly fatigued Lizardmen had a hard time warding off these attacks. Several Lizardmen were too slow to avoid having their throats torn out by the Beast Zombies. After seeing their comrades fall, even the ones who had steeled themselves for combat or believed in ancestral protection could not hide the looks of fear on their faces.
The Head Warriors had led their men into the bloody fray, but now they were gradually being forced back. Just as they thought the line of battle would eventually break, the ground before them swelled.
Before them appeared two armless and legless lumps of mud, around 160 cm tall.
The two clumps of mud began moving.
They had no legs, but they moved adroitly and smoothly over the wetlands, towards the Beast Zombies. After closing the distance, the mud-clumps sprouted whips that were longer than them from the places where a human’s arms would have been.
This was one of the trump cards of the Lizardmen, the Swamp Spirits summoned by the combined efforts of all the priests.
The Swamp Spirits charged into the Beast Zombies and attacked with their tentacle-like whip arms, seizing the enemy. Naturally, the Beast Zombies fearlessly counterattacks, slashing with claws and tearing with fangs.
This was a battle between beings that knew no fear. However, the tide turned in favor of the Swamp Spirits, purely because of the difference between their fighting strengths.
The power of their priests had defeated the unliving. This fact rekindled the Lizardmen’s courage, and they rallied for another charge.
A brutal battle ensued.
Unlike the previous fight with the Skeletons, the Lizardmen began to take casualties. However, victory was at hand for the Lizardmen, who had the advantage of numbers.
♦ ♦ ♦
We will lose.
Cocytus understood that much.
There were no intelligent undead among the forces he had been assigned. That was the main cause of their defeat, and something which had worried him from the start, but he had not expected them to be that weak.
Cocytus head ached at his naivete. While there was a way to turn the tables in a situation like this, he did not favor it much, because making that move was tantamount to admitting defeat.
Still, how could he report failure to his master? Cocytus picked up the [Message] scroll. Who should he send this message to...
『Indeed it is, old friend. Why would you contact me? Has something happened?』
A calm, even voice spoke in Cocytus’ mind. Demiurge’s intelligence was top-class in Nazarick. Surely he would have an idea for a situation like this.
On a certain level, Demiurge could also be considered a rival of his, so Cocytus was not too happy about asking him for help. Still, the most important thing was to avoid defeat. How could the armies of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick be beaten in battle? He was willing to cast aside his pride and bow before others for help in order to avoid that outcome.
After hearing a scroll’s worth of explanation about the current situation, Demiurge — who had been listening quietly — sighed in exasperation.
『Then, what do you want me to do?』
“I. Hope. You. Can. Help. Me. Think. Of. Something. If. This. Carries. On. We. Will. Be. Defeated. I. Can. Accept. A. Personal. Defeat. But. I. Cannot. Allow. The. Great. Tomb. Of. Nazarick. — The. Supreme. Beings. — To. Be. Disgraced. In. Such. A. Way.”
『...Do you think Ainz-sama truly wishes for victory?』
“What. Do. You. Mean?”
『I am saying, why do you think Ainz-sama picked out such low-tier fodder for an army?』
Cocytus had harbored his doubts about that point. He had no idea what reason could warrant drafting the dregs of Nazarick into a fighting force.
“...Ainz-sama. Must. Have, His. Own. Motives. But. What. Could. They. Be?”
『...There are several possibilities that come to mind.』
That’s Demiurge for you — Cocytus did not say that, though his respect for the demon grew in silence.
『Let me ask you something, Cocytus. You’ve been there for several days now. Don’t you think you should have gathered intelligence on the Lizardmen?』
He was right. However—
“No, Ainz-sama ordered me to defeat the foe with that force, in a head-on confrontation.”
『That is indeed the case, but I hope you will think carefully on it, Cocytus. The important thing is what sort of results you will show Ainz-sama, am I wrong? If exterminating the village was the objective, then you should have considered the ideal methods for extermination, don’t you think?』
Cocytus had nothing to say, because Demiurge had hit the nail on the head.
『Ainz-sama must have assigned you those servants because he had that in mind.』
“...You. Mean. To. Say. That. Ainz-sana, Deliberately. Assigned. Me. Inadequate. Troops?”
『The possibility is very high. If you had researched the village beforehand, perhaps you would have known that your forces would be insufficient to conquer the village. In that event, you would have told Ainz-sama that, ‘Exterminating the village will be difficult with these forces, I wish to request reinforcements’. That was most likely Ainz-sama’s objective.』
In other words, Demiurge was trying to say that Cocytus had to divine his master’s intent and adapt his methods to the situation, not follow orders blindly.
『This seems to be one of Ainz-sama’s plans to improve the way in which we approach matters, but he seems to have other objectives in mind as well…』
“Other. Objectives?” Cocytus hurriedly asked Demiurge. He had already erred once, and he did not wish to further add to his mistakes.
『Ainz-sama sent messengers to the village, but he did not state Nazarick’s name at all. In addition, he ordered you not to take the field. That being the case—』
Cocytus gulped as he waited for Demiurge to continue speaking. However, Demiurge did not.
『Cocytus! Forgive me, something urgent has cropped up. I apologise, but let’s leave our conversation here. Good luck.』
Demiurge’s words cut off and the [Message] ended.
As Cocytus wondered what would panic a calm person like him, his gaze shifted to someone else seated at a table within the room. He saw Entoma peeling a tattered talisman from her forehead and casting it down.
If she, a talismancer, was using a talisman, that meant—
It was too late for anything else.
That being the case, now was the time to deploy the final undead being, his trump card. However, would that really fulfil his master’s aims?
This might be the first time Cocytus had contemplated his master’s true underlying motives. However, there was only one conclusion he could reach.
Cocytus cast the [Message] spell.
“—Heed me, Elder Lich commander. Attack and show the Lizardmen your power.”
The bony body — dressed in a luxurious but timeworn set of robes — clutched a gnarled staff in one of its hand. Its skin was a thin layer stretched over the skull underneath and it was beginning to rot, and it bore a malevolent intelligence within its eyes. Its body radiated negative energy like a mist which shrouded it.
This undead magic caster was the Elder Lich in question.
After receiving its orders, the undead creature looked over the marsh. Then, it turned to the Bloodmeat Hulks — undead creatures that were masses of red skin and muscle — behind it. To these fellow creations of the same Supreme Being, he gave an order:
“Kill those three Lizardmen.”
Upon receipt of those orders, the two Bloodmeat Hulks lumbered out towards the three Lizardmen who were devastating the Skeleton Riders.
While the Bloodmeat Hulks were low-tier undead who could only attack with brute strength, they possessed the power of regeneration. As a result, it would take a long time to bring them down with physical attacks on their level.
The Elder Lich felt that the Bloodmeat Hulks could buy him enough time.
This could be considered a foolish strategy. The Elder Lich was a magic caster and not used to melee combat, so under normal circumstances, it would have been better to keep the Bloodmeat Hulks by his side.
However, he could not do that now.
His orders were to “Show the Lizardmen your power”. Therefore, he had to proceed alone and destroy the Lizardman headquarters with his overwhelming might.
The Elder Lich advanced. Its face twisted into a fearsome shape as it chuckled.
He felt that this was a piece of cake.
He had been personally made by the Supreme Being Ainz Ooal Gown, and he was far superior to the automatically-spawning Elder Liches in Nazarick. And now, his task was to demonstrate his puissance to the Lizardmen.
He swore to achieve victory by the name his master had given him.
“I, Igva, shall dedicate this triumph to my liege.”
After wiping out the Beast Zombies, the Lizardmen rounded their shoulders in fatigue and breathed sighs of relief. There was anguish on their faces, but at the same time there were faint smiles there.
It was true that they had taken many casualties, but they were lucky only to have sustained that much. If the Swamp Spirits had not joined the fight… no, if they had come in just a little later, their formation would have collapsed and it would have turned into a rout.
“We’re moving out,” shouted the Head Warriors. It was an announcement that they were heading into battle.
Their bodies were weak from fatigue, and just raising their weapons consumed a great deal of effort, to say nothing of actually wielding them. They were bone-tired, but the battle was not yet over.
They had to beware the enemy’s reinforcements even as they eliminated the distant Zombies.
“Alright, get the heavily wounded back to the village, the rest of you form up on us—”
The sound of roaring fire interrupted him.
Searing heat engulfed the surroundings, and the Swamp Spirits at the center of the blaze wavered.
As the flames vanished like they had never been there in the first place, the two Spirits were in terrible shape. A single gout of fire had half-destroyed them.
Before the Lizardmen could cry out in surprise, the fires raged once more. The Spirits could not endure the attacks and disintegrated into the roaring inferno.
As the Swamp Spirits — who had demonstrated incredible power against the Beast Zombies — disappeared without a trace, the Lizardmen’s faces went blank, unable to keep pace with what was happening before them.
What had just happened?
They knew that the Swamp Spirits had been destroyed, but they were desperately trying to deny that reality. That was because if the Swamp Spirits really had been destroyed, it meant that there was a more powerful monster headed their way.
The Lizardmen looked around in confusion and also to hide their fear. Just as they spotted an undead being in the distance, a fireball once more flew from its hand.
The head-sized ball of flame soared through the air in a straight line and flew into the leader squad of the Lizardman troops.
Under normal circumstances, flames would vanish upon contact with water. However, this fireball was a magical phenomenon and defied that logic. When the fireball touched the water, it was as though it had struck a hard surface. A roaring cyclone of flame blossomed from the point of impact.
The fiery explosion consumed several Lizardmen — and then faded away.
Was this an illusion? — that thought vanished in an instant. The smell of charred meat wafting in the air and the bodies of Lizardmen slumped on the ground was real enough.
The undead creature advanced with unhurried steps, so elegant that one might take it for arrogance. That was the stride of a mighty being, fully confident in its power.
As the Lizardmen hesitated about whether they should rush it with an all-out attack, just like how they had destroyed the Skeleton Archers, another fireball flew at them.
The fireball exploded violently, claiming the lives of all the Lizardmen around it in an instant.
This was overwhelming power. It made people think that everything which had happened just now was little more than a game.
The Lizardmen shouted to clear the fear from their hearts. Just as several Lizardmen charged recklessly ahead, a cold, clear voice spoke from what seemed like an unthinkably great distance:
That was all their foe said. The onrushing Lizardmen were incinerated by a ball of flame before they could scream.
The undead being took a step forward, and over a hundred Lizardmen immediately took one step back. The disparity between their powers was like a high wall which forced the Lizardmen to retreat.
A strident, electrifying cry filled the air. The voice belonged to one of the Head Warriors.
“That one’s different from the ones before him! We can’t take him!”
That much was true. The majestic sight of the Elder Lich slowly advancing by itself was an awesome one. It made the Lizardmen feel as though a mighty wind was blowing across their skin.
“Go inform the chiefs and Zaryusu about this.”
“We’ll try to buy time!”
Another fireball exploded, and several more Lizardmen lay upon the ground.
“Run! Go tell them!”
The five Head Warriors ordered the Lizardmen to flee, and at the same time they judged the distance between them. They were spacing themselves out so even when a fireball burst, at least one of them would be able to close the gap to the enemy. It was a suicidal tactic designed to accomplish that objective.
After spreading themselves out, the five of them looked at each other, and then sprinted.
The enemy was roughly 100 meters away. They despaired at the distance separating them, but even so, they ran with all their might. That was because even if they perished halfway, their deaths would still give the chiefs and Zaryusu information they could use.
♦ ♦ ♦
The Lizardmen who had effortlessly held off the enemy came running back like a flock of frightened birds.
Zaryusu calmly observed that sight. No, ever since that powerful foe appeared, he had been scrutinizing its every movement. His attention was focused on the undead being that could cast the killing fire.
Its movements were completely different from the mindless foes from before. In all likelihood, that was the enemy commander.
As the undead creature closed to within 100 meters of the five Head Warriors, it began using [Fireball] to execute area-of-effect attacks. This forced them to scatter, and it seemed intent on burning the Head Warriors to death during their run.
“Looks like it’s time for us to take the field.”
Zaryusu nodded at Zenberu’s words. Crusch signalled her agreement as well. She was aware that this might well be a battle where they might all meet a glorious end.
“Yes, it’s time for us to go. Its power is shocking. Our foe might well be the personal subordinate of that Supreme One, or the commander of this army… Even if it’s not, it must surely be a trump card of some sort.”
“Indeed. Nobody can control multiple undead of such a level. But how shall we make our move? It seems a bit too far away for us.”
Crusch’s question gave Zaryusu a headache.
They were not fighting to die, so they had to plan around that.
Zaryusu and Zenberu could not attack at range, so they had to close in for a melee. The problem now lay in the 100 meters between them and the enemy.
Zaryusu and the others could probably take one or two [Fireballs] with ease, but they would probably take more than just one or two such hits before reaching their opponent, and the true struggle would begin once they got to it. It was not hard to see how the enemy would repulse them if they tried a frontal assault while taking fireball attacks.
“That distance fills me with despair.”
“Yeah… you got that right. To think a hundred meters could feel so far away...:”
Zaryusu and friends wondered how they could reach the enemy with no or minimal damage.
“How about burrowing through the ground?”
“If we used priestly powers… it’d still be hard. If we could use [Invisibility]...”
They could probably close the gap instantly by going invisible and using the [Fly] spell. However, druids could not learn to use such magic.
“Then how about making a shield and advancing with it held before us?”
“Making a shield would take too long.”
“How about tearing one of the houses down and using it as a shield?”
Zenberu smiled bitterly as he realised the futility of the words he had just spoken. The enemy attacked with explosive fireballs. Even if it was blocked, the searing temperatures would still scorch them from the side. There was no time now to make a full-body shield which could withstand high temperatures.
“Ah, yes… we can still do that.”
“What is it, Zaryusu?” Crusch asked nervously, feeling a little afraid. Is my face so scary, Zaryusu wondered. Still, it could not be helped. After all, he was so stressed-out that he wanted to scream.
“A shield, you say… I think I just found one..”
♦ ♦ ♦
Igva nodded, pleased with himself and the present situation.
Things were going very well. The Bloodmeat Hulks were still fighting, but he had successfully advanced to the village.
Several stupid Lizardmen had tried to attack him, but after seeing the power of his [Fireballs], they realized that resistance was futile. The most successful attackers were the five who had split up to rush him, but even they had only managed to get within 50 meters of him.
Igva walked on in silence, like he was strolling through an empty wasteland. While he pitied the weak Lizardmen — albeit in a mocking fashion — it would not do to be careless.
He was close to the village, his objective. Once there, he intended to continuously launch [Fireballs] to destroy the Lizardmen with their village.
However, the Lizardmen would probably try to stop him from reaching his destination. That would mean it was about time for the next counterattack.
Igva looked to the village, and his suspicions were vindicated.
“...Oh, I see.”
Igva saw a Hydra coming at him.
If that was their ace in the hole, then the Lizardmen would lose the will to fight once he crushed it with overwhelming force. If that happened, he would be able to destroy the village more easily.
For safety’s sake, Igva looked around, then checked the sky, and halted only after verifying that there were no traces of the enemy. He leisurely waited for the Hydra to enter his attack range.
As the Hydra reached the edge of said range, it began to sprint. As expected, it was heading straight for Igva.
“How foolish. Did you think you could crawl all the way to me with that slothful speed of yours? Well, beasts will be beasts.”
With a mocking smile on his face, Igva conjured a [Fireball] in his hand and launched it at the Hydra.
It flew in a straight line and struck the Hydra dead center. The searing fires which emerged consumed the Hydra.
However, the Hydra continued forward, albeit a little shaky. It continued running, though it was wreathed in flames… no, the flames had gone out in an instant, so Igva must have been seeing things. That said, the sight before him spoke of the Hydra’s extraordinary willpower.
Igva frowned in displeasure. The fact that it could withstand one of his magical attacks was a blow to his pride.
While it was true that the Hydra seemed to have been enchanted with a defensive spell to reduce the damage it had taken, said defensive spell was not of a high tier and could not completely nullify his magic.
...If I recall correctly, Hydras have the ability of fast healing… but it shouldn’t be able to withstand flame attacks. In any case, it’s a beast, so it should be full of vitality. In that case, it makes sense that it could take a hit.
That reasoning comforted Igva somewhat, but it could not douse the flames of rancor within his heart. Igva was a special monster who had been personally created by the Supreme Being Ainz Ooal Gown — the fact that this creature had not died in one hit was an insult to his master.
With cold eyes that were the polar opposite of the anger smoldering within him, Igva studied the oncoming Hydra.
“...How displeasing. Die!”
He cast another fireball at the Hydra, and the roaring flames engulfed its body. For a moment he even thought he could smell its flesh charring from the distance. Even if his foe had not taken a fatal wound, surely it would hesitate over whether or not to continue forward.
“—Why is it not stopping? Why does it persist?”
Rororo continued its single-minded sprint forward. Its body was large, but it was running in the marsh, so its speed was about the same as that of a Lizardman. Water splashed in all directions and a liquid cacophony echoed all around it.
Its amber eyes had turned cloudy from the great heat, and two of its four heads hung powerlessly.
Even so, it continued sprinting forward.
Another [Fireball] came, striking Rororo’s body. The thermal energy contained within the [Fireball] exploded forth and washed all over it. The pain was like being beaten all over its body; its eyes felt drier than ever before, and the superheated air seared its lungs.
Its entire body was burned, and the agony that had been wracking Rororo from just now told it that if it continued, its very life was forfeit.
Even so — it continued running.
It ran on.
It continued forward, never stopping. The high temperatures stripped the scales from its skin and causing blood-spurting blisters to blossom upon it, but even so it carried on, straight ahead.
An unintelligent beast would naturally have turned and fled, but Rororo did not do so.
Rororo was a magical beast called a Hydra.
There were many kinds of magical beasts. Some possessed greater intelligence than a human being and some were little more enlightened than an average animal. Frankly speaking, Rororo belonged to the latter category.
The fact that Rororo — who possessed the wits of an average beast — would continue forward, on the verge of death, towards Igva, the source of its pain was entirely unexpected, nearly impossible to understand.
Indeed, even its opponent Igva found it difficult to understand. He wondered if Rororo was under the influence of some magical control.
However, that was not the case.
Indeed, that was not the answer.
Igva would not be able to understand it.
Rororo - possessed of an animal’s intelligence — was running with all its might for its kin.
Rororo had never seen its parents, yet Hydras were not the sort of creatures to abandon their offspring. Beasts of their kind would live with one of their parents until a certain age, learning how to survive in the wild. But then, why did this not apply to Rororo?
That was because Rororo was a mutant. Normal Hydras had eight heads when born, and as they grew older, they sprouted more heads, to a maximum of twelve.
However, Rororo only had four heads at birth, so its parents had abandoned it, taking its siblings with them.
Without the protection of its parents, even a young Hydra — who might someday grow into a powerful creature — would surely perish in the harsh environs of nature.
That is, if a certain Lizardman had not passed by and picked it up.
—And so, Rororo gained kin — a father, a mother, and a close friend, all rolled into one.
As Rororo’s mind was about to break under the agony, it recalled a question it had always pondered in the past.
Why was its body so big? Why did it have so many heads?
It occasionally thought that as it looked at the dear parent who had raised it. As a result, Rororo had also thought of something else.
Perhaps one day some of its heads might fall off, and its body might slowly sprout limbs like grass growing, and it would look like its parent.
And if that really happened — what would it ask for?
Yes. They had not slept together in a long time, so perhaps it would ask to curl up and nap together. It had always felt lonely because it had become too big and they had to sleep apart.
The flames felt like they were burning away Rororo’s thoughts. They filled his vision and the agony shot through his body once more. It moaned in pain as the anguish washed over it. It felt a comforting warmth from behind it, but it was nothing compared to the fire consuming Rororo.
Rororo felt as though it were being smashed by countless iron hammers.
It hurt so much that it could no longer think.
Rororo’s legs seized up, signalling to the rest of the creature that it should stop moving forward.
However — was that really enough to make Rororo stop?
—No. It did not stop.
Rororo continued advancing. Its pace had slowed. Its muscles were burnt and stiff, and it could not continue running at its usual pace.
It suffered with every step it took.
It was difficult to breathe. Just drawing breath was hard. Perhaps its lungs had been scorched.
Even so, it did not stop.
Now, only one of its heads could still move. The other motionless heads were little more than dead weight. The sight of the undead creature conjuring another fireball in its hand was a blurred scene in Rororo’s cloudy vision.
Its animal instincts allowed it to realize something.
If it took another hit, it would die. However, Rororo was not afraid. Without stopping, without ceasing, it forged bravely ahead—
This was a request from its father, mother and friend. Therefore it would never stop.
Just as Rororo desperately — and tiredly — dragged itself forward, a crimson ball of fire flew forth once more from an undead hand. It soared through the air and headed straight for Rororo.
There was no doubt that this last attack would consume Rororo in flames. It was an undeniable fact.
It would die.
It would be the end of everything.
Indeed — that was only if the aforementioned Lizardman did not step in.
How could he watch Rororo die before him?
How could he permit such unfairness to occur?
That was impossible—
Zaryusu shouted as he leapt from behind Rororo, swinging Frost Pain as he ran beside it.
The air before the swing froze in an instant, forming a wall of white mist. This was a gout of supercooled air; the frozen wind of Frost Pain.
That was one of Frost Pain’s abilities.
That was a special move which could only be used three times a day — [Icy Burst]. It snap-froze everything in an area in front of it and caused massive damage.
The wall of frozen fog was solid, and it blocked the oncoming [Fireball]. The orb of ardent flame met the wall of chill mist — by the laws of magic, allowing them to collide was the wisest choice.
The scorching flames burst forth, warring with the frozen mist of ivory.
It seemed as though two serpents, one white and one red, were trying to consume each other. After a moment’s resistance, both powers vanished.
The undead creature was shocked, and its surprise showed on its face. That was a natural reaction to seeing the dissipation of the spell it had discharged.
There was still some distance between both parties. However, they could already see each others’ faces — and movements. Rororo’s effort and determination had crossed the seemingly untraversable distance between them and brought the three of them unharmed to this place.
Zaryusu choked up. In the end, Zaryusu picked the most appropriate words he could think of from his vocabulary — a simple, easily understood phrase.
As he left those shouted thanks with Rororo, Zaryusu charged forward without looking back, trailed by Zenberu and Crusch.
An almost inaudible croak answered him. It was the sound of encouragement for its kin.
♦ ♦ ♦
Igva stared in silence. His [Fireball] had been countered, and he could not stop himself from expressing his disbelief in words.
“This cannot be!”
Igva prepared to cast another spell. Naturally, it was still a [Fireball]. He was not prepared to acknowledge that the Lizardmen charging at him had actually neutralized his magic.
The launched [Fireball] streaked at the three Lizardmen.
The leading Lizardman swung its sword and blocked the [Fireball] with a wall of freezing mist, and both vanished together. Yes, the same thing as just now had happened—
“Bring it on! I’ll cancel out everything you throw at me!”
The Lizardman’s furious cry entered his ears.
Igva went “cheh” in displeasure.
To think a mere Lizardman could deflect a spell from me, a creation of the Supreme Being Ainz-sama!
Igva worked to suppress his boiling anger.
It was quite likely that he could not use [Fireball] any more. However, the fact that his opposition had taken shelter behind the Hydra and approached meant that there was a probably a limit to the number of times that ability could be used. Still, he did not know if it could be used ten times, or if every use would only deplete stamina — meaning that with the appropriate recovery, it could be used without limit.
How should I deal with this? I’d like to verify his words, if possible...
Igva could still discharge [Fireballs], but he could not tell how much of the Lizardman’s words were truth or bravado.
Less than 40 meters separated Igva from the Lizardmen.
In addition, the Lizardman charging him looked like a warrior. As an undead magic caster, Igva did not wish to be drawn into a melee.
Therefore, his [Fireballs] could no longer be used. He was not stupid enough to actually test how many more times his opponent could block his techniques under the circumstances. If only they had not hid behind that Hydra — that is to say, if they had not yet closed the gap — he might have attempted to verify their claims. However, that damnable Hydra had ruined that chance.
“Damn… a mere Hydra.”
Igva cursed, and decided on his next move.
“—Then, how about this?”
By coincidence, his foes had strung themselves out into a straight line. Igva extended a ginger and pointed at the three Lizardmen who were pressing in. Electricity crackled around that digit.
“Taste my [Lightning]!”
A stream of white electricity flashed forward, and then —
♦ ♦ ♦
Zaryusu was still some distance away, but he could see the white light coruscating around Igva’s finger — [Lightning].
Frost Pain’s [Icy Burst] could defend against cold- and fire-elemental attacks, but Zaryusu had never used it against lightning strikes, and he did not know if it would work.
Then, would it be wiser to take a risk, or fan out to disperse the enemy’s targets and minimize the damage taken?
Zaryusu gripped Frost Pain tightly.
He could feel the electrical surge in the air, the proof that the lightning strike was aimed at him.
“Leave it to me—!”
Zenberu acted faster than Zaryusu could, and leapt forward with a great cry. The spell discharged at the same time.
“[Uooooh — [Resistance Massive]!”
Just when it seemed that the lightning bolt was about to pierce Zenberu, his body instantly pumped up. In the end, the electrical discharge which should have pierced him and the two people behind him was scattered and deflected.
This was a monk ability, which used ki discharged from the entire body to reduce magical damage.
It was a technique Zenberu had learned during his travels, after losing to Frost Pain’s [Icy Burst] in the past. The technique could be used to defend against any spell which did damage, even if it did so in an area..
Both sides gasped in surprise, but Zaryusu and Crusch — who believed in their comrade — were not overly shocked by this. Thus, while the undead magic caster reeled in surprise, the Lizardmen drew ever closer.
As he dashed forth, Zaryusu suddenly realised something.
If he had used [Icy Burst] during his duel with Zenberu, that move would have been countered by this technique, and Zenberu would have used the opening to defeat him. Perhaps that was why he had been trying to get Zaryusu to use that move on him.
“Haha! Like falling off a log!”
Zaryusu smiled at Zenberu’s confident voice, but his face tightened up almost immediately afterwards. That was because Zaryusu could hear an undercurrent of pain in his voice.
If even a Lizardman like Zenberu could not hold back his pain, that implied his wounds were not light. In addition, if that technique had no weaknesses, he would not have agreed to the plan of hiding behind Rororo.
Zaryusu looked ahead. Less than 20 meters separated them from their enemy. The great distance between them had shrunk that far.
♦ ♦ ♦
As they drew closer, Igva realised that the people before him were powerful opponents, not to be taken lightly. The fact that they could counter his spells was worthy of praise. Of course, he had other ways to attack, but now he had to give some consideration to defense.
“You are excellent sacrifices; perfectly qualified for me to demonstrate my power.”
Igva smiled coldly as he cast his spell.
“[Summon Undead 4th].”
Amidst a spray of bubbles, four skeletons emerged from the marsh to defend Igva, each holding round shields and curved swords. These undead were called Skeleton Warriors, and they were in a completely different league from regular Skeletons.
While he could have summoned other undead, he had chosen the Skeleton Warriors in order to resist cold attacks. Igva and other skeletal creatures like him were immune to cold damage.
Protected by his bodyguard squad, Igva looked down upon the approaching enemy. It was the attitude of a reigning champion awaiting a challenger.
The two of them finally drew near each other.
Only ten meters separated them now.
They were only that far apart now. Yes, that was all the distance separating them. After making sure that the undead would not immediately launch an attack, he glanced behind himself..
He looked at the distance they had travelled. It was very close if all they had to do was run it, but that 100 meters was a killing field without any cover. Without Rororo, Frost Pain, Zenberu or Crusch, he would never have been able to come this far. One could say it was as difficult as trying to ascend into the heavens. However, he had covered that gap, and he was within reach of his foe.
They had overcome that distance together.
As Zaryusu saw the Lizardmen take Rororo back to the village, he breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Then he chastised himself for his moment of laxity, and looked back at the undead before him.
Zaryusu could frankly admit that these were fearsome foes.
If he had encountered them under different circumstances, he would have immediately elected to flee upon sighting them from far away. Just by standing before them, his instincts were screaming at him to flee, and even his tail was standing on end. From the corner of his eye, Zaryusu noted that Zenberu and Crusch’s tails were exhibiting similar reactions to his left and right.
The two of them must be thinking the same thing as Zaryusu. Indeed — they were fighting the urge to flee as they faced the undead before them.
Zaryusu swished his tail, swatting them across the back.
The two of them looked at Zaryusu with looks of surprise on their faces.
“We can beat them if the three of us work together,” Zaryusu said simply.
“Well said, Zaryusu. We can win.”
Crusch used her tail to caress the spot on her back where Zaryusu had swatted her.
“Ha, now that would be something, wouldn’t it?!” Zenberu laughed, a look of pride on his face.
And so, the three of them travelled the final stretch to their enemy.
—The distance between both sides was eight meters.
On one hand were Zaryusu and gang, who had run all the way here and were panting. Facing them were the undead, who did not breathe. Their eyes met, and the enemy spoke first.
“I am Igva, an Elder Lich under the banner of the Supreme One. Bow before me and I will grant you a quick and painless death.”
Zaryusu could not help but smile, because this undead being called Igva knew nothing.
No matter how hard he thought, there was only one answer.
Zaryusu was smiling, but Igva was not displeased. Instead, he quietly awaited their answer. Igva was knew his strength, and he was confident that he could eliminate Zaryusu and his companions. That was why his attitude was one of superiority and even a bit of gratitude — after all, they had come all this way to deliver themselves to him.
“Tell me your answer.”
“Kuku, well, if you really want to know…”
Zaryusu raised Frost Pain and gripped it tightly. Zenberu raised his fists, taking a special fighting stance. Crusch made no special movements, but she touched the wellspring of mana within her, prepared to cast a spell at any moment.
“Then, here’s my answer — dream on!”
The Skeleton Warriors considered that response to be hostility, and they raised their swords while covering themselves with their shields.
“Then prepare to die in incomparable agony, knowing that you have rejected my final mercy!”
“I was about to say, the dead ought to get their asses back to the underworld, Igva!”
At this moment, the curtain rose on the climax of the battle which would determine the outcome of this conflict.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Get him, Zaryusu!”
Zenberu charged before anyone else, striking at a Skeleton Warrior.
He did not care that the Skeleton Warrior blocked his blow with its shield; he simply shoved it back with sheer brute force. The shield buckled inwards, and the backpedalling Skeleton Warrior collided into the other Skeleton Warriors and they lost their balance. He also attempted to swat at another Skeleton Warrior with his tail, but it failed to connect.
The formation of Skeleton Warriors buckled under Zenberu’s onslaught, and Zaryusu immediately filled the gap they had vacated.
Two Skeleton Warriors swung at Zaryusu with their curved blades as they heard Igva’s command.
He could have avoided them if he wanted to. If he wanted to take the blows head on, he could have blocked them with Frost Pain. However, Zaryusu did neither. Evasion meant that he would slow down, and he did not want to make such a pointless move in front of Igva.
Besides, somebody else had already made a move—
The mud lashed out like whips, entangling the two Skeleton Warriors. Said whips of mud seemed like iron chains; they immobilized the Skeleton Warriors as Zaryusu took advantage of the opening.
Yes — Crusch was there too.
Zaryusu was not fighting alone. He could entrust himself to his comrades.
Even Crusch’s magic could not completely seal off her enemies’ movements. The Skeleton Warriors’ blades grazed Zaryusu. However, those injuries meant nothing to him; the boiling hot blood within his soul disregarded the concept of pain.
Zaryusu opened up his steps with flying strides.
He rushed at Igva, who was pointing at him. Even if he was hit by an attack spell, he was determined to eat the hit and keep running.
“You fool! Know fear! [Scare]!”
Zaryusu’s vision shuddered. He began to wonder where he was as a nameless terror bloomed within him, and he felt as though something was going to lunge at him from the side.
He stopped in his tracks. The [Scare] spell had shaken his heart and kept his legs from obeying him. His mind told his legs to move, but his heart would not allow his body to take a step.
“Zaryusu! [Lion’s Heart]!”
As Crusch shouted those words, the terror melted away in an instant, and in its place was a rekindled fighting spirit. The spell that bestowed courage had exorcised the fear from his heart.
Igva glared unhappily at Crusch and pointed a finger at her.
“Interfering busybody! [Lightning]!”
There was a flash of white—
—And Crusch wailed.
Zaryusu’s heart wavered; it was nearly consumed by an intense hatred, but he managed to control himself in the end. Hate was a useful weapon at times, but against a powerful enemy, it might end up working against him. When faced with a mighty foe, one needed fiery passion and ice-cold logic.
Zaryusu did not look back.
After Igva attacked Crusch, it meant that Zaryusu had an opening with which to draw closer. A look of dismay came over Igva’s face, and he knew that he had made a mistake. That, in turn, brought a mocking smile to Zaryusu, whose beloved had been hurt.
Frost Pain slashed in from the side, knocking away the finger Igva was planning to extend.
“You let a warrior near you, magic caster! Now you’ll see how useless your magic is!”
Legendary spellcasters aside, most magic casters who allowed an enemy to get close might find their spells disrupted during the casting.
Even a powerful monster like Igva was no exception.
Zaryusu narrowed his eyes, confused by the sensation running up his arm. Slashing him felt weird; Igva must have had some kind of resistance to his weapon.
Still, he was not unhurt. Yes, if he could resist damage, then all he had to do was inflict more damage.
That being the case, all he had to do was keep hacking away at him.
Of course, it was easier said than done, and Zaryusu knew that as well. However, that was all a warrior like Zaryusu could do.
“Don’t look down on me, Lizardman!”
Three arrows of light appeared before Igva and shot at Zaryusu. He reflexively parried the unannounced bolts with his sword, but the magic arrows went straight through his weapon and pierced his body, sending a surge of throbbing pain through him.
This was a [Silent Magic - Magic Arrow]. There was no preparatory motion needed for silenced spells, so they could not be interrupted. In addition, Magic Arrows were unavoidable spells; not even by someone like Zaryusu.
Zaryusu grit his teeth and swung Frost Pain at Igva.
“Kuh! Son of a bitch! You’re just a mere Lizardman!”
[Magic Arrows] were an unavoidable spell, but conversely, they did poor damage. Someone like Zaryusu, with a body honed through hundreds, if not thousands of battles, was not weak enough to be rendered battle-ineffective by such a spell.
The magic missiles struck Zaryusu again, evincing bolts of bone-jarring pain from him. Zaryusu took the pain and countered with a sword swing.
After several rounds of this back and forth, Zaryusu’s movements began slowing down. The severe throbbing hampered his otherwise nimble movements, clearly illustrating the difference between himself and the undead, who knew no pain.
Igva and Zaryusu both realised this, and their expressions were dramatically different as a result.
The strong would live, and the weak would die. That was an unalterable truth. It had been clearly illustrated in Zaryusu and Igva’s one-on-one fight. However, it was also true that the weak could contend with the strong if they banded together.
“[Middle Cure Wounds]!”
Zaryusu’s pain vanished with those words, and his vitality returned to him.
That magical healing from the rear aggravated the hitherto aloof Igva, and he cursed loudly:
Zaryusu was fighting with his trusted companions; Crusch, Zenberu, and—
“Rororo… I won’t lose!”
“Such foolish delusions… as though I, a creation of the Supreme Beings, would be defeated by you! How stupid you are!”
Igva glared malevolently at the three Lizardmen. He had not used summon magic because the undead he had called up were still around. He could not summon new undead as long as the old ones were still around. Therefore, their battle was a monotonous back-and-forth of Igva casting silenced [Magic Arrows] while Zaryusu hacked at Igva.
It felt like it would never end.
That being the case, the deadlock would have to be broken by the backliners. If reinforcements turned up for either side, the battle would soon be decided in their favor.
Zaryusu and Igva both knew this.
The stroke of lightning had hurt Crusch all over, but she withstood her pain and cast [Summon Beast 3rd].
A huge — roughly 150 cm — crab with an enormous right pincer appeared from the surface of the water, as though it had always been sleeping there and just woken up. Needless to say, it had been conjured by the [Summon Beast 3rd] spell.
The giant crab waddled up beside Zaryusu and pinched at the Skeleton Warriors with its massive claw.
Zenberu smiled at this unexpected ally. Considering that he had to defend Crusch and ward off attacks from all directions, the help had arrived just in time, and it was a great reassurance for him.
“Alright, strange and giant crab! I’ll leave those two to you!”
The giant crab wiggled its smaller pincer — as though in acknowledgement — and turned to the Skeleton Warriors.
The situation is dire now… but I can’t help thinking that they look very similar.
Crusch smiled, despite the circumstances. However, she immediately wiped it off her face and focused on the battle. At the same time, she breathed hard, to get her panting under control.
She had cast warding spells on Rororo and healed him before coming here, and she had also been casting support spells on Zenberu. She had been overexerting herself.
In addition, she had cast a summon spell on top of that. Her body was in an exhausted state and she was having trouble standing.
She even lacked the strength to heal herself. In addition, Crusch had also calmly decided that the mana would have been wasted on doing so, given that she was slowly losing the ability to fight.
However, if she felt here, it would demoralize Zenberu and Zaryusu, who were fighting on the frontlines. Blood flowed from the corner of Crusch’s mouth as she bit at the inside of her cheek to keep herself conscious.
“[Middle Cure Wounds]!”
She cast healing magic on Zaryusu, who was engaged in a melee with Igva.
Her legs felt powerless and her vision was shaky. She felt a liquid sensation all over her body..
For a moment, Crusch had no idea why she had ended up like that. When had she fallen into the mud?
However, she immediately realised the reason why. She had not taken additional wounds, so she must have passed out for a moment and collapsed.
Crusch breathed a sigh of relief, not because she was still alive, but because she could still fight.
She did not plan to force herself to stand. Rather, she had no strength left to stand, and she felt it would be a waste of energy to do so.
She saw the forms of Zaryusu and Zenberu fighting hard in her blurred vision; the forms of the companions she had travelled with for a brief period. Zenberu had taken on four Skeleton Warriors at once, and Zaryusu had endured Igva’s onslaught of magical attacks. Both of them were covered in wounds.
Crusch got her breathing under control, and cast a spell.
“[Middle Cure Wounds]!”
And in addition to healing Zenberu’s wounds...
“[Middle Cure Wounds]!”
She healed Zaryusu’s injuries.
Crusch was panting.
Her breathing felt strange. She was breathless, no matter how hard she tried to take in air.
This must be a symptom of magic overuse. Her head ached like she had been clubbed. Even so, Crusch tried her hardest to force her eyes open.
So many people had died so far — how could she be the first to leave the battlefield?
As she forcefully open her heavy-lidded eyes, she continued casting:
“[Middle Cure Wounds]!”
♦ ♦ ♦
Zenberu’s clenched fist struck home on the Skeleton Warrior’s skull. He felt the bone crumple, then shatter under his fist, and so another Skeleton Warrior bit the dust.
“That’s two —haa, whew—”
He exhaled like he was breathing out all his fatigue and then eyed the remaining Skeleton Warriors. The giant crab Crusch had summoned was nowhere to be seen, but thanks to its help in dealing with two of the Skeleton Warriors, Zenberu could wipe out the other two.
The situation had developed in this way thanks to Crusch’s support.
Two more. After those were deal with, Igva would be next.
He flexed his thick and powerful right arm — it was still working.
His left arm was covered in wounds and almost useless. Zenberu had gone a bit overboard in using it as a shield. He glanced briefly to the limp, sagging limb.
“Forget it, it was a worthy sacrifice.”
Zenberu eyed the annoying thing and tried to move it. An intense pain filled his body — it hardly seemed as though it could come from moving his fingers.
Still, is this a big deal? Just now, one of my friends refused to stop moving even after his heads became useless. How could I, Zenberu, do any less?
Zenberu could appreciate how strong the Skeleton Warriors were after fighting them for this long. They were strong enough that two of them were enough to match him.
Therefore, dealing with four at once meant that his chances of victory were very slim.
After this, I’ll stop eating mud crabs for a while to show my thanks.
With that silent gesture of appreciation to his favorite food, he glared murderously at the two Skeleton Warriors who were pressing in.
He clenched his fist.
He could still move. He could still fight.
Frankly speaking, he was quite surprised by the fact that he could continue fighting.
“Hah! There’s no point thinking about such stupid things!”
There was only one reason for that, right?
Zenberu laughed at himself.
He observed Zaryusu’s form behind the Skeleton Warriors, how he stood tall against that foe whose power overmatched his by far.
“Looks pretty heroic, doesn’t he…”
He could keep fighting because he had been struggling together with Zaryusu, Crusch and Rororo.
“Oi oi oi, Zaryusu, you’re pretty damn beat up, aren’t you? Worse than how you were in that fight with me.”
With a ferocious backhand, he smashed away one of the incoming Skeleton Warriors. However, he could not block the curved blade of the other one with his left arm, and he earned another gash on his side, near the wound Crusch had just closed with magic.
“...Crusch is having a hard time herself, but she’s still helping us. Good on her.”
Crusch’s magic healed Zenberu’s wounds once more. He could not turn back to verify, but it would seem her voice was coming from somewhere very close to the surface of the water. He could imagine the posture in which she was casting her spells — but even so, she was still casting them.
“...What a remarkable female.”
If he had to take a wife, he would pick someone like her.
Zenberu was slightly envious of Zaryusu now.
“I won’t show you the disgraceful sight of me going down first!”
He feinted with his massive arm, and then swiped with his tail. Then he laughed coldly, commenting that he was older than either of them.
The two Skeleton Warriors slowly drew closer, their shields raised. The way they blocked his view of Zaryusu angered Zenberu.
“Get lost, I can’t see his manly back!”
With a roar, Zenberu strode forth—
♦ ♦ ♦
Igva and Zaryusu’s evenly-balanced back and forth continued. Zaryusu’s eyes were focused on the battle, and he noticed Igva glancing elsewhere. The Elder Lich’s undead face contorted in a savage grin, and Zaryusu’s heart seemed to freeze as he heard what came next.
He heard the sound of splashing as someone collapsed into the water.
“Look! Your friend has fallen!”
He could not look back. Perhaps one of his comrades had collapsed, or perhaps not. Zaryusu’s heart ached like he was having his scales flayed off him, but he was facing an overwhelmingly powerful opponent, and he did not have the luxury of looking away. His defeat would be sealed in the moment he turned to look. Zaryusu had not come here to lose in such a foolish way.
He had come here to win.
However, if Igva spoke the truth, then it might be possible that enemy reinforcements might have come from behind them. He had to think of a way to deal with them, or things might get ugly.
Just as Zaryusu was steeling himself to endure an attack spell, he heard the sound of someone splashing as they stood up, as well as the sound of several bones cracking.
“Zaryusu! We’re done here! The rest is up to you!”
“...[Middle Cure Wounds].”
A great splash followed Zenberu’s pained cry.
Crusch’s incantation sounded more like a groan, but Zaryusu’s wounds slowly mended themselves.
Igva was clearly unhappy at this. Even without looking, he could tell that the other two had done their part. That would mean that after this—
Igva blocked the slash from Frost Pain.
“Kukuku… I, Igva, am an Elder Lich, but don’t look down on me because I’m not a melee fighter!”
He talked tough, but Igva had already surmised that his chances of victory were slim.
Given the difference in their strength, he might be able to win in a one-on-one battle. However, the white Lizardman had been healing his wounds all this time, so now Zaryusu had the advantage in vitality.
In addition, he could only block one out of every three strikes made at him. That meant the other two would hit him. While Igva was resistant to slashing weapons like other Skeletons, and he was not worried about the additional cold damage Frost Pain inflicted, his situation was still quite dire.
He was a creation of the Supreme Being Ainz Ooal Gown and the commander of this army. He could not afford to lose here.
Igva wanted to summon a few more undead soldiers, but he needed time to cast the summoning spell. Therefore, it was difficult to get the spell off while his enemy was right in front of him.
If this kept up, victory would go to his enemy.
With that in mind, Igva fell back to his last resort. It was not an ideal method — it might even be the worst course of action if things went poorly — but it was the only card he had left to play.
Zaryusu was confused by Igva turning to run, but he pursued regardless. Igva took a full-power hit from Zaryusu square in the back and wavered, but did not fall. Zaryusu clicked his tongue at Igva’s seemingly inexhaustible vitality and immediately gave chase after the fleeing Igva.
Igva turned, his face distorted with an anger that seemed unbecoming on an undead being, but his expression was tinted with shades of delight.
Sizzling in his hand was a crimson light — a [Fireball].
Confusion filled Zaryusu’s mind as he drew close.
Does he plan to use an area-effect spell at such close range? Is he prepared to sacrifice himself — no!
A thrill of fear ran through Zaryusu’s heart as he realised Igva was not looking at him. Igva’s eyes were directed behind Zaryusu — at the fallen Crusch and Zenberu.
—What should I do?!
Zaryusu racked his brains.
Igva was leaving himself wide open. If he ignored the two of them, he could finish off Igva. But if he wanted to save them, it was hard to predict how the battle would turn out. Both of them were badly hurt, and a single misstep might prove fatal.
Had they not come so far for this objective — to beat Igva? Many people had died for this cause as well.
In that case, he ought to abandon them. They would probably smile and forgive him. Zaryusu would probably do the same in their position.
Zaryusu would not choose to leave comrades he had fought and bled with to die.
In that case — he would would to help them, and then destroy Igva.
After making up his mind, things became very simple.
Zaryusu erected a wall of freezing fog which billowed up from his feet.
The frozen vortex froze Zaryusu solid for a moment; the pain filling his entire body was beyond words.
Zaryusu fixed his eyes intently on Igva to prevent himself from losing consciousness, struggling against the pain.
As he grit his teeth and wailed in pain, the icy mist enshrouded them and drifted in all directions.
As Igva saw the spreading white mist he grinned, his expression seemingly saying, “Just as planned”. His foe could have won if he had abandoned his friends, but yet he had done this.
Igva was immune to cold and electrical damage, which was why he could stand tall amidst the current of freezing air. He crushed the [Fireball] in his hand back into its component mana, because allowing it to touch the wall of white which now surrounded him was a self-destructive gesture.
Once this white mist cleared, he could finish off the other two Lizardmen. First, he had to eliminate the one that was still standing. Igva looked around, and snarled. That was because he had missed something.
“...Alright, where’s he gone to now?”
His vision was blocked by walls of white mist.
Igva possessed darkvision, but he could not see through environmental conditions which impeded visibility. Therefore, he had lost track of his enemy’s location.
Still, there was no need to worry too much. Judging by that pain-filled cry, his opponent ought to have been badly hurt. Come to think of it, given that the cold was powerful enough to repel a [Fireball] he had projected, he ought to have taken cold damage comparable to being hit by a [Fireball] himself.
Taking a hit like that while being so badly wounded might be fatal. That being the case, he could take his time to torment him slowly afterwards.
His goal now was to get out of this bank of fog.
As the idea came up, Igva immediately discarded it.
—Right now, moving would expose his position.
Rather than retreat, he ought to summon more undead. As long as he had meat shields in place, victory was his, even if the Lizardman was not dead yet.
Just as Igva was about to cast his spell, he heard a sudden splashing.
♦ ♦ ♦
It was one of the Four Treasures of the Lizardmen, passed down through the generations.
According to legend, Frost Pain was made from the ice when the lake had frozen over for the only time in its history, and it possessed three magical powers.
The first was the cold aura wreathing the blade, which inflicted additional cold damage on every successful blow.
The second was its trump card, [Icy Burst], usable only three times a day.
And the third was—
♦ ♦ ♦
The sound of something cutting through the air reached his ears
Before he realized what was going on, he saw the point of a blade before his eyes.
A great impact rocked Igva’s cranium.
The blade that had pierced his left eye rattled his head. Igva howled in surprise as he finally realised what was going on.
“Uwah—! Why aren’t you dead—!”
As Frost Pain sank deeper into his left eyesocket, he felt his vitality draining away in torrents—
The fog steadily dispersed, revealing Zaryusu, whose body was dusted with a light coating of frost. He stood before Igva, who was unsteady on his feet given that he had a sword sticking out of his head.
Igva could not understand how Zaryusu was still standing after such a powerful cold-based attack.
That was due to the third power hidden within Frost Pain.
It was a defensive ability which imparted resistance to cold attacks.
Of course, even Frost Pain could not completely cancel out the power of [Icy Burst]. It was hard enough for Zaryusu to stay on his feet after taking that cold damage. His breathing was ragged, his movements were sluggish, and his tail was sprawled limply on the ground. He was barely capable of fighting on. In fact, that last blow of his had not been aimed at all. He had simply acted on instinct, fuelling that blow with the last dregs of his strength.
One could say that it was a lucky shot.
Zaryusu struggled to keep his almost-closed eyes open.
The strike he had launched with the remains of his strength felt like it had been enough to finish off Igva.
No longer able to fight, Zaryusu looked at Igva, an expectant look on his face.
Igva shook and struggled.
Perhaps Igva could no longer sustain his bodily integrity, but the skin of his face tore and his bones fragmented, while his clothes fell into tatters. It was only a matter of time before he was destroyed. Just as Zaryusu thought he had won a miraculous victory —
—A bony hand seized him by the throat.
“I… I am a vassal created by the Supreme Being… how can I die... like this?!”
Igva’s stranglehold was not strong, and he could have shrugged it off. However—
—Agony surged through Zaryusu’s body, and he cried out in pain.
That was because he was being infused with negative energy, which ate away at his life force. Zaryusu was trained to withstand pain, but he could not bear the terrible anguish that turned his veins to ice.
“Die, you damned Lizardman!”
Igva’s face began to crumble, and the fragments disintegrated in mid-air.
Igva’s life was fading away, but his loyalty to his master kept him clinging to this side of the line between life and death.
Zaryusu tried to resist it, but fear filled him as he realised his body no longer responded to commands.
He too was on the verge of death. Igva’s negative energy infusion was snuffing out the last of his lifeforce.
Zaryusu’s vision wavered and turned cloudy.
It seemed as though the world was slowly filling up with white mist.
Igva was also trying desperately to stay conscious, but he smiled in victory as he saw Zaryusu’s resistance flagging.
He had to kill this Lizardman and the two other Lizardmen who had joined the attack. They ought to be the strongest among their race.
That being the case, killing them would be an offering to his great master — the best possible present he could give to his creator.
Igva’s expression spoke more than his words could, but that look in his eyes made Zaryusu realize that he felt the same way as well.
“Go to hell!”
His body no longer responded to him, and he could feel his body heat dropping slowly, like a slow poison spreading through him. Even breathing was difficult. Only his mind remained sharp under these circumstances.
He could not die yet.
Rororo, who ran with all his strength.
Zenberu, who had made himself his shield.
Crusch, who had depleted her mana.
And then, there were all the Lizardmen who had died fighting this war.
As Zaryusu thought about how to fight on, several faint voices rang in his ears.
—Crusch’s gentle tones.
—Zenberu’s forthright words.
—Rororo’s playful cries.
He could not have heard them.
Crusch was unconscious. Zenberu was comatose. Rororo was far away as well.
Had his mind imagined those voices because his mind was clouded? Had it made up the voices of friends he had not even known for a full week? The cries of his kin?
Indeed, that was not correct.
That was because everyone was here—
“—?! You still have this much strength left?!”
The semi-conscious Zaryusu howled, drawing a cry of surprise from Igva.
Zaryusu’s eyeballs swivelled and locked onto Igva. His eyes were clouded, but it was hard to believe that he was not looking directly at him with a smoldering intensity. The sight made Igva freeze up.
“Crusch! Zenberu! Rororo!”
“—! What are you trying to do—! Just die—!”
Where had he gotten that vitality from? The massive surge of negative energy pouring into him should have been steadily dissolving and consuming Zaryusu’s life force. And indeed, Zaryusu’s limbs felt heavy, and his body seemed frozen.
Even so, every time he cried their names, Zaryusu felt a flicker of warmth within him. This warmth did not come from his life force.
Instead, it sprang from a place within his chest — the heart.
The sound of muscles cording could be heard. That sound came from Zaryusu’s right hand, from his tightly clenched fist. He was infusing all his strength into that fist.
“Impossible—! How are you still moving?! You monster—!”
He was actually capable of moving. That was a truly unbelievable sight.
Emotions raged within Igva’s heart, but he strove to suppress them.
He was Igva, the overall commander of the forces of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick during this expedition, and most importantly, he was the creation of the Supreme Overlord of Death — Ainz Ooal Gown.
A mighty being like himself could not possibly be defeated like this—
“It’s over for you, monster!”
He was faster.
Yes, the speed of that full-power strike was faster than the rate at which Igva was infusing negative energy—
The tightly-clenched fist struck the hilt of Frost Pain —
—And Zaryusu’s knuckles bled. Struck by such a heavy blow, the blade pierced clear through Igva’s skull.
As one of the undead, Igva did not feel pain, but he could still understand that the negative energy which animated him had vanished.
“This—this… how could this… Ain...z...sama…”
The full understanding of his failure dawned in Igva’s eyes. As Zaryusu collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut, with a loud splash—
“...Please...please… forgive… me…”
—Igva’s body fell with him, accompanied by the apology to his master.
♦ ♦ ♦
The interior of the room was silent. Nobody could believe what they had just seen, and so nobody spoke. The sole exception was the maid — Entoma.
“Cocytus-sama, it seems Ainz-sama has sent for you.”
Cocytus turned to face Entoma, his head lowered.
He bit back his shame as his vassals looked upon him with unease.
But on the other hand, he wanted to offer praise.
After all, that had been an exciting battle.
To think the foe had actually turned the impossible into the possible. Granted, the Elder Lich had made some errors in judgement, but under normal circumstances, the Elder Lich should still have won, despite his mistakes.
“...Amazing. Truly. Amazing.”
Cocytus repeated those words to express his heartfelt opinion.
They had hurdled that incredible obstacle.
“...What. A. Shame,” Cocytus breathed as he watched the Lizardmen dancing and singing in triumph through the mirror.
The warriors it showed were extremely weak, but they had kindled Cocytus’ fighting spirit.
“Ah… What. A. Shame.”
Cocytus hesitated. He picked out the most frightening scenario from the many in his mind, thought on it, and made a decision.
Zaryusu felt like he was being carried out of a world of darkness. It felt good.
After he opened his eyes, the blurred scene before him reminded him of what he saw when he woke up.
Where was this place? Why was he sleeping here?
Countless questions rose within his heart, and then he realised there was a weight resting on him.
Zaryusu looked toward the ball of white. Having just woken up, the word “white” was the first thing which came to mind. As he slowly came to, he realized what it was.
It was Crusch. She had fallen asleep on top of him.
I’m still alive.
Zaryusu was so relieved that he nearly spoke those words out loud. Yet, he bit down on them. He could not bear to wake up Crusch, and so he resisted the urge to touch her. Her scales might be pretty, but he still could not touch a sleeping female at his whim.
Zaryusu struggled to chase Crusch’s form out of his mind, and started thinking about other things.
There were many things to ponder.
To begin with, what was he doing here?
He searched his memories, thinking back onto what had happened in the past. The last thing he could recall was the sight of Igva’s defeat, and then there was nothing. However, the fact that he had not been taken captive but was sleeping here meant that the tribes had won.
Zaryusu gingerly breathed a sigh of relief, careful to avoid waking up Crusch. It felt as though the burden of the past few days had finally lifted off his shoulders, but in truth, there were still some weighty issues remaining.
However, he wanted to let his heart rest for the time being. Zaryusu savored Crusch’s warmth, and quietly sighed.
After that Zaryusu experimentally tried his body. He was fully mobile and there were no notable problems. He had thought that he might be crippled in some way, but it would seem he had been very fortunate.
Just then, he thought of the other friend who had fought by his side. There was nobody else in the room besides Crusch. That being the case, what happened to Zenberu? He felt quite uneasy, but at the same time, a powerful male like Zenberu should be fine.
Crusch seemed to have been woken up by Zaryusu’s movements, and her body shifted. It seemed as though her soft, limp body had been infused with a soul. She must be about to wake up.
Crusch made an adorable noise, and then she looked around with sleep-clouded eyes. Soon, she realised that Zaryusu was underneath her, and smiled in delight.
After a sleepy-headed Crusch embraced Zaryusu, she began rubbing herself on him. It was as though she was an animal trying to mark him with her scent.
Zaryusu went stiff and let Crusch do as she pleased. In fact, there was even a wicked voice inside him which said, “It’s not like I’m the one doing it.“
Her slick white scales were cool and icy. In addition to being very comfortable, they also gave off an alluring aroma of herbs.
He could hug her too, right?
Just as he was about to lose control, Crusch came to her senses, and she locked eyes with Zaryusu underneath her.
Zaryusu scrabbled to think of what to say to Crusch, who was holding him in silence. Finally, he decided on something which ought to be alright:
“—Can I hug you too?”
Well, his surging emotions felt that it ought to be alright.
Crusch yelped in surprise, and her tail thumped over and over against the ground. Then, she practically rolled off Zaryusu, until she hit a wall.
He could hear a soft moaning from Crusch as she curled up on the ground, going, “stupid stupid I’m so stupid” or something along those lines.
“...In any case, I’m very glad that you’re alright, Crusch.”
Those words seemed to restore Crusch to some semblance of normalcy (her tail aside), and she looked up and smiled at Zaryusu.
“You too, I’m glad you’re safe.”
An untoward thought popped up in Zaryusu’s mind as he looked on Crusch’s gentle face, but he struggled to resist it and asked a more proper question.
“Do you know what happened after I collapsed?”
“Yes, a little. The enemy retreated after Igva was defeated, and it seems your brother defeated the monsters successfully, and then the three of us were saved… that happened yesterday.”
“Then, Zenberu… he’s not here...”
“Yes, he’s fine. He probably recovered faster than you; he regained consciousness after being magically healed, so now he’s taking care of the post-battle cleanup. I seem to have overworked myself, so I passed out after hearing all that…”
Crusch stood up and took a seat beside Zaryusu. He wanted to get up as well, but Crusch gently stopped him.
“Don’t force yourself to get up. You were the most badly hurt of us, after all.”
Perhaps she was remembering the circumstances then, but Crusch’s voice had gone quiet.
“I’m just happy that you came back in one piece...:”
Zaryusu gently caressed Crusch — whose eyes were downcast — to comfort her.
“I won’t die before I hear your answer. I was worried for you too.”
The answer. That word made them freeze.
Both of them said nothing. The silence in the air was so thick that one could almost hear their hearts pounding.
Crusch’s tail moved slowly to twine around Zaryusu’s. The way those black and white tails tangled with each other looked like a pair of mating snakes.
Zaryusu stared at Crusch, and Crusch stared at Zaryusu. They could see themselves in each others’ eyes.
Zaryusu spoke quietly — no, that was no speech, but a call. It was the same call he had emitted the first time he had seen Crusch.
—A mating call.
Zaryusu did nothing besides making that call. No, it would be better to say that he could not do anything. The only thing that moved was his heart, pounding violently within his chest.
Soon, a similar sound came from Crusch’s mouth — a call. It was a similarly high-pitched cry, warbling near the end — the sound of a mating cry which had been accepted.
There was an indescribably entrancing look on Crusch’s face, and Zaryusu could no longer tear his eyes away from her. Crusch lay down on Zaryusu, the same way she had when she had fallen asleep earlier.
There was nothing between the two of them now. Their breath and their warmth mingled together. Their heartbeats synched up through their touching chests. In this way the two of them became one—
“Oho! Doing it already?”
—And then Zenberu flung the door open and barged in.
Crusch and Zaryusu froze like a pair of ice statues.
Zenberu looked down at them — at Crusch, straddling Zaryusu — with a look of bafflement on his face, and tilted his head:
“What, you haven’t started yet?”
As they realized what Zenberu was talking about, the two of them separated from each other, then slowly stood up and approached him without a word.
Zenberu looked thoroughly confused as he bent down to look over the both of them.
The two fists in his gut knocked the wind out of him, and Zenberu’s massive body keeled over onto the ground.
“Uuu… those were good punches… especially Crusch’s… ggg… that really hurt…”
Zaryusu aside, even the female’s fist of fury was enough to defeat Zenberu. While punching him once was not enough to quell her anger, the mood in the air had vanished without a trace and it would not come back even if she kept on hitting him.
The way they held hands — as a replacement for beating Zenberu up even more — was also quite puzzling, but Zaryusu decided to clear up the worries in his heart by asking Zenberu a question.
“Let’s leave that aside for now. I have a lot of things to ask you. I asked Crusch just now, but can you tell me what kind of situation we’re in?”
Zenberu ignored the way they were holding hands and answered:
“Don’t you know? The tribes are all celebrating.”
“And my brother is leading them, I assume?’
“Yes. In any case, the hunters have gone to check, but they didn’t find any signs of the enemy, or any trace of reinforcements left in ambush. After all, mobilizing that many people would grab a lot of attention. Therefore, we’ve decided to stay alert, but your brother has already declared victory. In fact, I’m here on his orders.”
“Oh yes, your brother told me — Gahahaha, let them rest a little. For all we know they’re probably fucking like rabbits now. Gahaha, I feel a little bad about interrupting, but I was kind of curious, gahahaha’”
“Bullshit! What’s with that ‘gahaha’ laugh, anyway?”
“Oh… oh, come to think of it, I don’t think he actually went gahahaha when he laughed…”
“As if Ani-ja would actually laugh like that, really…”
“No, it was just a figure of speech…”
The words from Crusch’s mouth were frigid enough to rival the sub-zero temperatures of [Icy Burst]. Even Zaryusu was frightened by that terrifying noise. Naturally, Zenberu — as the target of those words — froze up in an instant.
“So, why are you here?”
“Oh, I came to..”
“If you were here to stick your nose into our business, I will let you taste the magic you wanted.”
Crusch was not kidding. Zaryusu and Zenberu were keenly aware of that.
“Er… how shall I say this… I came to invite you two over. We were the key figures in the victory, right? Can’t have you absent. Also, we need to plan for the future together…”
Crusch smiled bitterly after hearing Zenberu’s explanation and understanding what it meant. In short: they had to plan for another battle in the future, and now was the best time to show their strength.
“Understood. Can you go too, Crusch?”
Crusch had puffed up her cheeks in displeasure, and she looked like a mutant frog of the kind that lived in the marsh. She’s far cuter than one of them, however, Zaryusu thought.
“Then, shall we?” Zenberu asked the pair — who were gazing at each other — in a casual tone.
“Ah… mm. Yes, let’s.”
After they agreed, the three of them headed outside. Just as they walked down the steps to the hut and set foot onto the marsh, Zaryusu vanished from Zenberu and Crusch’s line of sight. That was because something massive had hit him.
That was probably what it sounded like.
Replacing the disappeared Zaryusu was Rororo’s body. Its four heads writhed energetically, and it nosed at Zaryusu, who had fallen into the marsh.
“Rororo! You’re alright!”
The mudstained Zaryusu rose to his feet and gently stroked Rororo’s body while examining it. It had apparently received magical healing, because the burns from earlier were completely healed, as though it had never been hurt before.
Rororo cried out and wrapped its heads playfully around Zaryusu. They bound his entire body, and they seemed to be squeezing quite tightly.
“Oi oi oi, Rororo, stop, please,”
Zaryusu jokingly begged Rororo to stop, but Rororo simply cried out in joy and refused to let go.
Pasha, pasha, pasha.
Zaryusu suddenly heard the rhythmic sound of splashing. He was baffled when he realised its source.
Those splashes had come from Crusch, She was smiling gently as she looked at Zaryusu and Rororo, but her tail struck the marsh like a metronome.
Zenberu — who had originally been standing by Crusch’s side — was now distancing himself from her, with a stony look on his face.
Rororo stopped playing around. It had probably sensed something strange.
“What is it?”
Zaryusu looked at Crusch, who was quite confused. He did not understand. No matter how it looked, Crusch seemed to be smiling at Rororo and Zaryusu’s reunion, but for some reason it sent a chill down his spine.
Crusch smiled again.
Rororo let go of Zaryusu, who was thus liberated, while Zenberu looked on nervously. Perhaps he was unable to bear the creepy atmosphere any further, but Zenberu hurriedly decided to change the topic.
“Okay, Rororo, come with me.”
Rororo could not understand what the Lizardmen were saying, but it looked like it did. After Zenberu mounted up, it immediately dashed off with surprising speed.
After the two of them left, the same sinister air hung between Zaryusu and Crusch.
She grabbed her head, and shook it.
“Ahhh, really, what am I doing, it feels like my heart doesn’t belong to me any more. I know it’s a small thing, but I can’t control myself. Mm, it’s like a curse.”
Zaryusu could understand how she felt. Indeed, he had felt the same way when he had first met her.
“Frankly speaking, Crusch — I’m very happy.”
Pasha! A splash that was louder than usual rang out. Then, Zaryusu went to Crusch’s side.
“Listen, can you hear it?”
“The things we’ve protected, and the things we have to protect in future.”
The wind carried a joyful noise to them. There must have been a wine feast going on. It would be a feast to send back the ancestral spirits, celebrate their victories, and to give the dead their due.
Under normal circumstances, wine was a very valuable commodity. The fact they could host so many feasts over these few days was because Zenberu and his tribe had brought one of the Four Treasures along, which was why they could enjoy unlimited alcohol. In addition, the almost unbelievable festive mood now was because everyone from the tribes was gathered here.
Zaryusu laughed to Crusch as he heard their revelry:
“Maybe it’s not over yet. Maybe that Supreme One guy will attack again. Even so… let’s relax a little today.”
With that, Zaryusu put his arm around Crusch’s waist.
Crusch allowed Zaryusu’s strength to hold her close, and then she leaned her head on Zaryusu’s shoulder.
After saying that, Crusch hesitated briefly before quietly adding: “...Darling.”
Leaning against each other, the two Lizardmen vanished into the commotion—