Chapter 4: The Dawn of Despair
Cocytus’ footsteps were heavy as he plodded towards the Throne Room. It seemed to be contagious, because the tread of his vassals behind him were slow and ponderous as well.
The reason for that was because he had lost against the Lizardmen. They had led the forces of the Nazarick into battle, and it had ended in defeat.
Cocytus personally thought quite highly of the Lizardmen. Having been created as a warrior himself, Cocytus had a deep respect for excellent warriors.
However, this was something else entirely.
Nazarick could not be permitted to suffer a defeat. In addition, this was not a defensive battle, but their first campaign into the outside world. Anyone would be upset that such a glorious first battle had ended in ignominious defeat.
It was true that his forces were inadequate. That made him recall Demiurge’s words. However, that was merely an excuse. Even if his master had considered the possibility of failure, it would still be better to win.
Soon, he saw the room before the Throne Room — the Lemegeton. His steps grew heavier, to the point where onlookers might think he had been hit by some kind of spell.
Cocytus did not mind if his master reprimanded him. He had already prepared himself to be slain or ordered to commit suicide in order to erase the stain of his dishonor.
What Cocytus feared was disappointing his master.
What should he do if he were abandoned by the sole remaining Supreme Being?
Cocytus considered himself to be a sword. He was a sword that was wielded by his master, that cut obediently when swung. Therefore, the most frightening thing he could imagine was to be deemed useless and unhelpful.
Worse still, how could he make it up to the other Guardians if they were cast aside as well?
They. Will. Never. Forgive. Me. If. Things. Get. That. Bad. Not. Even. My. Life. Will. Be. Enough. To. Atone.
If. The. Master. Is. Disappointed. And. Leaves. Like. The. Other. Supreme. Beings. What. Should. I. Do...
Cocytus trembled. He was immune to cold, so the shuddering was not due to an external source, but an internal cause. Had Cocytus been a human being, he would have started vomiting under the tremendous mental pressure that filled him.
No. That. Cannot. Be. Ainz-sama. Would. Never… Abandon. Us.
He was the sole remaining Supreme Being in the Great Tomb, after all the others had left.
He was their supreme overlord, and their absolute ruler.
How. Could. Such. A. Merciful. Master. Abandon. Us?
He tried to console himself with that thought, but deep in his heart, a quiet voice of denial said that such a thing was not impossible.
He reached the Lemegeton.
Under normal circumstances, there would be nobody here besides the surrounding Golems and the crystal monsters. However, there were many beings present. Specifically, they were Demiurge, Aura, Mare and Shalltear, along with their hand-picked high-level vassals.
Their eyes rested on Cocytus, and his guilt caused panic to briefly flash across his face.
This was because he felt like everyone was castigating him for his failure. Or no — Cocytus felt that they might be blaming themselves instead. The thought from just now crossed his mind once more. Who was to say that they might not feel the same way?
Upon closer inspection, he found that there was no sign of rebuke in their eyes.
“Forgive. My. Lateness. Even. Demiurge. Who. Was. On. A. Distant. Assignment. Reached. Here. Before. Me.”
“Think nothing of it. There is no need to apologize for such trivial matters.”
Demiurge spoke for the others.
His tone was as calm as ever, with no hint of any negative emotions within. However, Demiurge was a Guardian who was adept at scheming, skilled at manipulating emotions and concealing his true feelings, so Cocytus could not tell if he was truly displeased or not.
From that point of view, one could say that Demiurge’s state while spectating the battle between Ainz and Shalltear was quite a rare thing for him. Granted, that was a display of the depths of his devotion.
“I’ve already informed the other Guardians, but I’ll be taking Albedo’s place as the Overseer this time round. Are there any objections?”
“No. Everything will be fine if you’re in charge.”
Albedo was not around because she was accompanying her master in Sebas’ place.
“Good. Then, once everyone is here, we will proceed to the Throne Room together. However, since Albedo is not here, I’d like to sort out the order in which we show our respects. While this sort of thing should be rehearsed beforehand, there is no time for that now. I shall thus give a verbal explanation to speed things up, so please pay attention.”
The Guardians and their servants indicated their understanding, but despite that, Cocytus had a question. All the Guardians were here, so who exactly were they waiting for?
However, his questions were answered once that person showed up.
Cocytus sensed the presence of a living being moving towards this place.
As he looked in that direction, he saw a heteromorphic creature floating in mid-air, towards the Lemegeton.
It resembled an infant — no, perhaps an embryo might be more accurate. It had a long tail, and its body was bright pink. It had an angelic halo around its head, and a pair of withered, featherless wings on its back. It was roughly one meter long, and it was slowly heading this way.
Demiurge answered Aura’s question:
“He is Victim, Guardian of the 8th Floor.”
“So that’s Victim…”
Victim reached the Lemegeton, and then turned a full circle. Cocytus had the feeling he was looking around him.
Since Victim had no neck, he had to turn his entire body to look around him.
“KeK esiarp ,sbud esoht kcehc. (How do you do, everyone. I am Victim.)”
Demiurge seemed completely unfazed by Victim’s peculiar manner of speech, and responded on everyone else’s behalf:
“Welcome, Victim. I am Demiurge, and I am taking Albedo’s place for this meeting.”
“Krelc knab edarg-wol a fo ecnaraeppa eht dna ,gar pmad a fo amsirahc eht evah uoy. (I heard about that from Ainz-sama).”
After saying that, Victim turned his entire body to regard everyone once more.
“Noisiced doog a edam eh -nam a rof reh tfel dnabsuh remrof reh yhw dnatsrednu ylluf I .tuo dna edisni htob evitcarttanu si notgniffuH anaira. (I know about everyone, so I hope you’ll understand if I ask that we dispense with the introductions.)”
“Is that so? I see. Then, since we’re all here, I shall explain what I was just talking about.”
Everyone paid close attention to Demiurge’s explanation, because they would soon be meeting their supreme master, Ainz-sama, in the heart of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. The slightest mistake might well be punished by death.
After he finished speaking, Demiurge gave everyone some time to digest what they had heard before he led the Guardians and their vassals into the Throne Room.
Cocytus’ heart soared as he stepped into this room, which he had only entered a few times before.
With its outstanding construction, the flags which represented the Supreme Beings and the World-Class Item in its depths, this room truly deserved its name as the heart of Nazarick. The spectacular display before him allowed him to briefly forget the torment within his soul.
Along the way, the Guardians left their vassals behind and formed a line at the steps before the throne. Then, they saluted the guild emblem of Ainz Ooal Gown which hung upon the walls as a sign of their respect and loyalty.
After that, they genuflected with heads lowered, awaiting the arrival of their master.
Soon, the sound of heavy doors opening came from behind, and a pair of footsteps made their way into the hall. Needless to say, it was not the sound of their master, because the owner of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick would never move unaccompanied.
“A warm welcome for Ainz Ooal Gown-sama, Supreme Overlord of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick, as well as Albedo-sama, Guardian Overseer.”
That voice belonged to Yuri Alpha, of the Pleiades.
They could hear the doors opening once more, and this time there was the crisp sound of booted feet and a staff tapping against the ground. It was followed by that of high-heeled shoes treading across the ground.
Normally, when their master entered, they should have bowed to show their respect for him. However, nobody present did so. That was because they had already demonstrated their utmost respect.
However, that was not the case for Cocytus.
The unease that filled his soul manifested in his body as a physical movement. It was a tiny thing, but it greatly influenced the mood in the air.
Through the use of a skill, Cocytus could sense the other Guardians shifting their attention to him. Albedo, walking behind her master, was also radiating an anger that she was trying in vain to suppress. However, nobody dared to speak under these circumstances.
The footsteps slowly passed around the line of Guardians, ascended the steps, and then reached the throne, whereupon it ended in the sound of someone sitting down. Albedo’s voice then echoed loudly through the Throne Room.
“You may raise your heads to gaze upon the glory of Ainz Ooal Gown-sama.”
The assembled Guardians looked up — the sounds of their movement perfectly coordinated — to their master who was seated on his throne.
Cocytus also raised his head immediately.
There, he saw the supreme ruler of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick, the Supreme Being whose staff of office was wreathed in a dreadful aura, backlit by a mysterious black radiance — Ainz Ooal Gown.
Before him stood Albedo, who cast her gaze down on the massed Guardians, including Cocytus. Satisfied with what she saw, she nodded and then turned to Ainz.
“Ainz-sama, the Guardians of Nazarick are gathered before you. Please bestow your orders upon us.”
Ainz went “Umu” in deep, regal tones, before thumping his staff heavily upon the floor. The gesture drew everyone’s attention, and then Ainz slowly spoke:
“Welcome, you Guardians who are assembled before me. Now then, I shall first convey my thanks. Demiurge!”
“I have called upon you every time something came up. Well done. Thank you for your loyal service.”
“Oh, your praise is too lavish, Ainz-sama. I am but your humble servant; it is only natural for me to appear before you whenever I am summoned. That requires no thanks.”
Demiurge bowed deeply. He seemed to be trembling in delight.
“Is that so. Ah, that’s right. Has anyone suspicious appeared on your end?”
“No. I have been very careful, and it should be easy to detect anyone who approaches…”
“...That’s good. However, do not allow yourself to grow lax. After all, our enemies might come up with a way we have not anticipated. In addition, there’s the matter of the skin you have brought me… according to the Head Librarian, it can be used to make low-tier spell scrolls. Can you ensure a stable supply?”
“Yes! There will be no problems at all in that respect. We have already captured an adequate quantity.”
“Really now… Then, what were those beasts called again?”
“Beasts?... Ah! The beasts of which you speak, Ainz-sama…”
Demiurge paused briefly to think, and then continued:
“They are two legged sheep from the Holy Kingdom. What do you think of the name Abelion Sheep?”
Demiurge’s joyful tone puzzled Cocytus. Demiurge was fundamentally an good-tempered, possibly even compassionate person. However, that was only where his fellow creations of the Supreme Beings were concerned. To everyone else, he was an extremely cruel person.
One could glimpse shades of that cruelty under his good-humored facade. While his deeply-seated malice ought to have been directed at the aforementioned beasts, would he really refer to unintelligent creatures with such an attitude?
Given Demiurge’s personality, something seemed off. However, now was not the time to inquire further.
“I see… Sheep, then.”
Their master seemed amused, which in turn put a smile on Demiurge and Albedo’s faces.
“While I think goats would be better… that name will do. Then, skin those sheep, by all means… Will excessive capture affect the local ecosystem?”
“I doubt it. In addition, the use of healing magic allows us to skin them again. Therefore, we will not need to capture them en masse if we do not engage in large-scale production. That too is the fruit of our efforts excellent torturers.”
“Hm? Don’t severed body parts vanish when healing magic is applied?”
“About that… we have learned something during our experiments with healing magic. Once some great change has occurred to the severed body parts — mincing, for example — those parts will remain. In other words, once the flayed skin has been processed, the healing magic no longer recognizes it as part of the body and it will not vanish even when the source is healed. This is also why they will not die when they are fed meat. Also, this is not exactly related, but when either the healer or the healed one rejects the magic, it will not be able to operate properly and will leave a scar. Similarly, lower-tier spells are more likely to leave scars as time passes.”
“I see… Magic is quite impressive. Very well, carry on, then.”
“Understood. I shall begin harvesting them according to age and gender. Once that is done, could you tell me which age of skin is most suitable?”
“I will let the Head Librarian handle that. Next, Victim.”
“Tihs fo stnap ,tif gnihguoc. (Yes, Ainz-sama.)”
“I have summoned you here for only one reason. If something unexpected happens, I may need you to protect us and the other Guardians with your skill… I apologize for that, and I promise I will resurrect you immediately. I hope you understand.”
“Retteb eht ,ssarg ot tuo tup er'uoy renoos eht dna ,uoy tnaw t'nod ew ,uoy wonk t'nod eW :gniyas ni elpoep hsitirB fo ytirojam eht fo flaheb no kaeps I taht ecnedifnoc htiw yas nac I dna ,lla ta boj siht ni ycamitigel on evah uoy ,riS .etarotcetorp a naht erom gnihton ot decuder eceerG nees ev'ew ,revo koot uoy ecnis tuB .yrtnuoc-non a hcum ytterp si hcihw ,muigleB morf emoc uoy esuaceb s'taht spahrep - setats noitan fo ecnetsixe eht fo tpecnoc yrev eht rof gnihtaol a evah ot raeppa uoy. (Demiurge has already told me about that. Please do not worry, Ainz-sama. After all, I am also your servant. In addition, the goal of my life is death, so there is no greater joy for me than to aid the Supreme Beings in even the slightest of ways.”
“Is that so… still, forgive me.”
Victim gasped in surprise as he saw his master bow to him. There was a look of bewilderment and shock on his face.
“Yssup eht yb reh barg tsuj! (I would not dare!)”
“If special circumstances arise, we may need to kill you in order to keep the foe from escaping. Even in that case, I hope you will accept that we are not killing you out of malice. You are one of my beloved children and I do not wish to hurt you, but we may all suffer if we let an unknown enemy be.”
“Nuf erom era semeM .sgniht rehto dna sroloc fo sgnirts sselgninaem s'ti ,ees nac uoy sA .elprup eulb rabannic rehco noitareneg yarg hcaep ynoep hcaep neerg eulb :esenapaJ ro esenihC ni ekil sdaer naihconE ekaf s'mitciV tahw fo elpmas a si siht. (There is no need to explain, Ainz-sama. I am fully aware of your intentions.)”
“There is a phrase used in one of Nazarick’s mechanisms. It goes, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends..’ That phrase describes you perfectly. Thank you for your love.”
Ainz’s gaze moved from the Guardian who had pledged his loyalty to the death, and shifted to another Guardian.
Shalltear’s shoulders trembled. She had not expected she would be called, and her reply seemed abnormally high-pitched.
“...Come to me.”
Unlike the other Guardians, Shalltear was the only one who had been summoned to her master’s side. She rose to her feet, both surprised and panicked. Her unease was clearly apparent from her back, and she looked like a condemned criminal being sent to the chopping block. Still, she held her head high and thrust out her chest, as though she were walking to glory.
After ascending the steps, Shalltear immediately genuflected a short distance before the throne.
“Shalltear, I wish to speak of the matter which coils around your heart in thorns.”
As her master spoke those words, Shalltear immediately knew what he was talking about, and her face filled with shame and guilt.
“Ahhh! Ainz-sama! Please, please hand down your punishment! I am a Guardian, but still I committed such a foolish mistake! Please give me the harshest punishment possible!”
Shalltear’s anguished wail echoed through the Throne Room, and Cocytus found himself empathizing with her. No, any Guardian — in fact, anyone who was made by the Supreme Beings — would be able to understand how she felt.
Even if she had been mind-controlled, she could not forgive herself for turning her lance on the Supreme Beings.
“Really now… then, Shalltear, come over here.”
As she saw her master beckon her over, Shalltear slowly crawled towards the Throne.
Ainz extended a bony hand to Shalltear, whose head was bowed before the throne, and gently caressed her head.
“Ai-Ainz-sama…” Shalltear ventured as she nervously lifted her head, almost scared to death.
“...That failure was due to a miscalculation on my part. In addition, you were dealing with a World-Class Item, which meant that you were at a great disadvantage. Shalltear — I love all of you who serve Nazarick loyally, you who were created from nothing. That includes you as well. Do you wish to force me to punish you, who bears no sin, and whom I love?”
The master shifted his gaze, as though he felt uncomfortable. Cocytus had no idea where his master was looking, but he seemed to have spoken quietly. His master’s face was skeletal, so there were no lips he could read, but he had probably said someone’s name.
“Oh, Ainz-sama! You actually said you loved me!”
Shalltear’s moved voice echoed through the hall.
Cocytus was behind Shalltear, so he could not see her face. However, her attitude said everything. Her voice sounded choked-up, while her shoulders twitched.
He could see his master’s other hand gently caressing Shalltear’s face. It was holding a white handkerchief.
“There there, Shalltear. Don’t cry. It’ll spoil your beauty.”
Shalltear did not answer. She simply pressed her face — probably her lips — to the back of the hand stroking her hair.
Mare and Aura were already shedding tears.
Demiurge too dabbed at the corner of his eyes. Cocytus was somewhat envious of those people who could cry, and he looked longingly at the backs of his utterly loyal colleagues.
What Shalltear feared most was to be deemed useless, a troublemaker and disloyal, and then abandoned by the final, merciful Supreme Being who had remained with them.
However, her master thoroughly obliterated that unease.
He did so with the word “love”.
How happy must Shalltear be now? As someone in the same situation as her — no, his own situation was worse — Cocytus could only watch her back silently, with unbridled jealousy in his eyes.
“Then, Shalltear, you may lea—”
A cold voice interrupted her master’s words. Cocytus glared angrily at Albedo for her disrespect. And then, a thrill of dread ran through him as a wisp of unease curled through his heart.
“The meting out of appropriate punishment and reward is the way of the world. I feel she must still be punished.”
“...Albedo, do you dispute my deci…”
Her master’s words trailed off. He must have been left unable to speak by some reason about which Cocytus knew nothing, In the end, it was Shalltear’s words which swayed his final decision.
“Ainz-sama, I agree with what Albedo said. Please punish me as you see fit. The chance to fully express my loyalty would delight me as well.”
“...I understand. I shall do so after deciding on the appropriate form of punishment. You may return to your place.”
Shalltear descended down the stairs, her already red eyes made even redder. She returned to her original position, and bowed with a matchless devotion to her master.
“Cocytus, Ainz-sama has something to tell you. Pay close attention.”
The air filled with tension.
It was his turn now.
Cocytus’ head was bowed very low. While that posture, which only allowed him to see the floor, was a clear display of respect, Cocytus had done so because he lacked the courage to look directly at his master.
“I have seen your battle with the Lizardmen, Cocytus.”
“It ended in defeat.”
“Yes! The. Blame. For. That. Failure. Lies. With. Me. Please. Accept. My. Sincerest. Apologies. And. I. Pray. You. Will. Allow. Me. To—”
The sound of the staff striking the ground interrupted Cocytus’ apology. Then, Albedo’s cold voice made his hearing organs tremble.
“...You are being very rude to Ainz-sama, Cocytus. If you wish to apologize, do so with your head raised.”
He raised his head and looked upon his master, who was seated at the top of the stairs.
“...Cocytus, what do you have to say as the general of a defeated army? How do you feel, given that you did not take the field and merely acted as a commander?”
“I. Am. Deeply. Remorseful. For. My. Inability. To. Achieve. Victory. Even. After. Receiving. Command. Of. My. Own. Troops. And. For. The. Loss. Of. The. Elder. Lich. Commander. That. You. Personally. Made. Ainz-sama.”
“Hm? Ah, you can get undead like that from just about anywhere, so it’s hardly a shame. There’s no need to worry about it, Cocytus. What I want to ask is how you felt when commanding a battle. Let me get this out of the way first — I do not intend to blame you for this defeat.”
The Guardians and the vassals behind them were confused by those words, with the exception of Albedo and Demiurge.
So Demiurge was right… oh!
Cocytus sensed his master was about to continue speaking, and hurriedly refocused on him.
“After all, anyone can fail. Even me.”
The air in the Throne Room turned uneasy. How on earth could the Supreme Being Ainz Ooal Gown fail? In fact, he had never once made a mistake up till now.
In other words, he was only saying this to comfort Cocytus.
“However, the question is what you learned from that battle. Put in a different way, what do you think you should have done to win, Cocytus?”
Cocytus began thinking in silence. He now knew what he had to do to win, and so he spoke freely of his own deficiencies.
“I. Underestimated. The. Lizardmen. I. Should. Have. Been. More. Careful.”
“Umu. Just so. No matter how weak your opponent is, you can’t look down on them… I should have let Narberal see that battle too. Is there anything else?”
“Yes. I. Did. Not. Have. Enough. Information. From. This. Battle. I. Learned. That. My. Chances. Of. Victory. Would. Be. Slim. If. I. Did. Not. Know. The. Enemy’s. Strength. And. The. Terrain.”
“Very good. Anything else?”
“The. Commander. Was. Inadequate. Since. The. Troops. In. The. Field. Were. Low-Tier Undead. I. Should. Have. Accompanied. Them. With. Commanders. Who. Could. Adapt. To. The. Circumstances. And. Issue. Timely. And. Accurate. Orders. In. Addition. After. Considering. The. Lizardman’s. Weaponry. I. Should. Have. Attacked. With. The. Zombies. To. Tire. The. Foe. Or. At. Least. Kept. The. Troops. Together. And. Attacked. All. At. Once.”
“Is that all?”
“...My. Deepest. Apologies. But. That. Is. All. I. Can. Think. Of. For Now.”
“There is no need to apologize. You have said nothing wrong, and that was an excellent analysis. Of course, there is room for improvement, but you seem to have learned quite a lot. In truth, I hoped that you would not have to consult others and discovered those flaws on your own… but that is still acceptable. Then, why did you not do all those things earlier?”
“...I. Did. Not. Think. Of. Them. I. Felt. That. I. Could. Overwhelm. Them. With. My. Forces.”
“I see. However, you did think of them after the undead were destroyed, no? Very good! As long as you can improve yourself and avoid future mistakes, then there is meaning to this defeat.”
Cocytus sensed that his master was smiling.
“There are many kinds of failure, but yours was not of the lethal kind. All the undead save the Elder Lich were automatic spawns. Their destruction does not affect Nazarick in any way. Rather, if they enabled a Guardian to learn something and avoid future errors, then this failure is actually quite a bargain.”
“Thank. You. Very. Much. Ainz-sama!”
“However, the fact is that you were defeated. Thus, you must be punished like Shalltear…”
At this point, his master fell silent. This brief interruption made Cocytus uneasy as he waited for his master to pass judgement. That said, he was greatly relieved now that he knew that he had not disappointed his master. However, what he heard next made Cocytus freeze up.
“I had originally planned to have you retreat and act as a rear guard, but I think it’ll be better this way. Cocytus, you will personally erase the stain of your shame… in other words, you will exterminate the Lizardmen. This time, you are not allowed to call on anyone else for help.”
If they annihilated the Lizardmen and kept word from getting out, then this would not count as a defeat for Nazarick.
Those who viewed everyone outside Nazarick as inferior lifeforms would gladly accept this duty, wiping away their shame and that of Nazarick with slaughter. Indeed, if this had been the Cocytus from earlier, he would have accepted this order without hesitation. However—
This was because he knew what that order meant.
He breathed in and out several times.
Just as everyone began wondering why Cocytus had not responded to his master’s command, he finally spoke.
“I. Have. A. Request. Ainz-sama!”
The world seemed to stand still as everyone’s attention rested on Cocytus.
Cocytus was a Guardian, one of the most powerful and highest-ranked beings of Nazarick. There were scant few people who were in his league, but even someone like himself felt a chill run through his entire body.
While regret stampeded through his heart like an avalanche, it was too late now.
Since he had said it, there was no turning back.
Cocytus had compound eyes and thus a very broad field of vision, but from his bowed posture, he could not see his master’s face. That was the only solace he had. If his master displayed any anger or displeasure, Cocytus would be trembling so hard that he would not be able to do anything.
“Please. Hear. Me. Out. Ainz-sama!”
Before his master could respond, someone else interrupted Cocytus.
“How dare you!”
It was Albedo. Her deafening shout roared like thunder, filled with the gravitas which befitted the Guardian Overseer. Cocytus shuddered, like a child being rebuked by his mother.
“What right do you have to ask anything of Ainz-sama after staining the glory of Nazarick with defeat? The audacity!”
Cocytus remained silent. He was determined not to raise his head until his master acknowledged him. He would remain as he was even if Albedo hammered him with the full force of her wrath.
“Hurry up and—”
However, a calm male voice dispersed Albedo’s roar like mist in sunlight.
“—It’s fine, Albedo.”
His master repeated himself, to soothe the shocked Albedo.
“Raise your head, Cocytus. Could you tell me your request?”
There was no anger in that even voice, which only made it more frightening. The fear Cocytus felt was akin to seeing the bottom of a clear lake and knowing that one was about to be sucked in.
Cocytus’ equipment granted him resistance to fear and mind-affecting effects originating from external sources. Therefore, the fear assailing him now sprang from within his own heart.
After gulping — to be precise, it would be like swallowing a mouthful of venom — Cocytus slowly raised his head and looked at his master and ruler.
Points of bright red fire danced within the empty orbits of his eye sockets.
“I say again, can you tell me your request?”
He could not speak. He had tried several times, but the words caught in his throat and nothing came out of his mouth.
“What’s wrong. Cocytus?”
A weighty silence filled the air.
“...I am not angry at you. I merely wish to know what you are thinking, and what you are asking.”
His tone was gentle, as though trying to placate a quiet child. In the face of this, Cocytus finally managed to speak
“I oppose the extermination of the Lizardmen, and I beg that you will show them your mercy, Ainz-sama.”
After that simple, direct statement, Cocytus thought that the air was trembling. No, it was actually trembling.
The greatest source of that came from in front of him — from Albedo’s murderous intent, followed by the quailing of the other Guardians’ hearts. In contrast, Demiurge and his master seemed as calm as still water.
“...Cocytus, do you understand what you are saying?”
Albedo’s frigid, murderous tone made Cocytus shudder, despite his immunity to the cold.
“Ainz-sama ordered you to exterminate the Lizardman to expiate your sins, but you would deny his will, as the guilty party… Cocytus, Guardian of the 5th Floor, are you afraid of the Lizardmen?”
She sounded like she was mocking him, but Cocytus could not retort with anything.
Albedo’s attitude was only to be expected. If he were in her place, Cocytus would most likely be quite angry too.
“Why don’t you speak—”
What silenced Albedo was not the sound of speech, but the sound of a collision. It was the high-pitched impact of a staff against the ground.
“Be quiet, Albedo. I am asking Cocytus a question. Contain yourself.”
“My deepest apologies! I, I beg your forgiveness!”
Albedo bowed in in apology and returned to her previous location.
Cocytus’ master turned to transfix him with a keen gaze. There was no reading his expression. He looked like he was brimming with anger, but at the same time he appeared quite bemused.
“Then, Cocytus, does that request of yours hold any benefit to the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick? Tell me.”
“Yes! In. The. Future. They. Might. Breed. Mighty. Warriors. Therefore. It. Would. Be. A Shame. To. Wipe. Them. All. Out. Right. Now. Your. Servant. Submits. That. It. Would. Be. Better. To.. Instill. A. Strong. Sense. Of. Loyalty. Among. Them. So. That. When. Stronger. Lizardmen. Appear. We. Can. Take. Them. As. Minions.“
“...That is quite a good idea. There’s little difference in the levels of the undead made from Lizardman corpses compared to those made with human corpses. There is no need to worry about Lizardman corpses if we can efficiently recover the bodies buried in E-Rantel.”
Just as Cocytus was about to continue, he sensed that his master was not finished yet. The unease within his heart took material form.
“However, the undead I make with corpses are more economical than making use of Lizardmen. Not only can we be sure of their loyalty, but we will not have to worry about their care and feeding. The only advantage I can see in the Lizardmen is that they will naturally increase in population, and that increase will take a long time to be seen… Do tell me if I am missing anything out. Are there any sufficiently convincing advantages they possess?”
If Cocytus could persuade his merciful master, his wish could come true. However, Cocytus could not think of anything.
He had always thought of himself as a weapon to be wielded by his master. As a result, he had never thought on his own account before, which was why he could not convince his master. He had not considered what to do in order to benefit the group.
In addition, his master desired gains for the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. Cocytus did not wish to exterminate the Lizardmen because they had outstandingly brilliant people among them. In other words, he wished to spare the Lizardmen because he wanted to spare those talented individuals. That was a personal consideration, paying no heed to the bigger picture.
Cocytus’ heart burned with anxiety.
If he displeased or angered his silent master, this miraculous chance to make a suggestion would be all for naught, leaving him with the order to exterminate the Lizardmen.
He racked his brains as hard as he could, but he could not find an answer.
“What’s wrong, Cocytus? Can’t think of anything? Then it’ll be extermination, no?”
It was the same question from before.
Cocytus’ mind was a complete blank. His mouth felt like it weighed a ton, and his thoughts simply spun in circles.
A quiet muttering filtered through the silent Throne Room:
“...Really now. What a shame.”
Just as those words of whispered regret threatened to crush the very breath from Cocytus, he was aided by a calm voice.
“Ainz-sama, please permit me to interject.”
“...What is it, Demiurge? Is something the matter?”
“Yes. It concerns the decision you made just now, Ainz-sama. If it pleases you, may I be allowed to supply my humble opinion?”
“...By all means.”
“Yes! Ainz-sama, I am certain you understand the importance of experiments. Therefore, should we not use the Lizardmen for experiments as well?”
“Oh, now that does sound interesting.”
Cocytus imagined that when his master leaned forward from his throne, his red eyes had met his own for a fraction of a second.
“Yes. To begin with, regardless of how Nazarick turns out in the end, we will ultimately need to gather various forces or exert control over various species. Your servant submits that when that time comes, there will be a great difference in the results depending on whether or not we have performed experiments in rulership.”
Demiurge straightened himself up further, looking his master — who was seated upon his throne — straight in the eye, and delivered his summation.
“I feel that we should take control of the Lizardman village and conduct experiments in ruling without the use of terror.”
The high-pitched ringing of the staff slamming into the floor echoed all around.
“...An excellent suggestion, Demiurge.”
“I am deeply grateful.”
“Then, I shall make use of Demiurge’s suggestion concerning the Lizardmen. They are not to be exterminated, but subjugated. Are there any objections? Raise your hands if there are.”
The crimson eyes swept across all the Guardians.
“...It seems there are none. Then it is decided.”
Everyone bowed in acknowledgement.
“That said, your suggestion was quite outstanding, Demiurge. Very impressive.”
“I would not dare, Ainz-sama. I imagine you must have already known about that, but you were only waiting for Cocytus to bring it up.”
His master did not answer, only smiled bitterly. However, his master’s attitude said everything.
Cocytus felt that his body had gone slack all of a sudden.
He had suffered an ignominious defeat while commanding the glorious armies of Nazarick. He had opposed his master’s wishes without preparing any other alternatives to his will. How could he describe his performance? He had been so—
Incompetent. How incompetent am I, anyway?
“...No, there’s nothing of the sort, Demiurge. You praise me too highly. I was merely hoping that you would express your opinions, regardless of what they were.”
His master’s gaze shifted again, lingering on Cocytus for the longest time. He understood what his master was implying, but he could not lower his head.
“The most important thing is to understand the true meaning of your orders. After doing so, you must take the most appropriate action. Listen well, Guardians. Do not blindly follow orders. You must think before you act, and consider how best Nazarick can prosper from your actions. If you feel your orders are in error, or if you have a better alternative, then you must tell me or the person proposing the idea. Then — Cocytus, I believe I said I was going to punish you, did I not?”
“Yes. You. Ordered. Me. To. Exterminate. The Lizardmen.”
“Indeed. Now, however, we will not destroy them, but place them under our rule. As a result, I will alter your punishment. You will rule the Lizardmen, and you will inculcate a deeply-rooted loyalty to Nazarick within them. You are forbidden from ruling them with fear. Instead, you will turn the Lizardmen into a model of rulership without terror.”
Cocytus had never borne such a weighty responsibility before — no, among the Guardians, only Demiurge had this sort of experience.
It’ll be hard to complete this mission by myself.
That thought appeared briefly in Cocytus’ mind, but how could he admit to such weakness now? He could not say such things to the compassionate ruler to whom he owed his ultimate fealty, or to the colleague who had lent him a helping hand
“Understood. I. Have. My. Concerns. About. The. Task. So. I. May. Need. To. Call. On. The. Aid. Of. Others.”
“Of course. In addition, this matter will require considerable resources, rations and manpower. Nazarick will supply those.”
“Thank. You. Very. Much. I. Cocytus. Guarantee. That. I. Will. Show. You. Good. Results. And. That. The. Mercy. You. Have. Shown. Will. Not. Be. In. Vain. Ainz-sama!” Cocytus shouted.
“Very well. Then, I now order all the Guardians to move out. One team shall serve as distractions while another will demonstrate our power and show the Lizardmen that our strength is not limited to what they have seen. Of course, if you feel that may affect your future rule, I can rescind that order, Cocytus.”
Cocytus thought carefully about the matter and then replied:
“I. Feel. That. It. Will. Not. Pose. Any. Problems.”
“I see. Then, all Guardians, prepare to move out.”
As one, the gathered Guardians indicated their assent.
“Albedo, I will be heading out as well. Prepare our forces.”
“Understood. After considering that we may have foes who enjoy spying on us, can I assume that this is intended to deceive them about our true intentions?”
“Just so. However, do not forget that we must strike fear into the hearts of our opposition.”
“Then, perhaps we can send out the Old Guarders of Nazarick as the main body of our forces so they will look more impressive.”
Cocytus agreed with Albedo’s response.
There was a type of undead guard called the Old Guarders.
The Old Guarders of Nazarick were high-level undead sentries which were only found within the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. They wielded weapons with all sorts of magical effects, and they were equipped with enchanted armor and shields. In addition, they possessed many refined combat skills, making them excellent undead sentries.
“That should be fine. How many of them are there?”
“They number 3000.”
“Seems a bit too little. It’ll be hard to convey the desired shock effect with those numbers… Our objective is to win a complete victory and frighten those who underestimate Nazarick. If we field fewer troops than before, it’ll mean nothing, so I would like to deploy at least double the forces from the previous engagement. What other forces can we use?”
“Then, how about mobilizing the Nazarick Elder Guarders and the Nazarick Master Guarders? That way we will have 6000 people.”
As expected of the Guardian Overseer, Albedo replied smoothly and immediately. Ainz’s response was simple and clear.
“Excellent! Then, were there any problems when activating Gargantua?”
“No, Ainz-sama. There were no problems in its activation.”
“Then, use [Gate] to send our forces over together.”
“However, my mana is limited if I have to do it alone.”
“Ask Pestonya to help. Have her transfer mana to you. If that’s not enough, get Lupusregina to help as well.”
“After that, transfer Nigredo’s and Pandora’s Actor’s warning grid to me. This will weaken our surveillance on Sebas… but that just means we’ll need to focus on physical observation. Very well! Then, carry on, everyone. Tomorrow, we shall show the Lizardmen the power of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.”
“Thank. You. Demiurge.”
Once his master left, the first thing Cocytus did was express his gratitude to Demiurge. Demiurge responded to the deeply bowed Cocytus with the same serene smile as always.
“No, there’s no need for thanks.”
“How. Could. That. Be. Without. Your. Help. The. Lizardmen. Would. Have. Been. Exterminated.”
“...Cocytus, I believe the reason why Ainz-sama approved of your suggestion was because Ainz-sama had foreseen such a development.”
As Demiurge delivered his summation with an upraised finger, a startled gasp rang through the air. The sound seemed to have come from himself, or the Guardians around him.
“In other words, I believe Ainz-sama anticipated that you would say such a thing. That was why he sent you to the Lizardman village. I felt that was the case because Ainz-sama seemed most delighted to hear you oppose the destruction of the Lizardmen village. In contrast, he sounded quite disappointed when you could not bring up an alternative solution.”
“You. Mean. To. Say. Ainz-sama. Was. Disappointed. Because. Things. Did. Not. Go. According. To. Plan?”
“Precisely. In other words, even the conversation we are having now might well have been foreseen by Ainz-sama.”
“As. Expected. Of. Ainz-sama. He. Has. Planned. Everything. Out. With. Meticulous. Perfection.”
“...Spit it out.”
Aura bade her little brother Mare to speak, in a stern tone of voice.
“Ah, y-yes. Ah, I was wondering why he had sent out such weak undead at first. Ah, ah.. per-perhaps... Ainz-sama had planned on the attack failing from the start…”
“Well, rather than say that he had planned to be defeated, isn’t it more like our master had anticipated that Cocytus would have investigated the Lizardmen’s strength and then mentioned that victory might be in doubt?”
A profound sense of shame fell over Cocytus as he remembered his exchange with Demiurge back then. After all, he had messed everything up.
“He couldn’t have come up with something like that if he didn’t understand Cocytus so well. Well, that’s Ainz-sama for you…”
“While we have already seen Ainz-sama’s outstanding warrior prowess during the battle with Shalltear, to think he also possessed such extraordinary talent as a schemer. I cannot help but prostrate myself before him in awe. While Ainz-sama may have said otherwise, I feel that nothing can go wrong if we simply obey Ainz-sama’s orders…”
“He’s really amazing. He truly lives up to the name of the one who united all the Supreme Beings.”
Shalltear excitedly added her own praise after Demiurge’s. The other Guardians nodded in agreement.
♦ ♦ ♦
After returning to his room, Ainz jumped onto his bed. He hung briefly in the air before his body sank into the bed — and then he started to roll.
He rolled right, and then he rolled left.
The bed was big enough for him to do so.
His luxurious robe was crumpled from this, but Ainz paid it no heed, giggling quietly as he rolled around. The reason Ainz was doing such a childish thing was because there was nobody in this room besides him.
Soon, Ainz had indulged his childish desire for the soft sheets. He then lay on his back, facing the ceiling.
“Ahhh, I’m so tired… ah, I want to loosen up and get drunk… although I can’t do that now.”
After complaining to the air, he sighed deeply — although Ainz could not breathe, so he was just going through the motions.
Ainz was undead, so physical and mental exhaustion were foreign to him. However, in human terms, he had spent every day hard at work for the past month. If he had a stomach, it would be in ruins by now.
Ainz was currently filled with stress.
The warrior Momon had defeated the silver-haired Vampire — Shalltear. Perhaps someone who was not in full possession of the facts might think it was simply impressive, but to the mysterious person who had used a World-Class Item on Shalltear, it would mean something else. The opposition might have their eye on Ainz, or they might try to make contact with him.
Therefore, Ainz spent his days on high alert, with many cash items ready so he could make his escape at any time. During his free time, he indulged in a little bit of mental roleplay — or exercising his imagination, more like — and studied whether he would be able to escape if the enemy came for him, while at the same time gathering information about his foe.
This nerve-wracking daily life had little effect on Ainz Ooal Gown, but it tired out the remnants of his humanity — of Suzuki Satoru’s personality. The reason why he indulged in immature behavior when he was alone and had free time was probably a sign that Suzuki Satoru was under a lot of stress, hidden beneath the facade of Ainz.
“I don’t remember ever working without rest or sleep like this… I wonder how much overtime I’ll get this month?”
Perhaps that griping had come from the personality of Suzuki Satoru overriding that of Ainz’s.
“The Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick… no, Ainz Ooal Gown… isn’t a stock corporation. As a joint venture company, we’re supposed to be a moral enterprise, so we ought to pay all employees the overtime they’re due…”
After whining to himself like that, Ainz furrowed his nonexistent eyebrows.
“Hm? … Don’t tell me I’m not entitled to overtime because I have a post allowance? Uwah…”
Ainz rolled around again, and then froze after about half a dozen iterations.
“Alright… that’s enough useless thinking for one day… That said, I’m really impressed that Cocytus actually said something like that.”
It had come as quite a surprise. To think Cocytus actually felt sympathy for the Lizardmen.
In truth, Cocytus’ actions had been a big headache for Ainz.
Suzuki Satoru was the sort of person who would thoroughly research his sources and regurgitate them by rote when called upon to deliver a briefing. Therefore, he was not used to dealing with unexpected things. However, as long as it was written down in his notes, he could use them to deal with it. In other words, the success of Suzuki Satoru’s briefings determined on how much research he did and how well he could use it to respond to the circumstances. He was extremely inept in dealing with situations which required adaptability; in fact, he hated them.
He could not bring his notes into the Throne Room and say, “Ah, please look at the next page”. Therefore, Ainz had mentally rehearsed the events in the Throne Room over ten times beforehand. As he did, he prayed that nobody would do anything surprising.
And then, Cocytus had shattered that tiny wish of his.
He had been extremely worried about what Cocytus would say, but he was also very happy.
That was the joy a parent might have — as though a hitherto docile and obedient child had expressed his own opinion for once. The important thing was that Cocytus’ growth had far exceeded Ainz’s expectations.
When Ainz had returned to Nazarick earlier, he had asked one of the maids to cook something — a steak. Perhaps she might need practice when it came to the doneness and other major points of the meal, but Ainz did not have such high expectations of the steak. Neither did he want food which granted bonuses, like food in YGGDRASIL. All he wanted was something edible.
However, the result could only be described as a lump of charcoal.
No matter how often that maid practiced, she could only make chunks of charred meat.
Ainz had accepted that outcome as he accepted the maid’s heartfelt apologies. After all, it was the same as him trying to equip the greatsword in his wardrobe.
In YGGDRASIL, one needed specialized skills to make food. It was only to be expected, since food and drink could grant special bonuses when consumed. However, that maid did not possess such skills.
In other words, if one lacked the proper skills to perform a task, it would end in failure.
The matter of Cocytus was also an experiment of sorts. Ainz wanted to see if finalized characters like himself and the NPCs could learn anything new. This experiment was designed to see if they could grow strong by learning tactics and strategy.
He had given Cocytus command over the weak undead because he felt that he would be able to learn more from their defeat.
In the end, Ainz had been pleased with the results. Cocytus had shown Ainz that he had the possibility for growth.
Of course, there was a huge different between theory and practice.
Ainz’s upcoming objective was to thoroughly master the details of this world’s unique magic — if such magic existed. Currently, Ainz was still unclear whether magic was a skill or knowledge.
However, this experiment showed that one’s knowledge could still grow.
Cocytus had proved the possibility of that development. He had done very well.
A lack of growth was equivalent to stagnation. Even if he was powerful now, he might be surpassed one day.
Even if he had a hundred years’ advantage in military technology, he would still lose his pole position if he did not continue improving himself. There might be a strong nation nearby, but they would be utter fools if they assumed that they would always be a strong nation and did not seek improvement.
“Well, I think that… but while I’m happy that the kids have grown, I’m also worried if I’m a ruler who’s worthy of their loyalty…”
Ainz looked at the veiling as he muttered this.
“Ahhh, it’s so scary, I’m so scared…”
The remnants of Suzuki Satoru’s personality wailed in fear of the unknown.
Growth was change. Then, who could guarantee that their absolute loyalty would not change? Even if it did not, he was still afraid that someday they would consider him unworthy of being the ruler of the glorious Nazarick. He feared being forced out of his position as guildmaster.
“...I have to become a leader that the Guardians will want to follow… Why isn’t there anyone to teach me the path of rulership…”
There was probably nobody in Nazarick who was designed for such a purpose.
As Ainz fell into contemplation, he thought of two people, from the Five Worsts of Nazarick. One of them was Kyouhukou, who bore the title of Duke, and the other was Gashokukochuuou, who had the title of King. Ainz wondered if he could ask them to teach him, and his answer was simple and succinct.
He did not want to learn from them unless he had no other choice,
“Forget it… as long as I don’t mess up too much, I won’t need to retire. Also… yes, about those two-legged sheep…”
Ainz had already surmised the true identity of the two-legged sheep which was why he had not asked about their appearance. They were monsters he had seen in YGGDRASIL before.
“They have the heads of a lion and a goat, and a serpentine tail. Their hands are those of lions and their feet are those of goats. They are Chimerae…”
In YGGDRASIL, Chimerae walked on two legs, attacking with lion’s paws, which served as arms. Each of them had two heads, one of a lion and one of a goat. That was because these monsters were based on the visual data of monsters known as Baphomets.
So why had Demiurge not come out and said that they were Chimerae? Ainz had his doubts, but then he also had an answer.
“In other words, they’re mutant Chimerae. Am I right, Demiurge?”
Ainz chuckled, and then he added a mental note to his opinion of Demiurge: he had terrible naming sense.
“Well, the Chimera Lords in YGGDRASIL looked kind of… no, fish-like Chimerae look disgusting. So these two-legged sheep are a new breed of Chimera… that makes them Holy Kingdom Chimerae… it might be good to bring one of them to Nazarick. And then there’s Victim… hm.”
Victim looked just like how Ainz remembered, but one thing stood out in his mind.
“The language he’s using… is that Enochian, the language of angels? It feels like he’s saying something else entirely...”
It was translated, so Ainz did not know what sort of language he was using, but it felt weird to him. Of course, that might be because Ainz did not know Enochian at all.
“Forget it, let’s not worry about it. Alright, it’s about time to set out...”
Ainz rolled around again. He stopped when he was face down, to verify something that had been bothering him since just now.
He pressed his face to the bed, and sniffed.
Ainz had no lungs, so he was merely going through the motions. Strangely enough, he could smell something.
“This is the smell of flowers… did someone spray perfume on this bed? Are the beds of the wealthy like this? That’s pretty surprising… maybe I should keep them in mind when I’m pretending to be wealthy, then? Umu…”
There was an ability known as danger sensing.
Among adventurers, thieves and those with sensory skills prized that ability. As the name implied, it allowed its user to sense danger.
There were two main variations of this ability. One kind disregarded logic and analysis, making snap decisions based on one’s perceptions. The other was the product of experienced reasoning and deduction. The proverbial sixth sense and intuition belonged to the first category, while those who picked up on minute sensory traces and observed changes in the environment fell into the latter category.
One would naturally learn the second type when on the battlefield or when travelling alone, even if one did not go out of the way to hone it. It was a form of experience gained from being in hazardous environments.
The Lizardmen were superior to humans in that aspect. This was because their biological abilities — their senses — were sharper, and because they lived in more hostile conditions. A human being would typically live in a safe place that was far away from monsters, but Lizardmen often had monsters as neighbors.
In Zaryusu’s case, he was a traveller, and thus used to long, solo journeys. Thus, he could accurately and keenly gauge the changes in the air and mood.
His eyes snapped open as he sensed a tension filtering through the air.
The familiar sight of the room — although he had only lived there for a few days — greeted him. However closely a human looked, they would not be able to see within the lightless interior, but that was not a problem for Lizardmen.
There was nothing unusual about the room.
Zaryusu looked around, and breathed a sigh of relief after making sure that there was nothing unusual around. At the same time, he sat up.
As an outstanding warrior, Zaryusu could go from sound asleep to fully awake in an instant. His eyes would not be weighed down by sleep — he could charge into battle right now with no problems.
This was also related to the Lizardman habit of light sleeping.
However, Crusch showed no signs of stirring from where she was sleeping beside him.
All she did was moan softly as she was deprived of Zaryusu’s warmth.
Under normal circumstances, Crusch should have sensed the change in the air and woken from her slumber. However, she did not seem to have done so.
A sense of regret filled Zaryusu — had he placed too much of a burden on Crusch?
As he recalled last night, he felt that perhaps Crusch’s burden was greater than his own. It would seem that the female Crusch had been under more strain than the male Zaryusu during the process of defeating the Elder Lich.
He would have liked for her to be able to continue sleeping, but upon listening carefully, he could hear the sounds of many Lizardmen hurrying around. In an emergency like this, it would be more dangerous to let her sleep than to wake her up.
Zaryusu shook Crusch several times, using some force.
After twitching her tail, she opened her crimson eyes.
“Seems like something’s happened.”
Those words snapped a half-asleep Crusch to full wakefulness. Frost Pain lay by his side, and after taking it up he rose to his feet, followed shortly by Crusch.
The two of them headed outside, and they immediately realised the source of the disturbance.
The sky above the village was covered in a thick layer of dark clouds.
When they looked into the distance, they realized that these clouds were different from regular clouds, because the sky in the distance was bright and clear.
In other words, this meant that—
“They’re… coming again?”
A signal of another enemy attack—
“Looks like it.”
Crusch agreed with his assessment. Debate broke out among the Lizardmen of the Five Tribes as they gazed into the cloudy sky. However, there was no fear on their faces.
That was because they had achieved victory even in these dire circumstances, and it had made them all stronger.
The two of them ran to the main gate of the village, accompanied by the sound of splashing. They passed several Lizardmen preparing for battle, and reached their destination before long.
There were many warrior Lizardmen gathered at the main gate, and everyone was peering outside. There were some familiar faces among them, including Zenberu, who had fought and bled with them, and the chief of the Little Fang tribe beside him.
Zenberu waved to the two of them as they splashed over, and then jerked his chin to indicate that they should look outside the gate.
Zaryusu and Crusch stood by Zenberu’s side and looked in that direction.
Facing them, on the other side of the boundary between the marsh and the forest, were serried ranks of skeletons.
“So they’ve come again.”
Zaryusu clicked his tongue after answering Zenberu.
They had expected as much, but this was still too quick. They had thought that the heavy losses that they had inflicted would take the enemy some time to replace.
As it turned out they had been completely off the mark. Their foe had actually mobilized such a large army in such a short time.
“...Still, they ought to be weaker than the skeletons which that Elder Lich summoned.”
There was a hidden meaning to those words. Zenberu was implying that the skeletons before then were stronger than the Skeletons that had attacked earlier.
Zaryusu kept his eyes trained on the skeletons facing them. This was in order to grasp their opponents’ strength and prepare the appropriate defenses.
Indeed, they were all skeletal creatures, but they were dramatically different from the Skeletons they had fought previously.
By looks alone, the biggest difference lay in their equipment. The previous Skeletons were only armed with rusted swords, but these skeletons had full sets of gear. In addition, they looked more presentable than those from the earlier encounter. There seemed to be three broad classes of personal equipment on the skeletons present.
Most of the skeletons were outfitted in breastplates, bearing an inverted-triangle shield — a heater shield — in one hand, and all manner of hand weapons in the other. They even had quivers and bows on their backs. These armed skeletons were fully equipped for attack and defense and for fighting at close or long range.
Then, there were skeletons who were similarly accoutred with breastplates, but sporting tattered red capes and helmets, wielding bastard swords and round shields.
The last group comprised the least numerous, but best-equipped skeletons. They wore suits of shiny golden full plate armor and gripped shiny pikes. Not a single spot of dirt marred their brilliant red capes.
As Zaryusu inspected them, he realized something. He rubbed his eyes several times, wondering if they were mistaken. However, the reality before him remained as it was.
“Eh…? No way…”
“How, how could this be…”
Crusch realized that Zaryusu was muttering in a pained voice as she gasped in shock. Just then, Zenberu spoke up:
“...Oh, it seems you noticed too.”
Zenberu’s voice sounded similarly tortured.
Zaryusu stopped there. He did not want to continue, because he would be afraid if he continued to speak, but he had to say it:
“...Those look like magic weapons.”
Crusch nodded steadily from beside him.
All the weapons wielded by the skeleton army were magical in nature. Some had flaming swords, while others had hammers crackling with electricity. Some had pikes whose heads were sheathed in green light, while others had scythes which dripped a viscous purple fluid.
“Not just that. Take a look at their armor and shields. They’re all... enchanted as well.”
Zaryusu took a closer look as he heard Zenberu speak.
And then, he groaned in dismay. That was because Zaryusu realized that those shiny suits of armor did not reflect the sun’s light, but seemed to glow from within.
What kind of ruler could outfit this many skeletons in magic items? If it was only a matter of simple sharpening enchantments, Zaryusu had heard that certain great nations could amass quantities like this after long planning. However, imbuing this many magic weapons with elemental properties — and in the variety before him — was another matter entirely.
Zaryusu remembered the Dwarves Zenberu had spoken of several days ago.
The Dwarves were a mountain-dwelling species, who possessed exceptional skill concerning metal. During a drinking party, the Dwarves had once shared a heroic legend — that of the Emperor who founded the Dwarven Empire, a hero clad in adamantite armor, a man who felled Dragons by himself, and the “Magesmith” of the Thirteen Heroes. Even those legends had not spoken of an army — over 5000 strong — of this size, outfitted in magical equipment like this.
Then, what was Zaryusu looking at now?
“...Is that an army from the legends?”
If they had not come from a human myth, then it must have come from some kind of divine mythology.
Zaryusu shuddered. He realized that he had challenged a foe who was not only beyond his expectations, but one that should never have been provoked.
However, he had gathered everyone here with the intention to die. How could someone who had come up with such a ridiculous plan be afraid now? He already knew this foe was beyond the bounds of his imagination. The solution was how they would deal with it.
“It can’t be. That must be an illusion or something.”
As everyone heard those words, a look crossed their faces which seemed to say, “What rubbish are you spouting?” Their enemy was not moving, but they felt real enough. They emanated a frightful presence and they could not possibly be mere illusions.
Still, these doubt-inducing words were spoken by the chief of the Small Fang tribe. He had not said them because he had gone mad.
“What basis do you have for that?”
In response to Zaryusu’s question, the Small Fang chieftain replied confidently:
“We’ve sent out rotating scout patrols, but nobody reported seeing undead like that. There’s no way we wouldn’t have spotted them if they were in such numbers. Of course, all the scouts we sent out returned safely.”
“I see… Still, I don’t think they’re illusions.”
“...But… no, maybe they’re not. If they aren’t illusions, maybe they burrowed through the earth or used similar means of movement. A tunnel would explain why they weren’t spotted earlier.”
“It doesn’t matter if they dug through the ground or flew through the sky, what do we do about them? Though it doesn’t look like they’re going to fight just yet, they don’t look like they want to negotiate either.”
“That seems to be the case… although, given the present circumstances, I feel the enemy is going to try something…”
Zaryusu stared at the skeletal army.
He was looking for their commander — and then, a gust of bone-freezing wind blew over them. It was not a one-time occurrence — the chill wind blew over and over.
This preternaturally frigid wind was not a natural phenomenon. There was no doubt that it was the result of magic.
“Wind? Eh… it can’t be! Isn’t this the same kind of magic… how is that even possible…”
Crusch trembled as she hugged herself. She did not look like she was doing so purely because of the cold, so Zaryusu asked:
“Crusch, what’s with this cold wind…”
“...You might not believe me if I say this, but please listen to me. I originally thought that the weather changes from before were the result of the 4th-tier spell [Control Clouds], but I was wrong. [Control Clouds] can control clouds, but it cannot generate cold winds like this. Therefore… this isn’t just controlling clouds, but altering the weather. In other words, I think the enemy used a 6th-tier spell… [Control Weather].”
Crusch lowered her voice so nobody could hear, and continued: “However, that spell is beyond my ability to use, so I’m not too sure if that’s the case.”
Zaryusu knew how shocking spells of the 6th tier were. Magic like that was beyond even Igva, the strongest opponent Zaryusu had ever fought, and it was considered the most powerful form of magic in the world.
“Is this… the power of the Supreme One? I see… that would explain it.”
If he could use magic of the 6th-tier, then the title of “Supreme” would be well-deserved.
“Oi oi oi, when I look around at everyone, it doesn’t look good.”
Zenberu’s mumbling highlighted the mood in the air.
Such cold winds could not blow in this weather — in other words, this was a supernatural change in the environment that was beyond their ability to comprehend. The Lizardmen’s morale plummeted to rock bottom.
Previously, only clouds had appeared. The priests could still control clouds if they gathered together, built a huge bonfire and conducted a ritual. However, when the Lizardmen felt the chill kiss of this autumn-like wind, they realized how powerful their foe was to be able to manipulate such normally uncontrollable natural phenomena.
Even without Crusch’s words, the constantly-blowing wind clearly illustrated just how powerful their upcoming opponent was.
“Cheh, they’re making their move.”
Zaryusu gritted his teeth and suppressed the urge to swish his tail with sheer force of will. So they’re moving out now? he thought.
The warrior Lizardmen panicked as the skeletal army advanced with steps with such regularity that they seemed to have been measured with a pace stick. Some of them even growled in warning. However, Zaryusu was baffled as he watched the skeletal army move.
That was not a prelude to battle.
Just as Zaryusu and Zenberu were about to ask the panicking Lizardmen to calm down—
A shout that swallowed the land and shattered the sky rang forth.
Everyone looked in the direction of the voice. Their eyes settled on Shasuryu.
“I say again, calm yourselves.”
The only thing that could be heard in this silent space was his confident, dignified voice, echoing in their ears.
“Also, do not be afraid, warriors. Do not disappoint the ancestors who stand behind you.”
Shasuryu passed through the quiet, now-calm Lizardmen, and came to Zaryusu’s side.
“Little brother, what’s the enemy done now?”
“Mm, ani-ja. They’ve started moving… but they don’t seem to be getting ready for a fight.”
The 500 skeletons who moved out formed up into 10 ranks.
“What are they doing?”
As though waiting for that question, the skeletal army moved again.
With perfect coordination, they split in two from the center, leaving a space between them that was roughly 20 skeletons in size. Within that space was a figure.
It was not very large. Even at a distance of 250 meters, it was clearly smaller than Zaryusu.
It wore a black robe, and radiated a dreadful aura of evil. It looked similar to the Elder Lich they had fought yesterday, so it was probably a magic caster as well.
However, the key difference between the two was their power.
A chill ran up Zaryusu’s spine as he saw it. His instincts told him that the difference between the being before him and the Elder Lich from yesterday was like the difference between a warrior and an infant.
Even at this range, he could feel the ice-cold and malevolent presence it emanated. In addition, its equipment was in a league of its own.
It was like an avatar of irresistible death — an absolute ruler.
“A ruler of death… is it?
The words which fell unbidden from Zaryusu’s mouth perfectly described the monster before him.
Indeed, that person was a king that ruled death.
What did this ruler of death have in mind?
The Lizardmen panicked as one as they looked at that lord of extinction. Just then, an magic array roughly 10 meters across expanded from around that magic caster in a hemisphere.
On the hemisphere were translucent sigils that resembled letters and symbols, glowing with a bluish-white light. These sigils shifted with bewildering speed, each different from one moment to the next.
The clear blue light changed shape continuously, illuminating the surroundings in phantasmagoric radiance. If this were not the work of an enemy, perhaps they might have been entranced by it, but right now they were not in the mood for such things.
Zaryusu, unable to understand what was going on, felt confused.
Most magic casters would not project magic arrays like that into the air when casting their spells. The enemy’s actions were far beyond Zaryusu’s knowledge. Therefore, Zaryusu asked the female who knew the most about magic:
“What is that?”
“I, I don’t know. I don’t know what that is either—”
Crusch’s reply sounded a little afraid. It would seem her knowledge of magic made her even more frightened of this unknown phenomenon.
Just as Zaryusu was about to comfort her with a pat—
Perhaps the spell had cast, but the magic circle fragmented and transformed into countless motes of light, which flew to the sky. And then, they spread from the air, like an explosion —
—And the lake froze over.
Nobody had any idea what was going on.
There was the outstanding chief Shasuryu, the incredibly talented priestess Crusch, and the widely-travelled Zaryusu. Even these individuals, who were extraordinarily gifted in their respective fields, could not immediately comprehend what was happening at the moment.
They had no idea why their feet were stuck in the ice.
Soon — after their brains managed to parse what was going on — the cries of despair rang out.
Indeed, every Lizardman was wailing.
Even Zaryusu was doing so. Crusch, Shasuryu, and even Zenberu, the boldest of them all, was no exception. The terror which sprang from the deepest reaches of their souls drove them to cry out in fear.
The scene before their eyes was too horrific to bear. The lake which could never freeze, which had never frozen ever since they had been born, was now a solid sheet of ice.
The Lizardmen hurriedly raised their feet. Fortunately, the ice was not very thick and broke immediately, but the shattered portions immediately froze back over. The bone-chilling cold from below proved that this was no mirage.
In a panic, Zaryusu hurriedly scaled a dirt wall and looked around, and then he was dumbstruck by the ridiculous sight around him.
Everything, as far as his eyes could see, was frozen over.
It was impossible to imagine that such a huge lake could have frozen solid, yet the glittering ice before his eyes was reality.
Zaryusu feared for the fish farms, but now was not the time to worry about such things.
Crusch, who had climbed up with Zaryusu to look around, was just as dumbfounded as he was. A despondent voice came from her gaping mouth.
Much like Zaryusu, she could not believe what she was seeing.
He cursed loudly. At the same time, he hoped that the cursing would somewhat ameliorate the terror in his heart.
“Get them up here!” his brother Shasuryu bellowed.
Several Lizardmen had already collapsed. The warrior Lizardmen who could still move worked together to extricate their fallen friends from the frozen swamp.
The Lizardmen who had collapsed were ghastly pale and shook uncontrollably. Perhaps the cold had stolen their vitality.
“Ani-ja, I’ll go take a look around!”
With Frost Pain in hand, Zaryusu would not be affected by cold effects of that level.
“No… don’t go!”
“The enemy ought to be making their move soon! I forbid you to leave this place! Grasp the situation and don’t let any information slip past you! You’ve travelled the world and accumulated all sorts of knowledge; you’re the only one who can handle that task!”
Shasuryu’s eyes left Zaryusu, and he spoke to the warriors around him.
“I will now cast a spell that will defend against the cold, [Protection Energy - Ice]. Tell everyone in the village not to touch the ice.”
“I’ll help with the spells too.”
“Thank you! Crusch, you split up from me. Heal anyone in critical condition!”
Crusch and Shasuryu began casting spells on the now-safe Lizardmen.
Zaryusu remained on the dirt wall, his keen gaze intently focused on the enemy formation and taking in every move the enemy made. He had to carry out the mission his elder brother had entrusted to him.
“There we go.”
Zenberu, who had climbed up beside him, leisurely regarded the enemy forces.
“Come on, loosen up a little. Your big bro’s counting on your knowledge, right? He won’t scold you if you miss something. What’s more important is that you don’t get overly focused and develop tunnel vision.”
Zenberu’s relaxed tone helped cool Zaryusu’s head down.
Much like how they had done in the battle with the Elder Lich, they could divide the load among themselves and work together, while he oversaw everything.
Zaryusu looked around and found that the warriors were climbing the dirt walls and observing the enemy. Indeed, he was not fighting alone, but with everyone.
It would seem he had been rattled by that overpowering force — by that spell.
Zaryusu exhaled, as if to expel the accumulated unclean air within himself.
“Nothing to be sorry about.”
“...That’s true, because you’re here too, Zenberu.”
“Haah, don’t look at me when it comes to brainwork.”
Their eyes met and they laughed. Then they turned their attention back on the enemy.
“Still, that’s one hell of a monster out there.”
“Yes, it’s on a completely different level.”
The King of Death regarded Zaryusu and the Lizardman village with a majestic gaze as he stood, like the ruler of this world and the next. What should have been a tiny object in the distance seemed to have expanded to dozens of times its actual size.
“...He ought to be that Supreme One they were talking about.”
“Most likely. I hope he’s the only one who can freeze a lake with magic like that.”
“Yeah, me too. We Lizardmen must look like tiny ants to someone who can pull off something like that. Damn, dammit! We’re nothing more than worms to him. Speaking of which… they’re moving.”
The magic caster who had frozen the lake raised the hand which was not holding a staff and waved it at the village. He must be giving an order, Zaryusu’s instincts told him, and in the next moment his instincts were validated in a horrifying way.
The voices came from everywhere in the village.
“What… what is that?! What the hell is going on?!”
Zaryusu had thought he could no longer be surprised, but after seeing what was before him, he could not help but wail in response.
Before his eyes was a massive statue hewn of stone, with a pair of arms and legs.
Its sturdy, slab-like chest pulsed with red light, like a heartbeat. Its limbs were thick and stubby, and it looked almost adorable… well, it would have been, if it were not over 30 meters tall.
This massive stone statue suddenly appeared from the forest. Calling it an illusion might actually have been easier to swallow.
The statue moved slowly, and produced a gigantic boulder out of nowhere.
And then, it tossed the boulder.
Zaryusu reflexively shielded his eyes. Certain death awaited anyone who was hit by that huge rock.
The earth shuddered and a tremendous crash assaulted Zaryusu in that world of darkness. The dirt wall shook violently.
After that was the sound of heavy rain — of the sand and debris which had been tossed up falling back to the earth. It was accompanied by surprised cries from the village.
They were prepared to die, but they were not prepared for this unimaginable terror. The shocking lesson from just now made even the veterans of that battle shriek like children.
Zaryusu breathed a sigh of relief as he realised that he was still alive. As he nervously opened his eyes, he saw the undead army on the move, and he noticed that the gigantic statue was nowhere to be seen.
The huge rock which had not been there before now stood between the two armies. The undead forces approached the rock, and then they fell to one knee after raising their shields as if to block the sky. The other skeletons jumped up on those shields, and after nimbly maintaining their balance, they raised their shields as well.
In the moment that Zaryusu realised what the enemy was doing, he trembled all over, as if he had been struck by lightning.
“Don’t tell me… stairs? They’re using a legendary army like that as stairs?!”
The skeletons drew close to the giant rock with startling speed, and then the staircase formed by the undead army finally took shape.
Then, the other undead soldiers made their move. They looked more refined than the skeletons from earlier, and there were about 100 of them. They held lances with banners attached, of the kind that lancers might carry.
The bright red cloth — their banners — were embroidered with the same sigil.
Their capes rippling in the wind, these undead marched onto the marsh with immaculate coordination. They crunched the ice under their feet as they advanced in silence. Then, another group of skeletons marched onto the marsh with the same fluid movements, taking care to maintain the proper spacing from the first group. They crossed their lances with those of the warriors opposite them.
The crossed lances formed a passage which led to the huge rock.
“...Is that a king’s path?”
Zenberu was right.
The magic caster of Death walked down the path made by the undead. The silhouettes of several people were visible behind it. Nobody had noticed their arrival.
At their head walked the magic caster of unfathomable might.
He was dressed in a black robe that seemed to be made of darkness itself, and an ebony radiance emanated from the staff he carried That radiance shaped itself into the tormented faces of human beings, which dissolved and disappeared into nothing. Beneath the hood of his robe was a skeletal face, and within its empty eye sockets danced points of bright red light.
He was adorned with countless items of magical jewelry, the likes of which were beyond Zaryusu’s comprehension. He strode forth with the air of a monarch.
A pale-skinned female trailed behind the king of death. She resembled a human being, but she differed from them in one key respect — which would be the wings at her waist.
“Could she be a… demon?”
There were devils who destroyed with brute force and fiends who corrupted with intellect. These outsiders were collectively known as demons. They were said to be monsters of legendary cruelty and malice, who existed to destroy all intelligent beings of good alignment. Their names were a byword for evil.
Zaryusu had heard of demons during his travels.
He had heard of their fearsome nature. Apparently, 200 years ago there was a monster who was a king of demons — the Demon God, who rallied demons to his banner and nearly destroyed the world.
The Demon God was finally defeated by the Thirteen Heroes, and the traces of that battle could still be seen to this day.
If the undead were monsters that hated the living, then demons were monsters who wanted to make the living suffer.
Behind the demoness was a pair of Dark Elf twins, and then a silver-haired girl. In addition, there was a sinister-looking monster which floated in mid-air, and finally a tailed being who resembled a human male.
The creepy monster alone did not seem very strong, but the tip of his tail began to twitch just by looking at each of them. His primal instincts screamed at him to flee with all his might.
The group advanced in silence, passing beneath the lances and banners, climbing the stairs leading up the huge rock. They trod the undead soldiers with no hesitation whatsoever, standing like kings and queens atop the massive boulder. The king of death at their head waved his hand.
In an instant, a high-backed throne which glowed with a black light appeared, and the undead king promptly sat upon it.
Behind them, the people who seemed to be his confidantes formed a line, looking at the village as though they were waiting for something. However, they did not do anything else beyond that.
What was going on?
Several Lizardmen looked uncomfortably at each other, and in the end they finally decided to let the wisest of their number do the talking.
“...Ah, could, could you tell us what we should do, Zaryusu-san? Should we prepare to run?”
That voice was utterly devoid of fighting spirit. The drooping tail spoke volumes about what was in his heart.
“No, there’s no need for that. Consider the Elder Lich from before. We now face a magic caster who vastly exceeds that Elder Lich, so it should be child’s play for him to launch an attack from a distance like this. In all likelihood… he wants to tell us something.”
Looks of understanding dawned on the Lizardmen’s faces.
Through all of this, Zaryusu’s eyes had been firmly fixed on the group before them. He was like a peasant looking up to his king as he ceaselessly examined the monsters atop that huge rock.
He did this so he would not miss anything about them.
Now that they were so close, he could examine them in great detail, and they could even meet each other's’ eyes.
Was that king of death observing the Lizardmen from his place atop his throne? The Dark Elves did not seem particularly hostile. The silver-haired girl had a mocking smile on her face. The demoness’ gentle expression was paradoxically spine-chilling. The creepy monster’s expression was unreadable. The tailed man’s eyes were devoid of any emotion.
After they studied each other for a while, the undead king once more raised his free hand to his chest. Several Lizardmen saw this, and their tails thrashed violently.
“—Don’t be afraid. Don’t disgrace us in front of our opponents.”
Zaryusu’s razor-edged criticism drove all the Lizardmen to stand up straight and thrust out their chests.
Numerous clouds of black fog appeared before the king of death — 20 of them in total. They whirled ceaselessly, growing larger and larger, until they formed a single cloud of black fog about 150 cm in size. Soon, countless frightening faces appeared in the fog.
Zaryusu recalled the monsters who had come to the villages as messengers, and the undead creatures he had seen during his travels.
Crusch had already explained this once in the village, but it was very difficult to harm incorporeal monsters without the aid of enchanted weapons, weapons made of special metals, magic, or specialized martial arts.
Even if one put all the Lizardman tribes together, they would only have a few magic weapons. In other words. Just defeating one would be very challenging.
To think that their foe could casually summon 20 such monsters with a wave of his hand.
“...So this is what they mean when they say one can control death.”
Our enemy is an incredibly powerful monster, one whom that powerful Elder Lich would pledge his loyalty to, Zaryusu thought despondently.
The king of the dead muttered something, and then cast his hand out, like he was ordering an attack. The monsters than flew over to encircle the village, and they began to recite in unison:
“We hereby relay the will of the Supreme One.”
“The Supreme One requests a dialogue. Dispatch your representatives forthwith.”
“Any delays will only incur the wrath of the Supreme One.”
After their monologue, the incorporeal undead returned to their master’s side.
“Wha? ...Don’t tell me… that’s it?” Zaryusu asked, with a stupid look on his face.
He sent such powerful undead just to pass on a message?
However, the more unbelievable thing was what came next. After receiving directions from the ruler of death, the silver-haired girl behind him clapped forcefully.
WIth that clap — all those undead were annihilated.
Zaryusu could not hold back his cry of shock.
Those summoned monsters had not been recalled, but destroyed.
Clerics could destroy the undead. While just banishing them was hard enough, with a sufficient disparity in power levels, a cleric could not only turn undead, but outright destroy them. However, doing so to many undead at once was an arduous task.
In other words, the silver-haired girl was a follower who was as powerful as the king of death. That being the case, the people beside her might well be similarly puissant.
Zaryusu could not stop himself from laughing.
That was only to be expected. What else could he do but laugh? They were so much more powerful—
Zaryusu looked down in response to the call from below and found that Shasuryu and Crusch were at the foot of the wall. The two of them climbed the dirt wall and together they looked at the magic caster.
Crusch forced herself into the space between Zaryusu and Zenberu, almost making Zenberu fall. However, that should still have been forgivable.
“Is that the enemy general? He feels so powerful that I’m getting chills down my spine just looking at him. While he looks like the Elder Lich you defeated… there’s no comparing their strength, is there…”
“...Ani-ja, are you done on your side?”
“Muu. It’s over for the most part. Crusch and I have exhausted our mana. And after hearing those messengers… we felt that it would be better to settle this matter first. As for what those messengers said… Zaryusu, would you be willing to come with me?”
Zaryusu looked silently at Shasuryu, and then nodded deeply. Shasuryu looked briefly uncomfortable, but resumed his usual expression right away, so quickly that nobody had realized he had ever looked that way.
“Don’t worry, ani-ja.”
Shasuryu jumped off the dirt wall with that apology, landing with a splash as he broke through the narrow ice of the marsh.
“Then, I’ll be going.”
Zaryusu hugged Crusch tightly, and then he jumped off into the marsh after Zaryusu.
Zaryusu and Shasuryu trod the thin ice on the surface of the lake underfoot as they set forth together. After leaving the main gate, Zaryusu could sense the undead king’s entourage eying them, as though their gazes were exerting an actual physical pressure. He could also sense the uneasy looks from behind him, and the most worried of them probably belonged to Crusch.
Zaryusu fought the urge to stay with her.
Just then, Shasuryu spoke.
“...What are you sorry for, ani-ja?”
“...If negotiations break down, they might kill us as a warning to the others.”
Zaryusu had been prepared for this. That was why he had hugged Crusch tightly before going.
“...Given their numbers, I couldn’t let you go alone, ani-ja. If only one person went, they’d probably think we were snubbing them.”
Zaryusu was a famous individual among the Lizardmen and he was ideal for negotiations. However, he was a traveler, and his death would not harm the unity of the Lizardmen. From that point of view, there would be no regrets if he died.
Even if a hero died, the tribe could still keep fighting as long as there were other chiefs around. The shame would be the loss of the Frost Pain he carried; without it, they would be unable to withstand the cold of the lake.
The two of them walked forward in silence, every step taking them closer to death.
They reached the stairway of undead which led to the throne, and raised their voices. If the throne had been set further back, perhaps they might have been allowed to climb up, but given that it was situated at the edge of the rock, it probably meant that they did not want to let the Lizardmen climb up.
Kings had to have a commanding vantage, after all.
There was no such rule among the Lizardmen, but many species had the practice of superior beings overlooking inferior ones. Granted, this would be very rude if they had come to conduct a dialogue.
In other words, this was a dialogue in name only. There was no intention to speak to them on even terms.
Instead, actually expecting equal treatment was a sign of their ignorance. Zaryusu and the others might have won the earlier battle, but after seeing the array of the enemy’s top people upon the huge rock, even they would be forced to conclude that their prior victory held no meaning whatsoever. It was nothing more than child’s play.
“We have arrived! I am Shasuryu Shasha, representative of the Lizardmen, and this is the greatest hero of the lizardmen!”
“I am Zaryusu Shasha!”
Even so, there was no flattery in their strident voices. They knew it was a foolish gesture, but it was the last inch of dignity they possessed. The earlier battle might have been a sideshow in the eyes of their opponents, but they could not abandon the pride of the warriors who had fallen on that battlefield.
There was no response. The king of death merely swiveled his head to regard them from atop his throne, eying them with no reservation whatsoever. There was no sign that he was going to do anything at all.
The person who answered them was the demoness who sprouted black wings from her waist.
“Our master feels you have not adopted a sufficiently respectful listening posture.”
After hearing their doubt-filled voices, she called on the tailed being who looked like a human male.
Zaryusu and Shasuryu suddenly fell to their knees, their heads sinking into the marsh. It seemed like a perfectly natural motion to onlookers.
The cold mud caked their bodies, and the shattered ice immediately froze over once more.
They could not stand. No matter how hard they tried, their bodies would not budge an inch. It was as though a pair of huge, invisible hands were pressing down on them and taking the freedom from their bodies.
“『Do not resist』.”
In the instant that voice filtered into their ears again, Zaryusu and Shasuryu felt as though their bodies had suddenly grown an additional brain — an organ that received commands from others, and which their bodies obeyed.
After seeing their powerless bodies kneeling pathetically in the mud, the demoness seemed quite pleased as she reported to her master:
“Ainz-sama, they are now ready to listen to you.”
“Thank you — raise your heads.”
“『You are permitted to raise your heads』.”
Zaryusu and Shasuryu turned their heads, the sole part of their bodies they could move, and looked up like they were desperate to see their king.
“I am… Ainz Ooal Gown, master of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. Firstly, I would like to thank you for helping me complete an experiment.”
An experiment? You killed so many of us and you dare call it an experiment?!
His resentment fanned the flames of anger in his heart, but he resisted it. After all, now was not the time to make a scene.
“Well then, let’s get to the point… submit to my rule.”
The magic caster Ainz raised his hand, silencing Shasuryu, who was about to speak.
Shasuryu knew that trying to speak anyway would not be wise, so he could only keep his mouth shut.
“—However, you have just defeated us, and you are unwilling to be ruled by me. Therefore, we will attack again in four hours. If you can still win, I shall no longer act against you. In fact, I guarantee that I will pay you the appropriate reparations.”
“...May I ask a question?”
“That is fine. Ask away.”
“Will you be the one leading the attack… Gown-kakka?”
The silver-haired girl behind him frowned, while the demoness’ smile only grew wider. Perhaps they were displeased by the addition of that honorific. However, they did not do anything out of the ordinary, possibly because their master had not brought it up either.
(TL Note: -kakka is a polite form of address roughly equivalent to Your Excellency, it’s typically used to refer to generals. The girls probably took offense with their familiar tone)
Ainz ignored them, and continued speaking.
“Hardly. I will not be making a move. The attacker shall be one of my trusted aides… and only him. His name is Cocytus.”
As Zaryusu heard this, a deep seated sense of despair filled him, like it was the end of the world.
If Ainz attacked with an army, the Lizardmen might have a chance of victory. In other words, he would be hoping to prolong that distasteful war he called an experiment. In that case, they might have a scant, fleeting chance of victory.
However, he was not dispatching an army.
Only one person would be attacking.
An army which had been defeated had arrayed its troops in a grand display, yet they were only sending one person to attack. Unless this was a punishment, what Ainz’s words meant was that he was absolutely confident in that person.
A person which that unbelievably powerful king of death trusted. Then, the only answer was that the person in question was also incredibly powerful, to the point where the Lizardmen had no hope of victory.
“We choose to surrender…”
“It would be too boring to surrender without a fight. Do put up some token resistance. We would like to enjoy our victory.”
Ainz interrupted Shasuryu, preventing him from speaking further.
So you’re going to make an example of us, you bastard?! Zaryusu cursed in his heart.
The reality was that the strong would use slaughter to wash away the stain of defeat.
In other words, they were going to carry out a live sacrifice. This would be a show of utter dominion, designed to wipe out any trace of rebellion within the Lizardmen.
“That is all I wish to say. Then, I shall look forward to the events of four hours’ time.”
“A moment please — will this ice melt?”
Whether they won or lost, it would be very hard for the Lizardmen to survive if the lake was frozen over.
“...Ah, I almost forgot,” Ainz replied casually. “I merely wished to avoid staining my robes in the marsh. I will dispel the magic once I return to the shore.”
Zaryusu and Shasuryu were so shocked that they could not speak. In fact, they wondered if they had misheard him.
He froze the lake just because he didn’t want to get dirty?
This was no longer merely unbelievable. They were going up against someone with such shocking power, who could easily bend the world to his whims, and for such a pointless little reason to boot.
So this was the kind of mighty being who was their opponent. Zaryusu and Shasuryu felt a terror they had experienced when they were alone by themselves as children.
“Then, see you later, Lizardmen — [Gate].”
Having said his piece, Ainz waved his hand, and a hemisphere of darkness appeared in front of the throne. He then stepped into the darkness.
The two women and the Dark Elf boy attending Ainz bade farewell to the lizardmen in a disinterested tone before stepping into the darkness as well.
“Er, erm, then, ah, bye bye, take care.”
“Kcab og ot evah uoy. (Goodbye, then.)”
The creepy monster vanished into the darkness after the Dark Elf girl.
“『Releasing control』. Then, do enjoy yourselves, Lizardmen.”
Finally, the tailed man stepped into the darkness. There was a gentle sound, and the force binding the two of them vanished with him.
Zaryusu and Shasuryu remained kneeling in the mud where they had been abandoned, without the strength to stand up.
They did not even pay attention to the continuous pain which came from the freezing cold filtering up into them. That was because the shock they had just experienced far exceeded any physical pain they might have felt.
That uncharacteristic curse from Shasuryu was filled with a complex blend of emotions.
♦ ♦ ♦
They were greeted by the various chiefs, who had climbed up onto the dirt walls to avoid the cold. There were no other Lizardmen around.
They had probably done so because they were looking forward to discussing matters in private. Sensing this, Shasuryu decided not to mince words and told them the events of the dialogue that was not a dialogue.
There was no great reaction to Shasuryu’s somber narrative, only mild surprise. It was probably because they had expected a conclusion like that.
“I see… but will the ice melt? If it doesn’t, we won’t even be able to fight.”
“It’ll be fine. They said they would melt the ice.”
“Did you bargain for it?”
Shasuryu did not answer the question from the Small Fang tribe’s chief, merely smiling by way of reply. The chief knew what that meant, and shook his head in resignation.
“While you were heading out for those talks, we looked around… and we found traces of the enemy in the lake. probably skeletal troops. In all likelihood, they were surrounding us and awaiting orders.
“Don’t think… enemy… will let us go.”
“They seem quite serious about this, which means…”
“It’s probably as you’re guessing.”
The four chiefs who did not take part sighed deeply. They had probably reached the conclusion that what awaited them was a live sacrifice.
“Then, what should we do?”
“...Mobilize all the warrior Lizardmen, and… the ones present…”
“Ani-ja… can you allow only five people to take part?”
Zaryusu glanced at the baffled Crusch from the corner of his eye, and pleaded with all the males present.
“If the enemy’s aim is to demonstrate his power, they will probably not exterminate the Lizardmen. That being the case, we ought to have someone who can lead the surviving Lizardmen. If all of us here perish, it will be a great blow to the future of the Lizardmen.”
“...He’s got a point, doesn’t he, Shasuryu?”
“Mm, Zaryusu… you’re right.”
The two chiefs looked at Zaryusu and Crusch, and nodded.
“—That’s fine. I approve of it.”
After receiving the approval of Zenberu, the last chief, Shasuryu could no longer find any reason to deny his younger brother’s request.”
“Then it’s decided. I also thought that someone would have to stay alive to lead the united tribes — Crusch ought to be good for that duty. Perhaps her albinism might affect her duties, but her priestly powers are irreplaceable.”
“Please wait, I want to fight too!” Crusch shouted as she protested her exclusion at this juncture. “Besides, if one of us has to stay behind, wouldn’t it be better if it was Shasuryu? He’s the chief that everyone trusts most!”
“It’s for precisely that reason that we can’t spare him. The enemy wants to fill us with despair and make us tractable with a show of overwhelming force. However, do you think they would spare a Lizardman who could inspire hope like him? I don’t think so.. right?”
“Also… Crusch is the least popular of the chiefs due to her albinism.”
Crusch was speechless. It was an unarguable fact that others thought poorly of her because of her condition.
Crusch knew she could not persuade the others, and instead turned to Zaryusu.
“I want to go too. When you called me here, I had already prepared myself. Why are you still saying something like this?”
“...At that time, I thought we might all die, but now there’s a chance that one of us might live.”
“Are you kidding me?!”
The air trembled, as if in response to Crusch’s anger. The sound of slapping resounded from the dirt wall, as Crusch’s tail thrashed wildly in the grip of her emotions.
“—Zaryusu, go convince her. See you in four hours.”
Shasuryu strode off after leaving those words behind. Then, there was the sound of ice cracking and water splashing. The other three chiefs leapt off the dirt wall, following behind Shasuryu. Zenberu waved to the two who remained as he left.
After watching them leave, Zaryusu turned to Crusch.
“Crusch, please try and see it our way.”
“What’s there to see?! Besides, you might not lose! If I contributed with my priestly powers, we might win!”
How hollow those words sounded. Even Crusch, who had spoken them, could not bring herself to believe what she had just said.
“I don’t want the female I love to die. Please grant the last wish of this foolish male.”
Crusch embraced Zaryusu, a pained expression on her face.
“You’re too selfish!”
“You’re probably going to die…”
Indeed, his chances of survival were very slim. No, he could conclude that they were nonexistent.
“In just a week you won my heart, and now you want me to watch you die?”
“Meeting you was my fortune, and also my misfortune.”
Crusch poured her strength into the arms embracing Zaryusu, as though she never wanted to let go.
Zaryusu could not speak.
What should he say?
What could he say?
His mind revolved around the same question.
After some time, Crusch raised her head, her face filled with determination.
A wave of unease washed over Zaryusu. He had the feeling that Crusch would insist on following him. Then, Crusch issued a simple and forceful ultimatum to Zaryusu.
“—Get me pregnant.”