The Greatest Trump Card
Editors/Proofreaders: Ferro, TaintedDream, Namorax, Skythewood, SifaV6,
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 4th Day, 22:31
High above the royal capital, a group of people flew like shooting stars through the night sky. Two of them were magic casters sustaining a flight spell, and the two others were their passengers.
One of the latter two, was a man in a suit of jet-black full plate armor, carrying two massive swords on his back, while the other was a ponytailed beauty. It went without saying that they were Ainz and Narberal.
That morning, the two of them had accepted a quest from the E-Rantel Adventurer's Guild for an unprecedented amount of money. The client was Marquis Raeven. On the surface, it appeared that the Marquis wished to hire adventurers to enhance his estate's security in the wake of the recent disturbances, whose causes were unknown.
Ainz knew that that wasn't the whole of the matter, and that he would find out more during the progress of the quest.
The reason was because they wanted to suppress the group known as the Eight Fingers, and they hoped Momon would fight alongside them, against the strongest members of the enemy, the Six Arms.
Ainz could not find any reason to reject this quest.
Normally, adventurers had an unspoken policy of staying out of national matters. In order not to drive off Ainz — or rather, Momon the Black — they had gone to the trouble of preparing a proper quest to serve as a cover, and aimed to attract him with a truly lavish reward.
After some thought, Ainz accepted the quest under a pretense of reluctance, in order not to make himself seem like a crass bargainer. The catch was that he had to make his way to the capital with all due haste.
In YGGDRASIL, there were waypoints that could be used to teleport from city to city, but in this new world, there were no such things. Teleportation magic was a 5th tier spell, which Momon and Nabe should not be able to use, and travelling overland by horseback would take an entire day.
What was to be done, then? The answer was simple, provided by the magic casters of Marquis Raeven.
They used accelerated flight spells in combination with the ‘Floating Board’ spell, and together they took Ainz and Nabe with them to the capital at great speeds. How did they do this? The answer was very simple. Ainz and Nabe sat on the floating disk, which reduced their effective weight, so carrying the two of them would not slow them down appreciably. In this way, they had rushed straight to the capital all day long until now. However, even with this trick, time was still very tight, and they had already fallen behind schedule. Because of this, Ainz was slightly worried. If he arrived and was told he was no longer needed, what reward, if any, could he collect?
Though Ainz had been drawn by the unprecedented reward, it was doubtful that the requester would be willing to pay out to someone who had done nothing.
Ainz sighed quietly. He sounded like he was praying, like an employee with a poor performance review hoping against hope for some kind of bonus.
No matter what, he had to earn this bounty. He had already decided how he would spend it.
As these thoughts ran through his head, Ainz saw the capital for the first time from the sky at night. He regretted that he could not take his time to enjoy the view. The capital was dark, and it didn't seem like a bustling city at all. Even so, it was a fascinating experience for Ainz, whose eyes could see clearly in the darkness.
Watching quietly from above, Ainz’ eyes spotted an interesting sight; a light in the distance.
Though nothing much happened at first, when he saw the rising black flames, he realised that this was an emergency situation.
"Wait! Look! There's a glow of spellcasting, over there!"
"Indeed... it does look like... some kind of magic..."
The magic caster that had followed the pointing of Ainz’ finger didn't seem to think much of it. A normal person would have had trouble making out the glow through the darkness and the distance, much less analyze it.
"What's wrong? Is this sort of thing commonplace in the capital? Or are these fireworks to welcome me?"
The magic caster didn't laugh at the joke. Indeed, the expression on his face was very serious.
"That was one of the eight locations we were supposed to attack—"
"I see. I thought we'd arrived too late, but it looks like we'll be doing some work after all."
"Understood, we will head towards that location."
"Stop. It looks like there's a pretty high-level magic caster present. If you're pulled into this, don't you think you might lose your life?"
Then what are we supposed to do? Ainz looked away from the magic caster's conflicted expression and turned to Narberal.
"Nabe, use ‘Fly’ and take me in closer to there. On my mark, drop me right on top of them."
♦ ♦ ♦
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 4th Day, 22:33
To Evileye, who was on the brink of life and death, the black warrior’s question seemed utterly ridiculous. However, she immediately changed her mind. When you thought about it, both of them seemed very suspicious. After all, it was a confrontation between two masked figures and it wasn't unthinkable that they might be seen as conspirators fighting among themselves.
Then, hoping that she'd correctly deduced the identity of the black warrior, Evileye cried out.
"Dark hero! I am Evileye of Blue Rose, and I appeal to you as a fellow adamantite ranked adventurer! Please, aid me!"
The moment she made her plea, Evileye realized that she had made a mistake.
That was the difference in the fighting strength between herself and the enemy. Even with the help of Momon the Black, a fellow adamantite ranked adventurer, what could they do? The demon facing Evileye was one she could not hope to defeat, even with his help. It would be like going from a scrap of paper to two— either way, they would both be scattered by the raging storm before them.
If he accepted Evileye's request, she would be directly responsible for his death. What she should have done was to tell him to flee, and if possible, take the bodies of her comrades with him.
The man stood before the demon, hiding Evileye behind his back.
Evileye held her breath.
In the moment that he stood before her, she mistook him for a massive, sturdy wall, the kind that would defend a city. A sense of security and relief filled her to the depths of her heart.
And the demon confronting them actually bowed his head, as though he were a commoner showing due deference to a nobleman. It couldn't possibly be respect, he must have been mocking him. Was the demon merely playing games?
"My, my, such an honor you pay us this night. Might I inquire as to your noble name? This one is known as Jaldabaoth."
Jaldabaoth? She heard the surprised voice of the man underneath the jet-black helm, followed by the mumbled "weird name".
She didn't think it was weird. In fact, Evileye had no idea what to think of it. She knew quite a bit about the lore of demons and other infernal beings, but next to nothing about this name.
"Jaldabaoth, is it? I understand. My name is Momon, and like she said, I am an adamantite ranked adventurer."
Though bathed in Jaldabaoth's demoralizing presence, the warrior of darkness Momon carried on as though he hadn't noticed it at all.
So that’s what he’s doing, Evileye thought with approval. In order to draw his opponent out and learn from him, Momon exercised his iron discipline and kept his emotions from showing. It was clear why the man called Momon was recognized as a first-rate adventurer.
Evileye, who was ashamed of how easily her emotions had taken control of her, moved into the shadow of Momon's crimson cape in order not to distract the two of them from their exchange of words.
Even though Momon seemed willing enough to assist, she had the feeling that she would be getting in the way.
Momon and Jaldabaoth didn't bother acknowledging Evileye's presence. In the moment that she moved, they began a duel of wits, each seeking the secrets of the other.
"Ah, I see. May I then inquire as to the reason you have graced us with your presence this evening?"
"It's for a quest. A certain noble hired us to defend his estate... but when I passed by and saw this battle, I thought it was an emergency, and naturally I jumped in."
Said noble was Marquis Raeven, who had requested the presence of adamantite ranked adventurers in the capital, heedless to the risk of running afoul of the unwritten adventurer's policy of not getting involved in politics. One could tell he was desperately in need of the manpower to deal with the Eight Fingers.
"And what's your objective?"
"A mighty item capable of beckoning us to this plane has found its way to this city. We are here in order to retrieve it, of course."
"And what if we gave it to you? Wouldn't that solve the problem?"
"Unfortunately, that would be impossible. There can only ever be hostility between us."
"What kind of conclusion is that? De- Jaldabaoth, must we be enemies?"
"That is precisely so."
Evileye tilted her head at the surreal sight before her. Rather than a battle of wits, they were just sharing information. How did that even make sense?
"Well, I understand, for the most part. In that case... you shall be defeated here, any problems with that?"
Momon spread both his hands, and the greatswords which were like an extension of his arms seemed to shine.
"That... would be inconvenient. Do permit me to put up a bit of resistance."
"Then— here I come."
He stepped— no, that wasn't right. The Momon standing in front of her had vanished. He was engaged in an intense melee with Jaldabaoth.
It had developed into a struggle that Evileye could not describe with words.
The after-images of countless swords, parried and countered by the extended claws of Jaldabaoth.
There were many ways to render praise, but at this moment, Evileye, who was entranced by the dazzling swordplay before her, could only offer up that single word. It exceeded the blows of all the swordsmen in her memory. It seemed as though he would slice through the night and evil in one blow.
She felt like the princess in the songs of the bards. And the dark warrior before her seemed like a knight come to her rescue.
An electric current ran up her spine from between her legs, and Evileye's petite frame shuddered.
The heart of hers that had been still for over 150 years seemed to beat quickly once more.
Placing her hands on her breast, she found that of course there was no movement there. Even so, it felt real enough to her.
"...Please win, Momon-sama."
Evileye clasped her hands together in fervent prayer, hoping that her knight would triumph over the fearsome devil before her.
Whoosh! Jaldabaoth was blown a good distance away, with a sound that didn't seem like it could have come from a body of flesh and blood. Though he remained on his feet, he was still skidding over the cobblestoned floor at a rate that would swiftly wear out the soles of his shoes. After several dozen meters, he finally came to a halt, and dusted himself off.
"Truly spectacular. Crossing blows with a genius warrior like yourself might have been a mistake on my part."
With a great wham, Momon stabbed his sword deep into the stone beneath him, and used his free hand to pluck a chunk of stone from his head, before answering plainly.
"Enough with the pleasantries. You're hiding your power too, aren't you?"
It seemed almost unbelievable that neither party was going all-out despite the scope of this battle.
“Could he be a God-kin?”
The offspring of the beings known as "Players" were people who might awaken incredible power from within themselves. The Slane Theocracy called these people demigods. Or, more precisely, they were the ones who carried the bloodline of the Six Gods within their veins. If they had the blood of others, they would be termed differently.
It seemed very likely that this Momon was of the bloodline of a “Player”. Or rather, it would be better to say that no human could have possessed such power.
"My my, it seems I couldn’t hide it from you after all. you said (that your name is) Momon-sa—n, didn't you"
"Indeed, Jaldabaoth, my name is Momon after all."
"Very well, then. Here I come. 「Aspect of the Devil: Tentacle Wings」."
Wings sprouted from Jaldabaoth's back, but the feathers covering them were abnormally long, evoking the appearance of tentacles. He spoke evenly to Momon, who remained on his guard.
"You are strong. There is no doubt that your might exceeds my own. Though it is not exactly to my tastes, permit me the use of this method. While your own defense is formidable, can the same be said of the small fry behind you? How will you deal with that, then? Perhaps you should focus on defending her, no?"
With that, he cast forth a hail of feathers. Their tips were razor-sharp, capable of slicing cleanly through muscle and bone.
Evileye was defenseless in the face of this onslaught. She had no more mana to cast ‘Crystal Wall’. All she could do was wait and hope for a miracle.
But as it turned out, Evileye had been underestimating the dark warrior.
As the sound of metal rang out, Evileye looked up, and saw a stout shield standing before her.
The shattered remains of the feathers were scattered everywhere. Even though they were capable of shredding a human being to pieces, it was still a beautiful sight.
"It's good that you're all right."
That man's calm voice. His arm, swinging his sword at incredible speed. His breathing was measured and his tone was calm, even as he furiously deflected the feathers coming at them.
"Ah... ah... Ah! Your shoulder! Are you okay?"
Momon's pauldron had a feather stuck in it. Because it had been cloven in half mid-flight, it had lost its penetrating power. It looked like a decoration on his armor.
"That's nothing. Attacks of this level aren't even worthy of consideration. Rather, I am glad that you're all right."
Evileye felt her heart lurch with a badump. Her face was hot under her mask, which felt like it was going to scald her.
"Marvellous! For defending her without letting her sustain so much as a scratch, I, Jaldabaoth, offer you my heartiest congratulations. Truly, a marvellous display."
"Like I said, enough with the pleasantries. Tell me, Jaldabaoth, why are you pulling away?"
With that, Momon scooped up Evileye in one arm and hugged her close to him.
Her unmoving heart felt like it was going to burst from her mouth. In her mind, the stupid stories of the stupid bards kept pounding through her brain, over and over again. Especially the ones where the knight carried the princess while doing battle. Any sensible person would realize that carrying a burden while fighting a strong enemy was nothing but foolishness.
Bards throughout the world, I'm sorry! A true knight does indeed carry the frail maiden in his arms, fighting while protecting her. Uwah, what am I thinking! So embarrassing!
She was being carried like a sack of potatoes under his arm. Although, that was actually the best way to do it. Compared to a mature adult woman, Evileye was small and light. In order to maintain his center of gravity, it made perfect sense for Momon to carry her like this.
She knew she had no grounds to complain, and her heart still burned with the anger of seeing her companions murdered. She knew full well this wasn't the time for such foolishness. Even so, there was no way to fully quell the unhappiness inside her heart.
Maybe if she had hugged him of her own accord, it might have made things easier for him. But she wasn't confident she could hang on to him by herself if he chose to fight at those breakneck speeds again, so she kept quiet.
Evileye once again watched the battle unfolding between Momon and Jaldabaoth. The distance between the two of them had widened further than before, but for the top-class warrior and the super-class demon, it seemed little more than an extra step for both of them.
"Then, shall we continue?"
"No, I believe that will be all for now. Like I said earlier, my objective is not to defeat you. Now, we will turn part of the capital into a purgatory. Once we have established the breach, rest assured that I shall certainly send you to the underworld atop a pyre of infernal flame."
With that, Jaldabaoth turned and vanished. His movements didn’t seem hurried, but in moments the distance between them had lengthened, and he faded into the night.
"No. No, this is not good, Momon-sama, if we don't pursue him—"
As Jaldabaoth vanished from sight, Evileye was starting to panic, but Momon shook his head.
"I can't do that. He was retreating in order to carry out his plan. If I pursued him, he would fight with his full power. And if he did that..."
Momon didn't have to finish the sentence for Evileye to understand.
If he gets serious, you'll get caught in his attacks and die. Something to that effect. But even if they stayed put, that despicable fiend would surely use attacks that would hit Evileye anyway.
The fact that Momon was defending Evileye proved that Evileye had value as a hostage.
She hated herself, who couldn’t assist Momon, who was protecting her, and the fact that she was nothing but a burden to him. To think she'd said such high-sounding things to Climb.
"Then, Nabe. What do you think we should do?"
In response, a woman descended slowly from the sky. The dark hero Momon's team included the magic caster known as the Beautiful Princess. At the time, Evileye had laughed at the vanity of such a nickname, but now, with the real person in front of her, she found herself holding her breath.
She was too beautiful. A foreigner... with looks like that, she must have come from the south. Evileye kept watching her, unable to look away.
"Momon-sa— san. Why don't we head to the residence of the nobleman who hired us, as originally planned?"
"Should we ignore Jaldabaoth? Isn't stopping that fellow's plans the whole reason why I'm here?"
"Perhaps, but we should still obtain the permission of the client. That seems most important."
"—That is true."
"In light of that, I suggest tossing that oversized mosquito aside."
"Hm? Ah, forgive me, I was worried you might have been hit by that attack just now."
Momon slowly lowered Evileye to the ground.
"No— please, don't mind me. I understood your intentions."
Evileye bowed deeply to Momon.
"Thank you very much for all your help. Allow me to reintroduce myself. I am Evileye, of the adamantite ranked adventuring party Blue Rose."
"No need to be so formal, I am Momon, an adamantite-ranked adventurer like yourself. The magic caster here is my companion, Nabe. So what will you do after this? Are those two your companions? If you need someone to carry them for you, it shouldn't be a problem."
He pointed to Gagaran and Tia.
"I am deeply grateful for your offer, but there is no need. Our colleagues should be arriving soon. Perhaps they can cast the resurrection spell upon them here.
"Resurrection spells... you can use them?"
"Ah... ah, yes. Our team leader Lakyus can bring the dead back to life."
"Is that so? Then... if I may ask, from how far away can one cast a resurrection spell?"
"What do you mean?"
"That is to say, let’s say you wanted to resurrect these two. Assuming you cast your spell in the Empire, where would they resurrect? In the Empire, or where their bodies lie?"
Why? Why was he so interested in resurrection magic? Curiosity, perhaps. People who could use the 5th tier of divine magic were very rare, so it wasn’t unusual to be interested in this topic. Or perhaps someone important to him had died. In that case, Evileye’s reply would be cruel to him. She could only pray that was not the case.
“I’m not too clear on the details, but I heard Lakyus needs to be very close by in order to cast the resurrection spell. So, with regard to Momon-sama’s question, it would be impossible to cast the spell from the Empire.”
“Mmm. Then, another question; after resurrection, would the two of them be able to fight immediately?”
“It would be impossible,” Evileye replied.
The spell Lakyus cast was the 5th-tier magic ‘Raise Dead’. The raising would drain tremendous amounts of life force. Without exception, adventurers ranked iron and lower would be reduced to ash if it was cast on them. Adamantite ranked adventurers could be revived without a problem, but the resurrection would drain so much life energy from them that they would not be able to move, and recovering this life energy would take a long time.
If Jaldabaoth was right, not only were they still in danger, but they would also be deprived of a great amount of fighting strength.
...no, under these conditions, nobody can fight Jaldabaoth besides the great man in front of me. Resurrecting the two of them would do nothing to alter the circumstances. It would be wiser for them to focus on recovery after their revival.
“I see… I think I have the general idea now. If possible, I think I would like to meet Lady Lakyus. Would it be possible for me to wait here with you?”
"Wha! W-w-w-why do you want to see Lakyus?!"
Before she could recover her composure, Evileye’s words had already left her mouth. She didn't understand the reason why herself. In the instant she heard Momon saying that he wanted to see Lakyus, her heart was filled with resentment. It even shocked herself, and her outburst had alarmed Momon too.
Within her mask, her face began reddening with shame, and she was glad that the cloak covered up the tips of her ears which were also turning red.
"I... I was hoping to ask about revival magic, and also to meet with the leader of Blue Rose, who are fellow adventurers of the same rank as myself, and who are my seniors besides. That, and Jaldabaoth might be gone, but there's no guarantee he will not return. Is that so displeasing?"
"N-no, it's not like that... ah, I'm sorry I shouted at you."
The resentment in her chest vanished the moment she heard Jaldabaoth's name; she knew they had to be on guard against him.
Thinking carefully on what had already been said... I should have seen that coming. As for looking out for Jaldabaoth's return... That implies he wants to protect me? Fufu...
"Then, while we wait, do you mind if I ask about what happened before?"
"Before that, I need to take care of my comrades' bodies. I can't just leave them here. There's no problem with moving them, is there?"
Of course there was no problem. With that, Evileye went over to the bodies.
She'd thought they would have been burned beyond recognition, but it seemed that the devil's flames had only burned the soul rather than the flesh. The corpses were immaculate. After closing their eyes and crossing their arms over their chests, Evileye withdrew a ‘Shroud of Sleep’ from her pack, and began wrapping Tia up in it.
"What is this?"
"This is a magic item that stops the decay and rigor mortis of a body when wrapped around it. It's very useful for those who use resurrection spells."
While this was so, Momon noticed during Evileye's reply that she was struggling to wrap up Gagaran's bulky frame, so he decided to lend a hand by lifting up her body with his incredible arm strength. When the bodies were wrapped up, Evileye solemnly clasped her palms together, praying for the souls of the dead and for Lakyus to revive them.
"Thank you for your help."
"Think nothing of it. As I was asking earlier, could you tell me what exactly happened here?"
Evileye nodded, and began recounting the events that had come to pass. What she knew, what they'd planned to do, and the story of their encounter with the insect maid and the battle where Jaldabaoth had made his entrance.
As she spoke of how she had nearly finished off the insect maid, a change came over Momon and Nabe, who had been quietly listening to her story up until now.
"Then, did you kill her?"
His words were neutral, but the anger behind them was unmistakable.
Evileye was alarmed. Why would he be upset about killing Jaldabaoth’s maid? But she decided to finish telling the story.
"No, we didn't kill her. Jaldabaoth appeared before we could do that.”
"...Is that so? I see, I see."
The anger vanished, and Evileye wondered if he had even been angry in the first place. But, the silent Nabe's hard eyes were still filled with simmering wrath. It was difficult to tell if she disdained everyone in this way.
Momon coughed, and asked, "Then... if you hadn't tried to kill the insect maid, do you think Jaldabaoth would have attacked you?"
Evileye instantly realized why Momon had been angry. The insect maid had been neutral, and for all she knew, the two of them attacking her might have been the trigger for the current events.
It was only natural for adventurers to avoid unnecessary battles. If a group of high level adventurers didn't know this, it would disgrace the name of adamantite-ranked adventurers, and even Momon himself. That should be the reason why he was upset. Even so, Evileye couldn't fully agree with that line of reasoning.
"Jaldabaoth said that he would turn the capital into an inferno. A maid following someone like that couldn't possibly be a normal person. I believe the decision my colleagues made to fight her was the correct course of action."
That was the one thing she couldn't compromise on. That maid had been stronger than Gagaran and Tia. Knowing this, they had still fought on— there had to be a reason for that. She had to believe that her comrades had had a good reason for what they did.
The defensive Evileye and the silent Momon looked at each other, as though peering through her mask and his helmet. Although neither could see each other's face, Evileye was certain that she was staring into Momon's eyes.
In the end, Momon was the first to give in.
"Mmm. Ah. I see. You were right. I apologize."
He lowered his head to her. That shocked Evileye. Even though her belief in her comrades was firm, she still couldn't make her savior humble himself like that.
"Ah! Please, raise your head! Such a wonderful person like you should... Ueeeeee?"
As she realised what she had just said, Evileye let out a pathetic yelp.
While it was true that Momon was an outstanding individual, when you thought about it, using the word "wonderful" to describe him was...
Evileye squealed in her heart.
Aaaaah! I can't help it, he's too damn cool! Is it wrong for me to feel like a girl again, just once in hundreds of years? After all, he's a mighty warrior who's stronger than me...
Given the way Evileye was looking at Momon like a lovestruck schoolgirl, if he felt embarrassed and said so, that meant she still had a chance. If not, her chances would be miniscule.
Evileye's body had stopped developing at the age of twelve. As such, she possessed none of the parts that men wanted to see. Whether it came to inducing the fires of lust in others, or satisfying said lust, it would have been very difficult for her. Of course, a certain subset of men would have been very attracted to her, but they were a minority. With a beauty like Nabe nearby, her chances seemed even slimmer.
As Evileye gathered her courage to look at him, she found that Momon and Nabe were looking at the night sky instead.
She didn't quite know what they were doing at first, but when she remembered how she had wailed just now, it came to her. The two of them had taken her cry as a warning.
No, it's not~
With nothing to say, the feeling drove her to the brink of tears.
"...maybe you were mistaken? There's nothing there," Momon said as he scanned the surrounding sky.
"M-mistake, it was a mistake. I'm truly sorry."
"Ah, think nothing of it. It's better to be mistaken than ambushed."
Nabe returned her sword to her back, as Momon replied to Evileye with one sword in hand.
His gentleness left Evileye speechless. In that moment, the edge of her vision lit up. The color wasn't the pure white of magic, but a malevolent red, the color of a roaring blaze.
"Momon-san, look over there."
As Nabe said this, the two of them turned to look at the crimson radiance. Evileye's eyes widened, for she knew what had caused the fire.
The crimson fire spat tongues of flame toward the sky, as though it aimed to burn down the heavens. It was easily more than thirty meters high, and she could hardly imagine how wide it was— several hundred meters, maybe more.
The wall of flame swayed like a veil, and encircled the city like a girdle.
Evileye, who had been shocked senseless by the sight, heard a soft male voice in her ear.
"‘Flames of Gehenna’?"
As though her neck was on springs, she snapped her head to the side to face Momon.
"That, that, what, what is that? Momon, do you know what that huge wall of flame is?"
Momon's shoulders trembled slightly as he replied, with an uncharacteristic lack of confidence.
"Eh? Ah... no, no, I can't be very sure about that. Can I tell you again after I confirm the details?"
"That... that's all right..."
"I need to discuss something with Nabe, please excuse us."
"Eh, can't I come along too?"
"Ah, no, it's a personal thing. Please, excuse us."
It was so basic, so obvious that Evileye felt ashamed for even asking in the first place. Her wandering eyes settled on the woman known as the Beautiful Princess.
On her face was a triumphant smile.
She might have been mistaken, but then again, she might not. It was only natural for a woman to feel superior to all other women when a great man paid special attention to her.
Evileye was unable to suppress the strange feeling boiling up inside her. It was an anger that disgusted her; the flames of jealousy.
He's not just strong, he also knows things even I don't... I won't ever meet a man like him again.
Human females were naturally attracted to the strong. When threatened by a powerful outside force, it triggered their natural instinct to join with a strong male and bear his children, receiving protection for herself and her offspring. Of course, not all women would select a man in this manner. Personality, looks, many factors could lead to love. Even so, there was a very strong inclination to look for strength in a partner.
Evileye looked down on such women.
It's foolish to want to be protected because you're weak. Instead, all you need to do is become strong, and you won't need anyone to protect you. That should be the way.
But if she let a man like this go, would she ever meet anyone else who could satisfy her so completely like he could?
Evileye would not age, but Momon would surely grow old and die before her. And no matter how hard she tried, Evileye would never be able to bear Momon's children. Decades later, she would be lonely again. Still, she thought it might be good to live as a woman for once in her life.
Another woman can have the child. The most important thing is love. I certainly won't begrudge him a mistress or two.
"Then, please wait here for a while. I apologize for... Evileye?"
"Hm? Ahh, I'm sorry. I was thinking about something myself, things to discuss with my party. I'll wait here, then."
Truth to be told, she didn't want to part with him. But she also didn't want to hang around the woman to whom she had wholeheartedly admitted defeat.
Of course, she couldn't say such a thing.
Nobody wanted a woman who was too clingy. Men were creatures who wanted to flee the more you tried to tie them down.
She recalled the idle chatter in the tavern. At that time, she'd laughed it off, because she had thought it had nothing to do with her.
What a waste. Even trivia like that had its uses. I should have listened closely... but would it be too late to start now? Will I have time to learn how to be a woman?
As she watched the receding shapes of the two adventurers, Evileye's head started filling with wild thoughts.
She knew now wasn't the time for idle fantasies, but she knew too little about what was going on, let alone how to proceed, and so she didn't do anything. Even so, Evileye would be going into a battle in which she might perish. In that event, she might as well sigh and earnestly consider something else to prevent her dwelling on it.
...it's a fact.
She didn't know what her body was good for, if it couldn't bear children, but it was an avenue that was still worth thinking about.
...haaa. Defeating Jaldabaoth and making a future...
The blaze in Evileye's heart roared up, as though challenging Jaldabaoth within the wall of fire.
The only one who can beat you is Momon-sama. Then, I will dispose of the trash around you. This time, if the maid shows herself, I will kill her. I was once the cursed being known as Landfall! Don't look down on me, Jaldabaoth!
♦ ♦ ♦
"I don't think she'll be able to hear us here."
"It would be very difficult to listen in on us from so far away."
"Even so, we should still be prepared."
Ainz activated a cash item. It had the power to prevent eavesdropping, but it felt like a waste because it was a one-use item. However, he had no choice.
"Then, Nabe, I think I've seen through Demiurge's plan for the most part. However, the more complex the machine, the more easily it breaks down. The same applies to schemes. We must avoid acting like we've won and not confirming the facts just because we seem to have the upper hand. Do you understand?"
"I see... as expected of our lord and master, a peerless existence."
Narberal's praise came from the bottom of her heart, and Ainz acknowledged it with a regal nod of his head. It was as though he were saying that everything was going according to plan.
This was not the case.
He felt as though he was going to drown in the lake that his non-existent cold sweat was forming.
He couldn't even grasp the meaning behind Demiurge's scheme. Ainz had simply gone into the battle with the foolish notion of showing off his battle skills in a stylish display at the capital.
The shock of learning that his opponent was Demiurge had shattered his composure utterly. Only the emotion control override possessed by all undead had kept him calm.
After that he thought he would just be fighting the Eight Fingers just going by his orders, but then he learned that he would be doing battle with adamantite-ranked adventurers. Because he didn't know what was going on at all, Ainz had nearly given up on thinking things through.
Speaking thoughtlessly under these conditions would sound entirely unnatural. Ainz knew that it was extremely dangerous to pretend understanding when one was actually ignorant. Perhaps it might have been wiser to reveal his lack of knowledge, but under the circumstances, it was ill-advised. A Supreme Being worthy of loyalty would have to demonstrate a fitting amount of foreknowledge.
If a superior — especially one of a CEO's level — proved himself to be too incompetent, his subordinates would lose their trust in him.
Therefore, he had frantically racked his non-existent brain cells to produce the aphorism he had just spouted.
Perhaps Narberal was too honest, or the words he spoke had been unexpectedly meaningful. Narberal's eyes were filled with respect. As such, Ainz made a request of her under the pretense of ordering her.
"Mmm. Then, in order to ensure the success of Demiurge's operation, make contact with him. I will not do it personally because that woman might still be watching. And right now, I cannot use magic. Hu... that Evileye hadn't let her guard down for a single moment. I don't have proof, but I'm sure she's already suspecting me.”
"How could that be? There's no such thing. Perhaps there's another reason she's looking so closely at you."
Ainz looked at Narberal while trying not to make it obvious that he was staring at her.
"That has to be the reason. I roughly understand how that woman thinks. I believe revealing my anger when we discussed Entoma was a fatal mistake. Perhaps I should have just killed her off back then?"
There was no answer to give.
When he had heard Entoma had nearly been killed, Ainz’s anger had flared up. Although it had been suppressed in an instant like all intense emotions, in that instant that he had been filled with murderous rage. It was a miracle that he hadn't promptly chopped off Evileye's head with his sword.
He had suppressed his killing intent and not acted on his anger because earlier, he had concluded that killing Evileye would have been counterproductive. At long last he had found an introduction to someone who could use resurrection magic— and they were in a position to benefit from it. Ruining this would be too much of a waste.
Perhaps I've grown, and learned to control myself.
If it wasn't because of Shalltear's brainwashing, it's possible that he would have ignored the potential gains to Nazarick and killed Evileye. The Great Tomb of Nazarick and the NPCs created by his former friends were treasures that Ainz wanted to protect. He would not forgive any attempt to harm them, but he also had to consider what was most important and which choices to make to attain it. That was maturity.
Ainz reflected that his capacity had grown to match his experience, and the illusion of the face underneath his helmet smiled to itself.
At this rate, there’s no doubt that he would be able to become a true ruler of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. Or rather, he hoped to reach that stage.
Before that, I have to avoid disappointing people or suffering great setbacks… it’ll be very hard on me…
“Is that so? As expected of Ainz-sama, you completely saw through that woman. Such vision could only belong to one destined for the throne.”
“Enough with the pleasantries, Narberal. More accurately, it was my mistake which led to her suspicion.”
Ainz waved Narberal off in a gesture that also hid his embarrassment. Then, in a steely voice, he issued his command.
“Let’s go, Narberal. Go and discover all the details of this scheme, and then tell me about them. Also, tell Albedo that if this drags on, we will have to join in clearing up Jaldabaoth’s mess.”
Narberal bowed and cast a spell.
Inside his heart, Ainz rejoiced. He had not lied to Narberal. Ainz’ current state as a Perfect Warrior meant that he could not use magic. Thus, using Narberal to relay messages from Demiurge was only logical. But there was another reason, one that he could not say out loud.
In order to better pretend that he had already seen through Demiurge's plans, and not let Albedo and Demiurge suspect anything, he had to minimize contact with them.
If he assigned Narberal to do it, it would be like playing a game of telephone, and some of the information might end up distorted. However, he would rather take that gamble than risk damaging his image as the supreme ruler of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
Ainz slowly made his way back to Evileye.
While Narberal was talking to Demiurge, it would be up to him to draw her attention.
"Really now... it'd be good if we could somehow get through this. Speaking of which, I wonder what the face of a child with such power looks like under the mask...”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 5th Day 00:47
Though it was in the middle of the night, a corner of the royal city was lit up by torches as though it were broad daylight. A somewhat cramped room was packed full of men and women. They were all dressed in battle gear, but there was no unifying theme among them.
They were all adventurers within the capital who had responded to the hasty summons of the palace. Orichalcum and mithril-ranked adventurers notwithstanding, even lowly iron and copper-ranked adventurers were present for this.
The more senior adventurers had already realized that the reason outsiders like themselves had been permitted into the palace was in order to take care of the problems plaguing the capital. Some of these adventurers had already begun guessing at their employer upon seeing the youth in white armor standing at attention in the corner. Even fewer of these adventurers had any idea of the true identity of the katana-bearing man who stood beside the youth.
The great door to the chamber suddenly opened, and what appeared was a band of women, causing a stir.
Every one of them was known to the adventurers within the Kingdom.
At their head was the leader of the adamantite ranked adventuring party "Blue Rose", Lakyus Alvein dale Aindra.
Close behind her was the Golden Princess Renner, along with the leader of the Adventurer's Guild in the capital. Then there was Evileye of Blue Rose and one of the twins. And at the back was the strongest warrior of the Kingdom, Gazef Stronoff.
As the group stood before the gathered adventurers, the youth in white armor unrolled the scroll in his hands, and pasted it onto the wall behind him.
It was a detailed map of the royal capital.
The first to speak was a woman in her forties, a former member of a mithril ranked adventuring party whose eyes were still filled with vitality.
"Ladies and gentlemen, to begin with, I'd like to thank you for being able to be present for this emergency meeting."
After the room had quietened down, she continued to address the adventurers with an earnest expression on her face.
"Normally, the Adventurer's Guild would never interfere in national affairs."
Every eye turned to the members of Blue Rose, but they remained silent. After all, eyes could not speak like the mouth could.
"However, this is an exceptional case. The Adventurer's Guild has decided to cooperate fully with the Kingdom, in order to quickly resolve the problems facing us. The princess will relate the details to us, so I pray you will be quiet and listen."
The Princess slowly advanced, flanked by the members of Blue Rose and Gazef Stronoff.
"I am Renner Theiere Chardelon ryle Vaiself, and I am deeply grateful that everyone here was able to respond to the extraordinary summons issued tonight."
She bowed demurely to them, and several sighs of affection rose from the adventurers as they saw the delicate sight before them.
"Normally, I would render duly deserved praise upon all of you, but as time is of the essence, let us arrive presently to the point. This night, a portion of the capital—"
Here the princess raised a finger to a part of the map —the northeast corner— and drew a circle around it.
"—a portion of the capital was surrounded by a wall of fire. The flames are more than thirty meters in height, and I am certain you have all seen them."
Most of the adventurers nodded in agreement, while some went to the palace windows to look outside. The high walls surrounding the palace meant that they couldn't see the wall of fire directly, but the reflected light from the flames stained the sky red, and that they could see.
"This flame ought to be an illusion of some sort, because touching it does not cause harm. According to those who have contacted it, the fire does not have heat, or impede movement. Moving past the firewall should not pose a problem either."
At this, the lower-ranked adventurers breathed sighs of relief.
"The perpetrator of this incident is known as Jaldabaoth, a powerful demon. Blue Rose has already confirmed that there are low-ranking demons on the other side of the firewall. They seem to be acting entirely on orders from their superiors."
Lakyus nodded to Renner as she said that.
"...strike at the head and the body will die... does that mean all we have to do is defeat Jaldabaoth?"
Renner turned to acknowledge the speaker, an adventurer with a mithril plate upon his neck.
"That might be an oversimplification, but fundamentally, that is true. However, what I wish to ask of all of you is to defeat this devil's plot. We have information that suggests that he is here to seize a certain magic item which is on its way to the capital."
That news sparked a disturbance among the adventurers. They had finally realized that the region encircled by the firewall included the warehouses and shophouses that made up the capital's economic heart.
"...how did you come by this information?"
"It was stated by Jaldabaoth himself."
"Then don't you think there's a high chance this information could be false?"
"Certainly, it is not out of the question. However, I believe it to be accurate. The enemy has not made any movements ever since they set up the wall of fire. More importantly, if what Jaldabaoth says is true, then inaction will mean that all we can do is watch the worst-case scenario unfolding before our eyes. Therefore, we must seize the initiative."
"How strong is that Jaldabaoth you mentioned? I don't remember hearing or reading about him. It would help us if you could tell us his difficulty level."
Lakyus stepped forward with a stern expression on her face.
"My colleague Evileye is the one who is most familiar with Jaldabaoth's strength, but we do not know the specifics yet. We will update you later."
Difficulty ranking was how adventurers rated the monsters they encountered. The higher the number, the stronger the opponent. However, it was an unspoken rule that one should not rely too heavily on difficulty rankings, because it would lead to nasty surprises. The strength of monsters varied even within their own species and at best, a difficulty ranking was an educated guess. Thus, it was not a value that was frequently used. However, it was a simple way to explain things to a group like this.
"I shall speak of what I know as my group's representative. My comrades encountered an insect maid —believed to be one of Jaldabaoth's followers— and defeated her, only for Jaldabaoth to appear and engage us in battle..."
The absence of Gagaran the warrior and Tia the rogue had already been noticed by the adventurers present. Lakyus looked around at the adventurers in the room.
"They were killed by Jaldabaoth."
"With a single blow."
Chaos broke out with Evileye's statement. Adamantite-ranked adventurers, the pinnacle of humanity, living legends. It was unthinkable that they could be killed, let alone in a single blow.
"Do not be afraid!"
Evileye shouted as though she would disperse the fear in the air with her voice.
"Certainly, Jaldabaoth is powerful. I can vouch for this, having faced him with nothing to show for it but defeat. That is a monster that no ordinary human can defeat. Even if every person here gathered to fight him, we would simply be defeated as a group. But there is no need to worry. There is a man who can do battle evenly with Jaldabaoth!"
Amidst the commotion, some of the brighter adventurers looked to a certain place— to a certain adventurer.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I believe you know this man. From the third adamantite ranked adventuring team that was recently founded in E-Rantel of the Kingdom— indeed, it is him—"
Evileye pointed her finger at the pair of adventurers, and the eyes of the entire room went with her.
"The leader of Darkness, the Dark Hero Momon-dono!"
One was encased in night-black plate armor and wearing a helmet that he refused to remove even indoors, while the other was a world-class beauty. The two of them instantly became the center of everyone's attention. Exclamations of awe and wonder filled the room as they realised the celebrities they had in their midst.
Momon shifted his adamantite plate from within the folds of his crimson cape to where everyone could see it.
"Quickly, Momon-san, please come to the front of the room."
In contrast to Evileye's excitement, Momon simply raised a hand in reply, and whispered a few words in Narberal's ear.
"Momon-san says there is no need for a lengthy introduction. We should begin the briefing quickly."
"Well, that is a shame. Then, let us make haste, as Momon-sama suggests. Evileye, may I continue the briefing?"
"Cough, uh, apologies, Princess Renner, please, continue."
Even though her mask concealed her face, one could tell how Evileye felt from the disappointed tone of her voice.
"As Evileye said, we have a warrior who can stand against Jaldabaoth. Everyone, please rest assured that we are not picking a fight we cannot win. Then, I shall explain the details of the operation."
Renner sketched a line on the map.
"To begin with, I would like you to act as our bow."
"A bow?" came a doubtful voice, "Not a shield?"
"A shield will not help us win. To begin with, I wish to form the adventurers up into a battle line, followed closely by a line of guards. Behind them will be the support line of priests and magic casters. In this way, we will advance into the enemy stronghold. At this point, if the enemy does not engage us, then we will have the adventurers advance into the enemy headquarters and suppress the area. If we are attacked, we will first determine if we can repel the attack. If possible, we will advance. If not, then I must ask the adventurers to retreat while drawing off the enemy. In the meantime, I must ask the guards to hold off the enemy as long as possible. If the adventurers must retreat, then they must head here."
She pointed to the support line of the magic casters.
"You will heal here, and from there we will see about mounting another attack."
"Hang on! Does this mean... the guards will be fighting on our behalf?"
The guards had very low fighting strength. It seemed impossible for any amount of them to substitute for an adventurer in combat.
Just as Renner was about to reply, another adventurer spoke up.
"Another thing, there's a fatal flaw in this plan. While retreating, our formation will stretch out, and our defensive power will weaken as a result. What if the demons attack the capital in the meantime? Even a low-ranking demon is far more powerful than an average human. Won't there be a lot of needless sacrifices? Instead, why don't we use ‘Fly’ to penetrate the enemy formation in one movement?"
"I have considered this method as well, but is it not true that demons count many flyers among their numbers?"
The gathered adventurers recalled tales of flying demons and nodded to Renner. Even low-ranking demons had wings, and many could fly.
"The usual application of ‘Fly’ will only serve to draw the eyes of the enemy to ourselves. I had considered starting at a high altitude, then suddenly plunging to the ground and using the buildings of the city to block the enemy's vision while we assaulted them at high speed from cover... but there is another matter to discuss before this. You mentioned earlier that when retreating, the battle lines would spread, and the defense would weaken. The same applies to our enemy. So for this battle, we are not a shield, but a bow."
Shouts of approval came up from the adventurers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you will be the bow of our Kingdom, drawn and loosed, to pierce our foe straight through the heart. Just as the adventurers will spread out, so will the enemy as they follow us. This also means the enemy's defense will weaken. Between a relaxed and a closed formation, I am certain it is easier to break through a relaxed formation. The purpose for forming you up into a line like this is to lure the enemy into weakening themselves. And finally, acting as the arrow will be Momon-sama here. When he sees the enemy lines open up, he will make a low-altitude flying assault to break through them."
"...how about Red Drop? Even if they are adamantite ranked adventurers, I don't see how two people can break through by themselves. To be safe, don't we need someone to screen them before they reach Jaldabaoth?"
"At the moment, they are performing a task within the Republic. We have already used ‘Message’ to inform them of the situation, but returning will still them take half a day. By that time, it would be too late. So this time round, we are not counting their strength into our plans."
"Then how about Blue Rose? Will they be going in with Momon-san?"
"...Our battle strength has been greatly depleted with the loss of two of our members. Tina and I will join the battle line and fight. Evileye will be doing something else."
"...I will be accompanying Momon-sama... Momon-san as he makes his entry, so I have been focusing on restoring my mana up until now."
"Then let me ask another question. I'd like to ask the Warrior Captain something. What about the nobles' house troops and warriors? Blue Rose has already lost two members. You should be taking their place in battle. Couldn't you lead those troops into battle, and let Blue Rose handle the task of clearing the path for Momon-san?"
"The house troops are responsible for protecting their masters' estates, and the soldiers look to the defense of the capital. And the warriors I lead are tasked with defending the royal family."
"So you're saying the great Gazef Stronoff doesn't dare set foot on the battlefield?"
"Indeed, that is so. My duty is to stay in the capital and protect the members of the royal family."
The air had changed. It was filled with hostility and frustration. Gazef's words were correct, but even if they understood them on a logical level, it was still unacceptable on an emotional level. The ones who earned their coin in blood were the adventurers, and they were already prepared to sell their lives dearly in the coming battle. The nobles and royalty should have been the same way. Having taken the money of the masses, they should be rushing to their rescue instead of holing up safe in their castles. Especially since they were taking the Kingdom's strongest man as their bodyguard. What the hell?
Hostility against the nobles and the royalty filled the air. Gazef took a step back. He understood that at this point, anything he said would only sound like an excuse.
Therefore, the one who spoke for him was Lakyus.
"Everyone, I understand you are not happy with his arrangement. But before that, I would advise you to keep one thing in mind. The one paying to gather you all here is not the royal family, but Princess Renner herself, out of her own private finances. The one who brought Momon-san here was Marquis Raeven. He is not here tonight because he is on guard against any demons which might be dispersed in the capital. Certainly, I am as unhappy with the nobles and royals as you are, but I would like you to consider that not all of them are cut from the same cloth."
The room calmed down somewhat as Lakyus finished her piece. Everyone was trying to control the anger they didn't want to show to Renner.
"...and there is one more thing. Before we fire the arrow, we must perform one more task. Climb!"
His energetic voice drew everyone's attention to the boy in the white armor.
"Although it is a very dangerous task, I must still entrust you with it. When we enter the enemy stronghold, there might be survivors. Please rescue them."
Murmured whispers rose up from the adventurers. "Impossible", "it's too much", that sort of thing. Entering the heart of the enemy formation and looking for survivors wasn't so much dangerous as outright suicidal. And escorting powerless civilians back out through a war zone was practically impossible.
Still, Climb answered immediately.
"Yes, your majesty! I will stake my life to accomplish any task you ask of me!"
Everyone looked at Climb as though he were mad.
"...Princess, Climb is just one man, and there might be some risk. Will you permit me to accompany him?"
"Will that be all right, Brain Unglaus-sama?"
That name raised another commotion from the adventurers. The name of Brain Unglaus was one which nobody who valued strength would ever forget.
"Ah, it's no problem for me."
"Then I will be counting on you. May I now ask the various party leaders to step forward?"
As he watched the adventurers at the head of the room, Ainz was doing some work of his own.
That is to say, he was making introductions.
People who looked like they were second-in-command for their adventuring parties were coming up to Ainz in twos and threes to speak to him.
Their lines followed similar patterns from announcing their party names, admiring his equipment, hoping to meet him again and sharing stories of their adventures. It was similar to how one might exchange business cards at work, but while business cards had physical forms, verbal introductions would only linger as memories.
A good memory was an important skill for a leader. Ainz let his mind wander as he committed every person he met to memory.
The important thing was to remember the party name and what rank they were. And of course, he would only pay attention to the higher-ranking adventurers. Iron and copper-ranked adventurers came to greet him too, but they lived in different worlds, and so forgetting them was not an issue. It was like how a department head would not bother remembering the salarymen of a small company he visited.
Even so, Momon didn't make it obvious that he was taking them lightly. He shook hands with all comers, gave them reassuring pats on the shoulder, laughed at their stupid jokes, and returned the praise he received.
Someone had even taken their gloves off to shake hands with him, with him in gauntlets and all. It must be a matter of rank, Momon thought as he looked at the back of the person who had just said hello.
What a crazy color...
His hair was a shocking pink.
It wasn't uncommon for adventurers to paint their gear in garish colors, but this was the first time he had seen someone dye their hair in such a lurid shade.
Adventurers in the capital really were a different thing altogether. Just because there were so many people in the capital, that didn't mean you had to go so far just to stand out.
Well, it doesn't seem like there's any taboos or stigma associated with dying your hair...
During Ainz’ life as a salaryman, pink hair would have been considered strange, but in this world, even kids could dye their hair.
He forced himself to depart the topic of hair, and instead looked at the line of adventurers in front of him. It reminded him of the queuing instinct of the Japanese. Then, he turned his focus to Narberal who stood behind him.
Ainz had never once registered a party name, but the party called Darkness had one more member, the slim beauty who now stood behind him.
The massed adventurers did not dare speak to her because the sheer hostility which she radiated was prickling their skin. That, and they had come to meet and greet Ainz, which would be more beneficial to them.
In the end, adventuring society is just like working life...
After all, they were all social constructs of humanity. It only made sense that there would be similarities between them.
Around the time where Ainz’ hand would have started getting sore from shaking if he had been a human, the stream of adventurers approaching began dwindling down. Sensing an opportunity, Evileye approached, cutting in front of the person who was going to shake Ainz’ hand. They couldn't complain, though. The adventurers had made their introductions in order of rank, from highest to lowest. Being at the tail end of the line, the ones remaining were the novices, and they certainly couldn't say anything against the adamantite-ranked Evileye.
"The introductions should be pretty much over, could you come over here for a bit?"
Ainz glanced at her through the slit of his closed helm, and then he spied Gazef from the corner of his vision. If he was still there, that could only mean one thing.
"Nabe, take my place and meet them. I'll come over after I finish up here."
The nearby listeners' eyes went wide.
"I'm very sorry, but the ones who queued up came first."
Ainz turned from Evileye and continued speaking to the adventurers who had come to see him.
If Ainz were speaking to the boss of a small company and was called over by the boss of an international corporation, he would naturally go over to the latter. It wasn't favoritism or discrimination, but rather, common sense. If he stuck to his guns and ignored the call, he would be seen as a selfish leader who couldn't see the big picture. As a salaryman, sometimes you had to put aside your own thinking and act for the greater benefit of the company.
That was what it meant to be a cog in a machine.
However, this time was different.
I shouldn't speak to Gazef. Even if it's just for a moment, and even if it's been two months ago so he shouldn't remember... if he does, I'll be trapped. But there's no getting around it. Although I feel uneasy, I should probably let Nabe take it on first, and then lower my voice a little before speaking to him.
...I've been speaking for quite a while, so if he hasn't heard it by now he probably never will. Still, I'd better be careful.
"Quick, Nabe. Go over to them."
Taking his eyes off Nabe, who was walking over to the princess, Ainz took his helmet off as well. He felt the eyes of the entire room focusing on him. He cricked his neck, and then put the helmet back on. Originally, he'd planned to spice up the act by wiping his sweat off, but Ainz’ “face” was an illusion, and if he didn't do it right, his hand would end up passing through it instead. So, he decided to end it with the neck-crick instead.
That was the plan, to satisfy Gazef's curiosity by letting him see Momon's face.
Hopefully after Narberal goes over, they'll forget about coming over to talk to me...
Ainz prayed so in his heart while he turned back to the adventurers who were seeking him.
"What a surprise, are you used to this already?"
It was Evileye's voice. She was still hanging around. Why couldn't she have been a good girl and gone over with Narberal? Of course, he didn't reveal his irritation. In fact, to avoid suspicion, he replied to her in a gentle voice.
"Oh, it wasn't anything special."
This was nothing for anyone who had worked in a company before.
"Hardly. I think it's the best attitude to have for leading a party."
How annoying. Stop cutting in when I’m making introductions.
The words burned in Ainz’ heart, but he had to swallow them. If he lashed out at her now, the effort he put into not killing her would have been wasted. He split his attention as though he were performing a simple task, and made the appropriate noises to someone who had come to see him. The other party also knew that Momon was being called away, so they wrapped things up in two or three sentences.
After the line of adventurers had dispersed, a quick look revealed that Gazef was gone. He suppressed the urge to burst into dance, and instead spoke calmly to Evileye.
"The legendary Warrior Captain seems to have left... oh dear. I think I spent too much time with the others. My apologies."
"Mmm? What do you know, he's gone. He's a busy person, it makes sense that he couldn't stay. Although, it does seem quite rude that he didn't even say a word of thanks to our ace, Momon-sama, who's going to protect the capital. How rude. Let me get him for you."
He'd accidentally raised his voice. Ainz continued in a more even tone.
"No, it won't be a problem. Really, don't worry about it. I'm only here because Marquis Raeven hired me, anyway. Protecting the capital is simply business. Nothing that the Warrior Captain should praise me for."
"Is that so... I've been feeling that Momon-sama was a generous man."
Ainz thought he was being mocked, and he looked closely at Evileye. But he couldn't read her face, covered by her mask as it was.
I can't trust anyone who wears a mask after all... what a pain. Still, why does she wear the mask? It must be some kind of magic item...
It was at this moment that Ainz realized his mistake, and he scrambled to examine his surroundings. The mood of the room hadn't changed, and nobody had reacted with fear and hostility toward the adamantite adventurer Momon.
Illusions in YGGDRASIL were just a trivial way to change an item's appearance, but in this world, illusion magic was real. In that case, it wouldn't be unusual for items that pierced illusions to exist... In E-Rantel, nobody saw through it, and after I heard from the Magician's Guild leader that one needed experience to see through them, I got careless... there are also quite a few orichalcum ranked adventurers here, what a blunder...
Ainz surveyed the room again.
Nobody's on their guard, I guess my secret's still safe... from now on, I won't remove my helmet in the capital unless I have to. Someone might have a talent for seeing through illusions.
"Please, call me Evileye. Momon-sama is my savior, you need not be so formal with me."
Ainz was only being polite. But if that was how she wanted it, he had no reason to refuse.
"Then, Evileye, let's go over there..."
It was an extremely delighted reply. Not knowing what he had done to please her so, Ainz allowed himself to be dragged by Evileye toward the princess.
The adventurers started talking again as they saw the group heading toward the other room— Renner and her underlings, along with the two adamantite ranked adventurers.
Naturally, the central topic was Momon, the top-ranked adventurer.
"I heard the rumors from E-Rantel, but the real thing was beyond my expectations."
"Not just him, right? I've seen Red Drop too, and I got the same feeling from them. He seems perfect in just about every way. I guess being adamantite-ranked isn't just about strength."
The one addressing the two mithril ranked adventurers was one with a platinum plate on his chain.
"Is that so? Still, he was summoned by the princess and still took his time to say hello to novice adventurers. Someone like that can't possibly exist, right?"
"It certainly surprised me."
Murmurs of approval came from the adventurers around them.
During a mission like this where parties had to work with each other, it was only sensible to make introductions, in order to secure assistance and support for each other. One would certainly prefer to aid someone they knew rather than a stranger. However, the only ones who could even begin to help an adamantite ranked adventurer were all ranked mithril and above. As such, greeting a fresh adventurer could be said to be a waste of time. Which meant that Momon wasn't thinking of benefit for himself, but just wanted to deepen his friendship with others.
"Normally, you'd expect him to go over to the princess while his partner attended to the novices, right?"
"Ah, yes, that's what most people would normally do. It's what I'd do. You guys too, right?"
"Same here... this may sound kind of bad, but maybe he doesn't understand this sort of thing. Does he have his priorities straight?"
Those words could certainly be seen as an insult, but the man speaking them did not have a single iota of malice on his face.
"Maybe he does. Maybe his priorities are just different."
As though waiting for this, the man who had spoken earlier replied quickly.
"Then there's nobody better than him. I mean, look at him, he's adamantite-ranked and yet he treats the freshest copper-plates like they were battle buddies. Look at their faces."
"They totally worship him now."
True enough, the novice adventurers had a look on their faces like a kid who had just met their idol.
"Heh, yeah, if he treated me like that, I'd be his. I'd even give him my ass."
"Get lost, who the hell would want your nasty ass? He's got a beauty on his team."
"Yeah, he does. You think they've done it?"
"Of course they have, if not why would they form a team by themselves?"
"I heard it's not like that..."
The fourth man to interrupt had an orichalcum plate on his neck.
"You seem to be quite well-informed, with your rumors from E-Rantel. The strength of those two is unreal. Maybe it's because nobody else can keep up with them?"
"...have you been spying on us all this time?"
"Hahaha! Don't say that, you didn't care who was listening, did you?"
"Heh, well, I guess," the first adventurer said.
The Adventurer's Guildmaster clapped her hands to get everyone's attention.
"The operation starts in one hour, so we'll be moving out shortly. Because we don't have much time, please relay the message to any of your party members who aren't here. In any event, once we leave the palace, just stick with me.”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), 5th Day 1:12
They were gathered in the other room to make the final preparations for the operation. They considered when to break through, what to do when the enemy showed up in force, and how to deal with the possible complications which might arise. But in the end, they simply had too little information to make any concrete plans and the final conclusion was that they had to go with the flow.
The youth in white armor who had been listening quietly thus far suddenly broke his silence.
“Forgive me, Princess,”
“What is it?”
“I know another person who could become an arrow for this formation. He is a man with overwhelming fighting power. Would it be all right to ask for his aid? One arrow is good, but two would be better, and if they helped each other, I am sure they could defeat any demon that showed itself, no matter how powerful it was.”
“What’s this, Climb? Are you saying the Momon-sama I recommended isn’t enough?”
Evileye’s words had a razor-sharp edge to them. Climb’s eyes trembled with fear.
“No, no, of course not. That was never my intention—"
“Momon-sama is the strongest warrior in existence. I daresay that rather than helping him, the man you recommended would be nothing more than a handicap.”
The katana-wielding warrior, Brain, stepped in to defend Climb.
“That might not be so. I too have seen the person Climb speaks of. His strength is extraordinary. He felled Zero, strongest of the Six Arms, in one blow.”
“You are Brain Unglaus? The one who serves her Highness on the recommendation of Gazef Stronoff and Climb?”
“I serve Gazef, but before I am officially sworn in, I stay by the Princess’ side.”
“That you are much stronger than Climb is known to me, but even that isn’t a guarantee of the man’s strength. And besides, didn’t you lose to that old hag?”
“...Ara, didn’t you lose to her too? My apologies, Mr. Unglaus.”
“Uuuu…” Evileye whimpered as Lakyus scolded her.
“It, it wasn’t just her, you all were there too,”
“After you lost, you said you lost to Rigrit, not the rest of us.”
“You still remember that, Tina?”
Between the laughing Tina and the crying Evileye, the mood in the room had lightened up considerably.
At this point, Ainz asked a question.
“He sounds very interesting. What kind of person is he?”
Climb proudly stated the man’s name.
“His name is Sebas.”
“...hm? Seibath?” The name sounded familiar to Ainz. Was it merely a coincidence?
“...what is his personality like?”
After Climb’s explanation, Ainz nodded.
Isn’t that Sebas himself?!
How had he come into contact with Climb? What kind of relationship did they have? Was Climb one of Sebas’ contacts? Ainz had only skimmed the reports Sebas submitted, and he hadn’t bothered remembering any of the people he mentioned.
It couldn’t be helped, I was too busy…
Ainz’ anxiety only grew as he made that flimsy excuse to himself.
In any case, this boy was a valuable contact that Sebas had made. If he were disposed of too early, it would be a waste of Sebas’ hard work. And carelessly casting away the work of one’s underlings was something a superior should avoid at all costs.
It would be better to aid this boy here, and indirectly praise Sebas.
“I have not done battle with this Sebas before, so I cannot say which of us would be stronger.”
“Of course Momon-san is stronger than him!” Narberal stated in a voice brimming with confidence. Evileye quietly nodded in agreement.
Ainz couldn’t help but pat Narberal on the head.
"Well, if my companion says so, then there must be some truth to the observations of both sides. I believe he should be able to stand on equal footing with me."
"That was a surprisingly mature response. Unlike my companion... not only does she lack height but she is deficient in adaptability too."
"All right, all right, let's not embarrass ourselves in public. That's an order from the party leader. If there's nothing else to discuss, why don't we go pay Tia and Gagaran a visit?"
"Sounds like a plan."
The two of them had died and been revived. Although he had not seen the resurrection itself, he had heard all about it from others.
"Speaking of which, is it possible to use the energy of darkness to attack demons and the like?"
"...The energy of darkness?"
Evileye’s uncertain question drew a surprised response from Lakyus. She seemed to find the concept unthinkable.
"Ah, I heard from Gagaran, if you released the full power of the Demonic Sword Kilineyram, it could be powerful enough to destroy the entire country."
Lakyus' eyes went wide.
"Th-that can wait till later! There's something else to discuss, right?""
A demonic sword? Hang on, I think I've heard of this weapon before... not in YGGDRASIL, but this world... got it! The Demonic Sword Kilineyram, said to be able to radiate the power of darkness. Although... destroying an entire country? It sounds like an exaggeration, but it might have a power that comes close enough.
Ainz concluded that her red face was caused by anger and panic that her own trump card had been suddenly revealed.
Just as everyone's attention turned to Lakyus, there was a knocking on the door, and two men entered shortly after.
"Onii-sama, and Marquis Raeven,"
At Renner's words, everyone bowed their heads in respect.
This was the second time Ainz had met these two men. The first time was not long ago, when they had entered the capital. They had changed the terms of the quest he had been hired for. Instead of the Eight Fingers, he would be fighting against Jaldabaoth, and he would be working together with the gathered adventurers of the capital.
After the simple greeting, Ainz and the others were about to step outside because the princess wanted to address the two nobles. Most of the details of the battle plan had already been decided. Searching for Sebas had been abandoned due to a lack of time and manpower. All that was left was to wait for on-site orders.
"Then, everyone, I beseech all the gods to allow everyone here to come back alive and victorious... our hopes rest on all of you, or rather, on Momon-san. May fortune favor you."
After listening to Renner pray with her head bowed low, Ainz and the others quietly exited the room. The only ones left were Raeven and the second prince — Zanack Valurean Igana ryle Vaiself — and Renner.
The moment Climb left the room, Renner's expression changed, her green eyes freezing over like a lake in winter. Zanack shivered as he watched the change in her.
"We overheard the details in the secret room..."
That room was designed for eavesdropping, and the two of them had been listening from in there.
"There's one question you didn't answer. Why did you have to form the guards up into a battle line. Are they sacrifices?"
Guards were very weak. Even the lowliest of adventurers was more than a match for them. If they were attacked, the only reasonable response for them was to be massacred.
That word was what they had expected.
"The adventurers said so too; Jaldabaoth's army of low-ranked demons cannot be allowed to run free in the capital. Then, if they gorge themselves on the guards staked out as bait for them, certainly they will eventually kill their fill and be sated on slaughter, no?" Renner smiled.
It was almost impossible to settle things with fancy words and high-sounding ideals in this world. Everything one did had a price. Nobody understood that more clearly than the ones in power, whose responsibility was to limit the necessary sacrifices as much as possible.
From that point of view, Renner was the ideal bureaucrat.
However, humans were creatures of emotion, and the emotion they would feel when hearing of this plan was revulsion.
"Surely there must be a better way? Some way that doesn't involve sacrificing all the guards?"
"If there were, surely Prince Zanack would have mentioned one by now, no?"
Zanack fell silent.
It was true, he did not have a better plan than Renner's. He had ideas, certainly, but they were either impractical or impossible with the resources available. At the moment, all he could do was acknowledge that Renner's plan was the best of a bad lot.
Raeven shifted his gaze from the prince when he quieted himself, and then he voiced his own objections.
"Then, permit me to seek clarification. Why give Climb such a dangerous task?"
"For the same reason why Onii-sama and Marquis Raeven's men are patrolling the city."
Zanack had been making his rounds in the capital, putting on the act of the prince who cared for his people. After that, he had also begun spreading the rumors that the crown prince had been hiding in the safety of the royal castle. This would make himself look good and diminish his brother— who was his rival.
Did that mean Renner was doing the same thing— sending her subordinate on a dangerous mission of mercy in order to make herself look good?
But then, when one thought about how Renner had revealed her obsession over Climb yesterday, something was definitely wrong here.
Sensing his doubt, Renner carried on.
"Of course, Climb has a chance of dying. In that event, Lakyus will use a resurrection spell on him. It won't be cheap, of course, but an expense like these won't be a problem. And after he's been resurrected, Climb will be weakened from a loss of life energy. During that time, I will take care of him. I'm sure nobody will object to me caring for a person who died and was resurrected for following my orders."
"I see. That is certainly reasonable. You plan to deepen his affection for you."
"—is there a chance Lakyus might die as well?"
"That is a valid concern," Renner said to Raeven, whose head was lowered. "But one that has been planned for. During the dangerous period of the sortie, there will be additional people in place to protect her. The guildmaster does not want a person who can resurrect the dead to be killed, so she agreed without hesitation.”
"It seems everything is within your calculations, little sister."
Yes, his radiant, laughing sister. Zanack trembled in his boots.