Editors/Proofreaders: Rockgollem, JcqC, Skythewood, Namorax, TaintedDreams, M, Ferro
Jircniv Rune Farlord el Nix — the supreme ruler of the Empire, and the young man who was dreaded as the Blood Emperor, reflected on his flawless performance.
He was confident that he had won his counterparts over using his charisma, that they were putty in his hands. There should have been no problems.
That was the specialty of the noble class. Especially so for the Emperor, who had been thoroughly educated in these ways from his youth, to the point where none would be able to see through his facade. To his guests, he should have appeared to be nothing more than a gentle and innocent young man.
The most important thing was to understand the thoughts of one's opponent and to lower their defenses. It would be difficult to glean information from someone who was filled with suspicion. However, by building trust and goodwill, one could slowly peel away the layers of guardedness surrounding them, until they were laid bare before oneself. Of course, such deceptions would be hidden behind the gentlemanly smile which said “we warmly welcome you.”
And the gentleman Jircniv's opponents were a pair of dark elves, who had barged into the Imperial city on the back of a dragon. This was the first time he had met individuals whose appearances belied their incredible power.
The earthquake triggered by the staff-wielding girl had claimed 117 lives. Of these, 40 had been his royal guards, 60 had been imperial knights, 8 had been arcane magic casters, 8 more had been divine magic casters, and one more — a truly jaw-dropping list of casualties.
As for the knights, being able to stand guard in the imperial city meant that they were among the most elite warriors in the empire, but at a stretch, one could say that they were not major losses. If they were to be ranked like adventurers, one might classify them as silver-rank. Due to the extensive systems in place for the education and training of new knights, these numbers could be easily replenished in the future.
Next were the royal guards, the elites among the elites. It was regrettable that more than half of these men, each the equivalent of a gold-class adventurer, had been slain at once. They were equipped with weapons and armor that had been forged and enchanted by the many magic casters of the Empire, a fortune that was worth more than their weight in gold.
And then, there was the most painful loss —the last man— one of the strongest knights in the Empire, "The Immovable" Nazami Enec.
Though he claimed he was just imitating a fighting style he'd seen before, that twin-shield stance of his had been enough for him to be recognized as one of the Empire's four strongest knights.
In this world, where the fighting prowess of one mighty warrior was more valuable than that of several hundred conscripts, the passing of such a warrior could not be simply described as one man’s death. In the worst case, it might even be seen as a weakening of the entire country's national power.
In truth, Jircniv should have immediately retreated to safety, but such an act would not befit a young conqueror like himself. Perhaps this was merely a show of strength or a threat, but all he could do was meet it with a welcoming smile.
Still, he could not let himself be led by the nose. Jircniv's eyes intently studied the two children in front of him, not letting a single movement or gesture escape his gaze. One could learn many things from even the most mundane of observations.
Jircniv had a nose for intrigue; he was able to determine if a noble under his gaze would be loyal to him, or secretly scheme against him. He sharpened his senses to the utmost, trying to glean the vital scraps of information from the two in front of him.
From their attire...
From the way they carried themselves...
But I digress.
The emissaries of Ainz Ooal Gown, the two dark elf children, were exceedingly attractive. He could not help but think that they when they grew up, they would break the hearts of many a member of the opposite sex.
Those small, slender bodies, with their ever-changing expressions. They seem like simple, ordinary children no matter how one looked at them. Knowing nothing else, it would be laughable to think that they were emissaries for anyone.
A country's emissaries —their ambassadors— required certain qualities, one of which was their personal appearance. Making a poor impression due to one's undignified deportment would be a detriment to one's country.
Ainz Ooal Gown should have understood this precept. Knowing this, what was the motive behind sending a pair of easily underestimated dark elves?
Jircniv racked his brains as he pondered the mystery.
From what I can gather... it must be a show of force. He’s juxtapositioning a scene of harmless meekness with overwhelming destructive power. The stark contrast between first and second impressions is meant to maximize the psychological impact on me... but if that was the case, wouldn't riding in on dragonback ruin the effect? The dragon's formidable presence would overrule their benign appearance... or is it that these two are the only ones suitable as emissaries? Or was there another— damn. I can't read their intentions. I have too little information.
He had several theories, but they vanished like foam on the waves.
My first priority should be gathering information on the opposition. Without this foundation to work on, nothing can be done. Then, I must confirm my opponents' intentions and desires, in a way that doesn't upset them. It would be a fool who allowed negotiations to break down because he angered the other party.
It was important to clarify Jircniv's aims here.
The two dark elves had said “The Emperor sent invaders to the Great Tomb of Nazarick”, and in an instant they had killed over a hundred people in the middle of court. But was this an actual state-sanctioned response, or were they just looking to pick a fight? Jircniv had to find out at least that much.
The invaders in question would certainly be the workers. If that was the case, the one giving them orders would definitely be Jircniv. However, there had been several degrees of separation from him; Jircniv's name should not even have been mentioned in the same breath as these people.
These people —Ainz Ooal Gown— how had they seen through his schemes? A different tack would have to be taken with them.
Since they came as emissaries, there should be a chance to glean some information from them. Even the slightest action might shed some light on their plans.
Behind the two of them was a foe who could boldly challenge a nation and conquer it with might and terror. Even a tiny mistake here could spell death for him.
A second earthquake would be the end of things here.
Jircniv turned his attention to the neighboring room.
It should have been filled with royal guards, and dozens of knights awaiting his orders. But today, he hadn't bothered. That was because even if he had put fifty royal guards in there, they could do nothing but die if they tried to fight against these two. Thus, there were only five guards in attendance for this meeting.
One of the Empire's Four Knights, "Lightning" Baziwood Peshmel. Jircniv’s most trusted advisor, Fluder Paradyne. There were also three trusted scribes.
He had also given orders for the royal guards to dig up the cracks in the courtyard for the corpses within. Though it seemed futile, he had ordered it anyway.
The Empire did not have anyone who could use resurrection spells. Even the adamantite ranked adventurers of the Empire did not have such power. Of the neighboring countries, perhaps only the Kingdom of Re-Estize and the Slane Theocracy could command such magic.
Even so, he still wanted to recover the bodies, because it was a waste to let the enchanted gear be lost with their owners. Also, recovering the bodies and laying them to rest would preserve morale and grant closure to the troops.
“Honored emissaries, you have travelled far and wide to grace us with your presence. Surely you must be thirsty? We have prepared some simple refreshments for you. We hope you will try some, if it pleases you to do so.”
Jircniv rang a chime, and the maidservants waiting outside quietly entered the room. There were over twenty maids, with covered silver trays.
After their arduous training, these maids moved with practiced, graceful ease.
But even in these movements, which made Jircniv secretly proud of their immaculate poise, he could detect slight missteps. It was precisely because the rest of their actions were so perfectly executed that the flaws stood out.
What's wrong? They've entertained so many dignitaries in the past without a hitch; why are they having problems now? Are they under the effect of some kind of magic?
Jircniv wanted to reach under his garments and grab his medallion of mental protection, but he forced himself to resist the urge. The medal was effective precisely because people did not know it was there; if they knew he possessed such an item, it would only end poorly for him.
When the maids faltered after looking on the two dark elves, he finally found his reason.
Aha, so that's why... it’s because they're fascinated by their looks. Well, it's not as though I don't understand... no, dammit. I mustn't make a fool of myself.
Perhaps, for only wavering this much in the face of such majesty, he should be praising the maids instead.
After depositing the drinks and snacks, the maids bowed and filed out.
“Then, please, do help yourselves.”
The dark elf boy raised a glass with a bored expression on his face. It was easily a treasure in its own right, its transparent crystal etched with exquisite artistry. Although sculptured glass like this was not of particular interest to Jircniv, that wasn't to say that he did not appreciate such things. Even a simple eating utensil used to welcome a guest could be used to show of the glory of the Empire, to let them know exactly what kind of people they were dealing with.
The dark elf boy took a mouthful of the beverage.
No caution at all... is he not on guard for poison, or does he have magic that protects him from such things? Or did he already sense that I had no such intentions? ...or is it something else? Hm, that girl doesn't seem worried either.
“This doesn't taste particularly good. And there isn't anything else unusual about it either.”
The boy's words shocked Jircniv. Nobody had ever said something like this to him, even when he had been a child himself. When the surprise faded, it was replaced by a mild anger blazing up in his heart — what a rude boy. But of course, Jircniv wasn't foolish enough to let that irritation reach his face.
“Then, I sincerely apologize for the ill-treatment of your esteemed person,” Jircniv smiled at the boy. “I pray you might be so kind as to enlighten me as to your favored beverage, that I may prepare some for you on future visits.”
...Did nothing unusual mean no poison? Did he believe that I would be trying to poison him from the beginning? What did he mean by that?
“The things I want are probably things you can't prepare.”
“S-Sis, y-you're being rude...”
“Oh? Am I now?”
Sis? So he's not a boy, but a girl. They're not brother and sister, but just sisters?
Come to think of it, he did look like a girl.
Why... dressing as a male... no, perhaps she wanted to dress in clothes that allowed for freedom of movement? Children of their age are kind of androgynous anyway. What if... the other one was a male... no, the way she's dressed, there's no way she could be. Still... the younger sister's quite honest.
Although Jircniv had considered how to bring the girl with the staff over to his side, and how to build a good relationship with them, which might benefit the Empire, he still could not make his move without gaining more information.
To begin with, he could not forget how this “honest” girl had massacred so many of his men. Treading recklessly around her would be like sticking one's hand into the maw of a sleeping dragon.
Still, it's something. I need to see how the other side plays their cards.
“Then, honored guest, allow me to introduce myself once more. I am Jircniv Rune Farlord el Nix of the Baharuth Empire. I am certainly cognizant of Lady Fiora's own noble name, but might I inquire as to yours?”
“Ah, I- I'm Mare Bello Fiore.”
“My deepest thanks, Lady Fiore. Then, with reference to what Lady Fiora said, specifically ‘Lord Ainz is very unhappy and will destroy this country unless he is appeased’... I assume that I, as the presumed offender in question, will be making my way to Nazarick?”
“Isn't that obvious?”
A simple line, but dripping with frostiness.
From the beginning, the dark elf called Aura had no warmth in her eyes. She looked at people like she was looking at insects.
Then, a question.
Technically speaking, there was nothing wrong with what they said, but the question still remained as to how much weight their words should be given, as well as how they had learned about his involvement. Under normal circumstances, he would confuse them with blather and then take action, but the people in front of him were anything but normal.
“Then... am I right to say that Ainz Ooal Gown-dono was fine with personally ordering the two of you to come here?”
“Yes, he was... what about it?”
“Nothing, I was just making sure.”
Jircniv sank deep into thought.
Who was Ainz Ooal Gown? A dark elf, a tomb, a dragon, none of these went together. There had to be some common factor between them. Was he a dark elf who once lived in a forest, then moved into a tomb on the plains? Then the dragon would be the pet monster of the dark elf tribe leader Ainz Ooal Gown.
Jircniv dispersed his wild theories.
...I should leave the tales to the bards. My job is collecting information and learning the truth.
What he knew now was that the other side had a way of gaining information from within the Empire. So did he have a far-reaching web of spies, or...
Ainz Ooal Gown is a person who carefully analyzes information. Then I must confirm this.
“He ordered you to come on a dragon?”
“Y-yes, Lord Ainz told us to do so.”
“I see... so that's what it is…”
“What are you getting at, asking all these weird questions? Are you apologizing? Or not coming? If you're not coming, we'll take your words back, but that means your country's doomed.”
There was a saying, “one cannot gain a dragon’s eggs without entering a dragon’s lair”.
It meant that one could not make great gains without taking great risks.
With that in mind, Jircniv steeled himself.
“Naturally, I wish to expiate my wrongdoings before him. Though I have no impression of sending anyone to a place called Nazarick, it is entirely possible that one of my underlings might have acted rashly, and independently of my orders. That being the case, the ultimate responsibility lies with their overall superior — namely, myself.”
From the corner of his field of vision, he saw the three scribes' eyes widening fractionally, while Fluder nodded in approval.
“Huh~ all right. Let's go now, then.”
“Now? Hold on, please. While I have no issue with leaving presently, I am still the ruler of this country, and I cannot simply vacate the seat of power all of a sudden. Perhaps, two, maybe three days...”
Jircniv glanced at the twins to make sure it was all right before continuing.
“...in order to get the affairs of state in order before I leave. After adding in the time to settle some other pressing matters and preparing the reparations for his Lordship, I think ten days should—”
“Ten days? That's a bit long, don't you think?”
“With ten days, I will surely be able to prepare adequate recompense. A thoughtless offering would be a grave insult to your lord. Then there is the matter of finding the parties involved. The Empire is large — scouring it will require an appropriate amount of time.”
The matter of compensation drove Aura into deep thought. Even Mare on the side didn't seem to know how to proceed.
I see... upon hearing the subject of an appropriate gift, they were distracted. That means they revere their master that much. I should be able to buy some time with this.
But before Jircniv could continue, Aura spoke first.
“Just kidding. Lord Ainz just told me to tell you to come over now, where ‘now’ was defined as ‘however long you think you need’.”
Though he wanted to spit on Ainz Ooal Gown, who had seen through his schemes, at the same time he also felt that his opponent was both intelligent and a worthy foe.
So he wanted to see how I'd react to the demand of "now", then. Well well, Ainz Ooal Gown, you're a tricky negotiator. You must be quite the sage to have foreseen the path this conversation would take.
“I said something, aren't you going to reply?”
Aura's cold voice made Jircniv feel like he was drowning in a swamp.
“Ah— ah, forgive me. I was merely contemplating what to prepare if I didn't have enough time.”
“Huh~ well, it doesn't matter. Then... can you give me an answer? How long before we can expect you to come over to Nazarick?”
“Just so,” Jircniv ignored Aura's provocation. “All preparations considered, I think I will be able to pay you a visit in five days' time.”
“Got it. Then, we'll let Lord Ainz know. Ah, that reminds me, should we help you dig out the guys buried alive out there? Though…”
Aura clapped her hands together, and her smile was far too malicious to be childlike.
“...They may have gotten just a teeny bit squashed. That might be a bit hard to fix.”
Jircniv continued smiling, because the opposition's aim right now was far too transparent.
People revealed their true nature during times of great emotion. So fear was their way of probing him. Jircniv had used this technique during negotiations himself, but times like these were also a chance to thwart one's opponent's aims.
“Then, I am grateful for your assistance. I shall leave the rest to you.”
Seeing the plain emotion on Aura's face, Jircniv allowed himself to smile honestly for the first time.
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