A War of Words
Editors/Proofreaders: M, Skythewood, Namo, JcqC, TaintedDreams, Ferro
Special thanks to Anon
Six luxurious carriages raced over the plains.
Their motion was surprisingly stable despite the fact that they were galloping over rough ground.
To start, the wheels of each carriage were magic items called ‘Comfortable Wheels’. In addition, the chassis of the carriages had also been treated by a magic item called ‘Lightweight Cargo’.
These unbelievably magnificent carriages commanded an eye-popping price, but just as astonishing were the creatures which pulled them. The eight-legged magical beasts looked like horses and were known as ‘Sleipnirs’.
Calculating the precise cost of fielding six of these vehicles was an exercise in foolishness.
These vehicles ―far out of reach of the merely wealthy― were escorted by a group of riders mounted on powerful horses.
There were over twenty of these riders, each clad in chainmail armor, armed with longswords on their belts and crossbows on their backs.
Yet, a woman rode at the head of all these men.
Alone among all these warriors, she wore a suit of heavy full plate armor. In addition to her full plate, she carried a cavalry lance in the same way foot soldiers might hold a spear. Her helmet’s visor was raised, but the right side of her face was covered by some kind of golden cloth, which made her look quite unique.
Although this band of horsemen were the very picture of mercenary warriors, but their practiced movements and their clipped, precise words were nothing like that of a common sellsword. Their eyes were keen, and their level of alertness was high.
Some might have taken their unceasing vigilance to be a form of paranoia or cowardice, but in a world where magic was real and monsters flew through the air and ran wild over the land, even being on guard against everything they could see was not enough to guarantee their safety.
There were giant spiders which could survive for months without drinking while lying in wait for their prey, formless shapeshifters that resembled banks of fog, unclean monsters that slid through the air, venomous lizards with petrifying gazes that could only be avoided if they were encountered on open ground…
They were all on edge because they were wary of monsters with such deadly powers. However, normal mercenaries did not go to such lengths for alertness.
The thing that set them apart from mere mercenaries were the invisible people in the air. They were a band of riders who were keeping pace with the riders on the ground while under the effects of invisibility magic.
There were creatures called hippogriffs in this world. They were born of the mating of a male griffin and a mare, and these magical beasts had the front half of a griffin and the hind quarters of a horse. Perhaps it was because of their mixed blood, but hippogriffs were easier to rear and train than griffins, and they were very popular as flying mounts.
And then, there were the riders of these beasts to consider.
Flying creatures ―even if they were monsters― would command an extremely high price if they were put on the market. They would not be something that simple sellswords could afford.
Indeed, the entire act of being mercenaries was a facade intended to deceive various people.
The true identities of those on the ground were the Empire’s royal guards, while the ones in the air were the Imperial Air Guard. The latter were elite troops who were shrouded in invisibility mantles that cloaked both riders and their mounts from sight.
Of course, that meant the owner of the carriages was none other than the ruler of the Baharuth Empire, Emperor Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix himself.
There were several reasons why he had disguised his unit like this, but the biggest one was because the Emperor and his knights openly riding through Kingdom territory would cause an international incident ― and that could not be allowed to happen. As such, the exterior of the carriages was more plain than the interior ― although it was still far more luxurious than regular carriages.
In this convoy, the security around the third carriage from the rear ―Jircniv’s carriage― was heavier than those around the others.
Even the roof of his carriage had been refitted and now there were two archers hiding in the luggage compartment.
The interior of the carriage was supremely decadent. Judging by the furnishings alone, it was more akin to a high-class suite than a simple carriage, from the furred upholstery on the walls and floor to the soft and comfortable seats, which had been designed to not cause even the slightest bit of discomfort over long journeys.
Only three people were permitted to share this luxurious conveyance with Jircniv, which meant that total of four people occupied the space of the cabin. Although the idea of four people squeezing into a single carriage might seem restrictive and uncomfortable, that was merely the uninformed imagination of those who had never rode in a first-class carriage before. In truth, all four of them had adequate space to sit in any way they chose.
“―Your Majesty, Your Majesty, perhaps it is time to wake?”
The voice stirred Jircniv from his doze.
His fingers pinched at the bridge of his nose, and he yawned, followed by a grunt as he stretched himself out. Relief flowed through him as his stiff body loosened up and he yawned again.
“Your Majesty, it seems like you had a good rest, but are you still troubled?”
Jircniv shook his head at the man who had woken him up, the secretary Roune Varmilinen, who had been allowed to ride in the same carriage as the Emperor.
“Ah, no, it’s nothing like that. I still need some time to clear my head, I’m feeling better now. Although, it seems my afternoon nap took a fair bit longer than expected. Have I even slept that long since I was a child? After all, there’s a whole mountain of unfinished business back in the capital, and I never had the time to waste on that sort of thing… but now that I’ve begun this journey, I find that I no longer have anything to do. Perhaps I should thank Gown for this.”
“Ah, indeed, Your Majesty’s always busy, but why’s that?”
The man who spoke as though he wasn’t addressing the Emperor was the leader of the Empire’s Four Knights, Baziwood.
Normally, those words would have invited censure, but nobody in the carriage said anything.
Jircniv smiled bitterly and replied to his excessively informal, yet excellent subordinate:
“The blame for that can be laid at the feet of the Blood Emperor, because his reforms were pushed through too quickly for society to catch up with them. He is truly a foolish man. So much effort could have been saved if only he’d waited and accumulated a corps of competent men before taking action. You lot should scold him when you get the chance. Ah, but remember, when you do, you should suggest an appropriate course of action for him to take as well.”
Everyone in the cabin smiled wryly in response.
Originally, the administration of the Empire was left to the nobles ― in particular, the Court Council. Seats on the Council were entrusted to those who had been educated since birth to handle them, or to those with enough money to invent an appropriate reason to be awarded such responsibility. Given the benefits such positions conferred, that was only natural.
However, due to Jircniv’s purge of the nobles, the amount of officials and bureaucrats had been reduced, but the work that they had to do had only increased. While this was a logical consequence of such actions, it meant that the workload of everyone involved had increased explosively, and Jircniv himself was no exception.
It was only after he had done away with numerous worthless nobles by the power of the Blood Emperor that he realized that even such worthless individuals had their uses.
Still, he did not regret his decision.
He had to carry out his purge when he did. Had he missed the chance, the authority to command the knights would have been stripped from him by the nobles, and his father’s death would have been meaningless.
And so he gave the word, and opened a path to the future for the Empire.
Women had to endure pain in order to give birth to a child. Similarly, the vast amounts of work he did every day was a necessary pain he had to endure in order to give birth to a radiant and reborn Empire. Beyond the difficulty that lay before him now was the treasure that he sought.
That line of thinking brought the topic of his own descendants to Jircniv’s mind.
Jircniv was not married, but he already had children. He had not yet taken an empress consort and merely sired some offspring with a few women that couldn’t even be considered mistresses, only concubines that he felt some affection for.
Unfortunately, there was no love in those relationships, but he hoped one of his children would prove to be suitably talented.
In the future, if his empress’ children were incompetent, and his concubines’ offspring turned out to be more suitable, he would gladly switch their places in the succession as needed.
“Even so, all the work that I laboured day and night to complete can hardly be considered the regular state of the country’s affairs. If only I could train up a cadre of officials that could take over these tasks… it would let me return to the tasks I should be doing, making high-level pronouncements like the Emperors of old. And I certainly don’t want my child, the next Emperor, to have to suffer as I did. After all, if my descendants are overstressed, they’ll curse my name.”
The present Empire had been built by the work of an excellent young man, or rather, generations of talented men had laid the stable foundation that was the Empire. It was this foundation that Jircniv intended to use for building his great work, the Empire of the future. However, that did not guarantee that the next Emperor or the one after him would be equally talented.
Can I build an Empire that will stand the test of time, and a bureaucracy which can run the country without the need for a talented ruler at the helm? Jircniv wondered.
“That would be very difficult. After all, Your Majesty has changed the Empire by his absolute power, and you cannot administer the country in the ways the old Emperors did.”
“Varmilinen, your job is to find a way to achieve my aims. Of course I possess absolute power; all the Emperors of the past labored to concentrate the powers of the nation in their office. However, even if I am such a supreme being, it would be wrong to micromanage the affairs of state. If that happened, then what use would bureaucrats be? Perhaps you’ve misplaced your head.”
“At the very least, he would not have left it in the Imperial Magic Caster Academy, Your Majesty.”
Those words were spoken by Fluder Paradyne, one of the senior members of the Imperial Magical Academy and also the highest-ranking member of the Ministry of Magic. The implication was that his academy would not have raised such a fool.
“Haha, yes, you’re right, gramps,”
Jircniv coughed softly, and with that, the mood inside the carriage turned serious.
“In my generation, the Empire has returned to its youth, like a newborn child. We will cast out that which is old and rotted and replace it with the new. As Varmilinen said, I will have to work hard until the Empire matures, but if it never grows, that would be disastrous. In the future, I will only define general goals for the Empire, and the officials under me will help make those goals a reality.”
A country ruled by a single man was weak. Jircniv was abundantly clear on that point.
Roune lowered his head, whose hair was greying and thin in contrast to his age, and awaited his Emperor’s command.
“The Emperor of the next generation… speaking of which, did Your Majesty have a child with that one?”
Jircniv instantly knew who Baziwood meant by “that one”. After all, Baziwood knew that Jircniv was particularly fond of one of the concubines.
Jircniv’s paramours were selected for their looks or their parents’ status, but one woman among them ignored those criteria. This woman had been chosen for her intellect, rather than for her appearance or her breeding. Thus, she was allowed to discuss politics with Jircniv ―though not in public and only in bed― and she was the only woman he allowed to do so.
At first, he had not intended to take her as a concubine at all, but things had ended up like this at her own insistence.
Jircniv, however, would have been happy if she had become his empress consort.
“No, that isn’t what she desires. She went so far as to say, ‘Looks are a treasure you are born with, and to those who occupy the upper echelons of society, they are an important trait. One can compensate for a lack of intellect with hard work or excellent subordinates, but looks cannot be changed.’ or something like that.”
“Won’t Your Majesty’s bloodline alone will ensure that any child of your union will be pleasant to look upon? Well, it’s true that any of your subordinates would be happier to receive orders from a good-looking Emperor.”
“Is that how it really is?”
Jircniv had no superiors and had no way of relating to this situation. On his part, he would use a capable person regardless of how ugly they were, and even give them a key position if needed.
“At the very least, it would be better than having to look at some toad. After all, wouldn’t Your Majesty prefer the woman shaking her hips on top of you to be a beautiful one?”
“…I suppose so, yes. Well, it’s not like I don’t get where you’re coming from, but… is that really the case?”
Jircniv cricked his neck. Something was amiss, but he wasn’t sure what it was.
“Then, in that case, who would Your Majesty take as his wife?”
Fluder’s question made Jircniv furrow his brows.
“Well, if I had to choose between marrying someone from within the country or outside the country, I would have to go with the latter. There are no benefits to marrying a native, so, who to marry from outside the Empire… well, there’s that unreadable woman that fellow recommended.”
Fluder stroked his beard.
“Princess Renner, is it?”
Jircniv furrowed his brows again.
The third princess of the Re-Estize Kingdom ― Renner Theiere Chardon ryle Vaiself.
She was known as the “Golden Princess”, and her looks and reputation matched her nickname, but for several years she had ranked number one on Jircniv’s list of women he despised the most. In contrast, the kind of woman he most preferred would be someone like Mayor Kabelia, who administered the city of Peibart in the City-States.
“I have no idea what that woman is thinking. After hearing about her actions, it’s almost as if she failed because she wanted to fail.”
Although Jircniv thought that such people should not exist, he recognized that humans were strange and complex enough that he could not rule out the possibility of such cases. Then, if she truly did plan to fail from the start, what was she planning? The more he tried to understand Renner’s way of thinking, the more he felt like like he was being tangled in a spider’s web. It was a thoroughly unpleasant feeling.
“…If only someone could help me get rid of that nauseating woman.”
“We will hire Ijaniya right away, if that’s what his Majesty desires.”
“Ijaniya” was a group of assassins that took on the name of one of the Thirteen Heroes for themselves. They were based between the northeast corner of the Empire and the City-State Alliance, and they were adept at using unusual methods. Although he had tried to bring them under their wing as a black ops department, they had not responded to the Empire’s overtures.
“Enough of that, we need that woman’s revolutionary insights. It’s better to let her live rather than to kill her…Hm. Did that woman take this development into account as well?”
“Could anyone have planned that far ahead?”
“As if,” Jircniv said, but even as he gave that answer, he had to admit that it was a possibility.
Renner’s words had been transmitted to Jircniv through their spies in the Kingdom. The policies she proposed were such that Jircniv could not help but admire them. The fact that those policies had then been quietly adopted by the Empire was a ringing endorsement of their practicality.
It would be a bad thing for the Empire if anything happened to her.
The timing of Renner’s suggestions to the Kingdom made him wonder if she had anticipated the Empire’s movements. If that was true, it meant that Renner could predict the Empire’s plans without any reliable sources from within.
As a result, even Jircniv, who coveted the Warrior-Captain Gazef’s strength for the Empire, could not bring himself to desire her.
“The Kingdom won’t be unduly harmed even if the Princess dies, but on the contrary, the Empire is finished if Your Majesty perishes. We, the Four Knights, might be able to deal with assassins, but other factors are a different matter entirely, so I hope Your Majesty does not immerse himself too deeply into his work.”
“Of course. No matter the reason, I cannot allow myself to die before a strong government has been formed for the Empire.”
If the head of an organization ―its most critical person― was lost, it implied that the catastrophic collapse of the organization would soon follow.
The Empire might become a great nation in the future. If anyone knew this and wanted to prevent it, they would sacrifice anything to forestall that rise by turning the Emperor into a martyr. The most likely suspects were the nearby countries, like the Kingdom and the Theocracy.
Part of the reason why he wanted Ijaniya under his wing was so that they could be used as counter-assassins.
“That’s right, if Your Majesty were to perish, things would be troublesome. We have divine magic casters on standby to ward against poison and injury, but in the end, we still lack sufficient skilled personnel for these duties. I wish my dabbling in that field was more extensive, but my grasp of divine magic is still inadequate to the task.”
“Well, you’re already excellent as an arcane magic caster, so a small weakness like that can’t be helped. Oh, yes. We’ve asked for the Theocracy’s help, but haven’t received any response from them. Why not let the temples of the Four Gods and the minor gods compete with each other? Then let the Empire back whichever of the faith that produces the best results.”
Competition was the driving force for the development of new techniques. However, the mention of that made Roune shake his head violently, tossing his sparse hair about his forehead.
“It’s too dangerous. The temples in the Empire are supported by donations from the populace, and they remain independent by selling various products only they know how to manufacture. If the Empire exerts any undue influence on them or interferes with their livelihoods, the repercussions could be… severe.”
“That’s true… if only we could nationalize the various temples, the Empire would grow stronger. In that respect, the Theocracy has done an excellent job. I wonder what methods they used to keep the priests in line all these centuries?”
“The practice of divine magic is closely linked to everyone’s health, so I think it would be a good idea if we could have more divine magic casters be knights, or at least, teach knights how to use divine magic. Hacking and slashing at monsters with swords alone only produces casualties.”
Baziwood was a man who had had to hunt down monsters in the past, and he had spent his fair share of time on the edge of death. He nodded, and continued in a low tone.
“Personally, I would feel safer if I could count on resurrection magic. With that, we could reduce the number of situations where people mourned the loss of talented young men. Although, I’ve heard that resurrection magic consumes life force, and ordinary people will be reduced to glowing ash if they’re resurrected. Is that true?”
Fluder shifted his body forward.
Perhaps this old man had been the Emperor’s tutor for too long, or perhaps it was because his pet topic of magic had come up, but now, he was speaking animatedly, his eyes alight. Jircniv knew the old man would ramble on and on once he started on this subject, and Baziwood saw a look of annoyance cross the young Emperor’s face.
“That is a fact. Among the fifth-tier divine spells, the resurrection magic ‘Raise Dead’ consumes vast quantities of life force. Perhaps higher-tiered resurrection spells might reduce the requirement for life force… but no living person can use those, so that is merely academic. Then again, I have heard that the Dragon Lords and their ancient magic could return the dead to life without the loss of any life force―”
“―Then, could the Queen of the Draconic Kingdom achieve such feats?”
“An excellent question, Varmilinen. Indeed, that country’s queen has been confirmed to have inherited the ability to use what we call ancient magic, or primal magic, or perhaps the magic of the soul. There are many names for this kind of magic. This is because the blood of the Brightness Dragon Lord flows within her veins ― that is known. The only question is whether or not she can use resurrection magic. Ancient magic and our current style of magic are completely different from each other, and we who can only use modern magic may never be able to understand it.”
Fluder closed his mouth, and at the same time Jircniv stared at him. Although irritation and worry was evident on Jircniv’s face, Fluder’s next words put him at ease.
“Ancient magic… how I want to research it. If only those with the bloodline of the Brightness Dragon Lord can use it, then the pedigree is the most important thing. Therefore, I feel that if Your Majesty is to wed, he would do well to select that Queen or one of her relatives…”
“Give me a break, Gramps… I’m not interested in old hags who pretend to be little girls…”
He did not even want to think about having to marry the woman who ranked second on his list of most hated women. In addition, even if he did not love his offspring, it would be far too cruel to have them become guinea pigs.
Even so, if he had to weigh that cruelty against the benefits the Empire would reap, there was no telling which course of action he would decide on.
At this moment, a loud knocking came from the carriage door.
This carriage had been fitted with defenses against physical attacks and information-type magic. The entire chassis was covered in metal sheeting, and as such it didn’t even have windows. Baziwood stood and cracked the door open to peek outside ― or rather, at the person who had knocked on the door.
Although they were surrounded by knights protecting them and he was sure that this person was a friendly, he couldn’t help but remain on guard against an unexpected situation.
“Your Majesty, it’s Leinas.”
“Open the door.”
The fresh air from the plains flowed in as the door opened fully, blowing through the hair of everyone within. During this season, the air coming in from the outside should have been cold, but the breeze that reached the people inside was comfortably warm.
Needless to say, this was the result of magic used on this carriage.
The rider keeping pace with the carriage was the woman who had been at the head of the formation.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty. There’s―”
It was hard to make out her words over the rushing of the wind between them.
“This is no way to talk. Come in, don’t stand on ceremony.”
“Understood. Then, permit me this intrusion.”
With that, she gracefully vaulted off her horse and landed elegantly in the doorway of the moving carriage. Although she made it look simple, given that she was wearing full plate armor and that both her horse and the carriage were moving at a full gallop, it was proof that she had considerable athletic ability.
Still, that was only to be expected of one of the Four Knights that were the pride of the Empire. Among them, she had the greatest offensive ability. Her name was Leinas Rockbluth, also known as “Heavy Explosion”.
After transferring to the carriage, Leinas quietly closed the door behind her and took a seat beside Baziwood. The last thing they saw as the outside world was shut out, were the reins of Leinas’ horse being taken by one of the knights riding beside her.
Since the carriage’s magic would only warm the air that entered it, anything cold that came inside would remain that way. Considering Leinas was wearing a suit of full plate armor that had been chilled by the wind shear outside, she was like a block of ice when she took a seat next to Baziwood, who could not help but shiver.
“The people we sent ahead have sent a ‘Message’ to us.”
One of the defenses offered by this carriage was interference against information-type magic cast from the outside. Although it would prevent the enemy from finding them with spells, it also meant spells like ‘Message’ would be blocked, so it was her duty to receive ‘Messages’ on Jircniv’s behalf.
“The outrider element has reached the Great Tomb of Nazarick. There appears to be a log house at that location, and after they informed the waiting maids of Your Majesty’s time of arrival, the maids replied that there would be a welcome waiting for Your Majesty.”
“Maids? I thought it was a… Maids? Maids… could it be? I’ve heard that some countries buried maids with their dead kings to serve them in the afterlife. Is that what happened here? Or does this mean that the dark elves who left the forest made this tomb their new home?
“Regretfully, the ‘Message’ did not contain any further details, Your Majesty.”
“…I can’t figure it out at all. The forest is not a human realm, so there’s no history on it either….… well, I’d like to hope that the maids won’t be monsters like the ones that came to the capital. Tell our people to be careful.”
“It is as Your Majesty says. Judging by the strength of those emissaries, we are most likely heading into a completely unknown situation. We would be best served by caution. In addition, I hope Your Majesty will swiftly come to my side should anything unexpected come to pass.”
“By which you mean we will teleport away in case of an emergency?”
Fluder’s slight smile was an answer in the affirmative.
“If that comes to pass, then we will fight a delaying action. No matter how many enemies come at us, at the very least we will be able to buy Your Majesty some time to escape.”
Baziwood said this with a smile, but his comrade Leinas did not reply at all. Rather than an agreement which needed no words, it was a form of disapproval that was immediately visible on her face. Yet the others around her said nothing.
In the end, she had never officially sworn her loyalty to Jircniv despite her position in the Four Knights. The truth was that serving Jircniv was the most profitable course of action for her. If someone else appeared who could give her what she wanted, she would immediately abandon her current position.
In other words, her loyalty to Jircniv was the lowest among the Four Knights.
The Four Knights were selected solely on the basis of their fighting ability and not their personality or loyalty. Even so, there was nobody else whose motives were as mercenary as hers.
The only reason she was here was because one of the Four Knights had to be in the Imperial capital at all times. The one selected for that duty was “Fierce Gale”, Nimble Ark dale Anock, which was unavoidable. If “The Immovable” was still around, Nimble would be the one here instead.
“Forgive my rudeness.”
Leinas withdrew a handkerchief from a breast pocket and shifted it to the right side of her face. As it turned out, the golden cloth was actually her hair. She stuffed the handkerchief under that hair and wiped lightly.
After the brief procedure, the handkerchief turned yellow with the amount of pus it had absorbed.
“Please allow me to make my own life my top priority. I apologize if I get in your way.”
“Ahh, that’s fine, after all, that’s what we agreed to when you became one of the Four Knights ― or rather, what you contracted to.”
“I see, so everyone knows what I plan to do. Then, I will do my best to squat in a corner over there and not get in your way.”
The mood in the carriage was due for a change, so everyone laughed heartily as Roune spoke.
“Then, judging by our current speed, how long until we reach Nazarick?”
Roune, whom Jircniv was addressing, withdrew a pocket watch from his breast pocket. After he confirmed the time, he turned to Leinas, watched as she nodded, and replied.
“If everything goes according to plan, in about an hour.”
“Is that so? I look forward to it. We’ll see what Ainz Ooal Gown is trying to sell us.”
Jircniv’s carriage slowly reduced its speed, until it finally ground to a halt. However, he still could not disembark immediately. It was troublesome, but Jircniv had to attend to his own preparations for the sake of style and security.
Normally, this task would have been performed by underlings, such as the maids in the other carriages. However, they did not have the luxury of waiting for those carriages to arrive. After all, they had come to apologize, and keeping the wronged party waiting too long was a foolish move.
After Jircniv adjusted his clothes, he fastened his cape over them. This was an extremely valuable item made from a magical beast’s skin and further treated with magic. With it on, not even the coldest temperatures outside would inconvenience him.
Then, he slid the Imperial Scepter into his belt, which completed the minimum preparations for the Emperor to appear in public.
Jircniv looked himself over one more time, to make sure that his appearance would not shame himself or the Empire.
What would follow was a negotiation with Ainz Ooal Gown, though in truth it would be closer to a war of words. In other words, his formal wear was the social equivalent of a warrior’s sword and shield. The consequences of any flaws or deficiencies in his bearing would not be limited to simple embarrassment. Although it would be good if his opponent was not observant enough to pick those flaws out, he could not count on the details of his attire being overlooked.
Jircniv nodded in satisfaction, and just at that moment, a knock rang out from the door.
“Then, I shall disembark first, Your Majesty.”
“I’ll leave that to you.”
After that short answer, Baziwood opened the carriage’s door.
It was a stately, proper exit that befitted the carriage which bore the highest authority in the Baharuth Empire. Just in case, Roune interposed himself between the Emperor and the outside as the door opened, serving as a shield for Jircniv.
They could see what lay outside, beyond Baziwood.
The first thing that came into view was the grass of the plains. After that were the royal guards, lined up opposite the carriage. Beyond them lay a hill that swelled up from the plains, and what looked like a huge lattice door that seemed to have been half-buried.
Is this the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick? It seems a little different from what I’ve been told… well, errors like this are within acceptable ranges.
After disembarking from the carriage, Jircniv fell in step with Baziwood ―who was already in formation with the royal guards― and set forth.
Jircniv took a deep breath. The enchantment on his clothing ensured that the air which entered his lungs would be fresh and clear. Granted, it was still cold, but not uncomfortably so.
As he took his breath, he worked his jaw, and quickly glanced at the subordinates around him.
Fluder, in his long robes and holding his staff, was trailed by his acolytes.
The divine magic casters, with holy symbols pinned to their vestments ― they were knights in the imperial knight orders, although they were not warriors by profession.
The royal guards, who remained at their positions now counted among them the outriders who had been sent ahead of the carriages.
Personally, Jircniv wanted to see what those pioneers had seen, but right now, that was not an option.
It seemed the maids, who were in another carriage, had not arrived yet.
Well, they were gifts anyway. It’s only to be expected. Then, when they said a cabin, did they mean that lattice door… or is that it?
When he looked to the left, he saw a single-story wood cabin. It seemed utterly incongruous with both the plains and the cemetery, and he smiled bitterly. After all, where had all this wood come from? The Azellerisia mountain range loomed in the distance, and he thought of the Great Forest of Tob.
Did they haul it all the way from there? I don’t know how many kilometers the wood must have travelled, but it they would have needed a lot of labour to bring it all the way here.
Although he did not know much about log cabins, Jircniv did not feel that this structure was particularly eye-catching. Even so, when he took the surroundings into account, he had to admit that the fact that they had managed to build this here was impressive in and of itself.
But… that’s a big door… a double door, huh? And built so high… it’s three stories tall by itself. Could this place have been built as some kind of storehouse?
Jircniv looked to the cabin, with Baziwood and Leinas on his right, Fluder on his left, and Roune behind him.
“Your Majesty. Should we order the people in the other carriages to disembark as well?”
Jircniv did not turn to Roune ―who was whispering in his ear― as he answered.
“No, there’s no need for that. Rather, we should―”
Jircniv’s words were cut off mid-sentence. It was not just because the cabin door opened, but because their eyes had been drawn to the two beauties who were now slowly walking out of it.
They were dressed in traditional maids’ wear ― well-tailored, but otherwise unremarkable. However, the maids themselves carried themselves in an abnormally prim and proper way. Even Jircniv, who was a jaded connoisseur of beautiful women, was visibly surprised and stared unabashedly like they had grasped his very heart.
This… what a beauty… but…
They were beautiful indeed. Any noble daughter of the Empire would applaud their looks without reserve. Jircniv felt that he might even want to add them to his harem. However, this was a tomb in the middle of a grass plain. They were utterly out of place here, and as a result, an ominous feeling came over him.
He could hear the sound of a tongue clicking softly beside him, but he did not have the energy to waste on such matters.
“Say, gramps, could this be an illusion?”
“About that… well, I cannot say for sure, but I don’t think so.”
“Are they human? They don’t look like dark elves…”
“And about that… I cannot say for sure either, but I doubt they are human.”
Those answers gave Jircniv a small measure of peace. Since they were not human, it would not be strange if they appeared in a place like this.
It was an answer that he could understand and which he desperately wanted to believe.
Both maids bowed simultaneously, and the one with the bunned-up hair spoke.
“Greetings and welcome, Your Imperial Majesty Emperor Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix. My name is Yuri Alpha and I am tasked with welcoming you. Behind me is my assistant, Lupusregina Beta. Though our time together may be short, we hope you will take care of us.”
Although he delayed in responding because he was overcome by the two of them, Jircniv managed to reply in the end.
“Then, I thank you for going to all this trouble for us. Indeed, I must thank Ainz Ooal Gown-dono as well, for allowing such lovely ladies as yourselves to pass into our care. With that in mind, there is no need to address me as Emperor or use other honorifics. I will be glad if you treat me as an ordinary individual and called me Jir ― nay, indeed, I hope you will do so.”
Jircniv smiled brightly to Yuri.
However, even after receiving a smile that would have had any woman swooning for him, Yuri’s serious expression remained as it was. Jircniv could also tell from peering at her eyes that her heart was similarly unmoved.
Was he not to her taste, or was she the type that did not mix business with pleasure? Or was she filled with loyalty to the person she served?
I can’t see through her. I wanted to leave a good impression, but it seems like that’ll be very difficult. And I was pretty confident that I could handle anyone if they were women… ah, if Gramps is right, then it must be because they aren’t human. It’s not like my charm would work on nonhuman females… still, what species do they belong to? They look like they should be humans, or at least, close to human…
He had no clue as to what they truly were.
Judging by those two dark elves and these two maids, Ainz Ooal Gown must be a man who placed great importance on appearances.
If that’s the case… if my gifts aren’t any better than those two, then I might as well have come empty-handed….
Jircniv considered the ladies-in-waiting he had brought along in the carriages. He was proud of their looks. Each of them were nobles who had been made fully aware of what would happen to their families if they disobeyed Jircniv’s commands, and they had bid teary-eyed farewells to their kin before they left and come here with determination in their hearts.
It’s meaningless. Still, after knowing that the other side already has beauties superior to them, would they rejoice because they were no longer needed? Or would they be jealous of them as fellow women? I guess I should have gotten some elves, shouldn’t I?
Jircniv had not been able to bring along slave elves from the Empire with them because there had not been enough time to prepare them, and also because he wanted to hold them in reserve as capital for future dealings. Those dealings would not be with Ainz, but with Mare.
He wanted to get his hooks into Mare, that panicky little girl, and strip her bare before him. Then they would use the dirty little secrets they could dig out of her for their own aims.
To begin with, we would get her attention with promises of emancipating her enslaved kin. In exchange, she would do some simple favours for us behind Gown’s back. After that, we could use those incidents as blackmail material to have her do more things for us. At least, that was the plan…
Just as Jircniv was mulling over his schemes for Mare, Yuri responded to him.
“Your Imperial Majesty is most kind to say so. However, our master Ainz Ooal Gown has explicitly ordered us not to show any rudeness or disrespect to the Emperor, and as such, I regret that we cannot accede to your generous request.”
“Is that so? Well, that’s a shame.”
Jircniv shrugged in an exaggerated manner, like he was putting on a comedy act.
“Still, please feel free to address me as intimately as you see fit. How about Gown-dono?”
“Understood. Our master is still making his preparations, and he will need a bit more time. I pray you will be patient and wait for him.”
“I see. Then, where shall we wait? Inside that cabin?”
“No. We hope you will wait here.”
Jircniv raised his head to the sky. Although it did not look like it would rain soon, it was hard to call the weather good with those dark clouds in the sky. In addition, there must be a chill in the air since it was winter, although Jircniv could not feel it through his enchanted clothes.
What is he thinking, telling us to wait here? Could it be that he wants us to know our place?
Since he had been ordered to come to the offended party’s home to apologize, Jircniv’s circumstances were already quite bad to begin with. And then, on top of that, Ainz Ooal Gown wanted to demean him further with this. Clearly, Gown had a bad personality.
“Is that so?”
Jircniv narrowed his eyes. He would take things as they came.
“Then, we shall return to our carriages and await him therein.”
Jircniv could feel the anger boiling out of his numerous royal guards as he said those words.
They might be in a neighboring country ―and one which might end up being an enemy to them― but even so, letting the Emperor of a great nation wait in a place like this was far too rude.
However, nobody could vocalize these feelings. Since their liege lord had clearly accepted these terms, there was no room for them as loyal servants to say anything else. Unless―
Was it because they saw the carnage that dark elf could wreak? If that is so… Gown, you’re a hard man to deal with. With just one move you’ve struck fear into all our hearts. Even if that ability could only be used once a day, who would be brave enough to put that to the test? And then there’s the fact that it was a child doing it. You’re giving us the impression that even a child can be that powerful.
“I pray you to wait.”
Yuri’s clear, quiet voice cut through the air before Jircniv could move.
“Since the delay originated from our side, we would be poor hosts and in defiance of Ainz-sama’s commands if we did not extend every courtesy to you in compensation.”
Jircniv was somewhat surprised.
Ainz… he allows his maids to address him so directly? Maybe they’re not maids… no, I see. At the very least, they’re that close to each other. Has he claimed their bodies yet? No, any man would understand why. With such beauties in his employ, the difficulty would be in keeping one’s hands off them.
Jircniv made his reply with exaggerated politeness, though his tone was tinged with tenderness.
“Ohhh! Then, we must be grateful to Gown-dono. Well then… what sort of reception can we look forward to, and where can we expect to find it?”
“That being the case, permit us to begin our preparations. To begin with, the weather does not look very welcoming. Let us change that.”
“What do you… ? Uooooh!”
Jircniv was not the only one gasping in surprise. The magic casters, royal guards, Baziwood, Leinas, even Fluder, all of them could not help but exclaim in wonder.
The dark clouds above them began to move slowly.
Within moments, they had vanished without a trace, as though some invisible giant had scattered them with his hands. The hippogriff cavalry in the air were thrown into confusion, which was something those on the ground could empathize with.
“Why is it that… it feels… warmer…?”
“You too? You mean it’s really happening?”
As Jircniv heard the quiet exchanges between his guards, he shucked off his cloak and dispelled the magic which maintained the temperature of his body. Just then―
Roune exclaimed at Jircniv’s sudden disrobing, but the Emperor did not answer his subordinate.
“Hu… huha… huhahaha. What is this… what on earth is this? Gramps! What’s going on?!”
Jircniv abandoned his calm and looked to Fluder with a twisted expression on his face.
The refreshing, clear air which surrounded him now should only have been found in spring. The chill grasp of winter was nowhere to be found. Jircniv had never heard of magic like this during Fluder’s lessons. In that case, what kind of spell was this, anyway?
“This should not be the work of arcane magic… I seem to recall a druidic divine spell that could control the weather…”
Fluder seemed unable to control the broad smile on his face as he spoke.
“Weather control should be a 6th tier spell. However, judging by Your Majesty’s reaction, this may not be a simple manipulation of the weather. It must be a higher tier spell… how incredible…”
“And this spell is the work of that dark elf ― of that emissary, then?”
Jircniv could force himself to accept that this spell was the work of that magic caster who could cause the earth to swallow his men up in its cracks. No, in truth, he hoped that was the case. He did not want to believe that there was another magic caster out there who was stronger than her. That would be a nightmare.
“Indeed, that might be the case… but I cannot be sure.”
Fluder seemed to find all this terribly amusing, which lit the embers of agitation in Jircniv’s heart.
Although his mentor was an excellent teacher who was worthy of respect, he became nearly useless once magic was involved. It was extremely irritating when he got like that.
“I believe that should have refreshed you somewhat. Then, let us begin the next phase.”
The maid ignored Jircniv’s rising panic and tossed out another bombshell at him.
The young emperor was fighting the urge to throw up his hands and give up on maintaining his dignity. The temptation to succumb to the tremors in his heart were very strong, but in the end, his obligations as the Emperor of the Baharuth Empire won out and he managed to control himself.
“Now then. Come here.”
In response to Yuri’s orders, the doors of the log house opened, and something huge stepped out.
A lone cry rang out. It was a strange sound that one might expect of a strangled chicken.
When they realized who had cried out, terror filled the hearts of everyone present, not just Jircniv. Indeed, it felt like they had been plunged into a waking dream.
The one who had made that uncharacteristic sound was the high court wizard of the Empire, the “Triple Magic Caster”, Fluder Paradyne. He was a man who was said to be able to rival the Thirteen Heroes. A man like that now stood with eyes wide with terror, his gaze fixed on the things emerging from the log house.
Shortly after that, several screams filled the air, all of them from Fluder’s disciples.
“How could this be?! That is―!!!”
“Un-unbelievable! This is impossible!”
“Danger! An attack is coming! Defensive magic! Please allow us to use defensive magic!”
Fluder glared at his disciples, all of whom were in full battle readiness.
“Silence!! Calm yourselves, all of you!!”
The being emerging from the log house was worthy of their caution and dread. The eyes of everyone from the entire Imperial contingent were inescapably drawn to a single point.
There was no doubt at all that it was a monster. It was a monster sheathed in black plate armor.
Its body was excessively large, and its silhouette was filled with evil. It was as though a god had drawn forth the essence of violence and brutality from all humanity, concentrated it, and given it physical form. Its rotted face had no expression, yet they could all sense a brilliant, shining hatred burning in its empty eye sockets.
And there were five of them.
The vast body of the one at their head was carrying a large stone table. The ones behind were holding various utensils and many chairs.
None of them had any hostile intent. In contrast, the vigilance and panic of Fluder’s disciples seemed almost laughable.
There was a sound of something falling to the ground.
One of Fluder’s acolytes had collapsed to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Or rather, out of the four acolytes he had brought along, almost all of them had ended up that way. Their pale faces were frozen in shock as they began hyperventilating.
“Impossible. How could this… no, no, it can’t be. Are those Death Knights? Are they being controlled? And in those numbers?”
Something flashed through Jircniv’s mind. He couldn’t help but forget himself and shout angrily.
He no longer had the luxury of preserving his dignity.
“Death Knights? What do they mean by Death Knights?! Gramps! Answer me! I’ve heard that name before, does it have anything to do with that undead creature that’s rumored to be locked up under the Ministry of Magic?!”
Indeed. It was a Death Knight. That was the name of a monster that could plunge the Empire into dire straits just by itself.
Yet, Jircniv did not receive a reply.
Fluder was staring with eyes wide open. Jircniv realized that talking to him was a waste of time and instead stormed forward with hurried, worried steps, before taking one of the acolytes by the lapels and lifting him up from the ground.
“What are these ‘Death Knights’?! Answer me!!”
“Aieeee! Your, Your Majesty! As you said, that legendary undead monster sealed within the nether reaches of the Ministry of Magic is, indeed, a Death Knight! They are creatures that even Master cannot control!”
All Jircniv could do was laugh. The reserve that he had clung to as the Emperor of the Baharuth Empire was no more. It had crumbled to ash and blown away on the wind.
“…hu, huhu. Huhuhu. What do you mean, legendary undead?! There’s five of them right there in front of us! Or are you saying that Death Knights come in groups and five of them count as one entity? Huh?! Are you kidding me?!!”
“N-no! Nothing like that!”
He sensed someone standing beside him. When he glanced over, he saw that it was one of the Empire’s strongest warriors, Baziwood. The man’s face was pale, and Jircniv could see a nervous tic starting to form.
“Er, ah, Your Majesty. Please listen to this with a calm heart. The situation now is very bad. That creature is of a level that we, even in formed ranks and with full magical support, might not be able to overcome. Perhaps it would be a good idea to sound a retreat. This is bad. Really bad. Look at how my hand trembles.”
As Jircniv looked over to Baziwood’s hand, it began to shake. After looking at his twitching face, the reason for that unwarrior-like movement became abundantly clear.
“Is that what they mean by ‘unfathomable’… do you think it could be stronger than Stronoff-san?”
The other member of the Four Knights was further behind than when she had started out, and she was still continuing her slow retreat. The only reason why she had not broken into an all-out sprint was because she did not want to attract the Death Knight’s attention and thus, its hostility.
This whole thing felt like a nightmare come to life.
And then, before them…
The way the Death Knights were calmly arranging the furniture and utensils on the grassy plains was the very picture of the loyal manservant. There was nothing in their actions which suggested that they were legendary undead which could destroy a country.
However, it was a fact that they were undead which even Jircniv’s strongest magic caster, Fluder Paradyne, could not command. Anyone could tell that by looking at the reactions of everyone present.
This implied that there might be more than five of these monsters, whose fighting ability was far in excess of Fluder’s own.
In contrast, Fluder Paradyne himself was a magic caster that might well have the combat power of the entire Imperial Army. Of course, he did not have infinite mana, and in a straight fight, the Army should be able to take him out. However, if he used his teleportation or flight magic, he might well be able to exterminate the entire Imperial Army by himself. That was Fluder’s true power.
That would mean that the five Death Knights here represented five times the fighting strength of the entire Imperial Army.
It could not be allowed to happen.
This was far too much power for a single man to possess. Even a country would be hard-pressed to contain this much might. This was the sort of power which only a few famous nations or republics of legend could command. Could the master of a meager little tomb really possess such puissance?
When the two dark elves emerged, he forced his mind away from that topic and focused on what was before him.
“Ainz Ooal Gown… a monster we can’t do anything to, no, that we can’t even touch…”
Jircniv’s heart was like a tiny boat tossed around in a raging storm.
In the end, however, he wrestled his emotions down and regained his calm with his iron will.
His royal guards, annihilated. The shadow of the dragon’s vast body. Since he had already accepted these in the past, he could allow himself to accept what lay before him now.
Without these prior experiences to cushion the blow, the impact on him would have been greater. He might have shown an even more disgraceful side of himself.
This tomb is… How powerful is Ainz Ooal Gown? Those five Death Knights and those two. Even with that dragon included, that can’t be all, can it? Why is he hiding in this place? When did he start taking up residence here? Or perhaps his preparations are finally complete? I’ve heard that when many undead creatures gather in one place, an even more powerful undead being is born. That’s why these Death Knights… no, could it be even more powerful than these Death Knights…? Not good. There’s no time, but I still have to think of a way…
As Jircniv’s high-speed thought processes drove him ever further into confusion, Yuri cut in.
“Do not be afraid. These Death Knights were created by Ainz-sama himself. They are absolutely obedient to his orders, and in his place, I have gained the right to command them. I will not permit any of you to come to harm.”
Yuri’s words shattered the thoughts which Jircniv had tried to piece together like spun glass.
“He created them…”
Ainz Ooal Gown could birth these beings through the sheer force of his own will. That was the awful truth. The fact was that making such creatures would require resources and effort equal to their immense power. The nightmare was that either he could meet those criteria, or bypass them entirely.
No, this must be a bluff. How could anyone make things like that? He must be lying to inflate his own prowess. Because if he’s not―
A strange smile appeared on Jircniv’s face.
For some reason, everything seemed so bothersome now.
―Ah. I’m done with this. I don’t know anything anymore. This time, let’s just settle for seeing what the other side can do, yes.
Just as Jircniv decided to abandon all delusions of control, a laugh of sheerest joy rang out from beside him.
It came from Fluder.
Be they royal guards, acolytes or priests, the faces of everyone except Jircniv were frozen in shock.
Fluder Paradyne was a magic caster of the highest order, and a hero possessed of incomparable education and knowledge besides. Countless entries in the history books of the Empire told of how he single-handedly engaged monsters which threatened the safety of the nation, and emerged triumphant. His saintly demeanor also meant he was honored and respected by many people.
In truth, many of the people here felt the same way about him.
And now, Fluder was laughing in a way that shattered the mental image that everyone had of him.
There was power in that laugh.
The aura of a hero.
There was no doubt that Fluder was radiating a fearsome pressure, and not the warm feeling that Jircniv sometimes got from the man who was as close to him as his father.
He possessed immense magical might, enough to take on all the Four Knights at once. And his voice took on a demented tone as he seemed to be going insane.
It was only natural that the nearby royal guards would break out in goosebumps.
Amidst all this, only the people from Nazarick and Jircniv kept their cool.
“…to control Death Knights, and in such numbers! Marvellous! Marvellous!! Marvellous!!! Fuhahahaha!”
A single tear oozed from the corner of his eye, and he smiled as though his face were broken.
―No, that wasn’t right.
This was the true nature of a man who had abandoned his position as a wizard of the Imperial court to glimpse the deepest mysteries of the abyss called “magic.”
Until now, it had been hidden under the mask of a hero, but in the face of a mighty magic caster, it could not help but surface.
“Well then, Your Majesty. What shall we do now? Should we flee with teleportation magic? I think if we teleported now, we should be able to make it, right? Assuming the terrain allows for it…”
Fluder said this to Jircniv, a mocking smile on his face,
“I like that face of yours, Gramps. Then, let me ask a question in turn. Do you think I will run?”
Cracks spread rapidly throughout Fluder’s face. That was the smile of a madman, which instilled incalculable terror in all who saw it.
“As expected of his Majesty, no, my darling Jir. My pupils, open your eyes and be grateful for the fact that you can lay your eyes upon the highest, the most exalted of all magic casters on the mainland. Now that you have seen the end of your journey, you must work towards it!”
The faces of Fluder’s disciples and the royal guards turned paler and paler as they realized the kind of person whose home they had visited.
They knew their comrades had been massacred by Ainz. However, the legendary magic caster from their history books had called him “the most exalted of all magic casters.” It felt like a huge stone had been lodged in their bellies.
“Your Majesty, this is bad, right?”
“…Do you mind if I run first?”
Baziwood seemed confused, and Leinas’ question was filled with despair.
Jircniv looked at them.
Fluder and his disciples aside, the tension of the royal guards was slowly increasing, and they looked like they might break at any moment.
This was because Fluder’s abnormal behavior and the description of the Death Knights’ power had shattered their morale.
“What else can we do? And if you want to run, go ahead. However, if you do that, they might think you’re not one of us. Which means that to them, you’ll be an intruder. You’ll be lucky if you don’t end up like those workers who came here earlier.”
Leinas ground her teeth and her face twisted.
“Which means it’s fine, right?”
“Baziwood, look at Gramps― no, Fluder. He’s the most familiar of all of us with magic and he’s like that now. All we can do is leave everything to our hosts.”
“What about praying that God will give us luck, and then escaping?”
“Do you really think we can escape?”
Baziwood glanced at the maid, who had clearly overheard them talking about fleeing, but calmly continued their preparations anyway.
“What if we took a hostage?”
“I don’t like to hear people talking about doing impossible things, ‘Lightning Bolt’, see what happens if you say that again.”
“…Forgive me. In truth, I feel that the maid is even more powerful than the Death Knights. They’re certainly more mysterious… ah, look at her, she doesn’t even care that we’re talking about such things right in front of her. How frightening…”
The maid was monstrously strong as well.
As he thought about this, Jircniv shook his head. He desperately wanted to believe that was not true. As he thought about it, he tried his best to put the cold smiles of those two dark elves out of his mind.
“Looks like we are almost… are we ready, then? In that case, everyone, I hope you will relax over here.”
There were many tables and chairs in place on the grass. The tables were covered in pure white tablecloths and large sun umbrellas provided shade. The Death Knights who had been moving the furniture into place were standing by beside the log house in order not to get in the way.
“We have also prepared refreshments for you.”
Wine bottles were arrayed on the tables, filled with an orange liquid. Beside them were high-stemmed wine glasses made of clear crystal. Each of them was intricately carved with elaborate designs.
Even Jircniv, an Emperor who enjoyed the best things in life on a daily basis, could not help but stare with eyes agape at the display before him.
“Please let us know if you need anything else. Then, everyone―”
The log house’s door opened once more, and more maids filed out from within. The Imperial contingent took in their transcendent beauty, which was enough to wipe away all the fear and unease they had experienced until now.
Each of them was uniquely beautiful in their own way. One of them had hair that was pinned up into two buns, another had long, straight hair, and a third had drill-shaped hair.
“Are they having a sale on beauties?”
Although Jircniv didn’t know which of the royal guards said that, he had to agree. After all, what would such belles be doing in a tomb?
Does that tomb mass-produce beautiful women? Do they pop out of the ground like mushrooms?
He heard the sound of a tongue clicking again, but paid it no heed.
“Then, please enjoy the drinks we have―”
“―Ah, before that, could we meet Ainz Ooal Gown-sama first? I would like to expedite matters… and if it’s all right, could I speak with him just before he meets with Jir―”
“Fluder, contain yourself.”
No matter what, none of them could disgrace themselves or the Empire here.
“Don’t forget your position, Fluder. We’re here as representatives of the Empire, not to satisfy your thirst for magical knowledge.”
By this time, a calm light filled Fluder’s eyes. He had, for the most part, managed to subdue his rampant desire.
“…Forgive me, Your Majesty. I was overcome by excitement. I beg the forgiveness of everyone else present as well.”
“That’s right, Gramps. Have a drink, calm yourself down. Then, shall we?”
Yuri slowly filled the glasses on the table before Jircniv with that same orange fluid. A fragrant citrus scent wafted through the air.
Jircniv took a mouthful of the juice, and the taste was such that he could not help but smile. He thought bitterly, ‘what have I been drinking all my life’. The surrounding royal guards murmured in surprise as they partook of the drinks. If even the jaded Jircniv could be surprised like this, how much more so these common men? As if to illustrate that point, there were many who had forgotten etiquette and were gulping the juice down as fast as possible.
Shortly after, shocked exclamations rang out from the gathered men.
“What’s with this juice, it’s a perfect blend of sweet and sour flavor!”
“It glides down your throat, and there’s no cloying aftertaste!”
Jircniv took another drink as he heard the praise from all around him. Suddenly, he felt like he was filled with power.
Even my body is getting excited from this taste, huh. To think that Nazarick could produce such quality beverages. It seems I did insult those two dark elves back then. If they availed themselves of such wondrous drink every day, then it’s no wonder they weren’t impressed by our side.
Jircniv smiled bitterly.
To think, even a simple taste of this could defeat them so utterly.
Ahhh… I feel so calm now. This is the first time I’ve felt this relaxed since I came here. It’s like… like I’ve come home…
How long had they stayed out of the sun in the shade of the umbrellas and heard the wind blow through the grass? Eventually, Yuri said the words which Jircniv longed to hear.
“I apologize for the delay. Ainz-sama is ready to see you now, so please follow me.”
Jircniv arrived at a hemispherical room that looked like a theater. He stood at a pair of vast double doors. Intricate carvings decorated both sides of the doors; beautiful goddesses on the right and cruel-looking demons on the left. Countless ominous-looking statues were arrayed around them.
It made onlookers think of “The Gates of Judgement.”
Jircniv pondered the gates as he looked over them.
The huge room, was quiet, so quiet that he imagined he could hear the metaphorical ‘sound of silence’.
Indeed, nobody from the Imperial contingent had uttered a single word ever since they had been brought here. The only sounds were those of armor scraping against armor.
Before they came to this hall of silence, they had passed through vistas filled with incomparable sights on the way here, and their souls had been stolen away by the wonders they had witnessed.
It would have been too much to expect them to not be entranced by the mythical sights they had seen.
In truth, even Jircniv found it hard to control the impulse to gawk openly at his surroundings, given the fantastic world they had passed through.
He glanced over his shoulder to look at his subordinates who had followed him here.
Behind him were Baziwood and ten specially-selected royal guards, Fluder and four of his acolytes, Roune, his secretary, and the priests from the knight orders. Leinas and the other royal guards had been left behind with the carriages for security.
Everyone following him ―with the exception of Fluder― had drawn in their shoulders.
This was the result of being constantly reminded of how tiny and insignificant they were, as well as witnessing sights that the artistic elites of the Empire would have trouble replicating.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick was a tomb in name only. In truth, it was a beautiful world that was closer to a divine realm than anything else. Their impression of the ruler of this place, the magic caster Ainz Ooal Gown, was almost indescribable.
The smile on Jircniv’s face was filled with mockery, aimed at himself. Humans would naturally bow their heads to those who exceeded them. Anyone that was unimpressed by these architectural and artistic marvels must surely have the aesthetic sense of a pebble.
…This is quite disturbing.
Ainz Ooal Gown waited beyond that door. He was a magic caster whose power surpassed even that of Fluder Paradyne. Indeed, there might be nobody to equal him in the past or the future. His magnificent domicile far exceeded the capacity of humans to imagine, and his followers possessed incredible power. He was a being who possessed every advantage that Jircniv could think of.
Why would someone like that be hiding in a place like this? Although Jircniv did not know the answer, he would probably find out soon enough.
At least, he hoped to achieve that much during the discussions that were to follow.
I doubt he’ll be satisfied with a simple apology after that spectacular show of force he put on.
Initially, Jircniv’s plan was to determine Ainz Ooal Gown’s desires and then meet them in order to gain benefits for the Empire. This whole pretence of making an apology was merely an excuse for achieving that aim.
As if I could begin to meet the desires of someone as powerful as this. I couldn’t do it, even if I had more wealth and power than I already do.
Just as a one-carat gem would not gain Jircniv’s attention, Ainz Ooal Gown could not possibly be interested in anything Jircniv could offer.
To begin with, wealth would be completely out of the question.
As for providing military and magical support ― well, why would he be interested in things that were far inferior to his own?
Even using members of the opposite sex as honeytraps would be impossible. Jircniv was firmly reminded of that as he thought of Yuri and the other maids.
Offers of rank and authority would be useless, for someone who lived in a place like this.
Jircniv wondered if human desires could move the heart of Ainz Ooal Gown.
“…It would be very difficult, huh.”
Jircniv’s mind ran through countless stratagems and ploys to use against Ainz Ooal Gown.
The conclusion was that he could not overcome him.
The best outcome he could hope for was that Ainz would not regard him as an enemy.
The victory conditions for this engagement are: the Empire remains intact, and that I return alive.
As he gave voice to these thoughts, Jircniv found that they were louder than he imagined. However, nobody around him reacted. They were too mesmerized by their surroundings.
“This is the throne room. Ainz-sama waits for you within.”
After that, Yuri announced that her part was over, and bowed deeply to Jircniv.
As though waiting for those words, the vast double doors swung slowly open of their own accord.
Several sudden intakes of breath reached Jircniv’s ears. It was not just one or two instances, but over ten of them, probably well over half the people who had come to this place. Many among them had not been able to fully muster their resolve and allowed their desire to flee to show on their faces. In other words, many of the Imperial contingent had been hoping that those double doors would not open.
It was precisely because of that reason that Jircniv was grateful that the doors opened automatically. Who knew how long they would have to wait if they needed to work up the courage to pass through those doors first?
The ceiling that came into view was very high and very broad. The walls were predominantly white, with extensive gold decorations and highlights.
Multicolored chandeliers ―made of precious stones from all the colors of the rainbow― were suspended from the ceiling, radiating an eerie light. Flags hung from poles set into the walls.
Jircniv and the others blanched pale as an oppressive air swept over them from inside the room.
A crimson carpet ran down the center of the room, and flanking it were a series of immeasurably potent beings.
Demons, dragons, bizarre humanoids, armored knights, bipedal insects and elves. Each was different from the other, but the one thing they had in common was the overwhelming power each of them possessed. Such beings were arranged in two lines on either side of the carpet, and it felt too disheartening to count them.
They watched Jircniv and company in silence. Although it was said that one could sense a certain kind of strength in the eyes of those with power or status, this was the first time Jircniv had ever felt a physical force pressing on him when he met someone’s gaze.
The sound of low moans and the shuddering of metal armor plates came from behind Jircniv.
It was proof that his subjects were scared out of their wits.
However, Jircniv did not intend to reproach his subordinates for showing their fear. Rather, he wanted to praise them, because every single one of them had conquered that fear and stayed behind him.
They had remained steadfast in the face of this primal terror from the dawn of humanity.
Jircniv’s threat evaluation of Ainz Ooal Gown rose by several dozen notches at once. He had been on guard up till now, and that assessment of Ainz’ power had been revised ever upward since he arrived here. But even that had been far too naïve.
The matter of dealing with Ainz Ooal Gown was no longer simply a matter of the survival of the Empire, but rather, it concerned the survival of the entire human race ― even demi-humans.
Jircniv’s eyes followed the carpet forward.
Before them was a set of stairs, and around it were assembled people that Jircniv surmised were Ainz’ aides. A beautiful silver-haired girl. A bluish-white monster that looked like an upright insect. A toad-like man in a suit. The twins from before ― here Jircniv felt some relief. If it turned out that the ones who wiped out his royal guards in a few seconds were mere foot soldiers, that would hardly be a laughing matter.
Above them, upon those stairs, was a beautiful winged woman, and just behind her―
Upon a crystal throne sat the personification of death. It had a strange-looking staff in hand.
It was a monster with a skull for a head.
It was like a being that had been formed from concentrating darkness into a single point.
It was Ainz Ooal Gown.
A magnificent crown sat upon his head, and his body was cloaked in a luxurious sable robe. Rings glittered brightly on his fingers. Even from such a distance, Jircniv could clearly tell that the exquisite accessories which Ainz wore were beyond the skills of his Empire’s artisans.
Blood-red points of light glowed within the empty eye sockets of Ainz Ooal Gown’s skull. As they swept over Jircniv’ and his contingent, it felt as if they were tasting him.
He was shocked by the fact that Ainz was not human, and at the same time he was relieved.
It was because Ainz was not human that Jircniv could honestly accept that Ainz was a superior being that was far out of his league.
Jircniv exhaled quietly.
It was a sign of his resolve.
The door had been opened, but it had not been opened for long. It was certainly not long enough for anyone to comment on their inactivity. Still, they could not wait out here forever. And so, Jircniv took a step forward.
Jircniv’s words were quiet enough that only those behind him could hear them. Anyone who saw him would be surprised by how he could speak without opening his mouth. This was not magic, but pure skill. It was a skill that was particularly useful in this sort of setting.
However, Jircniv could not sense anyone responding to his words.
Advancing to Ainz Ooal Gown’s feet meant that they would have to pass between the flanking lines of monsters. Even though he was certain that these frightening foes would not attack them, walking in front of these creatures would still require a great deal of courage.
His judgement that they would not be attacked was not just his one-sided optimism.
The reasons for using a throne room like this were usually to provide a formal setting for official communication, as well as displaying national power. These were facts that anyone would know.
Which meant that the reasons for choosing this place were to display the power of Nazarick, and to show that he had no intent of killing Jircniv and his followers. After all, if Ainz wanted to get rid of them, he could simply have brought them to a slaughterhouse instead.
Jircniv’s underlings should have clearly understood that fact. However, that was not the reason why they remained immobile.
That reason was simply because they did not want to go near Ainz.
Beyond the lines of monsters were Ainz Ooal Gown’s aides. The power of those beings was clearly beyond the reckoning of sane men.
And upon the throne was Ainz Ooal Gown himself.
At great length, Jircniv realised something in the depths of his soul.
He realised that they were standing in the presence of what men would call a god.
Jircniv possessed a magic item that defended against mental attacks, but the pressure he was facing was outside the scope of the item’s protection. If he lost his focus but once, even the man known as the Blood Emperor would be able to do nothing but kneel before Ainz.
Still, it was precisely because of that reason that he had to go.
Just as Jircniv was observing Ainz Ooal Gown, Ainz Ooal Gown was also observing Jircniv. If he disapproved of what he saw, what would happen to the Empire in future? At the very least, he had to let Ainz recognize the value of Jircniv, and by extension, the continued existence of the Empire.
Jircniv laughed at his own naïveté.
What had he been thinking by ‘a war of words’.
I guess this is what it means to regret something. Nothing else matters anymore. All I can hope for is to minimize the damage to the Empire.
Jircniv’s stern command was directed at his subordinates, but more importantly at himself, in order to snap himself back to reality. He could sense his followers looking at him expectantly.
It was a very soft carpet, but to Jircniv right now, it seemed far too light and ephemeral.
He firmly shunted aside the innumerable glares directed at him and moved forward, keeping his eyes fixed on the person that lay before him ― Ainz Ooal Gown. His instincts were telling him that if he averted his gaze for a moment, he would no longer be able to move.
Jircniv was not an excellent warrior or anything like that, but the reason why he could move forward at the head of his men where his royal guard feared to tread was because of the mental fortitude that had been bred into him as an Emperor.
At last, he reached the base of the steps, in front of Ainz’ close aides.
“Ainz-sama, this is the ruler of the Baharuth Empire, Emperor Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix, for your viewing pleasure.”
The sweet voice came from the winged woman standing beside the throne. Her dulcet tones matched her radiant looks.
In response, the being that was a veritable god of death spoke to Jircniv.
“I am glad you have come, Emperor of the Baharuth Empire. I am the master of the Great Tomb of Nazarick, Ainz Ooal Gown.”
A faint pang of relief ran through Jircniv. His voice was more normal than he expected ― like that of a human being.
If that was the case, reading him from his words might yet be possible.
“I humbly thank you for your most generous welcome, Ainz Ooal Gown-dono.”
One could not read facial expressions from a skull. What sort of greeting would best fit the current situation? Jircniv carefully pondered that question.
However, the one who spoke first was neither Jircniv, nor Ainz.
“Ainz-sama. It is disrespectful for inferior beings such as humans to address yourself as an equal,” a man’s voice said. “「Kneel」.”
Jircniv heard the sound of innumerable metal plates clanking, but he did not need to turn around to know what was going on. His subjects must have knelt in response to the man’s voice. At the same time he could hear the desperate grinding of teeth that came from those who wanted to rise, but could not.
It must have been some sort of powerful mental domination effect.
Had Jircniv not worn the necklace he never took off, he would be kneeling like his men.
Countless gazes affixed themselves on Jircniv, the only one to remain standing. They were cold, clinical stares, as though Jircniv were nothing more than a guinea pig.
“―That’s enough, Demiurge.”
The toad-like monster called Demiurge bowed respectfully to its master.
He could almost see the pressure around them disappear, and he could hear sighs of relief from behind him.
“…Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix, my subordinate has done something rude to a noble guest who has come from far away to visit my domain. The sins of the vassal are those of the liege, and as such I beg your forgiveness. I hope this is a matter which can be resolved with a bowing of the head.”
Commotion and activity rose from the two files of monsters behind them.
Countless feelings danced up in Jircniv’s heart.
He was cautious, because he realized that Ainz was not the type who handled matters solely with brute force. Clearly, he was a cunning person, and had to be watched carefully.
Similarly, he was relieved, because Ainz was not the type who handled matters solely with brute force. At least, he did not seem like someone who would wipe Jircniv out without bothering with negotiations.
Most importantly, he was afraid. He knew without a doubt that Ainz had the complete loyalty of all the monsters present here.
At the same time, Jircniv had the sickening realization that everything that had happened so far had occurred in accordance to Ainz Ooal Gown’s wishes. It was the ominous feeling that everything had taken place just as Ainz had planned.
“There is no need to apologize for that, Gown-dono. It is not uncommon for subordinates to act as they please from time to time. Citizens from our Empire have done the same themselves. That, I must apologize for.”
One of the royal guards who had been released from the domination began moving, and placed an urn beside Jircniv in a worried, panicky manner. Jircniv should have immediately taken it up, but he was delayed by his thoughts.
Were the actions of Gown’s minion intended to make me say what I just did? If that’s the case, should I go off-script? No, that’s not an option. This is like a staged fight with real blades. A single misstep will result in severe injuries… that would be very bad.
“This is the head of the foolish noble who took action on his own to intrude upon your tomb… although I do not know if ‘tomb’ is the right word to use. Please accept it.”
The urn contained Earl Femel’s head. He was the noble who had been induced by Jircniv to recruit and dispatch the workers.
These nobles who were neither boon nor bane were raised to be used at times like these.
Dead men told no tales. Although he did not know how much information Ainz Ooal Gown possessed, it would be wiser to silence him to prevent further leaks.
It was quite likely that Ainz sent his emissaries because the workers had barged into his domain, and he wanted their master to take responsibility for it. Because of that, he had to deny all knowledge of the incident in the hopes of improving their relationship.
The beautiful woman standing beside Ainz gently nodded her head, and the one called Demiurge brought the urn up the steps.
Then, he knelt before Ainz, and presented the head from within the urn,
Ainz lifted the head up.
“I will accept it. But what shall I do with it now? It would be a waste to simply throw it away.”
…Hm? Ah, mockery, then? I see. He’s only certain that the workers were hired by Femel… the question now is where the information leaked from…
Suddenly, the severed head of Earl Femel twitched in the skeletal hand that held it.
At a glance, one might think that Ainz was the one moving it, but a closer look would reveal the truth. The head was covered by some sort of liquid, and Ainz released it from his hand.
Just as it was obscured by the sudden change in position, a fountain of sticky black liquid erupted from the ground.
After the black fluid finished dripping, what was left was an enormous suit of black plate armor.
It was a Death Knight.
As one, everyone behind Jircniv inhaled sharply in surprise.
“How… could this…”
He created it. The maid’s words were true. Jircniv desperately wanted to bite his lip but forced himself not to. He could not do such a shameful thing in public.
“Go. Get in line.”
With a deep groan that seemed to come from somewhere far beneath the earth, the Death Knight obediently descended the stairs and vanished from Jircniv’s field of vision.
How many more of these Death Knights can Ainz Ooal Gown still make? Don’t tell me… an unlimited number, as long as he has corpses? But, if he could do that ― wait, before that, can he make even more powerful undead? That would mean…
“Then, Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix-dono.”
Ainz’ quiet voice let Jircniv find himself again, and he smiled easily to Ainz.
“Ah, Gown-dono, Jircniv will do. After all, it is a long name.”
“Is it now? Well then, Jircniv-dono. To begin with, allow me to apologize for that unsightly behavior just now. Given that my ill-mannered vassal was rude towards you and those under your command, I will consider the matter of that noble’s invasion of Nazarick settled. Then, that is all. Although I have made you come a long way, you are now free to leave.”
Nobody could understand what was going on.
“Ah, forgive me. I fear I may have misheard your words. Could you speak them to me once more?”
“There is no need for you to apologize. It will be fine if you return home. After all, we will be getting very busy over here shortly.”
Ainz shrugged, like he had been kidding.
Jircniv had no idea what was going on any longer.
Could it be that the apology was just a pretext to get him to come here in order to fulfil some other objective? That clearly seemed to be the case, but the circumstances seemed far too strange to be explained away like this.
Something wasn’t adding up here.
―Wait a minute? What did he just say?
“Forgive me, but what did you mean by ‘getting very busy’?”
“Thanks to this incident, we now know that we will be drawn into troublesome matters even if we try to remain uninvolved. That being the case, I was thinking that we should move to the surface and begin taking care of those matters ourselves.”
“That, that would mean…”
“First, we will have those fools who tried to harm us pay an appropriate price. After that, we will crush all the troublesome people we encounter until the peace I so cherish is restored.”
These words were the ranting of a lunatic.
No ― that would be wrong. He was not mad. When one considered Ainz Ooal Gown’s personal, military and economic strength, those words were not mad at all. It was only Jircniv ― blinded by his limited experience ― who found it hard to accept the facts.
Ainz Ooal Gown was a man who could do what he said.
An uncontrollable feeling of dread welled up from beneath Jircniv’s feet.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick. What was supposed to have been a sleeping giant had been roused, and it was about to begin a reign of terror on the surface world.
Could it be that he called me here for this? Is this a declaration of war? What should I do? Ainz Ooal Gown is essentially declaring war on the Empire! Should I kneel before him for here the sake of the future?
In truth, that might have been the wisest thing to do.
However ― there would be no pleasant fate in store for them if they accepted a monster’s rule. There was a possibility that Ainz might simply kill everyone in the Empire and reanimate them as more Death Knights. It might be a more agonizing fate than simple death.
Jircniv racked his brains like he had never done before in his life. By right, he should have brought this question back and consulted with dozens of sages over what the proper course of action should be. But by then, it would be too late.
With a smile that cut through everything, Jircniv spoke.
“I have a proposal. How about forming an alliance?”
“Are you confusing us with your lackeys― uwah!”
There was a clear, bell-like voice, followed by the sound of something moving swiftly. The silver-haired girl frowned, while Aura, standing beside her, pretended to act dumb.
Although Jircniv’s dynamic vision was not good enough to see what had happened, it looked like the dark elf had just kicked the silver-haired girl in the leg.
“―You’re making too much noise. Quiet down.”
Like a demon king, Ainz majestically waved his left hand to motion for silence.
Such regal movements could only have been born of long years of ruling over this domain.
Jircniv’s alertness level went through the roof.
I see, he has presided over this land for a long time. To think he had such a dignified bearing…
The two girls’ voices overlapped, expressing their regret for their foolishness.
He could not sense a hint of the arrogance that Aura had given off while in the capital. Right after that, he glanced at Ainz Ooal Gown, hoping that he had his subordinates fully under control. Then he screwed up his courage and prepared to speak.
This was the main event.
His tongue flickered over his lips.
Jircniv picked the finest plan he could think of from the numberless plots and stratagems he had come up with until this day.
“To build a nation here and to rule it ― I think that is a great idea. It is a position that best fits Gown-dono. Our nation will gladly supply all the aid and resources you need to found this nation. How about that?”
Ainz’ fleshless face did not move. However, Jircniv sensed that the bright points of red light in Ainz’ eye sockets were glowing slightly brighter.
“…Jircniv-dono, I do not believe that plan holds any merits for you.”
That was only natural, which was why he could confidently predict Ainz would ask that question. Mustering up all his acting expertise, Jircniv made his reply.
“I wish to forge good relations with the country that your esteemed person will eventually establish. This is also a consideration for the future.”
“I see. Then, let it be so. I will leave the details to you.”
Jircniv was left speechless at the speed with which Ainz had agreed to the proposal. He had not expected that at all. He could not even muster up the will to say anything else.
To begin with…
Why didn’t he ask me to swear loyalty to him? As an overwhelmingly superior individual in an infinitely advantageous position, why would he even accept an offer of alliance?
He had prepared dozens of answers for when Ainz demanded fealty from him. But Ainz’ answer had exceeded the scope of Jircniv’s predictions.
What was he up to?
Jircniv could not understand Ainz’ thinking at all.
When battling a stronger opponent, a weaker man would consider how to turn his opponent’s strength against himself and trip him up. This was how one exploited the arrogance of the strong. But if the stronger opponent was not an arrogant being, then that tactic was unusable. The weaker man’s only way of fighting would have no effect.
Ainz must have been thinking that way. He would never act in an arrogant way that let others exploit him.
It’s possible that everything up till now has been going according to Ainz’ plans. After all, the delay in his replies was far too short. Did that mean he already predicted all my possible choices and prepared the appropriate responses?
Jircniv was keenly aware that the terror that accompanied Ainz Ooal Gown did not stem merely from his matchless might, but also from his unfathomable intellect.
“Is, is that so. Then, that is wonderful. Could, could you tell us if there is anything we can do for you?”
“I cannot think of anything right now. For now, how about setting up places where we could send each other’s ambassadors to visit? Like embassies, perhaps. I would like to have a means of contacting you, honoured Emperor.”
If all was really going as Ainz planned, then there was no way he would not have thought of everything. Therefore, the meaning behind his words were obvious.
These words must be a ploy as well. He must have thought that if he stated his demands immediately, he would be seen through. This monster sure has a lot of schemes. Or rather… perhaps it’s because he’s a monster that his intellect surpasses that of humanity.
“Ah, yes, indeed. How foolish of me for not having thought of that. As expected of Gown-dono.”
Is he not a fan of pleasantries?
After hearing that half-hearted response, Jircniv made a mental note of that data point.
“Then, I shall return first. I will leave my secretary here. Could you discuss the details with him? His name is Roune Varmilinen.”
“―Understood! On behalf of the Empire I shall devote my body and soul to you!”
Although Jircniv could not see Roune’s face, he could hear a strong conviction in his voice. In truth, the decisions made here would decide the Empire’s future. If he did not have to rush back to the Empire immediately to form the appropriate committees and carry out the necessary planning in order to accommodate Ainz Ooal Gown, Jircniv would have preferred to stay here himself.
“An excellent answer. I can feel your loyalty to your Emperor in every word. Then, we will send out Demiurge. Since he was disrespectful to you earlier, consider it an apology for his prior rudeness.”
The frog-like monster bowed silently from the corner of Jircniv’s eye, and he sensed that he was about to lose a valuable subordinate. He struggled to control himself so he would not direct a hateful glance at Ainz by accident.
He checkmated me right from the start!
The frog monster Demiurge could control minds with his words. There was no doubt that he would use them to brainwash Roune and have him reveal everything he knew about the Empire.
These are not the actions an ally would take. Still, the fact that he would be so overt about this is proof of his insidious nature. Demiurge… he must be planning to send this stupid-looking monster to do such intelligence-intensive work so he can blame any problems on the actions of his subordinate. Ainz Ooal Gown, how many more tricks do you have up your sleeve? Damn you!
Although he was cursing and swearing at Ainz in his heart, Jircniv had to acknowledge his skills.
His earlier misstep was a calculated move to stop us from complaining later. We have to speak up now if we have any qualms about this. If we don’t, he might assume that we have no issues with this in future.
Just as Jircniv was about to say something, Ainz spoke before him.
“Demiurge is one of my most trusted followers. I am sure there will be no further problems if he and Roune discuss matters.”
“That would be wonderful.”
Jircniv forced himself to smile.
This was the first time he had seen such a masterful exploitation of an opportunity. Since he had already said this much, anything further would be a waste of breath.
However, as Jircniv heard Ainz’ next words, he realized how naïve he had been.
“Now then, the situation is different. Now, Jircniv-dono is an ally of Nazarick. To send you home in such haste seems rude. Since you are here, why not spend the night? Think of it as a welcome.”
So it’s not just Roune, he wants to get everyone here as well?!
Worse, he might be planning an even more wicked scheme. No matter what, it was hard to believe this was an innocent act of charity with no ulterior motives. He cursed the twisted face of Demiurge as he replied “Understood” from the bottom of his heart.
“No, no, no, we could not possibly trouble you. After all, we must return to make preparations.”
“Is that so? That is a shame. Then, if it is convenient― no, please allow one of my servants to send you home.”
Jircniv imagined himself riding a dragon, and curiosity welled up at Ainz’ suggestion. Still, Jircniv shouldered that prospect aside. There was no way Ainz would simply transport him home, and he did not wish to owe Ainz a favor.
“I am deeply appreciative of Gown-dono’s most generous offer and I thank you for it. However, I feel that since I came on a carriage, I should return the same way.”
“An undead headless horse could run day and night without sleep―”
“―Please forgive me, but I must respectfully decline.”
“Must you? I see.”
He could sense that there was some disappointment in those words. Was it an act, or was it the truth? Jircniv could not tell, although he suspected it might be an act.
In any case, as long as they did not fully understand their current circumstances, he wanted to avoid announcing the news of the Empire’s alliance with the undead Ainz.
To begin with, if he rode an undead horse that hated the living back to the Empire, leaving aside the priests that he brought with him, what would the priests of the capital’s temples have to say about that?
“Then, permit me to return to my domain.”
“Very well. Demiurge… escort our guests outside.”
“No, no, there is no need to trouble… well, since this is a rare opportunity, how about the maids? I have never seen such beautiful women before.”
Ainz cricked his neck in surprise.
―It was an incredibly fake movement.
Jircniv fought to keep his anger under control as he smiled to Ainz.
He knows we’re on guard against Demiurge but he’s still provoking us like this!
There was no intention of forming an alliance here. It was a roundabout way of telling Jircniv exactly who was in charge here.
I’ve never seen such evil before… he’s a threat to humanity’s continued survival…
“Ah, thank you for that. Then, please speak with the maids waiting outside. Ah, what a fine day for forging an alliance. How I wish I could make it a feast day!”
You mean, to celebrate the day you made slaves of us?!
As he screamed internally, Jircniv smiled to Ainz once more.
“Indeed. Yes… Indeed.”
After the talks were concluded, Ainz gathered the Guardians in his room ― Albedo, Demiurge, Aura, Mare, Cocytus, Shalltear, and Sebas.
He signaled to his kneeling subordinates to rise.
He placed both elbows on his table and meshed his hands, covering the lower half of his face.
His nonexistent belly ached. Now was the time for the review. As he held that feeling in his heart, he peeked at Demiurge and Albedo.
They did not seem angry. Nor did they seem speechless.
However, who could tell if that was or was not a poker face? After thinking of that, he looked closely at them again, to see if their faces were frozen in anger.
I want to get out of here. In the first place, why did I sit here… no, it’s too late. Words said can’t be unspoken. Grow a damn spine, Ainz Ooal Gown!
With that, the phantom pain in his gut seemed to have subsided, but he still felt like throwing up.
When he learned the Emperor was approaching Nazarick as planned, Ainz could not help but indirectly ask Demiurge “Then, what will we do next”, but instead the answer he got was “Since all is going as predicted, we shall stick to the plan.”
But I don’t know what the plan is!
Of course, he did not actually say that.
As the ruler of the Great Tomb of Nazarick, Ainz had to adopt an attitude that matched the expectations of the NPCs. To him, they were like his guild members’ children, who had been placed into his care. Therefore, he put his all into making a good impression on them, even when all he had to do was resolutely nod and answer “is that so” in a kingly way.
When it came to Demiurge’s plan, however, Ainz was desperately flailing in the dark.
The actual talks with Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix had been played entirely off the cuff, trusting that there would be a way through no matter what. As for how confident he was of having said the right thing during the negotiations… well, simply put, he had no confidence at all.
Like a student waiting for his test scores, he peeked at the two of them.
This is like a job interview…
When he had just started working, he remembered having a similar feeling to this.
“Then, as planned, the Emperor has made his move.”
Ainz took a deep breath. Just as he was about to speak, a voice interrupted from beside him.
“Ainz-sama, I fear to ask, but I have a question. Why did you have to give the emperor of the humans a place as a collaborator? Couldn’t we have just conquered the Empire by force?”
In response to Shalltear’s question, Ainz’ non-existent heart skipped a beat.
In order to conquer the world, they would first apply pressure to the Empire. Because of that, they would allow the Empire to launch an attack on Nazarick, and use that to threaten the Empire and force the Emperor into direct talks. Then, they would demonstrate the overwhelming power of Nazarick. That was how this operation should have gone.
That was all Ainz knew. The exact importance of why they had to impress Nazarick’s power onto the Emperor was a mystery to him.
Because of that, he had no idea how to properly answer Shalltear’s question.
Aura continued after her.
“Shalltear is right. We went to their capital and it’s nothing much.”
Ainz glanced at the other Guardians. They all seemed to feel the same way.
Even if they had no intention of going against the decision made by Ainz, their master, even if they thought it was the right way, the doubts would still keep welling up.
In addition, they wanted to know why Ainz made the decisions that he did, to understand his true intentions, so they could serve him more effectively.
If they did not know his motives, then the chances of them accidentally working against his aims would be higher. In particular, two of the Guardians felt uneasy about this lack of knowledge, namely Shalltear and Sebas, who had already committed mistakes in the past. Both of them watched Ainz with eager faces, ears pricked up so they would not miss a single word of Ainz’ answer.
Ainz suppressed the stress he felt from being the focus of everyone’s attention, and searched for a way out of this predicament.
First, I need to decide whether or not to affirm or deny Shalltear and Aura’s words. If I affirm them, that means conquering the Empire is part of the plan. If I deny them, it means we won’t be conquering the Empire for now… but which side are Demiurge and Albedo hoping for? Oh no, not good, I took too long…
With a cold smile on his face, Ainz laughed.
He took a deep breath.
The odds were one in two.
If he screwed up here, all he would have to do was change the course somehow. And besides―
Shalltear is always messing up, so I should reject her in this!
“―I feel that would be a foolish course of action, Shalltear."
The light in the Guardians’ eyes brightened as they heard Ainz' words. That was probably not a mistake. After hearing the words of their great master, they might be able to gain some wisdom from that erudite mind of his.
I’m not what you think I am!
Ainz looked over to Demiurge. In order not to be mistaken as a full-fledged cry for help, he began softly and carefully.
A smart man like him should understand even if I just speak his name. That was Ainz’ hope.
“Yes! Please forgive this incompetent vassal’s inability to fully comprehend your long-term plans!”
“Ah, no, no, incompetent is a bit too much…”
“Once more, I offer my apologies! I beg for your forgiveness!”
It’s not like that! Why, why didn’t you explain for me? This is bad, if I call on Demiurge again… why didn’t he just answer directly?!
“I am moved to tears by the boundless compassion of Ainz-sama. As expected of our ruler, and our king.”
He wanted answers more than he wanted praise.
However, there was already nobody else he could turn to.
After gathering his resolve, Ainz began explaining his conclusion.
“We require just cause.”
“Is. Such. A. Thing. Truly. Necessary?”
“Of course. Indeed, we could conquer the Empire with force alone. However, if we did that, we would raise too many enemies against us. It is different from dealing with primitive opponents like the lizardmen. If I had to explain it, I would phrase it like this: ‘While we were living peacefully in our secluded home, we were attacked and robbed by workers from the Empire. In anger, we killed them and sought to apologise to their employer, the Empire, and they in turn said they would help us build a nation in order to make amends.’ That was the general idea. We will make the Emperor one of our collaborators in our plan.”
“Oh, I see~ But Ainz-sama, will they accept it just like that?”
“Whether they accept or not is immaterial, Aura. The truth does not need their approval.”
That was what he meant by “just cause”. And Ainz had not told a single lie to them.
“Ah, does, does that mean, it was all for this? To, uh, to get the Emperor here?”
“Hm? What do you mean, Mare?”
“Y-yes. Er, talks, talks with the Emperor might leave traces behind, and because of that, you specially brought him here to minimize the amount of leaks when you spoke. I, I think that’s it.”
“―Hahaha. Indeed, it was. Well done, Mare.”
Mare blushed shyly, and smiled.
As he looked at Mare’s adorable smile, Ainz sighed in relief. It was true, negotiating in the Empire might leave a lot of evidence behind. However, by bringing a limited amount of Empire personnel here, they could minimize the number of leaks and ensure it would not go on the record. This would be useful if investigations were made.
Ainz was impressed by the foresight of Demiurge, who had arranged for events to take place here in the first place, and looked to the other Guardians.
“In addition, building a nation implies that we will be defending more people. Turning countries into graveyards will only damage the name of Ainz Ooal Gown. Now, has anyone noticed anything?”
The intention behind those words was to ask if anyone else had noticed anything special, like Mare did.
The eyes of all the Guardians were now focused on Demiurge. They must have felt that Demiurge, whom they believed was the brightest mind in Nazarick, would surely have picked up on something. Ainz strongly hoped that would be the case.
Demiurge’s laugh echoed through the room.
“…Did you really think that was the extent of Ainz-sama’s plan?”
“What do you mean?”
“What. Did. You. Say?”
“Everyone, you need to think harder. Do you truly know so little about our master, the hub around which all the Supreme Beings revolved?”
Ainz swallowed and blinked, as though he had been punched in the face. Meanwhile, the Guardians were nodding and murmuring “Indeed”.
The hell, why are you making things difficult for me!
Fortunately, nobody could hear Ainz’ internal monologue.
“Really now, did you think you could divine Ainz-sama’s true intentions with just a simple answer? You are all too hasty, is that not why Ainz-sama did not immediately explain everything to you?”
All the Guardians besides Albedo and Demiurge were starting to look a little uneasy. It was probably because they were unsure about whether they could serve effectively with their current brainpower.
All this made Ainz even more grateful for his current body. It was easier to maintain a poker face this way.
“Really… Ainz-sama. I believe it is now time to inform us of your true objective. After all, our future efforts will all be dedicated to achieving it.”
Everyone’s attention went to Ainz. Their earnest, pleading expressions seemed to say, “Please enlighten this foolish one”.
After looking over everyone, Ainz took a deep breath. No, he took several deep breaths.
Then, he slowly rose from his chair, and turned his back to the Guardians. From this position, he offered praise to Demiurge.
“…As expected of Demiurge, and the Overseer of the Guardians, Albedo. To think, you could discern my true aims…”
“…No, Ainz-sama’s schemes are elaborate and farsighted. I cannot hope to compare. And I believe what I understand is only a portion of your plans.”
Demiurge bowed respectfully in response to Ainz' praise.
“I have heard that some of the maids speak of you as a Wise King. I believe that name is best suited for Ainz-sama. To think, assuming the role of Momon the adventurer was part of your master plan. Now he has become an effective alternative to levelling a country.”
Ainz nodded in smug self-satisfaction, but his heart was a vortex of doubt.
…What’s he saying? Momon? What is the name of that adventurer from E-Rantel doing here?
“What does this all mean?”
Shalltear’s question carried a hint of jealousy, it was probably because only two people could think on the same level as her beloved master. As she saw Demiurge’s faint smile and Albedo’s beaming victor’s smile, Aura could not help but puff up her cheeks.
“Ainz-sama, tell us too. We want to be useful as well!”
“Th-then, um, uh, please tell us!”
“To. Begin. With. We. Should. Not. Need. To. Have. It. Spelled. Out. For Us. Please. Forgive. This. Foolish One.”
“I pray you will enlighten us in this matter, Ainz-sama.”
Ainz kept his back faced to them, and covered his face with a hand. The stress made him feel like he was going to faint.
―There is no greater joy in life for us than to serve you.
The Guardians behind him were saying something similar, all at the same time.
Ainz could not help but feel his heart ache with guilt as he heard the Guardians lament behind him. His emotions should have been suppressed, but the pain he felt was uncontrollable.
Should he come clean and admit his own incompetence?
Ainz' myriad doubts and speculations would not allow him to say that.
He cast aside his doubts and turned around, thrusting the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown forward as he did.
“Demiurge. I permit you to explain what you understand to the others.”
After Demiurge nodded, he began speaking to his comrades.
The structure of the carriages had not changed between the journey to and from Nazarick, but for some reason, every slight bump and movement along the way seemed magnified. The reason was probably because of the gloomy atmosphere in the carriage’s interior. Or it might be because of the change in the composition of the carriage’s occupants.
The troops escorting them to Nazarick were composed of men from the First Legion. The ones escorting them from Nazarick were from the Second Legion.
In place of Fluder was one of his acolytes. In place of Roune was one of his scribes. The two original occupants of the carriage who remained were Jircniv and Baziwood.
Fluder was not here because he wanted to discuss what he had seen with his disciples. In his stead, he had sent one of his acolytes to take his place in Jircniv’s carriage. Though the acolyte was skilled, he was still a far cry from his master.
In all likelihood, the discussion in Fluder’s carriage was probably at a feverish intensity.
The mood in their carriage would probably be the polar opposite of this one. In Jircniv’s carriage, there was only silence.
The grim mood continued pervading through the carriage.
The one who had made it this way was Jircniv himself. His face was hard, and his expression bitter, like he had chewed on a lotus root.
The man who was known and feared as the Blood Emperor was a man who typically wore a cold smile on his face. In truth, that expression was carefully rehearsed. This was because he had to cultivate the impression of a strong emperor among his people. If a person who stood above all others could not make a striking impression on everyone, it would cause unease among those who followed him.
However, it seemed that even these three people, who knew Jircniv the best, had never seen this look on Jircniv’s face. Everyone present knew this, which was why they kept quiet and remained in their places.
Even if he felt them looking at him, Jircniv did not plan to say anything.
The reason for that was abundantly clear.
Or rather, if anyone could think of anything else, Jircniv would split open that person’s head to see what was inside. Chances are, he would find a brain the size of his pinky finger.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick… In truth, calling it a tomb was grossly inappropriate.
That’s a demon king’s castle!
Those frightening beings, and beyond them―
―The spectre of Death, which sat upon a throne.
And it was not just fear they felt.
They had seen myriad luxuries, glittering architecture, and all manner of decorations. Nobody could remain unawed by that.
Jircniv could easily predict the difficulties his country would have, in the face of that being which possessed superlative military and economic power, among other things.
If a country’s leader was strong, he would give his people a sense of security. However strong a country might be nobody could feel confident if it were led by a sheep. Fortunately, the Empire was a lion through and through. And then, all of a sudden, a dragon had appeared before them. How would the Empire’s citizens feel about that?
Jircniv stared down at his hands, which were clenched so tight all the color had gone from them.
No, it’s not over yet. There hasn’t been a decisive defeat yet.
Jircniv smiled. It was a smile that fit the name of the Blood Emperor.
Perhaps they were waiting for the return of that cold smile, but a feeling of relief came over each of his subordinates. Jircniv could not help but smile genuinely as he saw this.
“Don’t stare so hard. Aren’t you losing your focus here?”
The three voices overlapped. There were hints of joy within them, joy that their Emperor had come back to them. As Jircniv realised what he should be doing, he nodded vigorously.
“To begin with, I would like to confirm if everyone is feeling conflicted about that place. If anyone has a differing opinion, feel free to give it. Who knows, I might be the one who’s gotten things wrong. Well then… I suppose we should start with the most important thing― What does everyone think of the ruler of the Great Tomb of Nazarick, Ainz Ooal Gown?”
Jircniv deliberately said the name of that super-class monster a beat slower than normal.
“Ainz Ooal Gown is a monster among monsters who can easily create Death Knights, and if we make an enemy of him, the Empire may well be destroyed. However, even if we do not antagonize him, there is a chance he might kill us all anyway, because he is undead and he would take joy in it. Does anyone disagree?
“It is as His Majesty says.”
“Ahh, we agree, then. While we’re at it, I do not believe humanity can defeat that being. Frankly speaking, I do not think we can gather enough blades to face him, even if we mustered all the armies of the Empire.”
After receiving three similar replies, Jircniv continued speaking.
“In addition, I can sense that as an absolute ruler, he has the charisma that befits a king.”
“Ah, yes, his presence was truly formidable. It felt like he was more of a leader than our Emperor.”
“It is fine. That is a fact. The frightening thing is that he said just one sentence, and from that sentence I could feel the immense pressure of a tyrant.”
“‘You’re making too much noise. Quiet down.’ Was that it?”
Jircniv nodded lightly to the scribe.
That was without doubt the attitude which Ainz Ooal Gown adopted as the king of the Great Tomb of Nazarick.
“Also… the scariest thing about that monster is the way he thinks. He’s a rare breed of schemer whose every move is made with a purpose… don’t look so surprised, you lot. Think about it. He’s probably predicted the flow of everything we have discussed so far. Otherwise, why would he release us so easily? An opponent with so much power, who doesn’t use brawn, but brains? He is no mere mindless brute.”
That was the most troublesome part about him.
“After that, let us talk about his followers. What do you think of them?”
This time, he pushed his subordinates for their opinions.
“The ones near him must have been his close aides. And the black-winged woman beside him… she should be his queen, right? It seemed that way, from her attitude.”
The jaw-dropping beauty in the white dress.
Even if the smile on her face was not a wholesome one, it still possessed a charm that would set people’s hearts ablaze. In the face of her beauty, there would be many men who would be consumed by their desires and long to see that smile directed at them.
As for the black wings at her waist, one could tell they were not magic items or items of clothing. The main reason was because they were far too natural. Although she looked like a winged human and there were tribes of humans with wings, she should probably be a demon, an outsider to this world, Jircniv thought.
“She might well be. Could she be Ainz Ooal Gown’s wife? If she’s his wife, then, how about his… never mind. Though, if he’s a skeleton, then he should only have bones for a body. Or was he wearing a mask? Who knows?”
Still, although Jircniv said that, none of them felt that it was a mask, and it was probably not an illusion either.
“And there’s also Demiurge, who can control people with his voice… is he a bard? Frogs look like they could sing.”
Bards had the ability to use the power of music and song to produce magical effects. The power of Demiurge to control people through words was very similar to that.
In addition, he had also heard that the fey creatures called Lorelei had an ability similar to his. However, that man was nothing like the beautiful beings that were the fey. He was absolutely certain of that.
“Ah, I see. A bard, then? That does sound quite similar. And there was a gigantic insect as well, I believe. What was that?”
“Although I think it could be some sort of insect-type species… I don’t know much about ant-men, so I think you would be better served asking Master about it.”
The world was huge. There were many species that were not widely known, and some of them could spontaneously mutate. Also, according to the legends, monster kings were known to be more developed than normal. It was similar to how ant queens were different from normal ants. Jircniv thought that it was a possibility.
“In that case, the remaining ones are the silver-haired girl and those two dark elves. Leaving the latter two aside, who’s the former? Judging from her ample bosom ― could she be a concubine?”
Laughter filled the carriage at Baziwood’s comment.
“Ah, well, if she was just a concubine, then she wouldn’t be brought out like that, no?”
“She’s probably as strong as that dark elf.”
“Hey, hey, hey… That might just be a ruse.”
Baziwood’s words were infused with seriousness.
“It’s true, in all likelihood the ones closest to that monster Ainz were probably his aides. However, that doesn’t mean they’re all strong. Think about it. If the only criterion to be His Majesty’s follower was strength, and he surrounded himself with a hundred copies of me, don’t you think the government would crumble in short order? Simply put, she was chosen to be his follower for reasons other than strength. Perhaps she’s a very intelligent concubine? Maybe she singlehandedly manages the affairs of that fortress which calls itself a tomb.”
“I see,” came the scattered replies.
Jircniv could confidently agree with that.
Since their attention had been stolen by Ainz Ooal Gown’s might, they could only look at how she was lined up with the dark elves and conclude that the silver-haired girl was a strong being. Of course, it would be scary if another person had the same power as that dark elf. However, being led into a false conclusion by prior prejudice was also a bad thing.
“That’s a good point,” Jircniv said as he looked at his subordinates. “I share your opinions. Come to think of it, if all his followers were undead, that would be easy to explain… but from the looks of things, he’s gathered all sorts of monsters under him.”
“Well, rather than call it a monster gallery, you could say it’s a wealth of talent…”
Jircniv could not help but smile at Baziwood’s blunt words.
“Indeed. We should probably try and learn more about these fellows. Apart from that… there’s the matter of that fortress. Is there anything in the records about a place like that? There should be something written about it, right?”
“Regretfully, I know nothing about it. When we return to the capital, I will immediately begin looking into it. I will begin with myths and legends.”
Jircniv graciously accepted the acolyte’s apology.
“Ahh, I’ll leave that to you. Is there anything else we’ve missed? I honestly can’t believe such a wicked monster could create such a wondrous domain. Did you find anything which could be a clue? Speaking of which, is there really a tomb based in this area?”
There was no answer.
Which meant that this was a question they all had.
It felt like they had teleported, the way they had gone from one place ― possibly another plane of existence called the Demon World ― to the base of the tomb. It was hard to discount that fact, or rather, maybe that explanation would be easier to stomach.
“We won’t get an answer. As I thought, we just don’t have enough information. All we can do is squeeze out as much as we can from Roune, who’s stationed over there, and from the fellow who’s coming over to the Empire. Do you understand?”
“Of course. We will try not to arouse hostility in the opposition, or make them suspicious.”
“There is no try here. The enemy’s strength is overwhelmingly superior to our own. You need to move carefully so you don’t break the false alliance we have.”
As the scribe lowered his head, Jircniv suddenly felt the weight sliding off his shoulders.
“…We’ve done a bad thing to the people we brought along, haven’t we?”
That was why he had only just now started to mention the girls who had not been released ever since they had been packed into the carriages.
Originally, the girls were to be offered to Ainz Ooal Gown in order to tie him to the Empire.
Sex was a universal weapon in any place or era. Perhaps the Imperial intelligence agencies should have prepared professional honeytraps, but since the use of magic could potentially complicate things, they had instead selected pure, innocent girls instead.
“Although I think this is disrespectful to the courage they gathered up to bid farewell to their family, don’t you think they should be happy now?”
“Maybe? Being able to gain that monster’s love is a pretty impressive thing.”
“A woman who would gladly make love to such a monster would be very brave.”
Although Baziwood shook his head and said no such people existed, that was a naïve way of thinking. Jircniv could attest to that, being thoroughly familiar with the secret battles that women fought, with his mother poisoning her own husband as an example.
“Women are braver than men think, and they act for passion and gain. There should be no shortage of women out there who are willing to offer their bodies to that skeleton king. In that sense, we’re the ones who should be happy now. After all, one of them might tell Ainz Ooal Gown that we threatened to kill her and her family.”
Although the only response to his words were bitter smiles, Jircniv believed that might actually happen.
Jircniv’s revolution, pushed through with autocratic power and force of arms, had made him a lot of enemies in the nobles he had displaced. Of course, there were some people who approved, but in truth, the people he could really trust were only a few of his close aides and his mentor, Fluder―
Suddenly, a question struck him like a falling feather.
It was about Fluder.
Not only was Fluder his mentor, but he was also a pillar of the Empire and its trump card. He was a man that even Jircniv revered as the highest hero of the Empire. Jircniv was keenly aware that beneath his sage-like face was a near-fanatical desire to explore the depths of magic. It was because of that desire that he had his doubts.
―It was too out of character for Fluder.
Ainz Ooal Gown was a great magic caster that far surpassed Fluder. He could effortlessly create the Death Knights that Fluder could not even control. Then, why had he said nothing and left the tomb with him?
If it were Gramps, he would probably beg that wicked monster for magical knowledge, right? He would genuflect before him and offer everything―
That was a very practical way of thinking.
Everyone had knelt before Demiurge back then. However, it might have just been a distraction to focus their attention on that bizarre situation while he used the opportunity to perform some sort of mind control on Fluder.
He could not imagine Ainz Ooal Gown wanting to take Fluder as a minion. Although Fluder was the Empire’s trump card, when compared to that monster’s power, he was little more than a speck of dust.
However, Fluder’s accumulated knowledge was valuable in and of itself. In addition, if he could take control of Fluder, the Empire’s military power would plummet, and they would lose their finest weapon against Ainz Ooal Gown.
It would be like putting a collar on a slave.
Is this what they’re aiming at? What else is there? Gramps didn’t give any reasons… was it because he already knew? Did he know about Ainz Ooal Gown’s power beforehand?
―In that moment, shock ran through him like a lightning strike.
His sweat flowed like a river.
“You Majesty? Your Majesty? Are you alright? Shall we call a priest―”
“…N-no. No need for that.”
“I said, there is no need. That’s right… no need.”
Jircniv glanced at his panicked subordinates, and he was once more consumed in a maelstrom of contemplation.
Am I afraid? Me?
His mind was a chaotic mess, and he couldn’t link one thought to another. Or rather, it was more like he didn’t want to link those thoughts together and deliberately avoided them.
No! If I run away from this now, it will only invite disaster upon us! Calm down. I have to calm down. I have to calm down and think.
As his minions’ curious looks focused on him, Jircniv continued to ponder the question.
For starters, let’s consider Gramps. Assuming Gramps already knew about Ainz Ooal Gown’s power… no, if he did know about his power, then his weird actions could be easily explained. So Gramps has some kind of deal going on with that monster ― impossible! Unless…
Jircniv did not have the luxury to worry about the shocked looks on his subordinate’s faces.
No, that’s not right, Jircniv. When Gramps saw the Death Knight, that fear on his face was genuine. Which is proof that he didn’t know about Ainz Ooal Gown’s power… or not. Maybe, what Gra… Fluder was not aware of, was that fellow’s ability to control Death Knights. He probably knew about Ainz Ooal Gown ―that incredible magic caster― from the beginning.
It was like putting the pieces of a jigsaw together, to reveal a beautiful ―or horrifying― picture.
So, Fluder knows that monster. From how long ago were they in cahoots? From the beginning? That’s right. Fluder was involved with every step of this mess, from the discovery of the tomb to the dispatch of the workers.
He had finally made a connection between all the scattered pieces of the puzzle.
When one thought about it that way, most of the mysteries could be brought to light.
“Treachery, is it? Treachery. He’s sold us out.”
The words were spoken like a bitter grudge… or perhaps, like a child crying.
Jircniv slowly turned back to his subordinates. They knew they were not permitted to ask questions, and thus remained silent.
“Fluder Paradyne has betrayed us all. That being the case, what damage will this do to the Empire? Can we put him in a sinecure and place him under house arrest?”
Everyone could not help but stare at that unbelievable statement.
“How, how is that possible, Your Majesty? This is too much for a joke.”
Uncontrollable anger burned in Jircniv as the acolyte spoke. He wanted to shout, “That’s not what I want to hear” but he held his tongue. The reason he could do that was also because a young Jircniv was saying in his head that he didn’t want to accept those words either.
Jircniv had grown up watching the brutal politics of the dark side of noble society. With that, the adult Jircniv took a deep breath and exhaled the blazing heat in his chest and the burning emotions in his heart.
“I will say this one more time. Fluder Paradyne has betrayed us. That being the case, what damage will this do to the Empire?”
His subordinates looked at each other, and after a few seconds of this, the acolyte spoke.
“It is difficult to imagine. The amount of damage cannot be estimated with a single glance. With master around, we could be confident of overcoming any other country. We have been able to remain uninvolved with the petty politics of other nations thus far because of that.”
He looked at the scribe, seeking approval. The scribe turned pale and nodded.
“If he knows he’s been found out and sequestered, he may start taking more open action.”
“Don’t we have an intelligence agency for this sort of thing? Ah, I see. Fluder’s experience was extensive, and he shared it with us.”
“It is as you say, Your Majesty. Master truly―”
“―The possibility is shockingly high.”
Jircniv’s words overwhelmed and cut off the secretary’s.
“…But if that is the case, then we will have an incredible amount of work to do. First, let us decide who Fluder’s successor will be. Are there any suitable candidates?”
The flames of desire burned bright in the acolyte’s eyes as he heard those words, and Jircniv could not help but smile internally.
The position of being Fluder’s successor as the Imperial Court Wizard was a mouth-watering temptation. After all, it was a position that gave one the right to administer and manage arcane magic casters throughout the Empire.
Because the position had always been filled by that great hero, nobody else could claim it. Even if one had the ambition for it, their opponent was far too strong to overcome by wicked means. And now, this hitherto sealed-off position had been offered to him.
Greed is good. Desire drives progress. I approve of that sort of desire. However, I should probably ask, just in case.
“However, one must bear in mind that as the Imperial Court Wizard, one may be called upon to do battle with that monster.”
The flames of the acolyte’s ambition went out in that instant. He could not even bring himself to be excited about it. The position he had longed for became one he wished to avoid more than anything else in the world.
He would have a better chance of surviving a jump off a five hundred meter tall cliff into a shoal of rocks than he would in spell battle against Ainz Ooal Gown.
No, he might be better off dying right here.
As the acolyte thought about that prospect, a new look came into his eyes. It was the look of a frightened mouse which had been cornered by a predator.
The hopes in Jircniv’s heart died. He could tell that this man did not have the courage to take on Ainz Ooal Gown. Or rather, he should never have expected that in the first place.
“Yes! In that case, I know some people who could use 4th tier of magic; how about selecting one of them? Granted, I do know some spells of that tier, but I am not very skilled in their use.”
“Aren’t you the most skilled of the acolytes?”
“How, how could that be? There are many more excellent than I. When we return, I shall furnish their names to you immediately!”
It was only obvious that a man would want to give up everything when asked to fight a super-class monster like that. However, what he needed was a man who would not lose his fighting spirit even in that event.
…That won’t work, huh. It would be naïve to think he’s a special case. It would probably be better to consider that anyone who knows of Ainz Ooal Gown won’t have the courage to fight him. That means I’ll have to hand that task to people who haven’t met that being yet. Perhaps these ignorant folk will be driven by desire and struggle even more desperately against him.
He had been dealt a bad hand of cards. However, he had no choice but to play them.
“…I see. Then, gather information on them and then conduct interviews. After that, we’ll want to have our intelligence people ready to deal with that fellow. However, we still need to help Ainz Ooal Gown, so for the time being, we’ll have to be his obedient dogs, in order to build good relations with him.”
‘His obedient dogs.’ Nobody objected to that turn of phrase. How could anyone who had seen the Great Tomb of Nazarick do so?
“Then, Your Majesty. How long will we wag for that monster? Will our children have to roll over when he commands it? Our grandchildren?”
Jircniv looked around himself, in order to make sure that no spies had made their way into the carriage and checked that the door was shut tight. With all that done, and with no further problems apparent to him, Jircniv began explaining his strategy to fight Ainz Ooal Gown.
“We ―and by ‘we’ I mean the Empire, the Kingdom, the Theocracy, the Republic, the Holy Kingdom and other countries― will come together in an alliance. It will be a grand alliance, aimed at defeating Ainz Ooal Gown.”
Three pairs of eyes turned to Jircniv.
“What’s there to be surprised about? No single nation can defeat that monster. Then, all we can hope for is to bring all the neighboring countries into a grand alliance so we can turn the tide.”
“Are, are we really going to fight him?”
Jircniv’s reply was simple and curt.
“Rather, if we do not fight, we have no chance of survival.”
“Then why are we helping that monster found a country?!”
“Because that is the first step in the formation of this grand alliance.”
Jircniv looked at everyone.
“Are you listening? Good. We are currently on the outskirts of E-Rantel, which is a strategic location at the borders of the Empire, the Kingdom, and the Theocracy. If that monster Gown wants to found a nation there, he will be making enemies of all three of those nations.”
Jircniv took a breath, and continued.
“And another thing. Gown is undead. I doubt he will treat humans ―the living― with anything approaching decency. The people will not suffer the rule of an undead king either. There will be rebellion, which will promptly be stamped out by that monster. The Kingdom will not be happy about yielding land to him either, and I doubt the Theocracy, the strongest nation in the vicinity, will do nothing.”
“But! But, Your Majesty! If the Empire helps him in his endeavours, surely we will be seen as collaborators, right? The nearby nations will be on guard against us, right? That grand alliance you speak of will not count the Empire among them! And even if they beat that monster, we’ll be next, or worse, they might target us first!”
Huhu, Jircniv smirked.
“We will work behind the scenes. We need to let the other countries know that the Empire is secretly plotting against Gown’s nation. It’ll be difficult, but it’s also the only way.”
“Will they really believe us? If it were me, I would think it was a trap.”
“Then, we will have to convince them by showing them Ainz Ooal Gown’s strength. If only there was a way we could show the other nations his awesome power… no matter what, we need to ensure things develop in that direction. For example, letting him show his power on the battlefield.”
“Couldn’t the Empire just not help Gown build his nation, and feign ignorance of everything?”
Jircniv glared at the scribe as though he were retarded.
“At the very least, we need to secure the safety of the nation before we can engage in cloak and dagger business. If Gown destroys the Empire, what do you plan to do after running to the Kingdom?”
Jircniv was merely choosing the lesser of two evils.
“In addition to everything I’ve already said, the Empire will be pretending to aid that monster while secretly forming an alliance against him. That is to say, if we’re exposed, there’s a good chance we will be the first country that monster crushes. Or rather, he will use us as a live sacrifice to frighten all the neighboring countries into submission. Have no doubts about that.”
“Ah ― if it was Your Majesty I’m sure you would go through with that.”
“…I’ll take that as praise and accept it. Because of that, we cannot be the ones to propose that grand alliance. We need to let other countries make the first move. What we should do is gather as much information about Nazarick as we can, as well as find someone who can defeat Gown.”
“Do people like that really exist?”
Given the casual tone with which it was said, nobody would have believed those words came from the acolyte. Gown was an unimaginably powerful opponent, who might be unbeatable even by the mightiest dragons. He was an opponent that made people think that way.
And to that, Jircniv issued a confident reply.
“Indeed, they do.”
“People like that really exist?!”
“Don’t they? Look within that throne room.”
When he put it that way, it seemed obvious enough.
The monsters arrayed with Ainz. Aura. Mare. The silver haired girl. The insect. Demiurge. He was referring to them.
“…Do you plan to induce a revolt?”
“Although I don’t think that may be possible, we should still prepare for it, just in case. We need to prepare wealth, prestige, members of the opposite sex and so on to make us seem at least a little bit attractive to them.”
“It will be very dangerous, right?”
“Ahh, indeed, it will be. Ainz Ooal Gown styles himself as a tyrant. With a master like that, surely they will jump at the chance to betray him, won’t they? However, even if that is the case, we have to take action. This is not just a conflict between nations anymore.”
Jircniv looked at the three of them with a resolute expression on his face.
“What comes after this will be a battle for the survival of humanity as a species. It will be a fight for the future. Devote your hearts and souls to it.”
“…And so, I think the Emperor will try to put a scheme like that into practice. If he were more foolish, his actions might fall outside the predicted range, but I think the chances of that will be low. Reading the movements of a slightly-above-average intellect that imagines himself a genius is easier than trying to predict the actions of a complete moron.”
Demiurge raised a finger while he said that.
“In other words, the Emperor will try to form an alliance in order to defeat us ― to defeat Ainz-sama, right?”
“Mmm, he’s surprisingly stupid.”
“T-then, s-shouldn’t we take the initiative and w-wipe him out first?”
Mare followed up after Shalltear and Aura, but there was no anger in his voice. It was more like he was deciding whether or not to pick up a rock he found along the side of the road.
“More important than this problem is―”
Sebas wanted to speak, but someone else had already anticipated what he was going to say.
“―Is the fact that he actually thinks we would betray Ainz-sama, is that it?”
“Really. Sebas. It. Seems. The. Emperor. Does. Not. Know. The. Meaning. Of. Loyalty.”
Mocking laughter filled the room.
Did he really think they would betray Ainz, one of the 41 Supreme Beings who made them?
Although this was nothing more than Demiurge’s hypothesis, it was enough to upset the Guardians. A cold light gleamed in their eyes.
“Welp, I’m not as mad as Mare, but I’m still pretty mad. Shall we kill them all?”
Shalltear laughed as she saw Aura in a black mood.
“I’ll turn him into a vampire. After all, if he’s good enough, there’s no reason he can’t serve in Nazarick.”
Although Cocytus had remained silent, his large mandibles made a dangerous clacking sound.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you do remember that we are in the presence of Ainz-sama?”
As they heard Sebas’ cold, clear voice, Aura, Shalltear’s and Cocytus’ anger vanished like mist in the wind.
“Kuhu ― Mm. That’s right, everyone, please calm down. Please recall what Demiurge just said. All of this has been arranged. What can we enjoy if not the antics of this clown? Instead, we should be grateful ― because all of this is nothing more than a part of Ainz-sama’s master plan. Right, Ainz-sama?”
Hooh… Ainz-sama’s plan, huh. I see. A special plan concocted by someone with the same name as me. Making the Baharuth Empire ally with and struggle against Nazarick was part of that plan too, huh… I have no idea what that’s all about. If only I could ask this Ainz fellow about it!
However, running away from reality like this would not change anything.
Honestly, Ainz wanted to ask about the details of the plan, and what about Ainz that Demiurge and Albedo were imagining.
However, he could not do that.
Ainz turned his line of sight toward Albedo.
There, he saw a woman looking back at him, a thin strand of dewy liquid connecting her half-open lips to the golden web of her dress. Her eyes were wet with fascination and her cheeks were flushed a rosy pink.
It was because she believed that everything was proceeding as planned, because she was so overcome by her master’s insight, that she was reacting like this.
As such, Ainz could no longer deny them. Who could say “What?” when the mood was like this?
With regard to Albedo’s question, there was only one answer Ainz could give.
“I-Indeed. That is so.”
He wanted to praise his voice for not wavering.
“Ohhh,” the Guardians chorused in respect.
Albedo spread her arms, and with them, her wings at her waist opened up as well.
“Ainz-sama wishes to take over a human city peacefully, and rule the region with love and compassion. Yet, the Baharuth Empire has decided to form a vile conspiracy against this paradise on earth. In the near future, Ainz-sama will show these countries the true meaning of kindness. Is that not the cause that he seeks?”
“How I look forward to that day. Everything rests in the palm of Ainz-sama’s hand. When that moron finds out, I wonder what sort of face will he make… after all, Ainz-sama always thinks several moves ahead.”
As Demiurge delivered his reverent speech, Albedo continued with a suitably respectful expression on her face.
“Indeed, Ainz-sama’s wisdom is beyond our ability to match. If Ainz-sama had not created the hero Momon, it would be impossible to rule peacefully. In that case, E-Rantel could only be controlled by violence and terror.”
“…Perhaps we could use the Golden Princess to achieve similar effects, but that would be a waste of a trump card. She is a human being who is just as interesting ―no, perhaps even more so― than what I have determined from analysis of Sebas’ intelligence reports. She will be an excellent pawn.”
“Ah, after hearing that, I too wish to take a look at her.”
“Then, after we found our nation, shall we have her be an envoy to us? After all, bargains must be kept.”
“…You. Two. Have. Gone. Off. Topic. You. Are. Wasting. Ainz-sama’s. Precious. Time.”
Ainz responded with a simple “It’s fine” to their hurried apologies.
In truth, he had learned a lot from their casual conversation, and he had gained time to think of more excuses. To Ainz, that had been a valuable opportunity.
“But truth to be told, Ainz-sama is really amazing,” Shalltear said.
“Mhm. Yup yup, Shalltear. After all, Ainz-sama prepared a plan that managed to astound even Albedo and Demiurge…”
“A-as expected of. Ainz-sama. Y-you’re too cool. I-I really admire you.”
“…My. Foolish. Self. Is. Ashamed. Of. My. Lack. Of. Intelligence.”
“All I can say is that our inability to keep pace with Ainz-sama’s considerations is truly unbecoming.”
The Guardians’ praise stabbed at Ainz like swords.
Although Ainz could not help but think of it as mockery, the Guardians eyes were filled with respect and loyalty, and their worship of him was genuine. Therefore, Ainz did not contradict them, but instead used his acting skills to answer, as usual.
“There is nothing of that sort. It was merely a coincidence. And in the end, Demiurge and Albedo saw through it.”
“No, if Ainz-sama had not responded thusly, I would not have been able to connect the dots.”
“Demiurge is correct. Planning so far ahead without any knowledge of the situation is a feat only possible by the greatest of the Supreme Beings. I have fallen even deeper in love with you.”
“As expected of Ainz-sama, whose intellect surpasses even that of Demiurge, the wisest mind in Nazarick,” Shalltear said.
“It’s true! Ainz-sama is really amazing!” Aura exclaimed.
“Mm! R-really amazing!”
“I. Have. Long. Known. Ainz-sama. Possessed. Excellent. Abilities. But. I. Could. Not. Imagine. The. Extent. Of. His. Prowess… As. Expected. Of. The. Greatest. Treasure. Of. Nazarick.”
“Well put. He is filled with compassion and overflows with wisdom. There is no better master for us than Ainz-sama,” Albedo said.
“Come to think of it, there is a matter that needs to be decided. Although I have no problems addressing Ainz-sama as ‘King’, I fear that simply leaving his title as such will invite confusion with the maggots surrounding us. I feel we must consider a more fitting form of address for Ainz-sama.”
The Guardians unanimously approved Demiurge’s suggestion.
“Do you approve, Ainz-sama?”
“It is fine. Do as you see fit.”
Being called King Ainz Ooal Gown was bad enough. His emotion override had already kicked in several times when he thought about the implications of naming himself a king.
“Does anyone have any suggestions?”
“Then, allow me to begin,” Shalltear said as she raised her hand. “The name we choose should obviously indicate Ainz-sama’s surpassing beauty. I feel the Beautiful King would be fitting.”
Ohhh, the Guardians chorused in approval.
Beautiful King Ainz Ooal Gown?
“Oh, me! Meee~” Aura piped up as she raised her hand. “The name should highlight Ainz-sama’s power! How about the Powerful King, or Power King for short?”
I see, the Guardians murmured.
Power King Ainz Ooal Gown?
“Then, then. M-may I try? Erm… because Ainz-sama is very kind, it might be good to let people know that. Then, then, m-maybe we could try, the Merciful King?”
The Guardians nodded
Merciful King Ainz Ooal Gown?
“As for me―” Here Demiurge paused for effect. “―to praise Ainz-sama’s exalted intellect, I propose the Wise King.”
Wise King Ainz Ooal Gown? …I feel bad about saying no, but I’ll pass on that.
“What do you think, Sebas?”
In response to Albedo’s question, Sebas replied, “I think a simple ‘king’ will do.”
“Then, I shall go. Because he is the Supreme Being who stands atop all the other Supreme Beings, I think the Supreme King would be appropriate.”
The Guardians once more murmured in approval.
Supreme King Ainz Ooal Gown? If they all say that… it sounds awfully over-the-top.
Everyone’s eyes rested on the only Guardian who had not yet spoken.
“How about you, Cocytus? Although it might be a bit difficult to compete with Supreme King, do you have any titles you feel are fitting of Ainz-sama?”
“Umu. In. Future. Ainz-sama. Will. Rule. Many. People. Therefore. He. Will. Be. A. Magician. Who. Rules. As. A. King. I. Think. Sorcerer. King. Will. Best. Fit. That.”
The Guardians did not reply immediately.
However, all of them looked at Ainz. From the look in their eyes, they all felt there was no better title than that one, although Albedo seemed a little disappointed.
“Very well. Then we shall use Cocytus’ suggestion.”
Ainz slowly rose to his feet.
“When our nation is founded, I shall crown myself the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown!”
Ainz waved his hands in embarrassment to ward of the thunderous applause which followed. In truth, his back was starting to feel a little itchy.
“Well then! Let us demonstrate the power of Nazarick in the battle between the Kingdom and the Empire!”
“It is as Ainz-sama says. They wish to investigate the limits of Ainz-sama’s power. Little do they know, they have played right into our hands.”
Demiurge continued, in an excellent mood.
“Before negotiations can take place, the most important thing is to strike a mighty blow to the other party and let them understand the difference between our might and theirs. Foolish creatures like humans will do foolish things because they do not realize how powerful their opponents are. They do not know that their wisest option is to bow their heads and lick Ainz-sama’s boots.
“Letting humans lick Ainz-sama’s boots has been considered, but should that not be a reward?”
“I see. As expected of Albedo. Ah, but if I had to lick Ainz-sama, I would choose his body~”
Ainz decided to ignore Shalltear and Albedo’s side conversation.
“Then, everyone. Begin the task of exalting the name of Nazarick!”
The Guardians’ shouts of acknowledgement blended into one.