Preparations for the Battle
Editors/Proofreaders: Skythewood, Ferro, M, Rockgollem, NoirX, SifaV6
One month later
The meeting was convened within the Valencia Palace of the Kingdom of Re-Estize. Gazef Stronoff ―who had been standing motionless by King Ranpossa III’s side all this while― widened his eyes as he took in the sight of all six leaders of the Kingdom’s great noble families.
The six of them gathered together was a rare occurrence indeed.
Between them, they controlled enough wealth, land and territory to rival, if not outright surpass, the King. Because of this, they frequently found reasons to excuse themselves from the King’s summons, especially the leader of the anti-royalty faction ― Marquis Bowlrob, who did not even bother to hide his disdain for the King. It was bad enough that for a while, people thought the Kingdom might fall apart from within.
Next, Gazef’s eyes went to the King’s three children.
The most eye-catching of them all was the King’s third daughter, the “Golden Princess”, Renner Theiere Chardelon Ryle Vaiself.
After that was the Second Prince, Zanack Valurean Igana Ryle Vaiself. During the demonic disturbance, he had earned much praise when he, as a descendant of the King, had moved out for the sake of the people.
Last was the eldest son, the Crown Prince Barbro Andorean Ield Ryle Vaiself. With his strong body and neatly trimmed haircut, he was the man who Marquis Bowlrob was trying to place on the throne. Presumably, Bowlrob was in attendance for this court session at Barbro’s own request.
Any meeting attended by Marquis Bowlrob of the Noble Faction was sure to be an intense one. Gazef averted his eyes from the heavy atmosphere, which seemed to loom overhead like gathering stormclouds, and looked at the rest of the nobles.
Of the three men present, who belonged to the Royal faction, the first to catch Gazef’s eye was Marquis Volumlash, the most luxuriously dressed person in the court.
He was a man approaching forty, with symmetrical features. His domain encompassed gold and mithril mines, which made him the wealthiest man in the Kingdom. However, dark whispers circulated that he was exceedingly greedy, to the point where he would even betray his own family for a gold coin.
There were also rumors that he had betrayed the Kingdom and was selling information to the Empire. However, because of a lack of concrete evidence, nothing could be done about him. After all, beheading Marquis Volumlash ―a prominent supporter of the Royal faction― without any proof would only result in the other nobles throwing in their lot with the Noble faction. If he was aware of this and took advantage of it to keep selling off information, then he would truly be the most despicable person present.
Next, Gazef’s eyes turned to the youngest and most handsome of the nobles, Marquis Pespeya.
He was married to the King’s eldest daughter, and became the head of his household at the same time as his marriage. Although little was known about his abilities and personality, his father possessed an excellent personality and was a competent man, so Gazef felt that Pespeya might take after his sire.
In contrast, the eldest among the Six Nobles was Margrave Urovana. His hair was white, and so little of it remained that there might as well have not been any at all. Though his body and limbs looked like gnarled wood, he still retained the gravitas expected of an elder.
Urovana was the most persuasive of the Great Nobles.
Arrayed against them were the three members of the Noble Faction.
First was the core of the Noble Faction, Marquis Bowlrob, who controlled the most territory among the Great Nobles. His face was heavily scarred, like that of a warlord.
As he was already in his fifties, his once-stout body which had been honed through unrelenting training was little more than a memory of the past, but his voice and predator’s gaze made people think that there must have been more than a little bit of his warrior-self left in him.
Although he ―as a warrior― had lost much of his strength to age, as a commander, he was a better commander than even Gazef, which made him just as indispensable to the Kingdom as the Warrior-Captain.
Beside him was Count Ritton.
He was a man whose appearance called to mind the image of a fox, and also one of the lower-ranked members of the Six. As such, he was desperately trying to raise his status. However, his personality of not caring about others’ suffering if it meant he could expand his power was not well received by other nobles. Allying himself to Bowlrob must have been a strategic move to escape his enemies.
The final man of the Noble Faction had slicked-back blonde hair and narrow blue eyes.
His face was pale, with little sign that it had seen much sunlight. He was tall and skinny. Combined with his sallow complexion, he gave off the impression of a snake. He was not yet forty, but looked older because of his unhealthy pallor.
With mixed emotions churning in his heart, Gazef looked away from him ― from Marquis Raeven.
The increasingly complex power struggles would be the problem of the next monarch.
Marquis Bowlrob and Count Ritton of the Noble Faction, as well as Margrave Urovana of the Royal Faction, all backed Crown Prince Barbro, while most of the unaffiliated nobles supported Marquis Pespeya, who had married the First Princess. Raeven was on the side of Second Prince Zanack, while Marquis Volumlash did not seem to be concerned with matters of succession.
For all these reasons, the King sat on his throne without making a fuss. If he pointed a finger at anyone, there was a danger of civil war breaking out.
Until recently, Gazef had no opinion on who should become the next King. But now, his heart was leaning toward Zanack. Either that, or Princess Renner as a dark horse, but the Kingdom, in all its long history, was never been ruled by a queen, so that was probably out of the question.
“Now then, let us begin.”
The King’s tone seemed slightly different than usual. Those with sensitive ears might have guessed the reason for today’s gathering and showed it with curious suspicion.
“Read out the proclamation delivered by the Imperial emissary.”
In accordance with the King’s orders, the vassals flanking him on both sides began reading the contents of the parchment.
The contents were roughly as followed:
The Baharuth Empire acknowledges the sovereignty of the independent Kingdom of Nazarick, ruled by the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown, and formally recognizes it as an ally of the Empire.
Originally, the region near E-Rantel was the domain of the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown. The Kingdom of Re-Estize is unlawfully occupying this territory and must now return it to its rightful owner.
If the Kingdom does not comply with this demand, the Empire will aid the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown in reclaiming the Sorcerer King’s territory.
This will be a just war, fought to end unjust occupation.
After the contents were read out, the room exploded into a hubbub of discussion. These terms were insane, and so was anyone who agreed to them.
“Just in case, I have also had the scholars examine the Kingdom’s history, and no mention of any individual named Ainz Ooal Gown ruling the surroundings of E-Rantel was discovered. There is no legitimacy to this claim.”
“This is ridiculous nonsense, which lunatic’s ravings are these?!”
The boisterous cry rang throughout the hall.
Marquis Bowlrob’s formidable presence ―a testament to his former glory as a warrior― seemed to give the other nobles courage, and they returned his shout with their own approval.
“Although it’s been delayed, isn’t this just the same old Imperial invasion they announce every year? They always find some stupid reason to declare war, so this time round, they must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel to throw up this magic caster’s name, right? I want to see what kind of clown they’ve given that ridiculous title of ‘Sorcerer King’.”
Count Ritton’s words were followed by the derisive laughter of the massed nobles.
The count turned his fox-like eyes ―filled with disdain― toward Gazef.
“I believe we’ve heard of this Sorcerer King madman before, haven’t we, O Warrior-Captain Stronoff?”
“Indeed, he was the magic caster who lent me a helping hand at the outskirts of E-Rantel.”
Count Ritton delivered his cold mockery with an irritating laugh.
“I see, he must have helped because he thought they were his own peasants.”
The scornful laughter of the nobles could be heard all around, yet nobody stopped it, because Gazef, who was born a commoner, was hated by many members of the Noble faction.
If it had been a member of the Royal faction, the King would have intervened, but since Count Ritton belonged to the opposition, the King could only furrow his brow.
“Seems like it was the Empire burning down the farming villages near E-Rantel, don’t you think? The Warrior-Captain said something about the Slaine Theocracy, and then receiving aid from some Gown fellow, right? Isn’t he involved with the Empire? And didn’t someone else also say that the bodies of the ambushers who nearly killed the Warrior-Captain vanished without a trace?”
In his mind, Gazef recalled the sight of the powerful members of the Six Scriptures, as well as the mighty silhouette of Ainz Ooal Gown.
“Although the bodies vanished as Count Ritton said, I do not feel the Empire was involved. When I was at Carne Village, the knights that attacked us were far stronger than those of the Empire. They used angels, and there’s no doubt that they were a unit from the Slaine Theocracy.”
“And why would the Theocracy do that?”
How should I know?
Indeed, if Gazef could give an answer like that, it would make him feel a lot better.
Just as the court was about to fall into squabbling due to Gazef’s silence, a voice of aid rang out from Ritton’s side.
“That mad magic caster is irrelevant! What we need to decide on is how to respond to the false Emperor, isn’t that so, your Majesty?”
“It is as Marquis Bowlrob says. We need to decide what the Kingdom’s answer will be.”
“I beg your permission to speak,” Marquis Pespeya said as he advanced. “Accepting the Emperor’s terms will be very difficult. Our only recourse is war.”
The mention of war sparked activity amongst the serried ranks of the nobility.
“Ah-ah, now is the time to crush them once and for all, and then take the fight to the Empire’s doorstep.”
“You’re absolutely right, I’m tired of the constant Imperial invasions.”
“It’s time to let the fools in the Empire know what they’re dealing with!”
“Exactly, just as the Marquis says.”
These words, sandwiched by scattered laughter and repeated throughout the throng of nobles, grated unbearably on Gazef’s ears.
The last few years, they had met the Empire on the field of battle at Kattse Plains.
For the most part, they had simply drawn up battle lines and confronted each other, or exchanged arms briefly with minor losses to the Kingdom. This year would probably be more of the same, and the nobles took on an air of laxity as they imagined the same old events playing out again.
However, Gazef spoke out, spurred by the cry of his warrior’s instincts.
“Don’t think that this battle will end in a small skirmish like it always has!”
The nobles looked like they’d been splashed with a basin of cold water, and turned resentful looks on him.
“I see. This is what our Warrior-Captain really believes. Can you give us a reason for that?”
“Yes, your Majesty, that is―”
The image of a certain person set alarm bells ringing through his heart.
“―That is to say, it is because of that great magic caster, Ainz Ooal Gown.”
“That being the case, the only one of us who has actually seen him face to face would be you, Warrior-Captain. That means we must give some weight to your words. Can you tell us what makes you say that?”
Gazef did not know how to answer. He did not know how to explain it, but his warrior’s instinct was telling him that making that kind of decision about this war would be extremely dangerous.
“Your Majesty, could you not hand over the outskirts of E-Rantel to the Empire, no, to that magic caster?”
After a moment’s silence, the shouts flew like hail.
“You craven coward! How shameless can you get, you chicken-heart?!”
These shouts came from the nobles of the Royal faction.
“After his Majesty showed you such kindness, you turn around and tell him to surrender his demesne to outsiders? When did you start serving the false Emperor?! Not to mention, you haven’t even answered his Majesty’s question!”
In the face of such deserved castigation, Gazef could not answer. Had he been in their position, he might have well done the same thing.
The one who reached a helping hand out to Gazef in his time of need was his beloved King.
“But, your Majesty!”
“I am deeply grateful that my subjects would be so moved on my behalf. It is because of that reason that I ask you to remember that my Warrior-Captain would never betray me. For my sake, he has fearlessly thrust himself into danger countless times. Someone like that would never do anything which would harm me.”
The nobles who had shouted at Gazef bowed to the King. While he acknowledged this fact, he continued speaking to Gazef.
“Warrior-Captain, whom I trust like my right hand. Even if you are the one who puts forth that proposal, I cannot agree to it. No ruler should give up the land he rules without a fight. Such an act cannot be allowed for the sake of the people who live upon it.”
Handing land over while moving all the residents off without harming them was nothing more than a fairytale. Even if it was possible, there would be no way to allow the displaced residents to live like they used to, and in the end their lives would be worse off for it.
“That is undoubtedly so, your Majesty, and I hope you will forgive me for my foolish words.”
Gazef lowered his head as his King, who loved the people so dearly, spoke to him. If he was a noble who simply saw his people as a means of profit, the King would not have said what he did. It was because of the King’s compassion that Gazef was willing to pledge his life to him.
He recalled the words he spoke to his vice-captain half a year ago.
“When you seek help, the ones who will come are the nobles. The strong will bring aid.”
“Those are the ones who will come to the aid of the weak, regardless of the danger.”
The Gazef from before he had entered the grand martial tournament would never have said such things. Much like his vice-captain, he would have thought that there were no nobles who would risk themselves for the commoners.
After he began serving the King, however, Gazef realized for the first time that such nobles existed. Regretfully, said nobles lacked power.
There had been many lives that he could not save, and just as many incidents where the nobles’ pointless pride had led them to throw obstacles in his way.
Even so, the man he served had not given up. He had continued working toward building a kingdom where its people would be able to live better lives day by day.
Gazef was proud of his King, Ranpossa III. If that was not the case, he would have defected to the Empire when the Emperor himself had tried to win him over.
But it was precisely because he was such a man that dark clouds loomed heavy over his heart.
What the King spoke was the truth, and he had the right view of things. The King had always been full of compassion, but Gazef knew the reason why the King had taken such a harsh tone.
After the demonic disturbance, the balance of power between the two factions had shifted greatly.
For a long time, the Kingdom had been divided into two factions that had been largely even until recently, but now the Royal faction had expanded, while the Noble faction had shrunk.
Because the King had boldly ridden forth and driven Jaldabaoth back, he was seen by the people as a strong ruler, and a fair number of nobles had thrown their support behind the King. Thus, the King could not afford to show weakness here. However, saying that would mean―
“Still, the Warrior-Captain has a point, no? We can avoid a war for the price of just one city. A king also has a duty to prevent undue suffering to his people. Would not a true king be willing to sacrifice of his own body for the sake of the people?”
The one who spoke was from the Noble faction. The words were pretty, but they were calculated to reduce the amount of land controlled by the King, and as such, the Royal faction rebutted them.
“That land is the demesne of the King! If you would hand over our Kingdom’s land, why not surrender yours first?!”
The Noble faction was also swift to reply.
“What nonsense is that?! The Empire asked for E-Rantel and its surroundings! Do you really believe they’d accept land from the other side of the Kingdom? Why don’t you think before you speak?!”
The Royal faction had grown stronger, while the Noble faction had gotten weaker. That simply made the Noble faction even more desperate to hamstring the King.
The upset balance between the two factions was the source of Gazef’s unease. In their desperate attempt to erode the power of the Royal faction, they might plunge the Kingdom into civil war.
That being the case, it was only natural for the King to want to quell the potential revolt with a demonstration of his power. But that would mean―
If he could not admit his weakness, was that not a dangerous thing in itself?
Lost in his thoughts, Gazef only snapped back to reality after several hard stares from members of the Royal faction. Because he had suggested handing over the Kingdom’s territory, they must have thought he had gone over to the Noble faction.
They were giving him looks that said, “You upjumped peasant, have you forgotten the grace which the King showed to you?”
“Then, why don’t you propose the exchange of your lands with E-Rantel, and then hand it over?!”
“As if land could be bought and sold like swine at a market! You fools!”
“You are the fools here!”
The childish squabbling engulfed the entire meeting hall. In the past, disputes like this would have ended in a stalemate due to the even balance of power, but now the voices of the Royal faction were louder than those of the Noble faction.
Normally, the King would have stopped this. He did not seem inclined to do so now, probably because the Royals had the advantage.
Nobody would put an end to circumstances which favored themselves. The King must also have wanted to vent his frustrations with the Noble faction.
It’s like he’s drunk a sweet poison…
Slowly, Gazef began to feel a cold, black conviction in the eyes of the Noble faction.
Unconsciously, he shivered.
The attack of the archdemon Jaldabaoth had been the start of everything.
At that time, the king’s decision to take to the battlefield was arguably the best one. Without his help, the battle lines might have broken and the adventurers would have been overrun. If ‘Blue Rose’ had gone down with them, the Kingdom would have been in a great predicament.
However, as Gazef looked at the scene unfolding in front of him, he could not help but wonder if they should have done something else instead.
What would this court session have been like if the standings of both factions had been even?
I don’t know, but… ah, that’s right, what if we lost this war with the Empire? Would we continue resisting to the end? The Royal faction’s power would be greatly decreased, while that of the Noble faction would go up. Would we return to the days when both were evenly matched? Or would the balance of power crumble completely and plunge the country into civil war? Would that be all right?
He disliked this feeling…The feeling that despite making his own choices, he was ultimately still dancing to the tune of someone else.
Could it be that all this had been planned from the moment I met Gown-dono? I don’t want to think that might be the case, but I didn’t get a feeling like that during our short time talking to each other.
From the way Gazef addressed him with honorifics even in his speech ― and his thoughts ― it was clear that he bore no ill-will toward the magic caster Ainz Ooal Gown.
…Maybe he could peacefully take control of… ah, no, if I continue thinking like this it’ll be treason.
“I think it’s about time we stopped this petty squabbling.”
A deep male voice cut through the commotion ― everyone fell silent as they tried to find its source.
Gazef bit his lip as someone else usurped the role the King was supposed to play.
That victory was as sweet as honey…
He did not think it was a big deal. However, would the King forget himself in that sweetness? Would the King that Gazef was so proud of disappear? He could not erase such thoughts from his mind.
“Your Majesty, if the Empire’s invasion is a foregone conclusion, then we must prepare ourselves.”
“Marquis Raeven, his Majesty alone―”
The words of the Noble faction were interrupted by Raeven.
“―I’ll thank you to reconsider. If his Majesty’s troops are defeated, who knows where the Empire will attack next? So, for the sake of protecting my domain, I will protect the King’s.”
The Kingdom’s troops were conscripted civilians. There was no way they were a match for the Empire’s knights. The only way to defeat the Empire’s advantage in troop quality was with troop quantity. That had been the way things went for the past few years, but if they couldn’t even muster up sufficient troops to match the Empire’s, then the outcome of the war was already a foregone conclusion.
After hearing Raeven’s words, the members of the Noble faction imagined the Imperial knights ravaging their lands as well.
The first to announce their support for the King were the nobles who held land between the capital and E-Rantel, followed by the nobles who held close ties to the first group, and in the end, all the nobles pledged their support.
“All right. Then, we shall delay our reply to the Empire, and gather our troops at the usual place before we answer them. Naturally, I will be going as well.”
“Please let me join you on the battlefield, father!”
The one shouting was Prince Barbro, who had been waiting silently at the side until now.
“…No, no. There’s no need for the eldest son and heir to the throne to take the field. I will handle this.”
Crown Prince Barbro turned to the speaker, the second prince Zanack. Barbro’s answer was short and to the point.
His retort was filled with anger.
Zanack’s proposal was a reasonable one. Since the king was already headed to the battlefield, it would be far too dangerous to bring his eldest son along with him. Barbro understood this, but even so, his refusal came from his hatred of Zanack.
Said hatred once again stemmed from the demonic disturbance.
During the demonic disturbance, Zanack had patrolled the capital and earned the praise of many citizens. Barbro, on the other hand, hid inside the palace, and as such, the number of nobles supporting Zanack had increased as well.
At a glance, Zanack did not look particularly heroic, and the contrast between his looks and his brave deeds drew attention. Conversely, Barbro looked impressive, but his inaction made him appear cowardly. In order to erase this shame, Barbro wanted to go to the battlefield to show his martial valor.
The Crown Prince was a reasonably talented warrior, in keeping with his appearance. Although he had been brought up in a sheltered lifestyle, and was not a match for Princess Renner’s bodyguard Climb who had tirelessly trained himself, he could still be said to be the strongest fighter of the royal family. To him, it was unthinkable that Zanack ―who would lose his balance after swinging a sword but once, due to his weight― could ever be considered a greater warrior than himself. That was a disgrace he could not endure. Although Marquis Raeven had once said, “What good is a king’s swordplay?”, Barbro was Zanack’s intellectual inferior, and as such, he was even more determined not to lose out in his chosen field of warfare.
No matter what, one couldn’t keep trailing behind one’s opponent in the game of thrones.
Gazef’s gut ached as he considered the potential crisis hiding within the Kingdom.
Although he wanted to resign his commission after the King abdicated and dedicate himself to protecting Ranpossa III, realistically speaking, it would probably be very difficult to do that.
In addition, it would probably be a failure in himself as a loyal servant of his Majesty if he did not save a life that could be saved. Not to mention the king’s abdication itself was in question.
If there was someone who could replace him, then he would gladly hand his position over. However, such people were in short supply. There was one person who could hold his own against Gazef, but that person would never agree to become the Warrior-Captain.
What’s Brain planning to do in the future? Does he have something in mind?
Although Brain had become Princess Renner’s direct subordinate, Gazef had a feeling that he would leave soon. If he did vanish, it would probably be to hone his sword skills. As a man bound to the courts, Gazef could not help but admire that lifestyle.
He recalled Brain’s polished swordsmanship.
After the demonic disturbance, Gazef and Brain had exchanged blows in a friendly spar.
Although Gazef had triumphed in that no-holds-barred match, he could feel the hours Brain had put into his sword work as the wind of his sword’s passage blew through his hair.
Who knew, in a few years’ time, Brain might end up becoming stronger than himself.
If Brain agreed to take my place, I’d focus my energy into training the next generation, so the Kingdom would have its share of skilled warriors in the future.
“I certainly agree!”
Marquis Bowlrob’s voice interrupted Gazef’s thoughts. Now was not the time to worry about the distant future.
“If you will permit me, I would gladly contribute my strongest troops to the effort and to the protection of his Majesty’s person. How about that, your Majesty?”
“Umu. Warrior-Captain, what do you think?”
He could not pretend that he had not heard it. That would be a lie. Gazef put on a show of earnest consideration, while ignoring the twitch of Raeven’s eyebrow.
It was probably Bowlrob’s suggestion, who supported Barbro as the next king, for Barbro to fight at the front. However, Gazef had no proof of this, so there was only one answer he could give.
“I believe it all depends on his Majesty’s opinion.”
The King nodded deeply, and Gazef suddenly felt a pang of guilt.
“Is that so… well, if that’s the case… then you shall come along as well.”
“Yes! Allow me to present the false emperor’s head to you, Father!”
As he listened to Barbro’s enthusiastic reply, Gazef could only hope that the impending preparations would blow away the clouds of unease forming over his heart.
♦ ♦ ♦
Marquis Raeven’s political ability was second to none among the Six Great Nobles, so one would expect that the office where he showed his abilities would be an impressive one. Yet, this was not the case. Many would be surprised by how the orders which determined the future of the Kingdom were drafted in such a humble, cramped place.
The room’s interior was filled with bookshelves, and the books and scrolls were neatly arranged in a way that hinted at their owner’s personality. However, it was not because of these things that the room was so small, although they were part of the reason for it.
The greatest reason could not be seen by the naked eye.
Raeven’s home was built of bricks coated in stucco. This was customary when it came to the construction of a noble home, and Raeven’s office was no exception.
However, the interior of those walls were coated with copper sheets that enveloped the entire room.
This was done to interfere with spells used to eavesdrop, observe or detect his location.
The windowless room felt a little claustrophobic, but from a cost-effectiveness point of view, it was practical and had to be endured.
Upon returning from Valencia Palace, Raeven had made a beeline for this office, which was proofed against magic. He crossed to the other side of his sturdy working desk before flopping down onto his chair, his body devoid of energy.
Then, he covered his face with his hands. He did not look anything like a great noble who commanded unrivalled power and privilege in the Kingdom. Instead, he looked like a middle-aged man, worn down to exhaustion by the weight of stress and responsibility.
He brought up the limp strands of his blonde hair in his fingers, combing them back up as his face twisted.
After taking a deep breath, the stress accumulated during the court session turned to anger, which filled his heart. In moments it had exceeded his limit, and burst forth like an explosion.
“Those bloody, bloody, bloody idiots!”
Nobody understood what was going on. No, if someone had understood and was taking advantage of the situation, they would be masterful schemers indeed.
Right now, the Kingdom was in great peril.
The Empire’s frequent sabre-rattling lead to severe problems such as food shortages, and then there were other issues that were starting to precipitate. The only reason why no cracks in the Kingdom had appeared so far was because the nobles honestly believed “we just need to hold on a bit longer until the other faction collapses first”.
The Empire employed professional warriors known as knights, but the Kingdom had no equivalent soldiers among their ranks. To resist the Imperial invasions, they needed to conscript peasants in their levies. And of course, this meant that the villages would run short of manpower.
With that as their objective, the Empire aimed to invade the Kingdom during fall, the harvest season, when they would need the most manpower.
During the busiest season of a farming village, the impact of their adult males ― the most important source of labor ― going missing could not be overstated. Of course, the idea of simply not conscripting as many people had come to mind, but in the face of the Empire’s military, who were far better trained and armed, the Kingdom could not muster any resistance without the weight of numbers on their side.
There had been one occasion when a lack of conscripts had resulted in a tremendous loss for the Kingdom. Fortunately, the counterattack led by Gazef had succeeded, killing two of the original Four Knights and putting an end to the war, since both sides had won and lost. However, the truth was that the national power of the Kingdom had decreased, and in light of the many citizens lost, the Kingdom had come out on the losing side of the equation.
And even during these circumstances…
“That traitorous filth! This foolish power struggle! Those idiots, fighting over a stupid seat!”
Marquis Volumlash, one of the Six Great Nobles, had betrayed the Kingdom by selling its information to the Empire. The nobles had split into two factions and were struggling for dominance. Both princes were eying the succession like dogs feuding over a bone.
Marquis Raeven pounded on his desk repeatedly, venting his anger.
“The King’s no better either! He’s no fool and he’s not drunk on power, but he isn’t thinking at all! The way he’s clinging onto the throne will only fan the flames of the succession crisis to greater heights! Princess Renner gave him a good opportunity by making things favorable for the Royal faction, so he should hurry up and transfer power already!”
During the demonic disturbance, the one who had encouraged the king to take the field personally was Princess Renner.
Because of that, the Royal faction’s influence had increased greatly, and they should have been able to put Prince Zanack on the throne if they had advocated it then and there. However―
“It ended up like this because he pitied his first son. It’s not like I don’t understand his feelings, but nobody’s thinking about what’s important! Nobody at all!”
Strictly speaking, this was not true. There were people in the Kingdom who thought of the future and what was important for the country. The problem was that all of them were in Raeven’s camp.
He should not have concentrated them all under his wing. Instead, he should have carefully disseminated them throughout the other factions and had them influence the leaders from the inside. However, his irritation was not aimed at himself for not doing this earlier, but at the members of the other factions, whose brainlessness was giving him headaches.
“Idiots, each and every one of them!”
Raeven shouted in frustration as he called them to mind, these simpletons who could only see the bait dangling in front of them, whose intellect was no better than goblins.
“―Even so, what should I do? Think, Raeven, think!”
Raeven’s frustration grew as his breathing calmed.
He had to think of how to keep the Kingdom going, even in the face of the dangers ahead.
“To begin with, this war with the Empire is dangerous, especially if that Ainz Ooal Gown commands great power. I should start by assuming he can cause over 10'000 casualties by himself before I begin strategic planning. Then at the same time, I’ll push for the prince to be the next king… Will that be too difficult? ”
Raeven spoke the words on his mind out loud while he organized his thoughts. Honestly, he wanted to share this matter with someone and discuss it with them.
That was why Raeven supported Prince Zanack. The Second Prince was his only ally ―though there was now another person, Princess Renner― amongst the royals. Both of them understood the danger which the Kingdom faced, and he considered her a comrade in arms when it came to planning for the future.
If only he could ascend to the throne, it would take a weight off his right shoulder.
“…I don’t think he was joking when he promised to make me the Prime Minister. Though I can’t relieve the burden on my left shoulder, at the very least it would improve the Kingdom’s condition.”
Raeven’s current objective was to place Prince Zanack on the throne. If he failed in that, the country would take another step toward ruin.
“With Princess Renner’s help, my job would be easier, at least.”
Raeven sighed heavily as he gave voice to his thoughts and future plans.
Even he had days when he wanted to just put everything down and walk away.
Sometimes, the excessive worrying had even made him contemplate destroying the Kingdom with his own hands, although that particular thought had only come up once or twice.
It was like he was trying to build a sandcastle, surrounded by little brats trying to kick it down. At times, he felt like destroying the sandcastle himself, just to deny them the satisfaction. Still, he had a reason for ignoring those destructive impulses and carrying on like he did.
There was a knocking on the door.
The sound seemed to come from a lower position than usual. For a moment, Raeven displayed an expression that was unlike his normal self. Perhaps you could say his expression melted; his eyebrows were drooping, and even the corner of his mouth was uncharacteristically relaxed.
“Oh, that’s not good. I can’t show a face like this.”
Raeven lightly smacked his face, since his willpower was insufficient to restore the proper dignity to it. After tidying up his wild hair, he turned to the metal door and spoke so the person on the other side could hear. Though his voice was loud, it contained a surprising gentleness that indicated that he was not angry.
The speed of the door opening was indicative of how much the other party had been looking forward to it.
On the other side of the door was a boy.
A faint blush was visible on the pale skin of the boy’s innocent face. He looked to be around five years old, and he padded across the floor, stopping at Raeven’s knee.
“Now now, you know you shouldn’t be running indoors, it’s hardly refined.”
A female voice followed the boy over to Raeven.
She was a woman with a pretty face that was shadowed by gloominess. She did not seem like a happy woman. Her clothes were of exquisite make, but their colors were muted.
The woman bowed primly to Raeven, and then she smiled.
With a hint of embarrassment, Raeven returned the smile.
His wife had only started smiling recently.
Raeven could not help but recall those days.
When he was a younger man, his heart brimmed with the ambition and drive that was the hallmark of youth. And the target of his ambition was the throne.
Aspiring to the throne was a treasonous dream.
The young Marquis Raeven, filled with confidence in his abilities, probably felt that he had no other goal that was worthy of being his lifelong objective. Toward that end, he had worked quietly, expanded his influence, accumulated wealth, expanded his connections, crushed his enemies―
Taking a wife was nothing more than a part of his plan. As long as he could sell off the position of marchioness at a high price, he did not care what kind of woman he ended up with. As it turned out she was a beautiful, yet gloomy woman, but Raeven didn’t mind. After all, the important thing was the connections he made with his wife’s family.
Their home life was ordinary.
No, that was just how Raeven felt it was. He cared for the woman he married as a tool, but there was no love between them.
As fate would have it, it was a tiny thing indeed that changed Raeven.
He turned his eyes to the boy in front of him.
The first thing he thought when he learned he had a son was that he had another tool to use. However, as the newborn boy clutched his finger with his tiny hands, something broke inside him.
This was his son, which seemed as much a monkey as a human being. He certainly did not think that it was adorable. Yet, when he felt the warmth that radiated from his finger, everything else seemed to fade away.
Who cared about the throne?
The man driven by ambition had passed away, unseen and unmourned.
Then, when Raeven smiled in thanks to his wife that had just given birth to his son, he vividly remembered the expression on her face, which was a funny one, even if he would never say that out loud. He remembered that it seemed to ask, “Who is this person?”
At the time, his wife had thought that this was just a quirk caused by learning that he had an heir. However, Raeven continued changing after this, and it made his wife wonder if there was something wrong with him.
In the end, when his wife considered her husband before and after his change, she came to the conclusion that she preferred the new Raeven, and her attitude shifted as well. The two of them were, at long last, a normal married couple.
Raeven reached down and lifted up his son, who was trying to scale his kneecap.
The boy gurgled in delight as he was placed on Raeven’s thigh. He could feel the heat of his body through his clothes, and the familiar weight felt comfortable. A warm, steady satisfaction radiated endlessly from his heart.
Now, Raeven had only one objective.
‘I want to leave a well-kept domain to my son.’ It was a goal that any noble father would have.
Raeven looked warmly to the boy on his leg, and spoke to him.
“What’s the matter-chu? Rii-tan? Chuchu~”
Only two people in the world would ever see a Great Noble puckering his lips and going “~chu”.
One of them, the boy, gurgled in delight.
“…Darling, babytalking him will spoil his grammar.”
“Hmph! Nonsense, that’s nothing more than a baseless rumor.”
Although his mouth said that, Raeven reflected that it would be bad if he raised his son poorly.
Since he was his son, that meant that he must have some measure of talent. Or rather, it didn’t matter even if he didn’t have talent, but as his parents, they had an obligation to discover or cultivate their child’s abilities. As such, being a bad influence on him was unthinkable. Still, he would not give up the pet names for him.
Love was the best teacher, after all.
“Isn’t that right, Rii-tan? What’s the matter? Do you want to tell Papa something?”
Raeven ignored his wife’s perturbed expression and asked again.
“Ehehehe, it’s about that~”
He looked like he wanted to share a secret of some sort, judging from the way he covered his mouth with his little hands. As he saw that movement, the corners of Raeven’s eyes relaxed, and he made a face one would never expect of the man who had been referred to as a snake.
“Well, what is it? Can you tell Papa~n? Uwah~ what is it?”
“It’s Papa’s favorite!”
“Mm! Papa~n will be very happy! What’s for dinner tonight?”
“It’s Gabra fish à la meuniere.”
“Is that so― What’s wrong? Rii-tan?”
Raeven saw the unhappy expression on his son’s face and frantically followed up with a question.
“I should have been the one to say it!”
A bolt of lightning seemed to flash across Raeven’s back.
“Is that ~chu er, I mean, is that true? Well, then it’s Papa~n’s fault. Please forgive me. Rii-tan, do you want to tell me anything?”
As Raeven looked at her with furrowed brows, his wife, not knowing what to do, covered her face.
“Rii-tan, why don’t you tell Papa~n?”
With a hmph of annoyance, the boy jerked his head aside. The small motion had a massive impact on Raeven. With his despair-filled face, he looked like he had just been ordered to commit suicide.
“I’m really sorry, Rii-tan, Papa~n is a moron and forgot everything, could you tell me?”
His son glanced at him from the corner of his eye. He didn’t seem ready to make a decision yet.
“Not telling Papa~n? Papa~n’s going to cry~”
“That ― About that, it’s Papa’s favorite fish~”
“Really now? Papa is so happy to hear that!”
Raeven couldn’t help kissing his son’s pink cheeks. Because it tickled, the boy laughed innocently.
“All right, then let’s go have dinner!”
“―-I don’t think it’s ready yet.”
An annoyed expression spread over Raeven’s face, as though a basin of cold water had been dumped over his head. Although it was an easy matter to order the chefs to hurry up, they still needed to follow the appropriate steps to do their work, and those steps had to be executed with specific timing. Thus, if he selfishly disrupted their routine, the food would not be as good as it could be.
As such, even if he was not happy about the wait, Raeven did not give those orders. It was also because he wanted his son to have the best meal possible.
“All right, your father needs to work. Let’s go.”
Raeven could not hide the despondence he felt as he heard his son’s lively reply.
“Koff! Wait, actually, I’m done with work.”
“Yes, really. Don’t worry, work is over.”
“…Is that so? It’s not good to procrastinate.”
Even if his wife turned a cold stare on him, Raeven would not let his son go. He clutched the boy tightly, and sighed as he felt the heat from his son’s hot body flow into him.
“…Well, I was already at a dead end anyway,” he muttered. “Not like I could finish it in a day.”
This was not an excuse. He did not have anything urgent to take care of.
His wife nodded in acknowledgement.
“I understand, but still… it seems really troublesome.”
“That’s what I said. I don’t need more arms or legs to do my work, just good heads.”
“How about my brother?”
“He’s talented, but given that your family’s busy enough with its domain as it is, I don’t think I could call him over, right? Do you know anyone else who can be trusted?”
Raeven had already asked this question several times, and his wife had given him the same answer; there’s no noble who can deal with these matters like you can.
The truth was that if someone else was like that, his life wouldn’t have been as difficult as it was now. In the end, all that he could do was to look among the commoners. If this was a place like the Empire, where there was a centralized system of education that trained people up for public service, it would have been fine, but in the Kingdom, looking for hidden talents was like finding a needle in a haystack. All he could do was listen to rumors of talented people and recruit them.
As he thought of how much time and effort this would need, Raeven’s heart sank. At this moment, his son had a good idea.
“Papa~n, I want to help you to work too~”
“Uwah~ Rii-tan, thank you very much! I love ~chu most of all!”
Raeven did not stop kissing his son as he continued his baby talk. This was without doubt the happiest moment of his life.
He could forget the stress of his daily life and achieve a small measure of peace.
Even if I have to sacrifice myself, I will protect all of this, Raeven vowed in his heart.
It had been two months since the Empire’s declaration of war, and now it was winter.
In villages all over the Kingdom, the bulk of the work had transited from outdoors to indoors. Fewer people ventured outside now, and not many people were still working. This was true even for the adventurers, who typically worked all year round.
Although there were cases where hungry monsters suddenly appeared in villages and requests were hurriedly made, for the most part, there was less to do. It was more dangerous to explore ruins or unknown frontiers during this period. Because of that, adventurers treated this season as something of a vacation, and channelled their energies into training, recreation or their side businesses.
That said, the Fortress City of E-Rantel was not like that. It was filled with life and energy.
This commotion, however, was somewhat different from that of other cities. The activity here was not born of the usual energy of city life.
The source of this energy came from the outermost sector of the Triple Fortress.
The countless people gathered here were shabbily dressed, and were probably peasants. But their numbers were astonishing ― there were around 250'000 of them.
Of course, E-Rantel did not always have so many people in it.
It was true that E-Rantel was the nexus of trade and traffic between three kingdoms, with people, money, good and other things flowing freely through it. Because of that, the city was a large one.
However, that by itself was not enough reason for just one sector to be packed with 250'000 people.
In that case, why were there so many people here?
The ones who could best shed light on this was a group of young men.
Carrying bladeless spears ―more like sticks, really― many young men stabbed and thrust at dummies made of wood and straw, clad in rusted armor and shields.
This was combat training. Everyone gathered here today ― the 250'000 citizens taken from the Kingdom ― had been conscripted to fight the Empire.
Loud battlecries rang out everywhere. Of course, not many of them were actually shouted in earnest. Most of them were gripped by the fear of the coming battle, and they trained to distract themselves from the nagging worry that they would not be going home after this.
Even so, not all of them were practicing in earnest.
The wars with the Empire were a yearly occurrence. As a result, many people lacked the will to fight. There were those who laid down in unobtrusive niches along the stone steps, like puppets whose strings had been cut. There were those who vented their despair to those around them. There were those who sat down and hugged their knees and waited for the end.
As the conscripts got older, they were more likely to do this.
They had no fighting spirit at all and only wanted to return home.
This was the true face of the Royal Army. Yet, it could not be helped. To begin with, they had been rounded up by force. Then they were told that they would have to risk their lives in bloody battle for no gain to them. Even if they managed to return alive, they would return to a wasted harvest, and their lives would be very difficult, like a noose slowly strangling them.
This was no different from a drawn-out execution.
The wagons rode past the soldiers. Their beds were laden with vast quantities of foodstuffs.
Logically speaking, it would be difficult to house and feed 3% of the Kingdom’s population within a single city. However, E-Rantel was the frontline of the wars with the Empire, and had been designed to accommodate the Kingdom’s military might.
As a result of the extensive preparations made to the city, it could take in 250'000 people with ease. Their storehouses were massive, and were probably the largest buildings in the city.
The supplies within those storehouses were transported by shuttle.
The unmotivated people turned fearful eyes to those wagons. It was as though they had seen Death slowly creeping towards them.
Everyone knew what was going to happen next.
This was a large-scale transfer of rations.
That meant the war with the Empire was going to begin.
♦ ♦ ♦
The innermost sector of the E-Rantel’s triple walls.
In the center of the city was the mansion of the mayor of E-Rantel, Panasolei Guruze Dale Rettenmaier. Although it was a luxurious home worthy of the city’s leader, it still paled in comparison to the building beside it.
That building was the most impressive in the city ― the VIP villa. It was typically sealed up, and only the royal family or those close to them would be permitted to use it.
And now, within the villa, several men were gathered around King Ranpossa III and the Great Nobles.
Gazef stood silently at the side of the King, who sat upon a crude throne.
A large table dominated the center of the room, surrounded by nobles, who were studying the large map that had been rolled out upon it. Around the map were countless scattered documents, nominal rolls, reconnaissance reports, combat logs, monster appearance reports and the like. Although there were servants behind carrying water jugs, there was little water left.
It was testament to the intensity of the debates that had taken place here.
The truth was that fatigue was starting to appear on the distinguished, pedigreed faces of the Great Nobles. As one’s forces grew larger, there would be more logistics issues to be addressed, and more decisions that had to be made. While low-level issues could be handled by subordinates, they had to coordinate the matters of the nobles within their factions personally.
As nobles with their pride on the line, they could not even afford to show that the strain was getting to them, which made their job harder.
However, that was over now.
Marquis Raeven, who looked the least exhausted of everyone here, opened his mouth to speak.
In truth, it had become fairly common for him to take the initiative in addressing the nobles. He might have been slighted as a “bat,” but nobody doubted his intelligence. It was clear that having him speak, in a way that cut across factional lines, would be the fastest way to settle everyone down.
“Thank you all for your hard work. At last, we’ve finished our preparations within the time limit. From now on we will begin discussing the strategy against the Empire for the upcoming war.”
Raeven’s gaze swept across everyone present, and he held up a parchment for all to see.
“This is a missive from the Empire that arrived several days ago. It states the proposed site of the battlefield.”
Because battlefields would invariably be littered with corpses, the land would be cursed, and it would become a spawning ground for the undead. Thus, as a species, humanity would designate specific locations for their wars. Once both sides agreed on the site, they could do battle as they wished without harming each others’ countries.
Of course, not all wars were fought like that. Or rather, it was rare for wars to be fought that way. It was only when the Kingdom and the Empire made war that this situation would come up, and for the past few years, they had fought on designated battlefields.
Even if they took new land, it would be more trouble than it was worth if it spawned undead, and there was no point in defending land from invaders if it ended up cursed and uninhabitable anyway. Both sides shared the same point of view, hence the agreements.
For that reason, a sigh of relief came up from nowhere as Raeven announced the missive. The nobles must have thought this war would be the same as any other, given the familiar nature of the declaration.
“Then, the battlefield will be―”
“Isn’t it the same old place, Marquis Raeven? Where else could it be?”
“Indeed. As Marquis Bowlrob says, the battlefield is one we are all familiar with. The cursed land enveloped by mist, the northwestern region of the Kattse Plains.”
“Since it’s the same place, does that mean the Empire will be doing the same thing?”
Although the Empire claimed to be helping the magic caster Ainz Ooal Gown reclaim his rightful territory, most of the nobles felt that this was merely a casus belli for them to declare war like they always did.
If that was all, Gazef would have agreed, but Raeven shook his head.
“Unfortunately, Marquis Volumlash, that does not seem to be the case. According to my sources, the Empire has mobilized a great deal of military power for this engagement. I sent my formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurer team out to follow up on this, and while they aren’t sure of the exact figure, judging by the insignia and badges of the activated units, the Empire has fielded six full legions.”
Dissent rippled through the gathered nobles.
The Empire had eight legions, but up to now they had only ever committed four to the field at any one time. But this time, they had brought out one and a half times that amount.
“Are they… serious?”
The question came from a noble with an uneasy expression on his face.
Six legions. 60'000 men. The Kingdom had 250'000 men, but although they had the advantage in numbers, the reverse was true in terms of troop quality.
“We may need to consider that this may not end in a simple skirmish.”
In the past, with the Empire’s 40'000 men against the Kingdom’s 200'000, the Empire would launch an attack, the Kingdom would weather it and then the war would end. The Empire’s objective was to slowly exhaust the Kingdom and waste their stocks of food, so just forcing the Kingdom to take the field would accomplish one of their objectives.
If they were planning on doing the same thing, there would be no need to mobilize 60'000 men. That meant they had another motive for doing this, Raeven thought.
“It seems increasing the levy was the right decision to make.”
However, the increased costs of fielding more soldiers were also a headache.
In the past, the wars had been fought during the harvest season of autumn. This war would be fought in winter, and the additional expenses for things like firewood, warm clothing and so on were beginning to add up.
This war was financed by the Royal faction. If the Royal faction’s power had not increased, it would have been hard to solicit donations, and the King’s own power would have sharply declined.
“Indeed it was, Marquis Raeven. The Empire has mobilized more troops now, under the fabricated cause of helping that magic caster king. They’ll claim that they’ll lose face if they don’t put on a good show in aiding an ally.”
“I believe that is very likely. In truth, given that we’ve received no communication from this Ainz Ooal Gown, I suspect that this incident may have been masterminded by the Empire and this Ainz Ooal Gown is only a bystander who was drawn into this. He might not even be participating in this of his own free will.”
To Gazef, if that was the truth it would be a blessing. That way they would not need to make an enemy of that mighty magic caster. However, that might be too optimistic.
Gazef opened his hitherto tightly shut mouth.
“May I speak?”
With the King’s permission, Gazef began unburdening himself of his doubts.
“I disagree, much as I do with that document from the Slaine Theocracy. I do not think this declaration of war is a mere fabrication.”
Displeasure was clearly evident on the nobles’ faces.
E-Rantel and its surroundings was the meeting point of three nations. Every time the Kingdom and the Empire went to war, the Theocracy would make its opinion known.
“To begin with,” they said, “E-Rantel and its surroundings originally belonged to the Slaine Theocracy. The Kingdom has taken control of it unlawfully and they are obliged to return it to its rightful owners. It is deeply regretful that such improperly appropriated territory should become the object of a power struggle,” and so on.
To the two countries, it seemed as though the Theocracy would intervene in their war, but to date they had never mobilized their troops. Their dispute was only a verbal one.
This time, however, the tone of their official statements had changed.
“The Theocracy has no records of his reign, but if Ainz Ooal Gown has indeed controlled E-Rantel and its surroundings in the past, the Theocracy will acknowledge that fact and his sovereignty.”
That was what their communique had said.
To the nobles of the Kingdom, that declaration was nothing less than a bad joke, like a court jester coming out of nowhere and speaking wild nonsense. However, there were those who understood the true meaning behind the document.
The Slaine Theocracy was saying, “We have no intention of antagonizing Ainz Ooal Gown” on a national level.
That implied that the Slaine Theocracy, the strongest nation in the region, was not willing to make an enemy of a single magic caster.
But that was understandable, Gazef thought.
“He easily wiped out one of the Six Scriptures… and although he said he didn’t kill them, the Slaine Theocracy felt that making an enemy of a person with his level of power was a bad idea. If Ainz Ooal Gown was pulled into this war by the Empire, they wouldn’t need to roll over like this.”
“Hmph. So what if they have one more magic caster? Aren’t we the ones with 250'000 people?”
Count Lindon laughed in the face of Gazef’s caution, the mockery evident in his voice.
Gazef fought the urge to furrow his brows. Although he understood the shocking power of a great magic caster, at the same time, he also understood where Lindon was coming from.
If he knew nothing else, he would have thought the same way too.
For example, there was the famed magic caster of the Empire, Fluder Paradyne. His name was known in distant countries. He was rumored to be able to use magic of the 5th or 6th tier, but to be honest, nobody knew how powerful he really was.
That was because he had never taken part in the Empire’s wars, nor had he used his magic to rout the armies of the Kingdom.
While the 6th tier of magic was impressive, exactly how impressive it was remained to be seen.
Gazef felt that way as someone who had survived countless battles as the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain.
The nobles were not magic casters, but had only been told about magic as part of their education. Many of the Kingdom’s nobles thought little of Fluder, thinking of him as nothing more than a posterboy for the Empire’s propaganda. The nobles who had little contact with magic-users like adventurers were even more likely to think that way.
Count Lindon was one of them. To him, magic casters were little more than street performers. Of course, the priests he turned to when he was sick or injured were a different matter.
“…I don’t think that’s quite right. They can be quite hard to deal with if they use ‘Flight’ spells and attack with area-effect magic. It’ll still be troublesome even if they just attack from a distance. Of course, professional magic casters won’t do things which don’t benefit them. Still, the Empire’s alliance with Ainz Ooal Gown is just too strange. They wouldn’t go this far if he was a simple magic caster, so we had better stay on our guard.”
Those severe words were spoken by Margrave Urovana, whose head of white hair and wrinkled face conveyed the stern dignity of a senior individual. As the oldest of the six Great Nobles, he was a clear contrast with the young Count Lindon. Every word and gesture of his made the Count nod in reluctant agreement. However, the one opposing him was Marquis Bowlrob.
“Hmph! Who’s this Ainz Ooal Gown? Like Lindon said, what can one man do? If he flies, we’ll shoot him down with bows. The same if he attacks from far away. What can one magic caster do? Those stories of magic casters who change the battlefield by themselves are just that, stories!”
“…I beg your pardon, but isn’t it possible that some of the stories which bards sing of heroes might be true?”
“I believe that the Warrior-Captain-dono is not in possession of all the facts. The bards exaggerate the facts to fuel interest. After exaggerating the facts, the stories are well-removed from reality. This is only made worse as bards spin tales gleaned from other bards, given that oral traditions are prone to distortion.”
“However, if they could gather a lot of magic casters that could use ‘Fireball’―”
“And exactly how probable would an assembly of said magic casters be, hm? Do tell us, O Warrior-Captain-dono.”
“That… I think it’s not too likely.”
‘Fireball’ was a third-tier spell. It would be impossible to amass a large number of magic casters who could use that spell, even if one had the magical academies of the Empire.
“Then, isn’t that the answer? Magic is a good weapon, but no matter how powerful he is, one man cannot change the battlefield! You ―forgive me― the Warrior-Captain-dono is a perfect example. While nobody can match yourself in a duel, even you can’t slay several thousand people in one go!”
He was right. Gazef could not find anything to rebutt Marquis Bowlrob’s argument.
Those tales of destroying tens of thousands in a single blow were of dubious reliability at best. Even that granny, one of the Thirteen Heroes, Rigrit Bers Carau, couldn’t accomplish such a feat.
However, the disquiet still lingered in Gazef.
Could it be that he had not met a truly amazing magic caster, but was simply clueless?
“…Then, what if it was a dragon?”
“Marquis Volumlash… that magic caster is a human, why would you even bring up a dragon?”
“No, I meant in terms of one man fighting a brigade…”
“In the first place, there’s no point mentioning dragons when we’re discussing humans! I don’t know what you’re all thinking, so afraid of a measly little magic caster―”
He turned a sharp glare to Gazef.
“As nobles of the Kingdom, you should be ashamed of yourselves, cowering at the sight of his shadow! Still, it’s not like I don’t understand the Warrior-Captain-dono’s concern… then, let us consider Ainz Ooal Gown to be a force capable of equalling five thousand men.”
Lindon’s eyes went wide.
“Don’t you think it’s a little much, valuing one man as equal to five thousand? Equating him to half would still be too much.”
“I, for one, consider the Warrior-Captain-dono to be a match for a thousand men, and given that our Warrior-Captain-dono is so wary of this individual, we shall count him as being able to battle five times that amount. I have faith in the Warrior-Captain-dono’s appraisal of him.”
“You honor me.”
Although he still doubted that Ainz Ooal Gown’s combat power was only equal to five thousand men, that much was already difficult enough to believe. It would be better to thank him and try to regain a little bit of goodwill. With that in mind, Gazef lowered his head.
At this juncture, the hitherto silent Crown Prince Barbro opened his mouth.
“If I might be allowed a bit of your time… I’ve been thinking. Why don’t we draft those adventurers into the army? After all, they work in the Kingdom, so aren’t they subject to conscription? Why aren’t they allowed to join the military? I don’t recall any law in the Kingdom forbidding that.”
The Great Nobles glanced at each other. As landlords, they clearly understood the value and power of adventurers. Because of that, they would not accept Barbro’s line of reasoning.
On his part, Gazef felt that the reason why Barbro had such thoughts was because he was a member of the royal family. If he had a fief to manage, he would not think like that.
Marquis Raeven coughed.
“My prince. I trust you understand that aside from those with copper plates, every adventurer is stronger than the average soldier?”
“Umu. Of course. That’s why we should draft them. Once enlisted, they’ll produce excellent results. They’ll be able to defeat the Imperial knights with ease!”
“I do not dispute that point. However, if we did that, then our enemies ― the Empire, for instance ― would also conscript adventurers to counter our use of them. In that case, rather than a battle between adventurers, it would become a systematic slaughter of the rank and file by adventurers. The losses would be far greater, and many conscripts would die. This is why both sides don’t use adventurers, to avoid such an arms race. In addition, the Adventurer’s Guild would never allow it.”
Workers were also not used for similar reasons. In addition, they were usually more expensive than adventurers, and less reliable.
“Is that so… though I still don’t like that idea, I can accept it. Then what if a city was attacked? If they still didn’t join in the defense, wouldn’t that be treason, for a citizen of the Kingdom?”
“I understand the point you’re trying to make. However, they feel that they have discretion over whether or not they count as citizens of the Kingdom. In addition, they might also be travelling abroad at the time. The most important thing is that the better they are, the more the nation is diminished when they perish in battle. It may lead to a situation where a monster appears, but there’s no adventurer around capable of stopping it. As such, we need to handle adventurers carefully.”
“Marquis Raeven, did you not mention earlier that you had conscripted some retired adventurers into your forces? Something about… former-orichalcum? Why is that allowed?”
“That’s fine. They’re no longer bound by the rules of the Adventurer’s Guild once they retire and are no longer members. That’s why I hired them.”
“…I see. Although, I hear it, but I don’t quite understand it.”
Soft laughter and sounds of approval came from the noble contingent.
“Still, that only applies up to adventurers ranked up to orichalcum. Adamantite-ranked adventurers are a different matter entirely. Of the two adamantite-ranked adventurer parties in the Kingdom…”
There was nobody here who didn’t know of the daring exploits of Blue Rose during the demonic disturbance.
“Before they took center stage, there was another group of adamantite-ranked adventurers. Although they’ve all retired, they haven’t been hired since then…Right, Warrior-Captain-dono?”
“That’s correct. There are four of them. One opened an exclusive sword school for pupils he chose himself. Two more went on a journey. The last one was the granny who spent some time in Blue Rose before leaving for parts unknown.”
Gazef counted the familiar faces on his fingers as he recalled them.
While he was strolling through the capital, he had been dragged into a training hall by his future teacher, and he’d been subjected to a hellish regimen of sword training and lectures.
Because of that encounter, the Gazef who should have only been a mercenary had ended up becoming the king’s champion, but even if that was the case―
No, come to think of it, those were good memories too.
“I see. I’ve also heard that this city is the base for the adventurer team called ‘Darkness’. If only we could count on the ‘Beautiful Princess’ Nabe to fight Ainz Ooal Gown… although that seems difficult.”
While that was a good idea at heart, the Adventurer’s Guild would never allow it.
Several nobles began loudly cursing the Guild.
For instance, “they’re nothing more than peasants!”
For instance, “who do they think pays them?!”
For instance, “if they’re citizens of the Kingdom, they should be helping us!”
It was only natural that those in power would be displeased by the Adventurer’s Guild which refused to submit to that power. However, it was also a fact that they were the only ones who could deal with monsters.
If the Adventurer’s Guild left the Kingdom, they would have no way of beating back powerful monsters. As a result, the Kingdom would be steadily destroyed, and not even Gazef’s presence would change that.
Monsters had many special abilities, and defeating them would require an equally diverse repertoire of attacks, defenses and healing methods. Because of this, adventurers were indispensable. The fact that the Empire incorporated magic casters and rangers into its legions was a different matter.
“A-as expected of his Highness! I feel that this is a marvellous idea!”
The one who spoke was a baron who hailed from parts unknown.
He was a minor lord among the peers present, which meant he was someone’s vassal.
“As a magic caster, she might have some insights into this situation. It might be good just to listen to what she has to say. Maybe we should send an emissary over, just in case.”
The idea met with a small amount of approval. Most of the ones who agreed were low-ranking nobles, and given the way they were praising Barbro, they were probably minions from the Noble faction.
The more-keen-eyed people made sour faces, but it seemed like the others had not noticed.
“Then go,” the king ordered in a tired voice. “Momon-dono is an adamantite-ranked adventurer. You are not to offend him under any circumstances!”
“Understood! This Cheneko will carry out the royal decree to the letter!”
“Is that so. Well, then take care not to offend Momon-dono.”
The king waved him off again after repeating his orders. The noble in question left the chamber.
He didn’t seem to have realised that if anything went wrong, he would be heartlessly cast aside.
“Hah… we’ve come a long way from the original topic. Now, where were we… ah. So for Ainz Ooal Gown’s combat power, I don’t think anyone objects to him counting for five thousand men?”
Marquis Raeven looked to Gazef.
“I have no problems with that assessment.”
Personally, Gazef felt that the figure was off by an order of magnitude at least, but he could understand that those who had not seen Ainz Ooal Gown’s power firsthand might find it hard to believe.
“I see. Then, as the Empire has already agreed on the choice of battlefield, I trust we can all begin moving our armies out toward the Kattse Plains?”
Marquis Raeven’s line of sight swept through the room, and one by one the nobles answered in the affirmative. When he reached Marquis Bowlrob at last, the man’s reply was loud and clear.
“It will be done, Marquis Raeven. My troops are ready to move out at any time. Then, your Majesty, might I make a suggestion? It concerns a matter for the Prince…”
There was only one prince present. Everyone’s eyes turned to Barbro.
“It seems that Ainz Ooal Gown once appeared to save a settlement called Carne Village. If it was purely out of altruism, that would be well and good. However, he might have had a strategic motive in mind. I feel it would be best if we mobilized some troops and tried to question the villagers on the details. I would like to entrust the command of that unit to the Prince.”
Barbro glared at Marquis Bowlrob.
“Silence,” the king said. “That is not a bad idea. My son, I command you ― go to Carne Village and learn what you can from the villagers.”
Gazef tried his best not to furrow his brows.
If they went to Carne Village now, they wouldn’t be likely to learn useful information about that magic caster. In addition, splitting their forces was hardly a wise move, even if it was a comparatively small amount.
“…The King orders and I obey. However, I wish to express that this posting is not of my will.”
Seeing that the king had no intention of withdrawing his orders, Barbro lowered his head, an unhappy expression on his face.
“I will lend you some of my elite troops to accompany you to the village. I will also send a host of noblemen to accompany the prince. The total strength of your unit will be around five thousand men.”
“I see. You’re on guard against the Empire’s special forces. As expected of Marquis Bowlrob, you’re far-sighted indeed.”
Gazef could see the logic in Raeven’s words. However, he still had his doubts that the Imperial Army would use such underhanded methods even after agreeing on the battlefield. While it was true that all warfare was based on deception, a sneak attack like this after the agreement would only disgrace themselves among the surrounding nations. The Empire would be shooting itself in the foot.
“Although I don’t feel I need so many soldiers, since the Marquis has graciously proposed the idea, I am left with little choice but to accept it.”
“Many thanks, your Highness. Then, I have one more question.”
Marquis Bowlrob paused for a moment. Rather than catching his breath, the delay was to draw attention to what he was going to say next.
“Who will be the overall commander for this battle? I trust nobody will object to myself?”
The room’s atmosphere changed.
This was an indirect declaration. It was phrased as a query, but it carried with it the unspoken weight and power of selecting the man who would wield authority over the entire army.
If asked who was the better commander between King Ranpossa III and Marquis Bowlrob, many nobles would point to the latter. This was especially true given that the Marquis’ forces made up one-fifth of the Royal army ― 50'000 men.
In addition, Marquis Bowlrob also commanded elite troops. He had been inspired by Gazef’s warrior band, and had thus created a unit of professional warriors.
They were very good fighters. Although they were still inferior to the warrior band under Gazef, they were still a match for the Empire’s knights ― perhaps more than a match. Of particular note were their numbers, which were numbered around 5,000. If they clashed with Gazef’s warrior band, Bowlrob’s elites would triumph by sheer weight of numbers.
If the king was not personally present, command authority would undoubtedly fall to Marquis Bowlrob. But since the king was here, it would only be natural to have King Ranpossa III as the supreme commander, though the nobles would probably not accept that.
Gazef’s expression hardened as Marquis Bowlrob placed pressure on the King, but Marquis Bowlrob remained unmoved even as he saw Gazef’s expression. To Bowlrob, Gazef was merely a commoner who was good with a sword, and allowing one not of noble blood to remain here was nearly intolerable.
“Yes, your Majesty!”
“I’ll leave it to you. Conduct the army safely to the Kattse Plains. From there, you will also be in charge of the encampment and entrenchment.”
Raeven nodded in acceptance of the royal decree. Although the spot Bowlrob wanted had been snatched away from him, if it was Raeven, Bowlrob could not complain. He knew the man was talented, and as a result, criticizing him would be very difficult. More importantly, Raeven had broad connections, and many of Bowlrob’s men owed him favors. If he tried to criticize Raeven in front of them, they would only doubt him instead. As such, Bowlrob had no choice but to grin and bear it.
“Marquis Raeven, my troops will be in your hands. Please let me know if you need anything.”
“Many thanks, Marquis Bowlrob. I will be counting on you in that event.”
Gazef was as happy over the King’s brilliant decision as though it were his own.
“Is there anything else?”
The King waited for a while, but nobody replied.
“…Then let us begin the preparations to move out. We shall leave tomorrow. It will take us two days to reach the battlefield, so do not grow lax in your preparations. Then, you are dismissed. Marquis Raeven, carry on.”
“I understand, your Majesty.”
The nobles steadily filed out of the room to begin their marching preparations, leaving only the King and Gazef.
Ranpossa III slowly turned his head. A cracking sound reached Gazef’s ear. He must have been very stiff. After stretching, an expression of relief bloomed on the King’s face.
“Thank you for your hard work, your Majesty.”
“Ahhh, it was hard work indeed. I’m tired.”
Gazef smiled wryly to his king. ‘Tiring’ was a capsule summary of managing the Royal and the Noble factions. However, there were still people who were more fatigued than Ranpossa III.
“It’s about time―”
Just as Ranpossa III was about to continue, several knocks came from the door. Then the door slowly opened, and the waiting guest entered.
He was a plump, piggish man who seemed otherwise unremarkable. His hair was sparse to the point of nonexistence, and what little remained was snowy white.
His body was round, his belly was fat, and his chin and jowls were flabby.
Yet, the light of intelligence sparkled within the eyes of this otherwise unimpressive man. Ranpossa III smiled amiably to him.
“Your Majesty,” said the Mayor of E-Rantel as he bowed to his liege lord. Then, he shifted his gaze.
“It’s been a while, Stronoff-dono.”
Panasolei was a noble, but yet he was exceedingly courteous to Gazef, a commoner. It was precisely because he was a man like that which resulted in him being posted to this place.
“You took care of me back then, Mayor. My thanks for arranging to heal my subordinates. I was in a hurry to report to the capital, so I rushed off without properly thanking you. Please accept my apologies.”
“Ah, no, no, think nothing of it. I understand the importance of the Warrior-Captain reporting about the ambush. How could I be so inflexible as to hold a grudge against you for that?”
Seeing that both parties were bowing to each other, the King laughed in joy.
“Panasolei, aren’t you doing that wheezing thing with your nose?”
“Your Majesty… There is no need to do so around people who do not patronize me. Or perhaps his Majesty and Stronoff-dono feel I am a jester who trades on that particular act?”
“Sorry, sorry, it was a joke. Please forgive me, Panasolei.”
“Ah, no, your humble servant overstepped his bounds. It is I who must beg your forgiveness, your Majesty. Then… shall we begin?”
“No…” The King hesitated, and then replied, “No, there’s still one more person who’s yet to arrive. Let’s wait for him.”
“Is that so. Then, may we discuss the issue of food costs within the city? After that, I shall report the projections on our national power for the next year, based on the data collected by the Marquis.”
“Umu. The sooner we get these headaches out of the way, the better.”
As Panasolei began to speak, even Gazef, who was unused to managing domestic affairs of state, ended up frowning.
His report concerned the alarming state of the country’s present and future expenses. The collection of food throughout the territories was making the shortages of food even worse. Of particular note was the fact that the country would continue declining even after the citizens here were released from their conscription.
Panasolei’s predictions were on the optimistic side, and they still painted a dire picture of things.
As for the King, his face was a blank mask.
“How did it get like this…”
“If… if the Empire continues its yearly attacks, the chances of civil war will be quite high. Given the state of taxes now, a lot of people will end up starving to death, and if we reduce taxes, we won’t have enough to fund our policies.”
Ranpossa III placed his hands on his forehead, covering his face.
This was the result of responding to years of saber-rattling with the Empire. By the time they realized the Empire’s aim, it was far too late ― the Kingdom was already in decline.
“How… disturbing. If we’d known earlier… if we’d dealt with this before the nobles had fully split into their factions… how foolish.”
“Certainly not, your Majesty. It might have been that while dealing with the factional split, the Empire might have taken the chance to invade and conquer us.”
Gazef was certain of this ― the King, Ranpossa III, had done a good job.
The conditions that had led to this situation were the result of the previous kings’ poor decisions. It was impossible for one generation to erase the accumulated sins of all its ancestors.
“I just want to leave a decent Kingdom to the next ― to my children.”
Although the King spoke slowly, every word was laced with powerful purpose.
“Then… is this not an opportune time? I have many supporters now due to the disturbance. Should we not strike a telling blow to the Empire, no matter the cost, so we can win a few years of peace for the Kingdom?”
Gazef could see a light in the King’s eyes. That light made him worry. By rights, he should have opposed this, but he could not make a sound.
If the King had spoken to advance his own desires and ambitions, perhaps he might have been able to bring himself to chide him. But as he realised the King was speaking of ensuring the safety of his people and country, the words caught in his throat.
As a first-hand witness to the King agonizing over his country, the Warrior-Captain could not speak out against him.
“While that is certainly possible, I trust you’re also aware that this is a very dangerous move. If you act to reduce the power of the nobility, the country may fall into chaos.”
The King knotted his brows, and Gazef’s heart ached.
“Panasolei, as usual, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Although one might die during surgery, there’s also a chance that one might live. Regardless of what we do, the disease will spread through the body and slowly kill us. In that case, shouldn’t we step forward and seize the day?”
“My King, surgical operations are not reliable. It would be better to find another solution instead.”
“If there were some magic solution to save the Kingdom, everyone would go for it. But the barbaric method of cutting open the body to remove the diseased portion is the only cure for our present predicament.”
This frightening and crude procedure, advocated by the Minotaur Sage, was the only remedy for the Kingdom.
A gloomy silence dominated the room, which had seen a king forced to extreme measures to save his country.
Then, just as it seemed this oppressive atmosphere would last forever, a knock rang out from the door, as though to shatter the despondence in the air.
The man who entered without waiting for a response was Marquis Raeven.
“Gentlemen. I apologise for the delay.”
Relief spread through the room.
“Ah, just the man we were looking for. Marquis Raeven, I put a great burden on you.”
A look of confusion appeared on Raeven’s face for a moment as he was caught off guard, but he immediately reacted by replacing it with a tired expression.
“No, don’t take it to heart, your Majesty. In truth, entrusting command to Marquis Bowlrob would have been foolish in the extreme. After all, he only knows how to order charges and retreats.”
It was unclear whether Raeven sincerely meant his harsh criticism. Perhaps he might have said so on purpose to lighten the mood when he sensed the gloominess in the room.
“In addition, if your Majesty was to assume direct control of the army, a misstep might result in the Noble faction retreating on the eve of battle. As such, there is no commander better suited to the role than myself. That being said, working so long without rest has taken its toll on me. I wish to announce in advance that after this war is concluded, I would like to rest on my own lands for several months.”
With that, Raeven’s expression suddenly turned severe.
“I apologize for my curtness, but we can’t waste time here, so let’s get this over quickly.”
Although his face remained as cold as that of a snake’s, Gazef could sense human emotions within him, as well as qualities that he could bring himself to admire.
I was a fool to not have seen his true nature beforehand. Am I really so bad at reading people?
With regret in his heart, Gazef recalled the meeting in the King’s chambers before they left the Capital. There were five people present; King Ranpossa III, Gazef himself, Third Princess Renner, Second Prince Zanack and Marquis Raeven. Upon hearing about the last two, Gazef felt a shock that could have brought down the palace. In particular, there was that man whom Gazef despised, the man who reminded him of a snake and a scorpion… a word like shock could not fully express his reaction when he learned that Raeven was one of the most diligent and loyal nobles, working tirelessly for the benefit of the King.
“I seem to be constantly causing trouble for you, Marquis Raeven, as well as my daughter.”
Ranpossa III lowered his head to the seated Raeven, a sincere expression on his face.
“Your Majesty, please don’t do that. I’ve already acted on my own without consulting yourself; I only regret that I did not take action earlier.”
“Marquis Raeven, allow me to apologize to you as well,” Gazef said as he lowered his head. “I was deceived by surface impressions and harbored disrespectful thoughts about you without understanding your true intentions. Please forgive this foolish one.”
“Warrior-Captain-dono, there is no need to worry about that.”
“Even so, if I am not punished for my foolishness, it will stick like a thorn within my heart.”
Raeven’s face seemed to say “really?” and then he shook his head. After that, he laid sentence upon Gazef.
“I understand… then, from now on, I shall not address you as Warrior-Captain-dono, but as Gazef-dono. Consider that a token of my respect towards you.”
It was a punishment that couldn’t even qualify as a punishment.
A thought ― that he had eyes, but could not see ― started growing in his heart, and Gazef replied with sincere gratitude.
“Many thanks, Marquis Raeven.”
“Gazef-dono, think nothing of it. Then, let us begin discussing the direction in which the Kingdom will go from this day forth.”
Gazef passed through the main gate and reached the company stables on the outer ring of the city. He exhaled deeply, to relieve the fatigue clouding his mind.
He was exhausted.
The meeting he’d just attended made him acutely aware that he was a mere commoner.
As he stood by the King’s side and moved through noble society, he’d gradually come to understand the way they thought.
Even so, he frequently encountered responses and attitudes that only those born and bred to the nobility would understand. Gazef couldn’t understand why they would think that way, especially the concept of valuing the pride of the nobility over concrete benefits.
Or no, even more inscrutable than that was the idea of prioritizing one’s pride over one’s citizens.
Gazef slowly scanned his surroundings.
The soldiers, shouting as they ran back and forth… they were the people. The people of the Kingdom, arriving from villages all over the country to fight this war. Although they didn’t look too reliable as soldiers, that was unavoidable; their hands were meant to hold hoes and shovels.
Protecting them should have been the duty of the ones who ruled over them.
If they handed E-Rantel over, they would be hurting the people who lived within the city, just like the King said.
Gazef recalled the image of Ainz Ooal Gown, wearing his strange mask.
He had returned to Carne Village just after dusk, with no sign of having fought a hard battle.
That was right. The two of them had easily defeated the enemies which had utterly decimated Gazef and his troops.
As expected of the superior being who titled himself the Sorcerer King.
Rather than fight him directly ― no, that would only make the people suffer.
Gazef cursed, unable to find an answer. What should he do? Confusion on the battlefield was a sign of impending death. Even the man hailed as the strongest in the region could still die if he could not focus.
And on top of that, his opponent was Ainz Ooal Gown.
It was true that he hadn’t witnessed the battle which had saved Carne Village. And he himself hadn’t said he’d won, just that he’d chased them off.
But anyone could tell that was a blatant lie.
“Speaking of which… why did he have to lie that they’d run off?”
After Ainz and Albedo had left, he went to the plains where they had fought, but he found no signs of a slaughter. He couldn’t find a single corpse, but burying dozens of bodies would have been very time-consuming. Without bodies ―without physical evidence― the statement of “they ran away” gained credence.
However, that was assuming Ainz Ooal Gown had not used magic. Who knew, there might be spells which could teleport bodies away or destroy them.
In addition, Gazef had a hunch.
Although it stemmed purely from his warrior’s instinct, but when he saw the uninjured Ainz return to the village, he could smell the faint scent of death rising up from him.
Rather than say “he let them flee”, it would be more accurate to say “he let them live”.
Because of that, Gazef trusted his instincts over what Ainz had said. There was no basis or evidence for this at all. The bodies of the Sunlight Scripture were nowhere to be found, but they were not dead.
“…I don’t get it…”
The magic caster, who could annihilate without taking a scratch the opponents Gazef had lost to.
How powerful was he? At the very least, Gazef and his warrior band were no match for him.
If a being like that appeared on the battlefield and used his magic, what would happen?
Gazef once more looked at the people, filled with excitement, fear, desperation and frustration.
Between two magic casters using magic of the same tier, the stronger magic caster would naturally be able to bring forth a more powerful spell.
Then, what horrors would result if Ainz Ooal Gown was to cast a ‘Fireball’?
The fathers who had to feed their infant children, the sons who had to support their ailing parents, the youths about to be married, all these people who had left their families behind to come here. How likely was it that they could take an attack like that?
It would be impossible, right?
Nobody could possibly survive when a great magic caster like that raised his hand to strike.
They would be incinerated by fire, frozen solid by ice, or electrocuted by lightning. That was beyond question.
Then, what about Gazef? Could he take it?
He was fairly certain he could take one hit without dying.
However, that sort of thinking might be too naïve.
“Ahhhh… why did it all turn out like this?”
Fighting against Ainz Ooal Gown was a mistake.
Gazef felt that Ainz Ooal Gown was not a monster, given the way he had saved Carne Village. Yet, at the same time, he sensed that he was no ordinary good Samaritan. The impression he had of Ainz was that he would show no mercy to those that opposed him.
What the Kingdom should have done was avoid conflict with him and treat him with politeness. After that, he might have been amenable to selecting a different location.
As Gazef looked out on the people surrounding him, a weighty feeling in his heart, he caught sight of a white-armored youth from the corner of his vision. Along with him was a swordsman who seemed to float lightly on his feet. It was Climb and Brain.
There was a third person behind them, and they were eagerly discussing something.
“Who’s that? I feel like I’ve seen him before… ah! He’s one of the formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurers under Marquis Raeven.”
Because they were all commoners, Gazef was familiar with the former adventurer team, given that they were the ones whom the common folk pinned their hopes on. In some ways, they were his seniors, the ones who had come before him.
The paladin of the Fire God, whose job class excelled in battling evil-aligned monsters, the Evil Slayer, Boris Axelson, aged 41.
The priest of the Wind God, a warrior priest that could hold his own in combat with any fighter, Yorlan Dixgort, aged 46.
The warrior who incorporated dancing swords into his four-sword style, Francen, aged 39.
The scholar who became a magician that had created several magic items bearing his name, Lundquist, aged 45.
And finally, the thief known as ‘The Unseen’, Lockmeyer, aged 40.
Gazef recalled them as he counted them off on his fingers. The one chatting idly with Climb was the thief, Lockmeyer. Speaking of which, he’d apparently worked with Climb and Brain during the demonic disturbance, helping them infiltrate enemy territory to rescue people.
They didn’t seem to have noticed Gazef, but it felt wrong to just barge in like that.
That being said, it would still be rude to not greet them at the very least. Besides, they would all be heading to the battlefield soon. Although the chances of them entering combat were low, given that they would be protecting the King, one never knew what might happen.
―It might be the last time they ever saw each other again.
If possible, he wanted to have a private chat with the two of them. As though the world was granting his wish, Lockmeyer waved to the two of them and departed.
Climb and Brain were left, laughing over something.
During the demonic disturbance in the capital, the bonds between the two of them had grown strong. Be it as friends or disciples or companions, they had built a complex and mutually positive relationship.
And it was because of that relationship that Brain was now a comrade of Climb, a soldier under Princess Renner.
Gazef could not help regretting the fact that he had allowed a warrior who could have rivalled him to be snatched away.
However, he managed to calm down as he watched the two of them.
Gazef smiled as he approached the pair.
Speaking of which, that’s a really flashy suit of armor. It’s still all right in the capital, but on the battlefield he’ll be easy to notice. Should I warn Climb about that?
There were many soldiers on the battlefield, but Climb stood out among them because almost none of them wore full plate armor. On top of that, his armor was painted a bright white. Bowmen would aim at him, and cavalry would use him as a target. Although Climb was somewhat stronger than the average Imperial knight, there were still warriors who were stronger than him. The Four Knights of the Empire were one such example.
If I’m not wrong, Princess Renner gave him that armor… she must not be very familiar with the battlefield if she ordered it painted in that color.
She might be good with tactics, but it would appear she was out of touch with the realities of the battlefield.
If Climb dies, she’ll be sad…
With magic, they could temporarily change the color of the armor, and return it to normal once they returned to the capital.
He approached the two of them from behind while he was thinking of this. Brain turned his face, and his hand reached for the hilt of his katana.
As expected of Brain. He could sense me from a distance like this.
Metal armor made noise when its wearer was in motion.
It would not be strange for people to notice and react to the sound if it drew close to them.
However, there were many people here, all preparing for battle. Under these noisy circumstances, while focusing on making one’s way forward, noticing any other sounds would be very difficult. Of course, a thief with specialized training would be a different matter.
Brain widened his eyes. Then, he glanced at Climb and grinned, as if he had pranked him.
Although Brain seemed to have gotten the wrong idea, this was fine as well.
While smiling the same way Brain did, Gazef drew closer, trying not to make noise as he advanced, slowly shortening the distance between himself and the still-unaware Climb. Although he had not been trained in moving silently and was wearing metal armor, Climb still had not noticed him, and seemed to be discussing something with Brain.
His challenge was to reach the spot directly behind Climb’s back, which he succeeded in doing.
Gazef brought his hand down in a gentle chop, directly onto Climb’s unguarded head.
Climb stumbled back while squeaking in a thoroughly unmanly way. As his eyes recognized Gazef, they goggled open.
“This! Isn’t this Strono―”
After Climb swallowed his half-formed words, Gazef continued.
“Quiet. Revealing my identity here will be very troublesome. Just call me Gazef.”
Although he was the Warrior-Captain, many villagers from the rural areas of the Kingdom did not know what he looked like. Who knew, in their imaginations, the Warrior-Captain might be two meters tall, bearing a gigantic sword, and armored in a suit of shining golden plate armor.
Gazef did not want to dash their expectations, and besides, drawing attention would be annoying.
“I-I apologize for my lack of―”
“No, you did nothing wrong,” Gazef said as he interrupted Climb’s apology with a wry grin. Then, the grin took on a new meaning.
“Although, I have to say that you need to be more alert. After all, you did miss someone in full plate armor sneaking up on you. Still, there shouldn’t be any enemies here.”
“What are you saying, Gazef? Being relaxed isn’t necessarily bad. Being wound too tight is.”
“Then, Brain, how did you discover me from so far away?”
“Isn’t that obvious? There was a strange presence in the air.”
Gazef noticed that Climb was looking at Brain and himself with eyes full of surprise.
“Climb, as Princess Renner’s personal guard, you need to be able to sense presences like that. If you miss a hidden assassin, your charge will be hurt.”
“Ah, so that’s what it is. I was wondering what you were up to. Now I see. Climb-kun, if I’m not wrong, you’re using a self-invented style, right? Does that include presence sensing?”
“Ah, no, it doesn’t. I focused on combat techniques. My apologies.”
“I wasn’t scolding you. I just wanted to make sure. To be honest, I used to be like that in the past as well. It’s easy to forget about practicing sensory skills like that when you train by yourself. That’s a dangerous habit. After all, a lot of the time you won’t have a straight fight against an attacker that you know about.”
Gazef’s face was a little red. The look on his face as he glanced at Brain seemed to say, “You didn’t have to tell him that here.”
In the first place, training young warriors was also a duty of the Warrior-Captain. He felt ashamed that he could not accomplish that.
Because Climb had been born a commoner like him, it was important not to let the nobles see them falter while in service to the royal family. For example, if Gazef crushed Climb in a spar, the nobles would whisper that Climb was not worthy of protecting the Princess. Meanwhile, if Gazef stumbled against Climb, they would turn their malicious gossip on him.
That was why he was ashamed of himself; for abandoning the young swordsmen to serve the King, and because he was called a good man even though his deeds were not all that amazing.
No, I shouldn’t feel ashamed. If I have the time to do that, I should―
“―Ah, never mind, I’ll leave it at that. Since you’ve been so kind as to point out Climb’s weaknesses in front of me, I’ll do my best to beat them out of him.”
“Thank you, Gazef-sama.”
“…Would you mind not being so formal? You serve the royal family like I do ― that makes you my subordinate. Even so, I have not guided you, and have instead passed that job to someone else. You need not thank someone like that.”
The more Climb thanked him, the guiltier he felt.
“Isn’t that a pain in the ass, being someone with a foot in noble society. People drag you back for pointless things, and you can’t even do the things you want.”
“Since you’re Climb’s comrade, protecting Princess Renner alongside him, doesn’t that make you one of those people as well?”
“I’m not nearly as tight-assed as they are. Being that princess-dono’s flunky or… no. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Being the Princess’ guard is only a temporary thing. Once I’m tired of it, I’ll move on.”
Brain smiled, his expression as cool and clear as the autumn sky. The rain-drenched wreck of a human being Gazef had seen in the capital was nowhere to be seen.
He was envious of how Brain could live in such a free-spirited way.
“Come to think of it, is it alright for you to chat idly with us, Gazef-sama?”
“Well, I’m actually kind of busy right now. I just wanted to take a break… say, are you two free?”
Brain and Climb looked at each other in response to Gazef’s question.
“Yeah, I guess. Don’t have much that needs doing, just prepping my wargear.”
“Then, I hope you… right,” Gazef said as he looked to one of the watchtowers on the city walls. “Want to head over there?”
Nobody refused, and Gazef led the way.
As the Warrior-Captain, no soldier stopped him. In this way, they made it to the place Gazef had in mind, the place with the best view in the city.
E-Rantel’s outermost walls were the highest point in the city Which was to say, they had the best scenery and one could see furthest from there.
And because the air warmed by the many bodies below them did not reach this place, the cool, fresh air brought by the winter wind refreshed their bodies.
“What a great view!”
Climb exclaimed in heartfelt delight as he looked toward the southeast.
“These are the Kattse Plains, right?”
“Correct. They’re shrouded in mist all year round, and the undead wander around there. In a few days, it’ll be our battlefield as well.”
After answering, Gazef took a deep breath and then let it out forcefully. The fresh air filled his body, and he hoped it would drive out the uneasy feelings he had about Ainz Ooal Gown.
“This is a magnificent view. It was worth becoming the princess’ subordinate for this. Is this what magicians who can use the ‘Flight’ spell see all the time? No wonder they have so many crazy people among them.”
“Do you think their perspective changed after seeing the wide world?”
“I doubt it. Why don’t you bring a few nobles up here and see it if works? If they don’t change their tune, we’ll chuck them off the side of the wall. Either way, it all works out.”
Gazef smiled wryly at Brain’s joke. If people could be changed this way, he would drag them over in chains if need be.
Climb looked like he did not know how to respond, which made Gazef feel better.
“Ha… Coming here with you guys was the right thing to do. I feel relieved now.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. Then… why did you call us out here? Are you sure nobody’s watching us? Don’t tell me you gathered three strapping men together just to look at the scenery? Or is there someone you want dead?”
Brain’s sudden surge of aggression perturbed Gazef.
“Well, I guess I won’t be able to protect the Princess and it’ll be a shame to not be able to train Climb any more… but Gazef, I owe you. I’ll do any dirty deed you want with a smile on my face.”
Brain wasn’t kidding. The look in his eyes was serious.
“It’s nothing like that, Brain. I don’t want you to do that sort of thing.”
“…You do know my hands aren’t exactly spotless, right?”
“Indeed, they aren’t. Brain, your sword was quenched in blood. However, so was mine.”
“In your case, it was the blood of the Kingdom’s enemies, right? I’m the result of my own desires, and the blood I’ve shed is nothing like yours.”
“…Are you trying to atone for your sins?”
“No, nothing like that. I’ve done all sorts of things to beat you. I dedicated my life to it. But even after finding out that the goal I’ve been working toward is nothing special, I don’t feel any guilt for what I’ve done. But because you were kind to me, I want to return the favor. That’s all there is ― don’t think too much about it.”
“Then, my request is that you not think of doing such things. Besides, what did you mean by ‘kind to you’? Was it when we met again in the Capital?”
Brain’s answer was a bitter smile.
“Don’t worry about it, I just felt like you helped me out.”
“The more you tell me not to worry about it, the more I end up worrying about it…”
In the face of this unyielding refusal, Gazef decided to change the topic.
“Ah, speaking of which, you do know I had no particular reason for bringing you here, right?”
Climb spoke, but Brain merely raised an eyebrow.
“…I was just thinking that it would be good for the three of us to have a chat while we had some free time, and that this was the only place where I could take my time to talk without worrying about what others would think of me. If we were in the capital, we could have a quiet drink too.”
“What, that’s really it? I thought you had some secret orders for me…”
“No, it’s not like that. How shall I put it…”
We could die at any time on the battlefield, and this could be the last time we see each other. Yet, how could he say such inauspicious things?
“Never mind. Oh, that’s right, Climb, that armor is extraordinarily distinctive. Wouldn’t it be better to paint it a different color? As it is, you might become a priority target on the battlefield.”
“I’m sorry, Stronoff-sama, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Climb’s quiet refusal was delivered with an iron determination.
“When I wear this distinctive armor and achieve excellence on the battlefield, I will bring credit to Princess Renner. In addition, many of the nobles know I wear white armor. If I change its color because I fear death, I will become the butt of jokes for them, and it will reflect badly on the Princess as well. Rather than that, I would prefer to meet my fate bravely on the battlefield, and serve her in death as well as in life.”
As he looked into Climb’s eyes, Gazef swallowed the words he wanted to say.
“Princess Renner doesn’t want you to die.”
“Don’t confuse bravery and foolhardiness.”
“Endure a little hardship now for a better future.”
He had prepared all these lines beforehand, but none of them were persuasive enough to change Climb’s mind.
It was as Climb said. His armor was like Princess Renner’s flag. His heroic actions would improve her standing, and conversely, shameful actions would stain her reputation as well.
Climb had been saved by Princess Renner, and in his heart was the notion that “my life belongs to the Princess”. Gazef had no way to shake that kind of conviction.
It was the same sort of thing as his loyalty to the King, and therefore―
“I would gladly throw my life away for Princess Renner.”
Gazef had no idea how to respond to the youth who had already made up his mind.
“Oi, oi, oi. Why’re you saying this like you’re going to die at any time? Don’t worry, Gazef, I’ll keep an eye on Climb. I won’t let him do anything stupid. No matter what kind of trouble he gets into, I’ll pull him out of it.”
“If it were only the Four Knights of the Empire, there’s no question you’d win, Brain. However… against that man, Ainz Ooal Gown… I fear even you would lose your life.”
“…Is Ainz Ooal Gown really that powerful? Ah, I remember you mentioned him before at your place.”
After the demonic disturbance, Gazef and Brain had discussed how their lives had gone ever since the grand tournament over wine. That was how Ainz' name had come up.
“I can confidently say no Imperial knight can beat you. The Four Knights, strong as they are, will be no match for you. Even if the Empire’s mightiest magic caster, Fluder Paradyne, took the field, you could probably escape if luck was with you. But against Ainz Ooal Gown-dono… Brain, I’m sorry, but your life will end there.”
“That strong, huh. How powerful is he, really?”
“…All I can say, Brain, is that he’s beyond your imagination. And then you can take whatever you imagine after that and multiply that by a few times.”
“Well, if he’s that strong… I wonder if he could stand against Sebas-sama?”
“Sebas? Is that the old man Climb was speaking of? Although that old gent does seem to be astonishingly powerful, I still feel Gown-dono would be stronger than him.”
“I find that hard to believe, personally. I honestly can’t imagine anyone could be stronger than Sebas-sama… but more importantly, why do you address an enemy with such respect?”
“He is a worthy enemy. Although, saying that would be troublesome for the King, given the person of whom I speak.”
“You’ve done a great deal for us, Warrior-Captain-sama. Climb-kun, you’ve done your fair share for the Kingdom. As for me, I’m okay with anything. That air-headed Princess-sama is really too kind for her own good.”
Words like those suited Brain well. However, his attitude toward the royal family couldn’t be dismissed just like that.
Although the Gazef Stronoff who was a loyal vassal of the King might have knotted his brows in annoyance, the Gazef Stronoff who was a warrior would only laugh at the man’s boldness.
If someone else were watching, he would have had to scold Brain, but right now, only the three of them were here. That meant that he only needed to be his warrior-self now.
“Although it’s true Princess Renner is too free… well, enough of that. I’ll understand if Climb doesn’t want to repaint his armor. Then, please take care of yourselves.”
“I’m extremely grateful for the concern everyone has shown me. However, Princess Renner told me before that I would need to work hard to match this suit of armor. So, although I am very sorry I cannot meet your wishes, I will not be changing my mind.”
“Is that so? Then I guess that’ll do.”
The cool wind blew past the three of them. The sky was a nearly-translucent shade of blue. It didn’t feel like a war was about to break out at all. Against this backdrop, Gazef saw Climb, with a serious look on his face. As he thought about not letting too many people die, his heart was filled with joy and sadness.
As though to wipe these feelings away, Gazef decided to change the topic.
“Speaking of which, what were you two talking about just now?”
Brain and Climb looked at each other, and then Brain spoke for them.
“Well, you know we’re not like you, we’re free, to some extent. So anyway, I was the one who started it. Climb was just following me around. Though there was one more person, Lockmeyer, I had him show us around. And we were planning to look up the messiah of the capital, that adamantite-ranked adventurer. We heard he was based in this city, so we decided to visit him.”
“Oh, Momon-dono, am I correct?”
“Right, right, that’s him. I saw him in passing in the capital. I heard them calling him the mightiest warrior ever―”
Here Brain’s attitude changed. He was more serious now.
“―So I wanted to discuss some things with him.”
Gazef repeated the word like a parrot learning to speak. Brain’s expression was hard to read.
“About that vampire. Shalltear Bloodfallen.”
The almighty vampire, who had shattered the spirit of Brain Unglaus, Gazef’s rival.
She was a monster that humanity could not defeat, and she had appeared in the Capital.
Brain thought she might have had something to do with Jaldabaoth, but―
“…Did you know there was another vampire here, Henyupenyuko, who was defeated by an exotic magic item used by Momon-dono? Apparently, a part of the forest was destroyed by a large explosion, and when Momon-dono returned, his armor was covered in the signs of a great battle.”
Gazef had heard that much from the Mayor.
“Ah, yes, I’ve heard of it too. That’s why I wanted to speak with him. To begin with, in my opinion, Shalltear Bloodfallen is a being that not even an adamantite-ranked adventurer could beat. And not that I suspect him or anything, but I wanted to ask if he dealt it a fatal blow. And I was also interested in Henyupenyuko as well.”
“You mean, there might be other vampires like that around?”
“That’s right, Climb-kun. From what I’ve learned, Momon is chasing two vampires. I wanted to confirm if they’re Henyupenyuko and Shalltear.”
“And then what happened?”
“Well, about that…”
“Unfortunately, he wasn’t around. He was out of the city because of a request. I have no idea when he’s coming back.”
“Well, that is a shame. I didn’t have any luck either. I didn’t have a chance to speak with Momon-dono. If I had some time, I’d like to talk to him. If nothing else, I’d like to thank him for saving the Capital.”
“Is that so? Then… after this war’s over, why don’t we go together? If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to see him. Climb-kun, want to come with us?”
“I would love to!”
“Marvellous. Well, it looks like I have something to look forward to after this war’s over. An adamantite-ranked warrior. I’ll be able to learn a lot, I’ll bet.”
“Indeed. We’ll definitely learn something. What kind of enemies he’s fought with… I look forward to hearing about his deeds of valor!”
“Well, this is unexpected. Gazef, you like this sort of thing?”
“Ah, yes. After all, I am a warrior; it’s only natural that I’d be interested… So you’d better come back safe, all right?”
Gazef turned his eyes toward the Kattse Plain.
“There’s a tavern in the Capital with excellent food. Once this war is over, we’ll go there to celebrate. The money I saved up is meant for times like that.”
“Let’s hope we’re going there to celebrate victory.”
Brain walked up to Gazef’s side, and looked in the same direction as him.
“Then, well, about that… could I come too?”
“Climb-kun, can you drink?”
Although the Kingdom’s laws did not technically set a legal age for drinking, nobody would sell alcohol to a boy of fifteen.
“No, I haven’t, so I’m not sure.”
“Is that so? Well, then you should drink a little and see. There may come a time when you need to drink with others, like now.”
“Indeed. It might be good to try drinking for the first time before that.”
“I understand! Then, I hope you will let me accompany you.”
“Good! Then, may the three of us return here safely. Don’t lose your lives without a good reason!”
Brain and Climb nodded in response to Gazef’s words.
A crimson expanse. A barren wasteland, devoid of almost all vegetation. A bloody land of death.
The Kattse Plains ― a place where the undead and other monsters wandered, feared as a place that was inimical to life.
The most dangerous thing was the thin mist that wrapped around its monsters no matter the time of the day. This fog carried faint traces of the energies which caused undead reactions.
By itself, the mist did nothing to living creatures. It did not absorb life energy, nor was it harmful. However, because the mist registered as an undead creature to spells, it produced false positive reactions which foiled attempts to detect other undead beings, and as a result many adventurers had been ambushed by undead while inside it.
However, there was no mist now. Visibility was excellent and one could see a long way. It was as though the land was welcoming the combatants of the upcoming war onto itself as future undead.
The undead had dispersed with the fog, and none of them could be seen. There were no living creatures present, and a deathly silence reigned over the plains.
Collapsed towers, built hundreds of years ago, jutted out from the earth like scattered tombstones. Of course, none of them was intact.
The towers were originally six floors high, but everything above the third floor had collapsed, and the debris was everywhere. Less than half of the thick walls were left. The cause was not so much weathering as battles between monsters.
Scenes like these existed side by side with normal grass-covered plains, separated only by an invisible line. This was why the Kattse Plains were called cursed land.
The sun shone on the land which had not seen its light for nearly a year. As though to look down on this piece of unhallowed domain, a vast structure loomed high on the other side of the land ― the world of the living.
It was built with huge logs that were nowhere to be found on the surrounding plains, with sturdy walls that seemed to deny passage to everything in its vicinity. It was ringed by shallow ditches that were nevertheless carefully excavated and filled with sharpened stakes. This was to ward against unintelligent undead.
On the other side of the ditch flew countless flags. Of these, the most numerous were the Empire’s flags ― bearing the insignia of the Baharuth Empire.
That was only to be expected. After all, this building, this castrum, was the Imperial Army’s Kattse Plain garrison base.
The Empire had mobilized 60'000 knights for this operation. The garrison could house all of them, which itself spoke volumes about the base’s size. And this formidable castrum, as mighty as a fortress, was built on a piece of easily defended terrain.
It was built on top of a hill. This hill was not native to the Kattse Plains, but built up entirely through magical landscaping.
Even the Baharuth Empire, which used magic casters as a part of their national defense, could not complete work like this in a short time. This structure had been built over a period of several years.
Originally, this place was intended to be the starting point of invasions targeting E-Rantel. That was to say, this massive castrum had been built with the intention of withstanding an extended siege by the Kingdom’s hundreds of thousands of troops.
The Kingdom had no answer to the creation of this castrum, simply because they had no spare manpower or resources to attack the garrison.
Although they would unite when the Empire invaded their own country, when it came to launching an invasion, there were several problems to consider ― that each faction had their own things to worry about besides invasion, that they would not gain usable land, and that whoever did this would be paying for the invasion out of their own pockets.
In the end, none of the nobles would bother unless they were in the line of fire.
Three griffons flew in the skies above that massive castrum. They began with a wide aerial orbit, followed by a slow descent. Any knight would know that this was the way a unit of the ‘Imperial Air Guard’ ― troops under the Emperor’s direct command ― saluted while in flight, which was to say their ceremonial descent was meant to show that emissaries of the Empire had arrived.
On the surface, there were around ten mounted knights in a circular formation, each raising the Imperial flag. This was the return of the salute from the ground ― the ceremony for welcoming an Imperial agent. The griffins landed in the center of the circle, and the accuracy of the landing was a test of the riders’ skills, but all three passed with flying colors, which showed the excellence of their ability.
After landing, the Imperial emissaries revealed themselves. Although these knights were tasked with maintaining the appropriate gravitas during these ceremonial welcomes, their surprise at the oddity of these emissaries surprised them to the point where the flags they were holding wavered.
The reason for this wavering was the man who was dressed in a manner completely unlike the other two people accompanying him.
Once he removed his helmet and revealed his handsome features, everyone immediately knew who he was.
His blond hair was slightly tossed by the wind, and his eyes were as blue as the sea. His mouth, which suggested an iron will, was tightly shut. He was the picture of the perfect knight.
There was nobody who didn’t know who this knight was.
More importantly, there was nobody who didn’t know about the armor he wore. It was made of the rare metal adamantite, and further enchanted into a suit of magic full plate armor. There were only a few suits of armor like this in the Empire.
The wearer of this armor was one of the highest-ranking knights in the Empire.
One of the Empire’s Four Knights, “Gale” Nimble Ark dale Anock.
In a gallant voice that matched the image he projected, Nimble addressed one of the knights.
“I seek your commander, General Kabein of the Second Legion. Do you know where he is?
“Sir! General Kabein is in a meeting now to plan the offensive against the Kingdom! I will have Anock-sama escorted to the General’s praetorium!”
“I see. Then… has Sorcerer King Gown-dono arrived here as well?”
“Sir! No sir! The Sorcerer King-dono has not been sighted here.”
Since word had been sent and had arrived faster than him, Nimble sighed in relief.
“Then, may I ask you to lead the way? There is a matter that I must entrust to him.”
Nimble slowly closed his hands around something concealed in a breast pocket.
♦ ♦ ♦
Nimble was brought to a luxurious tent, where he waited for almost an hour, in the company of numerous guards, until the owner of the tent returned.
He was a middle-aged man whose hair was pure white, and he had a kindly air about him.
Although he was armored like all the other knights, he gave off a completely different impression from them. One could say that he looked like a noble, rather than a soldier.
The smile on his face made him seem even more like a noble than a knight. His voice was gentle, far too out of place on a grim place like the battlefield.
Nimble responded in the approved ceremonial fashion.
Natel Inyem dale Kabein.
He was a noble who had lost his chance to get ahead in the peerage, but he had been recognized by the previous Emperor for his talents, and placed in command of the Second Legion. Although he was not possessed of martial valor as a person, he was famed for his ability to command, with rumors saying that he had never lost a battle. With him in command, the Second Legion enjoyed very high morale.
The knights accompanying Kabein were unable to hide their respect for him.
“I do not know how to begin thanking the general-dono, who came all this way to see me even though he is the supreme commander of this expedition.”
The Imperial Army was divided into eight legions, and every legion’s commanding officer was bestowed the title of “general”. The general of the First Legion was known as the Field Marshal, and he was the commander-in-chief of the entire Imperial Army.
If the First Legion ― if the Field Marshal was not present, the general of the next legion would assume his position as the overall commanding officer. That was to say, General Kabein of the Second Legion was in command of the entire Imperial Army.
“No, no, Nimble. Dispense with the formalities. You’re here on his Imperial Majesty’s orders, right? You’re not under my command. You need only speak to me as an equal.”
Even as he said that, Nimble smiled bitterly.
The Imperial Army was loyal first to the Emperor, and then the generals.
The Empire’s Four Knights, its strongest fighters, would often be tasked with carrying out the Emperor’s will. In terms of authority, they would be considered equal to a general. However, in terms of age, experience and prestige, none of them were equal to Kabein. It would be difficult for them to be equal when an outsider was present.
Kabein smiled, as though he relished the disquiet on Nimble’s face.
“It itches at me that one of the Four Knights, the Empire’s mightiest warriors, should be so stiff and formal around an old man like myself. How about just dispensing with the honorifics?”
“Understood, General Kabein.”
General Kabein nodded, as though to indicate his approval.
“Although, you picked a good time to come. The mist has dispersed, as though welcoming you.”
“General Kabein, I think the welcome is not for me, but for the tragedy that is about to unfold. I shudder to imagine what will happen.”
“A tragedy, hm… Well, then, Nimble. Can you tell me what this war is meant to accomplish? Until now, our strategic objective has been to exhaust the Kingdom, but this time round, it’s different. Our current objective is to take E-Rantel by diplomatic means, and for that we will need to comprehensively defeat the Kingdom in battle.”
Kabein’s eyes hardened as he said this.
“…We face the largest army the Kingdom has ever mustered in recorded history. Although our knights are more than a match for any of the conscripts the Kingdom can field, said conscripts will be fielded in overwhelming numbers. An open field battle will result in many casualties. And all of this is for the purpose of seizing E-Rantel, which we will then immediately hand over to this Sorcerer King fellow. What is his Imperial Majesty thinking?”
“Before I answer this question, I hope you will dismiss everyone present.”
The old general opened his mouth as if to speak, then nodded his head instead.
“All of you are dismissed.”
Kabein’s vassals bowed as they retreated.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
“Wasting time would be foolish. Now, can you tell me why?”
“Yes. I was originally dispatched to inform the Field Marshal of the objective of this war.”
Nimble shifted himself in his seat.
“The objective of this war is to build good relations with the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown. As such, we are to obtain E-Rantel by any cost in lives, and then relinquish it at no cost to Ainz Ooal Gown, in order to strengthen the ties with both sides.”
“And so we will bleed dry the knight corps who protect our Empire, thus plunging it into danger, in addition to handing over E-Rantel. Is the Sorcerer King really worth all that?”
Kabein clasped his hands over his heart and closed his eyes. Then he answered.
“I understand. If this is his Imperial Majesty’s desire, then I shall carry it out.”
“You have my utmost gratitude.”
“There is no need for gratitude… though the approval of the Sorcerer King is another matter.”
“About that, I have a request,” Nimble said.
This was his main aim for coming here.
“We will request the Sorcerer King to cast a spell to begin the attack. I would ask you delay the knights’ charge until after that spell.”
“And what does that mean? Are we not supposed to buy the Sorcerer King’s sympathy with our blood?”
“Indeed, that is the idea. However, we also intend to investigate the power of the Sorcerer King. As such, we intend to have the Sorcerer King use the most powerful spell he is capable of. His Imperial Majesty has asked for this in order to see what manner of magic that might be.”
“…So, the Sorcerer King… he is an enemy?”
“You seem to understand. The Sorcerer King ―Ainz Ooal Gown― is an enemy of the Empire.”
“If that is the case, then I will have the knights charge the breach created by the Sorcerer King’s spell in order to widen it. But what kind of spell will that be? I hope it’s not a simple ‘Fireball’!”
“It is as you say. We must find out what he is capable of. However, we can probably assume it is more powerful than Paradyne-sama’s attack magic.”
Kabein’s eyes widened, but that was only for a moment.
“I see, I see. Although I find it hard to believe anyone could be more powerful than that mighty magic caster, but if he really possesses that sort of power, I can see why his Imperial Majesty would want to build good relations with him.”
Nimble remained silent.
“Slaying hundreds in a single stroke would be a mighty blow. It would be a good chance for a penetrating charge. With that kind of power at our side, we would take fewer losses.”
If only that were all, Nimble thought.
After speaking with his fellow members of the Four Knights, “Heavy Explosion” and “Lightning Bolt”, he realised that Ainz' power surpassed mortal imagination. He might be able to use a spell that slew thousands, perhaps tens of thousands if they were densely packed. Although that sounded suspicious to him, if the two of them had similar opinions, there was a high chance that it was true.
Just as Kabein said, losing the knights which policed the Empire would be a huge loss.
While it would be a joyous occasion if Ainz, their latent enemy, turned out to be toothless, just this once, he wanted to believe what his comrades had said.
“Ah, General. There’s another thing I want to ask you. The Sorcerer King will be bringing his troops to the front. I hope you will allow them to accompany you to the battlefield.”
“I see. How many thousand men does he have?”
“Forgive me for interrupting your conversation, Kabein-dono, Nimble-dono!”
A great cry rose from the knight outside the tent.
Kabein looked apologetically to Nimble, before speaking to the man outside.
The man who came in was a senior knight.
“What’s going on? Is it an emergency?”
“Sir! A carriage flying the flag of the Sorcerer King has arrived at the main gate. They request entry. Do we have permission to let them in?”
The knight’s eyes turned to Nimble, and then to Kabein. He nodded to Nimble.
“…Understood, let them through.”
“Sir! Then… do we need to inspect the carriage?”
Nobody could enter the garrison without being cleared by the sentries. The normal procedure was to use magic to check the personnel in question, to ensure they weren’t intruders disguised by illusions.
If this were the Kingdom, they would not have used magic for inspections. The reason why it was used here was because magic was a cornerstone of the Empire’s might. They were aware of the terrifying power of magic, and were thus vigilant against its use.
This was especially true for a huge military base like this which employed the latest magical technology. If these technologies were leaked, it might cause great harm to the Empire. Were Emperor Jircniv to show up in person, he would still be closely scrutinized by the guards.
As a result, even if the visitors were from an allied country ― no, precisely because they were from an allied country, they would be subject to inspection.
However, there were situations where such things would not be allowed.
Kabein glanced to Nimble again.
Weighed down by the oppressive atmosphere and the power of the item at his breast, Nimble could only smile bitterly in response.
“General Kabein, my apologies. They are extremely important guests to the Empire. As an exception among exceptions, permit them to enter as they are.”
Kabein’s face, which had borne a warm smile until recently, froze into an emotionless mask.
Nimble had given an order which superseded his own authority.
No matter how kind a man was, he wouldn’t be happy if his own people were given orders by someone else.
Nimble understood the reason for Kabein’s aggravation, but that was an order he had to give.
While Nimble was hesitating about whether to reveal the item he was concealing in his breast pocket, General Kabein spoke up.
“If it is the Emperor’s command, then we must obey. After all, the Empire and all within it are under the command of his Imperial Majesty.”
“I am very glad you understand, General.”
The object Nimble was holding onto was an imperial decree. It was written on parchment, and said that the bearer was empowered to act with the full authority of the Emperor. Its remit extended to everyone involved within this war. Within this war, Nimble would outrank Kabein, and would be able to decide the fate of the General as required.
For a moment, Nimble was relieved because he would not have to ruin the relationship between an elder officer that he respected. Then he tensed up again, because now was not the time to relax.
“Then, shall we go meet this Sorcerer King? After all he has received much favor from his Imperial Majesty, so surely he must be a man who can rival the great heroes.”
Personally, Nimble did not wish to go.
After speaking to the other Four Knights ―no, now they were only three, including himself― and remembering what they had said to him, Nimble’s expression turned bitter. However, he had no choice but to follow the General.
“Of course, General. Do allow me to walk with you.”
Outside the garrison, a magnificent carriage advanced, heralded by knights. What made onlookers gasp was the fact that the carriage had no driver, and that it was not pulled by an ordinary horse, but a monster which looked like a scaled horse.
Nimble addressed the surrounding knights and Kabein.
“Please present arms to our guest.”
<TL: Highest form of military salutation, reserved for senior officers and high ranking dignitaries.>
What? Nimble could imagine that was what all the soldiers and Kabein were thinking, given the expressions on their faces.
Diplomatically speaking, presenting arms to the heads of state of allied powers was basic common sense.
However, that common sense did not exist in military installations. To begin with, nobody would welcome foreign dignitaries in a military base.
Even within human nations, there would be squabbles and infighting. Nobody would be that open-minded.
Presenting arms to an outsider was something which should be done in a safe, open place, and not in a military installation. That was what the soldiers present must have been thinking.
There was another point.
It also meant that presenting arms would never take place on the battlefield.
This is because soldiers might think that the person their commanding officer was presenting arms to was superior even to him. That was one of the unspoken rules of the battlefield.
As one of the Four Knights, Nimble understood their feelings perfectly. However―
“Gentlemen, please present your arms.”
Nimble repeated himself in a voice which was underpinned by steel.
After that, he heard Kabein sigh.
“You heard the man, didn’t you? Present arms as the Sorcerer King approaches.”
Kabein’s orders calmed the disquieted soldiers. If it was an order, then all they had to do was follow. There was no need to think too much about it.
Nimble shot a thankful look at Kabein, but as he did, he noticed a pained expression on Kabein’s face. It seemed to say it might be hard on you, but it’s even harder on me.
The carriage stopped before them.
Nimble gasped, for more than one reason.
The first was because the carriage itself was breathtakingly beautiful. Its base color was a black that seemed to have been cut from the night sky itself, highlighted elaborate decorations which covered the entire chassis of the vehicle. Said decorations had the subdued radiance of pure gold and bronze, giving the whole an elegant, classy air. Although the embellishments might have been a little overdone, it did not reach the point of tackiness. Instead, it resembled nothing so much as a giant treasure box.
Nimble had ridden the Emperor’s personal carriage on occasion, and he was of the firm opinion that the one before him made the Emperor’s look like a haywagon.
The other reason which so surprised him was the beast pulling the carriage. It was a beast, because there was no way it could have been a mere horse. The creature gurgled softly, a liquid “gurururu” sound, and its sharp teeth could be seen in the slight opening of its mouth. Its entire body was covered in scales that seemed to belong to a reptile, and underneath those scales were prominent, rippling bands of muscle.
It was like a horse-shaped avatar of brutality and violence.
Everyone around it was filled with an acute sense of alarm. Nimble himself was starting to hyperventilate, and sweat broke out on his back and palms. The beast was that terrifying.
Amidst the storm of panicked breaths, the carriage’s door opened.
A dark elf girl alighted.
All thinking ground to a halt.
Nobody could speak. Their eyes were drawn irresistibly to her.
The girl holding her twisted black staff was adorable. When she grew up, she would surely break many hearts. Her beauty would be such that men would do anything for her. Even her demure expression was like a flower blossoming under the moonlight.
However, the things on her hands were utterly incongruous with the image she projected.
They were gauntlets.
The left gauntlet was an evil-looking thing that resembled the hand of a demon. It seemed to be made out of some sort of black metal, which was covered in twisted thorns. Its fingertips were sharpened into points, and the dirty radiance surrounding it resembled some sort of strange secretion. Just a single look filled all who saw it with a terror stemming from the depths of their souls.
In contrast, the right gauntlet looked like the pure, immaculate hand of a maiden. It was white in color and its slender proportions were covered in elaborate gold embroidery, which further emphasized its exquisite beauty. It drew the eye like bees to honey, and just like seeing a world-class beauty, the onlookers felt like they might lose their souls to it.
“A-Ah, Ainz-sama. I think we’ve arrived.”
“Have we now. Thank you, Mare.”
With that, another figure revealed itself.
In that moment, the air suddenly turned heavy and somber.
The bodies of every man present were covered in goosebumps. This was not hostility, but a feeling that was harder to describe.
Ainz Ooal Gown was dressed in the trappings that one would associate with an arcane magic caster. To begin with, he wore a jet-black robe, and on top of that, another black cloak, which was doubly curious. He held a staff, which was not as lavishly decorated as one might expect it to be. Around his neck was a silver necklace set with a gemstone. And on his face was a strange mask.
“We bid you and your entourage welcome, your Majesty, Sorcerer-King Ainz Ooal Gown.”
Nimble lowered his head. However, he didn’t hear anyone else following suit.
Despite knowing it was very rude, he had to turn behind to look.
The general and knights behind him were frozen in place. They had been utterly overwhelmed by the Sorcerer-King’s presence and could not move.
That much he could understand. However, if this went on, it wouldn’t turn out well.
In the end, it was the general who delivered the solution to Nimble’s predicament.
The roar belonged to Kabein. It was a crisp, bracing command that didn’t seem to suit a noble like himself, but which fitted his rank as a general perfectly.
“A salute! To his Majesty, the Sorceror King!”
The knights chorused their reply, and as one, they presented their arms to Ainz.
“I thank you for your welcome, you knights who are the pride of the Empire.”
It was a thoroughly mundane response, which made it that much more frightening. It felt like something monstrous was trying its best to act like a human being. Having heard of the face underneath the mask, Nimble experienced that sensation even more acutely than the others.
“Please raise your heads.”
The first time he said it, nobody responded.
“Can you not raise your heads?”
After the second time, they complied. After all, waiting until the third time was an honor only granted to one’s own ruler.
“Your Majesty, please forgive those who did not immediately raise their heads.”
A quick glance across the knights revealed that their lips were white and their faces were pale.
“They were so excited to see your Majesty that they forgot themselves.”
“No, I should be the one to apologize. I was excited because we would be heading to the battlefield. I hope you understand that I hold none of you at fault.”
Ainz cast off the black cape on his shoulders. The jet-black fabric flapped like a raven’s wings as it spread open. In that moment, the cold, oppressive air that surrounded him vanished like it had never been.
All that was left was an ordinary human being, with the presence of an ordinary human being.
It was frightening.
That was the emotion Nimble felt most keenly now.
He had heard of Ainz' monstrous nature from his comrades. Even so, the man standing in front of him seemed too ordinary, which only deepened his fear. He felt like a large predator was slowly drawing close to him.
The knights, who knew nothing, were probably beginning to sense the oddity of the situation. The air filled with a growing disquiet. Kabein seemed to understand. He didn’t use his mind, but his heart and soul. Through them he knew what sort of attitude he should hold toward the person in front of him.
“Please allow me, Nimble Ark dale Anock, to lead you to our field camp.”
“Is that so. Well, although I feel I have given you trouble, I am in your care.”
“Understood. Then, this is the commander-in-chief of this expedition, General Kabein.”
“I am Kabein, your Majesty. If you are inconvenienced by anything in this garrison, please inform me and we will immediately rectify it. Please, take your pick of the knights here to be your attendants…”
“There is no need for that. I have a subordinate here.”
He gestured to the dark elf girl.
“And I will provide for myself in case of any insufficiency.”
His true intention had been to assign minders to Ainz in order to keep him from doing anything strange in the base.
Yet, the answer had been a flat denial, an answer only the powerful could give.
However, given Kabein’s circumstances, he could not allow this sort of thing to happen. At this rate, they would never come to a consensus.
Although Nimble obviously supported Kabein, he could not leave this matter be.
“Is that so… your Majesty, please feel free to inform us if you require anything at all. General Kabein, I hope you will allow me to handle things from here.”
“Ah… there’s something I forgot to mention.”
“What’s the matter, your Majesty?”
“I believe that I am to open this battle with a spell. In that moment, I would like to have my troops participate in the battle as well. I hope you will permit this.”
“We could ask for nothing more.”
Since it had already been discussed, Kabein promptly acquiesced.
Yet, an unknowable impulse made him wrinkle his brow.
“…However, the battle will commence in several days, perhaps as early as tomorrow. From whence shall your forces arrive, your Majesty? We cannot wait too long…”
“That will not be a problem. They are already nearby.”
The answer raised doubts in Nimble’s heart. Looking at the sky, there didn’t seem to be any airborne troops approaching.
Kabein must have had the same suspicions as him. Naturally, the garrison was surrounded by an extensive security net. The approach of anyone apart from Imperial troops would be immediately reported to general-ranked personnel. Could it be that a report had been lost?
Nimble looked around, but it didn’t seem like anyone present knew anything about it.
“My apologies. No, saying they’re nearby would be a problem. Well, I just wanted to say they can arrive immediately.”
He still had questions, but he put them aside as Kabein continued asking, “How many troops will be coming?”
“Around five hundred.”
Although Kabein hid his reaction masterfully, Nimble could not conceal his own disappointment.
“General, will there be a problem integrating his Majesty’s unit with the Imperial Army?”
In order to demonstrate their loyalty to Ainz, the Empire had to shed oceans of its peoples’ blood. As such, Ainz' unit would have no chance to deploy, so putting them into the Imperial Army’s formation would be fine.
“If it’s just five hundred, then we won’t even have to rearrange our formation. As for the Sorcerer-King’s honor guard, perhaps we should leave that duty to his subordinate.”
He was trying to say, “Don’t be so eager to rush into the fray.” The Imperial army would have to go in first and take losses in order to prove their sincerity to Ainz, so letting Ainz' unit do too much would be troublesome.
Ainz nodded in acceptance of Nimble’s suggestion. Nimble sighed in relief, but when he thought about it calmly, that shouldn’t be logical. What could a mere five hundred troops do? In all likelihood they were merely an ornamental escort.
However, what happened next far exceeded Nimble’s predictions.
Having cast some kind of spell, Ainz seemed to be talking into thin air.
“Can you hear me― Shalltear? Open a ‘Gate’ to my position and then send the troops over.”
The eyes under Ainz' mask seemed to move.
“Good. General, I have summoned my unit.”
As he finished saying that, space warped.
A black, hemispherical object appeared behind Ainz' back.
Nimble remembered something about a ‘Gate’ being mentioned earlier.
The gate opened, and what came forth was―
The world went silent.
A strange absence of sound filled the surroundings. A wave of quiescence surged forth.
The five hundred troops revealed their forms. Compared to the 60'000-strong Imperial army, they were far too few. However, nobody could look down on these five hundred soldiers.
The unit of monstrous soldiers before them made that clear with their power.
“These are my troops.”
Before the silent audience, Ainz introduced his forces.
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