Editors: Ferro, Zack Tan, M, Namorax
The two armies formed their battle lines along the gentle slopes on the crimson plains, staring each other down.
The awe-inspiring army of the Kingdom was 245'000 men strong, divided into a left wing of 70'000 men, a right wing of 70'000 men, and a central column of 105'000 men, spread throughout the topography of three hills into their battle formation. However, this was not so much a disciplined formation, but more like brutality in the form of overwhelming numbers.
The foremost five ranks of infantry carried two-handed pikes, each one easily over six meters long, and had positioned themselves into a spear line.
Their job was to serve as a spiked wall for the rest of the army, in order to counter the heavy cavalry that comprised the core of the Empire’s fighting strength. They did not use anti-cavalry palisades for a simple reason; protecting that many people would require far too much wood. In contrast, the skillful deployment and use of ranked pikes would be more effective.
Although this formation was quite solid and presented many problems for any attackers, it had its weaknesses as well.
Since the formation was dense and the weapons carried were very heavy, it was all they could do just to stay in place and prevent enemy charges. As such, they lacked the ability to react quickly to enemy maneuvers, and if the Empire used bowmen or magic, their losses would be heavy.
Then again, not much more was expected from mere peasants. All that was required was that they deflect the first charge of the enemy.
On the other side, the Empire had 60'000 men.
Their numbers were vastly inferior to those of the Kingdom.
However, the Imperial knights were relaxed, without so much as a hint of fear. They did not feel they would lose at all.
This confidence was born from knowing their own personal strength.
Even so, it was a fact that there was a vast disparity in the military power of both sides. Although it would not be a problem if they could fight forever without fatigue, that was not possible for humans. Once they got tired, even a gap in individual ability could be closed easily.
The Kingdom also had one more advantage, and it was a massive one.
That was the value of an individual life.
Most of the Kingdom’s troops were composed of peasant levies. In contrast, the Empire fielded professional soldiers called knights. There was a huge difference in the time and money taken to train a peasant ―who was considered battle-ready if they could pick up a weapon and follow orders― and what was needed to produce a knight. Every loss by the Empire was more keenly felt than a similar loss by the Kingdom. The Empire simply could not afford to squander their knights in foolish offensives or wars of attrition.
With that in mind, an open field battle of attrition between the Empire and the Kingdom would be to the Kingdom’s advantage.
Because of this, the wars fought between the Empire and the Kingdom had typically been minor skirmishes.
The Empire’s objective would be accomplished simply by pulling the Kingdom’s serfs onto the battlefield. There was no need to waste the lives of nobles or skilled soldiers, and the Kingdom knew this as well.
This scripted pageantry was what passed for war between the Empire and the Kingdom.
Even if that magic caster called Ainz Ooal Gown took part, it would still end in a minor skirmish. That was what most of the Kingdom’s nobles thought. After all, the Empire’s knights were not just a military force, but a police force as well. Needless losses to them would threaten the Empire’s stability.
And so, the nobles awaited the Empire’s next move.
By tradition, the Imperial forces would parade before the Kingdom’s troops, and then fall back. The Kingdom would then sound a victory cry.
This was how it had always been.
The Imperial army was not moving.
There was no sign of movement from the fortress-like castrum, no maneuver of troops to array themselves before the Kingdom’s forces. It was as though they were waiting for the Kingdom to make the first move, or for something else.
“Nothing’s happening. What’s going on?”
This was at the main camp, where the King was. The main camp was positioned near the rear of the central column, behind a host of 105'000 soldiers.
Marquis Raeven stood beside Gazef, speaking to him as he surveyed the motionless Imperial knights from his observation point atop a hill that was slightly higher than the others.
If the Empire did not move, then neither could the Kingdom.
An attack by the Kingdom now would be extremely foolish, given that they had already formed their spear line. Of course, it had been tried before; a pre-emptive strike on the Empire’s nobles. However, the attackers had been slaughtered in short order, and the Kingdom had suffered significant losses as a result.
Ever since, the Kingdom’s preferred tactic against the Empire had been to form a spear line and prepare to receive a charge. If they could bait the enemy into coming over, there would be no need for risky forays.
“All right, then. looks like they’re waiting for us…”
“The final negotiations have broken down, so they should be joining battle soon… Warrior-Captain― Gazef-dono, do you have an idea on what the Empire might be waiting for?”
Thirty minutes ago, representatives from both armies had begun negotiations in the central area between them. Granted, that was simply a statement of ridiculous conditions from both sides that could hardly be considered a negotiation. Its true purpose was to show that each side was willing to avert war until the last moment.
Of course, negotiations would break down, and that would be the signal for the fighting to begin
Under normal circumstances, the Imperial Army should have begun moving out immediately. However, this was not the case and they remained stationary.
“Even if you ask me, I have no answer to give you. Do you know anything about this?”
“As if. I’m not too familiar with military matters. I usually let my subordinates handle those.”
“I find it hard to believe the learned Marquis would know nothing of his enemy.”
“Know nothing… Gazef-dono does not mince words.”
“Did I give you offense? I apologize if I did.”
“Hahaha, no, none was taken. It’s a far better tone than compared to back then.”
Gazef’s brow furrowed, as irritation crept over him.
“Hahaha. Take it for what it is. It’s a fact that I’m no general and that’s not a lie. I’m lucky that my subordinates are good leaders of men, so I left military matters to them.”
“Could it be… one of the former adventurers working for you, who became famous during the demonic disturbance in the capital?”
“Ah... no. They’re over there.”
Raven pointed to a group of five men standing together.
Although they were all well into their middle age, and their strength was not what it used to be, they had been orichalcum-ranked adventurers in their prime, and there was something about the way they carried themselves that made Gazef feel that he should take them seriously.
“They will be my bodyguards during the battle.”
“With men like these protecting you, Marquis Raeven, I’m sure you will have no problems returning safely to the capital… well, as long as they don’t confront that great magic caster. Right, then how about the strategist?”
“I don’t think Gazef-dono will know him, since he’s a commoner from my domain. I learned his name from the time when he used a village militia to defeat an attacking goblin force that was twice their size. Ever since, I’ve entrusted him with the command of my house troops and various other tasks. The big surprise is that he’s never once lost a battle. He’s also my aide.”
“...I’d like to see the commander that Marquis Raeven praises so highly. If he’s really everything you say he is, we might do well to give him command of the Kingdom’s armed forces.”
“If you gave it to him… gave him complete command of the military, and the Royal army moved together under his command, we might be able to make our neighbors sit up and say, ‘The army of the Re-Estize Kingdom is not to be underestimated’...”
Gazef exchanged a look with Raeven, sighed, and smiled.
“The nobles would never allow a commoner to rise to such a station. It’s nothing more than idle fantasy at the moment.”
“Certainly not while the nobles are divided into their factions.”
The Empire organized its legions by appointing a general over each one, under whom served division commanders, brigade commanders, and other officers, all in strict regimentation.
In contrast, the Kingdom’s armies were composed of the house troops and levies each of the Kingdom’s nobles could muster. The King was the overall commander, but each host would act as they saw fit.
In other words, it was a rag-tag bunch of misfits.
Although Gazef had the title of Warrior-Captain, in the end, he was only the commander of the King’s personal troops, and he had no authority to give orders to the nobles. While it was possible for the King to order the nobles to listen to Gazef, many nobles would resent having to take orders from a commoner, and it would sow the seeds of future grudges. The King was aware of this, and would not give any orders to that effect.
The two of them considered their places in the Kingdom, and sighed heavily. Then, they exchanged looks, and laughed.
This conversation should have been had elsewhere, not on the eve of the clash of swords and the spilling of blood.
“Even if we return home alive, there’s another battlefield waiting there...”
“I heard that’s what being a noble was all about?”
“After this is over, I’ll petition the King to raise you to nobility. It angers me that the King’s champion doesn’t engage the nobles as actively as he should.”
Although Raeven looked like he was joking, Gazef could tell from the light in his eyes that he was serious.
Revealing one’s emotions honestly was a cause for celebration when it came from someone who hid their feelings well, but it was a different story if it was not a positive emotion. Gazef quickly changed the subject.
“...Let’s leave that aside for now. Why don’t we bring that strategist of yours over, and hear his opinion… ah, calling him over will be difficult.”
“After all, he’s been entrusted with my base camp. I don’t dare move him unnecessarily while we don’t know what the Empire’s up to.”
Although the nobles had all pledged to work together for the Kingdom, in the end, Raeven’s holdings were still his top priority. It was only natural that he would refuse.
“Haaaa… although we’ve done it so many times it’s become routine, maybe this isn’t the right course for this particular situation. Although nobody wants the Empire to fight for real, if they’re really going to attack, then it would be better for us and our morale if we just got it over with.”
Gazef could sense the unease from the Kingdom’s army. As he tried to determine the cause, he furrowed his eyebrows.
“...I see. When you think about it, this might be an Imperial stratagem; get us worried enough for them to make their move. It’s difficult to coordinate and control so many soldiers, so even the slightest flinch in any unit could be magnified into a rout if it went on long enough. Massed troops are difficult to attack, but once they break and run, they’ll be easily hunted down and killed. That is the same principle animals use for hunting.”
A surprised Raeven followed Gazef’s line of sight to the worried-looking troops on the left flank, and then approval glowed on his face.
“That… it looks like they’re rotating the troops on the inside to the front line.”
“If only it was just a reorganization of the formation…”
“That’s Marquis Bowlrob’s flag. Looks like the left wing’s commander-in-chief is moving to the front.”
The Kingdom placed the nobles of the noble faction on both wings, while those of the royal faction were concentrated in the middle.
King Ranpossa III was the overall commander of the central column, while Marquis Bowlrob commanded the left wing.
“That’s strange, moving one’s command to the head of the formation. Do you see, Gazef-dono? The Marquis is using elite troops directly loyal to himself. His plan is to distinguish himself in combat against Imperial knights, under the eyes of the gathered nobles. That way he’ll make a reputation for himself as the lord of the strongest unit in the Kingdom.”
Raeven cast a challenging look to Gazef. Will you let someone else gain greater glory than your beloved warrior band, it seemed to say.
Gazef did not take the bait.
“The warrior band’s duty is to protect the King. We won’t move without the King’s direct command, even if the Empire sounds the charge. There is no greater duty for us than ensuring the safe return of the King to the capital.”
Gazef tapped the sword at his waist.
“Or perhaps, I should fend off the enemy’s attack by myself.”
“Is that… one of the four heirlooms of the Kingdom, Razor Edge… ah, I see.”
Marquis Raeven stepped back, and studied Gazef from top to bottom.
Gauntlets of Vitality, which negated fatigue. The Amulet of Immortal, which let him regenerate his wounds. Armor crafted of adamantite, the hardest metal known to man, and enchanted with magic that would deflect lethal blows. And finally, Razor Edge, a magic sword crafted with absolute sharpness in mind, which could carve enchanted metal like butter.
“Perhaps the greatest treasure of the Kingdom is yourself, fully equipped with the other treasures. I heard once that the Kingdom actually had five treasures, but it seems they had all been gathered from the start.”
Gazef blushed as he was praised as a treasure, even though he knew it was just pleasantry.
“Ah, give me a break, Marquis. The King is far greater than I am. His Majesty entrusted me, a commoner, with these items, even though he knew what that meant.”
“That’s a reasonable opinion. Frankly speaking, I felt it was a foolish move to grant the treasures to you, a commoner. All it would have done was to make more people abandon the Royal faction. However, now that we’re fighting together, I can’t help but think that it might actually be a masterstroke on the King’s part, but that’s just wishful thinking.”
“If only I could live up to your expectations…”
Gazef looked out at the serried ranks of the Imperial knights.
There was nobody he recognized as a strong adversary in the Empire, besides the Triple Magic Caster, Fluder Paradyne. Fully equipped like this, he might even be able to defeat Fluder, he thought grimly.
On the other hand, he did not feel like he had any chance at all of defeating Ainz Ooal Gown.
He could not even imagine the possibility.
No matter how hard he tried to be optimistic, to think of how he might triumph, the only thought that came to mind was of himself being instantly annihilated by the mysterious magic caster.
He knew he was the greatest warrior in the Kingdom. Allowing himself to appear weak would only lower the army’s morale.
“Ah, no… I was just thinking about poor Prince Barbro…”
“Poor Prince… could it be… I see. Is that so? Gazef-dono also feels… I see.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I mean, don’t tell me Gazef-dono feels that the King sent the prince to Carne Village so he could not distinguish himself…?”
“Is that not the case?”
Raeven smiled thinly.
“Mhm, well, I disagree. I feel that his Majesty has truly placed his trust in Gazef-dono.”
Marquis Raeven decided to explain when he saw Gazef’s completely clueless face.
“The King has acknowledged the power of Ainz Ooal Gown, the opponent that his most trusted vassal, the Warrior-Captain, is wary of. Rather than risk his beloved son in battle with an unknown quantity like that, he instead sent him to a safer place where he could accomplish something in relative safety... Although, to be honest, the old me would have been upset by the way one man his his son in a safe place while everyone else was sending their offspring to the battlefield.”
Raeven smiled in a fatherly manner.
“Of course, now I understand why he would do such a thing. I’d have done the same to ensure my son’s well-being.”
“Ah, Marquis. That’s a very fatherly thing to say.”
Raeven smiled. It was a smile that was equal parts gentle, happy and proud, a smile that Gazef felt was quite uncharacteristic of the man.
“Well, I am a father, after all. I promised my son that, after this battle’s over, I’m going to play with him as much as he wants, like a normal father. Ah — we’ve gone off topic. Let’s leave things at that. Although… it seems Prince Barbro doesn’t quite understand the King’s point of view. It feels a little sad how the father can’t get his feelings across to his son.”
Gazef agonized about how to answer him. It was hard for him, who had no children of his own, to put himself into that mindset.
“Right, right. By the way, is it possible that they might launch a sneak attack on E-Rantel with a separate force? Although it would be frowned upon, we can’t rule that possibility out.”
Gazef felt the topic change was incredibly forced from the moment he spoke, but to his surprise, Raeven ran with it.
“It’s not an easy matter to attack E-Rantel, defended as it is by its three layers of curtain walls. Even if the remaining two armies of the Empire mobilized in full, it would be a difficult task for them. My strategist says it’s not possible.”
“Is it? What if they had flying beasts, or a secret army of some kind?”
“Still not likely. It’s very difficult to take control of a city with a small number of men… Speaking of which, Gazef-dono. Do you know the condition required to successfully conquer E-Rantel?”
Gazef shook his head.
“One needs to face the Kingdom in open battle and gain an overwhelming victory. If the aggressors barely manage to triumph, governing the conquered populace will be difficult, to say the least. The citizens won’t respond well to the invaders and will rise up in revolt whenever possible. So even if the Empire used a separate force to attack E-Rantel, as long as our soldiers have their strength, they would immediately fight tooth and nail to take back their city. As such, the Empire needs a total victory. With that, the citizens will be frightened into abject submission, and the soldiers won’t be able to take action.”
In other words, the Empire had to win here. In addition, they had to achieve a victory so complete and absolute, that the Kingdom would not risk trying to take back E-Rantel.
Suddenly, Gazef had the feeling that he had all the pieces of the puzzle. However, putting them together was beyond him.
A dull annoyance tormented Gazef.
“What’s wrong, Gazef-dono?
Gazef wanted to tell Raeven about the scattered pieces of the puzzle that he’d managed to sweep together in his head. He believed that Raeven, with his superior intellect, could extract insights from them that he could not. However, at that moment, the Marquis’ eye turned back to the Imperial formation.
“Gazef-dono. It seems they’re making their move.”
The Imperial army parted in two. As Gazef was wondering if they were planning to attack the left and right wings of the Kingdom’s army, he saw an unfamiliar flag rising into the air.
It was a flag that Gazef had never seen before, adorned with a bizarre crest that belonged to neither the Kingdom or the Empire. The company raising the flag advanced.
All eyes were on that company.
And then... Gazef’s heart ran cold with terror. Raeven, who was standing beside him and saw the same thing he did, swallowed loudly. Knowing that he was not alone in his feelings, bitterness began rising at the back of his mouth, and his heart pounded madly.
A monstrous regiment.
What appeared was a group of roughly five hundred riders. It seemed entirely insignificant compared to the two armies facing each other down.
But those knights… they were highly unusual. They seemed to radiate an oppressive air that he could feel even from so far away.
It stirred up Gazef’s memories from his time in Carne Village. Ainz had said it was a knight he had created, but it was actually a monster. There were roughly two hundred of them, carrying gigantic shields and wearing spiked armor like he remembered from back then.
The rest were similarly inhuman soldiers, but they wore leather armor, and they were armed with axes, pikes, crossbows or similar weapons.
If the former were knights, then the latter could be called warriors.
But whatever they were, they were not human. They were monsters, down to the marrow of their bones.
Then, there were the creatures they rode. They were beasts made of bone, with tendrils of fog replacing their flesh and blood. The fog sparkled everywhere, pus yellow and emerald green.
Goosebumps sprouted all over his body.
This was bad.
This was very bad.
Gazef simply didn’t have the words to describe the situation more clearly than this.
“...the Empire has enlisted monsters into their ranks, it seems. This is quite surprising. It’s made me break out in goosebumps.”
“...No. No, Marquis Raeven. That’s not the case. What the Marquis feels now... what fills your body with said goosebumps… is definitely not surprise.”
“Then what would that be?”
Gazef curtly answered Raeven, who seemed completely lost for words.
“Death. The fear of death, that swells within everything that lives.”
Turning his eyes from the visibly shaken Raeven, Gazef looked at the Imperial Army.
“The horses are shying. Even these trained, hardened warhorses can’t bring themselves to advance against that fear.”
“...What are they? A secret division of the Empire?”
“...Impossible. Those monsters are not things that humans can control, let alone use!”
Gazef knew nothing about the true identity of these monsters, but his warrior’s instinct supplied enough information for him to speak conclusively.
“They… they must be the knights of Ainz Ooal Gown!”
“Is that… the army of the magic caster you feared?!”
“Marquis Raeven! Please gather the former adventurers immediately! In order to plan our next move, we need to borrow the experience of those who’ve battled many monsters and survived!”
He wanted to reply that he understood, but before that, his bodyguards had already sprung into action. However, that was only expected. They knew the threat they faced better than Gazef did.
The former adventurers rode over on horseback.
“Did you see it? Do you feel it?”
At the front of the adventurers was their leader, a paladin of the Fire God, Boris Axelson.
Within his voice was a thrill of fear he could not hide.
Raeven could not speak. Gazef understood why.
Murmurs of disquiet were rising up from the adventurers, and the massed armies gathered here.
This was no longer a time for etiquette. Gazef spoke to him.
“—Tell me! What is that? No need to greet me! Please tell me everything you know, now!!”
Boris clutched the holy symbol that dangled around his neck. It was a gesture of warding.
“...We can’t be sure, but we believe the creatures they ride are legendary monsters known as Soul Eaters. They are undead creatures that hunger for the souls of the living. According to the tales, they once appeared to ravage a city of the Beastmen Kingdoms.”
“Then… how many casualties were there?”
In the silence that followed, Boris’ quiet words carried a long, long way.
“—One hundred thousand.”
The breath caught in Gazef’s throat.
“...A mere three Soul Eaters devastated the entire city they appeared in. Ninety-five percent of the people who lived there, over one hundred thousand people, were killed. It was abandoned and entered legend as the Silent City.”
A heavy silence fell on the group.
“...And there’s five hundred of them out there?”
Nobody could muster up the strength to answer Raeven.
Gazef forced himself to break the silence.
“Like I said, I find it hard to believe the Empire could subdue monsters of that level with their own power. Even that mighty magic caster, Fluder Paradyne, shouldn’t be able to do it. That means—”
He did not need to finish his sentence. Marquis Raeven understood.
“That… is that the power of Ainz Ooal Gown? Then, then… what manner of creatures are riding on those monsters’ backs?”
The adventurers looked nervously to each other.
“That, we don’t know. We only know that they must be very dangerous. No, I apologize, I shouldn’t be using such vague terms as dangerous. However, I can think of no other words to describe what we are facing now.”
“Then, then what should we do? Gazef-dono?”
Gazef replied without wasting words.
They understood that the enemy had prepared an awe-inspiring force. With that in mind, what else could they do but run?
“Advise the king to order a retre—”
Gazef could not finish his sentence.
That was because a masked magic caster stood at the head of the enemy. At his right was a short person in a cape and robe. At his left stood one of the Empire’s Four Knights.
Even at this distance, Gazef would not mistake that man for any other...
“Is that the magic caster, Ainz Ooal Gown?!”
“Is that the one who summoned the Soul Eaters? Him? Marquis Raeven, we—”
The fearless warrior of countless battles swallowed heavily, and continued in a lowered voice.
“——What on earth have we gotten ourselves into?!”
Ainz waved his arms. In response, a magic circle that was shaped like a dome and roughly ten meters in radius, sprang into existence. He was in the center. The people on his left and right were encompassed by it, but they seemed fine. He probably would not harm his own allies.
This surreal sight drew everyone’s attention, even if they knew this was an emergency.
The magic circle glowed a pale white, and translucent symbols appeared across its length and breadth. The sigils changed with kaleidoscopic speed, shifting between runes and letters that nobody had ever seen before.
The Kingdom’s troops gasped out in surprise. It was like watching a spectacular lightshow, and there was no fear or tension in their voices. However, the sharper men among them started watching their surroundings in obvious discomfort.
“I’m returning to my unit. There’s no more time to waste. Ainz Ooal Gown’s power is immeasurable. Doing battle with him was a mistake from the start. All we can do is minimize the number of casualties, and at the same time we need to get back to E-Rantel as fast as we can. Gazef-dono, please protect his Majesty. After that, retreat without delay!”
The despair clouding Raeven’s face was gone.
“Aye! Although I don’t trust my abilities that much, but I will definitely protect his Majesty’s person. Then, please fall back with all due haste—”
“I shall. We will run— no, flee like rabbits.”
“Then, I wish you well, Marquis Raeven!”
“The same, Gazef-dono!”
The men who stood at the pinnacle of the Kingdom’s military might and strategic thought hurriedly flew into action. However—
—It was too late.
♦ ♦ ♦
After Ainz deployed his magic circle, that was what he had thought.
There were no players in the Kingdom.
YGGDRASIL’s super-tier magic was incredibly powerful.
Because of that, during a large-scale battle, bringing down a person who cast super-tier spells was the absolute highest priority.
There were many ways to interrupt the casting. Teleportation ambushes. Bombardment from atop a magic carpet. Extremely long-range sniping.
However, no attacks like these came toward Ainz. In turn, that proved that there were no YGGDRASIL players present.
Under his mask, Ainz smiled, a fact which went unseen by anyone. Of course, the skeletal Ainz could not smile.
The bitter smile, laced with faint traces of joy, highlighted the struggle in Ainz’s heart.
“So, there is no longer a need to serve as bait, then?”
His joy came from the fact that he had not met any players from YGGDRASIL.
Ainz could not be counted as the greatest among the players of YGGDRASIL. There were others who were better than he was, and the odds of his survival against stronger players than himself were not good. While playing, Ainz’s strength had stemmed from his knowledge. Although he won PVP battles with surprising regularity, that was only after forfeiting the first round of each match.
Since he was very skilled at using the information he had gathered, Ainz’s technical skills were unexpectedly high. Conversely, if he fought an opponent he had never encountered before, his chances of defeat would also be very high.
Ainz was fully aware of his abilities, and was deeply grateful that he had not encountered a powerful enemy that he knew nothing about.
But at the same time, he also felt a hint of regret.
Regret for the fact that he could not find the one who had brainwashed Shalltear among his enemies, the one who bore a World-Class item.
Hatred, thick and cloying, pooled at the bottom of Ainz’s heart. Although strong emotions were suppressed by his passive skill, the weaker ones still lingered within him.
Ainz opened his hand, and within it was a miniature hourglass.
If he used a cash item, he could immediately cast the super-tier spell. The reason why he had not done this was because he wanted to lure out any possible players from YGGDRASIL. However, even if there were none, there was still no need to wait out the long casting time for the spell. He felt quite silly for having to stand still in the middle of the magic circle without being able to move.
During the battle with Shalltear, he did not have that luxury.
Against the lizardmen, he had not used an attack spell.
“Now, how is this going to turn out? I look forward to it.”
—What exactly would a super-tier attack spell do against the armies of the Kingdom?
Although it was not a particularly strong spell in YGGDRASIL, what effects would it have in this world?
Suddenly, Ainz knotted his nonexistent brows.
He was slightly afraid of himself now. He knew many people were about to die, but all he felt for them was a vague sense of pity. There wasn’t even the sense of cruelty he would feel if he trampled ants underfoot. There was nothing like that at all.
All he felt was the desire to see what his actions would bring about. And of course, the benefits he would reap for himself — for the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
Ainz poured his strength into his hands.
The particles from the shattered hourglass flowed against the wind and into the magic circle surrounding Ainz.
With that — the super-tier spell activated.
A black wind blew toward the Kingdom’s army, which had just finished changing its formation.
Or rather, there was no wind. Nothing moved, from the weeds growing on the plains, or the hairs on the heads of the Kingdom’s soldiers.
There were 70'000 men in the left wing of the Kingdom’s army.
Every single one of them was killed on the spot.
What on earth happened?
Nobody could answer that question.
Every living creature that comprised the left wing of the Kingdom’s army —horses, conscripts, knights, nobles, everything— suddenly keeled over and collapsed on the ground like puppets whose strings had been cut.
The ones who realized the answer first were the Imperial troops, ranged against them.
It took a while for the human mind to properly parse the events that had just transpired. So after a short delay, as a terrible understanding dawned upon them, the Imperial army was gripped by shouts of panic.
After watching Ainz Ooal Gown deploy his magic circle, they had assumed that he was casting some sort of spell. That much they could understand.
However, who could have possibly imagined it?
Who could have imagined the horrific spell that had been cast here?
The spell that was cast had slain 70'000 people —more than the entire Imperial army— in an instant, utterly and completely snuffing their lives out.
Unable to believe their eyes, the Imperial knights prayed to whatever gods they believed in.
They prayed that the people of the Kingdom were not dead.
They prayed that such terrible magic did not exist in this world.
Of course, as they took in the truth before their eyes —that not a single person had stood back up from where they fell— they were fully aware that it was nothing but a childish hope.
Even so, there was no way they could accept it. There was no way they could accept this as fact.
The man hailed as one of the strongest in the Empire, one of the Four Knights, Nimble, could only stare in mute horror and grind his teeth in naked terror at the suddenly depopulated left wing of the Kingdom’s army.
Nobody stood back up. That was a reality which was far, far too horrible to accept.
But the awful truth could not be described with just these simple words.
Ainz Ooal Gown —this magic caster, all by himself— was a monster who was capable of taking on the nations forged by men and obliterating them in the way that a child would kick down a sandcastle.
That was a reality which was beyond the ability of any words to describe.
The panic enveloping the Imperial army gradually drained away like water. In the end, everyone simply fell silent, unable to speak.
Yet, a strange noise rose up among the silence of the Imperial army’s formation. The noise was born of many sounds blending together into a clamorous racket. It was the sound of every single knight gnashing their teeth.
This was the terror born of realizing that the Empire, where they and their families lived, now stood on the edge of extinction, just like the Kingdom.
This was an understanding that if they dared to raise their hands against Ainz Ooal Gown, that same awful magic might end up being turned on themselves...
Under these circumstances, Nimble suddenly thought of something. What kind of expression did a magic caster like this —who could work a sorcery that could slaughter the living in quantities that beggared mortal comprehension— what kind of expression did he have on his face?
Without moving his face, he spied on the monster standing beside him, Ainz Ooal Gown, but all he saw was indifference.
How can this be? How can this be possible? How can someone like him… like this… be so calm? Even after taking 70'000 lives?! Granted, the battlefield is a place of death. The weak losing their lives is only a matter of course. But even so, shouldn’t he feel something in his heart after killing so many people?!!
Regret or guilt would be the natural response. If he felt joy or excitement, that might even be understandable, twisted as such a reaction might be.
Is this indifference some sort of defensive ability to protect his conscience? No, for a monster like this, it must be familiar scenery! Whether it’s the pity humans feel for trampling ants underfoot, or some sadistic joy, none of these emotions are present!! What… what is this?!!! Why is this happening? Why does someone like this exist in the world?!!!!
“—What’s the matter?”
His body felt like it was encased in cold steel. In response to the sudden question, Nimble responded with a panicked squeal.
“No-nothing’s wrong. That, that spell just now, it was magnificent.”
Nimble gave silent thanks that he was still able to speak. More than that — the fact that he could praise Ainz under such circumstances was nothing short of laudable.
“Ha ha ha—”
And what Nimble got in return was nothing more than quiet laughter.
“Have, have I given offense?”
“No, none at all. You said that spell just now was magnificent, right?”
Was that what he was laughing at? The sweat flowed down Nimble’s forehead like a river. After seeing the dreadful consequences of angering this person, he had no intention of incurring his ire.
“Please, be at ease. Although I must say, my spell is not complete yet. Now is when the real show begins. After all, when one makes an offering to the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, she will reciprocate with a gift of her offspring. Those cute, adorable children…”
That was right.
And just as ripened fruit would fall to the earth in the fullness of time —
♦ ♦ ♦
The Imperial knights were the first to see it.
It was expected that the knights, watching from a safe distance, would see it first. Because they felt safe, they dared to peer outside from the narrow slits in their helmets.
After the storm of death had claimed the lives of the Kingdom’s soldiers, something appeared in the sky, a jet-black sphere that sent chills down the spine of all who saw it. It seemed to pollute the world with its very presence.
Then, who on the Kingdom’s side saw it? It was most likely the troops of the right wing, who had no direct line of sight to what had happened on the other side. Perhaps they sensed something abnormal was going on, but they did not know the details of what had transpired, and as they looked around to find out what was going on, they saw it.
As though their eyes were being guided there, the soldiers of both sides, and the soldiers beside them noticed it. In this way, everyone on the Kattse Plains, who had gathered to wage war, ended up staring silently at the sphere floating in the sky.
The sphere —which resembled nothing so much as a hole in the heavens— was like an opened spiderweb; once one caught sight of it, one could not pull away.
The black sphere slowly grew larger.
Be it fighting or fleeing, no human could engage in any meaningful thought or activity. All they could do was stare dumbly.
And soon — the ripened fruit fell.
Like the laws of the universe, the falling sphere broke apart when it touched the earth.
It burst like a water balloon striking the ground, or perhaps like an overripe fruit doing the same.
It was full of something that spread out from the point of impact. It was something like asphalt. It absorbed the light, like a wave of hungry darkness, and it was sticky and fluid and it swallowed the corpses of the dead Kingdom soldiers.
Informed by some unknown instinct, nobody thought it would end there.
Perhaps it had only begun.
This was the beginning of their despair.
Suddenly, a vast tree grew from the black tar that covered the earth.
No, that was nothing as pleasant as a tree.
At first, there was only a single trunk, but then it multiplied. Two, three, five, ten… they waved in a wind that was not there. What was growing there... were tentacles.
Suddenly, they heard the adorable bleating of a goat. And it wasn’t just one goat. The sound of a herd of goats seemed to have come from nowhere.
As though drawn by the sound, the asphalt writhed up, and it gave birth to something.
It was something that was far too strange, too unnatural.
It was ten meters in height. If you added the length of the tentacles, that figure became unclear.
At a glance, it resembled some sort of turnip. In place of leaves, it had numberless black tentacles, and its body was a slab of meat covered in raised lumps. Below that were five legs, like those of a goat’s, tipped with black hooves.
Fissures appeared on its body —that thick slab of meat covered in lumps— peeling and splitting with the sound of something shattering. These cracks were not limited to just one area. And then...
The adorable bleating of goats rang forth from those openings. They were savage maws that drooled without end.
There were five of them.
They revealed their spine-chilling forms to everyone on the Kattse Plains.
The Dark Young of the Black Goat.
Born of the super-tier spell “Ia Shub-Niggurath - Sacrifice to the Black Harvest”, they were monsters summoned from the deaths of men. Although they did not possess any powerful special abilities, they were outstandingly resilient.
And their level was over 90.
This was a portent of a storm of carnage.
Besides the adorable bleating, so sickeningly sweet and cute that it made people want to vomit, there were no other sounds. That was because nobody could speak, unwilling to believe or accept that the events unfolding in front of their eyes were truly happening. Over 300'000 —or if you counted only the living, 235'000— people were gathered here, and none of them could say anything.
Under these circumstances, Ainz laughed heartily.
“Marvelous. This is a new record. In all of history, I might be the only one who ever managed to call forth five at once. Remarkable. I must give my thanks to everyone who died here today.”
Under normal circumstances, every summoning of the Dark Young would only produce one entity, which was itself a cause for celebration. Being able to bring out two was a rarity.
And now, there were five.
Just like a player who was celebrating over beating his own high score, Ainz was overjoyed by the fact that he had set this new record. So what if tens of thousands had died for it?
“Although… it would be better if there were more… is five the upper limit? If I’ve already reached the spell cap, then this would be quite a feat.”
“Congratulations! As expected of Ainz-sama!”
Ainz smiled under his mask as Mare praised him.
“Thank you, Mare.”
After that, Nimble turned as if by reflex, his face somewhere between tears and laughter as he praised Ainz as well.
Ainz replied in good humor.
Nimble’s appearance of being honestly moved fueled the itch in Ainz’s heart.
Then, he remembered his days as a YGGDRASIL player, of the same swell of emotion he had when he had first seen the casting of ‘Ia Shub-Niggurath!”
As a flashy, super-tier spell, it seems to have stolen the hearts of everyone. Well, that was only to be expected of one of the most popular spells in YGGDRASIL. When I said I was going to cast it, Albedo and Demiurge couldn’t stop lavishing praise on me.
A gachigachi sound rose from the ranks of the Imperial army.
It was the sound of armor clattering against itself.
The soldiers’ bodies were trembling in fear, but nobody could laugh at them.
There was nobody who wasn’t covered in goosebumps after hearing the laughter of the Sorcerer King who had cast that bone-chilling spell.
Every man in the Imperial knights made the same wish.
They wished that the wrath of Ainz Ooal Gown would not fall upon them.
In that sense, it was more like a prayer.
While the soldiers fervently implored their gods for aid, Ainz began the next phase. He felt that he had already done enough, but then again, it did not hurt to make sure.
This time round, the objective was to proclaim the might of Ainz Ooal Gown, a practitioner of super-tier magic, to the gathered nations.
That objective had been achieved. However, letting these minions fade away would be a waste.
That’s right, it would be far too wasteful.
If he had a tongue, he would be licking his lips in anticipation.
This was a joy he could not feel in YGGDRASIL, the joy of being able to simultaneously direct five Dark Young.
“—Ah, let’s give it a try. Overrun them, my darling lambs.”
As they received the command of their summoner Ainz, the Young began to move with ponderous slowness.
With a baffling, five-legged gait, they launched into nimble motion. Rather than being graceful, however, it was more of a frantic tangle of movement and energy, and from a certain point of view, it might even be seen as laughable.
As long as they did not come for you.
Their vast bodies moved lightly, and the five Dark Young began sprinting as they charged into the Kingdom’s army.
『Ah, right, there’s three — no, four people you can’t kill. I absolutely forbid you to harm them. 』
As he recalled the three people that Demiurge wished to be spared, Ainz sent out a mental command to the Dark Young.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Is this a dream?”
The Kingdom’s soldiers muttered to each other, some distance from the inhuman demons. Of course, nobody could answer them. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the scene unfolding before them, and they had lost the power of speech. It was as if their souls had been snatched away.
“Hey, this is a dream, right? I must be dreaming, right?”
“Ahh. This is a fucking nightmare.”
The second time the question was asked, some people managed to answer. But their responses carried a hint of wanting to run away from reality.
It was impossible.
They didn’t want to believe it.
Thoughts like these spread through the infantry. Even as the lumbering shapes grew steadily larger, even as the inhuman beings approached them, they still did not want to accept that this was reality.
If they were simple monsters, perhaps they might have gathered the courage to raise their weapons. However, the things that had appeared after an army of 70'000 had been slaughtered in an instant could not possibly be simple monsters. It was like watching an advancing hurricane, and nobody could muster up the courage to brave the storm.
The gigantic, yet unnaturally swift beings galloped on their thick stubby legs, charging at incredible speeds.
“Get your spears up!”
A voice rang out.
It came from the mouth of a noble, a shrill, high-pitched scream that was a falsetto born of desperation. His eyes were bloodshot and foam flecked the corners of his mouth.
“Spears up! Get your spears up!! Get your spears up if you want to live!!!”
Although he had already lost his mind from fear and it was hard to understand what he was saying, he was still able to clearly utter the command “Spears up”. In retrospect, that was probably the best command he could have given.
Acting on reflex, the soldiers raised and set their spears, forming a braced spear line.
They planted the butts firmly on the ground, so their opponents’ speed would only harm themselves when they charged into the hedge of points.
Although this formation was nigh-unbreakable by Imperial knights, the Kingdom soldiers wondered —in some small, detached corner of their minds which still held onto lucidity— what good they could possibly do with the tiny spears they were grasping. Perhaps they thought this was their only chance of salvation.
It was impossible to flee from under the hooves of the creatures that approached with unnatural speed. Even if they ran with all their strength, they would still be trampled into red mush.
Wishing as one that the monsters would not come for them, the soldiers braced their spears and awaited the charge.
The monsters —which should have been very small in the distance— closed the gap with unbelievable speed.
As they grew larger, and the earth began shaking under their thunderous hoofbeats, the soldiers’ hearts began pounding madly.
Then, as their hearts felt like they would burst in their chests, the enormous silhouettes appeared before their eyes.
It was like a dumptruck smashing into a swarm of rats.
The soldiers of the Kingdom’s army raised their spears with trembling hands. But what use were they against the massive, solid bodies of the Dark Young? The spears snapped like toothpicks without so much as scratching their monstrous hides.
The Dark Young trampled the bodies of the Kingdom’s soldiers underfoot.
Countless splinters from a multitude of shattered spears flew through the air.
Although they crushed the resistance that did not even count as resistance, the Dark Young of the Black Goat were merciful in their own way.
There was no pain.
There was no time for their victims to suffer before they were squashed flat under the titanic weight of the Dark Young.
The spear-wielding soldiers didn’t even have time to realize that the pikes they were holding had been pulverized into splinters. All they saw were black shadows appearing before them.
They screamed and they screamed and they screamed.
Gobbets of meat flew through the air. They had not come from just one or two people, but tens, hundreds of victims. They were trampled by the enormous hooves, and thrown— no, flung away by the waving tentacles.
Be they patricians or plebeians, now they were all the same chunks of bloody flesh.
Some of them had family in their villages. Some had friends left behind. Some had people waiting for them. Once their unrecognizable corpses were ground into the mud, none of that mattered any more.
To everyone, the Dark Young gave the same, equal treatment — death.
They crushed countless humans underfoot with their hooves until they were satisfied by the bloodshed, but even then they had no intention of stopping.
The Dark Young of the Black Goat began to run.
They ran on. They would not stop while in the middle of the Kingdom’s forces.
The screams rose up every time the hooves came down. It mixed with the wet pulping sound of the bodies mangled under the mighty hooves of the Dark Young, and their thick, meaty tentacles flailed around in a wild, playful manner that sent human bodies flying with sickening cracks.
A sound never heard before went on and on without end.
What better word was there to describe this scene?
Several people desperately thrust their pikes forward. The Dark Young, whose bodies were massive and who had no intention to evade the attacks, were hit solidly by the points. However, the pikes could not pierce deeply enough to cause harm to their slab-like bodies. It was as though iron-hard muscles had been sheathed by thick, rubbery skin.
Without mocking their futile resistance, the Dark Young advanced single-mindedly.
Before the soldiers realized that their fatal resolve was meaningless, the Dark Young had already reached the centermost portion of the Kingdom’s army.
“Run away! Run away!”
They heard the shouts from the distance. In response, all the soldiers began to flee. It was exactly like a swarm of spiders scattering in all directions.
But of course, the Dark Young were much faster than human beings.
Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.
The sounds of humans being trampled into a pulp, the sound of meat chunks flying through the air, and the sound of the screaming continued on and on.
♦ ♦ ♦
As though they had arrived in a barren wasteland, three of the monsters crossed the center column of the army and ran toward the right wing amidst sprays of blood and gore. In moments, they would be upon Raeven’s troops.
The way Raeven shouted these orders was closer to a wail.
One could not fight them.
One should not throw one’s life away for no reason.
As they heard Raeven’s words, the surrounding soldiers threw down their arms and fled in a panic.
Of course, since there were just too many people, it was impossible for them to move freely.
At first he had thought of signalling an orderly retreat. They would be on guard against attack from behind and so on, but wasting time on that sort of thing now would be a huge mistake.
“Ainz Ooal Gown, what kind of being, what kind of magic caster are you?!”
He had underestimated him. No, he hadn’t intended to do that at first.
After taking Gazef Stronoff’s words into consideration, he had planned to view him as an enemy of the highest caliber imaginable. However, all he could say now was that he had grossly underestimated the man’s abilities.
His imagination simply hadn’t been enough.
Who on earth could have predicted that Ainz Ooal Gown would possess such awesome might? Who could have known such powers existed in this world?
Seeing the ever-approaching, ever-expanding silhouettes of the monsters, the troops surrounding Marquis Raeven shouted orders.
“This isn’t a battlefield any more, it’s a killing floor! Just run!”
“My lord!” a knight said as he removed his helmet. “The King! What about the King?”
“You idiot! There’s no time for that! My lord! It’s coming right for us!”
As they looked in the direction of the shouts, while the more enterprising had already fled, the crushing of the broken right wing had already begun. Although it seemed as though they were charging toward them in a straight line, they were not aiming for Raeven so much as trampling wherever they wanted. In truth, the other Dark Young were far away from where Raeven was.
“Where’s the king?!”
As he looked in the direction of the royal flag that the soldier was pointing out, a Dark Young was already closing in on it.
Raeven wavered. What could he do if he went to help? However, if King Ranpossa III was lost here, the entire country might come apart.
“Leave it to Gazef-dono!”
Raeven had faith in Gazef.
He was a warrior worthy of praise from the King. Although even he would still be unable to defeat those black goat monsters, at the very least, he could bring the king safely out of this hellscape.
“Marquis Raeven! The situation is bad! Please retreat with all haste!”
The voice of the former-orichalcum adventurers, the subordinates he most trusted, interrupted Raeven’s waffling.
It was less of a shout than a scream. Raeven bellowed a reply.
“Understood! I’m going now!”
Already — at this point, at this distance, there was no point disguising a retreat in fancy words.
“Please leave the task of rallying the men to me! My lord, you need to get out of here now, and head for E-Rantel!”
The shout came from a sleepy-eyed man. Although he looked very unreliable, Raeven could not have entrusted his command to a better person.
“I’ll leave it to you! Use my name as you see fit! I’ll bear the consequences!”
The sound of hooves was very near. Out of fear, he did not dare turn around to see how close they were. Raeven stuck his spurs into his horse’s flanks with all his might. However, the horse did not move. Even when he kicked it with strength, it still did not move. It flattened its ears against its head and stayed still.
At that moment, amidst the chaos, a group of horses that had thrown their riders ran through. The men on their backs clung tightly to their horses’ bodies, seemingly ignoring the reins that dangled loosely.
How ironic, to think that trained warhorses would be unable to move out of fear, while untrained horses would run wild out of panic.
“To think training would have the reverse effect!”
In the first place, horses were timid animals. It was only after training that they could be considered fearless warhorses. However, it was precisely because of this training that they could not move. The fact that they did not break and run under the effects of this fear was proof that the training was effective.
“Forgive me! 「Lion’s Heart」!”
The priest of the Wind God, Yorlan Dixgort, cast a spell of fear resistance on the horse. The calmed horse whinnied loudly.
“My lord! We’ll lead the way!”
With the voices of his subordinates wishing him well echoing at his back, Raeven spurred his horse into wild motion, escorted by the former-orichalcum adventurers.
Riding a horse through a chaotic, violent mob was very difficult. As such, it was only possible because of the former-orichalcum adventurers, who stood close to the pinnacle of humanity.
Turning his back to the voices that hoped for his well-being, Raeven managed to penetrate the flow of people under the guard of the adventurers.
“That magic caster’s a monster! How can someone like him be allowed to exist in the world?!”
Raeven cursed Ainz as his horse jerked up and down in its top-speed gallop.
“Dammit! We have to do something! I need to think of some way to protect our world — our future!”
Fear was probably the reason why he was subconsciously mumbling to himself. If he didn’t say anything, if he didn’t distract his consciousness, that intelligent brain of his would probably sketch horrific nightmares of the danger approaching him.
When he returned, he would need to sit down with the Prince and the Princess and draw up some form of countermeasure against that magic caster who defied the expectations placed on his kind.
If this goes on, all of humanity will be conquered... No, that’s the best case scenario. In the worst case, all of humanity will become toys for Ainz Ooal Gown, to be tormented until the ends of their wretched lives.
The sound of his tongue clicking, filled with tension and frustration, overrode the sound of the horse’s gallop.
“Not good! My lord, please guide your horse to the right! It’s caught up with us!”
“How did it find us without eyes?!” Lockmeyer the thief shouted. “Lund! Do you have any magic for this?”
“Of course not! Do you think any spells would work against that monster, Lock?”
“Even so, how will we know if we don’t try—”
“Enough! We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it! It might just be advancing in the same direction as us! My lord! Move in front of us! We’ll form up single file!”
Their voices were wavering.
In accordance with the instructions, Raeven ran his horse to the pole position. Then, he turned his horse toward the direction where less people were fleeing.
From the distance, the bleating of a Dark Young drowned out the beating of his heart.
—It was close.
The sweat poured off Raeven’s head like a waterfall. He didn’t dare to turn around out of fear, but he could sense the air behind him getting warmer and warmer.
“Dammit! No good! It was coming this way all along! ...Everyone! Prepare yourselves!”
In response, the team leader Boris cried out and cast his spell.
“ 「Reinforce Armor」!”
“Good! Then, my lord! Let us receive the enemy’s attack! Do not look back under any circumstances and continue riding!”
There was only one thing he could say to the adventurers, who had conquered their fear.
“...I’m counting on you!”
“Understood! Let’s go!”
He could hear the distance widening between himself former adventurers behind him.
Raeven lowered his head, doing his best to minimize wind resistance. Although he didn’t know how much time they could buy, all he could do was escape as hard as he could — returning alive would be the only way to repay their loyalty.
As he rode away on the back of the wildly-galloping horse, Raeven thought he could hear the sound of the former adventurers joining battle, and even through the wind whipping past his face and ears.
And then — within two seconds he could not hear the former adventurers any more.
What he did hear was the sound of an enormous hoof falling.
His heart lurched in his chest.
In his field of view from his lowered head, the gigantic shadow he saw below him made Raeven wail in soundless despair.
He recognized that under his feet — his body carried by the horse running at top speed - a thick and long tentacle was reaching out toward him.
The horse ran like it had gone mad. It was faster than Raeven had ever ridden it. It might have been the fastest it had ever gone.
Even so, the mighty shadow still stretched out across the earth.
“I don’t want this!”
He screamed. Against his will, he screamed with all his heart.
A warm, wet sensation spread through his crotch.
Raeven forced his eyes open, and without looking back, he forced the horse forward.
He couldn’t die. The country didn’t matter. If it was going to fall, then let it fall.
If taking up arms against Ainz Ooal Gown meant death, then abandoning the country and fleeing was fine too.
What an idiot he had been.
Coming to this battlefield was truly foolish.
Had he known how powerful Ainz Ooal Gown was, he would have stayed in the capital no matter the cost.
He would not think of the Kingdom’s future any more.
“I don’t want this!”
He still couldn’t die.
He couldn’t die while his son was still so young. And... he couldn’t leave his beloved wife alone by dying.
Raeven imagined the form of his son before him.
My lovely boy.
A tiny little life had been born. It slowly grew up. It got sick. Back then, he had made a huge fuss because of that. The image of himself running around half-mad, bellowing orders, while his wife sat there in silence, embarrassed him.
Those soft and delicate hands and those rosy cheeks. When he grew up, he would be the talk of the Kingdom. He believed his son’s abilities would surpass his own. He could already see that potential emerging from time to time.
He was not spoiling him, like his wife kept saying he did.
Raeven was deeply grateful to the wife that had raised his beloved son. However, he rarely said so because it embarrassed him.
It was time for a second child.
If he hadn’t come to this battlefield, he might be able to embrace the two of them.
The sound of the hooves had suddenly stopped.
Driven more by curiosity than courage, Raeven turned around. In his eyes, he saw the Dark Young motionless, as though frozen in place.
He had no idea where he was. It was like he had been drawn into a nightmare.
The title of the Four Knights —the title belonging to the mightiest warriors of the Baharuth Empire— now seemed so shockingly superficial.
How could such an impotent creature like himself have been proud of that title? That was how great a shock he had received.
The weeping which could not be contained reached Nimble’s ears. It was the sobbing of people who had been pushed past their limits by fear and despair. It was a childish — no, it was the agonized wailing of men who had been reduced to children. The ones who wept were the Imperial knights.
He heard pleas of “Let’s run away.”
That was the prayer of the knights who had —with eyes full of pity— watched the miserable slaughter of their fellow humans by those engines of carnage.
So wretched was this tragedy that even the Kingdom’s enemies, the Imperial knights, offered up prayers for them.
They prayed that at least some would survive. The more, the better.
They had come here to kill the enemy. However, nobody could remain unmoved and not feel pity in the face of the massacre taking place in front of them. Anyone who could remain unmoved would be a fiend with a man’s face, a being that could not be considered human.
Nimble and the knights realised that this could not be dismissed as a matter of “us vs them.”
Certainly, from the point of view of the Kingdom and the Empire, this disaster was happening to “them.” But when you looked at it from the perspective of humans and monsters, this brutal slaughter was happening to “us.”
“Well then, I think it’s time.”
Everybody’s eyes turned to Ainz as he spoke quietly.
With 60'000 people present, not everyone could hear his voice. However, they could tell when the people beside them turned their heads. And knowing that the faces of their neighbors were turned to Ainz Ooal Gown, they too would be drawn in by that action.
After all, every move and gesture made by the man who had orchestrated this nightmare —Ainz Ooal Gown— filled all present with uncontrollable terror.
Ainz slowly removed his mask.
He exposed his skinless, fleshless, polished white skull to the world.
If the circumstances had been different, perhaps they might have thought he was wearing a mask under his mask. However, as they saw this, the hearts of Nimble and all the knights of the Empire sank.
This was because they had clearly glimpsed the true face of Ainz Ooal Gown, the monster.
Anyone who could wield such power could not be human. It was because of this mindset that they were able to accept this as reality.
Ainz slowly spread his arms. He looked like he was embracing a friend — or was it a demon spreading its wings? In the eyes of all who were watching, he seemed to double, triple in size, perhaps more.
In the silence — interrupted only by the anguished screams of the Kingdom’s soldiers in the distance — Ainz’s still, small voice rang out with exceptional clarity.
“— A cheer, then.”
What was he saying, Nimble thought as he stared at Ainz with his mouth open.
Everyone who could hear him thought the same thing, and as Ainz’s words who repeated throughout the army in low tones, more and more people turned their eyes to him.
Then, when everyone’s attention was on him, he spoke again.
“A cheer in celebration of my supreme power.”
The first to move was Mare, who stood opposite Nimble, by Ainz’s side. As though sparked by it, the sounds of clapping began rising up from the soldiers, until it become a thunderous ovation.
Of course, they were not truly cheering for him.
Nobody wanted to applaud a person who brought this kind of cruel butchery with him. This was not war. It was slaughter. A massacre.
Only, nobody present could speak these words. Nobody dared.
Their earth-shaking applause was the embodiment of the knights’ fears.
And then the intensity of the riotous applause, which all present thought could not get any greater, rose several more notches.
That was because one of the Dark Young had changed its direction of advance. Its new course would take it toward the Imperial army.
In response to that, cries of joy rang out.
That was the shouted praise of the Imperial knights for Ainz Ooal Gown. They were desperate cries that made their throats bleed.
Yet, the Dark Young did not slow its pace.
And so, the knights cried out even louder. They thought the beast was approaching because their volume was not sufficient.
But still, it did not stop.
And thus, their tightly wound nerves snapped.
Nobody knew who started it. It might have just been the wavering of a single knight. The terror which filled them all to their limit would burst out easily, after all.
The soul-wrenching scream echoed throughout the ranks and shook the Imperial army.
The knights abandoned their horses, which could not move, to flee on foot. This senseless move was born of their fear of one of those monsters —the same monsters which had trampled the Royal Army underfoot— drawing near. They had seen too much of those hellish sights. Even those who lacked vivid imaginations knew exactly what would happen when it was their turn under that beast’s hooves.
And of course — fear was contagious.
While less than a hundred people fled at first, it soon swelled into an exodus of sixty thousand.
The imperial army had fallen into a rout, their vaunted military discipline in tatters.
It was a disgraceful retreat.
The knights had obviously been taught how to fall back in good order. However, there was no longer time to obey such superfluous rules. If it would let them leave this place one second faster, if they could move one step more in flight toward a safe place, they would push their comrades down with all their strength and run.
When shoved from behind, it was unavoidable that people would lose their balance and fall. And once they fell, the panic-driven throng behind them would not give them the chance to rise.
The ones who fell would be trampled by the ones behind them.
Although they all wore metal armor, everyone else wore metal armor as well. It would not take long to crush steel and flesh into a single, gore-caked lump.
Scenes like this were happening everywhere.
The Imperial army’s casualties were not caused by the enemy, but by themselves.
Not knowing what to do, Nimble hesitated uneasily.
He wanted to run as well. However, he was not allowed to, and not all the knights had escaped anyway.
As he looked back toward the Imperial army, he saw a scant few of them, remaining stock still atop their horses.
The reason they had not escaped was not because of fear. Rather, it was because they were mesmerized, in the same way that humanity was fascinated by overwhelming power they could not do anything against.
For instance, normal people would flee when they saw a huge tornado sweeping in toward them. However, there were certain beings who admired the beauty of the tornado and stood still even though they realized it would claim their lives. Those that remained could be considered deviants.
The Dark Young arrived before Ainz, bent its knees, and lowered its tentacles. It was probably displaying its submission to its master.
Nimble smiled, his face twitching, as the monster acted in a manner more fitting of a puppy.
The Dark Young’s front was bathed in fresh blood, and what could not be seen had already been absorbed by its skin.
It wrapped its tentacles around Ainz’s waist, then extended several more to firmly grip his body before raising him up. Then, it placed him on its head.
“I believe the original plan was that I would cast a spell to make a breach, and then the Imperial army would charge in behind, but there doesn’t seem to be any movement from the Imperial Army.
Nimble had nothing to say.
Just like that. The Empire had broken the terms of the agreement which they themselves had made with the King of their allied country.
However, one could not blame the knights for losing their nerve. Nimble would probably defend them even in front of Jircniv, because he knew the extent of the terror which gripped them.
“Ah, I have no intention of rebuking you. I am aware that if you decide to launch an assault, there is a chance you may be trampled along with the enemy. Truthfully speaking, if that happened, I would be hard-pressed to explain those deaths to your Emperor. Well, in that case, I guess I will handle your part of the job as well.”
Nimble looked to the company of the undead, which had remained still.
“Will... will... will the undead troops make an assault, then?”
“Oh, no, these dear little lambs have done most of that already, I simply intend to clean up. Mare, do not lower your guard.”
“Yes, yes! Please leave it to me, Ainz-sama!”
Nimble could not speak.
He still wanted to continue the assault, even after all of this. The one who had cast the spell himself.
Does he intend to personally exterminate everyone on the battlefield?! Does his appetite for slaughter know no limit?!!
“To think… it’s not enough. Is he a devil?”
Although he was muttering to himself, Nimble’s words were louder than he thought, and Ainz turned his terrible visage on him from where he was seated atop the Dark Young.
He shook his head at the quivering Nimble.
“Do not be mistaken. I am undead.”
What Ainz must have been trying to say was that he was not a demon that exalted the idea of evil, but an undead that hated life. As such, he would not permit a single soldier of the Kingdom to escape. Part of that was taking even more lives than had already been lost.
This answer was both the most likely, and the most disastrous.
Being that he was undead himself, if Ainz wanted to slay everything that lived, then it was possible that his sights might someday be set on the Empire, which was filled with the living.
No, that horrific future was inevitable.
As he was wondering what he should do, assaulted by chaos and fear and lacking any ability to focus himself, Nimble heard the final words Ainz spoke.
“...And it seems I have found my target.”
♦ ♦ ♦
The base camp of King Ranpossa III was located in the center of the Royal army. It was surrounded by banners belonging to numerous nobles of the Kingdom of Re-Estize.
Although there had been many nobles gathered here before, now only a few remained. Most of them had already fled, and the number of people who remained in this camp could be counted on two hands. But of course, nobody would be angry at the nobles for fleeing.
“Leave me behind and run!”
“Your Majesty, this is no time for jokes! Please flee with all haste. Once it catches up with us, we have no chance to survive!”
Gazef’s subordinate, the vice-captain of the warrior band, was speaking.
“How can I, as the King, run away?”
“Even if your Majesty stays, there is nothing you can do. Should you not return to E-Rantel and plan the counter-attack?”
Ranpossa III smiled bitterly. It hurt to listen to those words.
“That’s right. Even if I stay here, there is nothing left for me to do.”
It was impossible to rally his shattered army under these circumstances. This was not a slight on Ranpossa III; no other commander would have been able to do it either.
“Your Majesty! There’s no time! Listen up, even if you have to drag him back in chains, you must bring his Majesty home!”
With that, Gazef’s subordinates leapt into action.
Wasting more time would endanger not only himself but the people around him. With that in mind, Ranpossa III made his decision and rose to his feet.
“Alright. Let’s go. But what will change if we flee now?”
The footfalls shook the ground like an earthquake as they drew closer. But even under these dangerous circumstances, Ranpossa III remained calm. It was far cry from the chaotic noises the nobles had made.
“To begin with, we can’t ride. If we try to flee on horseback, they’ll catch up with us. They seem to target large groups of fleeing soldiers first. As such, there is no other way for us to be saved.”
It was only now that Ranpossa III realised that these men from the nobles’ mounted troops had come here for precisely this reason.
“So all we can do is run on foot.”
Some of the warrior band began removing and discarding their armor.
“These men will carry your Majesty while fleeing.”
“And what of the rest?”
Not everyone had removed their armor. The vice-captain and his comrades were still wearing it.
“We will act as a mounted distraction and flee in the opposite direction.”
Ranpossa III understood their determination from the clear smiles on the warriors’ faces.
“Impossible. You are the treasures of our Kingdom! No matter what, you must survive! I still need you to serve my children!”
“Of course. Although we intend to be bait, we do not intend to die!”
That was a lie. They were planning to die. Or rather, they had accepted that death was their destiny.
Ranpossa III tried to think of something convincing to say, but no words came. In the face of the warriors’ smiles, anything he thought of seemed to wither and blow away.
The warriors helped remove Ranpossa III’s armor.
A warrior in pure white armor stepped forward. He was Climb, his daughter Renner’s loyal subordinate, and the only one who had stayed here until now.
“Allow me to assist in the diversion. Although we don’t know if these monsters have eyes, but if we wave our flags non-stop, we should be able to draw their attention. And this armor should be quite eye-catching.”
Climb held the Kingdom’s flag in his hand. it had been dirtied by the footprints of fleeing soldiers, and seemed like a hint as to how to deal with the current situation.
“Aye. Then I will go too.”
At the side was Brain Unglaus. Apparently he was a first-rate warrior who was the equal of his trusted vassal, Gazef Stronoff. Brain had entered this war as Renner’s subordinate. In other words, they were in similar positions.
“Are you sure? The two of you are not exactly the Princess’ subordinates.”
“Ah? Well, don’t worry about that. During the demonic disturbance we were on the frontlines, and somehow we still made it back alive. This time, we’ll just hope that luck is with us. And we hope that luck is with you too.”
“The gods will not watch in silence. During that disturbance, a hero came to save us. I trust they will change our fate too.”
In front of Ranpossa III, Brain joined his knuckles in salute, to bid the vice-captain farewell.
“How did it end up like this…”
Where had it all gone wrong?
Ranpossa III moaned softly. He knew that none of the men in front of him would survive.
The vice-captain and Climb would die as bait.
And Gazef, who had vanished into the chaos after saying he intended to stop the Dark Young, who knew what had happened to him?
His eyes were hot.
Spare me, he wanted to say.
They were going to throw their young lives away, for him, an old man.
But he couldn’t say that. They were fighting desperately while aware of their imminent deaths.
“Return safely to E-Rantel, and I shall grant you any reward you desire.”
Climb and Brain paused mid-step and turned around.
“There’s no need for a reward, your Majesty. I exist to aid Renner-sama. That is reward enough.”
“As for me, well, how about marrying the most beautiful princess in the country to this kid here?”
“...Hahahaha. Well, that is a lavish reward.”
“Brain-san! What are you saying?”
“Well, we’ll have to start by giving the kid a lordship. Work hard!”
“Then you must return alive, Climb-kun.”
Climb’s empty eyes and open mouth no longer had the warrior’s spirit they had possessed just now. The King, however, had inadvertently allowed a bright smile onto his face.
“Then, we’ll be off, your Majesty.”
“I’ll leave it to you.”
The now-unarmored Ranpossa III was borne aloft by a soldier.
“Your Majesty. Even now, our flight is still a matter of luck. If the worst happens… I pray you will forgive me.”
“Very well. It was my decision to use your idea. If it fails due to misfortune, then I will have no complaints.”
“Then! Your Majesty! May we meet again in E-Rantel!”
The vice-captain galloped off on his horse. As though it were waiting for them, one of the Dark Young changed its direction.
“Alright! Let’s go while they’re drawing it off!”
Amidst the chaotic surge of routed men fleeing in random directions, Gazef fixed his eyes to his front, and slowly drew the weapon that was the treasure of the Kingdom, Razor Edge. As long as he held the shining blade in his hands, Gazef’s victory was assured. In other words, this sword was the proof of his triumph.
However, today it seemed far too weak and small.
It seemed puny and pathetic in comparison to the gargantuan body of the Dark Young which had charged straight in.
“If this place falls, the King’s main camp is next. I need to stop it here.”
As he said that, Gazef smiled, as though he were mocking himself.
There was no way for Gazef to beat that monster. Even being able to delay it for a second was worthy of praise.
Even a man hailed as the Warrior-Captain of the Kingdom, —a warrior renowned throughout the nations— could only do so much.
“Take his Majesty and flee. Pave his way home with your lives.”
These orders were whispered —almost like a prayer— to his subordinates who were not here. The strongest soldiers in the Kingdom had stayed behind to protect their King. However, even if they stayed behind, they would not be strong enough to as a shield for the King in the face of those monsters. Even putting their lives on the line would only allow them to take a single hit from their enemies before crumbling.
However, that was enough.
They would die if the enemy hit them, but as long as they could make sure that hit was wasted on them, the King’s life could be extended just a little more. Maybe it would work if 80 men were there to be shields, he thought optimistically.
Gazef apologized to his subordinates as the monster approached with uncanny speed, churning up sprays of flesh and gore in its wake. He knew that an apology to absent comrades was nothing more than satisfying his own ego. Even so, he did not want to die without having spoken those words.
As he felt the earth trembling under his feet, Gazef exhaled forcefully.
He gripped the sword in his hands tightly, and raised it.
His sword seemed so useless in front of that vast body that crushed humans into red paste.
If it were a runaway horse cart, he could easily get control of it. If a ferocious tiger pounced him, he could evade its first blow and strike off its head.
Yet, in front of the Dark Young, his chances of survival seemed very low indeed.
As Gazef breathed out, a dramatic change appeared in the flow of people around him. Until now they had gone in all directions, but now it seemed like they were moving to avoid Gazef. It looked as though they were creating a clear path between Gazef and the Dark Young.
The Dark Young drew ever closer, splattering humans under its hooves with every step it took.
As Gazef raised his sword, he studied its body. Where could he attack for the best results?
He activated a martial art — ‘Sense Weakness’.
“—It has no weaknesses.”
Whether it truly had no weaknesses, or any which appeared could not be seen because of the overwhelming difference in strength, Gazef did not know.
Still, he did not despair. He had expected an outcome like this, after all/
He activated another martial art.
This was a secret move that was truly worthy of being called a secret move, a technique that would strengthen his extrasensory perceptions, ‘Possibility Sense’.
With the astronomical difference in their physical abilities, it made no difference if he shrunk a gap of miles by an inch or two through augmenting his own physical attributes. In that case, he decided to rely on something else — if it was his sixth sense, it might be more effective.
The Dark Young seemed to have heard the challenge, and set a course straight for Gazef. The distance between the two shrank dramatically.
To tell the truth—
—Gazef was afraid.
If he could, he really wanted to flee with the surrounding soldiers.
Even after activating ‘Possibility Sense’ he couldn’t feel anything. It was like he was enveloped by an impenetrable wall of night.
As the Dark Young closed in, he studied its form in greater detail.
Judging by the way its hooves remained undamaged, it was likely that normal swords would not be able to deal any harm to it. From the deep prints it left in the ground where it stepped, its weight would instantly kill anyone it was applied to.
As his understanding of the beast deepened, so did his fear of it grow.
Right now, Gazef was exposed to a terror far more intense than those of the soldiers fleeing willy-nilly around him.
But he could not turn back.
The Kingdom’s strongest warrior could not flee. He cancelled ‘Possibility Sense’, and calmed his breathing.
The Dark Young pressed closer.
It was close enough that the clods of dirt kicked up by its hooves could reach Gazef.
It ignored the soldiers around it, like they were nothing but crawling worms, and headed straight for Gazef.
The Dark Young turned like it had hit a wall, rushing past Gazef. Because it had turned so quickly, the Dark Young’s footsteps were messed up, and if it did not have so many legs it would have lost its balance.
The enemy had run away. This was impossible and even Gazef knew it.
It had simply considered where it could find more prey and changed its direction toward a place where it could trample more victims underneath its gore-caked hooves.
The Dark Young charged past Gazef, making the world quake in its passing.
Because there had been a meter or so of separation, the ground under his feet shook like an earthquake. Anyone but Gazef would have fallen down.
He aimed at the Dark Young’s gigantic hoof as it ran past—
Gazef swung his sword. At those velocities, the enemy’s own speed would become a weapon that would tear itself apart on the edge of his blade.
In the instant the hoof touched the sword, a massive impact travelled up the weapon and into Gazef’s arms. It made him feel as though his arms were dislocated.
His feet, planted firmly in the ground, left two trenches in the dirt as he was dragged backward.
Somehow, he had kept his grip on his sword, but pain spread through his entire body. Be it his muscles or his tendons, every part of him hurt from the stress it had to bear.
Gazef breathed hard, and stared at the giant body that passed him.
Not far from Gazef, one of the Dark Young had finally stood still as opposed to running madly.
One of its tentacles had become a blur.
A chill not born of the temperature filled his entire body. Gazef raised his sword.
And in that instant, a mysterious impact radiated out from the sword, and his body floated into the sky.
Gazef couldn’t see anything, but he guessed that he must have been slapped by the tentacle. His body was sent flying through the broad sky which stretched above him.
After sailing through the air for a surprisingly long time, Gazef’s body finally struck the earth. He rolled and rolled and rolled, but this was not the tumbling of a flung corpse. It was the deliberate movement of a human that was trying to bleed off the energy of his rotation.
Gazef slowly stood up, spurring his battered body into motion. He stared at the distant Dark Young.
The arm that took the strike had broken. It was sheer good luck that his sword had not broken as well.
The emotion on Gazef’s face vanished.
Why, why had he been saved? Why had it not pursued him?
Because he was not worthy as its opponent, probably. That seemed like the most appropriate answer.
It could not even be considered a total defeat. In order to be defeated, he would have to have fought, and he had not even come close to putting up a fight.
Fresh blood flowed from his bitten lip.
Following that, Gazef suppressed the intense pain which filled him and charged with all his strength.
Even if he couldn’t beat his opponent, even if he could only take one more hit, even so, he still had to protect his King.
However, his footsteps, made with his full conviction and determination, faltered after several paces.
He looked at the Dark Young that had changed direction toward him —there was no mistake here— and he realized why he had managed to survive.
Upon the Dark Young, someone was seated upon what looked like a throne made of tentacles, his posture regal, like a king in governance. Of course, that face was abnormal. It was skeletal, and there was no doubt that it was an undead monster.
He was not nearly foolish enough not to recognize who that king was.
“Ainz Ooal Gown… dono. So you weren’t human after all.”
The Theocracy’s special forces. Gazef had no hope of defeating them, yet they had been easily wiped out. No human could have done that, which made this realization simple to accept.
Yes. Why had he even thought someone that powerful could have been human to begin with?
Even before he looked back, he knew who it was by the hoarseness of the voice. The familiar pair came running toward him.
“You two are fine as well.”
Climb and Brain were unhurt, and Climb hadn’t even gotten a stain on that pure white armor of his. Considering the two of them had not tried to escape at once, that was a considerable stroke of good luck.
“I’m glad you’re safe!”
“I didn’t think you would die, and turns out you didn’t. However, it’s not over yet, right?”
The two of them joined their lines of sight to where Gazef was still looking.
“It can only be one person, Climb-kun. The monster who rules over other monsters. That is Ainz Ooal Gown.”
“That is… that is… How shall I say this… I, I’m sorry.”
At a glance, Climb’s body was shuddering. His stiff, frozen expression betrayed the fact that he was not quaking in excitement or anticipation.
“Don’t worry, Climb-kun. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Or rather, it can’t be helped! A third person whose strength surpasses all rational sense! What has my life become ever since that day!”
Brain radiated a malevolent air as he took a stance. Gazef was surprised at his facial expression, which was casual and easy and did not suit the circumstances.
“I-I won’t run away!”
Climb and Brain stood at Gazef’s side.
Amidst flying chunks of meat, the Dark Young halted in front of Gazef.
Distant screams echoed over, and only this place was silent.
It was as though this area was no longer part of the world.
Ainz’s line of sight turned from Gazef, passed unhappily over Brain, and then halted on Climb. He shrugged, and looked back to Gazef.
“...You’re looking quite lively, Stronoff-dono.”
“I could say the same to you, Gown-dono… huhu. Would that be a problem, to say you’re lively? After all, if you stopped being a human after we parted ways back then, it would be terribly rude.”
“Hahaha. No, I have not changed recently.”
The laughing Ainz floated down from the top of the Dark Young. He must have been using some sort of magical effect, given how he slowly floated down in defiance of gravity.
Although he thought it might be that famous spell ‘Flight’, after considering the fact the Ainz Ooal Gown was a mighty magic caster, he concluded that it must be a superior version of that spell - though how superior it was, or what kind of spell it was, Gazef did not know.
“It’s been a long time, Stronoff-dono. Ever since Carne Village.”
“Indeed it has, Gown-dono. Then… permit me to ask, why have you sought me out? Could it be that you found a familiar face on the battlefield and decided to meet me?”
“Well, yes. I don’t like fancy talk, and twisting words is not appropriate for this place. So… I’ll get right to it.”
Ainz slowly raised a skeletal hand.
There was no enmity there, but instead, it was a gesture of friendship.
“Become my vassal.”
In that instant, Gazef’s eyes widened into circles.
At the same time, one could hear Brain and Climb on both sides of him gulping audibly.
Who could have imagined that such a mighty magic caster could say such a thing to him?
“If you become my vassal—”
Ainz snapped his fingers. How exactly he had done it with skeletal fingers remained a mystery.
As though something had been done to him, Gazef’s body shuddered.
However, there had been no changes in his mind or body. He felt nothing.
“Look around you.”
Gazef turned his eyes to his surroundings. Everything was—
“I see. They’ve stopped.”
The Dark Young had stopped moving, as though frozen in place. The way their hooves had halted mid-stomp was a pose worthy of a statue.
“This is only temporary. What happens after this will depend on your decision. If you refuse, I will give orders to the lambs once more. I trust I don’t need to tell you what those orders are?”
Gazef stared dumbly at Ainz.
Even if he took Gazef as a vassal by using hostages, the bond would lack loyalty, and it would be courting betrayal from within. Surely Ainz must have considered all of this before making his offer.
Then, it meant there must have been some other reason behind his words.
But what it was, Gazef did not know.
Still, there had to be some reason why he —a being who could command an army like this— would specially seek out Gazef.
“How about it? Gazef Stronoff, become my vassal.”
Ainz extended his hand.
If he took that hand, he would save many lives.
Gazef’s heart wavered mightily.
He had been granted the chance to save the lives of the Kingdom’s people.
However — Gazef could not take that hand.
It was a poor decision.
That choice would only satisfy his ego.
A hundred out of a hundred people would curse Gazef for a fool.
Even so, Gazef could not do anything that would betray the Kingdom.
Gazef firmly shook his head in refusal.
“I refuse. I am the sword of the King. For his sake I will gladly throw my life away. On that point I cannot compromise.”
“Even if, in the end, your choice costs more lives? A brave man risked his life to challenge a mighty foe at Carne Village. Will this man now throw others’ lives away that he could have saved?”
Gazef’s heart felt like it was being carved by a knife.
But even then, Gazef Stronoff still could not take Ainz Ooal Gown’s hand.
The Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain could not betray the King.
That was the extent of Gazef’s loyalty.
His irritation building in the face of the silent Gazef, Ainz shrugged.
“Such a foolish man. Then—”
Gazef did not allow him to complete the sentence, but turned his blade on Ainz.
He had been injured by the Dark Young, and despite the power of the healing talisman he had not fully recovered. Still, even in this state, Gazef’s fighting spirit shone like the sun.
“Gown-dono. Please allow this one who has benefited from your kindness to atone for his rudeness... I wish to request a one-on-one duel with you.”
Ainz’s face was a fleshless skull. Because of this, one could not tell what kind of expression he had, or discern what he was thinking.
However, for some reason, he seemed speechless. That was what the two others thought as they reviewed the situation after the fact. Although he remained silent, that uneasiness shone through clearly.
“...Are you serious?”
“...You will die.”
“There is no doubt of that.”
“If you knew, then why do so? I had no intention of killing you at first… are you suicidal?”
“I do not think I am, no.”
“...What are you thinking? I cannot understand your logic. If you believed you could win and challenged me, I could understand it. If you thought there was a chance of victory under the circumstances, that would be reasonable as well. However, you firmly believe that you will lose. Have you taken leave of your senses?”
“The enemy king stands before me, and he is within the reach of my sword. Is it not natural to see if I can take the head that presents itself?”
“It is true that our physical distance is very close. However, it seems to me that there is an overwhelming gap between us. Am I wrong?”
With a whoosh, the sagging tentacles of the Dark Young behind Ainz snapped forth, striking up clods of dirt from the earth beside Gazef.
Gazef’s eyes could not follow the tentacles thrashing the ground beside him.
“That may be so, Gown-dono.”
“Are you pushing your luck because I said I did not want to kill you?”
Gazef laughed from the bottom of his heart.
“Certainly not. I simply wish to do what I, as the Warrior-Captain of the Kingdom, should do. That is all I was thinking.”
“...If I accept your challenge, you do realize I will slay you without restraint? It is only expected.”
“Indeed it is.”
“So that’s how it will be… even after I’ve said all this, you refuse to change your mind. What a shame. Speaking as a collector, it is a poor thing to have to destroy rare specimens.”
Gazef had no intention of backing down.
This was an unbelievable stroke of luck. To begin with, Ainz, who surrounded himself with incredible subordinates, was now standing in front of him without any bodyguards.
On top of that, his pride as a mighty individual meant that he would not order the Dark Young behind him into action.
He would never get a chance like this again.
His enemy stood on a perch that he could not reach with both hands. However, right now, he had a chance to bridge the gap between them.
The next time they met, he would probably surround himself with ten or twenty layers of guards, as befitted a magic caster who was poor in close combat. Gazef would never get within sword range of Ainz again. Because of that, he had challenged Ainz to a duel.
And there was another reason for the duel.
Although the chance he was banking on was far too slim a hope, even so—
Gazef issued his formal challenge.
“Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown-dono! My name is Gazef Stronoff, the Warrior-Captain of the Kingdom of Re-Estize! I formally request a duel with you!”
Unable to hold it back any more, Brain cried out. But Gazef continued without hesitation.
“If you find it acceptable, Sorcerer King-dono, I pray you will find these two suitable witnesses for our combat.”
Go ahead, it seemed to say. When Gazef realised this, he nodded.
“Wait, wait a minute! Hang on, Gazef! I can always die alongside you! Don’t go alone! My lord Sorcerer-King! Please, I beg you! I know this is shameless beyond belief, but this is a heartfelt request! Please allow us both to face you! I know it won’t inconvenience you in the slightest!”
As he heard Brain’s strangled plea, Gazef thought, as I expected…
The expression he had seen on Brain’s face then was that of a warrior that had embraced his fate.
It was the determination that he would be killed along with Gazef, by Ainz Ooal Gown.
However, he did not accept it. He could not accept it.
“Brain Unglaus! Do you wish to stain my conviction as a warrior?”
Brain’s face was a picture of shock.
“—That is fine, Stronoff-dono. I don’t mind taking you two on at once.”
“Please don’t, Sorcerer King-dono. This duel is with me. I pray you will spare the two over there.”
The pinpoints of red light floating in Ainz’s skeletal eyesockets glowed even brighter.
“...What is this. I’ve seen those eyes before. The eyes of a man who embraced his death and ran to it. Firm, unyielding eyes. How admirable.”
Ainz was speaking like a human being.
“Very well. I accept your proposal. I will solo PvP Stronoff-dono.”
Brain fell to his knees, powerless.
His face couldn’t be seen, but droplets of rain spattered on the crimson earth below him.
Gazef told Brain in his heart.
“The corpse will be returned after the appropriate preservation. It will facilitate the use of resurrection magic—”
“—There is no need for that.”
Gazef’s words left both his friends and enemies speechless.
“I do not wish to be brought back to life. You may dispose of the body here if you wish.”
It wasn’t that resurrection magic was bad. However, Gazef disliked it.
Everyone only had one life.
It was because of that, that the decision to stake one’s life could be so meaningful.
And so, even for his Kingdom, he would not come back from the dead.
If Gazef died, then the King could spread the news that he had lost an important subject. That way, perhaps he could soften the storm of resentment and hatred that would be born from the loss of so many of the Kingdom’s people.
This was a final act of loyalty from the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain, who had chosen to act of his own selfish will.
Ignoring the surprised stares around him, Gazef smiled calmly.
“Then, let us begin. You two, I hope you will bear witness to my final battle.”
Climb could not have imagined that the man called Brain Unglaus could have shown such a soft and sensitive side to himself.
He knew that Brain was powerful, spirited and free-willed. However, the man lowering his head did not look like that at all. However, even if he was like that, he did not look soft or weak either.
“Brain. Will you not fulfil your mission?”
Gazef spoke these words without looking back.
Brain did not move. The way his hands clawed at the ground conveyed his grief to Climb. Even so, Climb had to say it.
“...This is Stronoff-sama’s last wish.”
He did not think Gazef Stronoff could win at all.
That was why Climb and Brain had to fulfil Gazef’s final request.
Slowly, Brain rose to his feet
It was hot.
It made Climb want to turn tail and run.
There seemed to be some kind of hot air propelling Brain upwards.
“...I’ve made you see the disgraceful side of me, Climb-kun. It’s all right. I will engrave Gazef’s noble form into my eyes.”
What kind of relationship did Brain Unglaus and Gazef Stronoff have?
Climb could not understand the tie between them, especially on Brain’s side.
After losing to Gazef, he had embarked on a journey to advance his sword skills. This was the Brain that Climb knew. However, he felt that things were not that simple.
“Then, Stronoff-dono. Could you let me take a look at that sword? There’s something I wish to know.”
Ainz made that request like he was asking about the weather. Enchanted swords could have all kinds of abilities imbued into them. Examining one would be like revealing the inner workings of one’s strategy. By common sense, nobody would ever agree to that proposal.
Climb was not the only person who had thought that way, which was why Brain’s eyes also went wide at what happened next.
Gazeff turned his sword a full 180 degrees and presented the hilt to Ainz.
“Gazef! Have you completely given up on winning?!”
“Brain! Don’t say such shameful things! The Sorcerer King is not that kind of man.”
Ainz held the sword and cast a spell. After that, he laughed.
“Well, this sword is quite impressive.”
Ainz returned the sword to Gazef hilt-first, the same way it had been given to him.
“Stronoff-dono. Do you have any idea of this sword’s power?”
“I fully understand it. This sword has an unreal sharpness that can cut metal like paper.”
“What a shame. That’s only a part of the sword’s power.”
“—What? What does that mean, Sorcerer King-dono?”
“Well, in short, this sword is a weapon that can kill me. Something like that is the absolute minimum condition for a solo PVP duel. Without a weapon that can harm me, this would be nothing more than an execution.
Sorry for comparing you to the rats that entered my fortress,” Ainz muttered as he suddenly produced a shortsword out of nowhere.
Without hesitation, he dragged the edge of that magnificent blade across his face in a forceful slice.
It did not leave so much as a scratch.
“Weakly enchanted objects like this cannot harm this body of mine. For reference, this shortsword is imbued with about as much data —or rather, as much mana— as that sword you bear, Stronoff-dono. However, your sword can harm me, in clear defiance of what I know to be true. Could I request that sword as a trophy after I win?”
Gazef smiled thinly.
“Forgive me for refusing, but this sword is a national treasure.”
“Mm. No-loot PVP, then? Very well. I will honor that request.”
“My deepest thanks, Sorcerer King-dono.”
After returning the sword to Gazef, Ainz stroked his chin in thought. He backed up, one step at a time, as though conforming to some regulated distance between them.
“I think this should be about five meters. And… because there’s no countdown, we will need a signal. You, in the white armor. Find something to start us off.”
Having been suddenly named, Climb shuddered.
“Then, then I have a magical handbell here. I’ll ring it, and it will signal the start.”
The two of them nodded silently to Climb’s proposal.
Gazef raised his sword, pointing it at his enemy’s eyes. Strength suffused every fiber of his being. in the eyes of Climb who stood behind him, Gazef’s body seemed to grow larger before his eyes.
This was an overwhelming sword aura. He had never seen the true pressure the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain could exert. Yet, his body seemed distant and illusory, like a mirage.
This was the last time he would see Gazef alive.
“It’s not guaranteed.”
Suddenly, Brain issued a denial to Climb from where he was standing, by his side.
“There’s no guarantee Gazef will lose. The chances are extremely low, but there’s still a chance of victory. That guy has a killer move, you know? The martial art he uses as a trump card?”
“The ‘Sixfold Slash of Light’?”
Brain smiled calmly.
“No. It’s an ultimate martial art that far surpasses it. That fellow learned it.”
“What, what is that?!”
As Climb prepared his bell, he looked to the raised sword, and to Gazef’s face, filled with his laser-like focus.
The steely face of the man hailed as the Warrior-Captain, by all the surrounding countries.
“Ah. It came from a former adamantite-ranked adventurer of the Kingdom. It was a martial art invented by Vestia Croft Di Lofan, but he could not use it because of his advanced age. If my greatest secret move, the ‘Nail Clipper’ is the result of using multiple martial arts at once, Gazef’s killer trump is the strongest single technique. Who knows, that blow… it might even be able to reach Ainz Ooal Gown.”
Perhaps that was why he had asked for a one-on-one duel, Brain said while his eyes did not leave the scene before him.
Climb swallowed. The hand holding the bell felt heavy. Once he rang it, Gazef’s fate would be sealed.
“Want to swap with me?”
“...Thank you. But… I’ll do it.”
What, Brain mumbled, but he did not say anything else.
Climb raised the bell. He could only pray that victory went to Gazef.
And then —louder than expected— the bell rang.
His consciousness focused to the absolute limit, Gazef stepped in with an unbelievable speed—
Without missing a single moment, Brain and Climb opened their eyes and watched—
—and faster than any of them, the world went quiet.
“Like I was saying… time-stop countermeasures are important.”
Because Ainz had instantly cast a ‘Silent Time Stop’, Gazef, his sword raised high, was frozen in front of Ainz.
No attacks would work while time was stopped. Even if he used attack magic to barrage Gazef, it would cause him no harm. Because of that, Ainz cast a spell while keeping track of the time.
“「Delay Magic: True Death」.”
This was a ninth-tier spell.
Because ‘Grasp Heart’ was a more convenient spell, he did not use this one often.
If no spell could affect an enemy while time-stopped, then all one needed to do was delay the activation of the spell until the moment the ‘Time Stop’ ended. Although it was a simple combination attack in theory, the trick was getting the timing right, which was extremely difficult. As such, only about 5% of all magic-users could pull it off.
After much training and practice, Ainz was in that 5% as well.
“...Farewell, Gazef Stronoff. I never hated you.”
The spell ended, and time returned to the world.
Right after that, the other spell activated before anything else.
—Gazef slowly fell.
Climb and Brain had no idea of what had just happened.
In the moment Gazef had charged out, he had suddenly fallen over.
Ainz stepped forward to catch Gazef’s body.
His sword fell from nerveless fingers, and fell to the ground.
The battle was over.
Yet, there was no way to comprehend it.
Nobody knew what was going on.
“What on earth happened…?”
“The hell should I know!”
Brain gave voice to an angry cry.
“What’s wrong? Get up! Gazef!”
And then Brain’s earnest hope was flatly denied.
“He is dead.”
Respectfully, perhaps even reverently, the Sorcerer King Ainz laid Gazef upon the ground. After that, he slowly closed the man’s wide-open eyes.
While looking at Gazef’s face, he spoke to the two people nearby.
“...Seeing how he made a challenge with no chance of winning reminded me of that time. In honor of the Warrior-Captain, I will order the Dark Young to stand down. His body will be returned to you.”
“...No, there’s no need for that. We will bring Gazef back. There’s no need to trouble you.”
Climb exhaled heavily.
Would Brain challenge Ainz to a hopeless battle? he wondered, However, there was no need for that.
“Is that so,” Ainz replied before standing back up.
“The instant death spell I used, ‘True Death’, will invalidate lower-tier resurrection magic. Tell this to the people of the Kingdom. Tell them I will be merciful to those who submit respectfully.”
Ainz lightly floated into the air.
Even as they saw his defenseless back, the two of them knew they could not commit such a shameful act as attacking from behind.
Ainz sat on the tentacle of the Dark Young.
It was truly a terrifying throne.
“Cede E-Rantel and the surrounding areas to me and these lambs will not frolic through the royal capital. Tell the King this, when you see him again.”
The Dark Young turned and left, and the other four Dark Young also began making their way back to the Imperial castrum.
“Climb-kun. I have one request...Could I bring Gazef-dono back?”
“...Very well. Then I will bring Stronoff-sama’s sword home.”
“A lot of people died.”
“Yeah, too many to count.”
“...What just happened?”
“I don’t know. But, if someone like that calls himself a king and claims this territory…”
“In the future, a war will definitely break out. And who knows, the dead may outnumber the corpses here today.”
Walking behind Brain, who was carrying Gazef on his back, Climb’s thoughts turned to the future of the Kingdom, wreathed in clouds.
Brain’s words would definitely come true. What was important was what he could do, and then, what he would do.
And the most important thing was
—I have to protect Renner-sama.
Climb clenched his fist, and steeled himself. At the very least, he had to protect his mistress, no matter the cost.
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