Overlord, Vol. 14: The Witch of the Doomed Kingdom
Chapter 4 | Well-Laid Traps
Heels clicking, Hilma led three fellow Eight Fingers members through the halls of the manor, bound for the great hall designated by the King of Darkness’s retainer.
Everyone else was already there, ready for the arrival of the emissary.
This was because the retainer had specified the day and location but not a time. Hilma and the other chiefs were taking turns, ensuring there was always someone waiting on their arrival.
If they kept this emissary waiting, it could be interpreted as an insult, which opened up the possibility of being put through pure hell again. If there was even the slightest chance of that happening, they had to do everything within their power to prevent it.
A minute had passed since they started their walk.
The manor was large to begin with, but they’d specifically placed the resting areas as far from the great hall as possible. There were closer options, but after taking everything into consideration, they decided it would be better to reserve nearby rooms for the storage of any incidental baggage.
The silence may have proven unbearable. One of their number—Prian Polson—spoke.
“I don’t care for
All Hilma’s nerves were concentrated on her ears.
She could definitely hear children’s voices. But it was so faint, you could not tell where in the building they came from; if you weren’t listening for it, chances were you’d never even notice. Keeping the baggage near the main hall and their living quarters far removed kept it at that threshold.
But while it might not bother them, if the King of Darkness’s envoy objected to the sound, the results would be beyond imagining.
“……Could be an issue,” Orrin said after some thought. “Shall we insist upon total silence?”
Everyone nodded. They’d have to mention it to those they were relieving and have them hush the children back in the break room.
But the brief conversation must have lightened the mood a bit. Orrin spoke again, saying what was on all their minds but none had dared to voice.
“Still…will they actually come to save us?”
The stress of waiting for the Nation of Darkness’s emissary had clearly gotten to him.
Seven days ago, an army of four hundred thousand had marched out of the capital. A day before, word got around that the Nation of Darkness’s armies were camped outside the capital walls. They’d only been on standby a single day, but the toll on their minds was far greater than the physical fatigue.
They’d received these instructions when the war began—over a month ago.
Specifically, when the Nation of Darkness reached the capital, they would transport those who demonstrated loyalty to a safe place but no more than a thousand. They’d been tasked with making that list.
The manor currently housed exactly that number—Eight Fingers members and families.
The total sum of Eight Fingers members was far greater. The chiefs had been forced to pick and choose the most skilled and loyal members. With families included, they’d quickly reached their limit. That was why they could hear children’s voices.
But all feared salvation would never come.
On their scramble to the top of the Eight Fingers, each of them had promised to save lives, then ordered those same people slain when their use reached an end. They were in that exact position now on the opposite side of that bargain and could not shake the notion from their minds.
Without so much as a glance backward, Hilma said, “The King of Darkness is a man of his word.”
“I—I believe he is!” Orrin stammered. Clearly panicking. Hilma’s words suggested he doubted their benefactor. “I never meant to imply otherwise.”
His voice echoed far louder than those of the children. Realizing this, he clamped his lips shut.
No one else dared speak a word until they reached the great hall.
When they opened the door, they were met with listless smiles on tired faces.
The Nation of Darkness’s emissary had yet to arrive.
Hilma felt a wave of relief tinged with fear. Likely all four of them felt the same.
“There you are!” Noah Zwedane said. “Our turn to rest. If they arrive—”
He glanced at the magic item—a handbell.
It was paired with another of similar make—if one was rung, the other would, too.
If they were moved too far apart, the effect would be severed. There was only one ring available—not especially versatile and rather lacking as a means of communication. But they came in handy for things like this.
“We’ll let you know,” Prian said.
on standby? Is this king ev— Fine,
. Don’t look at me like that.”
Those words came from a thin, reedy man.
The chief of the slavery division, Coccodor.
All the kingdom’s criminals had been freed from prisons, conscripted into the armies facing the Nation of Darkness on the front lines. They’d snatched him up during the turmoil and brought him here.
At first, opinions were split on what to do with him.
If he joined the war against the Nation of Darkness, he would definitely die—and he was a colleague, so they had always intended to save him. What caused the split was how to introduce him to the King of Darkness.
He was chief of a division that had long since been reduced to a mere shadow of itself; several had said there was no point in mentioning him at all. But the opposing side argued that he was still an Eight Fingers chief, and the King of Darkness likely already knew who he was, so to do otherwise might make it seem like they were hiding things.
Wanting to eliminate any risk, the latter option had won out.
The next time they were on the chopping block, they’d make the introductions.
It was now unanimous that he would be introduced the moment the emissary arrived. To avoid arousing even the slightest suspicions.
“You can’t leave here. We have to present you properly.”
For that reason, he’d been trapped in the great hall, waiting for an emissary who could arrive at any time. He ate and slept here. And Coccodor was nearing the end of his rope.
“Look, I am grateful, okay? The bribes you sent kept me safe from the terrors of that prison. And you snatched me out of that mess of a mobilization. Despite my failings.”
“What’s your point, Coccodor?” Noah asked.
“It’s too generous,” Coccodor said, his eyes narrowing. “I’ve lost all my money and connections. What are you after? This manor is already filled with Eight Fingers members. You’re not planning on killing me to encourage unity, are you?”
“Huh?” Hilma was genuinely startled. Not just her, either. Everyone but Coccodor looked stunned.
Sometimes forcing everyone to share responsibility for a crime could bind you in the life. He must be implying something of the kind, but…
“Wh-why are you all…? I’m guessing I’m off the mark.”
They looked at one another, like they were dealing with an awkward relative.
“Whatever are you talking about, Coccodor?” she asked. “No, Ampetif. You’re one of us!”
Now it was his turn to look flabbergasted. She almost laughed out loud.
“Wh-what are you actually after? Are you all monsters wearing flayed skins, disguising yourselves? At the behest of the King of Darkness?!”
He was clearly beside himself with fear because he simply couldn’t wrap his head around their actions.
The monsters he mentioned were imaginary, a threat mothers made to convince naughty children to stay in bed. Adventurers agreed no such monster had ever been encountered.
“I knew something was up! You all went on the same diet?! Hilma’s taken hers way too far! Being that thin can’t be healthy! If you’re skin stealers, that explains it!”
She just smiled warmly at him. What bliss it must be to not know what hell was like.
“Wh-why are you smiling?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Ampetif. I thank you for your kind thoughts.”
“N-no, nothing. Forget it. I really… All joking aside, are you really Hilma? The Hilma Shugneus? Not a twin sister? Or magically mind controlled?”
“Am I that different?”
very thin, but that was obviously not what he meant. She was probably just much, much nicer now. But wasn’t that a welcome change? She did not think it deserved so much suspicion.
“……You’re like a totally different person. That goes for all of you. Are you sure you haven’t been replaced?”
“We’ve just been through that much,” Noah said.
Everyone nodded. And Coccodor looked spooked.
“Like…what? I don’t want to pry, but…a warning would—”
Then the center of the room
. It seemed like a layer of pitch had appeared. Thin yet seemingly bottomless. A semicircle with the bottom cut off where it lay flush against the floor.
Everyone had been dragged through one of these before. It was a Gate. High-level magic, beyond any caster in the kingdom, only used by the King of Darkness and his minions. If one was active here—
Hilma hastily dropped to one knee. She could feel Coccodor following suit.
Head down, Hilma’s hands clenched tight.
Their fate lay in the balance.
Was this their salvation or their destruction?
She heard a single set of footsteps.
“You may raise your heads.”
Before the Gate stood a girl, chest oddly prominent for her apparent age. Hilma had not been formally introduced, but she had heard this girl addressed before as Shalltear. No one here had the courage to use that name. Coccodor was blissfully ignorant, but even he could read the room.
“I have been sent to collect you. I’m told you’ve selected a thousand, so have them brought here at once.”
“Right away! They’re waiting nearby.”
Orrin ran off. He was the strongest of them.
“Shadow demon,” Shalltear called—and a demon stepped out of the darkness. It had been here the whole time. They had all suspected their every action was under surveillance. This merely confirmed it.
The shadow demon whispered something to Shalltear. She nodded, listening closely. When it was done, Noah spoke, choosing his words carefully.
“Uh, um…while Orrin is fetching the others, there’s someone we should introduce. Can you spare a moment for it?”
“That will not be necessary. You all have baggage to bring, so let us begin moving it all. It seems there is quite a lot, so it will be faster if we use my minions—do you mind?”
“I-if it’s not too much to ask.”
“Excellent,” Shalltear said and cast a spell. Probably a summon of some sort. Several powerful undead stepped forth. They were let out of the room and came back with stacks of luggage, carrying them all through the Gate.
The baggage was taken care of in astonishingly short order, and as the movers wrapped up, they heard footsteps rushing toward them.
This was the largest hall in the manor, but it wasn’t enough to accommodate one thousand people.
“Pass through the Gate in the order you arrive. You will find yourselves in a village built within a forest. You’ll exit into the village square, so do wait there.”
Following these orders, they began filing through the portal.
Some were certainly hesitant to step into the unknown, but since their arrival here, they’d been repeatedly told never to disobey an order, so there was less chaos than anticipated.
The biggest problem was boys of a certain age—they had a tendency to stop and stare. And quite a few nearby girls were openly disgusted as a result.
Shalltear was certainly a showstopper.
Love at first sight was as inevitable as the hostility from her own gender.
But Hilma was taking mental notes.
If these children did anything stupid, she would be held responsible. She would have to take steps to prevent that. She was most on guard against girls touching their own flat chests, comparing themselves to Shalltear.
But those children’s parents took their hands and pulled them smoothly through the Gate. To her great relief, no significant problems occurred.
The chiefs were the last to pass through, and when they stepped out of the Gate, they found themselves in the promised location. A row of wooden houses surrounded by the scent of the forest.
The undead had piled all the luggage in the center of the square, and there was confusion in the air—or was it excitement? The younger they were, the more the latter held sway.
Perhaps a natural reaction for anyone after their first passage through a Gate.
“Listen up!” Noah roared. And the crowd quickly fell quiet—faster than expected.
Shalltear was floating above the ground, perhaps to ensure all here could see her.
“We are hard at work on your villages and will guide you to them in a week’s time. Until then, you will live here. To help with village maintenance, we will be loaning you four golems. Use them if you need to move anything heavy. There are undead placed around this village, but they are there to prevent monsters getting in. However, these undead are not good at improvising—if you set foot outside their ring, they’ll attack you as well. Ensure you do not step past their defenses.”
Shalltear scanned the crowd, making sure everyone understood her.
“For the rest, work out how to get through this week together. We have left you two weeks’ worth of provisions, so that should pose no issue. I will return once in three days’ time, so if any issues arise, report them then.”
She came in for a landing, looked around once, and her eyes settled on Coccodor.
“You are one of the chiefs?”
“Y-yes. Er, um…did you want something from me?”
He could clearly
how outclassed he was and was being extremely mindful of his tone.
“You will have to visit the Prince of Fear.”
Shalltear closed the old Gate and opened a new one.
Pure animal instinct warned Coccodor this was bad news, and he looked around for help.
His eyes met hers, but Hilma instantly averted her gaze. She could not argue with Shalltear’s decision. Nor could any of her companions. None dared say a word.
“W-wait, don’t! I don’t wanna! I can see it in your faces! Help!”
“Yes, yes, move along now.”
Shalltear grabbed Coccodor and forcibly hauled him through the portal. His attempts to resist were utterly futile.
“No, stop! Help!”
Hilma watched him vanish through the magical doorway and let out a small sigh. The Gate vanished.
No one relaxed. A silence settled over the square.
Most of these thousand souls were blissfully unaware of what hell awaited him. But seeing Coccodor hauled off like that told them more than enough. No one dared move a muscle.
It was all too clear the one who brought them here had not done so out of kindness. Their new home seemed host to untold horrors.
“We failed to save Coccodor,” Noah said, moving to Hilma’s side.
They had not wanted anyone else to peer into those hellish depths. But preventing it had proved impossible. The guilt was overwhelming.
“A shame, truly. But…it won’t kill him. Let us call it a rite of passage. Now he, too…will know. Know why we value one another so.”
“A rite…yes. Calling it that does make me feel better.”
“Hilma, Noah, I share your concerns for his well-being. But we have other business to tend to first.”
It fell to them to alleviate the concerns of the crowd.
Hilma stepped forward.
If the Nation of Darkness wanted them dead, they would have left them where they were. It would be pointless to go to the trouble of transporting them here. Or taking Coccodor away for that matter.
All Shalltear’s actions were proof that the King of Darkness had kept his promise.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” she said, bowing her head.
She did not know which direction he was in. But this was the only way she had of expressing her feelings.
It was very much like a prayer.
Three guardians stepped forth from the camp outside the kingdom capital.
Cocytus was in charge of toppling the castle. Aura was tasked with securing critical facilities. And Mare’s job was to cast spells that hit wide areas, reducing the city to a heap of rubble.
Each had minions following in their wake.
Mare was backed by the Hanzos, Cocytus by the frost virgins, and Aura by her own bestiary.
The streets ahead were eerily silent. Were the city’s residents already in mourning? Cowering in fear of the Nation of Darkness?
A few days before, they had annihilated the kingdom’s armies. From the camp nearby, Ainz could see a paltry number of troops standing atop the capital’s walls, ready to defend them.
Far too few. But that was arguably true for Ainz’s camp as well.
There were no high-level minions here, not even the Nazarick Old Guarders. Just Ainz, Albedo, and ten undead Ainz had made—death knights and the like.
Albedo was in full plate, a halberd in hand. She had a World Item on her person as well, just in case.
The guardians spread out, surrounding the city. Ainz was watching from a distance, Albedo by his side.
“Yes,” she answered. “With us this far apart, it’s their last chance to act. If they do nothing here, then we can safely say we’ve come up empty.”
Ainz grunted in agreement, his eyes back on the city.
Just in time to spot something flying out of the capital. He glanced around but couldn’t identify any backup.
The intel they had showed only one man with the courage to go up against magic that could fell an army two hundred thousand strong.
The man with the power suit. The Drops of Red.
He narrowed his eyes, observing the approaching shape. “All right, here we go,” he muttered.
They could now shift to phase two of this operation, but that carried some concerns.
This was a very important plan. It required a delicate response, like walking on thin ice. Could he actually pull it off? Maybe not, but neither could he leave such a vital role to anyone else.
The shadow was closing in.
Honestly, he was a bit appalled at his foe’s recklessness; did he not wonder about the conspicuous lack of aerial defenses? Did he think none of the other guardians spotted him flying over? Or was he taking action in full knowledge of all that?
If he saw the trap for what it was and flew in anyway, then that spoke to his courage and determination.
“Reckless or merely conceited? Or…well, either way, we’ll soon learn.”
“Yes,” Albedo said.
“It’s all yours.”
“I shall handle it.”
She was rarely this taciturn. Ainz was unsure what was on her mind. But she definitely didn’t seem like she was in a
Ainz looked back up at the power suit. It would probably take a while to get here. Maybe they should have attacked closer to the city, Ainz thought—then realized his mistake.
Odds were this attack was a decoy.
“Does he know his role? Or is he ignorant of that fact?”
“Who knows? Either way, stage three is a lock. Ready?”
“…No problem. I will play my part to perfection. You focus on yours.”
“Fine,” Albedo said. “No, wait—your wish is my command, Lord Ainz.”
At last the power suit reached the Nation of Darkness’s base. It was one hundred yards up and one hundred yards out.
From here, they could clearly identify it. Though they had never had any doubt.
The crimson power suit hit the brakes, hovering in midair. The face was hidden, but it seemed to be glaring down at him.
Albedo raised a hand, and the death knights stepped forward into the line of fire.
The box on the hovering power suit’s shoulder absorbed light—then released it as lightning.
“Chain Dragon Lightning.” Ainz muttered the spell’s name even as the electric dragon hit one of the death knights. It took massive elemental damage, and then the spell leaped to the undead around it.
The blinding light illuminated their surroundings—and then there were no undead. It had taken them all out in an instant. The spell had not struck Ainz or Albedo—not because the pilot had intended it but just sheer coincidence.
“Such insolence! State your name!” Albedo snarled. So loud Ainz almost clapped his hands over his ears. Even from this distance, the pilot must have heard—but no answer was forthcoming. No—there
an answer. If you could call it one.
The boxed weapon rack on the suit’s left shoulder began absorbing light and activated a different spell.
Ainz and Albedo were enveloped in a torrent of fire, raining down all around them.
Fire Storm. A faith-based area-of-attack spell.
Fire was Ainz’s weakness. But this spell was not buffed by any special skills nor cast by a mage of Ainz’s level, so it did not do much damage. Still, he could hardly afford to sit here ignoring it.
And so he gave an order.
“Go, Albedo. Do not let him escape.”
“By your command!”
When the order came down, Albedo took a tight grip on her halberd and flew off.
Her black wings fluttering, she soon closed the gap.
Startled by her rapid ascent, the man in the power suit turned away, movements rather stiff.
She tried to slam her weapon into the suit’s unprotected back, but just before her blow landed, it shot away—not back to the capital but headed south.
Albedo considered the lay of the land.
Nothing in that direction stood out as remarkable. Nowhere that would make for a good ambush.
Beneath her helmet, her scowl deepened.
Really, does he think we’re so blind we can’t tell what he’s after? Or…does he just think it won’t matter even if we do? In which case, I’d better be careful.
She glanced back over her shoulder at the Nation of Darkness’s camp. She could see a small figure all on his own, looking up at her. She had her orders, but she was a
. Her role was to protect others—especially her one and only master. Leaving him behind felt wrong.
Even worse, she couldn’t make her target pay the price for this.
She clicked her tongue once, glaring after the retreating power suit.
There was a backpack-like protrusion on the armor’s back, six thrusters firing away. White flames shot out, leaving comet-like tails in its wake.
Anyone unversed in power suits would assume destroying these would rob their capacity for flight and leave them tumbling toward the ground.
But according to her master, those were merely
The power suit’s flight ability was quite similar to the Fly spell. Her master insisted it was technically something else, but either way, the suit could keep flying even if its thrusters were completely nonfunctional. But her master had not personally verified this, so he’d been careful to point out that this was just how it had been “back in the day.”
But how far is he planning on flying? We’re already quite far from our base. Or am I the real target here?
He was slowly putting more distance between them.
Perhaps he might even get away.
Albedo did not have any skills that increased her flight speed. In chases, she was meant to summon her war bicorn, but since she was yet unable to mount it, she was reliant on her wings. And she had already reached her maximum speed.
But naturally, she was prepared for this. She’d borrowed a speed boost item from her master. If she equipped it, she could close this gap in an instant. So why hadn’t she done that yet? To find out what her foe’s next move was, naturally.
But if he was
trying to run away, Albedo was ready to put a stop to it.
As she scowled at his backside, he abruptly swung around to face her.
Bracing a weapon similar to Shizu’s Mana Gun.
“Hmph,” Albedo scoffed.
Where Shizu’s was shaped like an assault rifle, Cocytus had said this weapon was a heavy machine gun. It had more destructive force than Shizu’s.
With a low growl, it spat a stream of bullets in her direction.
Bigger than acorns, the rounds came in very fast and in great quantities—dodging them all would be nigh impossible.
But it was easy enough for Albedo to bat one back from whence it came if she so desired. That would hurt a lot—the weapon damage of her foe’s gun, plus her halberd’s damage, and the bonus provided by her skills.
She chose not to activate those skills. Instead, she held her halberd high, doing nothing, merely closing the distance between them.
Fully intent on letting all the bullets strike her.
And as the bullets reached her armor—
—she’d assumed her armor would neutralize any incoming damage, but it didn’t even need to.
Not a single bullet hit her. They were all deflected.
Apparently, these bullets had no magic in them.
Floor guardians could all render unenchanted projectiles useless. If she’d known this weapon hadn’t been imbued with magic, she’d have unequipped that item first.
I was hoping to evaluate the destructive strength of it, but all I’ve done is reveal one of my own abilities. If we give them another chance, they’ll definitely make sure to use something magical…
Albedo could tell this rattled him. But he must have known it was possible; he quickly took one hand off the gun, holding a palm out toward her.
Preparation for a magic attack, no doubt.
“What now?” Albedo muttered. Once again, using no skills, just advancing steadily toward him. Even at this distance, she had skills that would let her attack him, but she had no intent of giving anything else away. A bright-green light shot from his right hand and struck Albedo.
For an instant her body—her armor, technically—flashed the same color. The light soon faded, doing nothing in particular.
She felt no pain.
This was not because she’d actively defended against the spell to prevent the damage but because her resistance had not allowed the effect to activate at all.
Odds were high this was an instant death spell, the sort of magic her master excelled at.
Spells like that were affected not just by stats, passives, special skills, and items—level difference also played a significant role in determining the success rate, so unless the supporting stat build was extremely specialized, they were only useful on targets of equal level or below.
So an attack from someone reliant on a power suit never stood a chance of harming a heavily accessorized level-100 NPC like Albedo.
Throwing out an instant death spell to learn the difference in their abilities could be a worthwhile gamble, but if he genuinely believed that magic would work on her… Well, Albedo found that rather insulting.
It was high time she drove her point home.
Albedo was already nearly on top of him, so she lashed out with her fist.
She didn’t bother using her halberd, partially to demonstrate her contempt but also because she had no real clue how much damage the weapon would do.
He tried to block the swing with his gun, but she was a bit too fast for him.
Even pulling her punch, a level-100 swing hit quite hard.
There was a loud
, and he went sailing away.
The power suit was a good three yards tall, putting it well over Albedo—so seeing it knocked back that far and shaking like a leaf, it was all rather droll.
More damage than I expected. Like he’s made of tofu.
She hadn’t expected much, but…
Albedo was actually rather alarmed by it. Nonetheless, she laughed out loud.
“Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Prepare to suffer the fate that befalls all foolish enough to attack Lord Ainz. First, I shall sever your limbs from your body. Next, I shall break each of your teeth so that you may not even bite your own tongue. Oh, perhaps I should do that the other way around? Either way, once I am done, I shall bring you back to Lord Ainz and force you to apologize.”
Her ears caught a derisive sound.
Beneath the helmet, her eyes narrowed.
“You dare click your tongue at me? How ill-mannered. The moment you attacked without giving your name, I knew you were a boor. I suppose I should simply say this was just as I expected.”
“Big talk from a genocidal maniac! All’s fair when eliminating absolute evil.”
“Oh? From your sudden attack, I assumed you were a primitive incapable of human speech. Well, anyone living in this kingdom is little better than a savage, really.”
“Say what you will, Prime Minister Albedo.”
Albedo considered the pros and cons of continuing this conversation and decided it might have its uses.
Perhaps Lord Ainz or Demiurge could think one step ahead…
She knew her domestic affairs but was not completely confident when it came to political intrigue and diplomacy. But there was no one here to offer her advice, so she had to trust her own instincts.
“I shall, Drops of… What was it again? Sorry, I can’t be bothered to learn the names of adventurer parties.”
“Won’t make much of a minister like that, lady.”
Was Drops of Red accurate? Was he deliberately not arguing with that to trick her?
Either way, she intended to keep chatting. The hit she’d landed had told her enough about his strength. If they clashed again, it could get rather messy.
So she pretended to enjoy their banter.
Buying time is such a drag…
To keep her foe from catching on, she had to play the part of a haughty tyrant.
Albedo flew off after the crimson power suit.
Now Ainz was alone in the camp. If he was right, the next phase would soon begin.
Ainz activated Body of Effulgent Beryl.
If someone wanted to eliminate Ainz and had even an ounce of intelligence, they’d go all in on the weakness shared by all skeleton-type monsters—blunt damage. To achieve his goals here, he could not really afford to take hits that took advantage of this obvious vulnerability and suffer significant damage.
Then he got a ping on his Delay Teleportation.
Just as expected.
He’d figured they weren’t after Albedo. Ainz was relieved. If she’d been their target, it would have made things far trickier.
But could he be sure of this? The trap could have multiple layers.
The enemy was already coming at him from behind.
That alone told him they were a close-range fighter.
While the delay was still happening, Ainz cast Explode Mine over his shoulder, on the teleport location. Then he stood perfectly still, waiting for his enemy to appear. He already had Life Essence active and wanted to do a visual check on whether it was draining his foe’s energy, but he held back.
As they arrived, the explosion went off.
Ainz leaped forward—away from the enemy—and spun around.
“Silver…no, the gleam isn’t right. Platinum? Some metal I don’t know?”
The explosion’s dust cleared, revealing platinum-colored full plate.
Four weapons floated around it.
A spear, a katana, a hammer, and a great sword.
Each was a bit too large for a human to swing; their designs were less practical than playful. Like many of the weapons stored within Nazarick’s treasury.
The gleam of these weapons was exactly like the armor itself—they, too, were likely platinum.
But several questions remained. Despite its value as a rare metal, platinum imbued no specific magical effect. He could not see the advantage of crafting weapons with it.
The most likely explanation was that the platinum coating was meant to disguise the actual metal within. There were creatures like that in Nazarick—he’d only just recently learned about the golems in the Prince of Fear’s room.
It could also be a metal that merely
like platinum, one unique to this world that Ainz was unaware of.
Ainz watched his foe carefully. Any scrap of information could decide the outcome of this encounter.
His gravest concern was that he couldn’t detect any emotion in his foe’s demeanor. They stood stock-still ever since arriving, not moving at all. Perhaps an expression of confidence after suffering no injury—or at least that’s how it seemed to Ainz, as there was no visible blood or wounds.
But it had to have hurt.
He found it hard to imagine anything could get caught in his Explode Mine and emerge without a scratch. Ainz might be specialized in death spells, but it shouldn’t be possible to entirely negate high-level spell damage without a trick of some kind. And Explode Mine had no element, so it was even harder to counter.
Did this aplomb just come from gritting teeth and fighting through the pain? Born of willingness to die in battle? Or was there actually some trick to it after all?
“Did you think I was standing here with my guard down? Like the spell you—”
Ainz had intended this to provoke a reaction but was not permitted to speak further. The armor was preparing to attack—the hammer had floated into easy reach.
One piece of info confirmed, Ainz grinned.
They were after him—not Albedo.
If they refused to engage him in conversation, then they had no reason to buy time. They wanted to finish him before his backup could arrive.
If they had appeared in the air and started talking, he would have known they were after Albedo. Or planning on striking them both down.
Everything was going just as he’d planned.
But the enemy’s attacks caught him rather by surprise.
The weapons remained floating. Ainz had imagined a warrior would close in, but instead his foe waved a hand, like issuing an order, and the hammer rocketed toward him.
And it moved really fast.
Like it was thrown by a very high-level player—Ainz was unable to dodge it.
If no magic was involved, he could negate the effects of all projectiles, but this weapon clearly had some sort of magic in it.
So he chose to stand his ground, just like this foe had done, and took the throw head-on. Naturally, the instant the hammer struck him, his spell activated.
Body of Effulgent Beryl completely nullified the blunt damage.
Ainz never once took his eyes off his foe, watching their every movement. He saw this give his opponent pause. Clearly surprised by the lack of visible damage.
The hammer shot back to the warrior’s hand as fast as it had left, joining the other weapons after resuming its orbit.
“Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!” Ainz laughed, spreading his arms wide and driving his invulnerability home. “Do you see? You know full well skeletons are weak to blunt attacks! Naturally, that applies to me as well. But did you really think I would do nothing to address that? Did you mistake me for a fool? Let me be clear.”
Ainz thumped his own ribs.
“Any damage of the sort will not work on me.”
As he boasted, the enemy made no further attacks. Ainz was thinking furiously about what that could mean. If he read it wrong, it could prove fatal.
His foe raised a hand. And spoke. The voice was clearly male.
“World Isolation Wall.”
A wave spread outward, centered on the user, like a distortion in the air itself.
If it maintained the shape it started with, the area was now surrounded by a translucent semisphere. It covered a huge area, most likely best counted in miles. But he was sure his guardians were all on the
Ainz’s mind went into overdrive.
The clear advantage of spells like this was cutting off contact with external forces. But how effectively could it keep them out? Did it block physical entry from people charging at it? Entry via teleportation spells?
And what about the effective range? It had looked like a half circle, but could you dig under it?
And most importantly, what conditions needed to be met to destroy it?
He had too little information to be certain of anything. But he could make some educated guesses.
First, this foe clearly knew Ainz was a magic caster. At the very least, he would employ a spell that stopped him from teleporting away.
If his opening move was not an attempt at mind control with a World Item, then this was not the enemy who’d brainwashed Shalltear. Or if it was, he had reasons not to use that. Ainz still knew next to nothing, but this was clearly not a foe to be trifled with.
Why? Because Ainz had considerable knowledge of spells and skills. Extensive training had left him with granular comprehension of their inner workings; his knowledge of fighting techniques was likely unparalleled even within Nazarick.
But Ainz had no memory of whatever move his foe had just used. Given the sheer scale of it, he could only assume it was a super-tier spell or a World Item. And that made it all the more likely this foe could easily throw out other unknowns, activating them in an instant.
This posed a legitimate threat.
A foe who could potentially take down Ainz—or the level-100 floor guardians.
Despite that fact, Ainz displayed no trace of emotion.
For one thing, his face wasn’t capable of emoting in the first place. It was possible for his voice or body language to give his feelings away—but it was also because Ainz Ooal Gown would never do something so humiliating.
He could not allow his enemy to sense his relief, his joy.
His certainty that he’d been right to pick this fight.
Ainz kept his eyes focused, observing his opponent.
That technique might be new, but it was not beyond comprehension. For one thing, using it apparently cost health. And a great deal of it at that. This meant the wall that had appeared was not just for show. It must have some
, and he needed to figure out what quickly.
Ainz had Life Essence active, and he’d sensed his foe’s health decreasing as the wall went up. Yet, there’d been no reaction from mana essence. His foe seemed like a pure warrior build and likely had little to no mana to begin with.
If this mystery barrier was a prison to prevent Ainz’s escape, then he must believe Ainz was trapped here. That might loosen his lips. Especially if he had faith in his own skill.
So Ainz acted generous.
His tone so amenable you’d think he’d forgotten about the hammer.
“I’ll forgive the ambush. I assume you know my name, but allow me to state it anyway. I am Ainz Ooal Gown, the King of Darkness. Your turn. May I hear your name?”
There was a long silence before he answered.
Ainz instantly began analyzing that information.
This meant a sharp increase in the odds that this barrier was not just to prevent his escape but to prevent anyone else from getting in as well. Giving him
information was proof he did not intend to let Ainz get away and was quite certain he would receive no reinforcements.
This name had not appeared anywhere in the information Sebas and Demiurge had gathered. It seemed unlikely they had found nothing on a foe this powerful. Even if he’d been in hiding, Ainz had his doubts that anyone this strong could have avoided carving his name into the kingdom’s history books.
The most likely explanation? He had given a fake name.
In which case, why?
A kingdom subject would likely just give their name and declare themselves here to vanquish the evil despot invading their lands. If that option was off the table, then this was someone who needed to keep his identity secret. He could be trying to direct Ainz’s fury to the real Rik Aganeia. Or perhaps he was simply being cautious, worried that Ainz could do something with knowledge of his true name.
While placing the wilderness under his control, he’d gathered information from a number of subhuman tribes, and that had included the idea that curses were easier to stick if you knew the target’s true name—the one linked to their soul. They’d researched the concept back at Nazarick and been unable to find any proof that the theory had any merit—thus, they’d assumed it was mere folk superstition.
It was possible Rik might hail from a tribe that believed in those stories.
Ainz had too little to work with and was just piling guesses on top of guesses. But as far as platinum-clad powerhouses went, he could think of two offhand. One was not likely to take human form, but the other—
“I have heard the songs of the bards. The tales of the Thirteen Heroes. The names of several have been lost—but one of them wore armor rather similar to yours. Was Rik Aganeia his name? I’m sure that bard would be delighted to learn it.”
“Oh?” his foe said, with neither a shrug nor any other gesture of note. “I had no clue I was famous enough for any bard to care.”
Was this really one of the Thirteen Heroes? Or did he think pretending to be would hide his true nature? Perhaps there was some other motivation.
, Ainz thought.
This was making it far too difficult to tell what was true and what wasn’t. But this man had the confidence to go toe to toe with Ainz Ooal Gown, the caster who’d wiped out an army with a single spell. Ainz would need to discover the depths of his prowess before this fight was over.
“Mind if I call you Rik?”
A swift reply. And laced with loathing to boot.
“How rude of me. A bit too friendly! Aganeia, then.”
“That will do.”
“Good. Then a proposal for you. Would you like to come work for me?”
The air around him seemed to crackle. But Rik neither raised his hackles nor shifted his stance at all. He just stood there.
This would make sense against a clearly weaker foe. Just as Cocytus had taken no stance against the lizardmen. Did Rik believe he had Ainz Ooal Gown outclassed?
That seemed unlikely.
In which case—
this Rik’s stance?
This bolt-upright posture would make sense if he intended to finish Ainz by ordering these weapons around—and never moving himself.
“…I’ll take that as a no,” Ainz said. “Shame. I can’t talk you into it? I always have a place for true strength. I am treating Dark Hero Momon like a proper subordinate. Should you join me, I could be persuaded to call off the kingdom invasion. Your value is greater than any country.”
His proposal was cut down on the spot. No hesitation at all.
Beneath Ainz’s immobile face, his brain was quickly mulling over the implications.
Even if he was dead certain he could save the kingdom once he took out Ainz, would he really not be the least bit tempted? Or was he convinced the Nation of Darkness would quit the field if Ainz perished?
Does he just not care what happens to the kingdom? Is he from somewhere else?
Rik’s armor began to glow. At first, Ainz thought it was reflecting sunlight, but Rik’s health began dropping again. Clearly, he’d activated another ability.
And that cinched it.
Rik’s moves burned HP.
But health could easily be restored with magic or potions. These moves were likely not
strong. Even in this world, the strength of a move was commensurate with its cost.
But Rik busting out a special skill meant diplomacy had failed. Ainz activated a spell of his own.
Ainz moved—to the side of the barrier. The moment his vision cleared, he found the translucent wall standing before him.
“The teleport failed…”
He glanced around, but there was no sign of Aganeia. It was possible he had no pursuit skills.
Ainz had set his destination to the Great Tomb of Nazarick, so it was likely in this direction, beyond the barrier.
He’d verified at least one effect. This wall could completely stop him from teleporting out. But since he’d managed to move to the barrier’s edge, he could still teleport around in its confines. Just not out. If he tried, he would travel in that direction and stop once he reached the walls.
That was critical information.
He had never intended to teleport away from the fight, but this had been well worth revealing a card.
Ainz reached out.
If it doubled as a trap, he might take damage from coming into contact, but the odds of that were low. If that was the case, he likely would have taken damage from trying to teleport through it.
His hand touched the barrier.
It looked soft at a glance but was actually extremely hard. He gave it a good push, but not only could he not get through, it didn’t even budge. It was like the world ended here.
Ainz pulled out a gold coin and tossed it at the wall.
It hit the barrier and promptly bounced off.
Aiming carefully, he activated Lightning.
“…Nothing gets through. Hmm.”
These results were what he’d expected—and then he heard the ping on Delay Teleportation. Must be Rik.
Ainz activated Body of Effulgent Beryl and stayed very still, keeping his back to Rik.
As Rik arrived, something hit his back at high velocity. It was more blunt damage, so once again the spell’s power kept him perfectly protected.
But somehow it pushed him forward, pressing him against the barrier. This was pretty strange. Ordinarily, if damage was canceled out, accompanying effects like knock back were as well. Not with Rik’s attack apparently. And Ainz had yet to work out what that meant.
He slowly—and deliberately—turned around.
The hammer retreated to Rik’s side. Each of the four weapons floating around him were now wreathed in a white glow. This was new. It looked just like the glow enveloping his armor.
And his health was lower than before the teleport.
What’s more, it had dropped by more than when he’d activated his armor. Was this because he had to use this magic on each weapon individually or because teleporting here had also cost health? Ainz wanted more info on this.
“I said bash damage would get you nowhere. Did you not get that?”
“Try and teleport all you like. You can never escape the barrier. You are fated to perish here.”
Not much of a conversation
, Ainz thought. He left that unsaid, keeping his tone light—trying not to wind the man up further.
“Interesting. I’m impressed you had the nerve to cast an anti-teleport barrier. I assume you’re prepared for the consequences?”
In lieu of an answer, one of the hovering quartet stopped rotating—the great sword.
Clearly, he’d had enough small talk. So Ainz made his move.
“Twin Magic: Obsidian Sword.”
The spell created two blades of black stone, which he immediately used to attack Rik.
If his foe was using weapons, he would, too.
The first swing struck the hovering great sword, but the second was dodged by a very unorthodox evasive maneuver.
“What the—?!” Ainz let out a yelp despite himself.
The evasion itself was not at all surprising. But the
Rik dodged was impossible, even for Cocytus.
Rik had dodged with a lateral somersault at head height. That alone was odd but…acceptable. The problem was the
of something any
should have required.
In order to jump, you had to kneel slightly and put strength into your legs. There were nonnegotiable prerequisites to jumping. But Rik had skipped those steps. No preparation, just straight into the somersault.
It might be possible with the use of Fly or similar magic, but even Ainz would struggle to pull it off. His body would always resist moving like that.
Maybe someone with a body specifically attuned to Fly could reproduce these moves. But Ainz felt like something else could better explain Rik’s bizarre dodge—but the idea wouldn’t quite come together in his mind.
Even as Ainz was frustrated by that, Rik’s great sword came at him again. His obsidian blades were knocked aside by the other hovering weapons.
This great sword moved like it had a mind of its own. Reminded of the weapons that symbolized a guild, Ainz activated a defensive spell.
“Wall of Skeleton.”
The sword slammed into this bony barrier and destroyed it in a single hit.
Where the wall of skeletons had been just moments earlier, the great sword hovered, tip pointed his way. Rather than float back to Rik’s side, it came swinging at him, as if someone gripped the hilt tightly. Rik himself did not budge. He simply stood there, no stance at all.
And the sight of that finally jogged Ainz’s memory.
Ah. He’s like a
Rik moved like he had strings.
Like there were giant hands above him, one manipulating Rik himself and the other moving the weapons.
So he’s not using Psychokinesis to control the weapons but the armor as well? Wait, is the suit empty? Or is he controlling his own body, too?
The great sword slashed down with an overhead swing, and Ainz took out a staff—a Blasting Staff—to block it.
The weight was tremendous, and he thought he felt his feet sink slightly into the dirt.
If he had any weapon destruction skills, there might be a point in attacking this great sword, but Ainz had learned nothing of the kind. Acid was effective against physical objects, but if he tried using those spells, it would take too much time. It was Rik himself he should attack.
Ainz’s specialty was ghost magic. Unfortunately, it did nothing to Rik at all.
Did he have complete resistance against this type of skill? Or was it simply resistance to status effects? As Ainz mulled it over, the great sword took a horizontal swing, moving even faster than before.
Neither block nor dodge was in time, and he caught the blow on his torso. Slash damage got through his defense, knocking him back a bit—and slammed him into the wall of light. This was not the ideal position.
Ainz moved himself higher into the air. Since his swords worked differently from conventional summons, they remained floating near him.
Up here, he was easy to locate, but he had no intention of gaining distance or hiding until Albedo returned. This was the fight he had
Just in case, he activated Body of Effulgent Beryl once more. Rik was a tiny speck below, and he watched as the man located Ainz and started rising toward him.
Since he wasn’t sending the weapons up alone, there might be some limitation—maximum distance, perhaps.
Ainz began dropping.
As they passed each other, he flung his blades.
These obsidian swords were only useful for attacking and worthless for blocking incoming blows. They were fragile things, without the durability blocking would require. If he even tried, they would not last long.
The blades sliced through the air and were batted aside by the weapons surrounding Rik.
Blocking them seemed to be all he could manage—he did not counterattack.
He passed Rik and headed for the ground. That was when a spear shot down from above.
Ainz flung himself forward, barely managing to dodge the attack. Fly was still active, so he easily righted himself.
He did so a short distance away, just as Rik slowly came in for a landing. Three weapons were circling him—at least until the spear pried itself from the ground and returned home.
Ainz had his obsidian blades floating on either side of him.
The more he watched Rik, the more certain he was there was nothing alive inside that armor. He hadn’t bent his knees at all upon the landing.
move, taking the great sword in hand.
And charging in fast. The fastest he’d moved yet.
Like a meteor.
Ainz sent the blades toward him, but the circling weapons batted them to the ground.
“Call Greater Thunder.”
Bolt after bolt struck Rik, but his charge didn’t even slow down. He
taking damage. Ainz could see his health dropping. He was just enduring all the pain.
The great sword swung high, then came crashing down.
Even as he took damage, the corner of his eye spotted the katana swinging in from the side.
Ainz swung the Blasting Staff in return.
Rik weathered the blow. Assuming a caster’s swing was not that strong, he chose not to dodge but to power through so he could land a good hit on Ainz.
That was the correct choice.
Ainz would have done the same in his position.
But here, it was a huge mistake.
Ainz grinned inside as a shock wave sent Rik flying.
Like Yamaiko’s Iron Fists of a Lady Teacher, the Blasting Staff had a very high knock-back effect. As a tradeoff, it did almost no damage, but for a caster, the ability to control distance in a fight was vital.
As Rik flew backward, the other weapons were dragged with him. The katana’s swing missed, the tip barely scratching Ainz’s rib cage.
Rik stayed upright as he flew, and Ainz sent a spell after him.
“Summon Tenth-Tier Undead.”
His obsidian blades vanished, replaced by a level-70 undead that specialized in close quarters—a Doomlord.
It wore a rusted crown upon its helmet, a cape stained with blood, its full plate studded with scythe-like blades.
Negative energy—in the form of a black mist—poured from the chinks in its armor, gradually depleting its health. This was the penalty for summoning it with power far beyond its level—making good use of it required a veteran’s finesse.
Which didn’t matter to Ainz, who only needed it to tank for him.
Summoned monsters were your shields or your swords.
Casters that could do that were strong. But a truly powerful warrior would wisely ignore them.
How would Cocytus have handled it?
He would likely knock the monster into the summoner, close in, and attack both at once.
She’d let her defense speak for her, ignoring the monster to focus on bulldozing the caster or smartly pulling aggro so they hit each other.
How would Rik handle it? He had primarily been letting his weapons auto attack. He’d swung the great sword himself once but shown no signs of putting any special skills or martial arts behind it. That meant Ainz still had no real grasp of his potential as a warrior.
Hence this approach.
Rik made a beeline right toward it. No wavering, a regular dauntless charge.
Was he specialized not in the use of these floating weapons but in super-close-range fighting? In that case, he couldn’t leave any space between himself and the summons if he wanted to take it out quick.
As Rik closed in, the Doomlord raised its weapon. A war scythe with the blade affixed perpendicular to the handle. It was imbued with negative energy and shrouded in that black mist.
Ainz gave it an order through their magical link.
An open-ended one, merely informing it their foe was likely inanimate and to incorporate that into its approach. Summoned monsters received a portion of their summoner’s knowledge base. It likely knew that without him spelling it out, but…best to be sure.
The Doomlord activated a skill.
The black mist sprayed outward, blanketing the area.
This increased the Doomlord’s health drain ability but temporarily boosted all combat abilities in return.
Furthermore, it canceled the damage reduction stemming from the gap between its level and its opponent’s.
any undead within this black mist—naturally, including the Doomlord itself—got a reduction to the effects of anything light-, faith-, or positive karma–based. That effect had no overlap with conventional buffs, so it stacked on top of anything else it had active.
Ainz would rather like to gain the benefits of this himself, but the mist’s range was not exactly large, so he was forced to abandon the idea.
He was keeping his distance from their fight, not wanting to be targeted.
And in full observation mode.
Ainz was ready to strip Rik’s powers bare.
The Doomlord’s scythe struck the floating great sword with a mighty
Neither was knocked away; neither gave up any ground.
Their physical strength was an even match.
The sound of weapons clashing echoed again and again as the scythe and the katana traded a flurry of blows.
The scythe deflected the sword’s slash, but the hammer acted as a shield, blocking the scythe’s follow-up thrust. The spear flew in, but the scythe’s hilt knocked it aside. The great sword swung down, but the Doomlord stepped out of the way.
That dodge put it but a half step out, but Rik moved with it, not letting the gap open at all.
Their exchange was nigh even, but Rik was getting more hits in, giving him a slight advantage.
A wave of blackness, like a substance that repelled light itself, spread out around Ainz, swallowing everything in a murky darkness.
This negative energy healed the Doomlord’s wounds. But the amount healed was not worth the mana spent—and Rik had emerged unharmed.
The spell had done no damage to him—he’d completely resisted the negative energy. Where did that come from? A racial trait? A job class? Some piece of equipment seemed most likely.
He’d known he was going into a fight with an undead, so naturally he’d shored up his defenses against typical undead attacks. Just as Ainz would increase his fire defenses when facing a fire-breathing dragon.
As the clanging of their blows continued to ring out, Ainz cast his next spell.
Rendered undetectable, Ainz stopped hiding behind the Doomlord, circling around it.
As he did, the katana shot out at speeds that couldn’t be dodged, stabbing him right through the robes at his waist.
He had flawless defense against stab attacks, so it did no damage, but he hastily retreated back into the Doomlord’s shadow.
The flying katana quickly returned to auto attacking the Doomlord.
“…Eyes that can see the unknowable, hmm?”
This was not surprising. Even if you weren’t at Ainz’s level, any advanced player would have a countermeasure prepared for it.
The question was by what specific means had he been spotted…and for that, he lacked an answer. There were far too many options out there and not nearly enough information to narrow them down.
So what should he try next?
Rik seemed eager to attack Ainz directly and kept directing the array of weapons his way, but the Doomlord was covering for him. None of these blows was getting through.
The way this battle was going, if he just cast high-damage spells and summoned new Doomlords each time one died, he would likely emerge victorious. But that was not what Ainz was after.
Rik was clearly an enemy far stronger than any Ainz had faced in this world and had a number of moves Ainz’s knowledge could not identify.
If he could learn all that Rik could do, then that would give him an advantage against future foes with similar moves.
So Ainz refrained from using attack spells.
One might think shoring up his defenses would be a wiser move, but he had reasons to avoid that, too. Well aware of the risk, he simply chose to grin and bear it.
He continued watching their exchange carefully.
The Doomlord was being slowly pushed back, but neither was taking much damage.
You could generously call it a battle that ebbed and flowed, but Rik’s approach was so simplistic, it rather baffled Ainz. It was clear enough why the Doomlord couldn’t gain the upper hand—the Doomlord’s skills were all negative energy or psychic attacks that weren’t effective against Rik.
By now he was convinced that Rik was the member of a race with traits like a golem or some other construct, or owned magic items that conveyed similar bonuses, or was actually a construct himself.
What was more likely? Well, the fact that they’d been able to converse suggested the former possibility. There were races like half-golems that retained some construct-like traits, so he could be one of those.
He had no clue why one of those races would be backing the kingdom, but what mattered here was not Rik’s standing but his skill. So why were his attacks so simplistic? He was using no special skills, no martial arts.
One of the Supreme Beings had made very good use of golems, and Rik reminded Ainz of them.
If his opponent was a half-golem, that was fine, but if they’d done something tricky like stick a speaker inside an actual golem, that could be a pain.
The strength of the golems Ainz knew was based on the value of the metal used in their construction, the crafter’s skill, and the data crystal that tied it all together. Making a high-level golem carried a pretty hefty cost.
But if Rik was actually a golem and it was actually possible to make a golem this strong from a low-value metal like platinum, then there could be a lot more like him out there.
He needed more info.
Ainz sent the Doomlord another order.
It obeyed, spraying even more black mist.
Its speed and damage rose again, and now it began to scratch Rik’s armor. In return, its health quickly drained as well; the Doomlord did not last long.
As it vanished, Ainz cast Summon Tenth-Tier Undead again.
This time he called forth a level-68 undead—an Elemental Skull.
At first glance, it appeared to be
a floating skull. But it was enveloped in a shimmering magic aura, shifting constantly between four shades—red, blue, green, and yellow.
Ainz had ordered it to hang back and took up position in front of it.
Elemental Skulls were a type of undead specializing in elemental attack spells.
They had a caster’s health. Far less than the Doomlord boasted. But their magical offensive capabilities were significant. All the spells this undead cast were maximized.
On the defensive end of things, it had strong resistance to all types of magic and complete resistance to the four elements—fire, lightning, acid, and ice. But it was extremely weak to physical attacks, blunt damage being a particular weakness.
That’s why Ainz
to stand in front of it.
Despite seeing a caster step forward, Rik didn’t put his guard up. He simply closed in and started attacking Ainz.
At least be taken aback!
Ainz thought as he began parrying Rik’s slashes just like Albedo had taught him.
This was really more of a one-sided barrage; he was lucky to parry one in five attacks. Even when Ainz’s staff managed to deflect one weapon, the three others would follow up without fail. The hammer nailed him once, but Body of Effulgent Beryl negated the damage. A third straight cancellation must have finally convinced Rik it was futile, because he made no further effort to use the hammer.
Ainz had known this going in, but his foe was
Perhaps not quite as fast as the floor guardians but close enough. Abandoning the hammer was a real stroke of luck. If he’d kept that in the fray, Ainz would have had no shot at winning.
Watching the Doomlord fight had been enough to convince Ainz he stood no chance on the front lines.
Naturally, Ainz did have the option of using Perfect Warrior, but that would have required using special gear to turn the tide.
As he grimly hung on while fighting up close and personal, a spell rocketed in from behind.
As it did, Ainz activated the ninth-tier spell Vermilion Nova.
The strongest single-target fire spell lit Rik up. Yet, his attacks didn’t slow at all—the great sword hit Ainz hard.
Even wreathed in fire, his flurry of attacks didn’t slow down. Perhaps that was simply the way of a warrior who knew his priorities. But even so, it seemed a bit
The Elemental Skull had used a ninth-tier spell, Polar Claw. Extremely icy claws had slashed directly at Rik. It was nothing fancy, just pure damage. But in return, they were capable of dealing the most damage out of any chill attribute spells. A spell Ainz had not personally acquired.
Ainz remembered exactly how much health Rik lost from each spell.
The spear and katana hit him for a two-hit combo.
In response, he activated the ninth-tier spell Call Greater Thunder.
The Elemental Skull used the tenth-tier spell Mist of Super Acid. Another spell Ainz had not learned—knowledge of such spells was
he’d summoned this particular undead.
For a brief moment, Rik’s frame was enveloped in a powerful acidic mist. So were the weapons hovering around him.
Mist of Super Acid not only damaged the target, it had a supplementary effect where it damaged their gear, as well. These weapons might be floating around him, but the spell had clearly deemed them
The cloud reached even the farthest weapons, but despite Ainz being
, it did not affect him at all. Magic played by its own rules.
He could immediately tell that this acid was taking a chunk off Rik’s health. Acid seemed to have done the most damage out of the four elements he’d tried so far.
But this was still not a
of damage in the grand scheme of things.
His current analysis suggested Rik was built less for offense than defense. In other words, he was a tank first and foremost. He had pegged him as somewhere around level 90 in power.
My best plan would be to keep hitting him with acid… Ow! Ow!
“Let me think!”
His stream of thought suddenly interrupted, he felt a flash of irritation—and it brought a miracle to pass.
His staff struck the katana as it came in—and if Ainz had eyes, they’d have popped out.
The katana went sailing away, as if the knock-back effect had gone off.
This staff’s knock-back activation had very clear-cut rules.
First, blocking a warrior’s charge with the staff would not activate it. It only activated if Ainz was actively attacking.
Next, even if he attacked, if his foe blocked it with sword or shield, the effect wouldn’t trigger. It had to score a direct hit on the target’s body. Swords and shields did not qualify as part of the body. But the knock back
kick in if his foe blocked it with, say, a gauntlet.
So what did that say about Rik’s katana?
Based on the rules, it must have parsed the floating weapons as part of Rik’s body.
That was very strange.
Ainz recalled a time when Sebas had brought back some interesting weapons from the capital.
They were floating weapons used by a dancing girl.
They’d investigated them in the treasury room, but they had simply floated around, obeying orders and attacking semiautonomously. They were ordinary gear as far as anyone could tell. If he had struck the dancing girl’s weapons with this staff, no knock back would have occurred.
If he wanted a knock-back effect to work on equipment, he’d need a weapon like the Iron Fists of a Lady Teacher. Those had been made with the intent of causing shock waves just by punching the air. Only a weapon
devoted to knock back could make it happen.
This staff was
weaker, so why had it worked?
Given these facts, Ainz could only deduce that these weapons really did qualify as Rik’s body.
Ainz had two theories.
First was the idea that Rik’s weapons were like Entoma’s Lip Bug. Some sort of…sword-shaped golem might qualify as a valid trigger for the knock-back effect.
Alternately—and this seemed far more likely—Rik’s weapons weren’t equipment at all but actually a
of him. Much like how a knock-back attack would kick in if you used a move with that effect to aggressively parry a dragon’s claws.
He had sensed health gauges in the weapons around him but had assumed this was just because they were counted as part of Rik’s loadout. Especially since every time he hurt Rik, all their collective health went down proportionally. This understanding had been the wrong way around. It seemed more and more likely they were all
life-form. In which case…
Ainz hesitated for a very long moment.
He did have an approach in mind—
But was it the right one?
would be a mistake.
Ainz sensed the Elemental Skull preparing to cast the tenth-tier faith spell Seven Trumpeters and stopped it.
He knew what his role here was.
Ainz silently cast Message, even as Rik leaped backward, following the katana. The katana shifted back into orbit.
Would the weapons stop moving if they got too far from Rik, or did he just want Ainz to think that? Or had the knock back simply taken him by surprise?
“…We’ve gained a sense of each other’s strength now. Could we—?”
Rik came sliding up to him, wordlessly hacking away. He had no intention of talking at all.
Ainz was rather annoyed at this silent fighting style.
Certainly, if your enemy started blabbering, they were most likely stalling for time. Only an idiot would stop and talk in a life-and-death situation. Perhaps he should respect Rik’s strategic choice, but that didn’t make him any less sad that his efforts were in vain.
“Wait, wait! Let’s talk—”
Even as he soaked another hit, Ainz threw his staff away. He saw Rik hesitate.
And went down on hands and knees.
“Wait! Please, a moment of time! Hear me out!”
Rik paused, great sword raised high. Ainz’s head right below.
There was no danger of critical hits, so exposing his head like this wasn’t particularly frightening. And he’d already given the Elemental Skull its orders.
“I had no intention of seriously going against you. This all began when the kingdom stole provisions intended as aid for the Sacred Kingdom. I believe it is clear which of us is at fault here. What do you say? Do you truly believe us in the wrong?”
“…You’ve gone too far. There were other ways.”
Ainz lifted his head.
Rik still had his blade raised. But he did not look ready to swing it yet.
“Easy to say looking from the outside in. But what would you have done? Forgiven those who stole the food your country grew?”
“If you did not possess excessive strength, this outcome would never have been possible. Those with power must take care to use it well and be mindful of the consequences. I protect this world. Yes—this world is under
Rik spoke as if uninterested in any answer he might offer.
At last the idiot speaks
, Ainz thought. He pretended to be listening. Some people’s lips loosened up if you were responsive, and others not—since Rik was speaking softly, as if talking to himself, silence seemed the better option.
But he paid close attention to Rik’s gaze.
“What the Merciful Mother and her followers are doing is a mistake. Just as my father erred, so do they. That power is too great. It is the root of all that is wrong.”
Ainz silently watched him, doing his best to make no sound at all.
Rik was enjoying his monologue. It would be rude to interrupt.
Nothing the man said made a lick of sense. Ainz thought Rik could use some tips on how to speak more persuasively. All he was doing was preaching to himself.
“It is all our fault, yet we ask no pardon. I cannot stand idle while you continue to commit evil deeds. That is why you must perish.”
His blade came whooshing down.
Not nearly as fast as before, perhaps out of guilt at striking a defenseless foe.
No, wait, keep leaking information!
Ainz was ready to scream. But he seemed to be done monologuing. In which case, there was no more use keeping up this undignified act.
The fight was back on.
He had kept the Elemental Skull on standby, and it moved into the path of the great sword, taking the blow for him.
An effective use of a summons. Or more accurately, the Elemental Skull had served its purpose, so this was all that was left for it to do. If this had been Shalltear’s Pipette Lance, he would have reconsidered, but Rik’s weapons had no absorption effects, so there was no downside to using his summons as a sacrificial shield.
“Eeeek!” Ainz let out a pitiable shriek. “So this is all your fault?! All this is your doing?!”
He had no idea who he was blaming or what for. He was simply trying to manipulate Rik into spilling more beans.
Rik momentarily paused, perhaps because of another pang of guilt, and Ainz used that opening to roll backward.
The Elemental Skull moved between them.
“—Defend!” Ainz roared.
The skull activated a spell. Rik ignored it, stepping forward to approach Ainz again. The skull tried to intervene, but it was too small and had no interception skills.
“Wall of Skeleton!”
Ainz cast a spell himself, leaving the Elemental Skull and Rik on the other side.
“Pathetic, King of Darkness!” Rik bellowed.
Angry at him for abandoning his summons and fleeing beyond a wall? But Ainz didn’t give a damn what his foe thought. If an arcane caster stood there defenseless and exposed, they were nothing but suicidal. And worse—
You’d think he could easily have leaped over the wall, but Rik chose to attack it
the Elemental Skull instead.
The Wall of Skeleton was not as durable as the summoned skull. Rik’s onslaught easily punched through it.
Meanwhile, the Elemental Skull was repeatedly casting Vermilion Nova, chipping away at Rik’s health. It did not really stand a chance of defeating him. He
a tank and very magic resistant in general.
So Ainz cast a spell of his own.
A single-target ninth-tier spell. It completely stopped an enemy’s movements but with one big caveat—you couldn’t do any damage to them while they were in stasis. Thus, it was generally employed while facing multiple foes.
But that hardly mattered; Rik was immune to this spell. He must have anti-time measures in place. Given his overall strength, hardly surprising.
The great sword shot toward Ainz while the other weapons homed in on the Elemental Skull.
Even as he took damage from the sword’s slash, he cast Greater Break Item on the incoming weapons, just to be sure. No effect. Also likely innate.
He was even more convinced Rik’s weapons were part of him.
Just as the skull’s health was getting low, Rik suddenly looked up.
He’d spotted someone swooping down at him.
Ainz heard a voiceless yelp. Something about this had come as a shock.
But even as he reeled, Albedo was coming in fast. Like an arrow shot by Aura. And—
With a vicious snarl, her halberd—3F—swung down upon him. Rik crossed spear and great sword to meet the blow.
But there was so much power behind 3F that his feet sank into the dirt.
And a moment later—Rik was sent flying to one side.
Albedo had ducked under his weapons and unleashed a kick at his chest. His armor screamed from the sheer force of it.
“Insect! Such insolence before Lord Ainz! You must paaaay!”
Her bellow made the air quiver, and she renewed her attacks.
The gap between them vanished in an instant. Albedo wound up for a mighty blow.
Two of Rik’s flying weapons rushed forward to stop her.
But then he was the one sent flying backward. That was no jump. His feet were off the ground, in full-flight mode.
“Albedo, stop! That’s enough.”
Ainz could tell she was eager to press the advantage and called for a halt.
She’d done enough. He couldn’t let her continue this fight any further.
“—Yes, my lord.”
She seemed slightly disgruntled but heeded his order to stop.
Rik began backing away, still hovering in the air. He quickly realized the fight was over.
Albedo stood silently before Ainz, placing herself directly between her master and his foe. She was fully on guard against any possible sudden attacks, whether from up close or from a distance.
“Sir Aganeia, I will ask once more. Will you not serve me? Any request you have shall be granted.”
There was no response, but Ainz didn’t let that get him down.
“A pity! But the gates of the Nation of Darkness are always open to you. Come see us anytime!” He lowered his voice, turning to Albedo. “Think he still wants more?”
“I doubt that very much. But if he does back off, we should probably end him here. Between the two of us, we won’t even need to
Rik likely heard none of that. After a brief moment, he vanished. The barrier around them seemed to melt away at the same time.
Which came first: the teleport or the barrier cancellation? How far had Rik retreated?
His departure had left behind some thought-provoking questions, but Ainz’s mission was a success.
“…Whew. That’s one job done. Good work.”
“There may still be eyes upon us. We should hasten back to Nazarick.”
He dismissed the Elemental Skull, then cast Greater Teleportation. Time for him and Albedo to leave this place.
The platinum armor that called itself Rik Aganeia used World Movement to reach the meeting spot. He found his collaborator already there.
“Were you waiting long?”
“Nope, just got here.”
The one who answered was Azuth, leader of the adamantite adventurer team the Drops of Red.
The man was inside his massive power suit, so Rik was forced to crane his neck up at him.
Azuth was stretching the truth. He’d been standing there a good five minutes.
Rik was well aware of that. He’d been observing him from a distance, after all.
Wary of the possibility that Azuth was being used as bait.
If it turned out someone from the Nation of Darkness was watching him, Rik planned to abandon Azuth and head home. He’d kept his distance until he was sure the man was alone.
Even now there was still a risk, but uncovering that required conversation. That was the only reason Rik had shown himself here.
“Sorry, Zey. She got away from me and ended up heading your way. Tell me. Did you manage to take out the King of Darkness?”
“Sadly, that proved impossible,” he said, bowing his head. “I asked your help with this but have nothing to show for it.”
While he had told the King of Darkness his name was Rik Aganeia, it was actually Zeyndelux Vaishion.
He and the rest of the dragonlords were the greatest beings this world had ever seen. That was why he could already hear the others complaining that humbling himself before a mere human was out of the question. Zey paid that thought no heed. If bowing his head made a favorable impression, then he saw no reason why he shouldn’t.
“No need to say sorry. You couldn’t take him out because I didn’t keep that woman busy long enough. You must’ve run out of time, right?”
Zey considered what answer would most benefit him. “Not at all,” he said, keeping his tone reassuring. “That isn’t the case at all, Azuth. You were just no match for the Nation of Darkness’s prime minister. The fact that you kept her at bay for any significant amount of time was all anyone could ask for. My failure to defeat the King of Darkness is simply because he was far stronger than I had imagined.”
This much was unvarnished truth.
According to the deal they had struck, Azuth’s job was to lure Albedo outside the barrier, separating her from the King of Darkness. Nothing more, nothing less. Before the battle, Zey had considered there was a very good chance she would kill the adventurer in short order. Of course, admitting that out loud would likely discourage Azuth from taking part in the plan, so he had kept that to himself.
The fact that Azuth had fought Albedo and lived meant he had done quite well.
Zey did not wish to lose anyone who could help in the struggle against the evil “players.”
But he had his doubts. Something didn’t feel right.
How was Azuth still alive?
The suit he wore did have high offensive and defensive capabilities. It also gave the pilot access to any number of moves. At the same time, it offered no improvements to health or mana. A hard shell with a soft, squishy center.
Zey had fought Albedo for mere seconds, but that had been more than enough.
stronger than the King of Darkness.
That king might be able to destroy whole armies, but he struggled in single combat.
And Albedo was not someone Azuth could fight and live to tell the tale.
So why was he still alive and kicking?
“What did you make of that demon Albedo? Did you stand any chance against her?”
“Not even a little. I only made it out because I threw everything I had at her and never let her get close.”
, Zey thought.
Albedo had not used any ranged attacks and didn’t seem to have any gear that allowed her to engage from a distance.
It made sense. Perhaps his suspicions had been unfounded.
Zey had feared Azuth had sold him out by making a deal with Albedo—and the King of Darkness. Now he felt somewhat ashamed for his doubts. But considering every possibility was never a bad thing. Plus, Azuth was merely a collaborator, not a friend. And he still couldn’t rule out the possibility of a betrayal.
“Oh, right. I told the King of Darkness my name is Rik Aganeia. Best if you remember that. If you’re ever in a situation where he might hear, use that name instead.”
“Rik Aganeia? Where’d that come from?”
“Nowhere. Just the first name that popped into my mind. If there is anyone named that, I’ve likely ruined their day.”
This was not entirely true.
He had never heard of a house named Aganeia. But Rik was different.
“They’ll have unwittingly attracted the fury of the King of Darkness, then?”
“Entirely possible. And Prime Minister Albedo bears a grudge.”
They shared a grin.
If there really
a stranger out there named Rik Aganeia, he likely would not find this amusing.
As he laughed, Zey’s mind turned to other things.
His focus was the demon Albedo.
The King of Darkness had been trapped, which was good, but she’d smashed right through World Isolation Wall—a mid-tier wild magic spell.
This spell created a space completely isolated from the outside world. Entering or exiting this space by any conventional means, including teleportation, was completely blocked. Getting inside required the use of wild magic or the possession of a World Item.
He could not be sure if she was a “player” or an “NPC,” but given her subservience to the King of Darkness, it was likely the latter. That was another mystery—why had Ainz not carried the World Item himself and instead entrusted it to Albedo?
Or is there a chance that she is the “player” and the King of Darkness is the “NPC”?
This wasn’t out of the question. He could see someone deciding it was safer to act as second-in-command.
Or did the King of Darkness also have a World Item? The odds aren’t high. If he did have one, he should’ve been able to get through World Isolation Wall. Is it possible he has one and just didn’t bring it with him?
That also seemed plausible. Rik had learned some groups had two. Plenty of reason to suspect the Nation of Darkness was one of them.
“Zey, how strong was the King of Darkness? If you couldn’t take him down, he must be pretty good, but could I— No, could this suit beat him?”
“Azuth, don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s no way. Even given ample time, I would struggle to finish the job.”
“But with your help, I now know his power—and the limits of it. The next time we fight, assuming it’s one-on-one, I should be able to win.”
That said, if he was using this armor in that fight, it would be a very narrow victory. And if the King of Darkness utilized summons more, the outcome could prove unpredictable. It would come down to which of them arrived most prepared.
Still, Zeyndelux was a bit relieved.
If the king had been on par with that vampire, he might have struggled. But as himself, without the armor, he need not fear the King of Darkness. In his own body, even the vampire would pose no real threat.
But giving them time to rally their forces would be a bad idea.
“Wow. Just wow. You aren’t the world’s strongest dragonlord for nothing!”
“I’ve never once considered myself anything of the sort. I’m sure there are plenty of beings out there stronger than I am. But if all I have to contend with is the King of Darkness, then I shall emerge victorious.”
His powers were particularly effective against the undead. And he’d been able to confirm they were effective against the King of Darkness. Thus, he had decided the king was not that grave a threat.
That demon Albedo was far more worrying.
“Azuth, I hate to ask…but if there is a next time, I would like your help again.”
“If…?” Azuth’s tone was somber. Zey knew exactly why, so he said nothing else. After a long silence, Azuth croaked, “The kingdom’s doomed, isn’t it?”
“…That seems to be the case. I have done all I can.”
“Oh. But next time, you’ll want me keeping her busy again? I can try, but I doubt she’ll let me buy as much time.”
“True. They won’t even let us split them up. That’s why I want to wait until something leads her away from the King of Darkness—and then we will
If Azuth took on the summons, Zey was confident they could easily defeat the King of Darkness.
No Nation of Darkness minions had attacked while they spoke, and there was nothing more he could do here. Zey turned to the distant capital.
He had seen the fall of many a country in his time. This was but one more. It was sad, to be true—but he was far more concerned about sharing a border with the Nation of Darkness.
The council state was not exactly
country, but he had grown fond of it.
He’d called in some friends, but at this rate, he might need to speak to the other dragonlords.
“…Oh, forgot to mention. I met some Theocracy folk and dropped the name you mentioned on ’em.”
“You did? Then they’ll know you’ve got someone significant on your side.”
That should make Azuth’s position extraordinarily more secure.
The man himself was not that valuable, but his power suit was precious; odds were
was what the Theocracy had been after. If this ploy had made them think twice about coming after Azuth, then it played into Zey’s desire to maintain their cordial alliance.
“I do have one question—why can’t I just say I heard it from you?”
“Simple. If the source is a mystery, they’ll have to look into it. And doing so will make the Theocracy leaders suspect one another.”
The other reason was that doing it this way meant he could easily cut Azuth loose if he had to.
“No use talking any longer here. Let’s get going. Your friends are waiting for you.”
“Yeah, they are. Thanks, Zey.”
As he prepared World Movement, Zey thought about Azuth.
Specifically about whether there was any point in helping him further.
The armor he wore was valuable. But without it, the man himself was unappealing. Quite honestly, loaning this armor to someone stronger would be more beneficial.
And Zey had his doubts about how pliable the man was.
For now, they were cooperating. He was neither the man’s superior nor a friend.
Azuth had acted rashly before, and next time it might prove fatal.
That had been a bit of a mistake in judgment on Zey’s part as well.
Azuth had originally not even noticed the Nation of Darkness’s advance, and to drive home the urgency of the situation, Zey had told him exactly how far they’d come.
Azuth had come to Zey in the first place in hopes of saving the kingdom, asking him to defeat the King of Darkness. He should have known that deep-seated desire would motivate him to take the power suit and fly off to save that city, consequences be damned.
Had he not revealed himself, perhaps the King of Darkness would have approached the capital unprepared—and been defeated.
Should I kill Azuth here and steal the power suit?
There were advantages to doing so. Giving the suit to someone more skilled and more trustworthy would leave him with a much more valuable card to play.
He didn’t have anything against Azuth personally. He had no desire to kill the man. But this world was filled with things that mattered more than personal misgivings.
Zey laughed at himself for digging up memories that had been buried a long time ago. He already had blood on his hands. What did a little more matter?
And he could pin it on the King of Darkness.
He could simply say Azuth had fought Albedo, been badly wounded, and had bequeathed the suit to Zey in his final moments.
But was history repeating itself?
“Hey! What’s gotten into you, Zey?”
Zey realized he’d been lost deep in his thoughts.
“What’s wrong, Zey? Something on your mind?”
“…No, nothing, Azuth. Let’s get going.”
It could wait for now. Resurrection magic existed, so death was not a guarantee of silence. Any situation in which the power suit was recovered but not Azuth’s body would seem suspicious. And rushing toward short-term gain could force him to pay the price later on.
He would have to mull this over carefully and ensure he did not come to regret the outcome. Only then would he decide whether to cut ties with Azuth and the Drops of Red.
Hoping his choice today did not prove fatal later, Zey activated World Movement. The armor still had one use left in it.
The wind howled through the empty space they left behind.
Ainz emerged from the Gate in the Great Tomb of Nazarick, accepted his ring from the surface team, and used that power to move Albedo and himself to the ninth level.
From there, they walked to their destination.
“Albedo, should you go first?”
“No need. Your achievements were greater than mine this time, so you take the lead.”
Ainz thanked her and opened the door.
He walked toward the throne ahead, but when he reached the center of the room, he took a knee, bowing his head. He could tell Albedo had done the same behind him.
“Well done, Pandora’s Actor, Albedo.”
He raised his face in time to see his master on the throne, nodding majestically. Ainz was flanked by Shalltear and Demiurge, the latter of whom was holding the Mirror of Remote Viewing.
They had been using that to watch his battle with Rik.
Pandora’s Actor had been disguised as his master, but he now allowed that illusion to fall away.
“Lord Ainz, I know I should return the items you loaned me at once, but I imagined you would not wish to be kept waiting, so I have come here before you with them still in my possession.”
Since he was wearing his master’s proper equipment, what Ainz now wore was second-best. Forcing him to do such a thing was a heavy burden to bear.
“Ah. Pandora’s Actor, you need not concern yourself. Feel free to return them later. As you implied, that is not the priority here—our concern is with the foe you fought. We all watched the battle but wish to hear your firsthand account. What did you make of him?”
“I took him for a tank class, around level ninety in strength, given how ineffectual magic was across the board.”
“Aha. Pretty formidable, then. Mm? What it is, Albedo? You have something to add?”
“Yes. Unlike Pandora’s Actor, I believe his strength to be lower. I only landed two blows, so I cannot be entirely certain, but I would have pegged him as a tank no more than level eighty in strength.”
If that platinum armor was actually a tank, then as a tank herself, Albedo’s opinion might well be more accurate.
“Interesting. Pandora’s Actor fought it far longer, so his words should hold more weight here. However, Shalltear was watching the battle with me, and her opinion matches Albedo’s—she estimated him to be somewhere in the mid-eighties. Perhaps we should have called Cocytus or Sebas as well.”
Shalltear was a force to be reckoned with but wasn’t a purely physical attack class.
The opinion of a dedicated fighter might have resulted in a more accurate assessment, but Sebas was busy in E-Rantel, and Cocytus was preoccupied with the destruction of the capital. Neither had been available.
“Weighing these three opinions together… Do you all agree that he is a pure tank class that specializes in magic defense?”
They glanced at one another, considering this.
“…Shalltear, I spy a frown on your face. Could you share your thoughts?”
“I might be imagining things…”
“Worth saying anyway. We went to great lengths to strip our foe’s abilities bare. Anything could prove a valuable hint to uncovering the nature of his skills, so we should entertain all perspectives.”
“In that case, Lord Ainz—perhaps I only noticed because I, too, can summon Doomlords, but his offensive skills seemed a tad low when he fought against it. Or was that because Pandora’s Actor was the one who summoned it?”
“That seems unlikely. When Pandora’s Actor is disguised, his abilities do not match the subject he copies, but the monsters he summons are unaffected. And the boosts my skills convey were not in place. Let’s have you each summon one later. It may help narrow down what’s bothering you.”
“Yes, Lord Ainz!”
“Next, Pandora’s Actor. You spoke to him at length, but what exactly did you talk about? What was his general attitude, and what emotions were you able to provoke from him? The mirror doesn’t have audio, so that was something we couldn’t monitor.”
Pandora’s Actor relayed every word he and Rik had spoken. They had not spoken for long, so this was quite easy. He then added his own personal interpretations of their conversation and described the emotions Rik had displayed during the relatively brief interaction.
He could feel Albedo growing irate, and indeed, she hissed, “Even if you’re trying to get a foe’s guard down, the King of Darkness is the absolute ruler of the Great Tomb of Nazarick! He would not go down on hands and knees before anyone!”
Pandora’s Actor had not been too fond of that himself. His master would never have done such a thing. But when he turned to his master to apologize, Ainz was nodding approvingly.
Was that in agreement with Albedo’s anger?
He readied to bow his head, but his master spoke first.
“No, that was a fine choice.”
Sarcasm? No, his master appeared to be in fine spirits. Unsure what to make of it, he failed to bow his head in time.
“Prostrating yourself did wonders. If that is what it takes to get through to a foe, then feel free to debase yourself all you like. It costs me nothing. And it may have convinced him that I am an insignificant threat. Heh…you’ve poisoned his mind already.”
His creator coveted victory no matter what had to be done—even Pandora’s Actor felt a chill.
In a real fight, he might well have won—yet he would go this far to loosen his lips.
He was a king—the absolute ruler—yet he spoke as if he had no pride, as if the strategic need was always paramount. Could one accustomed to looking out over bowed heads so easily bend a knee to an inferior foe?
It would be impossible for your average monarch. Only the great man before Pandora’s Actor now could be expected to do such a thing.
Perhaps the same thought struck each of them, because all guardians present seemed similarly impressed and awestruck.
It was Demiurge who broke the silence.
“If they learn that a man as great as Lord Ainz went down on hands and knees over such a trifle, will that not make them suspicious? Will they not realize that you are a man who always makes the right move at the right time?”
“I doubt anyone would draw
conclusion. Most people would think I was entirely unimpressive—that I’d finally shown my true colors. Consider it the other way around. If someone prostrated themselves before me, I would no longer deem them worthy of caution. Though I might simply kill them then and there. Would you not do the same, Albedo?”
“I would certainly kill an ordinary citizen, but a king I would capture in the hopes of extracting information. Perhaps…I would let my guard down.”
“Aha. And you, Shalltear?”
“I would torment them.”
“…Hmm. Perhaps not the most effective tactic, then. When physically on your hands and knees, it
rather difficult to evade your foe’s attacks…but I digress. Let’s discuss that barrier.”
Pandora’s Actor had had no clue what to make of it. He had assumed it blocked physical and magic passage, but Albedo had been able to pass through. Had she solved the puzzle?
“I’m sure you both have guessed as much, but we can assume that was created with a World Item. However, after hearing Pandora’s Actor’s account, I am marginally less certain.”
His eyes went wide.
Certainly, that would explain it. Albedo had been carrying a World Item, while Pandora’s Actor had not. But…
“How did you know that?”
“A natural question. We were using the mirror to monitor your fight with Rik, but even after the barrier activated, the mirror’s functions were undisturbed. I assumed it was an illusion—a fake barrier.” Ainz turned toward Pandora’s Actor. “But the barrier itself was quite effective. We had to reconsider the possibilities. We looked at the difference between us—me, using the mirror, and you, Pandora’s Actor.”
Ainz patted the World Item in his belly.
“When I took this out, the mirror showed nothing. When I equipped it again, the mirror was unchanged. I would imagine Rik’s item had powers similar to the one I’ve given Aura.”
“…Hold on, Lord Ainz. Rik said the words
World Isolation Wall
. And his health had dropped upon activation. Is this not some special skill only super-high-tier beings can use, the match for the ace up your sleeve?”
“The skills from our abilities offer no such thing. I’m inclined to believe the words themselves are most likely a bluff. As for the health loss—well, it could be a World Item that drains your health with each use. What’s bothering me is that I’ve heard of no such World Item. There are those with an activation cost, but health loss is so…insignificant.”
“His health didn’t continue decreasing the entire time it was active, did it?” Albedo asked.
Pandora’s Actor shook his head. “Only immediately upon activation. There was no sign of additional health loss to maintain it.”
“That’s the thing. From what you told us, each power he activated came with an additional drop in health. There are World Items that have multiple uses, like this one.” Ainz stroked his orb. “But those powers were far too disparate.”
As far as they could tell, Rik had buffed the weapons, buffed the armor, teleported, and set up the barrier itself.
“…You suggested he might possess abilities like my own. Perhaps this is a kind of ability unique to this world. At worst, a type of ability equivalent to the power of World Items. In that case, we might have to consider the idea that what brainwashed Shalltear was not a World Item at all. How irksome.”
“Lord Ainz, we do not have enough information.”
“True, Demiurge. We may have to lose to Rik once more.”
The guardians flanking the throne did not look pleased. Albedo was likely just as disgruntled.
Even intentionally, none of them wanted to see their master lose.
“Do not look so upset. I take no pleasure in losing. But to learn what is in a foe’s hand and ensure a flawless victory in the future, it can be necessary. If this was a training exercise, a loss would not mean death, and there would be no need for
. But this is real combat.”
Everyone listened with rapt attention, Pandora’s Actor included.
“We’ve confirmed that you and the people of this world can be resurrected. But we still are not certain that
can be. There are legends of the Six Gods and Eight Kings of Avarice. If we assume they were beings like me, the fact that their tales end in death suggests it might not be possible to revive me. In which case, we have to assume that my death would be final. These intentional losses ensure that I do not meet with ultimate defeat.”
“I entirely agree with everything you’ve said. In which case, wouldn’t it be better if you remain inside the Great Tomb of Nazarick from now on?”
How right she was. If their master could not be revived, then the safest choice would be to never leave the safety of these walls.
“…True, I have given it thought. But the thing is, you see—you get it, right?”
Pandora’s Actor pondered the point, but nothing came to mind.
He was among the sharpest minds of Nazarick yet could not immediately decipher his master’s thoughts.
His mind went into overdrive, working furiously to find the answer. Demiurge and Albedo looked equally desperate. Shalltear alone appeared perfectly calm, as if she was not thinking at all.
Pandora’s Actor put her out of his mind. That was her problem.
After a long silence, their master sighed. As if deeply disappointed in them.
The sheer shame Pandora’s Actor felt prevented him from lifting his head. Demiurge seemed much the same. Albedo was behind him, so he couldn’t see her, but she likely fared no better.
“What? Raise your heads.”
That was but a punishment, yet one that could not be disobeyed.
Pandora’s Actor obeyed and looked up.
“…Well, moving right along—who exactly was he? Does the platinum give us any clues?”
Albedo spoke up. “Pandora’s Actor attempted to confirm one possibility with the man himself. He could be a member of the Thirteen Heroes.”
Their master nodded.
“The other possibility is that he is the Platinum Dragonlord, a councilor of the council state. I have heard of no others associated with that metal.”
“In light of that, let’s consider that this could be an intentional misdirect. Could someone be trying to convince us that our enemy is the dragonlord or a hero? Or it could simply be that he
one of those two. What do we think is the truth?”
“I’m ashamed to admit it, Lord Ainz,” Demiurge said. “But at the moment, we simply don’t have enough information to say either way.”
Pandora’s Actor felt the same, but if his master was asking for opinions, he felt there was a right answer. That’s why Demiurge had opened with an apology.
“Any other opinions? …I’ll take that as a no. I agree with Demiurge here. The information we currently have on hand gives us little to work with. Once they’ve completed their tasks in the kingdom, ask the other guardians their thoughts on this. Perhaps someone will pick up on something we’ve overlooked. Either way, let’s send an envoy to the council state. Include some loaded words for this Platinum Dragonlord. That won’t be an issue, will it, Albedo?”
“Not at all, Lord Ainz. Do you have a phrasing in mind?”
“I leave it to you.”
“Your wish is my command.”
“And I think that’s basically it. I need to get back to the capital. Pandora’s Actor, it’s about time we exchanged clothes.”
“Oh!” a voice cried. Their master turned to address it.
“Yes, Shalltear? Did you forget anything?”
“I did, Lord Ainz. I have a question—are you
planning on recruiting Rik?”
“Oh, that. Of course not! If he does agree to come along, then we’ll glean whatever information we can—who he works with, what else is going on behind the scenes—and then make sure he perishes.”
“Is it not a waste to kill him?” Albedo asked.
“He did not seem like someone I could
,” their master said ruefully. “Unknown skills, potential possession of a World Item—and he seems tricky to manipulate to boot. Could you handle him with confidence, Albedo? If so, I’d happily give him to you.”
“I cannot say without more precise information. But if that possibility exists, I would certainly like to make use of him.”
Their master gave her a long, appraising look.
Likely balancing Albedo’s abilities against Rik’s potential response. For a creator with an eye on events thousands of years in the future, adding any new plans to the mix would require analyzing all potential consequences.
As the massacre of the kingdom’s inhabitants had.
Pandora’s Actor, Demiurge, and Albedo all agreed he had only contradicted his previous statements because he had multiple plans in mind—far grander than just sending a message about the treatment of the Empire and kingdom.
The experiments on undead spawn were obvious enough.
But this was his creator. Undoubtedly schemes beyond his comprehension were swirling in the depths of that unparalleled mind.
Knowing that he had been created by an intellect this magnificent moved Pandora’s Actor to the brink of tears. He knew it would be rude, but suppressing the urge to boast about it was a constant hardship.
“Interesting. Certainly, if he is dead, we can do little with him. We’ll consult with Demiurge as well, but if we discover a way to do so, I might allow you to have him, Albedo. But only on the condition that he bends the knee of his own free will. If he refuses to submit, death is the only option.”
No one dreamed of arguing. Their master’s decisions were always correct.
“All right, then… Any other thoughts on the matter? No? Then I’d better get back to the capital. We’ve still got things to wrap up.”
“Is there really a need for you to personally attend to such trivialities? I am confident I could handle it all myself.”
“That won’t be necessary, Albedo. I should be there. Heh-heh—I do relish the chance to play the villain. Perhaps not as much as Ulbert, though.”
“…Ah, is that why?”
Albedo spoke as if harboring great insight, and their master gave her a long look. As if evaluating how much she understood of what he’d left unspoken.
At last, he seemed convinced and declared majestically, “That it is, Albedo. That it is.”
When Climb returned to the palace with Renner and Brain, the few remaining knights informed them they had visitors waiting.
The Blue Roses were requesting an audience.
Normally, they would be let in immediately, but right now the three of them were not exactly ready to receive guests—in particular, Renner was currently dressed like a serving girl, not at all appropriate attire for a princess. And they were covered in sweat. The knights were ordered to let the Blue Roses in an hour from now, and the three of them set about making themselves presentable.
The Nation of Darkness had their armies camped outside the capital and could attack at any minute. The knights were running around preparing the castle and palace defenses. Yet there were no maids left to handle these things.
The vast majority of palace maids were the daughters of nobility, and they had all quit the palace, returning to their homes in the capital. Were they safer there? Not really.
Renner had pointed to the tragic fate of all cities in the Nation of Darkness’s path, saying that was most certainly in store for the capital, too. No matter where in the city you were, there was no escaping what was coming.
When he’d asked what
be safe, she’d said the only option was to risk everything on a desperate flight out of the city.
Climb had spoken to Brain, and they had secretly arranged for a sturdy carriage to remain on standby outside the palace. If Renner did decide to make a break for it, they’d be ready.
He was well aware she had no intention of doing that. But he could not be sure she wouldn’t change her mind. It was better to be prepared.
Climb readied water and a towel that Renner could use to wipe away the sweat. Perhaps he should have prepared a hot bath, but they did only have an hour.
With no maids, Climb was forced to assist with Renner’s ministrations, which left Brain preparing the tea. Seeing a swordsman of his repute rummaging around the shelves for the tea leaves made him wince and grin at the same time.
While Renner was wiping herself down, applying perfume, and choosing a dress, the two men hit the waters.
These two had it far easier than any court woman—especially a princess.
They could just strip naked, dump water over their heads, rub and scrub, then rinse themselves off. They still had to don clean clothes after, but it took all of ten minutes.
Even so, the hour was up before they knew it. Of course, all three were ready. Renner was still concerned about lingering odors and kept sniffing her hair and wrists. Climb could detect no sweat on her at all. He did think he caught a hint of the smoke from the kitchen in her hair, but it mingled with the perfume, and he couldn’t be sure.
The knights led Lakyus in—and not just her.
Her whole team was present. Only Lakyus was dressed up. Everyone else was in their full combat kit. It looked like they had come guarding a noble lady.
Climb was mildly surprised.
Lakyus certainly never arrived unaccompanied, but it was rare for her to bring everyone. This might well be the first time ever.
“I know you must all be busy, so I do apologize for the delay.”
“Not at all. We showed up without warning, so the fault lies with us. I should be thanking you for making time. No need for tea—we won’t be here long.”
Brain had poured Renner a cup of the tea he’d brewed, but Lakyus stopped him filling hers.
“Lakyus, I don’t think we’re
pressed for time,” Evileye said. The rest of the Blue Roses were all nodding. Lakyus looked rather surprised.
“Are you all thirsty?” she asked.
Evileye sighed dramatically.
“We had no appointment, yet Her Highness has generously prepared tea for us anyway. And then our leader spurns the kind offer? How heartless. Right, Muscles?”
Gagaran said nothing. All eyes gathered on her, but her poker face was unchanging. It was like she’d seen and heard nothing.
“Don’t act like I wasn’t talking to you, girl least likely to float in water.”
This, too, was ignored. And that provoked an even more dramatic sigh.
“Mm? Oh? You need something? What is it, Evileye?”
“…You want tea, right?”
“Sure do. Could gulp down like ten liters of the stuff.”
“I can’t believe we wasted that much time just prying those words out of you, but…quantity aside, leader, can
feel free to drink?”
“Go right ahead… Evileye, does that include you?”
Lakyus’s eyes had widened slightly. Climb had not expected this from Evileye, either. Drinking tea would require she remove her mask, and he had never once seen the Blue Roses’ caster without it.
Evileye offered no answer. She shrugged, but it was unclear if that was a yes or a no.
“Then we’ll help ourselves. Boss, you and the princess get talking. I’ll make sure the tea’s strong enough it’ll make you bark.”
“Um, it’s already in the warm bottle?” Renner said, blinking.
Tia shook her head. “Not enough for this crowd. See?”
She poured a cup—and sloshed a little into the saucer. The kingdom had no formal custom of drinking from the saucer, so Lakyus shot her a frown.
But if that was how she was pouring, the warm bottle likely didn’t have enough for eight.
“I don’t need any,” Brain said.
“Neither do I,” Climb agreed.
Not because they thought that would help stretch the tea—even with them both abstaining, that container would have struggled to serve six.
“Then let’s drink. You don’t appreciate our kindness.”
Did making tea really count as kindness? That was a bit weird.
Tia poured five cups of tea, then shook the warm bottle, demonstrating its emptiness.
“Oh, all gone! Too bad! Not nearly enough for the ten-liter hog.” She glanced at Renner. “At this rate, word’ll get around the third princess can’t even provide tea for her guests!”
Lakyus had her head in her hands, but Renner was laughing.
“That would be a shame,” she said. “Naturally, I don’t want anyone thinking I’m living a life of luxury, but I do want them to believe the royal family has a future. Do you mind readying a fresh pot of tea?”
“Don’t bother, Renner.”
“Lakyus, don’t begrudge their kindness.”
“Huh?” Lakyus blinked at her.
Renner made a face. “Should I tell her, Evileye?”
“Hmph. You’ve cracked the riddle! Go on, tell our hardheaded leader what’s up”
“I will. They’re trying to give us a chance to say good-bye.”
Climb finally understood.
Adventurers generally stayed out of wars because their presence would drive up the death tolls. But this time, the enemy was undead and in the middle of perpetrating a massacre on a scale that had never been seen before.
Thus, the capital’s Adventurers Guild had accepted the crown’s quest and mobilized their forces—much like they had against Jaldabaoth.
But it was up to the teams themselves about what they would do.
There were teams that had set out a week ago, joining the army—none of them had returned. Other teams had stayed in the capital, preparing the final line of defense. Several high-level teams had simply vanished into thin air, either taking the Theocracy’s offer of asylum or deciding they were better off fleeing the capital on their own.
The Blue Roses had stayed to prepare for the final battle.
With the Nation of Darkness’s forces camped outside, they did not have time to linger here.
But Lakyus had made time to visit her friend Renner because she knew they would likely—no, almost certainly—never see each other again.
Five cups of tea had been poured. Placed before Evileye, Gagaran, Tia, Tina, and Climb—yet not one of the girls made any move to drink.
If they had told Lakyus to make time for a last good-bye, she would likely have refused. But if her companions asked for a moment to drink tea, she could not object. This was her team’s way of being considerate.
“…In that case, Brain Unglaus, we have some parched guests, and I’d like to quench their thirst. Show them where they can boil some water.”
“Right over here.”
And for that reason, too, Brain—a far better bodyguard than Climb could ever be—was tasked with showing Tia and Tina out of the room.
“Should I leave, too?” Climb asked.
“Mm? Oh, don’t worry about it,” Evileye said. “That’s not why they pried him away.”
he thought. If the goal was to make a moment for the two of them, then everyone else should clear out, surely.
But Gagaran and Evileye were clearly not budging. Maybe they really were actually just boiling water.
“Then let’s take them at their word and talk until the tea’s ready,” Lakyus said. “But first, I must know—where did you go? If you’re busy getting ready for something, I won’t keep you.”
“You know about the orphanage I founded? I was visiting them, cooking a meal.”
“Cooking? At a time like this?”
That was surprising news. Climb had been dumbfounded when Renner had ordered him to ready the carriage for that little excursion.
But once he got there, he knew exactly why she’d chosen that moment for it.
“Yes, the Nation of Darkness’s armies have had the capital surrounded for days. The rations distributed before our armies left are gone, and the food shortage is only growing worse. I secured a few meals’ worth of food and took it to them.”
The orphanage did not have much funding, and as the shortage continued to drive food prices up, there was little they could do except serve less food less often. Renner had secured black market supplies and, since she was there, helped cook.
The words she’d whispered then stuck with Climb like a needle in his heart.
Standing in the kitchen, preparing the children’s food like an accomplished chef, she’d said, “If only I could feed
the people. But we don’t have enough. I’m just making myself feel better.”
The Nation of Darkness had repelled a combined force of four hundred thousand. There was nothing more they could do. The capital’s fall was inevitable, as was the royal family’s demise.
But Renner was a gentle soul, and Climb wanted nothing more than to get her out of here. Yet he could tell she wanted nothing of the sort.
His loyalty was running up against his emotions. Caught between the two, he was suffering. But he could not let that show here, while these two were enjoying their chat.
Climb suppressed the heart-rending pain.
“I’m willing to bet a large sum you are the first and last princess who knows her way around a kitchen.”
“Oh, I doubt that. They just don’t make note of it in the history books. I do hope those children are enjoying it.”
Renner’s stew was supposed to be their lunch for the day, and she’d gone to great lengths to ensure there was enough for everyone, including the staff. Everyone should be feasting together right about now.
She’d made enough for the evening meal, too.
Renner had come in unable to even peel a potato, but she certainly had caught on fast. Each time she’d peeled a potato, the peel had been visibly thinner than the one before it. Climb didn’t believe his eyes at first.
This dazzling woman had a knack for cooking.
Renner caught Climb’s look of respect and smiled.
A gentle smile.
Both she and Lakyus were choosing happy subjects. Perhaps unconsciously avoiding the fate that awaited them. Or no—this was
they knew exactly what lay ahead.
At last, Tia came back, warm bottle in hand.
“What’s keeping Unglaus and Tina?”
“Mm? They’re searching for treats to go with the tea. Sent me back ahead.”
“Treats?” Lakyus gave Tia a look. “If we’d brought some ourselves—”
“—Don’t worry about it. We made a lot of biscuits recently. The goal was stocking up on food that would keep for a long while, but they did have a little sugar in them, so they’d do nicely.”
“See, even the princess agrees. Stop acting like a dem—demented person and relax. And enjoy the first tea I’ve ever made.”
She poured some tea from the warm bottle. It was very dark.
“Here, demon boss. Recommend knocking it back. Easier on the throat.”
“It’s really good, so I can’t recommend it to the princess. You can have my old cup. No need to worry about it being too hot!”
Tia passed her old cup over to Renner.
This was definitely crossing a line, and Lakyus raised an eyebrow. But Renner said nothing. Climb elected not to speak out of turn.
Lakyus lifted her cup and savored the aroma—or not. She made a face.
“That’s rather pungent.”
“…That’s a tall order. I’ve never had tea smell like this. How many leaves did you
“Ha! There’s a first time for everything. Don’t let it get your heart all aflutter.”
“I see now why you were searching for something sweet. To cleanse the palate? Renner, you were right not to try any.”
“How rude! See, demon is too soft for you. You’re the devil incarnate!”
“Sigh…next time make it something more humane.”
Lakyus raised the cup to her lips and took a sip. Her expression was as bitter as the drink. How strong was this tea supposed to be?
Tia slipped up beside her, peering into her face.
“Er, it’s incredibly bitter, so I wouldn’t call it— Ugh!”
Lakyus screwed up her face.
Then she shoved Tia away and stood up, clutching her stomach. So fast everything on the table rattled.
As Climb reeled, Lakyus’s dress began turning red. There was something long and thin stuck in her.
He had no clue what was going on. His brain refused to process any of this.
Who would ever have believed Tia would stab Lakyus?
Lakyus must have been just as shocked. She made no attempt to cast a healing spell. Every part of her being was dedicated to processing what was happening.
Gagaran ran up to her.
To help? Climb thought—but that notion was soon betrayed. She landed a punch on Lakyus’s stomach.
Lakyus, too, had been expecting help and failed to raise a guard, so the blow landed like a battering ram.
Before Lakyus could even breathe, Tia had another needle in her. The tip was moist—some sort of poison?
Climb pulled Renner’s hand, shielding her behind him and moving to the corner. Tia and Gagaran made no effort to stop them—they just kept hammering Lakyus.
trying to dodge now, but their attacks were perfectly coordinated, and she couldn’t get away or even block properly, for that matter. Without any equipment to speak of, she was never a match for two fully kitted-out adventurers.
Evileye was simply watching, and Climb turned to her.
“What is this?!”
“Don’t move. Or the spell will hit you
Climb had reached for his sword, but Evileye pointed a hand at him, and he froze. Perhaps he
step in, but Renner was what mattered most. He had to keep her safe, no matter the cost.
When he tried to edge her toward the door, a crystal sword landed at his feet.
“I said, don’t move. No leaving this room. Try again and the princess loses a leg. Obey and we won’t harm either of you.”
Evileye’s threat was clear, and Climb was out of options.
If Brain came back—or Tina found out—but even as his mind clutched at straws, the Blue Roses’ battle raged on.
“I’ve been watching you, Lakyus,” Tia muttered. “Trying to figure out how I’d kill you. Anything ordinary, you’d resist. Magic, you’d cancel it out. So what’s left? But if I keep using different kinds of poison, it gets harder to resist, right? Evileye, you’re up.”
Confusion, hope, grief—all those emotions mixed with the pain that cast Lakyus’s face in sharp relief, yet Evileye cast without hesitation.
“I know. Weaken Resistance. No use, she blocked it.”
“Damn,” Gagaran growled. Lakyus was turtled up, but she got another punch to the gut, and Tia stuck another needle in.
“Weaken Resistance. Okay. Now—Charm Person. Great. You can stop—she’s under.”
Gagaran and Tia moved away.
“Lakyus, heal those wounds.”
“Yes, I know,” Lakyus said, like nothing had happened. “Tia, can you pull these out?”
The power of mind control. Climb shuddered.
Tia stepped forward, but Evileye snapped, “Don’t! Anything that causes pain will register as a hostile act and break the spell. Lakyus, sorry, but you’ll have to remove them yourself. They’re not in that deep.”
“The goal was always just to get the poison in your bloodstream. Didn’t use big needles. If you were wearing any armor, it’d never have worked.”
“Very well. But it takes a lot of nerve to pull them out myself.”
Lakyus bit her lip and extracted a needle. She began casting healing magic on the stab wounds.
“Gagaran, open a window, let in some fresh air—what about the blood on the floor?”
“The dress absorbed most of it,” Renner said. “Barely anything spilled, and it hardly matters now.”
Everyone but Climb was just going about their business. It felt like the whole thing had been a hallucination, like he’d slipped into an alternate reality.
“You don’t bat an eye, huh?” Evileye said. “I always thought you were a tough cookie.”
, but…” Renner tilted her head to one side. “I just couldn’t imagine you attacking your own without good reason. I definitely see how scary mind control can be, though! Didn’t you, Climb?”
“I thought the same thing.”
“And…do you mind sharing why you did this?”
“If I say we do mind?”
“No apology for staining my carpets?”
The mask obscured it, but Climb was pretty sure Evileye had grinned.
“You got me there. The truth is simple enough. We care more about the lives of our friends than the fate of this kingdom. That’s all.”
“Protecting the capital was our demonic boss’s idea, and we were all secretly against it.”
“But if we said so, we figured she’d just tell us she was going to stay and defend it by herself. We realized we were gonna have to do a snatch and grab. But a fair fight would never end well. She’s not the type to fall for some cheap trick, either. Sorry to do this in front of you, Your Highness, but being here gave us the edge we needed.”
Tia and Gagaran were both nodding. Lakyus’s teammates were all on the same page. Brain wasn’t back because Tina was busy buying them time.
“Did you really have to go this far?”
“That’s what I said! But they insisted.”
“If we ask nicely, her guard goes up and stays up. We only stood a chance against this demo—Lakyus because she doesn’t see it coming. I know from experience.”
“Five types of poison, with no magic items equipped, and a weaken spell on her. Even then, it was pure luck that the charm took hold. Any less and we never would’ve been able to pull it off. Okay.” Evileye clapped her hands together. “Soon as Tina gets back, we’ll teleport to the inn, collect her gear, and teleport the hell away from this city.”
She turned to Climb and Renner.
“…Since you’re here, fancy joining us? No use mincing words. This place is doomed. There’s no bright future for the princess of a doomed kingdom. This might be your last chance to get away.”
Climb looked at Renner.
This might be just what they needed.
The Nation of Darkness had them surrounded, but a teleportation spell would get them past that. And Evileye was right. Her future was grim beyond imagining. He saw no other outcome—they were up against an undead willing to slaughter countless innocents.
“May I ask where you’re heading?”
“Definitely outta here, but…I guess southeast? Go far enough, and you reach a place that fell into ruin long ago. The capital’s a ruin, cleansed with fire, but I’m thinking of going there. It’s pretty far, so we’ll need to make a series of shorter teleports. But basically somewhere far—farther than you’d ever know.”
Renner had her face down. Struggling to decide? But when she looked up, her mind was made up.
“Thank you. But I’m not coming with you.”
Evileye didn’t ask again.
Climb felt a wave of panic. This moment had sealed Renner’s fate.
Perhaps true loyalty meant dragging her to safety by force—just as the Blue Roses were doing to their leader.
He looked to Renner for guidance, but she simply smiled, like she knew everything. The smile that always showed him the right way.
“Climb, this is my royal duty.”
That hit him hard.
Renner mattered as a person, but she also mattered as a princess.
The duty she spoke of was a grim one. Yet, Renner had lived her life as royalty and always used her station to help people—and she planned to face her end the same way.
He was clutching at straws in the dirt, while she sailed by on high.
At last…Climb accepted it.
His final task would be to keep her alive for even a second longer. He would die shielding her from the Nation of Darkness’s armies.
As Climb renewed his determination, Evileye muttered, “Hitting me where it hurts.” And as she said that, there was a knock at the door, and it swung open. Tina and Brain came in bearing trays.
“We found sweets.”
“And she rejected a dozen options, so it took us ages. Glad we made it back in time—are we? What’s going on?”
Even with the window open, the smell of Lakyus’s blood lingered in the air. Brain immediately lowered his hips to the floor, and his eyes darted around the room.
“…She’s got blood on her clothes. Was there an attack?”
“No—,” Lakyus began.
“Don’t you worry about it,” Gagaran interrupted. “The princess’ll catch you up once we’re gone.”
Brain looked at Renner, clearly suspicious. His first thought was making sure she was safe and sound. If she’d said the word, he’d have drawn his blade in an instant.
“Everything’s fine. Relax, Brain.”
He looked at Climb.
Climb followed Renner’s lead.
“…Then I guess that’s that.”
“Oh, Brain Unglaus,” Evileye said. “I should ask you, too. Interested in getting away?”
“……What?” Brain’s eyes darted around the room once more. “What did they say?” he asked, jerking his head at Renner and Climb.
Evileye shook her head, and he made a face. “Ah. Then—no, either way, I wasn’t going anywhere. I’m done running. And to think there was a time I thought
That last came out in a whisper, not meant for Evileye. It was addressed to the blade on his hip—and the man who’d once carried it.
“All right. I suspected that was how you’d answer. Guess I was right.”
The Blue Roses gathered around her. And as if they’d already said all their good-byes, they vanished into thin air. The lingering scents of blood and tea were the only signs they’d ever been here.
This was likely the last time they’d ever see one another, so it seemed far too abrupt. But the longer they lingered, the harder it would be. Perhaps this was the right choice.
But that was how Climb felt—perhaps Renner was different.
It must have come as a blow. How could he comfort her? Climb turned to Renner and found her usual gentle smile gone. Grief had wiped it away. Her face was completely devoid of expression, like a mask.
Had this cut her deeper than he expected?
Climb stepped closer.
“Princess, I know it must be a shock. But…”
No more words were forthcoming. He’d meant to promise to stay by her side, but how could he possibly replace her friend? A noblewoman
an adamantite adventurer? His mind searched desperately for any way to comfort her.
And she must have picked up on that. Her lips curled. Her old gentle smile had returned once more.
“Don’t worry, Climb. You and Brain have things to do, yes?”
“Yes. Your Highness, Climb, might as well do this now. It’s time we went our separate ways. Don’t try and stop me.”
What was this?
Climb didn’t know what Brain was thinking. So he simply asked.
“Where are you going?”
“Mm? I’m gonna go challenge the King of Darkness to a duel. If not that, gonna try and cut down one of his minions, at least.” Brain took the sword hanging at his hip and tossed it to Climb. “I’m returning that,” he added.
“Wh-what are you talking about? This sword was left in your care after Sir Stronoff’s death in accordance with his wishes!”
“Oh, come on. You were there! I said I had no intention of doing things his way. And that’s a national treasure! It was never meant for me. Your Highness, give that back to the king.”
“Climb, Brain has made up his mind.”
“You get it, Your Highness. You were a lady worth serving. Not that I know anything about ladies. Anyway…” Brain stood up a little straighter. “This is probably good-bye. Your Highness, we had some good times. Climb—meeting you and Sebas brought me back to life. And I’m grateful.”
Brain turned his back to them and walked away.
“Meeting you and Gazef made me a happy man.”
Those were his last words before the door closed behind him.
“This is awful. If it weren’t for the King of Darkness—”
Climb felt as if everything were crumbling around him. Everything he’d ever known was slipping away, except for the one that mattered most. But he couldn’t cling to that, either. She, too, would likely not last long.
“Climb, I think it’s best we take that sword back to my father now.”
These words pulled him from his dark thoughts. Right. Until that moment came, he would serve the woman who’d saved him, the one he’d devoted himself to.
“…Also, um, so…,” Renner stammered, her whole demeanor changing. “Could I hold that sword a moment?”
“Mm? Oh, sure.”
He handed it over, and Renner drew it from its sheath.
“It’s pretty heavy,” she said, handing him the scabbard. Razor Edge had an incredibly sharp blade and could cut through armor like paper.
Before he could say, “Careful!” Renner swung the blade at empty air.
Climb’s eyes widened with surprise. Certainly, the weight of it had made her stagger, and the tip scratched the carpet. She lacked the arm strength for it, but her stance and swing showed signs of training—her movements were almost as sharp as the blade. This was not the swing of someone who’d never held a blade, regardless of gender.
“Mm, definitely not for me.”
“N-no, that was quite something. A little training and you’ll likely be better than me, Your Highness.”
“Oh, let’s not be silly. And I doubt I’ll ever swing a blade again.”
Renner took the scabbard, put the sword away, and handed it back to Climb.
“Let’s go see my father. But first…” Renner glanced down at herself. “I’ll have to get ready.”
Brain Unglaus was walking down the deserted streets of the capital. Where crowds usually thronged, there was not another soul. All hiding in their homes, terrified of the King of Darkness. Yet, Brain was all too aware that would not save them.
He knew that because he’d stood at Renner’s side. He knew there was no earthly reason that would stop the King of Darkness from utterly demolishing this city.
But if asked how they
survive, he would have no answer.
Perhaps if they got together and agreed to scatter in every direction, some of them would survive. But better solutions escaped him.
Brain glanced up at the buildings lining the street. Doors and shutters locked and closed. Probably boarded over from the inside to prevent them being easily opened again.
Worst case…there are people inside killing themselves or their families.
There always were.
The stories going around had made it clear just how menacing the Nation of Darkness’s armies were.
They could go for a desperate gambit, rile up everyone left, and— Well, even that probably wouldn’t hurt the enemy much, but at least it might surprise them. But there was no one left capable of that, no one who could capture the people’s hearts and minds.
Perhaps the princess could have done it, but she seemed disinclined.
Would things have been different if
was here instead of me? Maybe.
He knew damn well fighting wouldn’t get them anywhere. He’d watched that four hundred thousand–man army march off with realistic expectations. Yet, he didn’t have it in him to mock that gamble, though the odds were one in a million—no, probably billion or trillion.
Zanac had not led them forth out of desperation or delusion. He had simply gone with the best odds he could find.
Like Brain was doing now.
He smiled sadly, then felt it on his skin.
The air is different.
Nothing had changed. The city smelled like it always did. But there was something fundamentally
. Something he could sense only because he’d been through more than his share of harrowing moments. It almost seemed like something smelled off, but what he sensed tickled not his nose but his mind.
He remembered feeling this during that fateful evening at E-Rantel, with Climb at his side.
It was the smell of loss and defeat.
The King of Darkness finally ordered his troops to advance?
That was the only cause he could imagine.
If Brain simply walked toward the King of Darkness, he would likely never even get close.
was a poor choice of words—there was
chance he’d be able to do that.
But if the King of Darkness led the assault, perhaps he could slip through the chaos and reach him. He had no idea if the defenses at their camp would ever get that sloppy. But if they were focused on conquering a city of this size, perhaps their resources would be stretched thin.
Brain had stopped to consider the task ahead—and then he saw the walls ahead turning white.
It was like someone was pouring dye on them.
He could hear screams in the distance.
If the assault had started, those cries had to be coming from the tents near the walls, housing the refugees from the towns surrounding the capital.
Everyone knew the enemy would be headed for the castle. Almost no one was running toward Brain—or the castle behind him.
What now? If the attack’s begun, should I abandon my original plan?
His first goal had been to find a way outside the walls and wait for the enemy to start committing forces to breaking in. That was the moment he’d skirt around the edges of their army in the hopes of getting closer to the King of Darkness.
But if the enemy was already in the city, then maybe he should just hide himself from their forces, wait until they’d passed by, and leave the capital behind that way.
But if he waited too long, the King of Darkness might leave their camp, and he’d have to locate him first. A huge waste of time and opportunity.
What about lying in ambush near the castle, assuming the King of Darkness would personally arrive to occupy it?
I’ll have to hide.
That said, there was no need to be as good as thieves or assassins. He simply had to be somewhere they wouldn’t think to look.
As he wondered where that might be, he saw the gate come tumbling down. White fragments caught the light, sparkling—beautiful despite it all.
What magic had they used? This was the King of Darkness, the man who could summon all those nightmares. Anything and everything could happen in the next couple of moments.
He saw a small speck stepping over the rubble. From a distance, it looked tiny, but whatever it was, it was likely far bigger than a human.
Despite this advance, no soldiers stood in their way. That could only mean one thing.
None were left.
This was another unparalleled monster.
It was coming steadily closer but didn’t look hurried.
This thing was ridiculously powerful. The speed it moved at was simply a by-product of that. It would not take it long to move through empty streets. So why was it taking this long?
Because why not? Razing a city with nothing to protect it, slaughtering the populace—that thing must find this all too trivial. No reason to rush.
No wonder it was so relaxed.
Brain squinted. It was still too far off to really make out.
This was the road Gazef had dragged him down in the rain.
The road he’d taken after meeting Climb and Sebas, bound to raid the Eight Fingers’ lair.
He’d walked along it with the kids he’d picked up, hoping to train one into the next captain.
And this monster was strolling down it like they owned the place. Trampling a road that belonged to everything Brain cared about.
That was unacceptable.
Brain changed his mind. To hell with the King of Darkness. Right now, he wanted
I can take it.
Brain had sent those children away.
Had they made it to safety? Knowing that he had sown the seeds of the future was a comfort. Maybe there was one in a million—no, one in a billion chance one of them would grow up strong enough to take on the King of Darkness. That tantalizing delusion made him feel even better.
Brain stepped to the center of the road, waiting for the monster to reach him.
This was likely stupid.
He should definitely be hiding, searching for a chance to strike down the King of Darkness. There was no use throwing himself against an advancing monster.
Anyone watching would’ve told him to remember the big picture. That he was being dumb as all hell.
But Brain had lived his life by the sword. He would fight wherever and whoever he pleased.
It took a while, but the monster was now close enough to make out.
This was no man.
But one thing was clear enough. Whatever this light-blue creature was, it was a high-level race.
The wind blowing from his foe carried the chill of midwinter and made him shiver. This wasn’t some psychological reaction to danger or hostility but literal cold air. The white cloud his breath made testified to it.
“What the…?” he muttered.
Was this creature wreathed in frost? Perhaps that was how the gate had gone down—shattering like ice.
The gate had not been small. If this thing could really freeze and shatter it, that was genuinely terrifying.
But he’d known that going in.
Brain’s grip tightened on his drawn blade, waiting.
His hand shook. Not in anticipation or from the cold—
His heart was screaming, telling him to step aside and go hide in some far-flung corner. This was a
, but the way it carried that halberd showed it had a warrior’s soul. If he acted like a coward, he would be ignored like a pebble by the side of the road.
In fact, it was already paying no heed to the stirrings in the houses that lined the street.
Brain need only act like one of them.
Then he would live for a while longer yet.
But his feet wouldn’t budge.
He made no move to flee.
The grip on his hilt tightened, and his free hand slapped his cheek.
The shaking subsided. His body and soul were now of one mind.
The blue giant surely saw Brain, yet its pace never changed. It walked right up to him.
It had a halberd in one hand, and the closer it got, the greater the intensity. Brain swallowed hard.
He was standing in this monster’s path, blocking its way forward.
He’d been too preoccupied with the creature to realize it before, but there were people following it. Clad in white gowns, these pale-skinned women sported long black hair. Each of them also gave off a chill.
Brain could feel their eyes boring into him.
His enemy had yet to take any action against him.
Brain took a bottle from his belt and downed it. Then another and another. Three buffs enhanced him.
Drinking potions was a clear act of aggression, yet his foe still did not attack. He could sense it was
It was now a mere five yards away.
Come on! Another impassible wall?!
At this range, that much was abundantly clear. This monster’s strength was absolute. A creature that stood in a realm no amount of hard work could ever bring Brain to. He would barely be able to lay a finger on it, much less win.
Yet, even knowing this, he did not step aside.
His foe stopped.
Three yards left.
Given the length of this creature’s arms and the halberd it carried, Brain was well inside its range.
“Brain Unglaus,” he said, raising his sword before his eyes, his nerves stretched taut.
“I SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF A SUPREME BEING. AINZ OOAL GOWN, THE KING OF DARKNESS. COCYTUS.”
Was that this foe’s name? He had not expected an answer.
And it jogged his memory.
Like he’d heard that name once, a long time ago. He couldn’t place it. Maybe just his mind playing tricks on him.
Then he realized how careless he was being and kicked himself.
He had an impossibly powerful foe right before him and one willing to answer. It was rude to dig into the obscurity of memory.
And this was a monster well out of his reach. At least as good as Sebas, possibly even Shalltear Bloodfallen. To this foe, he was but an ant, scuttling along the ground. Yet, the creature’s attitude betrayed no contempt.
If their positions were reversed, would Brain have done the same? No, he would have ignored his foe, cut them down, and moved right on. After a few moments, he wouldn’t have even remembered they were there at all.
Brain straightened up, bowing his head. Like a student to a master.
Brain’s fingers clenched his hilt. Tighter and tighter.
Going up against a foe this powerful with no plan might be a betrayal of everyone who’d saved him. What he was doing was tantamount to suicide.
And what good would it do to slow this creature’s advance?
It would accomplish nothing.
I’m a fool. Cocytus here is hardly the only one attacking. They—no, they’re not children. They can decide their own fates. The way we all do.
Cocytus stuck his halberd in the ground to one side.
“IMPERIAL SWORD ZANSHIN.”
He pulled a blade out of the air longer than Brain was tall. And raised it high.
Brain was grateful.
No words were needed. It was clear his foe had honored him by choosing this weapon.
He let out a long breath, then inhaled. As if releasing the last bit of hesitation in his soul.
That left him defenseless, but Cocytus did not budge. Brain respected that.
This warrior’s soul was as exalted as his skill.
If he was as good as Shalltear, then he could probably strike Brain down from a resting position before he could get a hit in. Yet, Cocytus had taken a stance.
Not because he viewed Brain as a threat.
But because he had sensed Brain’s resolve and acknowledged him as a fellow warrior.
And that was gratifying.
A far cry from Shalltear.
Perhaps it was rude to compare them.
Mm? Shalltear? Cocytus? I have heard this name—no, don’t! You can’t let yourself be distracted for even an instant, you fool!
Brain focused his mind on nothing but victory.
If that blade swung down on him, he was clearly not up to the task of blocking it. If this creature was as strong as Shalltear, trying would not even slow the swing, and his head would wind up cleaved in two. It might even snap his sword in half.
Should he sidestep Cocytus’s opening swing?
No, even if he was lucky enough to manage that, his foe would not stop there. A second and third swing would follow close behind. In a fight against anybody else, he would
the first strike and counter once his foe was off-balance. But against an opponent like this, deflecting would take everything he had—and leave him unable to attack himself. It also exposed him to whatever Cocytus’s next move was.
Snatch victory from the jaws of death, was it?
He’d heard Vesture use that phrase once.
The only way he could defeat Cocytus was to strike
. But a blow to the head or body would do nothing to the speed of that swing. At best, they’d take each other out.
He’d have to aim for the sword hand.
Moving faster than a Shalltear-class monster and striking hard enough to sever their limb—what kind of sick joke was that?
That’s the only way. I’ve got one shot.
Brain lowered his hips.
The technique that had chipped Shalltear Bloodfallen’s talon—the Nail Clipper.
This was no longer the Nail Clipper.
Originally, the Nail Clipper had required Domain (which guaranteed a hit) and Divine Strike (which boosted his speed) to set up an attack with Fourfold Slash of Light. That had been the crystallization of all his arts. And he had barely managed to shave off a sliver of Shalltear’s nail with it. Arguably, that itself was a feat that would go down in history—but knowing creatures like her existed meant he could not rest on those laurels.
He had sought greater strength. Sought out Gazef Stronoff’s teacher, the retired adamantite adventurer Vesture Kloff Di Laufen, and trained like a madman. The result had been the acquisition of the Sixfold Slash of Light. Sadly, he had not managed to get as far as Gazef had.
Domain and Divine Strike were still in place, but his technique now used Sixfold Slash of Light instead.
Martial arts were fueled by focus, and the stronger the art, the more focus it required. A skilled warrior—a high-level one—would have a greater capacity for sustained focus, but using multiple powerful martial arts at once was still a challenge. Brain certainly had a greater reserve than the average warrior. But the version of Nail Clipper he’d used against Shalltear Bloodfallen had pushed him to his limits.
Sixfold Slash of Light took far more focus to pull off than the Fourfold version—so he should not have been capable of swapping it in.
He’d pulled it off—for one reason.
Brain Unglaus had surpassed Gazef Stronoff—and reached the realm of the heroes.
And he’d gained a new art—the True Nail Clipper.
Cocytus shifted his leg forward ever so slightly, edging closer. It was the most minute of movements.
Given the gulf in their physiques, he could easily have lunged forward and cut Brain down.
So why do this?
The answer was clear. He’d chosen to bury Brain as a
Brain’s respect for his foe grew only greater. He was in the True Nail Clipper stance now, thinking.
Still not there.
With three potions applying three buffs, Brain was stronger than he’d been when he fought against Shalltear.
Brain Unglaus was merely human. No match for a monster like Cocytus.
This was no surprise. An ant could not fight a dragon. This was a truth he was forced to accept.
But he did not wish to lose. So what could he do? How could he close the yawning chasm that lay between them?
I’m a warrior. I must do what warriors do.
Brain activated a martial art.
True Nail Clipper, by its nature, took all the focus he had. There was nothing left to activate another art.
And yet—Brain’s eyes were turning red. Blood poured from his nose. Capillaries were rupturing.
With an almost audible snap, he went
The art had taken hold.
Power surged through his body.
Yet, it was still not enough.
He still stood no chance.
There was only one option.
Brain activated another martial art.
“Greater Ability Boost.”
Once again, Brain Unglaus did the impossible.
The man himself didn’t realize it, but his talent allowed him to increase his focus capacity. That was the only reason he’d been able to develop Nail Clipper in the first place, and by leveling up still further, he’d been capable of mastering True Nail Clipper.
was supposed to be Brain’s limit. He could not activate any further arts. That was the rule the world ran upon.
And yet, in this instant—Brain
the world’s rules.
A second miracle.
The first had happened when he’d cut Shalltear’s nail.
And once again, he’d made another miracle happen.
Blood gushed from his nose.
His soft flesh was paying the price for breaking the rules.
Within a minute, Brain would no longer be moving.
But a minute was a long time with anyone this strong.
Cocytus stepped forward—
—and into Brain’s range.
Zanshin swung down—
Brain’s sword swung back—
the loud sound of flesh being cleaved apart rang out.
Cocytus swung the imperial blade once more, cleansing it of blood and fat. He stowed the katana in space once more and plucked his halberd from the ground, gazing down at the man he’d slain.
A fine warrior.
Cocytus had not a scratch on him. His foe’s blade had never reached him. Yet, this was still a warrior worthy of praise.
FAR FINER THAN I’D HEARD.
It was a shame to kill him.
If it was up to him, Cocytus would have spared the man’s life and had him swear loyalty to his master. He could easily have snapped the man’s blade, deflected his blow, or broken his legs. But that was not the way of a warrior.
Cocytus had felt it when he spotted this man in the distance and had become certain of it when they stood face-to-face. This warrior had made his choice.
And he did not have it in him to disrespect that choice.
He knew placing a warrior like this beneath him would be immensely useful, and yet he still slew him. Perhaps he had let Nazarick down.
But he had to respect it.
A warrior staking his life on his blade in battle.
If the Warrior Takemikazuchi had been here, would he have backed Cocytus’s decision?
HE WAS LIKELY LEVEL FORTY.
That one blow aside, he had not seemed all
high level. Perhaps he had used a particularly strong skill, like Cocytus’s own Acala.
Compared to Cocytus, the man had been weak. But by the standards of this world, he had been very strong.
Cocytus picked up Brain’s blade.
“I’LL KEEP THIS.”
It was by far the weakest blade in Cocytus’s collection—it would be of no use to him. Perhaps it would be better to leave it sticking in the ground next to this man, in place of a gravestone. But Cocytus chose to take it with him.
And he did not wish to leave his body where it lay.
He turned to the frost virgins. “FREEZE HIM,” he said.
Ice began to cover Brain’s body.
Cocytus was about to step over him—but then he stopped.
He looked up at the castle ahead.
And then he silently turned away.
He went left down a narrow side street, following it until he reached a fork. There, he turned right, making sure the castle was dead ahead, and then made another right at the nearest side street, emerging back on the main road.
Cocytus glanced to his right.
To where Brain’s body lay.
Without a word, Cocytus turned left—and headed toward the castle.
“Don’t you try and stop me!” Aura yelled.
She was talking to the frightened soldiers on the castle walls as she ran up the side, her feet finding footholds in the smallest depressions.
The soldiers above tried to stab at her with their spears, but she moved like no human could, vaulting over their heads, spinning in the air—
—and landing on the battlements behind then.
“V for victory!” she said, throwing up a two-finger salute.
Aura may have looked like a child, but the eyes upon her were filled with fear. After that unnatural display of acrobatics, no one here thought she was a normal child. Besides, she had a number of beasts with her.
Paying the humans no attention, Aura pulled a piece of paper out of the pouch at her hip.
The soldiers were slowly surrounding her, but she didn’t seem to notice their spears.
“Listen up, everyone! I’ll say it one more time. Don’t try and stop me.”
She unfolded the paper and began comparing the city before her to the map on it.
The landmarks matched up.
She found her first destination right away—the Wizards Guild.
Pleased with herself, Aura turned to look at the soldiers surrounding her. Quite a few spears were leveled at her, so close they’d stab her if she moved at all.
“Look, just because I climbed up here first doesn’t mean you should all be focused on me. I’m not alone!”
The soldiers glanced at one another and then threw themselves against the outer walls. Too late. Aura’s beasts were swarming over the top.
The soldiers’ pathetic shrieks echoed all around her.
Aura was far more powerful, but looks mattered.
Losing all will to fight, the soldiers scattered.
Some definitely thought they had to stand their ground, but it was hard to remain calm when everyone else was already running away.
These were the outer walls, so the top was fairly wide. But as fear overwhelmed them, the fleeing soldiers began pushing up against one another. An orderly retreat would’ve been much faster, but they were too busy fighting one another to do much more than rout.
It would have been simple enough to chase after them and wipe everyone out, but none of Aura’s familiars saw the sport in that, and their master gave no such orders, so they ignored the fleeing soldiers.
. A level-71 beast, the largest pet she’d brought with her—an Iris Tyrannos Basileus. This looked a lot like a tyrannosaurus rex. But it had fins on its back, and like the goddess it was named after, it gleamed with all the colors of the rainbow.
Aura didn’t know the details, but she’d once heard her masters say it was based on the king of monsters.
The Iris Tyrannos Basileus let out a roar.
One so loud it shook the very earth.
This was no intimidation tactic nor an emotional outburst.
It was a special ability—the Howl of Fear.
Against someone who was around the same level, with ample resistance against psychic effects, it was just a very loud cry. For anyone else—well, the fleeing soldiers made it very obvious.
They crumpled to the ground as their faces contorted in absolute terror.
The shock alone caused instant death.
The great big beast took no pleasure in slaughtering fleeing foes—it had likely just seen the throng and thought they were in its way. And for that reason alone—they all perished.
The Iris Tyrannos Basileus was not unharmed. The cost of using this power was significant.
It was surrounded by five of the six other beasts Aura had brought with her. A level-78 fenrir. A level-77 Hound of the Wild Hunt. A level-76 Kirin. A level-76 Amphisbaena. And a level-74 Basiliskos.
The Kirin’s backward kick connected first. The Hound of the Wild Hunt followed suit, and then each of the others attacked the Iris Tyrannos Basileus in turn.
Possibly just telling it to shut its mouth already.
Actual strength aside, all of them were higher level, so the Iris Tyrannos Basileus let out a plaintive cry, hoping to earn Aura’s sympathy. This only made the others redouble their attacks.
If this outburst had started at the intensity of teammates messing around with a loudmouthed rookie, now it had escalated to outright hazing.
The one beast staying far above the fray was a level-58 Toad of Greed.
This was a giant, nightmarishly misshapen toad, its mouth lined with stained, yellowish molars, and eyes like an aging human driven mad with desire.
“Oh, stop that. I’m not mad, so let’s all stop being mean to Iris.”
She had her hands on her hips, glaring at them through narrowed eyes. They all whined.
“It’s fine—I’m not mad at you, either.”
Every one of her familiars except the Iris Tyrannos Basileus gathered around Aura, rubbing up against her.
“Mmph!” Her squeak was adorable. She might be stronger than any of them, but with their massive bodies all coming at her from every direction, this reaction was expected.
“Hey! Gimme some room!” she yelped. They all obediently jumped away. “That’s enough playing around.”
She clapped her hands—but they were all huge, so it wasn’t like they could line up on the wall. They wound up simply perching wherever they could, trying to look impressive and formidable. Their goofiness from earlier had all but vanished.
“Right! We’re headed into the city to capture a few buildings. Not all of you will get to do things!”
The Iris Tyrannos Basileus looked dejected. It was the largest beast here.
“But I’ve got a special mission for you! I want you to walk around the city walls crushing everyone beneath your feet!”
Its howl shook the air, but that swiftly died away. It looked sheepishly around at the other beasts, then at Aura.
“…Uh, okay. Everybody else, commence operations! Move!”
Aura jumped down off the wall, entering the city proper. She landed on the roof of some house at a run and dashed across the eaves.
The beasts all jumped after her, touching down with impossibly light landings considering their size.
She glanced back once to make sure her pack was still with her. She spotted the Iris Tyrannos Basileus’s long neck and tail waving and waved back. Its tail wagged even harder, sending a chunk of the masonry flying.
—Get to work already!
She shot it a telepathic order, and it got startled before it started stomping off along the wall.
Aura first led her beasts to the Wizards Guild. This place kept a lot of magic items and had high security to match their wards; the siege planners had deemed it the one location in the capital most likely to put up the stiffest resistance.
The enemy combatants weren’t an issue, but it could take a while to collect all the magic items stored there. She might have to call in reinforcements.
Mulling that idea over, Aura made a beeline across the rooftops.
The capital was large but not large enough to pose an obstacle to Aura’s top speed.
She reached her destination not long after leaving the wall.
None of her beasts dared lag behind. Well, the toad was on the slow side, so the Basiliskos had to carry it.
Surrounded by a long wall, the guild building was composed of three five-story towers connected by long two-story buildings. The doors were barred shut, with watch stations on either side of the gates.
No signs of anyone outside, but plenty of faces in the windows, keeping watch on the world outside.
Aura came in for a landing in the grounds, unrolled her map, and gave the building a look over.
“Hmm, if that’s…then this must be…”
The kingdom collaborator had provided them with enough information to work out a basic floor plan—which included likely locations for the stores of magic items.
But there were several possibilities and no information on what might be stored where. Capturing a high-ranking caster and coaxing the intel out of them had proven a tall order. Aura would have to do that herself.
That was a pain, but given this sprawl, it would be more effective than throwing numbers at it.
“Fine, let’s do it.”
Aura headed for the front door, and several humans filed out of the guard rooms. Five men, one woman. The man in front was quite old.
, Aura thought.
If this man was a high-ranking guild member, that saved her some time. But closer inspection left her disappointed.
He seemed to be some sort of warrior.
His fighting gear was of good make: black bottoms and blue-green top. Two swords hung from his hip, and a plate covered his chest.
His hair had long since gone white, without a trace of color left. His arms were as scrawny as his age seemed to imply, but that didn’t mean they were sagging. His overall impression was thin, but he looked hard as steel.
Narrow, hawklike eyes bored into Aura.
His attitude suggested he had a lot of confidence.
“Just to be absolutely sure…kid, you work for the King of Darkness?”
Aura glanced at the group behind him. They were all dressed the same, but none had swords. Likely he was the master and they, his students.
She didn’t really get why a Wizards Guild would have anyone like this on hand, but they were probably here to protect it.
They might have more information than the average caster but probably not anything really important.
“What, no answer? I won’t hesitate because of your age.”
Despite the beasts backing her, he kept his bluster up—likely because none of them showed any hostility, any interest in a fight, or any signs of blood lust. And their foes had courage, duty, and confidence.
“Hmm, if you show me around, I don’t
to kill you. I won’t even hurt your students.”
She meant it. Mare would probably kill them later, though.
“Big talk, boyo. But we can’t let you take one step farther. There are dangerous items here that spawn demons or the like. Can’t let you have ’em.”
That proved the good stuff was still
. She would have to gather them all up and send them to Demiurge.
“Oh yeah? Then my offer is—”
“Rejected. As my name is Ves—”
The old man crumpled to the ground.
Aura had nocked and shot an arrow.
It was so fast, his head had burst like an overripe pomegranate before he got more than a few words out, spraying the contents in all directions.
“No time to waste on idle chatter. Next? Or are you all gonna say the same thing? In that case, I’ll just go grab the most important-looking caster.”
The crowd behind the dead man all looked stunned. Aura couldn’t be bothered waiting for their minds to recover. She turned to her beasts.
“Kill them,” she said.
And with that, she headed to the door while her beasts moved like the wind, attacking the remaining humans. They left nothing but blood and chunks of flesh behind.
Mare was sitting alone on the second-highest tower of the castle, looking down at the city below.
He’d killed a lot of people in the fight three days ago on their way here. But those were all men, no women and children. But that described most of the people here—all in all, very weak.
Mare looked very sad.
He kept doing the math in his head.
—It just wasn’t possible.
He wanted to ask someone for their advice, but there was no one to talk to. No, there were probably some Hanzos, but they wouldn’t show themselves before him, and even if they did, they couldn’t help.
Um, so how do I efficiently destroy this huge city and cleanly kill everyone in it?
On his way here, he and his master had destroyed a bunch of towns. He had quite a lot of experience now. But that was why he knew just how complex and difficult destroying cities and exterminating entire populaces was.
If he cast a whole lot of spells, he could knock down all the buildings and turn the city to rubble. But that alone wouldn’t kill
For example, if he used a spell that caused an earthquake, that was perfect for knocking buildings down and destroying everything underground. A lot of people inside would get trapped under the collapsing buildings and die.
The earthquake would only occur in the area affected by the spell, and nothing outside of it, so there was no risk of people hiding in their houses in other parts of the city noticing the spell itself. But the sounds of the houses falling and the people inside screaming were another story.
Things like that would give away what was happening, or at least make people come outside or go to the windows.
People who knelt down with their eyes closed and their hands over their ears were the best. Anyone who thought they could weather this disaster in their own homes, curled up in bed—Mare could easily kill them all with one more spell.
The problem were people who realized they’d be crushed next and moved on instinct or a flare of courage. And even worse—the weaklings who panicked or flailed out in desperation. People like that often ran in the direction you least expected.
And desperation was contagious.
Anyone who saw people running was likely to leave their house and start running, too.
It was one thing if they ran somewhere that still had standing buildings. But in their panic, some people would run into the pools of blood and rubble. There were even those who’d try to save survivors from the collapsed buildings.
I wish they wouldn’t try to run…
If they ran the wrong way, he’d have to use more area-of-effect spells to catch them. It was double the trouble.
If he had time, that was no big deal. But he couldn’t spare a single moment when his master was watching.
His master’s time was precious, and it was embarrassing to admit he couldn’t wrap this all up on the first pass.
The other problem with earthquakes was that they didn’t guarantee kills. There were actually a good number of survivors.
they tended to start fires, which could kill more people but be seen from a distance, sparking primal terror and increasing the number of runners.
If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.
I’ve got to practice more and get better!
BubblingTeapot had designed Mare to be good at crowd control. He was quite proud of the fact that none of the other guardians were as good at area-of-effect attacks.
So being in a position where he couldn’t easily demolish a city and slaughter the populace really undermined his primary purpose.
If BubblingTeapot saw him like this, she might blow her top.
Imagining her scolding made tears well up in his eyes. But he wiped them away before they fell.
“I’ve got to try. Lord Ainz said so, too.”
Mare was filled with gratitude and respect.
If Ainz hadn’t let Mare practice destroying cities and taught him to learn from his mistakes, he never would’ve gotten this good at it.
Mare remembered the first village he’d demolished. It had been a total mess!
It did his creator a great disservice.
But even when he’d been reeling in horror, Lord Ainz had been so nice to him. Mare remembered being so happy he almost cried.
Lord Ainz had said if you
you were lacking in experience, all you had to do was work hard and get better at it.
If that had come from another guardian, it wouldn’t have affected him the same way. But Ainz was like BubblingTeapot—a Supreme Being.
Mare made up his mind.
He had to destroy more villages and towns and cities and slaughter way more people so he could live up to what BubblingTeapot wanted him to be.
An adorable child’s voice but far brighter and forceful than anything that typically came out of Mare. If the other guardians could see him now, it probably would’ve shocked them. They had no idea he could be this positive.
He clenched his hands together.
Putting everything he’d learned to use.
“I’m gonna destroy this capital and kill everyone in it! Let’s goooo!”
He raised both fists in the air.
The Hanzos secretly watching did the same.
In the hall, Climb was gazing through the thick glass windows at the view outside.
Renner had sent him out here before they went to meet the king, saying she needed to have proper makeup on if the Nation of Darkness was coming. She might have to change her dress, too, so he figured this would take a while.
His gaze turned back to the deserted hall.
The few remaining knights had gone to their posts, sealing the entrance to the castle and settling in to wait for the Nation of Darkness’s armies.
Some might mock this as a futile show of resistance. They weren’t exactly Gazef Stronoff’s Royal Select—most of them were only slightly better than the typical kingdom soldier. The Nation of Darkness’s monsters would likely crush them without breaking a sweat. But the royal family had knighted them, and they were loyal to the crown. This was their sworn duty. Climb pitied anyone who would laugh at that.
Given their respective backgrounds, there were precious few knights he’d had good experiences with. He’d assumed they’d all run the first chance they got. How wrong he’d been. He was still kicking himself for it.
Their loyalty had been true—and that was exactly
they’d been so against a street urchin serving at the hand of royalty. Climb had never understood the strength of their feelings.
Climb looked toward the palace doors.
Wondering if perhaps he should go stand with those knights—but he soon dismissed that notion.
Climb had not been saved by the crown but by Renner herself.
If Renner had ordered it, he would have joined them at once. But as long as she did not, he would serve at her side until the very end. It was his duty to ensure she lived at least an instant longer than he did.
The moment she’d reached out to him, he’d become hers, body and soul.
Here in this deserted, silent corridor, Climb let his thoughts run wild.
Reflecting on the past, on Renner herself, on futures that might have been, and—
He looked to his side. No one stood by him now. The man who’d once been there, Brain Unglaus, had left the palace behind.
How far had he made it?
If the Nation of Darkness’s armies were already at the castle, perhaps he’d already perished.
Climb’s heart ached.
Brain had taught him a lot, shown him the way forward.
He’d been like a mentor, a friend, and a brother.
He’d been closer to Brain than he ever was to Gazef. Renner was his everything, but Brain had come close to being just as important.
“Why did it have to end this way?”
His whisper melted away in the empty hallway.
He couldn’t help but wonder.
He’d thought peace would last forever. Tomorrow and the day after. But now— His thoughts were interrupted by the door slamming open.
Climb jumped at the unexpected noise. He spun around to find Renner standing there. Her dress unchanged, her makeup so lightly applied he could not tell if she wore any at all.
For all the time she’d taken, Renner looked just like she always did.
In her hands, she held Razor Edge, scabbard and all.
Had something happened? Before he could ask, Renner said, “Climb, we must make haste.”
Without another word, Renner dashed off down the hall.
He hurried, pulling up alongside her.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
Her eyes briefly glanced his way, then turned back to the hall ahead.
“Yes. I remembered some urgent business. A little payback for the Nation of Darkness. We must reach my father at once. To his chambers!”
She handed Razor Edge to him on the way to the king’s quarters.
Here, too, there were no knights.
Renner never broke stride. She rammed her way through this door as well.
Ramposa III looked up in surprise.
No one had ever entered his quarters this loudly, least of all his daughter. His words died in his throat.
When the king’s gaze shifted from the princess to him, Climb bowed his head apologetically.
“Oh, there you are, Father! I just thought of something ever so important,” Renner said.
She’d been half running the whole way here but didn’t seem to be out of breath at all. Neither was Climb, but he had almost never seen Renner run before, so it struck him as odd. But they hadn’t been going all
fast, so maybe it was nothing.
“What is it, Renner? Why throw the door open like that?”
“That hardly matters now.”
Renner was speaking slightly faster than usual.
“Fair enough,” Ramposa III said, shaking his head. “What brings you here, Renner? You said it was important?”
“Yes! You see—” Here, she tilted her head adorably. “Why are you here, Father?”
“You’re aware he locked me up?”
“Oh, my brother?”
“Yes. That fool, Zanac! Both my sons, dying before their father…”
The king’s face twisted up in grief. Seven days ago, their armies had set off, and everyone knew by now that none had returned alive. Their fates were beyond imagining, but it took very little thinking to understand what their disappearance meant.
“…I was freed yesterday and knew I had much to prepare before the King of Darkness arrived. I was busying myself with those tasks. The knights did offer to help, but I ordered them to leave. I can only hope they made it out in time…”
Climb knew full well those knights had joined the last stand at the castle gates but said nothing. Renner also held her tongue on the matter and spoke about something else.
“You were getting these ready?” she asked.
On the table lay the king’s crown, several treasures, and a number of books.
“…But why are you still here, Renner? Did he…not urge you to flee?”
“I could say the same to you, Father.”
“I’m going nowhere. He was still but a prince! This is
duty. Yet he—mm? That sword…”
Ramposa III’s eyes had locked onto the blade at Climb’s hip. He glanced behind them, then turned to Renner.
“What happened to the man you hired? The one as strong as Gazef?”
“Brain left. Said he was going to defeat the King of Darkness.”
“…I can’t imagine that happening. But if that’s true, why leave the sword behind? With that in hand, perhaps…”
“It never would’ve made a difference. Not against someone who defeated our captain so easily. And frankly, at this point even if someone did slay the King of Darkness, it would not matter.”
“Yes…yes. Right you are. There is no point if the Nation of Darkness’s armies do not withdraw.” The king glanced out the window, then added, “You asked why I remained here. I did so because I thought there was a need for history to record that the crown officially bowed before our conquerors. To meet my end in a manner befitting the last king.”
Ramposa III looked very tired. He undoubtedly was.
“Climb, the crown commands you to take Renner with you and flee. I am aware that will be difficult, but there are hidden passages leading from the palace out of the capital. If you use those as the Nation of Darkness’s armies pour into the castle, perhaps you will manage to slip away to safety.”
“…No need for that, Climb,” Renner said.
The king and princess had never given him contradictory orders before. This was the very first time.
Climb considered it briefly but chose not to move. His fists clenched tight.
He did not want Renner to die. But obeying her wishes was more important. If he was going to go against her, he would have forced her to flee with Evileye.
When he didn’t move, both spoke his name as one. But the emotions in their voices were diametrically opposed.
“Father, Climb belongs to me. He will not obey your orders.”
“Yes, it appears so. I feel that if you were truly loyal, you would take her away from here, Climb. There is meaning in preserving the Vaiself bloodline. If you can take her away from here, she is yours.”
Climb’s eyes went wide.
The offer was so tempting, he was momentarily swayed. He had certainly dreamed of such a thing. There were many moments when he found comfort in thoughts of her.
But he had already chosen to be Renner’s shield, to die as her shield.
“I do not deserve it,” he said, like choking up blood. “The offer is most appealing, but I must refuse.”
When he glanced in Renner’s direction, he discovered a mysterious smile on her face. Perhaps approving of this display of loyalty.
“And I came rushing here for a reason, Father. Hand me the crown.”
“Our family’s historical treasures, the crown included, must not be given to the King of Darkness.”
“……The man would destroy our kingdom. Why would we not offer up this storied crown? As long as it exists, our family’s history will live on. That is why I brought it here from the treasury.”
“I think we should hide it somewhere in the city. And tell the King of Darkness this:
All symbols of the royal family are hidden within the city. If you destroy the place, you will never find them
“…Ah. That is certainly…a good idea. If he desires the crown even slightly, perhaps it will stay his hand. My life is of no consequence, but we should take all measures that might spare the lives of our people.”
Ramposa III removed the crown from his head.
“Father, not that one.” She pointed at the table. “The ceremonial crown used during coronations.”
“Oh. Oh, right.”
“What else have you brought…the scepter, the coronation jewels, and the seal. Everything that symbolizes the authority of the crown and the kingdom. Can I take them all? The more cards we have the better.”
“…Mm, very well. Go ahead.”
“Climb, can I ask you to hide these?”
“Of course, Lady Renner. But where should I hide them?”
“Don’t worry, my brother and I discussed it already.”
“What? You and Zanac?!”
“Yes, Father. This was actually his idea. We’ve already decided exactly where these should go. Although I do worry he might have been fed the idea by Marquis Raeven…”
“He thought that far ahead,” Ramposa III whispered to himself, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Climb, you know the warehouse district that was pillaged during Jaldabaoth’s attack? We have a little storehouse there.”
Renner detailed the route, but it was rather complicated, and he was less than confident he would find his way. Perhaps she picked up on that, because she asked her father’s permission, took a piece of paper from the table, and drew Climb a simple map. Just the bare minimum to get him there.
“There’s a hidden basement inside. Put these there.”
“And when you’re done—”
Climb looked right at her. Hoping she wouldn’t say not to come back. He wanted to be at her side to the bitter end.
Perhaps that got across because she hesitated, then said, “Make sure you come back safe.”
It was not clear how far the Nation of Darkness’s armies had come, but they were likely already in the city and in the process of razing it to the ground. Leaving the castle at all was a risk. But Climb never hesitated. His lady had given him his orders.
“Please,” she said. “You must come back. Don’t fight. Always run.”
Renner recognized his resolve but clearly had little faith in his skills.
“I will,” he said, nodding emphatically. This time, she believed him.
“Good. Father, leaving the palace now might be rather difficult. Could you tell Climb the way?”
“The hidden passages that lead to the capital streets?”
“Very well. Listen closely.”
What the king said next was genuinely astonishing. Climb had walked right by these passages countless times. He had no idea anything could even be hidden there.
“Climb, take the time you need. You must be extremely careful so those don’t get stolen.”
“Of course, Lady Renner. Even if it costs me my life!”
“And once that’s done, come straight back here. Even if you see something concerning. There’s no telling when the King of Darkness or his armies will reach this place.”
She was using different words but was basically saying the same thing again. Was she just that worried about him? He gave a sharp response, hoping to alleviate her concerns.
“Of course! I’ll be back before you know it.”
“…Make sure you do. Now please go.”
She was wearing her customary smile again. As Climb turned to leave the room, he saw Ramposa III hand her a little bottle.
He could imagine what it contained.
Climb bowed his head and left the room, heading for the hidden passage.
He followed it out into the capital.
The streets were so quiet, it felt like there was no one left alive.
In the distance, he thought he heard a noise like the howling of a giant beast, but from here, he couldn’t tell what was going on. The capital was massive. Even if he climbed up the walls around the castle or city, it would likely not give him a clear picture of its scale.
But that wasn’t Climb’s mission. He ran straight for the storehouse.
He reached it without spying another soul. He’d gone as fast as he could, but it had been quite a distance—and he had kept his guard up the whole way, so it had taken a while to get here.
The storehouse was smaller than he’d expected. As he drew near the door, Climb saw it standing open.
He’d taken out his bell but put it back in his bag and stepped through the open door.
There was nothing inside. Just an empty room.
The scent of dust greeted him. No lanterns and the shutters were closed, but enough light slipped through the cracks that it was still possible to see in the gloom.
Climb lurked by the door a long moment, keeping one ear focused on the sounds outside.
When he was sure nothing was approaching, he moved to the opposite wall, following his instructions.
Rows of empty shelves stood in a line. He pushed the third set of shelves from the right.
At first, they didn’t budge, but he slowly pressed harder, and at last there was a click, and they gave way. The shelves swung open like a door.
The opening yawned black as pitch. This room had no gaps or windows.
Climb donned his helmet.
The enhancement on it allowed him to see freely despite the complete lack of light. The room itself was empty save for a handle on the floor; when he lifted that, it revealed a spiral staircase descending into the depths.
At the bottom of that was another small room lined with shelves.
These, too, were empty. Nothing was stored here. Quite a lot of dust had piled up. This was where he placed the royal treasures.
His task was complete.
Climb went back up the stairs and was outside again.
From here, he planned to run the rest of the way back.
But when he caught a glimpse of the castle up ahead, he gasped.
. The castle itself was surrounded by thick walls, but these, too, had been turned white—the whole structure was sparkling in the sunlight.
A stranger to these lands might have thought it beautiful, but anyone who lived here knew just how abnormal it was.
“Oh! G-good, you weren’t crushed. Um…it’s not safe to be here.”
A child’s voice.
He looked up and saw a little girl sitting on the storehouse roof. She carried a black staff and had dark skin—likely a dark elf, judging by her appearance.
“And you are…?”
“……Er, u-um, well. I was planning on destroying everything here, so, um. You’d better get going before you get caught up in the aftermath.”
That alone told him who this was.
This girl was from the Nation of Darkness.
His hand reached for his sword, but then he stopped himself.
She might not look strong, but he couldn’t imagine she was here alone. What’s more, she’d made it this far into the city. Best to assume this was no ordinary child.
he could win, but the noise would definitely draw in the Nation of Darkness’s undead—and lead them straight to Renner. His mission was not to fight the enemy but to be by her side.
And she had insisted he come right back.
He almost looked at the warehouse again but forcibly kept his eyes looking anywhere else. If he couldn’t seal this girl’s lips, then he had to avoid arousing her suspicions.
Climb turned around and bolted. He was worried she would take this opportunity to hit him from behind. But more than anything, he was driven by a need to get back to Renner as fast as he could.
As he rounded the first corner, he heard buildings collapsing behind him. He wanted to look back but immediately pushed that thought out of his mind.
No one seemed to be coming for him, and after a short while, he safely made it to the secret passage. He looked around one more time to see if anyone was following him and saw black smoke rising toward the sky.
“The city’s burning?”
Buildings blocked his view, so he couldn’t be sure where the fires were exactly, but smoke was pouring out from quite a few places.
That girl had not been a scout; there were already quite a few Nation of Darkness armies in the city, ransacking it.
Yet—he could hear no screams.
Climb pushed his doubts out of his mind.
There was no time to question it. He had to get back to Renner and report his duty complete. Then all that was left to do was serve at her side until the end came.
Climb raced down the hidden passage into the palace.
It was quiet here, too. He didn’t know why.
The castle outside had looked frozen solid. The Nation of Darkness must have attacked. The few remaining knights should be busy manning the defenses.
He was some distance from the site of their last stand, but he should still be able to hear the clash of blade upon blade. And yet…
It’s quieter than it was before.
This silence was genuinely unsettling. A desolate stillness had settled over everything, like there was no one else in the world, let alone the palace.
Climb ran to the king’s room, intentionally making a bit more noise than usual. He considered stopping to knock politely but decided to skip the formalities and charged inside.
The room was empty.
No sign of Renner or the king.
There was a room next to this one. Wondering if they were in there, he took a step forward—and spotted a note on the table.
The same kind of paper Renner had used to draw the map.
Climb picked it up and looked it over.
It was in Renner’s handwriting. She’d scribbled a note, telling him to head to the throne room.
Climb raced out the door.
He drew up short as he neared the throne room entrance. He’d spotted figures on either side of the entrance—and neither of them was anyone he’d ever seen within the palace before.
Women far too pale to be human.
Clearly agents of the Nation of Darkness. They obviously saw him coming but showed no signs of aggression. They didn’t seem interested in him at all.
Should he draw his blade or keep it sheathed?
When he hesitated, one of the women spoke.
“Go in. You are the last human in the palace.”
With that, she settled back into a bored silence.
The ominous phrasing made his hair stand on end.
He ran between the women standing guard and burst into the throne room.
There were so many things to take in that his mind spun.
That was not Ramposa III on the throne. It was a skeletal monster, death incarnate—Ainz Ooal Gown, the King of Darkness. He was flanked by a man with a tail and the Nation of Darkness’s prime minister, Albedo. There was also an insect-like monster seemingly made of ice attending him.
Not far from them, Ramposa III was lying facedown, immobile. His clothes were stained dark red. Renner was sitting on the floor nearby, her clothes drenched in blood—and Razor Edge lay on the ground beside them.
The sword’s blade was covered in blood. Clearly, this weapon had been used to slay the king.
Everyone not human laughed. Was it mockery?
He moved in front of Renner, his sword drawn. They would both die here. But it was his duty to protect her until he did.
“That is not how one behaves in the presence of Lord Ainz.
On your knees.
Climb went down on his hands and knees. It was impossible to disobey. His body obeyed before he even realized it. He could sense someone behind him, doing the same thing.
He remembered how Lakyus had acted under mind control, and it suddenly all made sense.
“You used this to control Lady Renner?!”
A tragedy had unfolded here. He could see in his mind a charmed princess, forced to kill her own father. Rage coursed through him, but he couldn’t move a single muscle. It was like his body didn’t belong to him.
“Oh, I remember him. You were there for the duel with Gazef Stronoff. Release him from your influence.”
“Yes, my lord.
You are free.
The bonds vanished. Climb rolled sideways, grabbing Razor Edge from the floor before rising to his feet instantly. Getting his breath under control, he raised the sword, facing the King of Darkness.
He knew this would mean nothing. The King of Darkness had slain the captain so swiftly, he hadn’t even seen what exactly happened. But he was Renner’s shield, and it was his duty to always stand between her and death.
The King of Darkness rose from the throne and slowly moved toward him.
“Be grateful,” he said. “I am king, but I will grant you the honor of a duel. Should I win…I’ll take that sword.”
The king moved slowly, seemingly oblivious to any threat.
Anger washed over Climb.
It was all
If not for this monstrous king, their lives would have been peaceful. No one would have had to die.
“—And the princess would never have had to grieve!”
This seemed to amuse the King of Darkness.
It was possible that even if he swung, his blade would go nowhere. He remembered how the captain had died without knowing what had killed him.
What was his best move?
Climb gripped Razor Edge tight—
And when the King of Darkness took another step forward, Climb threw the sword as hard as he could.
Even the King of Darkness had not expected that.
He batted the blade aside, but this left him off-balance.
Climb leaped at him, fist balled tight, and swung as hard as he could.
His punch connected with the King of Darkness’s head.
“Climb!” Renner shrieked.
Skeletons were supposed to be weak against blunt damage. Sadly, it was his fist that seemed the most hurt.
The King of Darkness appeared to feel no pain at all.
“If this were a story—”
The king’s hand snapped out and grabbed the front of Climb’s armor. He tried to get away but couldn’t free himself.
“—these powerful emotions you’re feeling would have awakened the hidden power within you, allowing you to defeat me.”
The King of Darkness lifted Climb into the air. His desperate struggles were in vain. It was like punching a brick wall.
“However, this is
. A plot twist like that will never come to pass.”
Climb was flung aside, his body hanging in the air for far too long before he finally crashed to the floor. His back hit the ground so hard it forced all the air from his lungs.
Climb scrambled back up and looked toward the king, who had not bothered to take a single step after him. As if no one this strong needed to pursue their opponent.
“You will die here. You are not worth saving. You lack any special talent or skill. But do not despair.”
The King of Darkness didn’t even seem to be looking his way. His eyes seemed to be staring into the distance.
“This world is hardly fair. Inequality begins at the moment of birth. Some are born talented, and others are not. Even the circumstances of birth are unequal. Some families possess great wealth, and others do not. What’s more, the personalities of one’s parents or siblings can make all the difference. Those lucky few lead blessed lives, while the rest are subjected to lives of deprivation and misery. Yet, let me say it again—this inequality is not worth lamenting. Why? Because death awaits all. And by death—I mean
. I am the ruler of death, and my mercy brings equality to this unfair world.”
Climb understood little of this rambling, but he was being told to embrace death at best.
It was too much.
The King of Darkness had just declared himself death personified, and that fact alone threatened to consume Climb.
How could he challenge that?
He’d always known there was an insurmountable gulf between the king who could slay entire armies and a lowly warrior of no particular skill. But it was far greater than he’d ever imagined.
The scale was so vast, it was like an ant gazing up at the sky above.
But it had never been his desire to win, and he never believed it was possible for him. His mind had only ever focused on one thing—to serve as Renner’s shield until he could do so no more.
That gave him courage.
The flames in his heart no longer flickered.
All for Renner.
The girl who’d saved him that day in the rain.
The girl who’d made him human—
He didn’t know what the King of Darkness meant by that.
Perhaps he’d realized Climb still had fight left in him. Yet, the King of Darkness turned his back, leaving himself exposed—and then he picked up Razor Edge from the floor. He tossed it to Climb.
“Pick it up.”
The King of Darkness raised a hand, and a black sword appeared in it. Judging from the length, it was a kind of longsword.
Not taking his eyes off the king for a second, Climb picked up Razor Edge. He had no choice. He remembered Gazef’s fight—or rather, what the King of Darkness had said just before it. If a weapon’s enchantment was too weak, it could not even scratch him. But this sword had been imbued with enough magic to kill him.
His first attack had proved his armor—the magic armor Renner had given him—was sadly not strong enough to penetrate that defense.
“Climb…” Looking worried, Renner took a step toward him.
He managed a faint smile and whispered, “Princess, I’ll buy you some time. If I…then make haste.”
She must have caught his meaning. Renner nodded.
He moved a step away from her, raising Razor Edge.
“Have you said your sweet partings?”
“Tell me. When I am dead, is she next?”
The King of Darkness said nothing.
That struck Climb as odd. Why fall silent here? But his doubt was washed away by a tiny chuckle from the king’s skull.
“Which answer would hurt you most? I suspect it must be no answer at all.”
“King of Darkness!!”
He swung Razor Edge hard, and the King of Darkness easily blocked it. They exchanged a number of blows, but Climb could not even make his foe budge.
The king also didn’t attempt to fight back. He was
with Climb. Like an adult humoring a child’s tantrum.
But that was how Climb wanted it.
He raised Razor Edge high, putting all his willpower behind his next blow.
Like he had before, the King of Darkness moved the black blade to block it.
This was where he would risk it all.
Climb activated a martial art. And not just that—he relied on the power of his ring as well. For one instant, Climb’s power received a massive boost.
The blows before had taught the king how Climb fought. That meant
blow would come as a surprise.
He made it look like he’d put his back in it—but actually pulled his swing. It was easily blocked—but Climb was already pulling away to aim a swift stab at the red orb in the king’s belly.
He had long suspected that this was the King of Darkness’s weakness.
Even if it wasn’t, shattering that orb should do some damage.
“—Interesting. A good hit!”
Climb had put everything he had into that strike—and the King of Darkness had caught it with his bare hand.
Searing heat enveloped Climb’s shoulder. He could feel something seeping out there. A moment later, that heat became pain.
Climb leaped back. His shoulder had been lacerated.
The King of Darkness had cut through Renner’s gift like butter. Still, it didn’t seem like there was a gear-breaking effect, so the armor wasn’t falling off him.
His arm still moved. But his best bet had come up empty.
He had to assume he was not going to do
“Can Razor Edge destroy a World Item? A potentially fascinating experiment. If it could scratch this, that sword’s value would be immense. Still…” The King of Darkness tossed his sword aside. It vanished into thin air. “That can wait until I’ve killed you.”
He was switching to magic.
Climb almost smiled. The King of Darkness resorting to magic against a foe of his ilk.
Nothing good would come of giving him time to cast.
Climb charged in. He heard the words “Grasp Heart” and then the sound of something tearing inside reached his ears. The pain was immeasurable.
“If you’ll excuse me, woof.”
An unfamiliar voice and the sound of a door slamming shut.
That was what woke him up.
He was sure something had happened—but exactly
escaped him. Those thoughts slipped away like memories of a dream in the morning.
He had no strength in his muscles or bones, like everything had melted. He could barely turn his head.
With great effort, he looked around.
Renner’s chambers were the most luxurious rooms Climb had ever seen, but this place was even fancier. He was certain it was impossible to forget a room like this, so he clearly wasn’t in the palace.
What had happened to him?
Why was he alive?
And most importantly, where was his mistress?
He couldn’t move, but he could sense someone else was here with him.
He tried to call out, but his voice failed to form into words. Yet, that alone was all the room’s occupant required. He could hear her rushing over.
“Climb! You’re awake!”
He couldn’t answer. Every part of him felt weak, and he didn’t have the strength to speak. But that wasn’t what stopped him. Too many emotions were washing over him, and no words came to mind.
Tears ran down his cheeks.
Oh. It was all a nightmare.
A horrible dream where the Nation of Darkness attacked and Renner faced certain death.
“Yes, it’s me. Renner.”
The same smile as always.
No—he’d seen her smile often enough to know. This smile was a little bit different.
Had something happened?
Climb’s eyes shifted around, spotting something strange over Renner’s shoulders.
Like a bat.
They were flapping.
Fake? No, those were far too real. He could not convince himself otherwise.
Renner’s smile faded. She realized the source of his shock.
“These…well, the King of Darkness
me. I’m not human anymore. I’m a demon.”
Climb’s eyes went wide.
“A shame, I know. I alone survived.”
He wanted to refuse this, but all that came out were groans.
Tears flowed freely from his eyes.
Renner gently wiped them away.
Climb shook with emotion. She might look different, but Renner’s heart was still hers.
“And…I’m sure you’re wondering why you still live. Before I answer…Climb, will you do me a favor? I’m a demon now, and I’ll live forever. But I can’t face eternity alone.”
She leaned closer.
“Climb, will you become a demon with me?”
No time to hesitate. All of him already belonged to her.
His body could barely move, but he forced it to nod.
“Thank you! And there’s your answer. I promised to serve the King of Darkness. And in return, he brought you back to life.”
Climb’s eyes went even wider.
“Don’t look so shocked. I don’t think it’s a bad deal. This way, I don’t have to be alone. Climb, will you swear loyalty to the King of Darkness?”
This time he did hesitate, but if Renner had sworn loyalty, then he would, too. No—he had no choice
“Thank you, Climb. I’m sure the King of Darkness will test you, see if you are truly loyal. That won’t be easy for you. Or for me…”
“…Thank you again, Climb. That’s enough talking for now. Get some rest. I’ll look after you.”
Renner smiled and moved away.
He could not see where she went, but he heard a door open and close.
Climb went limp.
And sleep soon came for him.
Like sliding into a bog, Climb passed out even as the tears kept flowing. The emotions they contained were too convoluted for even Climb to explain.
Outside the bedroom, Renner moved to the next room over and hastily knelt before the woman on the couch.
“Lady Albedo,” she said, bowing her head. “Pray forgive my tardiness in offering words of gratitude. For the poison you supplied and the performance in the throne room—His Majesty honored us with his cooperation, and I cannot thank him enough.”
“Heh-heh. No matter. You need not trouble yourself over it. We spare no effort to acquire worthy talent.”
“Thank you, Lady Albedo.”
But she had put a slight stress on the word
that made Renner shiver. Albedo mostly likely caught that but let it pass without comment. Yet, her eyes bored into the back of Renner’s head.
“……………Heh-heh. No need to be so tense. The events in the kingdom proved your skills. To me and to Demiurge.”
Ninety percent of what had happened from her first encounter with Demiurge to the ultimate destruction of the kingdom had been Renner’s proposal, and she felt confident she had done her part in guiding events. When the plan had shifted to the wholesale slaughter of the kingdom, she had certainly worried they’d cut her loose, but everything else that had happened fell well within the allowable range of error.
“We ask only that you apply those skills to the benefit of Nazarick—working directly under me.”
“Of course, Lady Albedo.”
“Lord Ainz has sung your praises, so it would never do to disappoint.”
She caught a minor—almost imperceptible—shift in Albedo’s tone.
Renner kept her head down, saying nothing. She’d deemed that the wisest choice.
“But first, let us give you a reward worthy of the next few thousand years of your hard work.”
She heard a
. Something placed on the table.
“A second Seed of Corruption, same as the one you used. You need merely prepare the sacrifices. Take care of it once he’s recovered his strength. Magic would hasten his recovery, but as you wished, we have done no such thing.”
“Thank you, Lady Albedo. Please convey my gratitude to His Majesty as well.”
“Renner, I will say it one more time. Do not disappoint us. We are giving him to you as a gesture of faith in your labor to come, not because we deem him valuable as a hostage.”
Her tone was soft, almost warm. Renner bowed her head even lower.
“…Understood, Lady Albedo. I shall return this generosity with work equal to—no, in excess of the reward.”
With a light laugh, her superior rose to her feet and walked away.
Renner did not look up until she heard the door close. She let out a long breath that disguised a faint hint of fear.
She had made it past the final checkpoint.
a demon, after all. It was a relief to find she had not been getting Renner’s hopes up only to relish snatching them away at the last possible moment. But Renner was perfectly aware she could never assume she was safe.
She was not here because they trusted her. She had gained all these boons merely because they thought she would be useful to them. Renner would have to work hard and prove she had more value than they expected, or it would not end well for her.
She was in the monsters’ den now. And she was painfully aware there was nothing she could do to oppose them. Yet, that alone was hardly enough.
Renner had been forced to supply a
. Several in fact. It was like wrapping a leash around her own throat and handing the end to them. A clear demonstration that she was their dog and they were her masters—that they held her in their thrall. Without that, there would not even have been a
Hence, the performance in the throne room.
Climb was Renner’s greatest weakness—and to that end, on her first meeting with Albedo, she’d spent some time describing just how important he was to her. By
letting him see the truth of what had happened, she’d placed a collar on herself.
And she’d demonstrated exactly what value he had as a hostage. She’d had an ulterior motive, and they’d clearly known that from the beginning. This had actually worked in her favor, so she was not concerned about it.
Only one thing had not gone according to Renner’s plan.
She had never imagined the King of Darkness himself would take the stage.
He is truly terrifying.
Each time Renner thought about Ainz Ooal Gown, a shudder ran through her.
He had not left the performance in the hands of his prime minister but played the clown’s role himself—did that mean he had that high an opinion of Renner’s potential? By deigning to dance in a farce of her own invention, the price was all too clear.
And Albedo did not approve.
She worshipped the man and did not appreciate seeing him debase himself like that. And by allowing that to happen, Renner had earned her enmity.
It’s even worse if she voiced those objections and he insisted on taking part. If I show even a hint of incompetence, she’ll have me eliminated.
Her original plan had been to demonstrate a high level of skill and leave something in reserve just in case. But because the King of Darkness had joined the play, she was now in no position to hold back.
…That must have been his plan all along. When the man in charge is too brilliant, it makes things hard for those beneath him.
Yet, there was a smile on Renner’s lips.
Once, her dream had been far smaller. Meeting them had allowed it to swell until it grew into the miraculous fantasy she now lived.
What a stroke of luck that the price had merely been one kingdom.
She was ready to dance.
To burst into song.
To give voice to the joy bursting out of her.
She thought the sheer bliss might drive her mad. She was only half sure it hadn’t already.
Demons lived lives eternal. And if that life was inside this tomb, she was safe from all external harm.
Renner turned to the door behind her. To the boy on the bed inside.
“Climb, we’ll be together
. We’ll have to start by exchanging our firsts—let’s do that
Her eyes were blank and unfocused.
“Or should we make it even
special? Stop just one step before and build the anticipation? Mm-hmm-hmm. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a hard time deciding! Oh, how am I this blessed?!”