Overlord, Vol. 14: The Witch of the Doomed Kingdom
Elias Brandt Dale Raeven stepped out of the carriage, staring wordlessly at the devastation. It chilled his very soul.
Before him lay a mountain of rubble.
It was hard to believe this had once been the royal capital. He would rather believe his eyes deceived him. But he was not that lucky. They saw only truth—this was the outcome of the war.
His face twisted in pain.
How much work had gone into demolishing this once-great city? How much time had it taken?
He could not even begin to imagine. The fact that it had been possible at all spoke to the power the King of Darkness held.
Footsteps approached from behind, and a voice said, “Marquis…”
It was a noble of his faction who had traveled here with him. A baron by title, but Marquis Raeven valued his skills highly and had been pulling strings to get him a better rank.
So when the King of Darkness’s retainer had asked for the names of nobles who were talented, this baron’s name had been second on his list. That promising man’s voice was now feeble, shaking with fear. Undoubtedly sharing the marquis’s horror at the desolation before them.
Marquis Raeven turned around, ensuring all twelve aristocrats had emerged from the ten carriages.
“Time for our audience,” he said.
No one argued. No one dared. The King of Darkness had summoned them, so here they were. They were hardly in a position to back out now. None of them was so bold—or so reckless.
But they hadn’t been told a specific location. The instructions merely mentioned “the capital.”
Marquis Raeven looked around and found a single building still standing in the distance. The palace. The castle around it had been reduced to rubble.
Someone had likely cleared a path through the heaps of ruined masonry to afford them a view of it from here.
A single forlorn building in a sea of shattered stone. Marquis Raeven would have imagined that would seem like salvation. Instead, it felt horribly
, and he shuddered at the sight.
If he had a choice, he would never have dared approach. Unfortunately, the King of Darkness most likely waited within.
“We walk from here.”
Their carriages had stopped at the remains of the city walls. The palace was quite some distance away. Their carriages would get them there far faster, but they had to avoid even the implication of disrespect. Remaining in their carriages was not worth the risk. The nobles had gathered early enough and would reach their destination at the appointed time. They could afford to hike the rest of the way.
They began picking their way forward.
“This was the main road…?” someone murmured behind him.
The road itself was free of rubble. As if it had been swept clean.
Put another way, nothing but the road itself remained intact. The houses that lined it, the city walls—everything had been utterly destroyed, leaving only scorched earth behind. On their journey to the capital, they had passed scores of towns and villages that had met the same fate, but no place had been as thoroughly leveled as this.
“Marquis, the people—”
Clearly, he’d been concerned for the plight of the populace. But Marquis Raeven had not heard a word about any evacuations and spotted no camps outside the razed city. Their fate was clear.
He glanced at the leveled buildings to one side. How many people were buried beneath those stones? It felt like he was walking through a giant graveyard.
Marquis Raeven stopped breathing through his nose. He did not wish to catch the stench of death. It was downright odd that he had not already—perhaps the smells of char and dust were simply stronger.
They walked farther, but the palace was still a long way off.
The sight must have been pulling at their minds. He heard someone whisper, “The mad king.”
Marquis Raeven spun around, yelling, “Hold your tongue!”
He scanned the group, eyes like daggers. One was looking ashen, his cheeks quivering.
Life in the aristocracy had taught each and every one of them to stifle their emotions, to wear a pleasant mask in every interaction. But this scene of desolation had proven too much.
He sympathized. Inside, he felt the same. But here, with whom they were about to face, this was unacceptable. He could show no mercy.
“You are all men of talent. This is why I spoke on your behalf. In return, I ask that you do not let a careless slip of the tongue make all my efforts be in vain. I need no apology, no gratitude. Simply understanding.”
No response came, but he hoped he had made his point.
“Marquis, walking in silence allows our imaginations to run wild. The stress cannot help but boil over. What say we talk of happier things?”
“…An excellent suggestion. Have I mentioned I’m expecting another child?”
The others offered congratulations. The last few months had taken a toll on them all, and this had been the one bright spot for him. That was why he had informed them of it several times already.
He could talk for ages about his children, but it was not the most constructive topic.
But in the hopes of lightening the mood, he allowed himself to bring it up once more. Before he knew it, they were halfway to the palace already.
Perhaps—no, almost certainly—he had rambled on a bit too long.
He still had plenty more to say, but perhaps he should wrap it up. Marquis Raeven made a show of clearing his throat.
Several nobles had obviously been letting it go in one ear and out the other, and this got their attention once again.
“We shall have to discuss my children further on the road home. For now, we must talk of what proposals we should make to His Majesty, the King of Darkness, so that my children might lead happy lives.”
They had debated this on several occasions prior. It was time they reached a conclusion.
Marquis Raeven looked around, making sure there were no Nation of Darkness soldiers in sight.
“The first concern on all our minds was that the King of Darkness is undead. While our mortal lives are fleeting, he will rule for all eternity. There is a chance that our grandchildren or great-grandchildren will forget his glory and earn his wrath.”
“An all-too-likely concern. Perhaps the next few generations will be sound, but beyond that…”
“Fools inherit households often enough.”
“…But perhaps their flaws are not of our concern. If they wish to destroy themselves…”
This got a gasp of surprise from those who took pride in their lineage, but the speaker was a woman whose father had been the first to earn a title. He was now ill, and she was here in his stead.
With no history of nobility, her words drew several frowns.
“From the sight before us, my fear is that it will not be just
houses that will fall,” Marquis Raeven said. Her expression grew grim. “We will do what we can. Commission paintings of this tragedy and inform our children of what happened here. And plead with the King of Darkness to leave this site as it is.”
“Will they not build a new capital here?” the man on his right asked.
But the man on his left shook his head. “Not after leveling it to this degree. I find it hard to believe they see a future of anything here.”
This aligned with Marquis Raeven’s thoughts on the matter. But the King of Darkness had powers far beyond those of mortal men. Perhaps he had simply believed he could build a better city if he wiped the slate clean.
But pondering on that would get them nowhere.
“What about hostages, Marquis?”
The most unpleasant topic.
He bit his lip.
There was no telling if the King of Darkness would demand any hostages. But it might make a better impression if they offered some, rather than waiting for that demand to come from on high.
Marquis Raeven debated it internally and then settled on an answer.
“I’ll suggest it myself.”
They would volunteer hostages to him. More than a few here were loath to do so. But none dared allow that to show, let alone argue with his choice.
They reached a final verdict on several more points of discussion, and by then the palace could be clearly seen.
There was a pile of rubble blocking the entrance and an undead seated upon it.
The Nation of Darkness’s prime minister, Albedo, was standing next to him, speaking. Her face turned, spying their approach. The nobles were still a long way off, but they broke into a run.
As they drew closer, it became clear just what the King of Darkness was sitting on. Or rather, what it meant. It was certainly a pile of rubble—but not
At the top of the heap was a glittering object—a crown.
This was a throne made of rubble. A symbol of the kingdom’s demise.
It was not clear immediately where this rubble was sourced from, but it was likely all locations of note.
That a monster would even think of doing such a thing, let alone make it a reality.
They ran as fast as they could and nearly toppled to their knees. Desperately trying to catch his breath, the marquis called out, “Your Majesty, we have arrived.”
Even with his head down, Marquis Raeven could feel the King of Darkness observing them.
“Raeven, was it? Welcome. Still, um…please catch your breath. You’re rather sweaty.”
“I—I apologize for the undignified display.”
The King of Darkness’s tone was shockingly pleasant. Which was all the more terrifying.
floated across Raeven’s mind, but he decided their undignified state was worse and proceeded to mop his brow with a handkerchief.
“You’ve come all this way, and perhaps I should commend your efforts, but I am no fan of idle chatter. Let’s get this over with.”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
What else could they say?
“My—the Nation of Darkness’s armies will proceed to destroy the lands of nobility to the west and south and then return home. You will continue to oversee your own lands. We may relocate some of yours in the future, but at the moment we have no such plans—right, Albedo?”
“As you say, Lord Ainz.”
“There you have it. Albedo will inform you of any details specific to your territories. Until then, continue to abide by the laws as they presently stand.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Not just Marquis Raeven but all noblemen present spoke as one.
“Any questions or concerns?”
“None at all! However, as proof of our loyalty, we did prepare a number of proposals.”
Saying this much took all the strength he could muster and left him nearly puking blood.
The King of Darkness turned his head, staring into the distance. Perhaps displeased that a lowly human dared do anything but agree.
Fearing he had incurred the undead’s displeasure, Marquis Raeven felt like molten lead were pouring down his gullet. In a corner of his mind, he remembered seeing this same mannerism on the face of a subordinate when he’d brought new papers just as they thought their task complete.
The silence lasted but moments yet felt eternal.
“Mm, well, then mention them to Albedo later,” he said at last. “We’re done here. Oh, we’ll be leaving this place as is, so that we can point to it as proof of what happens to fools who act against us. But it would never do for it to become a breeding ground for pestilence. We’ll be casting a number of spells to burn the place clean. Let no one enter lest they get caught in the fires.”
“Understood, Your Majesty!”
“Albedo, call Crimson here and have him purify the place with fire. Leave the palace exterior alone in pristine form. And have the furnishings brought to E-Rantel.”
“At once, sir.”
No one dared ask who Crimson was. There were things you were better off not knowing, and everything related to the King of Darkness qualified.
“The kingdom will soon be utterly annihilated. Raeven, I ask your opinion. Will word of the futility of defying me spread far and wide?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Word of what befalls anyone foolish enough to defy the King of Darkness will travel across the lands and last through time immemorial.”
With his head down, he could not read the king’s expression—and the undead creature had no skin to emote with to begin with. But his tone of voice took on a trace of delight.
“Excellent. Then it was well worth the effort. I am pleased.”
That was his takeaway from the slaughter of eight million kingdom citizens. Raeven was sick to his stomach. He prayed that a hero would one day rise up to destroy this evil overlord.
“I did nothing wrong.”
Phillip had spent the last few weeks repeating these words.
His actions could not possibly have provoked that war. It was all a plot by the Nation of Darkness. That was the only explanation that made sense.
He’d been manipulated.
His domain not flourishing and his plans not working out? That had all been part of
They pulled all the strings! Bribes, rumormongering! It’s so obvious!
Phillip sat up in bed and reached for the table next to it. He grabbed the bottle sitting there and shook it. He could tell it was too light and, from the sound, guessed there were only dregs left inside.
He glared around the room.
The floor was covered in empty bottles. It probably reeked of booze, but Phillip’s nose was long since deadened to it.
He grabbed a random bottle off the floor and raised it to his lips, but nothing came out.
He tossed it aside.
It shattered, which only aggravated him further.
“Hey! I’m outta booze!” he yelled, but no one brought more.
There should be a maid on duty—a gift from Hilma—but come to think of it, he hadn’t seen her in ages.
“Bring me booze!” he roared, lurching to his feet.
He staggered, muttered, “Whoops!” and steadied himself on the bed. This was likely less that he was drunk than that his body had grown weak from spending so long holed up in his room.
Phillip picked his way to the door.
“Hey! Where is everybody?!” he yelled, kicking the door. He didn’t punch it—he didn’t want to hurt himself.
No response. Clicking his tongue again in frustration, he opened the door.
“Can’t you hear me?!” he yelled. “I said I need more booze! Bring it here!”
Still no answer.
Infuriated, he stormed out of his room.
The whole house was silent.
When Phillip had taken over the manor, his father and brother’s family had moved to a secondary building. Only servants lived here.
They called it a manor, but this was a small baronage. It was not a long walk from the bedroom to the dining area.
When he opened those doors, his eyes widened in surprise.
There was a pale woman sitting on a chair.
“Oh, you’re awake,” she said. “I was starting to wonder if I would have to go to you.”
Albedo, prime minister of the Nation of Darkness. The same faint smile she’d worn when they first met. As if she bore no grudge for what he’d done.
, he thought.
So they really don’t care.
If they really objected to it, they would’ve invaded his lands first. But they had done nothing of the sort. That made it all perfectly clear to Phillip. It was thanks to him that they’d been able to start a war with the kingdom. Perhaps she was here to express her gratitude!
No, no, she likely had no idea. No one knew what Phillip had done.
He returned her smile.
“A-an honor to have you here, Lady Albedo. Modest though it may be! I can’t believe my servants allowed you to wait. I must have words with them later.”
Albedo looked momentarily stunned, then managed a half smile.
“I’m almost impressed. A genuine achievement of some kind…heh. I came to wrap things up here, but I
bring you a present. Care to open it?”
She gestured to a white box on the table. It was a good twenty inches wide.
All that time spent in bed, quivering in fear, had clearly been a waste. Phillip reached for the lid. A pleasant aroma filled his nostrils. Wondering what treasures lay within, he opened the box and beheld the contents.
Baron Delvie and Baron Loquillen. Or at least, their severed heads.
Their faces were contorted in visceral pain.
Phillip froze on the spot.
“You really did smear mud on my face,” Albedo whispered. “I knew I had found an idiot, but I still failed to imagine you could be
He heard a
. Albedo had risen to her feet.
Still smiling. But even Phillip understood now.
He had to run.
Phillip turned around to do just that but, in his haste, tripped over his own feet and went crashing to the ground.
He heard footsteps coming closer.
“Let’s get going.”
“No! No! No! I don’t wanna!”
He curled himself up, stubbornly resisting.
“Stop acting like a spoiled brat.”
She grabbed his ear and pulled. It hurt so much, he thought it was about to tear off.
“Ow! Ow! Stop!”
“Then walk on your own feet. Come now—up you go.”
He grabbed the hands on his ears and tried to pull free, but as thin as her arms looked, they were far stronger than his.
She pulled him to his feet.
His vision blurred with tears, Phillip tried to swing his fist toward her face, but she easily caught his hand before it landed there. And—
—she squeezed with such force, he thought she was trying to crush it. His fist cracked.
“…If you walk with me like a good boy, I won’t have to crush your hand. Understood?”
“I understand! I do! I’ll walk—please stop!” She released him. “But why? What did I ever do?”
He was so miserable, the tears just wouldn’t stop.
He’d worked so hard. Nothing had gone right, but he didn’t deserve this.
Why was he being subjected to such violence?
Why was no one coming to help him? Had they sold him out to the Nation of Darkness in return for their own safety?
They were all cowards.
Albedo showed no pity for his tears or the pain in his ears and fist. She simply started walking away, still pulling on his ear. He was forced to follow.
Out through the front door.
When he saw what was waiting out there, he couldn’t help but shriek.
There was a forest outside his manor.
But unlike your usual forest, it was not made of wood and leaves.
These trees were far more ghoulish.
Stakes from which grew hands and feet.
Or perhaps humans from which grew stakes.
All his villagers impaled upon wooden spikes.
Young or old, male or female. So many stakes he was not sure if even a single villager had been left alive.
Every one of them had a stake forced into their crotch and out their mouth.
Every face twisted in agony, blood pouring out of every orifice, pooling at the base of each stake.
When had this happened? How could it have happened without him noticing?
“You’re not dreaming. We cast a spell on your room to shut out the sounds. It was very quiet, wasn’t it? If you were a little smarter, you might have realized how strange that was, but given your track record, I’m sure you had no idea.”
Phillip grabbed Albedo’s hand again, doing everything he could to free his ear. She just leaned in close, whispering.
consider encouraging the villagers to lynch you, but that would be so
. The man I most respect—Lord Ainz—values practice and training. So I thought I’d use you to practice
information. That way you might actually be useful to me!”
Her smile looked like a gouge running across her face—the sight of which made Phillip’s mind try to escape.
“Oh my. He really is… Well, fine. Your father
ask me to make sure you suffered as much as everyone here. And I plan to keep that promise!”
But those words never reached Phillip’s ears.
Albedo was off to settle unfinished business, so they split up, and Ainz returned to his office alone. Once there, he spoke to the maid on Ainz duty today.
“I’ll be in my chambers considering the next steps the Nation of Darkness should take. You remain here and ensure no one enters.”
She glanced at the maid by the door. Such tasks were normally for the maid on room duty, and any maid on Ainz duty was supposed to remain by his side. They were quite keen on reminding him of this.
So he took steps before they could.
“I have to plot out the next few millennia. Having anyone with me would be a distraction. Understood?”
“Yes, Lord Ainz! I’ll learn to be completely unnoticeable!”
That was not at all what he’d meant, but he let it drop. Thinking on it any further seemed exhausting.
“Excellent. But since you aren’t yet, remain here.”
“As you wish, Lord Ainz.”
Leaving her in his office, Ainz headed directly to his bedroom.
And then he promptly dove onto his bed. He had no physical fatigue, but his mind was in tatters.
The soft bed wrapped him in its embrace.
It was a truly magnificent dive.
Had there been judges present, they would have given it full marks for flight time, distance covered, touchdown positioning, and landing posture.
This was the result of untold repetition and practice. Ainz dove into his bed every time the stress got too much for him.
It was an extremely middle-aged-man-on-the-brink-of-collapse sigh. A magnificent example if he did say so himself. You could poll a thousand people, and every one of them would say,
Dude needs a vacay
. This, too, was the result of endless practice.
Ainz began rolling back and forth on his bed.
He’d come direct from the ruins of the capital. There was still dust on him. Perhaps he should have hit the slime bath first, but he hadn’t been able to summon the energy.
Had he played the villain well? How could they fight the platinum armor? There was so much he had to think about or improve upon, but at least one big task was off his plate.
This success was but the first step in a much larger project. It would only get worse from here. Mass destruction was easy; from here on out, the devastation would be delicate and surgical, followed by the incredible challenge of
Until now, the Nation of Darkness had been a small territory—the vastness of the Katze Plain aside—with a large vassal state. Things were different now. Their territory was far larger. And that would clearly create no end of problems.
Naturally, Albedo would be the one frantically busy with domestic affairs, but the biggest problems would likely be brought to his attention. Problems far more critical and difficult than anything he’d faced before. Ainz did not believe for a second that he was up to the task.
He had no idea what Albedo and Demiurge were thinking, but they’d brought some batshit crazy girl named Renner to Nazarick, claiming she was brilliant. She was a complete outsider and had no connection to
at all. She was capable of seeing Ainz with clear eyes, unclouded by her settings, and had a mind supposedly every bit as impressive as Nazarick’s two geniuses.
Could he maintain this charade in front of her? Continue to play the role of Ainz Ooal Gown, absolute ruler?
Can I just leave?”
He had never meant anything more in his
Ainz was fully in the mindset of an office drone knowing his career-ending blunder would be discovered first thing tomorrow.
I’ve been just barely hanging on for a while now. Maybe it’s high time everyone learned I’m incompetent. I thought I was ready for that!
Now that the moment has come…I’m terrified of how they’ll react. Damn it! Clearly not enough for the emotional stabilizer to kick in.
Ainz’s own abilities were telling him this was no big deal.
He thought about it. Then thought some more. Then reached a conclusion.
Okay, let’s run for it.”
Maybe not right away. He couldn’t just drop everything and vanish. He hadn’t created any documentation to pass on, and he had never been the kind of person who’d just use all his paid leave the month before retirement and never come back.
Plus, if he openly admitted he was running away, that would earn him nothing but withering contempt.
He needed a compelling
Ainz ransacked his empty skull for an answer.
He had repeatedly written up and discarded plans for paid time off. But what if he led the way? If he was the first to take a vacation?
Get out of Nazarick for a while. Relax. Leave everything to Albedo in his absence. That was much safer than involving himself in the grand scheme of what was to come.
She might insist that he outranked her and that his input was necessary. In which case, he could just say,
We’ve already run a simulation on what to do in the event of my death. This is the next step. We’ll act as if you’re unable to contact me and you’re forced to decide everything yourself, Albedo.
Ainz pumped a fist. It was
Just one thing—
Where do I go?
He could pop by the Empire, strengthen his friendship with Jircniv.
Investigate the mountains around the dwarf country.
The Sacred Kingdom—
Too unappealing, ruling that out.
There were several tempting prospects.
But then Ainz remembered something.
What about making some elf friends for them?
Aura and Mare. He had been working them very hard for their ages. It had bothered him for a while. That had been perfectly normal in their old world, but Yamaiko had always insisted it was
So perhaps he could take the two of them with him.
That doesn’t sound half bad. It could be a lot of fun even! It would set a precedent for the floor guardians to take vacations and test how well we can cover for their absence.
He had long been concerned about the mountainous workload on his floor guardians. This might help uncover solutions to that.
Once he had his pile down to manageable size, he’d take the kids to the elf country and make them some friends.
His mind made up, Ainz got up and headed for the bedroom door.