The Baharuth Empire
Editors/Proofreaders: Anon, M, Zack, Rocko, Ferro, JcqC
Albedo was to leave for the Kingdom on a clear, sunny day, and Ainz came to see her off at the courtyard of his residence.
There were five luxurious coaches parked there. One of them was for Albedo and another was for her luggage. One of the remaining coaches contained gifts to the King, to impress upon them the difference between the might of the Kingdom and the Sorcerous Kingdom. Surrounding these carriages were 20 Death Cavaliers which Ainz had created.
It would have been simple enough to just teleport to the Kingdom, but they had not chosen to do so.
Albedo and her party were responsible for demonstrating the Sorcerous Kingdom’s power. Part of that was using monsters in place of horses to pull their coaches; an implied threat, so to speak.
“Then, Ainz-sama, please take care of yourself for a while.”
“Umu, be careful. We haven’t found the people who brainwashed Shalltear yet. Thus we cannot rule out the possibility that they might seek to control you, and then use you as part of a great gamble to inflict massive damage on Nazarick.”
“Of course. I will be careful and never let this leave my person.”
Albedo was hugging a World-Class Item to her breast.
“I believe possessing that should eliminate the risk of being brainwashed by a World-Class Item. However, the opposition might not be limited to just that item. In addition, while that is the most powerful World-Class Item against physical objects, don’t forget that it is not very useful against individual targets.”
“Is that so? My main weapon is the transformed version of this…”
“It’s weaker than a specialized divine-class item. Even so, it’s still quite strong in that it will never be destroyed or damaged. All I want to say is, don’t be careless because you’re strong. Although I don’t think you’ll make a mistake like that…”
Come to think of it, Albedo had never been outside until now.
He had stationed her in Nazarick and had her serve as a rear guard. Because of this, Ainz felt worried, as though he was letting a child go out on an errand by themselves for the first time.
“Remain alert and do not be careless. If you feel there is danger, retreat immediately. Do you have any teleportation items? Some of them need time to take effect, so does yours work immediately? Some enemies can also impede teleportation before attacking, have you thought of a way to deal with them? There might also be enemies who distract you with bait before ambushing you. Don’t be fooled by your enemies’ strength, alright? Although I’ve heard you’ve gone through combat training in order to improve your flexibility, you still need to study up a bit more. In addition―”
He thought, it would have been good if I had lectured Shalltear like this while he thought about the tactics he would use for PKing. As he did so, he sprayed Albedo with a stream of words at machine-gun speed.
How long had he spent on thinking up all kinds of attacks? Ainz only returned to normal after he realised Albedo was looking at him with a delighted expression on her face.
This was terribly embarrassing.
“Well, something like that. I believe that you of all people, Albedo, will not slack off on preparations and countermeasures. I’m sorry for delaying you. Take care when you travel.”
“Although it might not be appropriate to ask right before you go, about Demiurge ― no, never mind.”
“He should be fine, I believe?”
If he had received some communication from Demiurge, he would not have a huge pile of questions to ask him. For instance, Albedo had not opposed the formation of the Adventurer’s Guild, but it might be better to ask him in person when he returned. Albedo seemed surprised, but after she realised that Ainz did not intend to reply, she resumed her usual gentle expression.
“Then, Ainz-sama. As the Guardian Overseer, I will show you results which will not bring shame upon the office.”
“Your actions have never insulted your station.”
Granted, right after that he recalled Albedo mounting him cowgirl-style, but that was not the sort of thing one could bring up at this juncture.
“There is one more thing I have to say. While you are immune to disease, this world might possess illnesses that can bypass even that immunity, so be careful. I’ve heard that it’s exceptionally easy to fall ill at the turn of the season.”
The transition between the four seasons was not very clear in Suzuki Satoru’s world.
A thought struck him ― what would Blue Planet do if he were here? He would probably have the same sparkly-eyed expression that Albedo did. ...Although, whether he could actually make that expression was a different matter entirely.
Then, Albedo volunteered a suggestion, with a look on her face like a freshly-bloomed flower:
“Ainz-sama! I, I know of a remedy that works very well against illness!”
That was quite a surprise. He had not expected her to know of medication which was unique to this world.
Nfirea the herbalist should not have come into contact with Albedo. That being the case, could it have come from knowledge within YGGDRASIL, or perhaps something Tabula Smaragdina programmed into her? His curiosity now aroused, Ainz looked forward to what she would say next.
“Yes, kissing relieves stress and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Once the efficiency of the parasympathetic nervous system increases, the performance of the immune system improves with it. In other words, if you get kissed, you won’t get sick!”
“What you’ve said sounds kind of familiar…”
He recalled someone mentioning something about the parasympathetic nervous system while he was playing YGGDRASIL. That must be it. However, he did not feel that it would be effective in this world too.
“Therefore, I want a kiss~”
Albedo closed her eyes and puckered her lips.
All he could see now was an octopus.
That description might sound like it was slandering a great beauty, but the truth was, her looks had not been greatly diminished. After all, a beautiful woman remained beautiful no matter what expression she had on her face.
That untimely thought flashed through Anz's mind.
Ainz had considered running away at this point.
He wanted to say, “Certainly not”, but it was plainly obvious that she was hoping for a kiss. In addition, this was a wish from someone who was about to run a work errand, so he wanted to help fulfil it, to a certain extent. In addition, it would make his heart ache to ignore the wishes of Tabula Smaragdina’s daughter.
Ainz took Albedo’s chin in one hand, and planted a kiss on her cheek. That said, Ainz had no skin, and thus no lips, so the kiss Ainz gave was little more than pressing his front teeth against her. In addition, since he had no saliva, all she should have been able to feel was something dry and hard poking her.
Although this was terribly embarrassing, he had to inflict himself on her.
I’m glad I brushed my teeth, even though I didn’t eat anything.
After his hand left her chin, he met Albedo’s wide-eyed gaze.
“What, what’s wrong? Besides, it would have been too much to kiss you on the lips, so the cheek will have to do. Was it not right?!”
“...I did not think you would have considered it at all.”
Before Ainz could ask her about what she really meant, tears welled up in the corner of Albedo’s eyes.
Albedo wept. Those were not crocodile tears. She was truly crying.
After the long-awaited shock of his emotional suppression washed over him, Ainz hurriedly scrambled to do something. That said, he had no idea how to proceed.
In the past, when he had made Albedo cry in the Treasury, he had thought of something comforting to say. However, nothing came to mind now that Ainz had made her cry after kissing her. What would that pretty boy Emperor (Jircniv) do at a time like this? Although he thought about that topic, it would seem that none of the scenes which Ainz witnessed had ever covered a situation like that.
“Albedo, please don’t cry.”
He desperately wanted to look to the duty maid behind him for help, but he had already embarrassed himself badly enough. He could not disgrace himself even further.
“Albedo, don’t cry.”
Ainz pulled Albedo into his embrace and gently patted her back.
They stayed like this for a while, and then Albedo sniffled. It would seem her tears had stopped.
Ainz released the hands holding Albedo, as relief washed through him.
“Are you alright, Albedo?”
“Yes, Ainz-sama. I am very sorry for letting you see that shameful side of me.”
Though stained with tears, hers was still a very beautiful smile.
There was only one reason she could be crying.
His nonexistent stomach began aching after he realized how cruel he had been. At that time, he thought it was fine, because the game was going to end soon. If only he had not thought that way, she would not have cried like this.
“Is that so. ...Well, it’s about time. You should set out if you’re fine.”
♦ ♦ ♦
The curtains mounted in the coach windows opened, and through them, he saw Albedo waving to him. In response, Ainz waved back to her.
This was a scene straight out of those railway train farewells one might have seen on television.
The coach stirred slowly into motion, and the sentries began moving as well.
Ainz watched until he could no longer see Albedo’s coach, and as he stared into the distance, he issued a somber, grave command.
“Forget everything that happened here.”
Ainz walked past the maid, whose head was lowered. Ainz had no way of seeing what the kind of look she had on her face.
The Bloody Emperor, Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix clutched at his head.
This was not a recent thing. He had been doing this for quite some time now.
In the past, he had purged all manner of nobles, heard about treachery which could shake the Empire, and learned of deteriorating relationships with neighboring countries. Through it all, this man had neither panicked nor fallen into confusion. However, in the face of an insoluble problem, even this man could do nothing but bitterly cradle his head.
“Dammit! You son of a bitch! Die! Die and rot away!”
While magic could curse someone to death, Jircniv did not have that kind of power. Therefore, he was simply speaking offensive words. If he could actually kill that hateful man who had wrought such devastation on his mind and his stomach lining for the past few months, he would gladly seek out such techniques.
“No, wait. It would be better to tell him to “live”, right? Or maybe, ‘be destroyed’ would be more appropriate? I’ve heard of some priests destroying the undead with sacred power.”
He was even thinking about such meaningless things.
Jircniv’s stomach ached and strands of his fallen hair adorned his pillow every morning. The culprit, the man responsible for all of this was the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown.
There was no satisfactory solution to the problems posed by the Sorcerer King.
The first problem concerned the casualties among the Imperial Knight Corps at the Battle of the Katze Plains.
There were only 143 deaths; a trivial number, for a direct clash with the enemy. However, the losses at the Katze Plain had been entirely self-inflicted.
In addition, 3,788 people had expressed their desire to leave the Knight Corps upon their return to the Imperial Capital. In other words, over 6% of the 60,000 men of the Imperial Knight Corps had lost their courage.
And then, there were thousands of people who complained of uneasiness and night terrors. According to the reports, there were at least 200 mentally unstable people as well.
Knights were professional warriors, and training even a single one of them entailed considerable expense.
Nor was it just a matter of money. Training time was also essential. One could not simply grab somebody off the streets and say, “From tomorrow onwards, you are a knight.”
The Empire would need to spend a great deal to fill the shortfall in the number of knights. But where would he get the funds for those expenditures?
At this critical moment, it was too risky to purge the nobles and seize their assets to make up the required amount.
The reason for that was because of the second problem ― namely, the petitions which the Imperial Knights themselves had submitted to Jircniv.
The Knight Corps were permitted to make proposals to Emperor Jircniv. This was because there were some things which only blooded veterans could understand, and it was also to reduce the conflicts between military officers and bureaucratic officials. At the same time, it was also to give the impression that Jircniv ― who had a martial background ― was especially fond of the Knight Corps.
Of course, one could not expect such letters to always be positive, but the recent petitions were harsh indeed.
These petitions, from the upper echelons of the Knight Corps’ command structure, expressed their desire to avoid warfare with the Sorcerous Kingdom.
Jircniv could understand that sort of thing even if they did not bring it up.
Anyone who dared face that Kingdom in open combat would be far beyond a mere fool; he would be an absolute madman. That was a nation that could trample 200,000 enemy troops with a single spell. There was no way Jircniv would conceivably pick a fight with such a foe.
Even so, the reason why the Knight Corps had tendered such a petition was because they had lost their faith in Jircniv.
Before the Battle of the Katze Plains, Jircniv had proposed to the Sorcerer King: “I hope you will use your strongest spell”. The upper echelons of the Knight Corps knew this, and laid the blame for that miserable hellscape squarely at the feet of Jircniv.
In other words, they were using him as a scapegoat.
When Jircniv learned this he was both furious and frustrated in the extreme.
If he had known that such magic existed, he would never have said such a thing.
Besides, the reason why Jircniv had asked that damnable Sorcerer King to use his strongest spell was to verify how powerful his magic was.
Originally, it should have been the other way around. “Thank you for drawing out part of the Sorcerer King’s power. Now we know better than to act recklessly around him,” they should have said while expressing their gratitude. After all, if things had gone poorly, that magic might have been unleashed in a city.
However, the Knight Corps did not see things that way. It was because they felt that Jircniv was a splendid Emperor that they believed he had asked for the use of that magic, knowing full well what it did. Thus, many suspicious gazes now fell upon Jircniv.
This was the first time Jircniv had been so disgusted by his own reputation.
However, crying and complaining would not help things. If someone could do something in his place, Jircniv would gladly cry and scream and rest until his stomach pains went away. Of course, nobody could do Jircniv’s job for him, so he had to handle it himself.
“Damn that Sorcerer King! It’s all his fault!”
He pressed against the pain that radiated from his stomach, no ― Jircniv paused to think.
This was not “the Sorcerer King’s fault”. This was “the Sorcerer King’s conspiracy.”
It was very possible that the state of the Empire might have been orchestrated by him. When he calmed down and considered it, the possibility of that was very high.
Jircniv took out a key and opened a drawer. He withdrew a bottle from within.
Then, he pressed the silver ring he wore on his left hand against it.
The Ring of Unicorn ― an item which could detect poisons and which enhanced resistance to poison and disease, which could also heal wounds once a day. After confirming that there was no reaction, he gulped it down.
Jircniv placed the bottle on his desk, and frowned.
He took a mouthful of water from a bottle on the desk, to wash away the now-familiar astringent taste spreading through his mouth. After that, Jircniv pressed the area around his belly again.
Was it just a placebo effect, or had his wound really been healed? While there was no way he could know for sure, at least his stomach pains had subsided for now.
After that abnormally heavy sigh, as though ponderous tasks awaited him, he continued his work. First, he had to start with that accumulated pile of documents.
A quiet knocking rang through the room, as though it were waiting for his hand to reach out.
The man who entered was a scribe. All of Jircniv’s hand-picked scribes were excellent workers. However, this man was easily the equal of Roune.
Incidentally, there were no women among the scribes. The only woman who Jircniv trusted to handle this sort of work was one of his concubines.
Jircniv waved to cut short a greeting that might take a very long time.
“―No need for that, spare me the greetings. Don’t waste time, get to the point.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Those traders from that nation have finally replied to us. They seem to have very good stock with them, and they will be visiting the Imperial Capital soon.”
Jircniv smiled at this, the best news he had heard in the past few weeks.
The nation in question was the Slaine Theocracy. Needless to say, the trader in question was an emissary from them.
While this room was warded against spying, after witnessing that spell from the Sorcerer King, he had come to believe that all these countermeasures were little more than stage dressing. The fact was, he had come to feel that someone was spying on him of late.
Still, no matter how many people he sent to investigate, they found no observers. The only conclusion they could reach was that this was a paranoid delusion on Jircniv’s part. Granted, his nerves had been wound up quite tightly of late, so it might actually be the case. However, he could not get rid of the sense of foreboding that came from being watched.
In the past, he might have let Fluder set up anti-spying measures, but he could not do that now. For all he knew, Fluder might already have betrayed him. Therefore, Jircniv had to operate under the assumption that spies had already infiltrated the Imperial Capital.
Therefore, all policies concerning important matters needed their own codewords. Of course, there were a few small problems which cropped up at a result, but it was still better than letting the alliance against Ainz Ooal Gown be exposed.
“Then, when will it be?”
“I believe they intend to arrive within the next few days.”
Normally speaking, he would have openly invited them to the Imperial Capital, but that would be far too obvious.
It’s best to meet them while pretending that it was a coincidence. However, what sort of location would avoid suspicion?
He was out of options, but even if that were the case, he could not give up like this was just a regular game. Casting that spell of utmost cruelty was essentially telling Jircniv, “I am undead, so slaying the living is only natural.” He could not possibly ignore a being like that.
It was the duty of the Emperor of the Baharuth Empire to improve his chances of victory, even if it was only by a little.
In order to achieve that aim, one of the measures he had taken was to forge a secret alliance with the Slaine Theocracy. The Theocracy was a country with a longer history than the Empire, and it also counted divine magic as one of the pillars of their nation. There was no doubt that it was the best nation one could appeal to for ways to deal with the undead.
However, it would be very bad if the Sorcerous Kingdom learned of his contact with the Theocracy.
The Empire was now an ally of the Sorcerous Kingdom, and one which had helped guarantee its sovereignty. The reason why the Empire had done this was to understand the strength and organization of the Sorcerous Kingdom, as well as everything else within it. If it was discovered that they were working against the Sorcerous Kingdom, the Empire would undoubtedly be the first target for the might of the Sorcerer King.
“Permission to speak, Your Majesty.”
Jircniv raised his chin, indicating that the man should continue.
“Is the act of opening hostilities with the Sorcerous Kingdom not a most foolish course of action?”
Jircniv glared at the scribe. You too, huh. He chucked a scroll case into a specially designated trash bin as he thought that.
Don’t crush my flagging heart, please… However...
“Then, what would you suggest we do instead?”
“Well, about that…”
Jircniv smiled as he watched the scribe gulp audibly.
“Relax. I will not censure you for anything you say. Come, speak your mind.”
“Yes, then, I apologize beforehand for any offense I might cause.”
With a cough, the secretary shared his thoughts:
“I believe we should continue strengthening our bond of alliance, and if the Sorcerous Kingdom has any requests… we should give in to them.”
The scribe’s face was still pale despite Jircniv’s guarantee.
Within his heart, that treasonous statement warred with the fear that his very life might be extinguished.
Jircniv once again smiled bitterly.
It was because he knew the man’s caliber that he felt that his gaping mouth was quite comical. Jircniv smiled in a different way than before, and then continued speaking:
“I feel what you are saying is correct. In your position, I might well make the same proposal. No, it would be strange if any man I appointed as a scribe did not suggest such a thing.”
Simply put, the Sorcerous Kingdom was far too powerful.
Though they could only judge from a military standpoint, it was clear that the Sorcerous Kingdom was on a level that they could not even hope to deal with.
The personal power of the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown alone was already far too risky to face. Then there was the army of the dead he had brought to the battlefield, each of which was rumored to be able to level a nation by themselves.
They were in completely different dimensions. When one thought about it, the very idea was laughable.
“Although I feel that is the best choice, does that mean we should not prepare to take some other action? For instance, if the Sorcerer King intends to destroy the Kingdom, do you think bending the knee to him will suffice to spare us?”
He had not yet heard of any massacres in E-Rantel.
Could it be that the undead were not there? After trying to gather some information, he discovered that the undead openly occupied the city, turning E-Rantel into a demon city.
It might be that he intended to rule the residents of the area without slaughtering them, but that was jumping to conclusions. After all, there was the news of how he had subdued that adamantite-ranked adventurer (Momon), so just from that point alone, it was dangerous to think that the Sorcerer King’s tender mercies would extend to the Empire.
“It is as you say. It would seem I was so cowed by the Sorcerer King’s overwhelming power that I could not even make such a rational decision. My deepest apologies.”
“No need to apologize. After all, the thought came to mind in the past… back to the point, where have the traders of that country chosen to rest?”
“It seems they will be lodging in the largest of the second of four.”
The second of four referred to a shrine of the God of Fire. The word “largest” was not code, so it probably referred to the largest shrine in the Kingdom ― the Central Temple.
From this point on, Jircniv began nonchalantly chatting about random issues, with some lies sprinkled into the mix.
Sometimes, he would casually speak of made-up things. Even if anyone heard, investigating the truth of those words would be a tedious process. For the time being, he might have to continue this brain-straining work. As he thought about this, he realised they had been talking for several minutes.
Jircniv then decided to get to the main issue.
“How is your family? Are they still well?”
“Hah? Ah, yes. They’re very well.”
“Is that so? That’s great. Good health is the most important thing, after all. I won’t lie; the truth is, my body’s been doing quite poorly of late. Medicine only keeps it at bay for a while. Do you think I should bring a priest over?”
“It seems the temples are not too happy with Your Majesty’s recent actions. Applying pressure might result in a backlash. Why not visit in person, Your Majesty?”
“What a wonderful idea.”
The temples battled the undead. Thus, to the priests, the founding of a nearby country which was ruled by a powerful undead being was something about which they were very wary. Thus, they had sent many requests to meet with Jircniv.
However, Jircniv had refused each time.
Jircniv was now in a state where he would take any help he could get, but he had his reasons for not accepting. One of them was because he did not trust their ability to keep out spies. The other was because Jircniv feared that if he told them what he knew, they might do something unpredictable.
If both sides reached an accord, and the priests then decided to declare war on the powerful Sorcerer King “because he is undead,” the consequences hardly needed to be stated. It would result in the Empire being caught up in their suicidal actions.
In short, Jircniv was afraid that once he made contact with the temples, the Sorcerer King would assume that the Empire was hostile toward him.
Jircniv sighed deeply.
Although he had hoped they would wait for the right moment, it would seem they did not understand that point, However, the Theocracy’s diplomatic party had covertly reached the Imperial Capital. Perhaps if he waited for them to make contact with the temples, there might be a chance to turn it all around.
“Then, I should make some time in the next few days to visit the temples and let them take a look at my body.”
“That seems like a wise course of action. Then, I shall go make the arrangements now.”
“Thank you. Then, what shall we do about the arena? I remember there was an exhibition match scheduled soon; shall we let it go on as planned? I’m not going to be stopped by words like ‘you said you were going for a checkup, so you can’t go there’, you know. If any of you wants to watch the fight with me, you may join me in my VIP room.”
The scribe’s eyes widened, and his eyes gleamed as he tried to divine the true meaning of that statement.
Yes, that’s right. You’d be right to suspect me. Come, see what I really mean.
Jircniv wanted to avoid meeting the people of the Theocracy in the temples.
The temples contained knowledge on healing and various other kinds of wisdom. If they were chosen as targets for a pre-emptive strike, far too many things would be lost, at a time where this accumulated knowledge was more important than anything else.
“Understood. Then let me handle the arena. I believe you were scheduled to visit the war wounded at the hospital on that day as well?”
Jircniv had not received this news, so this was probably a bluff.
In other words, he was suggesting to Jircniv that the hospital might be a better location than the arena.
Jircniv had chosen the arena because he had heard that it often hired priests to heal the wounded. With that in mind, he was thinking of bringing the emissaries from the Slaine Theocracy over in the guise of those priests.
“Delay the visitations. We’ll follow the schedule we agreed on earlier.”
With that, all talk about the traders had disappeared halfway through the conversation. If there were any eavesdroppers, what would they think of this? What could they learn from the phrase “second of four”?
However fiendish the Sorcerer King's intellect, he could not make any plans without any information to work with. In addition, not all of the Sorcerer King’s subordinates could be as intelligent as he was. Also, the more spies there were, the higher the chances they would be exposed. Since no information on those spies had been found yet, there probably were not many spies. Or rather, he hoped that was the case.
The spectre of the Sorcerer King’s absolute and undeniable magic haunted his mind. Part of him constantly thought “Since they’re the Sorcerer King’s men, they must be exceptional too.” Indeed, he had seen many incredibly powerful beings arrayed before that throne, so that implied that those spies might be of the same caliber as them.
If that’s really the case, then we don’t have a chance at all… if swearing vassalage to him will settle things, then wouldn’t that be the best course of action?
He had just drunk a healing potion, but Jircniv felt a spike of pain in his stomach again.
♦ ♦ ♦
Two weeks later, a coach with Jircniv on board left for the arena.
On the surface, he seemed to be going to the Arena to watch a fight, but in truth, he was there to enter into an agreement with emissaries of the Slaine Theocracy and high-ranking priests of the Empire.
He had not brought any of his imperial guardsmen with him to avoid standing out, but two of the Empire’s Four Knights ― “Lightning Bolt” and “Violent Gale” ― were on the vehicle as Jircniv’s guards.
If possible, he would have liked to use all of these outstanding warriors to protect him. However, “Heavy Explosion” was not reliable, so he had left her behind under the pretext of guarding the Imperial Capital. No, saying that she was unreliable was not exactly correct. To be precise, he could already tell from her actions that she wanted to move on to the Sorcerous Kingdom. Thus, in order to avoid leaking any information to her which she could offer to the Sorcerous Kingdom as a gift, Jircniv had decided to keep a distance from her.
She had originally said, “I will do anything to lift this curse, even point this sword at Your Majesty”. Jircniv understood this, but had still decided to make use of her. Therefore, he could not rebuke her even if she decided to betray the Empire. However, he still could not allow her to take away information that was critical to the Empire.
That said, if she really had managed to eavesdrop on the Empire’s state secrets, then he would need to have her arrested. However, she was one of the strongest people in the Empire, so he would need to send out people on her level to eliminate her. In terms of swordsmanship, only “Lightning Bolt” and “Violent Gale” were up to the task. Sending anyone else would only result in a one-sided slaughter for them. In addition, suppressing her with numbers meant that the Imperial Capital and the Emperor’s security details would be thinned out.
That being the case, he would have to turn to Fluder’s disciples, workers, or perhaps assassins as represented by Ijaniya, all of whom possessed skills outside of melee combat. However, no matter which option he chose, he would have to be prepared to pay dearly for it.
The disciples were paid on a yearly basis ― although ever since Fluder’s betrayal, he had confiscated Fluder’s land and made them nobles ― so there would not be too many additional expenses there. However, dispatching them would require them to stop their work, which would incur losses invisible to the naked eye. In addition, if they were actually killed instead, the damage done would be more than what the latter two would cost.
Therefore the best option was to deny “Heavy Explosion” the chance to obtain valuable information and let her go empty-handed to the Sorcerous Kingdom. That might well be the most satisfactory solution for everyone concerned.
Jircniv had hinted as much to “Heavy Explosion”.
However, “Heavy Explosion” was still in the Imperial Capital. Her response was along the lines of “I shall remain until I repay the kindness that Your Majesty has shown me”.
He wanted to take that at face value, but that was impossible.
“Heavy Explosion” might be one of the Empire’s Four Knights, but the Sorcerous Kingdom would most likely rate her fighting power very poorly. Each and every one of the many undead directly loyal to the Sorcerer King were stronger than her. Because of that, she was looking for a way to raise her value in their eyes.
Jircniv’s stomach began aching again as he thought about the hopeless reality that the Sorcerer King commanded a thousand undead who were individually stronger than “Heavy Explosion”, one of the mightiest warriors of the Kingdom ― and that was not including the Sorcerer King himself.
What should I do about this?!
A single strong person cannot change the course of a battle, they said. Yet, reality said otherwise.
The Kingdom’s Gazef Stronoff was a man who could do just that. It was even more true of the Empire’s head magician, Fluder Paradyne, a being who could shake an entire nation.
Each of them was a figure comparable to an army, or a country.
In other words, even without considering the frightening power of its undead king, the Sorcerous Kingdom already wielded the might of a thousand armies.
There’s nothing to be done, is there? If… well, you couldn’t stop him even with a thousand armies, right? ...As I thought, giving up is better...
Of course, he could not actually say that in front of his subordinates, but the idea had appeared in Jircniv’s mind several times already. In fact, it had been his first thought once he heard about the Battle of Katze Plains.
“―Then, Your Majesty. After we meet with Silver Canary, we’ll move out. Will that be alright?”
Jircniv shifted his gaze to regard the man seated before him.
Before him was one of the Four Knights, “Lightning Bolt” Baziwood Peshmel.
Jircniv nodded in silence.
They had hired a team of adamantite-ranked adventurers as security for today. While they were ostensibly there as a security detail, their main objective was to seek out any spies from the Sorcerous Kingdom. Regretfully, he could not meet up with Ijaniya, which had been considered as one of the alternatives. This also made Jircniv realise that inducting them into the Empire would be very difficult.
“Your Majesty, although adamantite-ranked adventurers possess the highest fighting strength of all humanity, they still cannot step beyond the bounds of human ability. Please do not lower your guard.”
Jircniv was painfully aware of those words which “Violent Gale” Nimble Arc Dale Anoch was trying to tell him. In fact, having seen the serried ranks of monsters within that throne room, he understood those words better than Nimble, who had watched that grand massacre with his own eyes.
“Of course. However, they might well be able to hold out. Consider the Kingdom’s adamantite-ranked adventurer, Momon. He pointed his sword at the Sorcerer King and defended the people with his strength. Since the members of Silver Canary are adamantite-ranked adventurers as well, it’ll be quite troubling if they can’t do the same.”
As he said this, Jircniv smiled sadly.
“And if even they… if even they can’t do it, what then?”
Jircniv’s question brought pained expressions to the faces of both knights. That look was a better answer than anything they could have said. Unconsciously, Jircniv began mirroring their expressions.
“Your Majesty, please do not make that face. We might not be strong, but we will still devote our hearts and souls to completing our task.”
“That’s right, Your Majesty. Please, adopt that confident, swaggering attitude of yours again. This fragile state you’re in now doesn’t suit you.”
Their gentle words pierced Jircniv’s heart, and he could not bring himself to say, “doesn’t that apply to you as well?” Yet, he decided to accept them without complaint. Those words might have had as much effect as scattering water on the desert, but it was true that they had soaked into the desert of his heart.
“..Forgive me. Thank you for your sincerity. Then… since only the two of you are here, would you mind listening to my foolishness for a while?”
The two knights nodded wordlessly.
“What do you think I should do? Why would a monster like that appear next to the Empire? Why? What sin did I commit against heaven and earth to warrant that? What should I do to slay that monster ― or failing that, to seal it away? Now that the Empire’s trump card has been stolen away by the enemy, is there really any way to turn the situation around?”
He had not planned to say that much.
If Jircniv did not stand at their head, his people would not be able to follow him. One who placed himself above others needed to adopt an appropriately superior attitude. This was especially true for the Bloody Emperor, who had purged many nobles.
The Emperor could not afford to show weakness. That was a lesson which his respected father had taught him.
However, all humans had a limit to what they could take.
The human side of Jircniv was one he would only show to his concubines. Now, that part of him was shouting.
“It’s true I asked him to cast us a spell. But that couldn’t be helped! We can’t plan any countermeasures if we have no idea of his abilities! Am I at fault for that? Must I take responsibility for everything that went wrong? Everyone seems to think so!”
Jircniv bit his lip and clutched at his hair.
The truth was, this was merely the tip of the iceberg. If Jircniv had completely given himself over to the feelings in his heart, he would probably be crying and screaming and rolling around on the floor. He was simply trying to protect the image of the Emperor.
Still, he had some sense of self-awareness about how he was letting himself go.
It would seem this was becoming a habit, so Jircniv returned himself to normal.
“Forgive me. It seems I got a little excited. I’ve been under a lot of stress recently.”
He glanced down, and saw strands of hair on his fingers.
Judging from the portraits, none of his ancestors had thin hair. Jircniv could not help but muse that he might be the first Emperor in the history of the Empire to go bald.
He waved his hand to keep his subordinates from noticing. Sometimes pity hurt more than a rebuke, and the same applied to the matter of hair loss.
“That said, it might not be very convincing after you’ve seen that side of me. However, the two of you need not worry. I’ll take care of it, somehow. I won’t let him do what he wants to the Empire.”
That confident smile of his seemed to soften the faces of his subordinates.
However, none of them was truly at ease.
They too understood that Jircniv’s words were just temporary relief.
No matter how they thought, they could not come up with any way to deal with that monster.
In truth, Jircniv felt it would be impossible unless there was a weapon which could permanently slay the undead, or unless another very powerful human being showed up.
That’s why we need to rely on the Slaine Theocracy. Their history is longer than ours, so they might be able to find a weapon that can slay the undead in one blow. No, just sharing information with them will allow us to keep fighting!”
All he could do now was pray that this was the case.
The coach continued forward, and with it rode Jircniv’s last hopes.
♦ ♦ ♦
The arena was circular in shape. There was a large entrance at one of its sides through which the coach entered. This entrance led to the VIP rooms, and very few people made use of this entrance. The other entrances were used for the entry and exit of the regular patrons or for the transportation of cargo. These were the three main types of entrances to the arena.
The first to alight from the coach were, naturally, the two knights serving as bodyguards. After they had verified the safety of the location, Jircniv dismounted from the coach.
Five men waited for them there.
Their manner of dress looked entirely out of place for the VIP entrance.
Jircniv could evaluate the worth of any particular work of art with a glance, but he could not divine such information from their gear and equipment. This was because what they were wearing was both artwork and wargear. Theirs was not the outfit of a noble’s house guards, but the panoply of battle-hardened veterans.
By the normal rules of etiquette, the inferior party should have introduced themselves first. However, some adventurers did not care about status or rank, and these were such adventurers.
Still, he was the ruler of the Empire. Was it really appropriate for him to be lowering his head to adventurers?
Amidst this awkwardness, the man standing in the center of the group of five spoke up:
“Your Majesty, Emperor Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix. I believe this is the first time we have met, and it is an honor. We are the adamantite-ranked adventurer team Silver Canary, who have accepted the request of providing security services. I am the team leader, Freivartz. Pleased to meet you.”
His dignified voice echoed through the surroundings.
He had a lute on his back and a rapier at his waist. He wore a chain shirt which wreathed his body in bizarre lights.
All his equipment did not just reflect the light, but emitted magical radiance from within. Every piece of his panoply looked like it was a first-rate magic item, especially that lute, which was also known as Star Symphony.
As he observed the man’s thoroughly confident attitude, Jircniv recalled himself from several months back, and could not help but feel some envy.
“... I have heard about the deeds of you gentlemen, the highest-level adventurer team in my country. That heroic saga of how you slew the Radiant Crawler truly got my blood boiling. Therefore, I know about all of you to some extent. However, since this is a rare opportunity, could I trouble you to personally introduce the heroes of my country to me?”
“Then, allow me, as the bard to…”
“―C’mon chief, lay off a bit, will ya? Hate ta say it, but when I hear ya go at it, I break out in bumps. Shiny shortsword or whatnot… anyway, can we just skip that part? Ayy, Yer Majesty. Sorry ‘bout the way I talk, I was born this way. No worries, yeah?”
The man beside Freivartz stepped forward and gently inclined his head.
He was a stocky and short man. Though he had a smile on his face, those disproportionately small eyes of his had no mirth in them.
He was Keila No Seydeshtin, a man with thief classes known as the “Planner”.
(TL Note: “Planner” here is used in the same way as “Assassin”)
There was not much information about the “Planner”, so there was much which remained unknown about him. He was probably closer to the underworld and more involved in ambushes and assassination than regular thieves.
Jircniv indicated that he should not worry about it, and then Baziwood chuckled.
“Haha, it’s fine. His Majesty’s long used to it.”
“Oh, and this would be… you must be “Lightning Bolt”-san of the Empire’s Four Knights. Could it be you were born there as well, friend?”
“Hm? Ahh, no, probably in a different place. I popped out in a dirty little alley. You must have crawled out of a deeper and darker place than me.”
“Seems that way. The air around you’s different… sorry ‘bout that. Guess I was too hasty.”
“It’s fine, “Dark Cloud”.”
“I’ve never called myself “Dark Cloud” before… really, this is all your fault, chief.”
Freivartz simply quirked up the corners of his mouth as Kaila looked to him.
“It’s better to let us introduce ourselves rather than go by strange nicknames. My apologies, Your Majesty. First, this is Seyde, our eyes and ears. Next is our fighter. You might be a bit surprised when you see him, but I can guarantee his strength.”
“No, of course His Majesty won’t doubt him. After all, I feel he might be stronger than me.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that from a strong man. This is Fan Rong.”
The person being introduced was a red-furred ape which stood around 170cm tall. He was wearing armor that looked like it was made of white furs, and he had battle axes on either side of his waist.
He was an Ape Beastman, as well as one who channelled the spirit of the apes through the power of his warrior class, the Beast Lord. He had read about this in a report before, but actually seeing it with his own eyes was quite the shock.
And indeed, by appearances alone, he looked stronger than even Baziwood, the mightiest of Jircniv’s subordinates.
Fan Rong raised his right hand and waved to Jircniv and the others.
“Then, next is the one who heals our wounds.”
Freivartz hurriedly began the next introduction. This was because he was worried Jircniv would be displeased.
This time, the man at Freivartz’s left stepped forward.
“Forgive me,” he said as the strange staff he held made a ringing noise. That weapon was apparently called a “shakujo”.
“This humble monk goes by the name Unkei and is a follower of the Buddha. Pleased to meet you.”
Though he was dressed strangely, he seemed quite a bit more civilized than the Beast Lord from just before.
After he removed his bizarre, large hat ― called a fukaamigasa ― the head thus revealed had no hair upon it. If he had not known that the man had shaved it all off himself, Jircniv might have looked pityingly upon him. He was quite young, after all.
(TL Note: the fukaamigasa is a straw hat associated with monks)
He wore a strange battle robe called a kasa. He was a soryo, who were spiritual magic casters that lacked a bit in the healing department, but which showed exceptional power when battling the undead.
(TL Note: kasa are cassocks associated with Buddhist monks)
The Buddha he followed hailed from the far South, and had few followers. Some viewed him as one of the followers of the Four Gods. There was little known about him and there had been no interest in building a temple to such a god within the Imperial Capital. However, Jircniv did know that this man’s existence was considered a nuisance of sorts.
Basically, the temples set the price for the use of healing magic. However, when a lone, unaffiliated user of healing magic appeared, how would they deal with him? What would they do if that man was also an adventurer of the highest order ― an adamantite-ranked adventurer?
There was no particular link between the Empire’s government and its religion. The fact that Jircniv had no ties to them could be considered good fortune.
He did not want to be further embroiled in troublesome issues.
However, when checking through the man’s record, he found that he displayed exceptional performance against the undead, which immediately drew Jircniv’s attention. If need be, he might need to apply the necessary pressure to the temples. Of course, that was only if his abilities were really that effective.
“I see. Then, the last one must be Powapon.”
“It is as you say, Your Majesty.”
The man Freivartz had saved for last was stranger than the ones before him. He was arguably the most bizarrely-dressed of the five men, and he lowered his head to Jircniv.
His bare upper body was tanned black with strange white patterns painted all over him. This was probably because he was a member of the odd class called the Totem Shamans.
“...Aren’t you cold?”
“I have already equipped a magic item which protects against shifts in the temperature, so there is no problem at all.”
Jircniv could not help but feel surprised at the reply, which was more normal than he had expected. He had received reports about his queer appearance, as well as the news that he was a regular person under all that. Still, the sheer dissonance filled him with surprise. At a closer look, he seemed quite handsome, and quite young as well.
Why had he chosen this class? Part of him wanted to know, but at the same time he did not want to now.
Jircniv regarded Silver Canary before him.
This was a weird team made up of weird members. The only thing they had in common was that they carried a feather of the silver canary their team had once raised somewhere on their persons (in the case of the Totem Shaman, it was on his waist).
Those feathers glittered with silver light, as though they had just been shed.
“Understood, gentlemen. Then, I’ll be in your care today.”
“Leave it to us, Your Majesty. Think of it as coming aboard our ship.”
Jircniv could not help but grin wryly as he heard Freivartz’s words, and made to leave. However ―
“―Hang on a bit, Yer Majesty,” Seyde said in a dull voice.
“We’ve been hired to protect ya, Yer Majesty, so please don’t walk so far ahead. That okay?”
“It is not a matter of being okay or not. You were hired to protect me, so I will do whatever you deem necessary. In addition, if you feel that you need to make use of their strength, please feel free to order them around. However, I’d like to request that they be kept near me as much as possible.”
“Well how about that. So we can command the Empire’s Four Knights as we please, I guess we’ve really hit the big leagues now. Still, it’ll be fine if you two stay by His Majesty’s side. If anything happens, just run when we give you the instruction. That oughta do it. Then, play us a tune, chief.”
“Got it. My apologies for Seyde’s tone, Your Majesty. No matter how many times I tell him, he always ends up doing that…”
“No need to worry. That said, it might be troublesome if he did that in a public area…”
Perhaps Freivartz had gotten the message, but he nodded slightly. That implied that he knew the right time and place for this sort of thing.
And then, he sang. No, this was less of a song than a collection of bizarre sounds. This was because there were some parts he could hear, but not understand. It stopped after several seconds, although the strange music lingered in their hearts. Then, Seyde made his move.
If one had to attach some form of sound effect to his movements, both “sluggish” and “slimy” would be appropriate. Either way, Jircniv was not capable of those movements.
“Then, please keep about ten meters back and follow me.”
They did as Seyde said, keeping ten meters back before moving on. Jircniv took the opportunity to ask Freivartz about the song from just now.
“What was that, anyway?”
“Does Your Majesty not know? That was a bard skill, a spellsong. It differs from user to user, and can be performed with various instruments, but in my case, I evoke its effects through song.”
“So that’s it, huh.”
Freivartz could not help but smile as he saw Jircniv mumble to himself. Just at that moment, Jircniv remembered something he wanted to learn about, but did not have a chance to follow up on. He decided to take this opportunity and asked:
“...I have something to ask you. Can that spellsong control people?”
“Spellsongs can convey a suggestion effect, just as spells can. It should be possible. In addition, they should be able to charm people, to a certain extent.”
Jircniv looked at Freivartz.
“I see… is that so…”
“That should be it, yes.”
So that monster had the power of a bard, unless―
“Then, what do you know of monsters which look like frogs?”
―Unless it was an innate ability as a monster. That possibility could not be completely crossed out. It was very important to make sure of that.
“Frogs? You mean like Giant Toads?”
“No, not like that. Something more intelligent. I’m talking about a monster which stands on two legs, and can instantly activate something like that spellsong.”
“...Do you mean a Toadman? A Toadman bard would fit your description… but if I recall correctly, Toadmen are not particularly outstanding demihumans. Perhaps if it was an old, tribe leader-class Toadman... I’ve heard those can use special abilities to confuse the foe.”
What happened there was not quite confusion.
He had read about the demihumans known as Toadmen, but their appearances differed slightly from the monster called Demiurge. Could he be a mutant or offshoot Toadman, or perhaps a king-type Toadman? Those possibilities could not be discarded, but it was most likely that those were not the case.
“It seems not. My deepest apologies, Your Majesty. There is simply too little information. Perhaps, if you could tell me more about the creature in question, I might be able to solve this mystery for you.”
That was like a life preserver to a drowning man.
“Really now. Then, I shall tell you about the appearance of this monster. If possible, could you use your wisdom to help me out? In addition, could you tell me in detail about spellsongs?”
In the Empire, there was probably nobody who knew more about monsters than adamantite-ranked adventurers.
“Your Majesty, that would be imposing on them. These are their livelihoods you’re talking about.”
Freivartz chuckled in response to Baziwood’s words.
“Well well, it’s true we can’t talk too much about our trump cards. Still, answering that question earlier should be fine. Just… would it not be better to ask that great magic caster-dono? I’m sure he would know more than us…”
Jircniv strove not to show any information when the topic of Fluder came up.
He had already issued a gag order on Fluder’s betrayal, so no information had been leaked. For now, Fluder was still in his position as the head magician, though his privileges and powers were slowly being stripped away so he would not notice. At the same time, he was looking for a way to fill the gap Fluder would leave.
From the size of that gap, Jircniv realised exactly how much of a boon Fluder had been for the Empire, but it was already too late.
“We can’t keep relying on the old man. This is like homework for a student. If one simply waits for all the answers because one had a good teacher, he’ll wind up being scolded for it.”
Jircniv’s words were met with several laughs.
“Indeed, Your Majesty has a point. I understand. Well, the fees for this request were quite above average, given the task we were hired to perform. Then, I’ll summarize the matter of spellsongs for you later.”
“I see. I’ll leave that to you, then.”
There were several VIP rooms in the arena. One was reserved for the arena’s investors. One was reserved for high-ranking nobles. Then, there was the one reserved for the Emperor, for a total of three. They were currently heading for the room that had been set aside for the Emperors through the generations. Perhaps Seyde had scouted the route before, but he did not ask the way even though he was leading the group.
At last they arrived, but at the corner before they could see the door of the room, Seyde reached a hand out to Jircniv, indicating that he should stop.
“Not picking up anyone here, but let me go first. Can you guys wait at this corner for a bit?”
He did not wait for a response to his whispered words, but instead turned the corner like he was going for a stroll. His curiosity piqued by this, Jircniv had a look of curiosity on his face as he tried to spy out the situation.
He approached the door without making a sound, and after doing something, he slowly opened the door. Although he had barely cracked it open, that seemed to be enough for him to enter, and his entire body vanished into the room.
After a while, the door opened, and they could see Seyde’s face within.
“It’s fine. This room is safe.”
The group entered the room, which had been verified as safe.
Jircniv looked around.
It was a little small, but the exquisitely-made furniture was all first-class. The room had been immaculately cleaned for the Emperor, who hardly visited.
A large window had been opened on the side of the room which overlooked the arena, allowing a panoramic view of the scenes below. If one squinted, they would be able to see rows upon rows of fully occupied seats, packed with an audience which was excited to a fever pitch and cheering wildly.
The reason for the large crowd was because the Martial Lord had been suddenly scheduled for an appearance.
The king of the ring ― the Martial Lord ― was overwhelmingly powerful. There was nobody he could fight in earnest. Therefore, it had been a long time since there had been a match with the Martial Lord.
It was because of such a long-awaited battle with the Martial Lord that the crowd had come, drawn by anticipation of the heroic figure who would battle him.
As expected, a big reason for that was admiration for strength. Since the Empire had its professional warriors called knights, the battlefield was like another world for the dwellers of the Imperial City. This was why they looked forward to the spectacle of a life-and-death battle.
No, he had heard there were knights who enjoyed the arena as well.
In other words, they looked forward to a spectacle and display of brutality.
Just as Jircniv was spaced out while thinking of this, Silver Canary completed their sweep of the room.
“Were there any signs of divination magic being used in here?”
“We discovered no traces of such magic, Your Majesty. Is that right?”
“Yup. Well, seeing if spells have been cast is pretty hard for me, so I did a look-see around, checked for any magic items, but nothing turned up. Still, hope ya don’t forget that I don’t have the perception of a thief. Please don’t think it’s absolutely safe… well, our chief’s boosted our detection ability with his spellsong, so it should be fine.”
“Regarding the field of magic, this humble monk has used a divination to investigate the surroundings. However, there were no traces of any spells being cast. In any event, I have created a magical barrier which should impede divination spells, so one can assume that it should be fine.”
Unkei thumped his shakujo on the ground, and a clear ringing echoed through the room.
“Then, may I make another request? Is there magic which detects the presence of people nearby? It would be best if it was a spell which could detect even an invisible person.”
“Regretfully, this humble monk does not count such spells among his repertoire. However, I believe our leader has such a spell.”
Freivartz, whose name had come up, signalled that he understood and left the room.
“Now what? What measures will you take if the foe intends to eavesdrop upon us?”
Jircniv strove to think of what he could do against Ainz Ooal Gown. However, it was impossible to imagine what surpassed the imagination. The fact was, that man seemed so massive in his mind that everything he could visualize felt insignificant against him.
“...Frankly speaking, I think it should be fine after doing this much. At least, that’s what I think. Don’t look at me like that, we’ve fortified ourselves with several spells already, right?”
“That’s how it is, Your Majesty. This humble monk has already used anti-divination magic and configured it so that any attempt at magical investigation will send an alert to me. Please be at ease.”
Seyde and Unkei spoke thusly, one after the other.
Did they think he was obsessed? Or did they think he had gone a little mad because he was worried about assassination?
Still, what would these two think if he told them they were going up against the Sorcerer King? Now that was what really interested Jircniv. Would they say, “we can’t possibly prepare enough against him?” Or would they say, “If we’d known that, we wouldn’t have come for this measly sum”?
Naturally, the best scenario was to not tell them anything about the Sorcerer King and have them prepare against all threats as best as they could.
Still, no matter how much he tried to censor information on the Sorcerer King, he could not stopper 60,000 mouths.
News had probably gotten out. That being the case, since adventurers tended to spend more time gathering information the higher-ranked they were, there was a very large chance they had already learned about the Sorcerer King’s abilities.
It wouldn’t be hard for them to figure out why I really wanted them here, no?
After pondering various possibilities, Jircniv decided to bluff his way through with a warm smile.
The two of them realised that Jircniv could not accept what they had said. Neither did they have anything else to say beyond that.
A great cheer rose up from the arena.
From where they were, it would seem that one of the battles between the gladiators had a winner.
In the past, the defeated were condemned to death, but not any more. There were still cases of deaths in battles, but there would be no killings after the victor was determined.
Apparently, a gladiator had been spared because his repeated defeats were amusing. This allowed him to awaken his true power and he became champion, whereupon that particular restriction had been abolished. This decision had been made because there might be another person like him someday.
Which Martial Lord was that? Although he couldn’t compare to the current Martial Lord, he was apparently quite a powerful chap. But, these people aren’t loyal to any country. I need to think about how to get them on my side...
“In any event, we’re done here, Your Majesty.”
Jircniv turned when he heard Freivartz’s voice.
He should probably have been more sincere in his thanks toward these adamantite-ranked adventurers. However, he had simply tossed off the usual appreciation instead.
“You’re welcome. Still, we were hired for protection, so should we stand by in this room?”
They were hired as bodyguards. With that in mind, it was a reasonable suggestion.
However, would it really be alright to have secret talks with them in the room?
Granted, there might be merits to involving them in this. However, once they realised what he was aiming for, he ran the risk of making unnecessary enemies.
Still, they’re nothing compared to that ― what am I thinking? I’m comparing every challenge I meet to that monster, that’s proof that I’m starting to go mad, if nothing else. Besides, it would be stupid to keep making enemies.
Jircniv shook his head.
“I’m sorry, but there will be important talks taking place after this. It would be quite troublesome to have you waiting in here.”
“However, it’ll be very difficult to protect you that way, Your Majesty.”
“There are two men I trust in this room. They ought to be able to buy enough time for you to get here.”
“Well, that’s true,” the hereto silent Ape suddenly said. “However, if the enemy is an assassin on the level of Seyde and if things go wrong, they might end up making quite a mess.”
“When you talk about an assassin of my level, you’re probably talking about that girl from Ijaniya. She’s the kind who can use ninjutsu to suddenly attack from the shadows.”
“Well, with these two warriors around, a sword-wielding foe should not pose any difficulty. However, what about magic? It is precisely that point which makes this humble monk uneasy. In addition, I feel that we will be more interested by the match than any talks Your Majesty is conducting, no?”
They had all ended up trying to persuade him to let him stay, but since Jircniv was this determined to not let information leak out, he could not accept their suggestions.
“Your doubts are well-reasoned, gentlemen. However, I cannot compromise on this point, be it as a man or as the Emperor of the Empire.”
Silver Canary looked to their leader, who sighed deeply.
“It can’t be helped, then. I’m sure Your Majesty must have your reasons which you can’t disclose to us. Then, we’ll stand watch outside. However, can you tell us exactly who is coming?”
“A reasonable question. However, you have to pretend that you saw nothing. Can you?”
“Of course. We will not reveal anything, no matter who comes. If it gets out, we will gladly bear the consequences.”
“I trust you. First are the High Priests of the God of Fire and the God of Wind. There will be four other priests with them.”
“I see. Then, we’ll be on guard for anyone besides these people.”
“Ah, please do. This VIP room was segregated from the other VIP rooms during its construction. I doubt anyone will get lost and wander here by accident.”
“Understood… Also, is it alright if we break the lock on the doors, Your Majesty?”
“You may destroy them if you see fit.”
Fan stepped forward. A sinewy, scratchy sound came from his hands, which clutched the hilts of his battleaxes with a force that no human could match. It seemed a bit excessive just to break a lock, but Jircniv was no warrior, and had no room to comment.
However, the two members of the Four Knights had surprised looks on their faces as they spoke quietly to each other. That got Jircniv’s attention.
Fan slowly raised his battleaxes.
“―Ah, you can’t break the doors.”
Fan stopped halfway as he heard Freivartz speak. Jircniv’s brows furrowed.
“Why not? Weren’t we going with the plan of ‘Oh, we were planning to break the lock, but we wrecked the door too, what a shame, why don’t we come in as well?’ or something?”
“Don’t do that this time. I don’t want to get involved in that complex political stuff.”
“Indeed. This humble monk does not wish to be even more hated by the temples.”
“All right. Then this much should be enough.”
Fan gently swung his battle axe, and effortlessly broke the lock.
He should have been speechless. Or perhaps he should have been displeased. Perhaps he should have felt many things, but all Jircniv felt was impressed. It made him think, as expected of an adamantite-ranked adventurer.
He was not impressed with how he could so easily break a lock with a battleaxe, but by the sheer audacity of openly saying such things in front of the highest authority in this country. In addition, there was the arrogance it took to declare that they were willing to ignore the wishes of their client ― who was also the most powerful man in the country ― in order to do the best job they could.
These were the things that Jircniv now lacked.
“...I might as well drag them all into the mud of bureaucracy so they can’t escape.”
Just as Jircniv quietly mumbled that, the members of Silver Canaries fled like frightened rabbits, as though they had arranged it from the beginning.
The only people left with Jircniv were the two knights, who looked at each other.
“That was impressive. They worked together so closely without any form of communication. ...Perhaps that’s only to be expected? They’re adamantite-ranked because they can do that.”
“...Well, I don’t know what to say. Though, it might not be quite right to admire them… Your Majesty, should we make drinks?”
“We should. Sorry about that. Can you help me with the preparations?”
“Understood. Then, come help out too, Baziwood-dono.”
Baziwood frowned at the suggestion.
“Eh? Me too? Your Majesty, we should have brought a maid along, shouldn’t we? Our guests would probably find the drinks tastier if a girl was serving them. I mean, I know I would.”
“Yes, yes. Enough complaining. Baziwood-dono, please be extra careful.”
“Please, Baziwood. There’s no point wishing for what we can’t get. We have to work with what we have. Just like the Empire.”
“That analogy could use some work, Your Majesty,” Baziwood spoke as he busied himself with the preparations.
Cries of encouragement rang out from the arena below, and there were howls which sounded slightly different from those of wild beasts.
The next match had already started.
Jircniv searched his memories.
The match before the Martial Lord’s was apparently between adventurers and monsters. Matches where adventurers fought were quite popular with the audience, because it was more likely that they would be flashy affairs laced with magical explosions and the like.
Jircniv felt very touched as he looked down on the heated intensity below him, and he said
“What a peaceful sight.”
“Really, Your Majesty?”
As he wondered why someone was responding to his self-directed mutterings, Jircniv turned to see Baziwood standing before him. Nimble had a look of annoyance on his face as he handled Baziwood’s share of the work as well.
“Doesn’t seem peaceful to me at all. Just look.”
One of the adventurers was struck by the claw of a bestial monster, and blood flew through the air. The audience wailed and shouted their encouragement.
“I didn’t mean the fight, I meant the audience.”
Jircniv looked over the loudly-shouting crowd.
“Is this not a peaceful sight, compared to the situation which the Empire is in? If the people knew the sort of monsters which lurked under that thin, fragile layer of skin, do you think they could enjoy themselves like this?”
“But isn’t peace good? There’s no point letting the people go around with aching bellies, is there?”
Baziwood was right.
Jircniv deeply regretted the pointless words he had spoken.
“You’re right, Baziwood. Then, it’s almost time. What about the preparations?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I was a bit worried we would not make it in time because somebody was not helping out, but the drinks and paper are all laid out. So is the ink.”
The astounding quantity of ink and paper was in case someone was eavesdropping on the VIP room. Although he felt that the cheering was loud enough and this room was distant enough from the others for that not to be a problem, and listening alone could only get one so much, it did not hurt to be redundantly prepared.
He knew it was very troublesome. He had done this before in the Imperial City, but this was really very tiring.
The reason he had gone to such cumbersome lengths was because the might of the Sorcerous Kingdom was an unknown value.
If he knew what they could and could not do, his response might have changed.
He had planned to use the war to mount an investigation, but it had ended in a truly horrific manner, leading to a terrible tragedy. Still, he could not completely give up on his investigations. He thought of other methods, but if they were no safer than before, then he could only tremble before the enemy’s shadow. But even if he did get any results, even if he did uncover any actionable methods, he might end up being paralyzed by that same shadow to the point where he might as well give up.
No, he could not forget that heat that passed through his throat.
“Ainz Ooal Gown ― if I knew the limits of the Sorcerer King’s power, I might not have needed to go this far.”
At that point, he had asked him to help as a collaborator, but now that he was a king and a peer, asking him for such help was nearly impossible. No, he could still ask, but thinking about the potential price of such aid made his head ache.
“It’s not just the Sorcerer King, Your Majesty. It’s pretty bad as long as we don’t know what his vassals can do, right?”
“...What if those subordinates are stronger than the Sorcerer King himself?”
“How could that be? That’s impossible, right?”
Jircniv broke into a cold sweat at that answer.
As he reflected on the fact that the Four Knights were stronger than him ― and that they were his subordinates ― he could not bring himself to say that it was impossible. One who stood above others did not need pure physical strength, but other things.
What if Ainz Ooal Gown was like that?
“―No, it can’t be. Listen, Nimble. You’ve got it wrong. Understood?”
“Yes! Sorry, Your Majesty.”
If that was really the case, then they were finished. He hoped that at the very most, those subordinates would be equal to the Sorcerer King ― and Jircniv was desperately praying to the gods that they would be weaker than him.
As he thought, they did not have enough information.
I guess we should continue that plan of trying to learn something from that Dark Elf girl, with the knowledge that it could be dangerous. Granted, we can’t buy a lot of slaves from the Theocracy, but maybe that method could… Or perhaps trying the boy (Aura) would be better? No, he looks too young, so using women on him probably won’t work. Besides, he seems quite strong-willed.
Just as Jircniv settled in for a long contemplation, a knocking came from the door.
The three men looked at each other, and then Nimble went to open the door.
As expected, Freivartz was there.
“Your Majesty, the guests have arrived. There are six people in total and I’ve met the High Priests before, so I believe it’s them.”
“Then, please come in―”
Just as he said that, Seyde chipped in.
“Whoa, whoa hang on a tick, you guys in the back. Numbers add up, but something’s off? The two of you in the back feel like me. So, you’re from the punishment squad of the temples ― the ones who kill apostate priests? I thought you guys were just supposed to be boogeymen?”
“This humble monk is quite surprised too.”
“Whose people are you?”
“Good grief, how troublesome. It would have been fine if you had just let us pass without incident… Firstly, you are mistaken. I ― no, we have a good reason to be here. Namely, because the Emperor invited us. He’ll be unhappy if you show hostility to us, you know.”
“H―m. Okay, so could you wait there for a bit? Let me check if you guys are telling the truth here.”
He let Jircniv see their faces. There was the High Priest of the Fire God, the High Priest of the Wind God, as well as four others he had not seen before. They wore dark-colored hoods which prevented him from seeing their full faces, and that was the most suspicious part.
Since this was the first time they had met, there was no guarantee that they actually were emissaries of the Theocracy. However, since the High Priests were there as well, things would not be able to progress if he did not believe them. The Sorcerer King would be the only one who benefited from any internal disputes which resulted.
“They are the guests I was waiting for. Sorry, but could you let them in?”
The members of Silver Canary had shocked looks on their faces, but they still let them pass.
Even after the doors were closed, they did not lower their hoods.
Jircniv did not say anything about their impolite behavior. They were probably just as wary as Jircniv was, and the object of their mutual caution was the Sorcerer King.
“It seems my guards have inconvenienced you. I apologize.”
“Please, pay it no heed. The truth is, those adamantite-ranked adventurers were right about the two people in the back.”
The two emissaries took a seat, while the other two people stood at attention behind them.
Jircniv wrote the word “Scripture” on the sheet of paper he had. His response was a faint smile, but it spoke more than any words could. The Theocracy’s special forces were known as the Scriptures, so they must have come from one of the Six Scriptures.
“Then, why don’t we enjoy the fight first? The main event is about to begin, is it not?”
Jircniv nodded to that question.
The main event was when the excitement of the crowd reached its peak, and so the noise intensified. This would make eavesdropping very difficult, which was why he had chosen this time and this place.
The emissary produced a document and handed it to Jircniv.
Jircniv carefully revealed the document, so as not to let it be seen from the back or the sides, and saw several questions there.
Simply put, they were asking why he had asked the Sorcerer King to use that spell.
Then, they asked about the Emperor’s position on the matter.
About how much they knew about the Sorcerous Kingdom.
It was couched in the most diplomatic of terms, but it was still a questionnaire.
While they could have simply mailed it to him, the reason why he had managed to get them all the way here was because they feared the reach of the Sorcerous Kingdom’s arms. Or perhaps it was because they did not trust the Empire.
Dissatisfaction welled up in Jircniv’s chest. However, when he recalled their relationship with the Sorcerous Kingdom, it was only natural that they would not trust them at all.
Jircniv filled in his answers just as a round of cheering went up. It would seem the match was about to begin.
“Before this grand bout, let me call your attention to Emperor El-Nix, who has come to spectate the battle! Ladies and gentlemen, please look to the VIP room above you!”
It was the announcer’s voice, amplified by a magic item.
Jircniv rose, so the audience below him could see his face.
The people cheered as one for Jircniv. He turned his handsome face to the people, and smiled silently to them. The women began shrieking for him, and Jircniv felt quite satisfied that his popularity had not yet waned.
“Thank you very much! Then, next up, ladies and gentlemen, the long-awaited battle with the Martial Lord! The preparations will take a while, so please be patient.”
“The Martial Lord, huh,” Jircniv muttered.
Jircniv had once asked Baziwood about letting all the Four Knights battle the Martial Lord. He had laughed and said they had no chance of winning. The answer worried him, so he let Fluder gather some information about the Martial Lord. The results showed that the Martial Lord was a being that was so powerful that it was unfair.
“Still, who is the Martial Lord fighting, Your Majesty?”
The question from the emissary was an obvious one. The fact was, Jircniv did not have an answer for him.
“I’m not too sure myself. This match with the Martial Lord seems to have been hastily decided and did not appear on the program either, for secrecy’s sake.”
“I see,” the emissary replied.
“Well, anyone who could go one on one with the Martial Lord must be an adamantite-ranked adventurer. However, Silver Canary is here, so it must be someone from Eight Ripples. Honestly, I really can’t approve of exhibition matches with a chance of killing one of the rare adamantite-ranked adventurers.”
“I cannot completely refute that, but the fact is that strength is attractive. This place is probably best suited for letting the people see an example of overwhelming power and giving them a dream of making it their own.”
The man who interrupted was the High Priest of the God of Fire ― in other words, the highest-ranking member of the God of Fire’s faith.
“That said, after considering the Empire’s present condition, it’s possible that it might end up lowering its military strength. The Martial Lord is the Empire’s mightiest being. Why not enlist him into your forces?”
“...To think someone like you would actually say something like that.”
The Slaine Theocracy was a human-centric country. No, it would be better to say that they looked down on the countries of other races.
They were a nation that could still exist in a world filled with various races after advertising that fact. One had to hand it to them. Or rather, one could say that uniting a species was a condition of building a strong nation.
“That’s just my personal opinion. It doesn’t reflect on my country. Well, that’s enough chit-chat for now, Your Majesty. Can I have your reply?
“―The wait is over, ladies and gentlemen! Introducing our challenger!”
Jircniv’s hand stopped as he was about to write the answer to the first question. This was because he was curious about the challenger, who was brave enough to issue a challenge to that Martial Lord. Being acknowledged as a challenger meant that he must be able to put up quite a fight. Did anyone like that still exist in the Empire?
If he was outstanding enough and was willing to serve the Empire, he would employ him even if he lost. Depending on how things went, he might end up giving him the seat on the Four Knights that “The Immovable” had left empty after his death.
“..The name of the challenger may well be known to many in the audience. That great man has come to grace us today! I give you, the Sorcerer King of the Sorcerous Kingdom, His Majesty! Ainz! Ooal! Gown!”
That sound of utter stupefaction escaped from Jircniv.
He did not understand the announcer’s words as they buried themselves into his brain.
Confusion filled the arena, and the VIP room was deathly silent.
Jircniv looked around him, and he was sure that everyone had heard the same thing.
“Ainz Ooal Gown?”
Of course it was impossible. The leader of a country could not possibly appear in a gladiatorial match in another country. This was obvious to anyone with common sense. It was not as if he was a barbarian.
In the first place, they had been keeping an eye on the Sorcerous Kingdom’s movements. If the Sorcerer King had entered the Empire, that matter would have reached Jircniv’s ears immediately. It would have been an absolute top priority matter. He had arranged to have that news reach him whether he was in his harem or in some other place.
If that news had not reached him despite all these efforts, that meant―
He secretly entered the country? Why would anyone do that? And he came to the arena? What on earth is he think― what? Could it be? Is that how it is? This… how is this possible?
Jircniv’s body shuddered uncontrollably.
Then, he shifted his line of sight to look at the emissaries from the Slaine Theocracy.
There were keen looks in those eyes under their hoods, and the looks in those eyes said only one thing. No, in all likelihood, Jircniv would have reached the same conclusion if he was in their shoes.
They were thinking: Jircniv called the Sorcerer King here.
“Please wait. This is a trap!”
All this was a conspiracy of Ainz Ooal Gown. If they did not understand that ― no, if they could not accept that, the situation would become very dire.
“A trap laid by the Sorcerous Kingdom? Or by someone else? After all, this is the place you specified, Your Majesty, and we only learned about it a few hours ago.”
That was correct. He had been keeping everything hidden until the last moment in order to reduce the risk of information leaking out.
Jircniv desperately tried to recall who knew about this matter. The number was very small, and all of them were reliable people. Or was that really the case?
“―It’s possible that the information was extracted through magical domination. This is definitely not a part of my plan. This is the proof. If I had set this trap, would I be so panicked right now?”
“You expect us to believe that? Were you doing this to draw us in? Or perhaps, to sell us out?!”
They did not trust him at all.
No, that was to be expected. Jircniv would be castigating them if he were in their place.
Still, where was the leak? No, did it really leak? Could it be all this was all within the palm of his hand? He set out the bait, and waited for me to take the hook―
Suddenly , a chill wind blew across his back.
How many of his actions had the Sorcerer King predicted?
It was very possible that everything that had happened until now was part of his plan.
The Sorcerer King is such an opponent, Jircniv’s brilliant mind concluded.
How elaborate was his scheme, anyway? No, now’s not the time to be afraid of his cunning! If I don’t act quickly―!
“No good, we have to leave now―”
However, it was too late.
The intruder’s voice was like that of a hunter who had seen his prey fall into a carefully-laid trap.
“Jircniv Rune Farlord El-Nix-dono. It has been a while.”
As he struggled to control his panicked breathing, he saw the form of the Sorcerer King, who had ascended from the heart of the arena to the same height as that of the VIP room.
That hateful face of his was on full display. It must have been to let everyone know that it was the man himself.
“Thuh, the― huu. The same to you, Gown-dono. I did not think I would meet you in a place like this.”
He had no idea what to say. Just about anything he said could be held against him. However, Jircniv’s lips did not open, as if they had been glued shut.
“The feeling is mutual. What a coincidence!”
Kuku, the Sorcerer King laughed evilly. He obviously did not feel it was a coincidence.
It was not a coincidence at all.
Jircniv was certain that all this was part of Ainz Ooal Gown’s scheme.
By taking control of the secret talks with the Theocracy, he would simultaneously apply pressure on both Jircniv and the Theocracy and prevent them from allying with each other.
That was a truly twisted genius.
He wiped his sweaty palms on his clothes.
A lot of information must have leaked out. The question was, how much of it did he know?
Just as Jircniv was struggling to think, the hateful lights in the Sorcerer King’s eye sockets turned to regard the Theocracy’s emissaries.
“Friends of yours, Your Majesty?”
Jircniv had no way of answering Ainz’s question.
This was no simple question.
It was a test of his intentions.
Would he lie to protect the people of the Theocracy, or sell them out, as a friend of the Sorcerous Kingdom?
It was such a malicious scheme that Jircniv began feeling nauseous.
That emotionless skull looked like it was twisted by evil. It must be mocking him, Jircniv, who could not speak.
“What’s wrong? El-Nix ― no, Jircniv-dono. You look pale. Are you unwell?”
The fact that he sounded genuinely concerned first disgusted, and then terrified him. He felt like a small animal, squirming within a loving hand. As a human being, it was only natural to feel that terror wrapped up in that joy.
“It, it’s fine, it’s nothing. I seem to have gotten a little dizzy from standing up so suddenly.”
“Is that so. Well, they say your body is your best asset, you’d best take care of it.”
Jircniv’s excuse sounded very unnatural, but at least he was off the hook for now. Was he waiting for the right moment to finish off his prey, or was he indulging his beloved hobby of sadism? Or perhaps―
“Then, would you gentlemen like to introduce yourselves? I am the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown.”
―Perhaps that was what he was aiming for.
Since he, as the leader of a country, had already stated his name, the other side could not retreat without saying a word. If they gave a false name, if the Sorcerer King learned their real names, how would he react then?
Stop toying with us!!!
His expression had not changed, or rather, that was because it was a skinless and fleshless skull. Not only did he not have eyes, the empty orbits of his eyes were occupied only by dancing crimson flames, from which no emotions could be read. Yet, Jircniv could feel that evil grin widening.
“Thank you very much, and in truth we would have introduced ourselves as well. However, a dire emergency awaits our attention, so we must leave immediately. I am sure His Majesty will be more than happy to tell you about us afterwards.”
The emissaries rose from their seats.
“Is that so? What a shame. I do hope we will meet again. Please be well until then. Then, there is still the matter of the match, so please excuse me.”
With those parting words of mockery (probably), the Sorcerer King descended.
As his shape vanished below, the emissaries glared at Jircniv.
“How dare you set us up.”
“No, I didn’t!”
“You didn’t? No matter how you look at it, he knew everything about his place. Everything he has done is clearly to mock a bunch of fools who are moving exactly as he predicted ...How much of this did you tell him? How many people were you going to betray to save your own country? You must have asked him to use that illogically destructive spell too, did you not?”
Jircniv desperately cast his eyes toward the priests, seeking help.
However, he did not see suspicion and doubt in their eyes, but hostility and disappointment.
The Sorcerer King had struck a magnificent blow at the moment when it was most effective. It was one which would utterly cripple the Empire. It told the Empire that they had no choice left other than to betray humanity―
“Please believe me, I didn’t sell this information to him―”
“...Even if we did believe you, there’s no way you can deny the fact that your entire operation has been compromised. Your Majesty, I am sad to say that we will not be meeting again.”
After saying that, the emissaries made to leave, followed by the priests.
“Wait! I forbid you to leave this room until I hear your opinions!”
Nimble and Baziwood drew their weapons and prepared to make their move.
As Jircniv struggled to restore some life to his shattered heart, he stared at the two High Priests. The emissaries did not even look back as they left.
“You, tell me what the temples think. What do you think about the Sorcerer King!”
“...The Sorcerer King is a wicked, undead being, and we will not suffer it to call itself King.”
Before Jircniv could answer, the High Priest of the God of Fire continued: “However, we cannot defeat it in battle, so we must find some way to destroy it.”
“Betray us if you will, oh Emperor, you who have been seduced by the power of evil.”
That statement, made by the High Priest of the Wind God, clearly illustrated their hostility towards Jircniv.
This was extremely bad.
The temples could not influence the government. However, they might well decide to excommunicate an Emperor who was in league with the universal enemy, the undead.
He could not purge them, because the temples were in charge of healing, as well as the saviors of the peoples’ souls.
If he did that, the Empire would fall apart from the inside.
To Jircniv, that single move by Ainz Ooal Gown felt like the sweep of the Grim Reaper’s scythe. Even if he did nothing, the Empire would collapse. Then, the Sorcerous Kingdom would find some reason to come calling.
If it was Jircniv doing it, he would use an excuse along the lines of “The country of our ally is in chaos, so we’re sending troops over to help maintain public order.”
Judging by their reaction, the Slaine Theocracy would not criticize the Sorcerous Kingdom for doing such a thing. The Kingdom would not have the strength to do anything about it, while the City-State Alliance would take a while to make such a statement.
What kind of enticements could he offer to remove the doubts from their hearts? Or rather, to keep to their commitments, even if they had doubts?
Jircniv had always placed that topic foremost in his heart when he spoke to others in his capacity as Emperor. The simplest way to get people to take action was to appeal to their desires. Jircniv had grown up knowing this to be the right way to view things. There were so many humans who were ruled by desire for a pretty face that it was hardly surprising.
However, at this moment, Jircniv could not find an answer.
Now that others thought he had betrayed humanity to work with the undead, there was nothing he could offer them.
All he could do was sincerely and earnestly tell his side of the story.
“Please allow me to say one last thing. That fellow’s cunning surpasses mine. These developments might well be his doing. ...While I know I would not believe that so easily if I were in your shoes… I truly did not sell you out. And while you might not believe this either, as a human being I wish to tell you one thing. The Sorcerer King’s reign is very merciful. The people of E-Rantel still live in peace.”
“But we have no idea how long that will last, do we?”
“Perhaps. But for the time being, at least, they are safe. If we embark on a war which we cannot win, our country will start going down the road to annihilation. So I hope you will think carefully and not make any rash moves.”
The two High Priests looked at each other.
Then, their previous hostility toward Jircniv seemed to mellow a little.
“...It seems we may have been too emotional. If that undead creature truly is as the rumors say he is, we cannot discard the possibility that all this might have been part of his plan. Then, may we meet again somewhere, if it is meant to be.”
“Thank you. And before that, I have a request. No matter where, please watch that fellow fight in the arena. If you can see a way to defeat him, please tell me.”
Jircniv lowered his head.
Conspiracies included, there was no way to beat Ainz in a battle of wits. The human heart was the sole trump card left to those who wished to fight him evenly.
Cheering came from downstairs, and Jircniv turned to look at it.
“...Good luck, Martial Lord. Oh, gods!”
Jircniv prayed in earnest for the victory of the Martial Lord.
The much-awaited Imperial Capital.
As he peered through the slight gap he had opened in the coach’s window, Ainz felt a terrible sense of defeat.
Life and energy abounded here.
The faces of the people were bright. It was a bustling city, completely unlike the dreary Sorcerous Kingdom.
And then, the sense of defeat soon faded away. After all, his city had been annexed recently. When a city was taken over by a new ruler, life would change. It was only natural that people would feel uneasy, leading to a temporary state of low energy.
Punitto Moe had once taught Ainz about strategy games. When one conquered territory during a war, the happiness value of the people would plummet. Also―
―What did he say about partisans appearing? The heck? Why would a large amount of weapons appear all of a sudden?
The first part was completely unrelated to the second. He had the feeling that he had gotten something wrong somewhere.
Since the game had nothing to do with YGGDRASIL, he had lost interest halfway. However, they should have been vaguely related, at least.
He was probably talking about some kind of betrayal. Or maybe it was some form of player slang, huh… Partisans… seems to be a kind of polearm. So, when he talked about weapons being sold in large quantities, he was talking about a reason to fight? Citizen levies, maybe? Hm? Maybe they’re fighting the new ruler, but that would be an uprising, right? Then it should have just been called a rebellion from the beginning. Why partisans? Well, it doesn’t matter anyway...
The reason why there had been no rebellion in E-Rantel was because the Death Knights were patrolling to maintain public order. Or was it because the character of Momon had a calming effect on them? No, perhaps the root reason was because of his benevolent social policies.
...Nothing’s better than a peaceful reign. Killing the goose for the golden eggs is utter foolishness. I guess I need to make the occasional concession like returning dropped items to an opponent after PKing them, perhaps.
As he recalled the contents of “PKing for Dummies”, Ainz realised that he had gotten distracted, and hurriedly got his thoughts back on track.
Hang on, I was thinking about high energy. Well, no matter what, I only rule one city, and this is the capital of the Empire, which has many cities, so the difference in their energy levels can’t be helped. Even their populations are different… So I guess as long as the number of people increases, the Sorcerous Kingdom will also become more vibrant… I guess I need to focus on policies which encourage a population increase. Albedo can carry them out.
After Ainz comforted himself, he decided upon a new direction to take, in his capacity as a ruler.
“Then, ah, Your Majesty...”
The man who was looking out the window as well spoke to him, and it brought Ainz back from his thoughts.
“I, I fear to ask, Your Majesty, but is this not the Imperial Capital, Arwintar?”
The man ― who had practically been kidnapped ― asked that question in a trembling voice.
“Indeed it is. As expected of the Adventurer’s Guildmaster, you recognized this place at a glance.”
“Thank, thank you very ― no, wait! I don’t recall us passing through any checkpoints! Isn’t this illegal immigration?”
That was, in fact, what had happened. Since they had used the [Gate] spell to directly transit to the Imperial Capital, they would not have passed through any checkpoints.
“These aren’t just details! A king crossing the border illegally into another country is an international incident!
Jircniv did the same thing when he came to Nazarick. Ainz did not say that, of course. Common sense would dictate that the Guildmaster was right and Ainz was wrong.
After thinking as hard as he could, he still could not think of an explanation which Ainzach would accept. Instead, he ended up sighing at the man’s surprising stubbornness. He had thought he would be the kind of man to say, “Well, as long as you don’t get caught”.
His opinion of the man changed a little.
“...Guildmaster, I have a very good relationship with El-Nix-dono. I’ve even acceded to his requests in the past.”
Ainz recalled what had happened during that war.
“Well, I know it’s hardly the same thing, but I’m sure he would gladly approve if I just asked him. Granted, it would be after the fact… but wouldn’t it be alright if the Emperor himself permitted it?”
“If, if you put it that way…”
“The most important thing is that neither you nor I have brought anything bad with us. Doesn’t that mean it’s fine?”
“Muu,” Ainzach mused.
Ainz smiled in his heart, believing that he had convinced the other man.
In truth, there were two reasons for their clandestine crossing of the border.
If Jircniv knew about this, he would probably prepare a reception for me. He might be wary of Nazarick, but since I’m the king of an allied country, he would have to welcome me at the front door. That would be very bad.
The Emperor would surely host some kind of ceremony to welcome the king of an ally’s country. That was something which Ainz, who was unfamiliar with the customs of noble society, had to avoid at all costs.
If he became a laughingstock because of that, he would not be able to look the Guardians ― who were working hard for the Sorcerous Kingdom ― in the eye.
There was also another reason.
Now, I need to think about how to get Ainzach involved in this. Perhaps I should ask for his help like I did when I spun that story at the guild?
The other reason was because he wanted to pressure Guildmaster Ainzach into his schemes.
Ainz’s objective in coming here was to recruit adventurers.
He had already incorporated the Adventurer’s Guild as a national organization. However, even if the shell was ready, filling it up would take a long time. This was quite bad for the Sorcerous Kingdom, since it only controlled one city and the number of adventurers they could draw on was completely insufficient. Using adventurers of other races ― like Lizardmen, for example ― was a matter for later. Right now, he had to increase the number of human adventurers.
This was why he had to come here to do talent scouting. If it was not enough, he could recruit from the surrounding countries as well.
However, this sort of recruitment was not easy, especially since Ainz was essentially going to do door-to-door sales ― one of the hardest kinds of work in the sales business.
According to Ainzach, adventurers were supposedly freelancers, but in truth, they were a form of national defense against monsters. Headhunting them aggressively would lead to stiff backlash.
Of course, Ainz did not think he would lose, even if the Adventurer’s Guilds of every single nation mounted a full-scale campaign against him. However, that would reduce the morale of any adventurers he did manage to recruit. It was quite easy to see how they would lose their motivation when seeing a conflict between their new allegiance and their former home.
This was why he had to involve Ainzach ― who understood Ainz’s aims and concepts ― in all of this. Surely things would go smoothly if he was the middleman. He had considered that Ainzach would flat-out refuse if he told him about this in E-Rantel, so he had dragged him along like this.
In addition, he was also considering the fact that Ainzach would have something in common with the other side.
That was a secret of salesmanship. People tended to gravitate towards those who were similar to them.
Ainz ― no, Suzuki Satoru had seen colleagues leverage the fact that they had been born in the same place or that they supported the same team as prospective clients to clinch a sale.
Having once been Momon the adventurer, Ainz understood the life of the adventurer, to some extent. However, he had risen through the ranks so quickly that he could not say that he truly knew the hardships of being an adventurer. Thus, he had to let Ainzach ― who was a veteran adventurer and also the Adventurer’s Guildmaster ― speak for him to improve the other side’s closeness to him.
In other words, the success of their little expedition to the Empire was reliant on Ainzach’s performance.
Still, the question is, how can I truly motivate Ainzach to help?
If it was a matter of money, he could certainly pay. However, he did not imagine that such means would make Ainzach give his all.
After commanding the driver, the coach began moving quietly. The driver in question was a creature which Ainz had summoned with what little gold he had left, a monster whose level was over 80, called Hanzo.
Hanzo was a humanoid ninja-type monster, and was skilled in countering stealth. There were others of roughly the same level, such as Kashin Koji, which was skilled in illusion. Fuuma, which was skilled in hand-to-hand combat and special techniques, Tobi Kato, which was skilled with weapons, and so on.
The interior of the coach clattered noisily as it travelled forward.
Ainz had considered that using a heavily-enchanted coach would be very suspicious. Thus, he had chosen a regular stagecoach instead.
“...Then, Your Majesty. Since we have already arrived at the Imperial Capital, can you tell me what we will be doing here?”
Ainzach furrowed his brows.
“We will be recruiting adventurers for our country.”
A bitter expression crossed Ainzach’s face. It was clear he was having trouble accepting that.
“...Could it be that you intend to persuade the adventurers of the Empire to join you?”
“Indeed. We will be headhunting in this country.”
While it had been done during a time of war, the fact that he had killed so many soldiers of the Kingdom would make it very difficult to attract the adventurers from the Kingdom to his camp. In addition, Albedo was visiting the Kingdom, so he could not make things difficult for her. That being the case, their allied country, the Empire, was the ideal option.
The City-State Alliance was some distance away from here, according to Fluder’s intelligence on the countries. However, after consulting Demiurge and Albedo, he decided that intervening there was not wise.
“In what way will you proceed? I…”
Ainzach took a deep breath.
“...Your Majesty, I have engraved your views on adventurers deep into my heart. Thus, I wish to aid Your Majesty with all my strength. That said, I am still a man of the system, for the most part. I feel that having adventurers abandon everything they have known up till now would be very difficult. This is particularly true for the adventurers of the Empire.”
A sensation of new, fresh joy welled up within Ainz’s chest.
Indeed, Ainz wanted opinions like this.
It was not that the Guardians were at fault, but they took everything he said as a divine pronouncement and rushed to execute them. Thus, Ainz was frequently uneasy about whether or not he had given the right orders. Because of that, he had longed to hear someone oppose one of his statements. That way, he would know where the problems lay.
Ainz’s opinion of Ainzach went up by a notch.
Still, he could not completely accept his views.
Heaven only knew why, but all his subordinates seemed to think that the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown was a genius. Thus, Ainz could not say or do anything to betray that faith. He could not disappoint them.
“...How baffling. The benefits ought to outweigh the drawbacks. I do not understand. It seems I do not know enough about adventurers.”
His face ― which showed no emotion ― was a great help, because nobody could tell he was lying. It was the ultimate poker face.
At this point, Ainz stopped for a moment and looked Ainzach straight in the eyes. He could not imply that he was waiting for the man’s response.
“What would you do, if it was up to you? Is there a proposal which would be attractive enough to make adventurers who have already picked out a home base change their minds?”
“...Your Majesty, must we start headhunting right now?”
“Are we going to start trying to entice the adventurers of the Imperial Capital right away?”
Ainz cupped his chin with a hand as he thought.
If possible, he would like to do so as soon as possible. However, if he could not, he did not mind waiting. After all, the aim was to sing the praises of the Sorcerous Kingdom.
Heteromorphs did not possess the concept of a lifespan. In that sense, there was more than enough time.
“Indeed, it is not particularly urgent.”
“Then, should we not lay a strong foundation first? We should build the desired organization within the Sorcerous Kingdom, and then make various other preparations as needed. Once the shell is ready, we can fill it at leisure, is that wrong?”
“That is an excellent suggestion, one which I have considered before. However, it poses a problem of its own. If we do not estimate the contents before we begin to build, the finished vessel may be too large or too small… Would you care to try?”
“In-indeed, that task is beyond me. After all, I remain unsure of how Your Majesty wishes to nurture adventurers, and I do not understand the extent of your plans for the Sorcerous Kingdom.”
“Indeed. Frankly speaking, I am still feeling things out. In particular ― I know you are interested in my words, but I do not know how many hearts they can move. In order to observe their reactions, I have come to the Empire to attempt a test recruitment, and to see the outcome.”
“I see… as expected of Your Majesty, you have already planned so far ahead. I am ashamed of my shallow thinking.”
“Certainly not. You and I are different beings. Because of that, I might make a mistake when it comes to the reactions of human beings. For all I know, I might say something which upsets others. Please tell me if such a situation occurs. In that respect, I will need a helper… Ainzach.”
“Then, I’ll be counting on you in the future.”
Ainzach paused to think for about a second, and then he bowed his head deeply.
It looked just like how the Guardians of Nazarick did it.
Ainz graciously nodded as he reflected on his previous words.
In any case, can I really leave the task of appealing to the Empire’s adventurers to Ainzach alone?
This was a very important point.
He could do the presentation himself if need be, but it was not because he particularly liked it. If someone was more adept at a task and more capable, then he should hand it to them. However―
―I can’t leave it all to him. If a problem comes up, I ought to deal with it as his superior.
He did not want to be a bad boss. Ainz clung to that determination. Just then, he realized that Ainzach seemed to have fallen into contemplation.
“Is something wrong?”
“...Your Majesty, could it be that you do not intend to limit yourself to the current crop of adventurers, but to incorporate the adventurers of the future into your organization and have them explore the unknown world?
“That was my intention.”
“With that in mind, I feel trying to persuade the present batch of adventurers will be very difficult. However, it might be possible to have those people who wish to become adventurers come to our Sorcerous Kingdom. That is to say, we will gather the hatchlings and then raise them.”
While adventurers knew no borders, the people who became adventurers belonged to a certain country. Ainz had thought of this point as well, but since this man ― who was more familiar with this world than Ainz ― shared his opinion, then it should be fine.
“I see. Then, what should we do?”
“The strong have always been admired. Thus, may I ask how your Majesty feels about showing his might as a form of advertisement?”
And what would that accomplish? Ainz thought.
That said, publicity was very important. After all, the reason why he was founding his own Adventurer’s Guild was to spread the name of the Sorcerous Kingdom of Ainz Ooal Gown.
“...So I have to show my might and do what adventurers do?”
All I have to do is make an Empire-brand Momon, then, Ainz thought. However, Ainzach shook his head.
“On that note, Your Majesty. This is the Imperial Capital. How would you feel about displaying your might in the arena?”
“Hoh…? That sounds interesting. Elaborate.”
♦ ♦ ♦
The coach stopped in a spacious courtyard.
Momon and Nabe had walked the streets of the Imperial Capital, but Ainz had never seen such a huge personal home during that time. Not even in E-Rantel had he seen a mansion more impressive than this.
“Is this the home of the arena’s owner? This is quite an impressive place.”
Ainzach’s response to Ainz’s question was along the lines of “That might be stretching it.”
“The arena itself is state property. People rent it for events, so calling them ‘promoters’ might be more accurate. The person who lives here is among the most powerful of those people.”
“I see… a friend of yours?”
It would be good if that was the case. Regretfully, Ainzach shook his head.
“There are many events in the arena, and sometimes adventurers end up fighting monsters. I’ve only met this person a few times, when I captured those monsters and shipped them here.”
“Is that so. Still, it ended up being quite useful indeed, so I must thank you for your connection. That said, what sort of monsters did you capture around the outskirts of E-Rantel?”
Ainzach had an uncomfortable look on his face.
“We captured the undead from the Katze Plains. The undead didn’t need food, so they didn’t incur additional expenses after we captured them.”
“Hoh. Good eye. You do know your stuff, after all.”
“Is that so? I don’t strike myself as a very likeable person… still, Your Majesty. I fear to offend you, but is it really alright to speak of capturing your kind?”
Ainz looked straight at Ainzach.
What on earth was he on about?
“Because they’re undead…”
“Ahh, I see ― well, there are many kinds of undead. I do not count all undead as my kin.”
“Forgive my disrespect… Then, may I inquire as to what type of undead Your Majesty might be? If it does not offend, of course.”
“I am an Overlord. Have you heard of them before?”
“My deepest apologies, but I have not. I was not inclined toward my studies, so I do not know.”
Well, that’s to be expected, Ainz thought.
In YGGDRASIL, there were several types of monsters in the Overlord family: the Overlord Wiseman, which was skilled in magic, the Overlord Kronos Master, which could use time-related special abilities, the Overlord General, which was adept at controlling armies of the undead, among others. Even the weakest of those was at least level 80.
He had a rough grasp of the strength of this world and the amount of strength one needed to be considered powerful in this world. That being the case, the appearance of an undead being like an Overlord would cause a huge disturbance, particularly because the undead did not age, so they would continue ruling the land for all eternity until it was defeated.
In other words, the fact that nothing like this had happened implied that there were no Overlords here.
“Is that so. Well, I intend to send adventurers into the unknown reaches of the world to collect information of that sort. It would be quite troublesome if others of my kind were around, bearing a hatred for the living. Do you understand?”
Ainzach’s eyes went wide, and he nodded.
“It is as you say. I now thoroughly understand the true nature of adventurers.”
“Indeed. Consider me an undead being that is an exception to the rules. I understand the value of humanity, so I will not engage in meaningless slaughter. However, other Overlords might not think the same way, no?”
“Is that really the case?”
“That remains to be seen. I do not know if I am the exception, or if my species is an exception in itself. However, should we not assume the worst-case scenario and prepare accordingly?”
“...It is as Your Majesty says. I shall engrave it into my heart.”
If there were traces of one having appeared, and having being defeated ― it might have had some involvement with whoever brainwashed Shalltear. No, one could not rule out an Overlord being dominated the same way Shalltear had been.
“Then, I shall go secure an appointment for the meeting.”
Ainzach got off the coach. After Ainz watched him leave, he took out his mask and put it on. He could go around barefaced in E-Rantel, but this was the Imperial Capital ― and he had crossed borders illegally to be here ― so at the very least it was better to hide his true face. His robe was also something that was more subdued.
Although it meant that his personal equipment would go down by one class, it could not be helped. After all, Ainz only had one set of divine-class robes. While he still had the things left behind by his friends, in the end, the armor his friends left behind was more customised than their weapons. Therefore, it was not so much that he could not equip them, but that he could not bring out their full power, being that he could not make use of the large amounts of data that were used to benefit their abilities. That being the case, it was still better for Ainz to use the items which had been made for him, even if they were a little weaker.
After swapping out his gear, a knocking came from the door of the carriage, followed by Ainzach’s voice.
It would seem less than five minutes had passed.
“My deepest apologies, Your Majesty.”
“I regret to say that today does not seem convenient. The other party hopes we can come again tomorrow. However, I believe we can force our way in to convey Your Majesty’s words to his ears. What shall we do?”
“There is no need for that.”
Forcing an unsolicited meeting during a busy period would not endear anyone to him. On the contrary, when one looked at it from a business’ point of view, the very fact that they had come uninvited and not been chased away, but given a time to visit again could be considered a major accomplishment.
“Then, we’ll come again tomorrow. Good thing there’s been a lot of free time lately ― what’s wrong?”
Ainz realised Ainzach was goggling at him, and so he asked him why.
“No, it’s nothing. I just felt that Your Majesty is a truly generous person… after all, there are those nobles who look down on merchants…”
“And you believed I would insist on a meeting?”
The fact that Ainz did not answer immediately told him “I did believe that” in a way that words could not convey.
Would that be the right thing to do from a ruler’s point of view, Ainz wondered. While it seemed a bit too late to think of that now, Ainz Ooal Gown was a king. If that was what a ruler ought to do, then he needed to do it, even if it seemed strange to Suzuki Satoru.
“This is my first time occupying a position over humans. Should I not do so, if it was appropriate?”
An uncomfortable look appeared on Ainzach’s face again:
“I am unsure, Your Majesty. I have never met the King, so I cannot say if it is true or not. Although, personally speaking, I prefer Your Majesty’s point of view. That said, high-ranking nobles might consider such forcefulness to be appropriate.”
“Human society is so complicated.”
For some reason, Ainzach smiled warmly to Ainz after he muttered that.
“It might well be as Your Majesty says. There are many complicated things indeed.”
Their chuckling filled the coach.
Ainz clenched his right fist where nobody could see. It would seem Ainzach was no longer so guarded. He was sure of it.
“―Then, did you tell him them that I would be coming tomorrow as well?”
“No, I did not do that. I wanted to hear what you thought of it first, Your Majesty. Or am I permitted to use Your Majesty’s name?”
“...It’s fine as long as they are not humans who will make a fuss. Since they are friends of yours, I will leave it to your own discretion.”
“Understood. Then I shall not disclose it for now.”
After discussing details like the time and so on, Ainzach stepped down from the coach again.
Ainz felt a bit guilty about using him as a runner. While he knew this was not a world where seniority mattered, Suzuki Satoru was a working man, and it bothered him to order an older person around.
Now I understand why people dislike having old subordinates.
He would not have had a problem ordering someone around from a completely different company. For instance, if Ainzach was from the Empire, he could point and dictate with no problems at all. The reason why Ainz could not do so was because he had come to see Ainzach as one of his subordinates.
I need to reward him appropriately. The people of Nazarick don’t ask for payment, but they’re an exception. If I forget this, they’ll think of me as a terrible ruler. I must not become the boss of a black-hearted enterprise.
Ainz vowed that to the voice of Herohero in his mind.
Although, when it comes to rewarding Ainzach… how much should I pay him, as a king? The same as a mithril-ranked adventurer? No, there should be a duty allowance as well… so another 5% on top of that? Is there anyone I can ask about how much is appropriate?
He could discuss it with Demiurge or Albedo, but it was unclear whether the two of them had any idea of what kind of payment was appropriate. He had the feeling they would reply with something along the lines of “He should be glad to serve you, Ainz-sama”.
As expected… I need to find a wise human. Fluder said he was very confident in his magical knowledge, but knew next to nothing about other matters.
Nazarick was arguably invincible, but he felt uneasy about his lack of knowledge concerning human society.
“...So I’ll start by using him until someone better comes along, then? I guess agreeing with Demiurge’s proposal was the right choice. Then again, I had no intention of denying him when he brought it up…”
(TL Note: This part is fairly complex; Ainz uses a saying here which refers to taking the first step with something sub-par. However, Ainz has mis-stated one word, going from 隗より始めよ to 貝より始めよ. )
As Ainz drifted off into contemplation once more, someone knocked on the door.
“Forgive the delay, Your Majesty.”
It’s not as though I was waiting for you. However, Ainz decided to allow Ainzach to continue, with a magnanimous attitude that best fitted a ruler.
“As you have desired, the appointment has been made to meet at ten in the morning tomorrow, Your Majesty.”
“Umu. Then, there’s just the matter of waiting until tomorrow… Next, I shall use teleportation magic to send you to E-Rantel. Relax and accept the spell. [Greater Teleportation].”
Ainzach’s body disappeared in an instant.
The [Greater Teleportation] would safely transport him to the outermost of E-Rantel’s triple gates. Even if there was someone at the destination, the spell would deposit him at the nearest safe location, so there was no need to verify the destination with magic.
“Then, I should contact that guy with [Message].”
Ainz muttered to himself. This was a distasteful task, so he did that to pull himself together.
He was sending the [Message] to Fluder, who had offered everything to him. The reason why he had been dragging his feet on giving the man what he had promised was because he did not feel confident he could actually give that old man what he wanted.
Fluder wanted Ainz to teach him everything he knew about magic.
Yet, Ainz’s power did not come from the study of magic.
Perhaps if this was YGGDRASIL, he might be qualified to talk about magic. Sadly, the magic system of this world worked slightly different from that of YGGDRASIL.
Why was it that they learned the same spells in different ways? He had asked himself that question many times, but he could not find an answer. In addition, there was a veritable mountain of other unanswered questions. In the worst-case scenario, he had to consider that he might not be able to use his powers from YGGDRASIL.
Perhaps he could find the answer by using the level-draining option of the super-tier spell [Wish Upon A Star]. In this world, that spell could alter reality itself, and by draining multiple levels, it could fulfil a greater wish.
However, that was a very risky gamble.
It was unknown if he would find the answer even if he used it. It was very likely he would just be wasting effort. More importantly, he was afraid to use a spell which qualified as a trump card. Of course, it would be a different matter if he had a way to obtain large amounts of experience, but sadly, he had not discovered such a way so far.
Although he had no lungs, Ainz went “Haaah~” as he sighed. He had the attitude of a salesman who was prepared to to apologize for failing to deliver the requested goods to a client as he cast the [Message] spell.
“Fluder Paradyne. It is I, Ainz Ooal Gown.”
Once he reached him, he continued speaking the pre-arranged words.
“You were born in Belmous Village. Your earliest contact with magic was through the spellcaster in your village.”
『Ohhhh! It is you, Teacher! Long have I awaited this!』
He could feel the gratitude from Fluder.
Those pre-arranged words were a form of code, because Fluder had said that there was no way to tell if the person on the other side of a [Message] was a friend or a stranger. Thus, they had arranged to verify their identity by mentioning the (already-changed) name of his village and his memory.
Still, even after doing that, Fluder’s doubts about the [Message] spell remained.
He’s got it pretty bad. That said, there was not much Ainz could do about it.
Ainz made his reply, feeling slightly intimidated by the burning intensity of Fluder’s enthusiasm.
“Forgive the slight delay. I believe it is time to teach you magic, as we agreed. Are you free now?”
『Of course! I will make as much time as needed for you, Teacher!』
He wanted to say, “You don’t have to try so hard”, but Fluder’s enthusiasm about magic was the truest expression of his character. In the face of this magic-crazed madman, Ainz could not help but feel a little tongue-tied, as a regular person.
As he considered this great task, which seemed like settling a claim by a difficult customer, his stomach began to ache.
...My stomach must hurt the worst of anyone in the Imperial Capital.
Still, he could not delay it any further.
Before teleporting to Fluder’s room, Ainz decided to verify his destination with a divination spell.
“All right. I shall now cast [Greater Teleportation] to reach your chambers.”
『Ohhh! Not [Teleportation], but [Greater Teleportation]! Dare I ask which tier of magic it belongs to?』
“...Let’s leave that for later. The [Message] will not last forever. Neither do I have levels in commander-type classes… Still, I would like to ask you something before that. What sort of anti-divination countermeasures have you taken? What spells have you cast? How did you cast them? Did you do anything to ward against teleportation?”
『None, none at all, I have not taken any such measures.』
Ainz’s non-existent brows twitched as Fluder replied.
“Isn’t doing nothing at all a little careless…?”
In other words, everything he said in Fluder’s room might well be leaked to a third party.
『My sincerest apologies. However, I am not adept in that field of magic.』
“In that case, you should use magic items to substitute for that, right? I have seen many magic items in the Imperial Capital, all purportedly made by you.”
Ainz recalled what he had seen when he first came to the Imperial Capital. He had been startled by the fact that they had things like refrigerators on sale.
『It is as you say, but as you must surely know, one must know a related spell in order to make a magic item. For instance, one must know the [Fireball] spell to make a flaming weapon. However, only a few people are willing to learn anti-divination spells...』
“I see,” Ainz muttered.
In YGGDRASIL, one could normally only learn three spells per level. A level 20 character would thus be able to learn a maximum of 60 spells. It would be quite difficult to incorporate anti-divination magic into such a limited selection of spells.
Perhaps those who were not in the know might think 60 was a sizable sum, but if Ainz was limited to 60 spells from the 3rd tier of magic, he would probably have to spend all day worrying over his choices.
This was because he had to consider future uses, whether or not he would change his class and so on. There were many things which needed to be planned for and anticipated .
From that point of view, his rebuke of Fluder was petty and sad.
“Indeed, I misspoke. It is as you say. Divination magic would necessarily be a lower priority when studying offensive and defensive spells.”
In the game, he could say, “I’ll learn this, so I’ll leave that to you” and easily settle things. However, the choice of spells was a life-changing decision to the people of this world. It would take a very brave person to learn an unpopular spell.
In addition, the divination school of spells was quite deep. One needed to anticipate the means that the foe would use to collect information.
Simply put, becoming a divination specialist was something which one would stake their lives on.
“Alright. Then I shall give you the anti-divination item I possess. Use that to ward yourself in future.”
Even without looking, he could tell that Fluder’s head was deeply lowered. For all he knew, he might even be genuflecting.
『I have certainly received your loving words, Teacher!』
Ainz had originally planned to give him a decent item, but the thought of that pained his heart.
“Ah, ahhh… Then I shall scry your room now.”
Ainz cast his spell on Fluder’s chambers.
He looked down upon the genuflecting Fluder.
Then, he decided to check for magical auras, and as expected of Fluder, there were many different colors in his room. However, none of them looked like a dangerous color which would impede teleportation. After verifying that, he cast [Greater Teleportation].
His field of view changed, showing that he had successfully teleported to Fluder’s room. Though there had been no delays, and he did not sense anyone spying on him, and he was quite certain that he had not jumped into the enemy’s base, he still took a quick look around himself.
In truth, there was no need to be so worried. However the brief period of vulnerability after teleportation was when it was easiest to be attacked. These protective actions ― to defend against being PKed ― had been long drilled into Suzuki Satoru’s body.
“I bid you welcome, my Teacher.”
“...Raise your head,” Ainz commanded Fluder. In all honesty, there was no need for him to go that far.
That sort of loyalty ― or rather, his thirst for knowledge that led to a desire to obey ― was abnormal.
It was quite similar to how the people of Nazarick acted. Although Ainz had finally started getting used to that sort of thing, seeing it from someone he barely knew made him want to back away.
“Speaking while standing is not good. I’ll take a seat.”
“Yes! Everything I have is yours, Teacher. Please, sit anywhere you like!”
Complex feelings of whether or not to get used to this ran through Ainz’s heart as he sat on the sofa. However, Fluder did not take the seat opposite him. Instead, he remained as he was, kneeling on the ground with his head raised.
“It’s fine. Have a seat.”
“Is, is it really alright? That is, for me to sit in the same way as you, Teacher.”
“...You should have disciples too, right? Do you treat them this way as well?”
This sort of sports-team attitude alarmed Ainz, which prompted his question. In response, Fluder shook his head.
“Not like that, but the difference between myself and you is like that between the heavens and the earth, Teacher. I fear to even begin to mention myself in the same breath as―”
“―It’s fine. I grant you permission to sit down. Come. have a seat.”
After he made sure Fluder was seated, Ainz thought, my belly really hurts as he spoke.
“First, how is the matter that I as―”
He changed his mind halfways through the word “asked”.
“―that I ordered you to handle? That is to say, making a written record of the Empire’s information on the various countries?”
“Yes! Most of the information pertaining to the neighboring countries has already been completed. However―”
“What happened? Is there a problem?”
“Yes! Or rather, I should say, as expected of the Emperor.”
A look of pride crossed his face. It was the expression a teacher might have toward an outstanding pupil.
“He seems to have noticed my treachery.”
It was only natural for employees to swear not to reveal their former company’s secrets before job-hopping. With that in mind, Ainz was a villain for making Fluder feed him sensitive information on the Empire.
However, Ainz knew well that he did not run a company, but a country. Nothing was off-limits for the sake of his nation’s prosperity ― for the happiness of the people who belonged to the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
Ainz held no grudge against Jircniv. However, that meant nothing in comparison to the well-being of his own country. If his misfortune made the Sorcerous Kingdom prosper, then he would simply have to suffer.
That said, Ainz still preferred coexistence and mutual prosperity over conflict.
Punitto Moe once said something about Mr. Nash and prisoner’s conditions and something along those lines, but the gist of it was, if opportunities were unlimited, cooperation would reap the greatest benefits for all parties involved.
(TL Note: Ainz is getting it wrong again - see Nash Equilibrium and the Prisoner’s Dilemma)
Ainz knew that international relations were basically a matter of each party using the other, but he wanted to maintain a good relationship with Jircniv.
I kept the number of Imperial casualties to a minimum as the price of poaching Fluder, so we’re probably even on that count. I feel a sense of closeness to him now. It must be because of all the times I’ve spied on him.
“...Is something the matter, Teacher?”
“Er, um, nothing. Just thinking about certain matters.”
“Really? My deepest apologies for interrupting your thoughts, Teacher!”
“There’s no need to apologise. I am here today because of you.”
“Ohhh! Thank you very much, Teacher!”
Why is he thanking me so vigorously? Though Ainz was puzzled, he eventually managed to get the topic back on track.
“Ah― yes, the fact that you’ve been turned. Well, it’s alright for you to be exposed, but there is a problem. That is to say, your safety.”
“Ohh! To think you would actually be worried about the safety of someone like me, Teacher!”
Why did this old man have to overreact to everything? The basic duty of a boss was to look out for the well-being of anyone he did not intend to discard from the beginning. Or did they do things differently in the Empire?
If it’s the latter, that would be scary… Well, I might kill people who got in my way, but killing someone who was once my subordinate is still...
“Fluder, that’s right, do not get too excited. It would be odd if anyone around you noticed.”
“That will not be a problem. This floor is exclusively for my use. Nobody else is around.”
He had come here before. That said, this tower was quite large, so it was no wonder the greatest magic caster of the Empire was allowed an entire floor to himself.
“Back to the matter of your personal safety. Has anyone tried to kill you after your treachery came to light?”
“Nothing of the sort. However, my responsibilities have steadily decreased, and while the Emperor frequently came to consult me in the past, he has not summoned me ever since he returned from the glorious domain that you rule, Teacher.”
“I see… Then, Fluder. Do you want to come to my side?”
He answered right away...
“Then, after considering your profession ― no, before that, there is something I must do. It concerns your reward.”
After saying that, Ainz exhaled, and then reached into his pocket dimension. He had rehearsed the flow of the conversation which would follow many times, poking fun at the words even as he corrected them.
Although he had no way to be sure if Fluder would react as Ainz imagined, he had put in enough practice already.
“As agreed, I shall now impart a portion of my knowledge to you. Take and study this book.”
Ainz handed a tome called The Book of the Dead to him.
It was a fairly ancient volume, which gave off a musty smell. Surprisingly enough, the book itself was very sturdy, with no trace of being worm-eaten.
Fluder accepted the book Ainz offered with trembling hands. Ainz was glad that he was undead. If he was still human, the book might be wobbling nonstop from nervousness.
Fluder’s goal was to plumb the abyss of magic, but Ainz did not know what the abyss of magic was. He could teach him about YGGDRASIL, but the abyss of magic or whatnot was another topic entirely.
That said, not giving it to him would be a betrayal of his loyalty. One had to repay good unto good and reward loyal service. Thus, Ainz had given him a book from his collection, which seemed the most likely to hold the secrets of magical knowledge. The parts he had flipped through seemed to contain something about magic which he could not understand.
“Then, please excuse me.”
Fluder reached out to the book, and that delighted expression of his soon twisted into despair after flipping though a few pages.
“―What’s the matter? Is this not what you sought?”
Ainz suppressed his unease as he asked that question. It was fine even if it was not what he wanted. He had already practiced for that eventuality.
“No, it is nothing like that. I simply cannot understand this.”
“Ah, I see.”
Ainz took the book from Fluder, flipped through it, and stopped at a certain page.
“This chapter concerns the transformation of the dead into souls; specifically, the section about differentiation.”
It was written in Japanese, so obviously Fluder could not understand it. However ―
This looks more like a setting book for a fantasy world than a fantasy novel. The hell is this differentiation stuff. And then there’s souls as clouds and so on. It looks really hard and I can’t wrap my brain around it at all. Feels like I can only scratch the surface… Could it be that I can’t understand this book, even though I can read it?
Books were like the occult, or rather, this book was pretty much an occult volume. To Suzuki Satoru, who had no knowledge in this field, all he saw was a collection of scribblings. Still, all this seemed to have been taken from some kind of mythology. If Tabula Smaragdina was around, he would probably be able to explain it to him.
The sense of guilt in Ainz’s heart grew as he watched Fluder look at him with joyful eyes.
“Indeed… Well, I cannot give this to you because I only have one set, but give this a try.”
Ainz placed a pair of glasses on the book and handed it to him. Fluder put it on and hurriedly flipped through the pages.
“This, this is! It’s saying that souls are entities like the foam left by the waves of this great world, and so whether great or small, they are fundamentally the same. That meeeeaaaannnns!!!”
Hieh~ he’s gone mad.
Even Ainz was startled, to the point where he nearly shrank back.
The way Fluder’s eyes were wide open and bloodshot, his breathing like a wild beast’s, made it seem as though he was about to pounce on someone.
“How, how is it?”
Fluder’s eyes pivoted and stared straight at Ainz.
“This, this is amazing, Teacher! This is the lore that I sooooooooooouuuuught! Hyaaaaah!”
The alarm he felt at the old man’s mania exceeded a predetermined threshold, and Ainz swiftly calmed down again.
“―Is that so. Then, return me the glasses.”
“Wha! But, this..”
“Consider the translation of that book to be your training. Once you can understand and digest it, you will be able to set foot in a higher domain. It would be pointless for you to use these glasses.”
“How could this be… Then, may I be allowed to give this book a once-over first?”
“One page should still be all right. But if you continue after that, it will negatively affect your growth.”
Fluder closed the book shut with a patan, and then closed his eyes.
After several seconds, he opened his eyes and spoke. His voice had returned to normal.
“Understood. I will abide by your teachings, oh Teacher. May I seek your aid if there are matters I do not understand?”
“Umu. As long as it is within my power to answer.”
Fluder removed the glasses and returned them to Ainz.
Excellent! I won’t hear anything from Fluder for a while now. Ah, I need to instruct him about this first. That… how shall I say this...
Ainz struggled to pry open the vaults of his memory. Then, in solemn, heavy tones ― which made one think of the voice a leader would have ― Ainz spoke:
“I have entrusted you with this book of arcana because I trust you. You must never hand it to a third party. The same applies to any notes you make to study it. Nothing about this book can be allowed to spread.”
“There is hardly a need to tell you the reason for that, but this is knowledge that surpasses what humans can comprehend. It would be very troublesome if others came to learn of it… Although someone of your talent might not be beyond salvation. I do not want to have to clean up behind you ten years down the road.”
“But of course. I will not leak any of the knowledge I have obtained from you to others. I swear it.”
“―I trust you, Fluder. Do not disappoint me.”
Fluder got up from his chair and knelt on the ground.
He wanted to say that there was no need to go to that extent, but this too was proof of how effective his air of majesty had been. Ainz could not help but feel proud that his hours of acting and vocalization practice had been put to good use.
“Enough. Since you understand, I shall say no more. Return to your seat. Still, it will be very difficult for you to decipher an unknown language without any help. Do you have some way of overcoming that?”
“Yes! I can use a translation spell, though its efficacy is very limited. I believe that with that, I can slowly decipher the text.”
“Really now. Really now! Marvellous.”
This answer was exactly what Ainz wanted to hear. By slowly giving him the appropriate practice, he would be able to buy himself time. In addition, a problem like that would not be enough to make Fluder give up.
“Then I shall hand this to you… no, that’s it. I will lend you a box for you to store it in. I do not think that you will treat it lightly, but someone might wish to steal it from you.”
Ainz pulled a box out of his pocket space. It was an item of the same grade which he used to store his personal notebook.
“Once you store the book in here, even if this box is stolen, it will take quite some time to open it. Of course, it will all be for nothing if someone overhears the command word to open the box… so be careful.”
“Of course, Teacher! I will never do anything like that!”
Ainz shifted his gaze from Fluder ― who was caressing the book in delight ― to the ceiling. Now, what would he talk about next?
“Ah, that’s right. The matter of your treachery coming to light, and thus you coming over to me. When can you leave?”
“If Teacher wishes it, I can leave at any time. I have no attachments to this country.”
Ainz mentally furrowed his brows.
He had no idea what to say to someone who could casually discard his position of trust. He might well do the same thing to Ainz in the future.
Ainz marked Fluder down several points with a red pen in his heart’s ledger.
“...Then, Fluder. I wish to have you participate in the magical research of the Sorcerous Kingdom. However, your spells will not be put into circulation. They will only be shared with me and those whom I trust. Can you bear it? Can you forsake your desire for fame?”
“There will be no problem at all. The only thing I desire is to glimpse the secrets of magic. I desire nothing else.”
Ainz studied Fluder in earnest, the man who could make such a statement.
Ainz had no ability to evaluate a person’s character. As human beings, it was obvious that Fluder ― a genius sage who had lived far beyond the span of a normal human being and who was deeply involved in the operations of the vast nation called the Empire ― was superior to him. There was no way for him to see through any attempt by Fluder to deceive him.
However, being unable to see through such things and not trying to see through such things were two different matters. With that attitude in mind, Ainz stared at Fluder, and in the end he simply said, “Good.”
“I will entrust you with all the powers and privileges of your office once you arrive in the Sorcerous Kingdom. I also intend to help you with magical research as much as possible. Then―”
Now, there would be one more person helping Nazarick, beyond the Bareares. If he could obtain the woman which Demiurge and Albedo had recommended, Nazarick would be further strengthened.
He had to increase his power as much as possible, so long as he could not see the true face of his enemy.
The enemy possessed a World-Class Item, so he had to obtain a power aside from YGGDRASIL’s as soon as possible. He had to assume that anything he could do, the enemy could as well.
However, there was one more problem.
That would be, how would he protect the Empire.
Demiurge felt that the Empire was a potential enemy, but Ainz did not think so.
Although the future was unclear, the use of force alone in world conquest was not a wise decision. If the Sorcerous Kingdom was painted as a nation which annihilated everyone who stood against it, countries which could have been friends would probably end up as enemies.
That being the case, why not form a deep friendship with his fellow dictator Jircniv, and send that message to their subordinates?
This way, I’ll be able to minimize the force Demiurge and the others use in world conquest. What a brilliant plan. More than the alliance of nations, or the alliance of guilds… friendship?
The shapes of his heteromorphic friends appeared in Ainz’s mind.
Still, how should I make friends with him? Giving people things isn’t the right way to make friends, right… Thus, protecting the Empire, the most precious thing to Jircniv, should be the best way. It’s quite likely that my enemies will set their sights upon it.
He put himself in the role of the people who brainwashed Shalltear. If they used the methods Ainz used, then―
In the worst-case scenario, they might use [Ia Shub-Niggurath] on the Imperial Capital. Everyone would think I did it, regardless of the actual culprit… Then, they would spread that news throughout the world. That would greatly decrease the Sorcerous Kingdom’s influence.
Ainz recalled his YGGDRASIL days.
It was foolish to directly fight a powerful guild, so it was quite common to instigate wars with other guilds to weaken the powerful guild’s influence. These methods would probably be applicable here. Ainz would probably do so if placed in that situation, and so it was very likely his foe would do the same thing.
In order to prevent this sort of thing from happening, Ainz considered allowing Fluder to spread rumors that he could not use that spell again (a lie, naturally). However, Fluder could no longer be used, so he had to consider some other method.
This is close to forbidding the carrying of palm-sized dangerous objects… As expected, I’ll need to discuss the matter with Demiurge, maybe order him to think of a way to deal with this. However, would he not think it strange? Ahh, how troublesome, I can’t figure it out.
If only he could hand everything to those two. However, if he did that, it would damage his image as an absolute ruler. He had to think of a way to solve his problems while maintaining his position.
“Teacher, what is wrong?”
“...Fluder, I intend to protect the Empire for some time. Do you have any ideas?”
“...May I know why you ask?”
“Conquering it would be easy, but I have no interest in standing atop a pile of rubble. I wish to keep the Empire intact, and so I would like to prevent the loss of fighting power that would result when they lose you.”
Fluder’s wrinkles deepened.
“It is difficult to answer that question immediately. I believe that there will be no problems for a while even if I am not around. That said, it is also true that nobody can fill the void that I will leave… If it is fine, then I shall stay for the time being.”
“Are you willing to do so? Then, I will contact you again tomorrow, after the discussions are complete.”
“Right, there are two more things I want to ask you. First, I would like to know the details of the Martial Lord. The second matter concerns Death Knights…”
♦ ♦ ♦
As the appointed time drew near, Ainz cast a detection spell. Normally, he would have stacked numerous defensive spells on himself first, but it would be too wasteful to expend a lot of valuable scrolls. Unlike how things were at the graveyard, when he was sure there were hostiles present, Ainz simply cast the spell.
That said, he picked a place where any counterattacks would not strike others.
A different scene appeared in his field of vision. This was the interior of a coach. Ainz manipulated the floating point of view and observed the exterior of the coach.
Then, Ainz cast [Greater Teleportation].
The teleport took place without incident, and Ainz opened the door to the coach. Ainzach, who was seated within, had a look of shock on his face. However, Ainz nonchalantly boarded, closed the door, and dispelled the invisibility spell he had cast on himself.
“As I thought, it was Your Majesty. Although I understand the need for secrecy, could you please not use an invisibility spell next time?
“If I do not use invisibility, I will be spotted, no?”
“It should be fine because of Your Majesty’s mask, am I wrong?
“Indeed, that might be the case, but I used a teleportation spell. I would like to avoid being drawn into troublesome matters.”
“Well, since you understand, shall we leave?”
“All right. Let us depart.”
The coach passed through the opened gate, and reached the place designated by the doorman. This was a parking area which could accommodate several coaches.
“Then, let us proceed.”
Ainz dismounted from the coach after Ainzach.
An old man in a butler’s uniform awaited them there. He was accompanied by a maid.
Though he looked like a butler, he did not feel as powerful as Sebas. He seemed like a very ordinary, albeit well-bred old man. The butler was human, though the same was not true for the maid.
A pair of ears adorned the top of the maid’s head; not human ears, but ears from some kind of animal. Although it was hard to be sure since they were obscured by her hair, there was no swelling at the site where normal humans had their ears. She had a cute face, but it was not the same way a human being was cute ― more like an animal sort of cute.
“Welcome, Ainzach-sama and ― Your Majesty the Sorcerer King, I believe. The master awaits you. Please allow us to lead the way. May I ask you to follow behind us?”
After he heard the butler’s speech, a strangled cry of surprise escaped Ainzach’s mouth.
Ainzach had said in yesterday’s talk that he would not bring up Ainz’s true identity, so he must have been shocked because they had managed to guess who Ainz was. For Ainz, however, this was nothing to be alarmed about. His mask might have concealed his face, but he had not changed his clothes. Anyone with a good information network would have heard about him. Under these circumstances, not replying would be rude.
“Thank you. Then, please show us the way.”
The butler lowered his head. A beat later, so did the maid.
After the two of them started walking, Ainzach quietly told Ainz:
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty.”
His thanks was because Ainz had responded to the butler.
No need for that, Ainz wanted to say, but in the end he accepted the thanks in silence.
To Suzuki Satoru, a superior ought to cover for his subordinates if the latter made a mistake. Ainzach’s thanks was a natural reaction. It was an unavoidable step in his future growth as one of Ainz’s subordinates.
Once more, Ainz keenly realized that being a boss was not relaxing at all.
Suddenly, Ainz realized that he had never once said “Thanks” while he was playing the role of a ruler.
I need to find a time to thank the Guardians and all the NPCs. I need to show my appreciation for their hard work.
Ainz’s objective was to run the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick like a benevolent company. As he idly pondered the matter, he did not stop moving, but continued walking toward the direction where he was being led.
“Although, it was quite surprising to actually encounter a Rabbit Man, Your Majesty.”
Wouldn’t it be better to discuss this sort of thing after the person in question was gone? Ainz thought that, but the topic interested him, so he decided to go with the flow.
“Shouldn’t it be Rabbit Woman?”
“No… well… their species name is Rabbit Man.”
“Ainzach, it was merely a joke. Taking it so seriously is somewhat troubling.”
“...I wonder if she came from further east than the City-State Alliance. How exotic.”
Ainz had no idea how far away “east of the City-State Alliance” was. His information did not yet cover such distant regions.
Still, he had not seen any in the Kingdom, and she was the only Rabbit Man he had encountered in the Imperial Capital. It must be hard to live in a place without other members of one’s kind, even without considering discrimination from other races.
Ainz was curious and wanted to ask her some questions, but he could not do so. It would be troublesome if he stepped on a landmine during their conversation.
Before long, they reached a house.
“The master awaits you within. Please.”
The interior of the house was decorated with many articles of lovingly-oiled and maintained weapons and armor. They were clean, free of dust and displayed in neat rows.
Upon closer inspection, many of the weapons were scuffed and dented on their business ends. It was clear that these weapons had been used in actual combat.
Rather than a weapon merchant’s shop display, it seemed more like the gallery owner displaying the weapons of his glorious past.
After a hasty glance around, Ainz’s gaze returned to the sword he saw first.
It was the most beautiful of all the weapons in the room.
There was no sign of damage on the sword. The gallery’s owner must have been quite fond of it, judging by how it had been placed to be the first thing anyone would see when they entered the room.
“Does it please you?”
“Ah, truly an excellent collection.”
Thus did Ainz answer the room’s owner seated on the sofa ― in other words, the owner of this gallery. The owner was stout-bodied and his hair was cut so short that one could see his scalp.
They did not bother with greetings, but continued talking about weapons.
“So, which piece do you favor most ― ah, that one. Everyone who comes into this room says that.”
Ainz entered the room and stood before the sword.
“May I pick it up?”
“Of course, by all means.”
Ainz thanked him and picked up the sword. Of course, it would drop if he actually tried to wield it in earnest, but holding it was fine.
He peered at the sword, and then he noticed the characters carved on the blade. These bizarre characters were vaguely familiar to Ainz. He searched his memories, and finally found the answer.
“Ohhh! As expected of Your Majesty. You know of these letters!”
What? Seriously? ...Are runes commonly used in this world?
Runes were an alphabet which had apparently been used in the past of Suzuki Satoru’s world. The fact that such characters existed in this world meant that it was very likely someone from the same world as Suzuki Satoru had spread them here. Thus, Ainz carefully answered:
“...Probably, I believe. I only know of them. I cannot create rune-engraved items. May I know which smith made this?”
“Ohhh, that was a good question. That sword was forged by a runesmith of the Dwarven Kingdom in the Azellisian Mountain Range. It is about 150 years old. The blade can accumulate electricity, and there’s a maker’s mark on the hilt. Did you see it?”
The gallery owner was standing next to Ainz.
The overwhelming smell of cologne assaulted his nose.
“This is a piece by Stonenel, a famous artisan.”
A Dwarven artisan? ...Looks like I’ll have to learn more about that.
“Hoh. That does sound like a famous artisan. Are there any more examples of his work here?”
Ainz looked around, and the man laughed heartily.
“Hahahaha. No, not in here. I store them elsewhere. However, this is the only piece which bears such a powerful enchantment.”
Ainz concealed his disappointment as he quietly emoted.
That said, he had still learned something about the artisan called Stonenel. He had to see if there was a player there.
“I’ve heard that the weapons made by dwarven runesmiths rarely circulate on the market. And you actually have more of them in store?”
Ainz gave Ainzach a mental thumbs-up for asking that question.
“Indeed I do, Ainzach,” the man smiled. “I snatch them up whenever they’re on auction. Recently, there was a really persistent adventurer trying to outbid me. I ended up paying three times what I had originally planned.”
Ainzach shook his head incredulously (sort of), while Ainz nodded in approval. This was how things were for a collector. An outsider would never be able to understand. At times, even Ainz did not understand the actions of his past self.
Ainz wanted to keep asking, but in the end he decided to return the sword to its original place.
“It seems I was entranced by your marvellous collection without even greeting you. Do forgive my lack of respect.”
The man was all smiles.
“Your Majesty has a way with words. Then, allow me to reintroduce myself. I am Osk, an insignificant merchant.”
“You will surely anger the other merchants of the Empire if you call yourself insignificant. I remain the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown.”
“Not a day goes by when I do not hear of your mighty name. Please, have a seat. I will have the servants prepare drinks.”
“...While this is a rare opportunity… there is no need to prepare my share.”
Osk’s eyes did not seem quite proportional to his head. He studied Ainz with those eyes.
“Your Majesty, I have heard the rumors… but could I trouble you to remove that mask?”
“...Since this is a request of the home’s owner, I must comply.”
Ainz took off his mask, revealing his bare face.
There was no look of surprise on Osk’s face. His eyes were very small, so once he narrowed his eyes to smile, there was no way to look into their depths.
“Ohhh… I see, I see…”
Osk nodded several times before speaking again.
“In truth, I was worried that I would not be able to prepare tea that would be able to satisfy the tastes of the renowned Sorcerer King, but it would seem that was wasted effort on my part.”
After those cheerful words, Osk’s belly wobbled with laughter.
“Say, Osk. Why did you think His Majesty would come with me?”
“Ahhh, it’s not hard to tell, right? E-Rantel is under the control of His Majesty. When I heard that the Guildmaster of E-Rantel’s Adventurer’s Guild was visiting, in the company of someone more important than himself, only one person came to mind. Granted, it could have been some other confidant of the Sorcerer King, but my instincts told me otherwise,” Osk said.
“Then, is it my turn to ask questions now? Did you once use the weapons displayed here?”
Osk chuckled at Ainz’s question.
“How could that be? Your Majesty, do consider my body! I can wield an abacus, but I have never once swung a sword. That is just a hobby of mine… Since I was a child, I have always admired the strong, as well as swords and other weapons.”
“It seems you understand. Now then, I have a question of my own. I have heard of Your Majesty’s unstoppable might; was that due to the long time you have lived ― well, I suppose it does count as living?”
“That is correct, in comparison to the lifespans of you humans.”
As Ainz said this, he thought of something. What kind of being was the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown?
Obviously he could not say, “Certainly not, you two are older than me.” Even if he did say so, they would not believe him. So he had to speak while in-character as the Sorcerer King. However, if he did not lock down the exact details of the Sorcerer King’s character, things might turn out badly.
In any case, it’s confirmed that the undead live a long time. If anyone asks why I do not know certain things despite my long life, I can reply that I was focused on researching magic. Let’s use that as a basic detail for the Sorcerer King’s character.
“That being the case, do you possess weapons of the past?”
Judging by that question, Osk did not intend to hide his curiosity.
“Of course I do. However, I cannot just give them to you, no?”
“For a suitable amount ― no, I will try to pay three times the market value.”
Ainz could not reject him on the spot. This was because he recalled the precarious state of his personal finances. However, it would hardly be dignified for the ruler of a country to go “Sure, let’s do it.”
“...Money does not exactly appeal to me.”
“I sincerely apologize. Saying so to Your Majesty ― who is the ruler of a country ― was terribly rude of me… Then, what can I offer to make you want to trade them to me?”
So he wants to phrase it as receiving a bounty for meritorious service to my country, or something like that? Hm? Well, in that case...
Ainz took out a shortsword. It was wreathed in a billowing mist effect. Its faintly translucent blue blade was made of blue crystal metal, and it contained little mana. That said, its overall ability classified it as a high-class item in YGGDRASIL, and it was certainly more powerful than the average magic item in this world.
“This, this is!”
Two voices cried out those words.
Ainzach’s eyes went wide as he stared at the shortsword. “Umu,” Ainz muttered, before placing it in front of Ainzach.
Once more, those words were spoken by two voices.
“Ainzach, this is a gift for your hard work. That said, this is not an award, nor is this meant to symbolize your station, I simply felt that this sort of thing is similar to the reward I wish to hand out in my ideal nation, so I give this to you. If you require cash instead, it is fine to sell it off.”
This shortsword did not contain enough data to harm Ainz. Nor was it one of the weapons made by his former guildmates and thus filled with memories.
“I, how could I dare accept such…”
Ainzach’s body shuddered uncontrollably.
“This is nothing amazing. Well, if you do not want it, I can change it for something else when the time comes. A healing potion, perhaps. That should be fine. What do you think?”
Ainzach hesitated for a while, but in the end he decided to keep the shortsword.
“I shall accept it. Thank you very much, Your Majesty! I will continue serving Your Majesty with all my strength, with effort that will not be outshone by this sword!”
“Congratulations, Ainzach. If you run into any trouble, remember to think of this friend of yours.”
Osk eyed the shortsword as he said this. Ainzach had a look on his face like a mother bear protecting her cubs.
“It won’t happen. Never.”
Ainz decided to change his tone.
“Well then. Let us move on to the real business.”
Osk reluctantly pulled his eyes away from the handkerchief that Ainzach had used to wrap the sword, and replied:
“...Understood. May I ask why you have graced my humble estate with your presence?”
“Umu… I am not given to dressing up my words. Let me get to the point…. I would like you to arrange a bout with the Martial Lord of the arena.”
Osk’s eyes widened, but soon they returned to their normal shape.
“I have heard that the Martial Lord is not part of the arena personnel, but a gladiator you have raised since he was a child. Ainzach told me that you can quickly put a fight on the cards if you agree to have the Martial Lord fight, which is why I came to make this request of you.”
“Fuhahahaha. Are you serious, Your Majesty? You do know that the Martial Lord is the mightiest man in the arena, with a monster’s body and outstanding fighting skills? He might be the strongest one in history. Perhaps Your Majesty counts strong individuals among his followers as well, but defeating him is…”
Osk shook his head with pride.
“...Is he stronger than Fluder?”
“No, this is from the perspective of a warrior. It’s not applicable to a magic caster. All they have to do is fly up and attack repeatedly with magic and that’s the end of it.”
Osk’s quiet grumbling somewhat perturbed Ainz, and then Ainzach chimed in:
“Once, an adventurer team took to the sky and won by raining spells and arrows on him from a distance. That was a pretty disappointing fight. Ever since, the arena has forbidden teleportation and flight magic.”
Then, Osk looked at Ainz. He seemed to have recovered.
“Cough! Well, that was rude of me, Your Majesty. I recalled some bitter memories… Then, back to the topic, Your Majesty. May I ask who intends to fight the Martial Lord? Are they human?”
Ainz and Ainzach looked at each other. Then, Ainz answered:
“That would be me.”
“I, Ainz Ooal Gown, shall be his opponent.”
After a brief period of silence, Osk asked in a panic:
“But, but but, but are you not the ruler of a country, Your Majesty?”
“Indeed I am. What of it?”
“Eh? No, that’s correct, but… that…”
“Ahh, I understand what worries you. You must be thinking, what would happen if I came to be hurt?”
“It would be fine if it ended in just getting hurt,” Osk muttered under his breath. Ainz pretended not to notice.
“Be at ease. There will not be a problem, no matter what happens to me. I will leave written proof of that.”
“But if that sort of thing does happen, I won’t be able to do business any more. I have heard that the Empire is supposed to be an ally of the Sorcerous Kingdom. If I allow the king of an allied country to be seriously injured, the state will have its eye on me.”
“I promise you ― you will not be inconvenienced by this.”
“Even if you say so…” Osk paused to think, and then asked again: “These words might be unpleasant to the ear, but could you offer up something as a guarantee?”
“A guarantee? Like what?”
“...Please give me something like what you gave Ainzach earlier. If anything happens, it’ll be fine as long as I can keep that item.”
“If that is what it takes to satisfy you, then I shall make that promise. However, I cannot give it to you right away. I promise it will reach you by tomorrow.”
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty. ...There is also another matter I would like to ask, though I fear it is inappropriate.”
Ainz waved, indicating that Osk should continue.
“As a promoter, I collect a lot of information. Much of that information pertains to powerful beings which might appear in the arena, or monsters. There are also rumors concerning Your Majesty ― dare I ask if it is true that Your Majesty slew tens of thousands of the Kingdom’s people with a single spell?”
Ainzach coughed in a very contrived way. He was glaring at Osk with reproachful eyes, but this was nothing that had to be hidden, nor was it something to be ashamed of.
“Indeed, that is true. I slew them with my magic. Will you reproach me for it?”
“No, I was simply asking to gauge the extent of Your Majesty’s mystical powers. After all, if you did use that spell from the rumors, it would be… very bad. After all, the arena is within the Imperial Capital.”
“No, no, I will not cast a spell like that.”
Even Ainz had no intention of using such a spell in the middle of an allied country. What kind of terrorist would do that sort of thing?
“Of course, I feel the same way as well. Unlike the common image of the undead, Your Majesty is a noble and rational man. I do not believe you will enact a great slaughter because you hate the living. That said, making assumptions and neglecting to confirm these things might lead to failure.”
Ainz agreed on that point as well. This was one of the dangers that came with allowing a new person to join. In truth, Suzuki Satoru had failed like this in the past.
“Your concerns are valid. Allow me to repeat myself ― I will not use that spell.”
“Why is that? Is it because it has something to do with the alignment of the stars?”
“While that is not related to the mat-”
A lightbulb went off over Ainz’s head.
“Well, that spell is one of my most powerful trump cards. Because El-Nix-dono desired it, I went out of my way to cast that grand spell, which I can only use once every ten years. Thus, for the next decade, I must conserve my strength.”
“Hoh!” A strange gleam lit up Osk’s eyes. “Is it really alright to tell me that? After all, this might be considered to be a weakness of Your Majesty…”
“It is fine. I may not be able to use a destructive spell like that, but slaughtering any fools who oppose me is still easy. After all, it does not mean I cannot use other spells.”
“As expected of Your Majesty. In other words, the Martial Lord will also be an easy opponent; is that what you are implying?”
After Ainz nodded with confidence, a smile lit up Osk’s face. However, when Ainz studied him, he could not be sure if the smile was genuine.
“I see. Finally, please allow me one more question. Why do you want to fight the Martial Lord, Your Majesty?”
“Because I have heard that he is a powerful foe… I wish to know who is stronger, between him and Gazef Stronoff. There was Gazef in the Kingdom, so perhaps the greatest reason is because I want to know who is his equivalent in the Empire.”
Of course, that was not why Ainz was fighting. However, it was the reason he and Ainzach had agreed upon after discussing the matter.
It would have been fine to state the real reason, but Osk was not a trustworthy person. In truth, he seemed like the sort who prioritised his own gains. Ainz felt that being honest with him would not end well.
“I understand. Thank you very much… Then, I shall schedule the fight with the Martial Lord. However―”
Osk raised his hand to interrupt Ainz’s thanks.
“I hope you will abide by the rules of the arena. In addition, while Your Majesty might be taking the match with the Martial Lord seriously, it is still a performance of sorts for us. Thus, an overly one-sided fight would be terribly boring. With that in mind, I would like to request that Your Majesty not use magic, and that you will use a sword ― a weapon ― to battle the Martial Lord. I submit that these conditions should make for a good fight.”
“What are you saying?!”
Ainzach sprang up from his seat. His face was red from anger.
“Is that even possible?! His Majesty is a magic caster! How do you expect him to win?!”
“Hoho. Indeed, that is the case. There would be no way for His Majesty the Sorcerer King to win once his magic was sealed. My my, to think I actually brought up such a sensible matter. Still, I did not expect to hear these words from your mouth. I would have expected you to be alright with His Majesty losing. It seems my opinion of you has changed.”
“Ainzach, don’t get too worked up. It is fine.”
“...Your Majesty, what did you say?”
Ainz chuckled, because Osk and Ainzach were looking at him in an amusing way. However, it would be bad if that laugh was interpreted as sneering, so Ainz tried to mask it with a snort.
However, that was impossible for someone who had only a hole for a nose.
Ainz decided not to waste his energy and decided to try and bluff his way through with words.
“You seem to have misheard me. I said, it is fine.”
There was no change in Osk’s expression, but his mind was working at high speeds. That much was obvious.
“...Then, will you swear it on the name of the Sorcerer King, Your Majesty?”
“Swear on my name? ...I understand. I, Ainz Ooal Gown, swear by my own name that I shall not use any form of magic during the battle with the Martial Lord.”
“Wait! Your Majesty! How can you make such an oath without even seeing the Martial Lord’s strength?”
Ainzach’s words were very sensible. However, if his information on the Martial Lord was correct, there should be no problems in doing so.
“Well, it’ll work out somehow.”
“Do you really think it’ll work itself out?!”
Ainz was vaguely moved by Ainzach’s retort. Nobody had stated their opinions like this ever since he had begun his reign as the ruler of Nazarick. That had come up a little during his time as Momon, but even that had faded away after he had risen through the ranks.
“You too! If the king of another country dies in the Empire’s arena, there’ll be hell to pay!”
Of course, Ainz thought as he locked eyes with Osk.
“Well, that’s only to be expected. What will you do, Your Majesty? It is not too late to accept the advice of your loyal subject and give up now.”
Ainz shrugged in response. He could understand Ainzach’s worries. After all, this plan had originally been his idea. Granted, he had been operating under the assumption that he could use magic when he came up with that plan. However, did he really think that Ainz without magic was that weak?
“It will be fine. More importantly, shouting like that is quite shameful, Ainzach. Then, Osk. I’m not too clear on this, but what good does my death do you?”
Osk’s eyes went wide in surprise. A reaction like that was not the slightest bit cute on a middle-aged man like him.
“It seems Your Majesty is mistaken. I would gain nothing from it. As the Guildmaster says, it would be a far greater hindrance for me.”
There did not seem to be any ulterior motives behind proposing these disadvantageous conditions for Ainz. In all likelihood, it had been born from his thoughts as a promoter.
“―Is that so. Then, we will proceed as planned..”
“...Your Majesty, do you have a way to defeat the Martial Lord ― who is stronger than Gazef Stronoff ― without magic?”
“...Stronoff, huh. Truly a man of enviable strength.”
Ainz noticed the look of surprise on Ainzach’s face, but Ainz did not say a word as he recalled the former Warrior-Captain.
“If the Martial Lord is stronger than that man, then obviously, I’ll have to be on my guard. However, the strength I speak of refers to his spirit and not his fighting ability. Now, if we were comparing the strength of the Martial Lord’s and Stronoff’s sword arms, surely the former would slay the latter in a moment.”
“I see. Speaking of which, I must continue answering the question which you asked earlier, Your Majesty.”
Osk raised both his hands. His arms were muscular and bereft of flab.
“I love the clash of sword against sword and fist against fist. Regretfully, I have no talent for fighting skills, and all my efforts could win me victory. That was why I thought of making a warrior who could substitute for me, and have him attain victory in my place.”
Osk sneered. This was not the merchant’s attitude he had been showing until now, but his face as a human being.
This was the first time Ainz had encountered such a strange person, although he knew that fetishes varied from person to person. In other words, Osk had a particularly abnormal fetish. Ainz made a mental compartment called “Perverts” and filed Osk into it.
“Therefore, it would feel very good should Your Majesty lose to the Martial Lord I have trained.”
“Is that so.”
Osk and Ainzach looked at Ainz, surprise written all over their faces.
Ainz wanted to ask, what have you been doing since just now?
“Don’t give me that dumb look. If you have something to say, say it.”
“No, no, that’s all I have to say.”
“I have no idea what sort of reaction you want from me, Osk… Humans are truly complicated creatures. Well? If that’s all, does that mean you expect me to fill the gap? ...Hm, how about this. Are you really that happy to beat me while I cannot use my magic?”
For some reason, Osk stumbled over his answer.
“Eh, ah, that… It’s just that I don’t really like magic that much…”
“I see. Then, let’s leave the matter at that.”
Osk and Ainzach looked at each other. Come on, spit it out, Ainz thought. Still, this was how the working world went. If someone who has no permission to speak bared his heart, he would get into trouble.
“We have made our true intentions known to each other, so let us not waste time with petty deceptions and get on with things. How will you arrange the schedule for the fight with the Martial Lord? If possible, I’d like to make a big event of it.”
“Then, I’ll officially announce a challenger to the Martial Lord after today’s events. I’d better get on it. However, I intend to keep the fact that the challenger is Your Majesty a secret until the match starts.”
“I do not understand your reasons for that. Would that not be a waste, from a promoter’s point of view?”
“Logic dictates that the king of an allied country showing up at an arena match is… oya? Come to think of it, I haven’t heard of a welcoming ceremony. Is it scheduled for later?”
Ainz could not help but look away.
This was bad.
Ainz gave thanks that he did not have a heart, and then forcefully shook his empty, undead skull. Then, he shrugged helplessly.
“I came to the Empire in a personal capacity. El-Nix-dono does not know that I am here.”
Osk’s expression vanished. He must have scented something suspicious. As a merchant, it made sense that he would be very sensitive to potential profit. In other words, if there were no gains to be made, there would be no point in participating.
“Publicly announcing Your Majesty’s challenge would surely draw comments from all sides. Naturally, the identity of the challenger must be kept secret. Then, can I assume you will handle all the issues which will result from this, Your Majesty?”
“Of course. Leave that part of things to me.”
“I understand. Then, can I take up a bit more of your time? I would like to finalize the schedule for the day of the match.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“Has he gone back?”
The butler had returned from sending off the Sorcerer King, and that was his answer to Osk’s question.
“Really now,” Osk replied, and then he looked to the maid standing behind the butler.
What, the man before him thought as he tilted his dainty little head.
Yes, “his.” He was a man, dressed in an outfit that best fit a maid.
According to him, he did so because dressing like a woman made others underestimate him and become careless, and also because people would not attack his groin.
It would seem that it was for those two reasons, and not because of personal preference. However, given that he displayed adorable motions like those from just now even in everyday life, he probably enjoyed this sort of thing to some extent.
The fact that his thoughts had actually wandered that far was a sign that he was thinking too much about this.
It did not inconvenience Osk in any particular way, so he did not mind.
Then, there was the matter of his alias, “Headhunter Rabbit”.
It did not suit a cute-looking man, but then again, he was a mercenary who hailed from a nation to the east of the City-State Alliance, famous as a warrior-cum-assassin.
Osk had signed a contract with him and hired him for a staggering amount. He had contracted worker teams and gladiators as bodyguards too, but nobody else was paid as highly as him.
His strength matched his price tag ― above an orichalcum-ranked adventurer, at the very least. The fact was that he had not been embroiled in any troublesome matters ever since he had employed him.
“Tell me what you think of His Majesty, the Sorcerer King.”
He had another ability, besides being a first-rate fighter-cum-assassin.
That was the ability to analyze his opponents. Through long experience in the murderous profession of being a warrior and assassin, he had attained the ability to evaluate people ― to see if they were strong.
“It’s extremely bad.”
To date, there was only one other person about whom he had stated a similar opinion. That person was the Martial Lord himself. In other words, this was the second person he could not defeat.
Incidentally, the rank below that was “It’s bad”, which he had said when he had seen the Empire’s Four Knights.
“Is His Majesty a strong warrior as well?”
“I’m not sure. Judging by his footsteps alone, he’s not that strong. He doesn’t walk like someone who’s been trained as a warrior or assassin. Rather, the uncle beside him feels more like a warrior. Still ― it’s bad. Just standing behind him made me want to run away.”
After he said that, he extended his arms.
Osk’s eyes were entranced by his fists.
They were round fists.
His fists had been reshaped by punching hard objects tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of times, until they were now in a round, ball-like shape.
These hands were made for battle.
A chill ran through Osk, followed by an uncontrollable excitement.
“―Where are you looking, you pervert.”
“I was just thinking that those were good hands.”
It was true he liked those hands very much, but sadly, Headhunting Rabbit did not interest him.
Gender was not a big matter for him. However, Osk’s ideal partner was the warrior from the Kingdom’s Blue Rose (Gagaran). Granted, Headhunting Rabbit would make a good partner as well, but he felt too skinny, compared to her. In contrast, the Martial Lord was a little too thick.
“...So you don’t want me to renew my contract with you next year?”
“That would be very troubling! Hardly anyone can match up to you… Well, the heiress of Ijaniya aside. Oops, it seems we’ve gotten off-topic. Then―”
Osk’s eyes left those round fists, and travelled up. Goosebumps broke out on Headhunting Rabbit’s skin.
“I haven’t been able to calm down yet. It feels really bad.”
“So he’s nothing much as a warrior, but he’s an extremely bad opponent…”
“He’s just like another Martial Lord.”
Osk picked up on what Headhunting Rabbit was trying to say. He was referring to that Martial Lord.
There were powerful and weak races in this world.
Humans typified the weak races, being little more than meatbags without darkvision, with no hard carapaces to protect their bodies, or other special abilities.
In contrast, there were the mighty races, like Dragons, for instance. They were protected by hard scales, they were graceful and mighty, they were equipped with claws and teeth which could easily rend steel, they possessed fiery or icy breath and other special abilities, and they were furnished with wings that they could use to soar through the sky.
They were a race that was strong, even without warrior training.
What Headhunting Rabbit was trying to say was that the Sorcerer King belonged to such a race.
The undead had poor physical stats. This was what Osk knew to be true. Yet, it did not seem to be the case for the Sorcerer King.
“Osk-sama, why did you accept this match? His Majesty knows about the Martial Lord, but we do not know about his abilities. I feel it will be a very unfavorable match.”
“...Ara? You don’t get it?”
Headhunting Rabbit replied in a tired voice, “I don’t think about these pointless things―”
The butler looked to Osk in a surprised way. Thus, Osk answered:
“Does the champion flee from challengers?”
“Is that all?”
“That is all. However, that is also why it is so important. There’s no need to just kill each other. But if this is an official challenge, complete with a letter sent up to request a match, it can’t be avoided. The Martial Lord would think the same way as well.”
“What an idiot―”
“Perhaps. Still, that’s men for you. However, I feel His Majesty is the type who reveals his true strength in battle, rather than during a competitive match. Now, consider a regulated bout, and a no-holds-barred deathmatch. Under which circumstances would you prefer to face the Sorcerer King?”
“Neither. I’d turn tail and run.”
Osk laughed, because that was the wisest choice.
“Then, next up. What do you think of the Sorcerer King?”
That line was not directed at his master, but at the butler waiting in the rear who did not change his expression.
In the past, he might have expressed his displeasure silently, to indicate that was not the proper attitude a hired man should have toward his master. Still, that displeasure had vanished somewhere along the way. Perhaps it was when Headhunting Rabbit had slain a would-be assassin.
“He has a very charming personality.”
“Ho~n,” Headhunting Rabbit mused in a strange way.
Ainzach did not appear to be under duress. In other words, the Sorcerer King had something which allowed him to secure the cooperation of a city’s residents within a few months of conquering it.
“Did you see his regal bearing? Whether it was in bringing only Ainzach, or agreeing to not use magic in his battle, he radiated the pride of the mighty. In addition, he’s a very intelligent man. It feels like he’s very used to this sort of negotiations.”
Even he felt it was surprising.
Osk was a merchant, but the Sorcerer King viewed him as an equal. Under normal circumstances, some nobles would want to establish who was on top, to say nothing of a king.
This was what baffled him.
He could understand it if he had been a trader in the past, but that was impossible. In other words, he was simply adept at negotiations.
“In terms of overall ability, he is comparable to our Emperors.”
Of course, he had not read that deeply into him. It was simply that the Sorcerer King frightened him that much.
“No, I should say that he’s equivalent to the Bloody Emperor, at the very least.”
So at a minimum, he was equal to the greatest Emperor in history. What a nightmare.
Osk shook his head. He would be paralyzed by contemplation if this went on. Of course, he did not want to gaze into the abyss of the Sorcerer King. However, there was one thing he had to do right now.
“...I must inform the Martial Lord of this, and keep him in prime condition from now on.”
“Will he agree?”
“He is a warrior. He will not run from a challenge.”
“Ho~n. Well, it’d be good if he could win~”
On the day of the match with the Sorcerer King, Osk asked the usual question:
“How are things?
“No problems. I’m in top form.”
A gigantic monster answered him.
It was a member of the Troll species of monsters, but one major difference set it apart from them.
That would be the air of a warrior that surrounded it, a mantle which none but those who had survived countless intense battles would be able to assume.
However, that was only to be expected. He was a troll who had adapted to fighting and who had specialized in battle. He was an outstanding individual even amongst the diverse troll species, and he was known as a War Troll.
He was the Martial Lord, the strongest gladiator in the arena.
Osk looked tenderly at that body.
It was true that there were many people who could beat the Martial Lord in terms of martial prowess (strength). Most silver-ranked frontliners in adventurer teams could do that. However, the reason why the Martial Lord could easily defeat such people was very simple.
This was because the bodies of War Trolls were far superior to those of humans, be it in terms of strength or endurance, or in the huge attack radius their massive frames granted them.
In addition, there were the racial abilities he possessed which humans did not.
The first of them was his skin. Wearing a suit of armor over that thick hide of his was sufficient to cause the majority of attacks directed at him to simply bounce off. Granted, one could target the soft-looking and mobile joints but his regeneration presented a formidable barrier to anyone attempting to cripple him via that route.
An attack that would certainly slay a normal human being would not kill a troll. Their astounding regenerative ability caused wounds to seal shut and it could only be stopped by fire or acid.
With this immense biological power on his side, the current Martial Lord was truly the strongest in history.
The warrior that Osk praised as the mightiest donned his armor before the man’s eyes.
He had hired adamantite-ranked adventurers to gather the components for that armor, and then had the masterwork result enhanced with magic. At that time, he had sunk about 20% of his assets into that particular project. The club he carried was made of a magical alloy as well, and it had been made in a similar manner.
The Martial Lord put on his magic rings, amulets, and the other components of his panoply.
Those words sounded far more intelligent now than how he had spoken in the past.
Every time Osk saw his majestic frame, his chest grew hot. He was the one who had raised him into this state.
“Then, Martial Lord, let’s go.”
They walked together to the entrance of the arena. This was a ritual they had always performed.
The Martial Lord remained silent after leaving his room.
His silence was because he had once been excited and looked forward to fighting his foes. Somewhere along the way, it had turned to disappointment in his opponents’ abilities. How would it be now?
Suddenly, the Martial Lord stopped in his tracks.
Osk did not recall anything happening like this before.
He began to panic at this unprecedented occurrence, and looked up to ask what was going on. The Martial Lord slowly raised the visor of his armet helm, revealing his face.
It sounded as though he was squeezing out that voice.
This was only the fourth time he had heard those words of thanks. The previous three times had been when he was given his weapon, his armor, and then when he had fought his best opponent, the previous Martial Lord “Rot Wolf”, Krelvo Palantynen.
“What, what’s wrong, Martial Lord?”
His eyes stared at the corridor before him.
The Martial Lord’s body quivered as he chuckled.
It was the excitement of a warrior.
That was what Osk believed, but it did not seem to be the case.
“What kind of… What kind of challenger is this? No, am I the challenger?”
“Fu, fu… How scary. Osk, I’m shaking in fear.”
Osk could not help but doubt his ears.
“This, this must be what living beings call instinct. My legs won’t move… It’s as though they’re telling me that if I go, I’ll die, fu, fu.”
That was not laughter. He was simply trying to calm his disturbed breathing.
“I heard my opponent was the Sorcerer King, and I wondered what sort of foe he would be… It would seem my arrogance up till now will be repaid in full.”
“What are you saying, Martial Lord? What do you mean, arrogance?”
“I am strong.”
Osk wanted to reply that there was nothing wrong with the Martial Lord’s statement, but the Martial Lord continued before he could say so.
“No, my strength is a lie. It comes from my racial abilities, and it is not actual strength. Still, there are very few people who can contend with me. In particular, ever since I learned to use warrior techniques, I have never tried to understand my challengers’ abilities or equipment, in order to create an unfavorable situation for me. There is no other way to train myself. But in the end, I have found a foe which my instincts are screaming at me to run away from. Thank you very much. You have completely fulfilled the agreement we made when you met me.”
“Martial Lord… Go Gin.”
He had met the Martial Lord about ten years ago.
There had been a rumor on the streets about a monster on the outskirts of the Empire. That monster was very rational, and would not slay a foe who put down their weapons. Osk was interested, and hurriedly set forth from the Empire to meet that bizarre monster. This was because he heard that the greatest power in the Empire, Fluder Paradyne, was on his way to dispatch the monster.
He had been afraid at first. That was only natural. After all, the humans who had encountered him had only survived by chance.
However, the Martial Lord had taken one look at Osk and snorted in disinterest, preparing to leave.
That was why he forgot his fear and asked: “Why are you doing this?”
The answer he got was not quite as articulate as it was now, but it had been along the lines of “I am training to become stronger.”
Osk felt the scales fall from his eyes.
Osk had a dream. That dream was to make a strong fighter. It was a dream of raising the ultimate warrior, in order to substitute for his talentless self. However, at that point, he realised that he did not need to limit himself to human beings. No, since nonhuman species were higher-spec to begin with, would that not be the way to make a strong ― the ultimate warrior?
At that point, Osk was not thinking about bringing a monster back. He was scouting someone who might well be the ultimate warrior, the tyrant of the arena, the future Martial Lord.
It had been almost ten years since that fateful encounter. And now, for the first time, he witnessed the Martial Lord shaking in fear.
Several things popped up in Osk’s mind. The first was, “Do you want to forfeit this match?” The risk of death existed within this bout, and Osk could not bear to lose him, the Martial Lord that he had raised until now.
However, he could not bring himself to speak those words.
To the strong, having someone show concern for them was like an insult. For all he knew, those words might shatter the friendship he had built between himself and the Martial Lord.
There was only one thing he could say here.
“―Don’t lose, Martial Lord.”
“Hmph. What are you saying? I have no intention of losing. All my challengers felt the same way. Everyone stood before me in the hopes of achieving victory. Now, it is simply my turn.”
“That’s the way!”
Osk slapped the Martial Lord on the back.
“The Sorcerer King is a magic caster, but that would be too boring of a contest. So, I have ruled that both sides cannot use magic. You will not lose to a foe like that.”
“...His magic? The Sorcerer King agreed to fight me, even under those conditions?”
“Indeed, and he did so with an attitude which did not even consider the possibility of his defeat.”
The Martial Lord clenched his fist. It was a fist that called to mind the image of a giant maul.
“The strong are often proud. I shall teach him the foolishness of his ways.”
“That’s the spirit! However, do not get cocky. The Sorcerer King is the sort of man who can give away jaw-dropping weapons on a whim. In all likelihood, he possesses magic items of awesome power.”
Restricting the use of magic items would probably increase the Martial Lord’s chances of victory. But that would be too much of a handicap.
“It’ll be fine. I now possess the mindset of a challenger. I will not be overconfident. I will not lose because I did not use my full strength.”
The Martial Lord took a step forward with a muscular leg, and Osk scrambled to follow.
“Say, could you seriously consider what we talked about earlier?”
The Martial Lord suddenly stopped in his tracks, a look of disgust on his face.
“Earlier… you mean that?”
“Yes, the matter of your wife.”
“Why now… Huhaha.”
The Martial Lord laughed, and Osk furrowed his brows while he blushed. If you understand, don’t act like that!
“Really, can you not cheer me on some other way? How many times must I say this… I will return to my village if I want a wife. You want my partner to be a human, right? Thank you very much, but I’ll pass on any humans or whatnot. I’m not into perverted things like that, or rather, any human who would actually want to sleep with me would be absolutely disgusting. What kind of sick fetish would that be, anyway? Besides, you want my child, right? I can’t make those with humans.”
While it should be possible for humanoids to breed with each other, having children with demihumans was the sort of thing that only existed in stories.
“Well, that’s true… That being the case, why not bring your wife back with you? If you need anything to return in triumph, let me know and I’ll get it for you.”
“...Let me get this out of the way first. We Trolls think of humans as food. My wife might end up calmly eating humans, for all I know.”
To Osk, it would be fine if she only ate unnecessary humans. However, he did not say that.
“Is that so. Then bring your child back before he knows the taste of manflesh. If we train him up more intensively, he’ll surely be stronger than you are now.”
The Martial Lord crinkled his face with a smile.
“Well, that would be interesting. Alright, I will consider that seriously.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“Your Majesty, can you really win this?”
Ainz replied to Ainzach’s question with the answer he had given countless times:
“It’ll be fine.”
A person who would take on a hopeless battle was either a true man of courage or an utter fool. This was not a random encounter; the battle had been decided from the planning phases.
Ainz reviewed what he had learned in his mind.
If the Martial Lord was only on the level of the Giant of the East, he would surely be able to win. That said, if he had the same strength as a warrior as Gazef, then after adding up his racial and job class levels, he would be a very tricky foe.
Well, it was a pretty despicable fighting method to begin with. I even asked Fluder for help after that.
Ainz had the ability to completely negate weak attacks. He did not think the Martial Lord would be able to breach that defense. Therefore, Ainz had disabled that particular ability.
Victory was not assured for him.
At that battlefield, Ainz had killed over 100,000 people with magic. In YGGDRASIL, the amount of experience points gained was reduced in accordance to the level difference between both parties, to a minimum of one point. In other words, he should have earned over 100,000 experience points. Coupled with the accumulated experience from before coming to this new world, he should have gotten enough to level up. However, Ainz did not feel that he had levelled up or seen any related phenomena.
In other words, Ainz could not get any stronger, as he had expected.
Still ― he could not be content with that.
If level 100 was the limit, then it could not be helped. However, he was then obliged to fully utilize the power of those 100 levels and refine his skills. If he believed he was the strongest and rested on his laurels, someone might someday surpass him.
Ainz knew that he had a certain amount of strength from being a mage. The skills and abilities he had honed in YGGDRASIL were also effective here. However, he had not practiced his abilities as a vanguard in YGGDRASIL.
I learned a lot from the battle with that woman.
He felt nothing but gratitude for that woman, who had taught him how lacking he was as a frontline fighter.
That battle had sparked the desire in Ainz to improve his close combat ability. Right now, Ainz was confident that in stats, skills and even tactics, he was the equivalent of a level 33 warrior.
This battle with the Martial Lord would be the proof of that. Ainz eagerly looked forward to it.
Ainz looked at his neck.
He did not have the luxury of wearing that any more. During the encounter with the Workers, he did not feel that he had earned much experience or learned any techniques. Honestly speaking, it felt like a waste of effort.
As he thought about that, Ainz recalled a more pressing problem.
Ah~ Jircniv is watching this fight too, right? Why is he here? He wasn’t around when I came to check just now. It looks like the illegal border crossing is going to be exposed… Well, I guess I can just apologise for it. If he makes a big deal of it, I’ll just ask him if he got the Kingdom’s permission when he came to Nazarick and be done with it… I should probably go up and say hello to him. I guess not greeting him will ruin my image in his eyes.
“Your, Your Majesty, it’s about time to enter,” the man from the arena said as he entered the room to notify Ainz.
They had met several times, but he froze up every time he saw Ainz’s true face.
Should I fight while masked? He considered that, but he had gained permission to make a speech after beating the Martial Lord. For all he knew, there might be people in the audience who wanted to become adventurers in the Sorcerous Kingdom. With that in mind, it would be better not to engage in any deceptions.
All he could do was to trust his own choices.
Ainz slowly stepped forward.
Normally speaking, the higher-ranked person ought to enter later. However, Ainz was the challenger in this arena, and was thus the lower-ranking one. Thus, he was obliged to enter first. Of course, Ainz saw it as natural and did not question it.
Ainz smiled to the very worried-looking Ainzach.
It seemed strange that he was more worried than the one who was about to go into battle himself.
“―Don’t make me repeat myself, Ainzach. I will not lose.”
♦ ♦ ♦
After greeting Jircniv, Ainz returned to the arena.
He had promised not to use magic during the fight, but the fight had not started yet. Surely his opponent would not quibble over something like that.
He didn’t seem too angry despite the fact that I crossed the border illegally. Is he going to complain afterwards? Or did he think I entered normally? If that was the case, they might end up hosting some sort of welcome for me, or maybe I’m being too self-conscious… Will he be mad because I directly addressed him as Jircniv?
Ainz mocked his thoughts, and then turned his eyes toward the entrance which faced him.
The Martial Lord had not showed up yet.
Ainz looked around at the audience in the arena.
A shocked silence ruled the scene. Even the slightest movement was clearly audible.
Well, it can’t be helped… No, you people over there, this is not a mask.
Ainz felt his smooth and shiny face. Now he understood. Anyone who could look at this face nonchalantly must be quite brave.
Because of this, my popularity will increase once I get the audience fired up.
While his objective was not to boost his popularity, it was better to have it than not. Plus, if it ended up raising the general opinion of all undead, it would probably improve their opinion of the Sorcerous Kingdom, which controlled many undead.
Ainz gripped the staff in his hand.
As a pure magic caster, Ainz’s selection in weapons was very limited, largely to staves, daggers and the like. This time round, he had selected a staff used for physical attacks. It was a weapon he had made as a prototype in YGGDRASIL, but which had ended up unused. Since it was something he had used a long time ago, it was not very strong. Ainz as he was now could probably make a better weapon.
That said, Ainz had not made such preparations.
After considering the difference in strength between himself and the Martial Lord, Ainz had decided to fight him with his present weapon, to see how it ― and the fight ― turned out.
This was the ultimate in foolishness to the YGGDRASIL player Suzuki Satoru, an unforgivable lapse of carelessness. If his friends were nearby, they might rebuke him with a “That won’t do~”
However, he had already learned about all of the Martial Lord’s magic items from Fluder. Thus, he had to subject himself to these unfavorable circumstances in order to use this as training.
He did not want to show them a one-sided slaughter. Ainz’s objective was an overwhelming victory of just the right amount.
“Ladies and gentlemen! From the north entrance! The! Martial! Lord!”
Unlike how they had treated him earlier, the entire arena erupted in cheering. Ainz could hear Jircniv’s voice from the VIP room where he had shown his face earlier. The man was screaming as though to break his throat.
...He sounds pretty excited. Does Jircniv really like the Martial Lord that much? The king of the ring seems to be an idol of sorts, so this should be a normal reaction, right? It was the same in YGGDRASIL ― the strong fighters in PVP matches were very popular with the spectators.
As he reminisced about his YGGDRASIL days, Ainz began to pity Jircniv a little.
He’ll be shocked when I win. Like a client whose sports team lost...
It weighed on his heart, but he could not throw the match.
A massive shadow appeared from the opposite entrance.
The cheering he thought could not get any louder went up another level, and now it sounded like an explosion.
In all honesty, he wanted a part of that cheering for himself, but he would simply have to claim it with his own strength.
In YGGDRASIL, the voices of the supporters would slowly turn toward the challenger if they did well. In other words if Ainz fought well against the Martial Lord, more and more people would start to support Ainz.
So it seems conditions like these where I hardly have any support are pretty good for advertising myself, no?
He could slowly see the form of the Martial Lord.
He wore a suit of full plate armor, and carried a gigantic club.
As he beheld this walking fortress before him, Ainz’s eyes ― the flickering red flames within the empty orbits of his skull ― narrowed into points.
Hm… He looks about the same as the description. That being the case ― no, that would be reckless. I’d better be careful.
According to the information Fluder had supplied, he did not possess any particularly lethal equipment.
However, in YGGDRASIL, some people would prepare a set of identical-looking gear, equipped with completely different data crystals. In PVP matches, small tricks like that improved the chances of victory. Although backup gear was typically weaker than one’s main panoply, being able to surprise a foe had effects beyond mere data values.
He could not guarantee that the Martial Lord would not do that.
Ainz took that into consideration as he continued to study the Martial Lord.
He had heard of him before, but seeing the real thing made him think, “No wonder”. That was probably what they meant by the saying “seeing is believing”. From what Fluder had told him, the creature under that armor looked very similar to the War Troll he had turned into a zombie, but the Martial Lord had a completely different air around him.
One could say it was the difference between a domesticated pig and a wild boar.
“This is… interesting… Interesting?”
Ainz furrowed his eyebrows at his own excitement. He felt the same way as he did then; that this was going to be a good fight. Perhaps he was becoming a battle maniac, given the way he relished combat.
That was not a good sign.
The distance between them shrank. His opponent was the first to speak.
“I am the War Troll Go Gin, known as the Martial Lord.”
“I am ―” here Ainz puffed out his chest. “The Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown, an undead being of the highest order, an Overlord.”
“Is that so. Then let us fight with all our strength.”
Ainz was quite surprised.
There were two things about which he was curious, and he decided to start with the bigger one.
“Aren’t you going to make fun of my name?”
“You’re asking why…?”
Ainz tilted his head at the counter-inquiry. That was how it had gone back then.
“I seem to recall long names are something to you…?”
“I see. It would seem you do understand my species well, Your Majesty. Indeed, my species considers those with short names to be strong. However, I have lived in this country for many years. During that time, I have learned that humans take long names. Thus, I will not make fun of such things. In addition, I sense that you are quite proud of that name, Your Majesty. Insulting the names of the strong is shameful for a warrior.”
“Is that so… It would seem I need to revise my opinion of War Trolls now.”
“Fuhahahaha. No need for that. I am merely an outlier. In addition, different species have members with different opinions. That is all.”
“...Hahahaha! Indeed. I like you, Martial Lord… If I win, how about I keep you?”
Ainz extended his right hand.
Although it had been rejected back then, the present circumstances were different. The Martial Lord considered the matter, and replied:
“...Alright. If I lose, I will become your subordinate. And if I win?”
“Well, that is a troubling question. What do you want? Name your desire.”
“...Then I will have you, Your Majesty.”
“To date, I have not encountered anyone worth killing for a meal. But if I can eat you, who are stronger than me, I will obtain your powers, Your Majesty.”
Ainz calmed down a little. He had heard a lecture from a guildmate about the culture of cannibals. Although they ate people, the motive behind that was the same as the Martial Lord, to obtain the power of the enemy’s soul. There were also other reasons for that, like fetishes and so on.
At least it’s not sexual. I wouldn’t lose from that, but it would feel really gross if someone was looking at me in that way during a fight.
“Alright. After all, the right of life and death rests in the hands of the victor. So even if I kill you, you must not reject the resurrection.”
Ainz stepped forward. The Martial King took a stance in an instant, but he immediately relaxed.
Ainz advanced with his right hand extended. The Martial Lord returned the gesture, extending his own massive right hand.
This was less a handshake than the Martial Lord's hand swallowing up his own. A great cheer rose from the audience.
“Then, I have another question. Why do you address me respectfully?”
The Martial Lord’s attitude was not like a reigning champion greeting a challenger.
“It is only sensible to address the strong with respect.”
“I see… Alright, I understand. That’s all the questions I have. Let’s start. How far apart should we be? Like the distance just now ― about ten meters or so? I will strive to abide by the rules of this arena.”
“There are no rules for distance, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll soon be within my striking range.”
“This is a handicap, a handicap.”
The Martial Lord did not speak, but nodded to show he understood.
His face could not be seen, but his breathing and actions were calm.
Had he seen through the taunt, or was that not enough to upset him?
Ainz mentally clicked his tongue.
What a troublesome foe. If his emotions were vulnerable, he could play on that, but one could not look down on a vigilant foe, even if they were lower in level.
The Martial Lord turned his back to Ainz, and walked away.
He turned back again after travelling about ten meters.
“Then, we’ll start when the bell goes, Your Majesty.”
“Right… say, Martial Lord, I’ve fought your kind before, but have you fought my kind before?”
“Overlords? No, I have not. I’ve never heard of that undead… species.”
“Is that so… Well, that’s true. If you met anyone of my kind, you wouldn’t be alive to stand here. Overlords are the highest-ranking undead… Then, have you fought any undead before?”
“No, I’ve never fought the undead. After all, the undead they bring here are obviously no match for me.”
“Really now… Then I can’t say ‘don’t think I’m like the other undead you’ve fought. I’m several times more powerful than an Elder Lich’... What a shame.”
The Martial Lord chuckled.
Ainz shrugged, and raised his staff like a greatsword. Ainzach should be watching from behind, but he had not shown him his fighting stance as Momon, so it should be fine.
The Martial Lord raised his gigantic club as well.
The bell went off.
In that instant, Ainz was swallowed up by an enormous black shadow.
Cheh, he’s fast!
That was the shadow of a club swinging down.
Block the strike with the staff ― Ainz wanted to do that, but immediately abandoned the notion. While he did not know enough about the enemy, the best thing to do in the face of a big move ― one which was highly damaging ― was to dodge.
Thus, not caring if he lost his balance, Ainz threw himself into evasion.
Ainz managed to dodge by the skin of his teeth. The club slammed into the ground, releasing a thunderous impact that even produced an echo. The smoke and dust it produced gusted up like an explosion.
Worried about any follow-up strikes, Ainz fell back several paces.
After the dust cleared, the shadow of the Martial Lord, club in hand, appeared from within it.
A great cry rose up from the arena.
Was it a martial art? Still… this is pretty exciting.
He could clearly hear Jircniv’s shouting his support amidst the ear-splitting cheers. “Get him! He’s right there!” and other such childish cries.
Ainz could not help but chuckle as he heard these cries from Jircniv, which were completely unlike him. He could not have imagined him acting like that from all the times he had spied on him in the Imperial City.
...He’s an unexpectedly interesting chap...
Ainz’s opinion of Jircniv rose rapidly. At first, he had believed that he was a perfect man with the air of an Emperor. However, now that he saw how passionate he was about the match, he felt that he could get along even better with him. Ainz’s heart filled with a sense of closeness.
Then, Ainz returned his attention to the Martial Lord.
The Martial Lord was pointing that giant club of his toward him, implying that he would be intercepted if he came close and pursued if he backed off. It was a stance well-suited to pinning down one’s opponents.
It was a defensive stance that made full use of his weapon’s length, practically turning it into a shield.
In all honesty, Ainz had no clue how to break that stance of his.
This… might be troublesome. It would seem being unable to use magic against an evenly-matched opponent is quite difficult. Well, I am a magic caster, after all...
That being the case , there was only one thing he could do.
“Well? Aren’t you coming? Or will you cower there like a turtle?”
“Your Majesty, I will not let my guard down. Even though the rules keep you from using magic, the fact that you could dodge that strike cannot be taken lightly.”
“So, you want me to take the offensive? In that case, would you mind moving that club of yours aside? It’s kind of in the way and makes it hard to attack.”
The Martial Lord did not answer. His keen gaze remained affixed on Ainz through the slits of his helmet’s visor.
“Well then… In that case, allow me.”
Ainz savagely swung his staff at the tip of the club. The club forcefully struck the ground, as the Martial Lord grunted “Ggh!”
The impact should have been transmitted into the Martial Lord’s hands and numbed them. In contrast, Ainz had no such biological functions.
In an instant, Ainz charged into the Martial Lord’s attack range.
Ainz sent a mental command to his staff, and flames billowed from it. That said, “billowing flames” simply meant a layer of fire that surrounded the staff. The flames did not constitute an attack in themselves. However, Ainz sensed the Martial Lord’s attention shifting from himself to the staff.
That’s right. You Trolls have regenerative powers. Thus, it’s perfectly rational to be mindful of weapons that negate your regeneration, such as those which can inflict fire or acid damage. However, that is a fatal mistake.
Ainz touched the Martial Lord’s armor with his empty left hand. In that moment, the Martial Lord shuddered like he had been electrocuted, making him swing his club without thinking.
Ainz failed to dodge, and the sounds of cracking came from his body as he was smashed into the distance. Since he had disabled his High-Tier Physical Immunity and he was weak to bludgeoning attacks, that strike dealt a lot of damage. Ainz’s body flew several meters, no, over 10 meters through the air, like a ball struck by a bat.
Then, he hit the ground, tumbling head over heels several times.
Thunderous cheering erupted from the crowd.
Ainz heard Jircniv shouting in delight as he rolled across the ground, and the surge in goodwill he had toward the man dropped swiftly.
Dammit, we’re allied countries, aren’t we? Shouldn’t you be a bit more concerned about the fact that an allied king is down on the ground, huh?
Though he had taken damage, Ainz no longer felt pain, and he peered at the Martial Lord from where he was on the ground.
There was no follow-up attack.
The sounds of cheering gradually died down, replaced by a sense of disquiet that covered the entire arena. Why had the Martial Lord not pressed the attack? No, why was the Martial Lord bending over? What was slowing down the Martial Lord’s movements.
Ainz gracefully rose to his feet, dusting himself off. He did not seem at all bothered at being sent flying.
In contrast, the Martial Lord’s movements were extremely sluggish.
This was the best way the show could have gone.
Ainz returned to his original position, amidst a cacophony of noise. The Martial Lord asked in doubt:
“Wh-what is this? Poison… no, what is this?”
“I did not break the rules. This is a proper contest. That said, this is far beyond the word ‘poison’. My touch can infuse negative energy into an opponent’s body. However, a Troll’s regeneration should be able to heal that.”
Ainz made the same gesture he used when touching the Martial Lord, opening and closing his fingers.
“However, I have another ability in addition to that. I can inflict physical ability damage by touch. Thus, your strength and dexterity have been reduced. I don’t think you can heal that, can you?”
From what Ainz knew, Trollish regeneration could only heal damage, but not the weakening of the body.
“In other words, Martial Lord, the more I touch you, the lower your stats will become, until you end up like a caterpillar.”
Naturally, that was a lie.
He could inflict ability penalties on a foe, that much was true, but even that had a limit. He could not reduce stats to zero. Of course, his opponent could not possibly know that.
However, there were other undead with similar abilities, so he could not conclude that his opponent really did not know. He might have been bluffing about not fighting the undead, and he might know something related to them.
That was why Ainz had openly stated the name of his species.
Overlords are a very powerful species, and one which you know nothing about. Once he left that impression in the Martial Lord’s mind, he would feel that Ainz’s power was mysterious and unfathomable. Ainz had mentioned that he was of the highest order and whatnot to further reinforce that sense of unease.
The most important thing was that he had given an unnecessary explanation to the Martial Lord. That too was to confuse him with false information.
―Broadly speaking, all warfare is based on deception.
Ainz calmly studied the Martial Lord, who did not seem to be recovering from his ability penalties.
This was to see if the Martial Lord was trying to bluff with his actions.
He might have the ability to recover from his ability penalties but chose not to use it, in order to create a fatal flaw in Ainz’s defense. He might also have a talent, or some other hidden ability which Ainz knew nothing about.
One could only trample one’s foe in an open fight when there was an overwhelming difference in strength.
“...The ability penalties I inflict will not heal with time, you know. I will shave away at your physical stats bit by bit, until I deliver the final blow with this staff, understood? Well, if you do, then let’s continue.”
Ainz stepped forward, and the Martial Lord slowly took a stance.
He could not see the Martial Lord’s face because of his helmet. Was he laughing to himself, or was he growing anxious?
The latter, I hope...
Ainz moved his left hand, the one which was not holding his staff. The Martial Lord shifted in response. It would seem he was very wary of it.
The Martial Lord must be thinking that all he needed to do was worry about the left hand.
That was it. During Ainz’s experiments, he found that he could initiate touch attacks with any part of his body. If he felt like it, he could even use a headbutt to do so.
As Ainz got closer, the Martial Lord backed away from him.
Ainz laughed coldly.
From their movements, it was readily apparent to the audience who had the advantage here.
Do you know what the difference between us is, Martial Lord? Indeed, you might be better than me as a warrior. But there is something which decisively sets us apart.
The biggest difference between himself and the Martial Lord was that of their HP.
Ainz had the health of a level 100 character. Even if both parties abandoned defense and engaged in a slugging match, Ainz would emerge victorious.
However, the problem lay in martial arts, those attacks which Ainz did not know about.
“I laid down another restriction on myself besides not using magic. That would concern magic items. I did not use magic items during this bout with you ― in other words, I gave myself an equipment restriction. Still, this is thoroughly beneficial to me.”
Ainz possessed numerous magic items from his time in YGGDRASIL. Each and every one of them was a peerless treasure in this world. Thus, if Ainz had used those, he could have easily won his battle with the Martial Lord. However, Ainz did not feel that was the proper way to fight.
Therefore, Ainz was equipped with low-tier items.
“I have restricted myself to using weapons which someone of your level can wield. On the other hand, I feel this is an excellent opportunity to test out a new acquisition.”
Ainz plunged his staff into the ground and withdrew two of the four stilettos sheathed at his waist. He gripped them tightly.
“Let’s test these weapons I borrowed from Momon.”
The Martial Lord probably did not understand Ainz’s blathering. Ainz had no intention of enlightening him. He was simply talking to himself.
“Then ― here I come.”
Ainz could not imitate that bizarre stance ― that strange crouching start. However, after practice, he had learned to run in a similar way. He shot out like a loosed arrow, toward the Martial Lord.
The distance was very short. Still, even in the brief opening before his opponent’s attack, the Martial Lord’s club swept across at him. The blow was slowed because his strength had been sapped by ability penalties, but it was a strike that should have connected.
Ainz could not execute a magnificent dodge like that woman. However, Ainz could do something which that woman could not.
He activated his ability, and the Martial Lord’s movements halted for a moment.
Ainz closed the gap between them and thrust his stiletto, aiming for the shoulder. That full-power strike, boosted by his running speed, shot out like an arrow.
When she had hit him back then, she managed to damage Ainz’s magically-created armor, which was harder than adamantite. This strike was on the same level as that, and the stiletto pierced the Martial Lord’s armor and hide, penetrating the Martial Lord’s body.
―However, in that moment―
“[Reinforce Hide], [Greater Reinforce Hide]!”
The Martial Lord activated his martial arts.
It was as though he had released something from within his body which pushed back against the tip of the stiletto
The startling thing was that Ainz’s full-strength hit only inflicted a tiny amount ― a scratch’s worth ― of damage. With Trollish regeneration, that sort of damage would heal within seconds.
The Martial Lord must have felt reassured by this. The club swinging toward Ainz was still very fast, and he had only taken a scratch from Ainz’s all-out attack. One could say that victory was at hand for the Martial Lord.
However, that would be a very foolish thing to say.
He released the spell, channelling the [Fireball] which Fluder had cast into the weapon into the place where he had stabbed the Martial Lord, thus burning his body from within. He thought of plunging his other stiletto into the opposite shoulder, but he was not strong enough, and the armor deflected it.
As Ainz thought of targeting a chink in his armor, Ainz sensed movement from the Martial Lord and dashed to the side without looking.
A gale blew from behind him. It must have been the wind pressure from that club.
After fleeing for about 10 meters, Ainz turned back.
The Martial Lord was grabbing at his shoulder with the arm holding his club. His other arm dangled beneath him, probably immobile. It would seem Fluder’s spell was a little too strong. Perhaps he should have asked for a weaker magic caster to infuse it with magic.
After realising the Martial Lord was in dire straits, the crowd wailed in sympathy.
Ainz looked around the arena.
No matter where he looked, he could not see anyone cheering for him.
How strange… In YGGDRASIL, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone to start cheering for me at this point… I guess away matches are hard.
“It can’t be helped. I guess I’ll have to abandon the plan of seizing the audience’s heart. Now then, Martial Lord… time to die.”
Ainz sheathed the stiletto whose magic was expended and drew another one. This new stiletto was imbued with a 3rd-tier acid-element attack spell. He had prepared this in case the Martial Lord had rendered himself immune to fire damage.
Granted, the Martial Lord looked like he had been hurt by that fire-elemental spell, but that might have been an act. Regenerating monsters could not completely resist attacks which shut down their regeneration, but that was only for YGGDRASIL.
For all he knew, it might be possible in this world.
If that was the case, his plan was to kill him by activating his skill when the audience ― when everyone ― could see that victory had been decided.
“If you admit defeat now… I’ll end things here.”
“No… Your Majesty. Not… not yet. I am still the Martial Lord. I am still the king of this arena. I will struggle until I die.”
“Then, take off your helmet and let me see your face.”
It was a surprising request, but the Martial Lord complied, and showed his face.
Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his face was twisted by what was probably intense pain. Yet, there was great strength in those eyes.
“Those are good eyes. They remind me of Gazef Stronoff.”
“Thank you. Being praised by a mighty being like yourself fills me with joy.”
“...Tell me. Do you have any moves which can beat me? Do you have any moves which can turn the tide?”
“―I do not. Even so, I still wish to fight.”
They were very honest words.
Ainz felt ashamed of using so many bluffs in this fight. In addition, there were all the abilities he had sealed off to make this a good match.
Since his opponent was fighting in earnest, Ainz was obliged to respond with everything he could do, within the range of what he was allowed to do.
The Martial Lord, who had come straight at Ainz, seemed to shine in his eyes.
“What would the Guardians think of the light in those eyes…”
Still, he knew that they would scorn any being that was not of Nazarick. If that was the case ― unease and loneliness filled Ainz.
Ainz cast aside these emotions, and slowly raised his stilettos.
The Martial Lord wiped off his sweat with his forearm, and put his helmet back on.
“―Come at me, Martial Lord.”
With a roar, his vast body pressed in on Ainz.
He was faster than just now. Perhaps he had activated a martial art.
That incredible speed and that immense body ― the two of them synergized to produce an overwhelming sense of oppression that would freeze any foe in place. No, that would apply to normal people, but the undead were immune to such mental effects.
Ainz calmly studied the Martial Lord.
He was fast ― but that was all.
His balance was off, probably because the shoulder pierced by the stiletto was unable to move.
―Worse than that time.
Do you know the truth behind how I slowed you down? If you don’t know, it’ll be over for you, no?
Ainz activated the same ability from just now.
[Despair Aura I (Fear)]
This ability had five effects.
I was for Fear.
II was for Panic.
III was for Confusion.
IV was for Insanity.
V was for Instant Death.
II was for Panic.
III was for Confusion.
IV was for Insanity.
V was for Instant Death.
Fear referred to an abnormal status of being afraid, which inflicted a penalty to all actions.
Panic was a more severe version of Fear, caused by stacking additional Fear effects on each other. Anyone afflicted by that status would want to flee the ability user at all costs ― in other words, they would be unable to take any combat-related actions against that person.
Confusion was as the name suggested. Without any recovery measures, the target would be in a state of confusion.
Insanity was an extremely annoying bad status, being a permanent version of Confusion. It could not be removed without magic from a third party.
And it went without saying that Instant Death caused death.
The effects changed as one’s level increased.
Ainz had used the Fear effect first, and then cancelled it almost instantly afterward. By doing so, there would be a moment where the actions one imagined did not match up to the actual actions taken, and thus the body would feel as if it had been paralyzed.
However, the Martial Lord had anticipated that this would happen if he tried a frontal attack. Even after his mind and body went out of sync, he still swung his club.
After factoring in the combined penalties Ainz’s touch and the fear status, evading the Martial Lord’s attack should have been child’s play. However―
“[Strong Strike], [Divine Skill Single Flash]!”
Ainz thought he saw a flash of light.
In that instant, intense pain ― immediately suppressed to tolerable levels ― and a floating sensation filled him.
A dull impact came from above, followed by a burst of pain in the next moment.
Although he was briefly confused by the situation, Ainz quickly came to his senses.
This was probably a two-hit combo. The first part launched Ainz into the air, while the second smashed him down into the ground.
If he was Suzuki Satoru, he might not have been able to grasp the situation and fallen into confusion. However, Ainz Ooal Gown was immune to such bad statuses.
Ainz knew that he was down on the ground, and that the club was coming down on him.
Ainz flipped away just as the club struck. Perhaps it was because of a martial art, but the impact flowed through the ground and into Ainz’s body.
However, this did not deal any additional damage.
As Ainz leapt, the club that buried itself in the ground sprang up. That move, like dredging up something from the depths, seemed to say “I’ll finish you with this”.
Ainz made a split-second decision to block the strike with his stiletto, and Ainz’s body sailed through the air once more. The audience’s cheers rang through the arena, but the Martial Lord bitterly cursed, “Dammit!” He had been hoping to finish off Ainz with that combination attack.
After being knocked several meters through the air, Ainz tumbled a few times on the ground and then swiftly regained his stance as he muttered about himself.
“Nothing to turn the tide? He tricked me. Punitto Moe would scold me for this.”
Much like Ainz, the Martial Lord had saved his trump card ― his martial arts ― until the final moment. That proved he was a first-rate warrior.
Ainz sheathed one of his stilettos, freeing up a hand.
His arrogance and haste to seize victory had earned him a hard blow ― no, two of them. It was time to discard his naive thinking. He would cut his opponent’s stats down to size before ending things.
The audience’s cheers were really annoying. They had just been wailing, and now they were rejoicing. Especially―
―Dammit, Jircniv! What the hell do you mean, “finish him?!” Ah, seriously...
Ainz moved slowly. He had not been severely injured, but he had been punished for his carelessness with pain, so he would not make that sort of mistake again.
Still, I really don’t get martial arts. These are skills which don’t exist in YGGDRASIL… did someone develop them to counter YGGDRASIL players? Or am I just trying to force a theory here…? Hang on, that martial art should have been something which increased attack speed. He’ll probably try that again, so I’d better prepare my body for it, no?
(TL Note: Once again Ainz seems to have misremembered a saying, 肉を切らせて骨を断つ, to prepare your flesh to be cut and your bones to be broken. Of course, he has no flesh…)
Ainz entered the Martial Lord’s reach, and the Martial Lord swung down. Yet Ainz did not evade.
He advanced, taking the Martial Lord’s attacks.
The pressure and pain filled him, but he could do this, given the huge difference in their HP. It was fine. In addition, his undead body immediately suppressed his pain, so he could bear agony which the living could not endure.
In this way, Ainz touched the Martial Lord’s body. Having just finished an attack ― and being under the influence of the fear status from Ainz’s aura ― it was quite difficult to evade it.
Then, he maintained contact with the Martial Lord’s body and circled around to his back. Of course, he was continuously infusing the ability-damaging negative energy through his armor.
This time, it was the Martial Lord who backed away from him, as though rolling along the ground.
Ainz was puzzled over whether or not to pursue, but decided to stay still, in case of some hidden move.
The Martial Lord ponderously raised his weapon. His breathing was ragged, and his imposing demeanor from when they had first met was gone.
Ainz gripped his stilettos tightly.
The preparations were complete. This would be the final strike.
Perhaps he had sensed the change in the air, but the Martial Lord removed his helmet and cast it aside.
As surprise began to fill Ainz, the Martial Lord shed the rest of his armor as well. While he was currently weakened, it did not seem to be at a level where he was unable to move due to the weight of his armor.
However, after seeing the determination on the Martial Lord’s face, Ainz understood his plan.
I see. Armor protects against the stilettos, but it does nothing against ability penalties. He must feel quite threatened by it, which is why he’s gambling on his foe’s HP being low and lightening the load on his body, just so he can continue attacking.
That was his final ― and also a very disadvantageous ― gamble.
“Tell me… Am I weak?”
“Your Majesty. you have not revealed a fraction of your true power until now. Even without the mighty wings of your magic, this is clearly not taxing you. Am… Am I really that weak?”
Ainz closed his eyes in thought, and then he opened them again.
“Yes, you are weak.”
“...Is that so.”
The arena fell silent.
Ainz’s voice had not reached them. However, the victory was already decided in their eyes.
“During this battle, I forbade myself the use of many magic items and the use of all sorts of abilities.”
“Otherwise, you would have ended this in an instant?”
Ainz nodded in confirmation.
“Just so. However, I know about you, so―” Ainz shook his head. This was not meant to comfort him. “Well, you just had a bad opponent. If you are the strongest man in the Empire… I may well be the strongest man in the world.”
“I see… Still… I am glad. Knowing that someone is better than me is what drives me to improve.”
“I do understand that, to some extent.”
There were some of his friends ― for instance, Touch Me ― whom he had never beaten in PVP. Even so, he looked back fondly on how he had pondered the ways to beat his tactics and equipment.
Ainz smiled to the Martial Lord, and the Martial Lord smiled to Ainz.
“...Then, make your move.”
“―Your Majesty, Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown. At the very end, please show me ― even if it is just a fraction ― of your true power. Allow me to experience the zenith of might!”
The Martial Lord forcefully brandished his weapon.
“Really now… Very well. Then I shall reveal the pinnacle of power to you.”
Ainz activated his skill, and strode forth.
He entered the Martial Lord’s attack range. The Martial Lord swung down.
It was completely different from the speed at which he had raised it. He might have used martial arts to accelerate it. Still, it was nothing compared to the speed before he had his abilities penalized. It was far too slow.
The club swung down on Ainz’s body, but Ainz paid it no heed.
The attack could no longer harm Ainz’s body.
Ainz walked through it, as though caressed by a gentle wind.
He took blow after blow, but Ainz continued advancing, looking straight into the Martial Lord’s eyes.
The Martial Lord smiled, as though giving up. Ainz plunged his stiletto into the Martial Lord’s unresisting chest, and then released the spell imbued within.
♦ ♦ ♦
Ainz looked down on the Martial Lord’s corpse.
Then, he activated a borrowed magic item. It was a simple loudspeaker.
“Hear me! People of the Empire! I am the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown!”
His voice seemed to echo with a high-pitched whine of feedback amidst the silence. Thus, Ainz decided to wrap this up quickly.
“I intend to establish a program to train and raise adventurers within my country. This is because I consider it advantageous for my country to both cultivate and protect adventurers, and send them travelling to various places in the world. Many adventurers must survive with their own resources. But how many have been cut down before they reached their prime?”
Ainz recalled the adventurer team he had travelled with for a short time.
“...Therefore, I intend to incorporate the Adventurer’s Guild into my nation. There are those who fear that they will lose their freedom and be shackled down once the Adventurer’s Guild becomes a national organization. I cannot completely rule that out. However, like I have just shown, my strength is more than adequate. I do not intend to use you as tools for war. The Sorcerous Kingdom thirsts those who truly seek adventure! All you who wish to explore the unknown, who wish to understand the world and thus dream of becoming adventurers, come to me! I will help you stand on your own, with the aid of power you cannot imagine. Now behold a fraction of that might!”
Ainz walked over to the Martial Lord.
“The Martial Lord is dead! Who will verify his death?”
There was no answer.
“Death is the end of everything. Yet ― as some here might know, death can be fought off.”
Ainz withdrew a wand, and pointed it at the Martial Lord’s chest.
It would be terribly embarrassing if he did not come back to life. His nonexistent heart pounded within his chest.
The wand activated, and then the Martial Lord gasped. Then, his chest began moving.
“Resurrection magic is the province of high-level priests. However, it is not a challenge for me! That said, the appropriate payment in gold must still be made! I, who have conquered death, shall back you up! Come to my nation, you who seek to become true adventurers!”
Amidst the tides of sound, Ainz cast a [Fly] spell.
His destination was Jircniv’s VIP room.
Glancing around, he noticed that only Jircniv and his two bodyguards were left. The others seemed to have departed early. Ainz was delighted at having less to worry about, but he said nothing.
“Well, sorry about that just now, Jircniv-dono. Oya, your face looks better now. What a relief.”
His dizziness when standing up seemed genuine. However ― since he had been cheering so energetically, it must have only been for a moment.
“I apologize for worrying you, Gown-dono.”
“Ahhh, don’t mind it. Anyone would be worried if they saw someone they knew looking unwell.”
“Thank you for your concern. Still, that was an exciting match. As expected of you, Gown-dono. To think you could triumph so easily over the Empire’s strongest warrior. There are no words for that but ‘magnificent’.”
“Certainly not. This was a good bout. It could have gone both ways; I simply had luck on my side.”
Given the way Jircniv was cheering for the Martial Lord, he must have been a big fan. That being the case, he could not go wrong by praising the Martial Lord.
―Damn you, you didn’t cheer for me at all. I heard it!
Of course, he could not voice these thoughts. When one thought calmly about it, in a battle between the warriors of one’s own nation and that of another country, it was only natural for one to cheer for one’s own countrymen.
Well, if he had actually cheered for Ainz, his affection meter ― a phrase Peroroncino frequently used ― would probably have gone through the roof.
“While outsiders might not be able to tell, I am sure you are not mistaken, Gown-dono. Then, next ― forgive me. What am I saying at this time?”
“Indeed,” Ainz agreed. Put in another way, he did not wish to be chatting with Jircniv for so long in a place like this.
He did not want him to realize that Ainz Ooal Gown was just a mortal man.
Although he thought he would be scolded for promoting the Sorcerous Kingdom in the arena and for his illegal border crossing, Jircniv did not seem to want to rebuke him. That being the case, it was best for him to quickly make his exit.
“Well, that’s―” Ainz swallowed the informal words he was about to speak. That would be like digging his own grave. “Let us end things here for now. I shall come to visit another day, Jircniv-dono.”
Personally, Ainz wanted to escape with teleportation magic, but he had to go pick up Ainzach first. So he would return to the ground, and then teleport away ― and then, as he was pondering that matter, Ainz realized that Jircniv was staring at him, a serious look on his face.
He was definitely going to say something weird.
This situation was familiar to any salaryman. Ainz turned to look at Jircniv.
“Your Majesty. I have a proposal. May I prevail upon you to hear it?”
No. How wonderful would the world be if he could say that?
Ainz decided not to run away from reality. He smiled ― although his face did not move ― and replied with a “Do continue.”
“Then, I hope ― no, the Baharuth Empire would like to become a vassal state of the Sorcerous Kingdom of Ainz Ooal Gown.”
Ainz could not help but exclaim at those thoroughly unexpected words.
His brain had not yet parsed what he had just heard.
“Vas― a vassal state?”
His guards ― both of whom he had seen before ― were also staring in shock.
For some reason, Ainz felt like patting Jircniv on the forehead.
Why had he suddenly requested vassal status? Come to think of it, what sort of relationship did vassal states have, anyway? He recognized the word, but what exactly did it mean? Then there was all that self-governing stuff and so on.
Ainz could not decide something important like that by himself. He would need to discuss this matter with Demiurge and Albedo first before giving an answer.
“...Jircniv-dono, taking your nation as a vassal state…”
So the plan of forming a bond of friendship between kings is… eh?
What should he say about the vassal state issue? Would it be alright to go with “I had not considered it”?
However, Demiurge and the others might have intended to vassalize the Empire. He did not wish to put his own head in a noose, and yet it might be troublesome to leave it unaddressed.
It would seem the best option was to bluff his way through, somehow.
After deciding on the direction his words would take, Ainz made his reply.
“It is too dangerous to verbally agree on such matters. I cannot make an immediate reply, but I believe such issues should be set down in writing.”
“Then, does it mean that once I hand the document to you, you will approve of it?”
Eh? There’s seriously going to be one? Ainz thought of asking that, but he managed to swallow those words. It was probably because he had calmed down somewhat. The truth was, he was no longer perturbed as he had been just now. He could not thank this body of his enough.
Still, the problem was yet to be solved.
That’s not what I meant, I’m just stalling for time. Since he could not speak those words, he had to think of something that Jircniv could accept. There was no other way.
“...Certainly. Then, do send a copy of the petition for vassalage as well as a draft of the Empire’s future status and treatment to my residence in the Sorcerous Kingdom, Jircniv-dono. After that, we shall plan at length.”
“Then I shall do so. I will endeavour to finish it swiftly and deliver it to Your Majesty’s hands. ―Then, for the time being, please allow me to speak to you as a king ― as an equal. I shall be in your care.”
Although his emotional state had calmed down, Ainz still had no idea what was going on and why the situation had ended up like this. He simply nodded in response.
Then, trying not to appear too panicked, Ainz descended onto the arena with a [Fly] spell.
“How did it all end up like this? Or rather, what would Demiurge and Albedo do…?”
Ainz rounded his shoulders, like a child who was certain he would be scolded by his parents when he got home.
♦ ♦ ♦
The air in the VIP room was silent in the wake of the Sorcerer King’s departure. As though to shatter this silence, Nimble shouted:
Jircniv furrowed his brows in an exaggerated manner as he looked at Nimble.
“You’re being too loud. I’m still nearby.”
“For-forgive me. But, but, may I know what just happened?!”
“You wish to know why I made a decision like that?”
Nimble nodded in response. Jircniv glanced to Baziwood, who had a similar attitude.
“I see… Then, what else would you suggest I do?”
Jircniv laughed at himself.
“Ever since he came here, along with his ― ah! Negotiations with the Slaine Theocracy have broken down. The temples don’t think well of me either. How long would it take to bring the matter of those negotiations up again? Is that even a problem which can be solved with enough time?”
Jircniv thought about what he would do if he were one of the higher-ups in the Slaine Theocracy. If another country gave an excuse as pathetic as, “That was just Ainz Ooal Gown seeing through our scheme, we didn’t intend for anything else,” they would surely think there was no value in allying with that country and abandon it. No, they might end up using that country as fuel for some kind of plot in the future.
It would seem an alliance with the Slaine Theocracy was pretty much out of the question.
“So he’s saying, ‘please struggle as hard as you can by yourself without the Theocracy as allies’, hm? My my, as expected of His Majesty, the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown. I have to take my hat off to him. His reach is truly longer than I could have imagined. First, he lets his foes grow proud, and then he destroys them in one hit when they lower their guard.”
Though he was an enemy, Jircniv could not help but praise that perfect scheme.
It was so perfectly calculated that he had no choice but to admit defeat. There was no sign of any reinforcements for the Empire, while Ainz already had solid proof of the Empire’s actions. In other words, Ainz held the power of life and death over the Empire.
Baziwood shook his head. It would seem they understood the situation they were in.
“Ahh, this is really… how shall I put this. He really put the boot in. He hit you right in your weak spot. Something like that.”
“Exactly. I can’t think of any way to deal with him. I guess I’m broken in mind and body. It feels like anything would be fine at this point.”
“Your Majesty…” Nimble looked toward Jircniv, speaking quietly.
“He’s not so much undead as he is a devil. It feels as if he knows how to thoroughly break a man’s will.”
“Still, even so, becoming a vassal state…”
Jircniv looked gently upon Nimble, who still seemed unable to accept it.
He could understand the man’s feelings.
However, he would have preferred a rationally considered solution to this problem, rather than that childish revelation of his feelings. Still, if even Jircniv could not solve that problem, how much more so for Nimble?
“...I’ll speak plainly now. We cannot win. The only option we have is, as I said earlier, to subvert his subordinates. I cannot imagine any other way to oppose him. As you might have felt in that war, it’s clear that he’s most powerful as a magic caster.”
The two knights nodded in agreement.
“Then how is he as a warrior? Can you kill him with a sword?”
“You should have seen it, right? Even as a warrior, the Martial Lord could not beat him. And what was that? He took the Martial Lord’s attack and remained unhurt? Did he use magic?”
“I’m not sure, but it might be possible.”
“Really now. In other words, he can render any attack ineffective with magic, then? So assassination is impossible. Could he be immortal?”
“Well, he has a physical body, so I doubt he’s immortal.”
“Then why was he unhurt?”
Nimble was left dumbfounded, and he turned to Baziwood beside him for help. However, Baziwood kept his lips pressed flat into a straight line.
“...So, let’s do this for now. Gather all the information you can about the Martial Lord’s weapon, and then we’ll round up all the magic casters and adventurers we can find to ask them about why he was unhurt. Fortunately, that pronouncement of his should have set him against the Adventurer’s Guild, so they should be happy to help us.”
“Then, shouldn’t we have offered vassalage after trying all of those? Fortunately, he refused.”
Jircniv was somewhat annoyed by this, but he suppressed his displeasure and did not show it. Instead, he looked at Nimble with a troubled expression on his face.
“Fortunately? Do you really think of it that way? I think it’s the other way around. On the contrary, is it not best to push for vassalization as quickly as possible?” Jircniv asked Nimble, who had a baffled expression on his face.
“Why do you think he would refuse our offer of vassalage?”
“That, that is… your servant is unsure…”
“Perhaps if he were incompetent, unsure of how to handle the changing situation ― he might think of something like that. However, our opponent is that man, remember? Judging by his intellect, he must have already come up with a plan for the future in the brief period after we proposed vassalage. If he refused the offer after thinking it through, that would indicate something about that course of action did not mesh with his aims.”
“And what would that be?”
Jircniv’s face turned bitter from Baziwood’s question.
“I don’t know. Still, well, it probably can’t be good for us. Otherwise he would not be so disturbed by the offer of vassalage. For all we know, the objectives he has in mind are things which he cannot carry out in his own country. In that case―”
Jircniv let his overworked brain, which was soon to emit smoke, run wild.
His opponent was that Ainz Ooal Gown. He must surely have some objective in mind.
As the king of the Sorcerer Kingdom, what would he want? What would he hate?
Sweat beaded on his forehead, and Jircniv struggled to think.
“―The Adventurer’s Guild? Could it be he wants to do something to the Adventurer’s Guild, which is why he opposed the vassalage?”
“What about that declaration? ...Would permitting it be a good idea, Your Majesty? In a few years’ time, a lot of the best and brightest of the Empire might end up flowing out of the country.”
“...I did not get that at all. Tell me how you arrived at that.”
“While doing as he says means that one’s freedom might be restricted, having the incredibly powerful Sorcerer King as backing is a very attractive proposition. In the adventuring profession, far more people die than manage to make a name for themselves. However, with someone that powerful supporting them… well, at least that’s what those people with no confidence in themselves will think. Also, since we have knights, there aren’t many jobs for low-ranked adventurers in the first place.”
“An outflow of talent… Although they may not have faith in themselves, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable.”
There were people who were talented, yet lacked self-confidence. Yet, it would take a very confident person to explore a new world.
“If that’s the case, aren’t these all reasons to oppose vassalization? Still… wouldn’t it be more convenient for us to become a vassal state? That way, he can swallow up the Adventurer’s Guild up directly… Ah! Ainz Ooal Gown! Why must your intellect surpass mine so greatly?! Your schemes are so fiendish I can’t even begin to comprehend them!”
“Is it possible that he’s not thinking about anything at all?”
Jircniv glared hatefully at Baziwood’s joking comment.
“What nonsense is that? He anticipated our movements to this degree… no, it’s unthinkable. We also need to consider the effects of his unknowable feelings that drive him to hate the living…”
Perhaps assuming that he thought like one of the undead was a mistake.
Perhaps Ainz had already anticipated that he would agonize and guess about this, and worked it into his plan. He might well be waiting with open arms for a panicked Jircniv to hasten the vassalization process.
“What should we do now?” Nimble asked. He was referring to the Empire’s future actions.
“...I intend to spread the news to the surrounding countries. First, I will gather the scribes and tell them in rough terms that the Empire chooses submission and to become a vassal state of the Sorcerous Kingdom, and that we have no choice in the matter. We will get the news out to the surrounding countries quickly and let it spread, so the Sorcerous Kingdom has no choice but to acknowledge it.”
The two of them lowered their heads. The fact that even Baziwood had an expression like that on his face made Jircniv wonder if it was a joke.
He deleted the bitter smile from his face, and spoke in a friendly manner.
“Why so glum? There are all sorts of vassal states. If we are allowed to govern ourselves for the most part, then we can continue living as we always have. No ― if the Sorcerous Kingdom defends us with their incredible power, then would we not be safer than before?”
As they heard about a slightly brighter future(probably), a little color returned to their faces.
“Therefore, we need to deal with any internal dissatisfaction. If the Sorcerous Kingdom does not allow us to rule ourselves, the Empire might start to fragment. There might be factions which are not pleased with vassalage that might make their move as well.”
Jircniv began thinking about the disposition of the factions within the Empire.
The most important ones were the Knight Corps. However, they would not switch over to the anti-vassalage faction. Even if they opposed it , it would only be lip service. They would not actually take action.
Next were the nobles. They could not be predicted. While there were few people who would complain about Jircniv’s decision, those few might be aiming for a chance to depose the Bloody Emperor. These were people who might try anything to become the new rulers of the vassalized Empire.
The commoners could be deceived. To them, as long as life went on as normal, they would not mind becoming a vassal state.
“―The priests will be a problem.”
The temples would never acknowledge this. And, it would be worse if the temples not only opposed it, but forbade all recuperative activity. He would need to talk with them repeatedly and get them to come over to his thinking.
“...Will you be alright, Your Majesty?”
“Who knows? While I’m around, we’ll have the best chance of vassalizing, and I plan to show the results of doing so… but that might not be good to say.”
Why me, he thought.
He had inherited this task from his father, and the Empire had steadily grown stronger. He should not have misstepped at any point during that process.
But then that monster appeared, and everything had gone mad.
There was probably nothing wrong in the way he negotiated with that monster. It was simply that Ainz Ooal Gown was a being whose thought processes transcended those of mankind.
In just a month, everything had changed.
Jircniv sighed deeply.
“I must be the unluckiest man in the world…”
Though that was merely idle chatter, the news of Silver Canary changing their home base from the Empire to the City-State Alliance soon reached the demoralized Jircniv. In the coming days, Jircniv would come to bemoan this as “blessings do not come in pairs, while calamities do not come alone.”
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