The two armies formed their battle lines along the gentle slopes of the crimson plains, staring each other down.
The awe-inspiring army of the Kingdom was 245,000 men strong, divided into a left wing of 70,000 men, a right wing of 70,000 men, and a central column of 105,000 men, skillfully encamped throughout three hills. However, this encampment was not ringed by wooden fences, but formed of a gigantic mass of troops.
The foremost five ranks of infantry carried two-handed pikes, each one easily over six meters long, and they were formed up into a spear line into a spear line.
Their job was to substitute for an anti-cavalry fence in order to counter the heavy cavalry that comprised the core of the Empire’s fighting strength. They did not use actual anti-cavalry palisades for a simple reason; protecting that many people would require a ridiculous amount of wood. For a large army, it was better to make good use of a spear line.
Although this formation was quite solid and presented many problems for any attackers, it had its weaknesses as well.
Since the formation was dense and the weapons carried were very heavy, it was all they could do just to stay in place and prevent enemy charges. As such, they lacked the ability to react quickly to enemy maneuvers, and if the Empire used bowmen or magic, their losses would be heavy.
Then again, not much more was expected from mere peasants. All that was required was that they deflect the first charge of the enemy.
On the other side, the Empire had 60,000 men.
Their numbers were vastly inferior to those of the Kingdom.
However, the Imperial knights were relaxed, without so much as a hint of fear. They did not feel they would lose at all.
This confidence came from knowing their own personal strength.
Even so, it was a simple fact that there was a vast disparity in the military power of both sides. Although it would not be a problem if they could fight forever without fatigue, they were only human. Once they got tired, even the difference in their individual abilities would eventually be caught up to.
The Kingdom also had one more advantage, a large one.
That was the value of each individual.
Most of the Kingdom’s troops were composed of peasant levies. In contrast, the Empire fielded professional soldiers called knights. A peasant was simply expected to hold a weapon, while each Imperial knight was carefully trained. Every loss by the Empire was more keenly felt than a similar loss by the Kingdom. The Empire simply could not afford to squander their knights in foolish offensives or wars of attrition.
Therefore, a pitched battle on open terrain like this was to the Kingdom’s advantage.
Because of this, the battles fought between the Empire and the Kingdom were typically minor skirmishes.
The Empire’s objective would be accomplished simply by pulling the Kingdom’s serfs onto the battlefield. There was no need to waste valuable human resources, and the Kingdom knew this as well.
This scripted pageantry was what passed for “war” between the Empire and the Kingdom.
Even if that magic caster called Ainz Ooal Gown took part, it would still end in a minor skirmish. That was what most of the Kingdom’s nobles thought. After all, the Empire’s knights were not just a military force, but a police force as well. They were the people who protected the safety of the Empire. Needless losses to them would threaten the Empire’s stability.
And so, the nobles awaited the Empire’s next move.
By tradition, the Imperial forces would parade before the Kingdom’s troops, and then fall back. The Kingdom would then sound a victory cry.
This was how it had always been.
The Imperial army did not move.
There had remained still ever since they had deployed from the fortress-like castrum and arrayed themselves before the Kingdom’s forces. It was as though they were waiting for the Kingdom to make the first move, or for something else.
“They’re not moving. What’s going on?”
This was at the headquarters where the King was. It was located behind a host of 105,000 men.
Marquis Raeven stood beside Gazef, speaking quietly as he surveyed the motionless Imperial knights from the safest place he could find, an observation point atop a hill that was slightly higher than the others.
If the Empire did not move, then neither could the Kingdom.
An attack by the Kingdom now would be extremely foolish, given that they had already formed their spear line. Once the nobles had tried a pre-emptive attack on the Empire. However, the attackers had been slaughtered in short order, and the Kingdom had suffered significant losses as a result.
Ever since, the Kingdom’s preferred tactic against the Empire had been to form a spear line and prepare to receive a charge. Since the enemy was willing to retreat, there was no need for risky forays.
“All right, then. looks like they’re waiting for us…”
“The final declarations have been made, so they should be joining battle soon… Warrior-Captain― Gazef-dono, do you have an idea on what the Empire might be waiting for?”
Thirty minutes ago, representatives from both armies had begun negotiations in the central area between them. Granted, that was simply a statement of unacceptable conditions from both sides that was more of a stage play than actual arbitration. Its true purpose was to show that each side was compassionate and willing to avert war until the last moment.
Of course, negotiations would break down, and that would be the signal for the fighting to begin
If they were following the example of previous years, the Imperial Army should have begun moving out immediately. However, this was not the case. They remained stationary.
“I have no idea. Do you know anything about this?”
“As if. I’m not too familiar with military matters. I usually let my subordinates handle those.”
“Somehow, the idea that the wise Marquis would know nothing about his enemy sounds like a lie.”
“A lie… I did not expect you to be that direct, Gazef-dono.”
“Did I give you offense? I apologize if I did.”
“Hahaha, no, none was taken. You’re much friendlier now than you were back then.”
Gazef’s brow furrowed, as he sensed the barbs in those words.
“Hahaha. Take it for what it is. It’s a fact that I’m no general and that’s not a lie. It just so happens that one of my subordinates is a good leader of men, so I left military matters to him.”
“Could it be… one of the former adventurers working for you, the ones who became famous during the demonic disturbance in the capital?”
“Ah… no. They’re over there.”
Raven pointed to a group of five men standing together.
Although they were all well into their middle age, and their strength was not what it used to be, they had been orichalcum-ranked adventurers in their prime, and there was something about the way they carried themselves that made Gazef feel that he could not take them lightly.
“They will be my bodyguards during the battle.”
“With men like these protecting you, Marquis Raeven, I’m sure you will have no problems returning safely to the Royal Capital… well, as long as they don’t confront that great magic caster. Oops, I almost forgot; what about your strategist?”
“I don’t think you’ll know him since he’s a commoner from my domain, Gazef-dono. When a Goblin horde attacked his village, he beat them off with a group of villagers half their size, and thus he came to my attention. Ever since, I’ve entrusted him with the command of my house troops and various other tasks. The big surprise is that he’s never once lost a battle. I also gave him a high-ranking position as my aide.”
“I’d like to see this commander that you praise so highly, Marquis Raeven. If he’s really everything you say he is, we might do well to give him command of the Kingdom’s armed forces.”
“If you gave it to him… gave him complete command of the military, and the Royal Army moved together under his command, we might be able to fight a battle which makes our neighbors sit up and say, ‘The army of the Re-Estize Kingdom is not to be underestimated’…”
Gazef exchanged a look with Raeven, sighed, and then smiled tiredly.
“The nobles would never allow a commoner to rise to such a station. It’s nothing more than idle fantasy at the moment.”
“Certainly not while the nobles are divided into their factions.”
The Empire organized its legions by appointing a general over each one, under whom served division commanders, brigade commanders, and other officers, all in strict regimentation.
In contrast, the Kingdom’s armies were composed of the house troops and levies each of the Kingdom’s nobles could muster. The King was the overall commander, but each host would act as they or their faction saw fit.
Simply put, it was a rag-tag bunch of misfits.
Although Gazef had the title of Warrior-Captain, in the end, he was only the commander of the warrior band which was directly loyal to the King, and he had no authority to give orders to the nobles. While it was possible for the King to order the nobles to listen to Gazef, the nobles had always disdained Gazef the commoner, and doing so would sow the seeds of future grudges. The King was aware of this, and so he ordered that Gazef would do no such thing.
The two of them considered their places in the Kingdom, and sighed heavily. Then, they exchanged looks, and laughed.
This conversation should have been had elsewhere, not on the eve of the clash of swords and the spilling of blood.
“Even if we return home alive, there’ll still be a battlefield waiting there…”
“Isn’t that what being a noble’s all about?”
“After this is over, I’ll petition the King to raise you to nobility. It angers me that someone who calls himself the King’s sword doesn’t engage with noble society as eagerly as he should.”
Although Raeven looked like he was joking, Gazef could tell from the light in his eyes that his anger was sincere.
When someone skilled at hiding their feelings revealed them to oneself, it would be a cause for celebration. However, it was a different matter if it was not a positive emotion. Gazef quickly changed the subject.
“…Let’s leave that aside for now. Why don’t we bring that strategist-dono of yours over, and hear his opinion… ah, calling him over will be difficult.”
“After all, I entrusted him with my base camp. I don’t dare move him unnecessarily while we don’t know what the Empire’s up to.”
Although the nobles had all pledged to work together for the Kingdom, in the end, Raeven’s holdings were still his top priority. It was only natural that he would refuse.
“Haaaah… it’s the same thing as always, but I dislike the tension in the air. While I don’t actually want the Empire to attack us, they should hurry up and do it if they’re going to and spare us the anxiety of waiting.”
Gazef could sense the unease from the Kingdom’s army. As he tried to see where it was coming from, he furrowed his eyebrows.
“…I see. When you think about it, this might be an Imperial strategy to get us anxious before they make their move. It’s difficult to coordinate and control so many soldiers, so even the slightest flinch in any unit could be magnified into a great disruption at the end. A large group is difficult to attack, but once the individuals break from the pack and run, they’ll be easily hunted down and killed. It’s the same principle animals use for hunting.”
A surprised Raeven followed Gazef’s line of sight to the worried-looking troops on the left flank, and then realization dawned on his face.
“That… looks like they’re rotating the troops on the inside to the front line.”
“We wouldn’t have to worry if they were just reorganizing their formation…”
“That’s Marquis Bowlorobe’s flag. Looks like the left wing’s commander is moving himself to the front.”
The Kingdom placed the Noble Faction on both wings, while those of the Royal Faction were concentrated in the middle.
King Ranpossa III was the overall commander of the central column, while Marquis Bowlorobe commanded the left wing.
“Moving one’s command to the head of the formation is quite strange. Do you see, Gazef-dono? The Marquis is moving those elite troops who are directly loyal to himself. His plan is to distinguish himself in combat against the individually powerful Imperial knights, under the eyes and ears of the gathered nobles. That way he’ll make a reputation for himself as the lord of the strongest unit in the Kingdom.”
Raeven cast a challenging look to Gazef. Will you let someone else gain greater glory than your beloved warrior band, it seemed to say.
Gazef did not take the bait.
“The warrior band’s duty is to protect the King. We won’t move without the King’s direct command, even if the Empire sounds the charge. There is no greater duty for us than ensuring the safe return of the King to the capital.”
Gazef tapped the sword at his waist.
“Still, it’s possible that I might deploy by myself to blunt the enemy’s attack.”
“That’s one of the four treasures of the Kingdom, Razor Edge… ah, I see.”
Marquis Raeven stepped back, and studied Gazef from top to bottom.
The Gauntlets of Vitality, which negated fatigue. The Amulet of Immortality, which let him regenerate his wounds. The Guardian Armor, crafted of the hardest metal known to man (adamantite), and enchanted with magic that deflected lethal blows. And finally, Razor Edge, a magic sword crafted in pursuit of absolute sharpness, which could carve through enchanted armor like the proverbial hot knife through butter.
“Now that you’re fully equipped with all these treasures, you are the Kingdom’s greatest treasure. I heard once that the Kingdom actually had five treasures, but it seems they had all been gathered from the start.”
Gazef blushed as he was compared to those treasures, even though he knew it was just flattery.
“Ah, give me a break, Marquis Raeven. The King is far greater than I am. His Majesty knew what it would mean to entrust these things to a commoner like me, but he did it anyway.”
“That’s a reasonable opinion. Honestly speaking, I once thought that it was foolish to announce that he’d be handing them over to a commoner (you). All that would accomplish was to make more people leave the Royal Faction. However, now that I’m standing beside you on the battlefield, I can’t help but think that it was a masterful move. You really are too selfish.”
“If only I could live up to your expectations…”
Gazef looked out at the serried ranks of the Imperial knights.
He did not think there were any strong opponents in the Empire besides “Tri-Arts”Fluder Paradyne. Now that he was equipped like this, he even dared harbor the faint hope that he might be able to defeat Fluder.
On the other hand, he did not feel like he had any chance of defeating Ainz Ooal Gown.
He could not even imagine the possibility.
No matter how hard he tried to think positive and consider how things might go in his favor, the only thought that came to mind was of himself being instantly slain by the mysterious magic caster.
He knew he was the greatest warrior in the Kingdom. Allowing himself to appear weak would only lower the army’s morale.
“Ah, no… I was just feeling sorry for Prince Barbro…”
“Feeling sorry?… Could it be… I see. Is that so? Gazef-dono, you also feel… I see.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I mean, don’t tell me you feel that the King sent the prince to Carne Village so he could not distinguish himself…?”
“Is that not the case?”
Raeven smiled thinly.
“Mhm, far from it. I feel that his Majesty has truly placed his trust in you, Gazef-dono.”
Marquis Raeven decided to explain when he saw that Gazef did not understand at all
“Given that the King’s most trusted Warrior-Captain was supremely wary of the opponent called Ainz Ooal Gown, it was only to be expected that the King would be on guard against him as well. The King did not want to risk his beloved son in battle with an unknown quantity like that, so he wanted to send him to a safe place, even if he would only be able to make some minor accomplishments there… Although, to be honest, the old me would have been upset by the way the King was only concerned with his son when so many other people had sent their children to the battlefield.”
Raeven smiled in a fatherly manner.
“Of course, I understand why he did such a thing now. I’d have done the same to ensure my son’s well-being.”
“Ah, Marquis. That’s a very fatherly thing to say.”
Raeven smiled. Gazef felt that it was quite unlike him, which was itself a fairly rude thought, yet his smile was equal parts kind, happy and proud.
“Well, I am a father, after all. I promised my son that, after this battle’s over, I’m going to play with him as much as he wants, like a normal father. Ah — we’ve gone off topic. Let’s leave things at that. Although… it seems Prince Barbro doesn’t quite understand the King’s point of view. It feels a little sad how the father can’t get his feelings across to his son.”
Gazef agonized about how to answer him. It was hard for him, who had no children of his own, to put himself into that mindset.
“Right, right. By the way, is it possible that they might launch a sneak attack on E-Rantel with a separate force? Although it would be frowned upon, they might do anything to win.”
Gazef thought that the topic change was incredibly forced, but to his surprise, Raeven ran with it.
“It’s not an easy matter to attack E-Rantel, defended as it is by its three layers of curtain walls. Even if the remaining two legions of the Empire mobilized in full, it would be a difficult task for them. My strategist also says the enemy wouldn’t do such a thing.”
“Is it? What if they had flying beasts, or a secret legion of some kind?”
“It’s still not possible. Ultimately, it’s very difficult to take control of a city with a small number of men… Speaking of which, Gazef-dono. Do you know the conditions required to completely dominate E-Rantel?”
Gazef shook his head.
“One needs to face the Kingdom in open battle and gain an overwhelming victory. If the aggressors barely manage to triumph, governing the conquered populace will be extremely difficult. The citizens won’t respond well to the invaders and there’ll definitely be a resistance movement. So even if the Empire used a separate force to attack E-Rantel, as long as our soldiers are untouched, they’ll immediately to take back the city. As such, the Empire needs a total victory. With that, the citizens will be frightened to the point they can’t even think of resisting, and they won’t be able to mobilize troops.”
The important thing was that the Empire had to win here. In addition, they had to achieve a victory so complete and absolute that none of the surrounding nations ─ in particular the Kingdom, which could instantly deploy its troops to take the city back ─ would dare think of making a move.
Suddenly, Gazef had the feeling that he had put all the pieces of the puzzle together. However, the picture they formed was beyond his comprehension.
A vaguely distasteful feeling tormented Gazef.
“What’s wrong, Gazef-dono?
Gazef wanted to tell Raeven about the scattered pieces of the puzzle that he had managed to sweep together in his head. He believed that Raeven, with his superior intellect, could extract insights from them that he could not. However, at that moment, the Marquis’ eye turned back to the Imperial formation.
“Gazef-dono. It seems they’re making their move.”
The Imperial army parted in two, to make a path. As Gazef was wondering if they were planning to attack the left and right wings of the Kingdom’s army, he saw an unfamiliar flag rising into the air.
It was a flag that Gazef had never seen before, adorned with a bizarre crest that belonged to neither the Kingdom nor the Empire. The group nearing the flag advanced.
All eyes were on that company.
And then… Gazef’s heart ran cold with terror. Raeven, who was standing beside him and saw the same thing he did, swallowed loudly. Knowing that he was not alone in his feelings, bitterness began rising at the back of his mouth, and his heart pounded madly.
It was a bizarre army.
What appeared was a group of roughly 500 riders. It seemed entirely insignificant compared to the two armies facing each other down.
However, those troops were highly abnormal. They seemed to radiate an oppressive air that he could feel even from so far away.
It stirred up Gazef’s memories from his time in Carne Village. There had been a knight-shaped monster back then, which Ainz said he had created. There were roughly 200 of them now, warriors bearing massive shields and clad in spiked armor.
The rest were similarly inhuman soldiers, but they wore leather armor, and they were armed with axes, pikes, crossbows or similar weapons.
If the former were knights, then the latter could be called warriors.
But whatever they were, they were not humans. They were monsters, down to the marrow of their bones.
And then, those monsters rode monsters of their own. Said creatures were beasts of bone, with flickering mist in place of their flesh and blood. The fog sparkled everywhere, pus yellow and emerald green.
Goosebumps sprouted all over his body.
This was bad.
This was very bad.
It was a vague statement, but Gazef simply did not have the words to describe the situation more clearly than this.
“…So the Empire has enlisted monsters into their ranks, it seems. This is quite surprising. It’s made me break out in goosebumps.”
“…No. No, Marquis Raeven. That’s not the case. What the Marquis feels now… what fills your body with said goosebumps… is definitely not surprise.”
“Then what would that be?”
Seeing that Raeven was completely baffled, Gazef answered curtly.
“It’s the fear of death. It’s triggered your basic survival instinct.”
Turning his eyes from the visibly shaken Raeven, Gazef looked at the Imperial Army.
“The horses are shying. Even these trained, hardened warhorses are so frightened they can’t move.”
“…What are they? A secret division of the Empire?”
“…Impossible. Those monsters are not things that humans can control or use!”
Gazef knew nothing about the true identity of these monsters, but his warrior’s instinct supplied enough information for him to speak conclusively.
“There’s no doubt about it… they must be the knights of Ainz Ooal Gown!”
“Is that!… Is that the army of the magic caster you feared?!”
“Marquis Raeven! Please gather the former adventurers immediately! Ask them what’s our best move! They’ve fought many monsters in the past and survived; please ask them to share their wisdom with us!”
He probably wanted to reply that he understood, but his bodyguards were faster than that, and had already moved up to protect him. However, that was only expected. They had sensed the power of this threat before Gazef had.
The formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurers rode over on horseback.
“Did you see it? Do you feel it?”
At the head of the adventurers was their leader, the paladin of the Fire God, Boris Axelson.
Within his voice was a thrill of fear he could not hide.
Raeven could not speak. Gazef understood why.
There was a note of fright in the voice of an formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurer, in a place defended by such a vast army.
Gazef felt that this was no longer time for etiquette, and asked:
“—Tell me! What is that? No need to greet me! Please tell me everything you know, all of you!!”
Boris clutched the holy symbol that dangled around his neck. It was a gesture of warding.
“…We can’t be sure, but we believe the creatures they ride are legendary monsters known as Soul Eaters. They’re said to be undead creatures that hunger for the souls of the living. According to legend, they once appeared in the middle of the continent, in a city of the Beastmen Kingdoms.”
“Then… how many casualties were there?”
The words Boris spoke sounded unnaturally quiet.
The breath caught in Gazef’s throat.
“…They say three Soul Eaters appeared, and they destroyed the city. 95% of the populace, over 100,000 people, died as a result. The city was abandoned, and it was called the Silent City.”
A heavy silence fell on the group.
“…And there’s 500 of them out there?”
Nobody could muster up the strength to answer Raeven.
Gazef forced his words out to break the silence.
“Like I said earlier, I find it hard to believe the Empire could subdue monsters of that level with their own power. Even that mighty magic caster, Fluder Paradyne, shouldn’t be able to do it. That means—”
He did not need to finish his sentence. Marquis Raeven understood.
“Is… is that the power of Ainz Ooal Gown? Then, then… what manner of creatures are riding on those monsters’ backs?”
The adventurers looked nervously to each other.
“─We don’t know. The only thing we’re certain of is that they must be very dangerous. No, I apologize, I shouldn’t be using such vague terms as dangerous. However, I can think of no other words to describe what we are facing now.”
“Then, then what should we do? Gazef-dono?”
In response to Raeven’s panicked question, Gazef replied tersely and clearly.
They already knew that the enemy had prepared an awe-inspiring force. With that in mind, what else could they do but run?
“Advise the King to order a retre—”
Gazef could not finish his sentence.
That was because a masked magic caster stood at the head of the enemy. At his right was a short person in a hooded robe. At his left stood one of the Empire’s Four Knights.
Even at this distance, Gazef could not have mistaken that man for anyone else
“Is that the mighty magic caster, Ainz Ooal Gown?!”
“Is he the one who summoned the Soul Eaters? Him? Marquis Raeven, we—”
The fearless warrior of countless battles swallowed heavily, and continued in a lowered voice.
“——What the hell are we fighting here?!”
Ainz waved his arm. In response, a magic circle sprang into existence, roughly ten meters in radius and shaped like a dome. It was centered on him. The people on his left and right were engulfed by it, but they seemed fine. It would seem the magic circle did not harm allies.
This fantastic sight drew everyone’s attention, even if they knew this was an emergency situation.
The magic circle glowed bluish-white, and translucent symbols appeared across its length and breadth. The sigils changed with kaleidoscopic speed, shifting between runes and letters that nobody had ever seen before.
The Kingdom’s troops gasped out in surprise.There was no fear or tension in their voices, like they were watching a beautiful show. However, the ones with keener instincts started looking around themselves in obvious discomfort.
“I’m returning to my unit. There’s no more time to waste. Ainz Ooal Gown’s power is immeasurable. Doing battle with him was a mistake from the start. What we need to do now is minimize the number of casualties, and at the same time we need to get back to E-Rantel as fast as we can. Gazef-dono, please protect his Majesty. After that, retreat without delay!”
The calm which Raeven had managed to cling to until recently was all gone now.
“Aye! Although I don’t trust my abilities that much, but I will definitely protect his Majesty’s person. Also, don’t think about an orderly retreat—”
“Of course. We’ll retreat as fast as we can… no, we’ll flee like rabbits.”
“Then, I wish you well, Marquis Raeven!”
“The same, Gazef-dono!”
The two men who stood at the pinnacle of the Kingdom’s military might and strategic thought hurriedly flew into action. However—
—It was all too late.
♦ ♦ ♦
After Ainz deployed his magic circle, that was what he had thought.
There were no players in the Kingdom.
YGGDRASIL’s super-tier magic was incredibly powerful.
Because of that, during a large-scale battle, bringing down a person who could cast super-tier spells first was a basic tactic.
One could hamper one’s opponents in many ways. Teleportation assaults, for instance. Bombardment from atop a magic carpet. Pinpoint shooting from extreme range. There were countless methods to accomplish that aim.
However, no attacks like these came toward Ainz. In turn, that proved that there were no YGGDRASIL players present.
Under his mask, Ainz smiled, a fact which went unseen by anyone. Of course, his skeletal face could not form a smile.
The bitter smile, laced with faint traces of joy, highlighted the feelings in Ainz’s heart.
“So I don’t need to serve as bait, then?”
His joy came from the fact that he had not met any players from YGGDRASIL.
Ainz could not be counted as the greatest among the players of YGGDRASIL. There were others who were better than he was, and his odds of survival against stronger players were not good. While playing, Ainz’s strength had stemmed from his knowledge. Although he won often in PVP combat, those were consecutive victories after forfeiting the first round of a match.
Ainz was surprisingly skilled at using the information he had gathered. Conversely, his chances of defeat were also very high if he fought an opponent he had never encountered before.
Ainz was fully aware of his abilities, and was deeply grateful that he had not encountered a powerful enemy that he knew nothing about.
But at the same time, he also felt a hint of regret.
He regretted the fact that he could not find the one who had brainwashed Shalltear among his enemies, people who were related to a possessor of a World-Class item.
Hatred, thick and cloying, pooled at the bottom of Ainz’s heart. Although his strong emotions were suppressed, the weaker ones persisted within him.
Ainz opened his hand, and within it was a miniature hourglass.
If he used a cash item, he could immediately cast the super-tier spell. The reason why he had not done this was because he was serving as bait to verify the existence of any possible players from YGGDRASIL. However, if there were none, then there was no need to wait out the long casting time for the spell. Having to stand immobile in the middle of a magic circle was quite uncool.
During the battle with Shalltear, he did not have that luxury.
Against the lizardmen, he had not used an attack spell.
“This will be fun. Ah, it’s going to be fun.”
—What exactly would a super-tier attack spell do against the armies of the Kingdom?
Although it was not a particularly strong spell in YGGDRASIL, what effects would it have in this world?
Suddenly, Ainz knotted his nonexistent brows.
Many people were about to die, but he did not feel any pity for them, and it somewhat frightened him. He did not even feel cruel, like someone trampling ants to death. In truth ─ in truth, he felt nothing at all.
There was only the desire to see the results of his actions. And of course, the benefits he would reap for himself — for the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
Ainz clenched his fist.
The particles of sand leaking from the shattered hourglass moved against the wind and flowed into the magic circle surrounding Ainz.
And then — the super-tier spell activated instantly.
“[Tribute to the Black Bounty (Ia Shub-Niggurath)]!”
A black wind blew, racing past the Kingdom’s army, which had just finished changing its formation.
No, there was no physical wind blowing. Neither the scattered weeds growing on the plains or the hairs on the heads of the Kingdom’s soldiers had been touched.
There were 70,000 men in the left wing of the Kingdom’s army.
Every single one of them was slain in an instant.
What on earth happened?
Nobody could answer immediately.
Every living creature that comprised the left wing of the Kingdom’s army —not just humans, but their horses too— had suddenly collapsed to the ground like puppets whose strings had been cut.
The ones who realized the answer first were the Imperial troops, ranged against them.
It took a while for the human mind to properly parse the events that had just transpired before their eyes. So after a short delay, shouts of panic rose into the air, becoming a great wave that engulfed the entire Imperial Army.
Certainly, they knew Ainz Ooal Gown was going to cast a spell after he had deployed his magic circle.
However ─ who could have possibly anticipated this?
Who could have guessed that he would cast such a horrific spell?
Who could have imagined that he had cast a spell which could slaughter 70,000 people — a number greater than the entire Imperial army— in an instant?
The Imperial knights doubted their eyes, even as they prayed to whatever gods they believed in.
They prayed that the people of the Kingdom were not dead.
They prayed that such terrible magic did not exist in this world.
Of course, as they took in the truth before their eyes —that not a single person had stood back up from where they fell— they were fully aware that it was nothing but wishful thinking.
Even so, there was no way they could accept it. There was no way they could accept this as reality.
The man hailed as one of the strongest in the Empire, one of the Four Knights, Nimble, could only grind his teeth in naked terror and stare dumbly at the suddenly depopulated left wing of the Kingdom’s army.
Nobody stood back up. That was a reality which was far, far too horrible to accept.
No, the awful truth could not be described with just these simple words.
Ainz Ooal Gown —this magic caster, all by himself— was a monster who could take the nations forged by men and obliterate them in the way that a child would kick down a sandcastle.
That was a reality which was beyond the ability of any words to describe.
The panic enveloping the Imperial Army gradually vanished like draining water. In the end, everyone simply fell silent, unable to speak.
Yet, a strange noise rose up among the silence of the Imperial army’s formation. The noise was born of many sounds blending together into a great clamor. It was the sound of every single knight gnashing their teeth.
This was the terror born of realizing that the Empire, where they and their families lived, now stood on the edge of extinction, just like the Kingdom.
This was an understanding that if they dared to raise their hands against Ainz Ooal Gown, that same awful magic might end up being turned on themselves─
Under these circumstances, Nimble suddenly thought of something. What kind of expression did a magic caster like this —who could work a sorcery that could slaughter the living in quantities that beggared mortal comprehension— what kind of expression did he have?
Without moving his face, he spied on the monster standing beside him, Ainz Ooal Gown, but all he saw was indifference.
How can this be? How can this be possible? How can someone like him… like this… be so calm? Even after taking 70’000 lives?! Granted, the battlefield is a place of death. The weak losing their lives is only to be expected. But even so, shouldn’t he feel something in his heart after killing so many people?!!
Regret or guilt would be the natural response. If he felt joy or excitement, that might even be understandable, abnormal as such a reaction might be.
Is this indifference some sort of defensive reaction to protect his heart? No, this, this must be familiar scenery for a monster like him!There’s no sadistic joy or pity in his heart like when a human being crushes ants!! What… what is this?!!! Why is this happening? Why does someone like this exist in the world?!!!!
“—Is something the matter?”
The words sounded like a spike of cold steel driven into him. Nimble’s response to the question was a stupid-sounding cry.
“No-nothing’s wrong. That, that spell just now, it was magnificent.”
Nimble gave silent thanks that he was still able to speak. More than that — the fact that he could praise Ainz under such circumstances was nothing short of laudable.
“Ha ha ha—”
Nimble’s desperate compliment was answered by faint laughter.
“Have, have I given offense?”
“No, none at all. You said that spell just now was magnificent, right?”
Was that worth laughing at? Sweat flowed down Nimble’s forehead like a river. After seeing the dreadful consequences of angering this person, he had no intention of incurring his ire.
“Please, be at ease. Although… I must say, my spell is not complete yet. Now is when the real show begins. After all, when one makes an offering to the Black Goddess of the Bountiful Harvest, she will reciprocate with a gift of her offspring. Those cute, adorable children…”
That was right.
And just as ripened fruit would fall to the earth in the fullness of time —
♦ ♦ ♦
The Imperial knights were the first to see it.
It was expected that the knights, watching from afar, from a safe distance, would see it first. Because they felt safe, they dared to peer outside from the narrow slits in their helmets.
After the storm of death had claimed the lives of the Kingdom’s soldiers, something appeared in the sky; a repulsive black sphere which seemed to pollute the world with its very presence.
Then, who on the Kingdom’s side saw it? It was most likely the troops of the right wing, who had no direct line of sight to what had happened on the other side. They sensed that something abnormal was going on, but they did not know what exactly had happened, and as they looked around to find out what was going on, they saw it.
As though their eyes were being guided there, the soldiers beside them noticed it. In this way, everyone on the Kattse Plains, who had gathered to wage war, ended up staring silently at the sphere floating in the sky.
The sphere —which resembled nothing so much as a hole in the heavens— was like an opened spiderweb; once one caught sight of it, one could not pull away.
The black sphere slowly grew larger.
Be it fighting or fleeing, no human could engage in any meaningful thought or activity. All they could do was stare dumbly.
And eventually — the ripened fruit fell.
In a thoroughly natural fashion, the falling sphere broke apart when it touched the earth.
It burst like a water balloon striking the ground, or perhaps like an overripe fruit doing the same.
It was full of something that spread out from the point of impact. It was something like coal tar. It absorbed the light, like a wave of infinitely-expanding black stickiness, and it swallowed the corpses of the dead Kingdom soldiers.
Informed by a strange instinct, nobody thought it would end there.
They had a premonition ─ this was only the beginning.
Indeed ─ this was the beginning of their despair.
Suddenly, a vast tree grew from the black tar that covered the earth.
No, that was nothing as pleasant as a tree.
At first, there was only one of them, but then it multiplied. Two, three, five, ten… these objects waved in the absence of the wind. What was grew there… were tentacles.
Suddenly, they heard the adorable bleating of a goat. It was not just one goat. It was as though a herd of goats had appeared out of nowhere.
As though drawn by the sound, the coal tar writhed up, and it seemed to vomit forth something.
It was something that was far too strange, too unnatural.
It was 10 meters in height. If one added the length of the tentacles, that figure became unclear.
At a glance, it resembled some sort of turnip. In place of leaves, it had numberless black tentacles, and its thick root portion was a slab of meat covered in frightening lumps. Below that were five legs, like those of a goat’s, tipped with black hooves.
Fissures appeared on the root-like portion of its anatomy —a thick slab of meat covered in lumps— as it peeled and split open in multiple places at once. And then─
The adorable bleating of goats rang forth from those fissures. They were gaping maws that oozed sticky drool.
There were five of them.
They displayed their hideous bodies to everyone on the Katze Plains.
The Dark Young of the Black Goat.
These monsters appeared in proportion to the number of deaths caused by the super-tier spell [Sacrifice to the Black Bounty (Ia Shub Niggurath)] Although they did not possess any powerful special abilities, they were outstandingly resilient.
Moreover, they were all over level 90.
In other words, this would become a storm of carnage.
Besides the adorable bleating of goats, so sickeningly sweet and cute that it made people want to vomit, there were no other sounds. That was because nobody could speak, unwilling to believe or accept that the events unfolding in front of their eyes were truly happening. Over 300,000 —or if you counted only the living, 235,000— people were gathered here, and none of them could say anything.
Amidst all this, Ainz laughed heartily.
“Marvelous. This is a new record. In all of history, I might be the only one who ever managed to call forth five at once. Remarkable. I must give my thanks to everyone who died here today.”
Under normal circumstances, being able to call forth one of the Dark Young was not bad. Being able to bring out two was a rarity.
And now, there were five.
Just like a player who was celebrating over beating his own high score, Ainz was overjoyed by the fact that he had set this new record. So what if tens of thousands of people had died for it?
“Although… it would be better if there were more… is five the upper limit? Wouldn’t it be quite amazing if I managed to max it out?”
“Congratulations! As expected of Ainz-sama!”
Ainz smiled under his mask as Mare praised him.
“Thank you, Mare.”
After that, Ainz turned to look at Nimble, which startled the poor man. His face was somewhere between tears and laughter as he praised Ainz as well.
Ainz was in a good mood as he made his reply.
The sincere emotion on Nimble’s face moved Ainz’s heart.
Then, he remembered his days as a player in YGGDRASIL, of how he had been similarly moved when he had first seen the casting of [Ia Shub Niggurath]”
Flashy or powerful spells can shake the hearts of the masses. Well, that was only to be expected of one of YGGDRASIL’s most popular spells. When I said I was going to cast it, Albedo and Demiurge couldn’t stop lavishing praise on me.
A gachigachi sound rose from the ranks of the Imperial army.
It was the sound of armor clattering against itself.
The soldiers were trembling, but who could laugh at them?
The Sorcerer King had laughed cheerfully after casting such a horrific summoning spell, and nobody could hear it and not break out in goosebumps.
Every Imperial knight present was thinking the same thing.
They wished that the wrath of Ainz Ooal Gown would not fall upon them.
It looked more like a prayer to the gods.
As the soldiers pleaded sincerely behind his back, Ainz began the next phase. He felt that he had already done enough, but he was in high spirits, and felt that it might be better to kill a little more to be sure.
This time round, his goal was to proclaim the might of Ainz Ooal Gown, a practitioner of super-tier magic, to the gathered nations.
That objective had been achieved. However, letting these minions fade away would be a shame.
Indeed, it would be too much of a waste.
If he had a tongue, he would be licking his lips in anticipation.
This was a joy he could not feel in YGGDRASIL, the joy of being able to simultaneously direct five Dark Young.
“—Ah, let’s give it a try. Overrun them, my darling lambs.”
As they received the command of their summoner Ainz, the Dark Young began to move slowly.
Their five goat legs moved in a bizarre gait as they segued into swift motion. It was not so much graceful as energetic, and perhaps one might smile to see it.
As long as they did not come for you.
Their vast bodies moved lightly, and the five Dark Young broke into a run as they hurtled towards the Kingdom’s army.
“Ah, right, there’s three — no, four people you can’t kill. I absolutely forbid you to harm them. “
As he recalled the three people that Demiurge wished to be spared, Ainz sent out a mental command to the Dark Young.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Is this a dream?”
A soldier from the Royal Army muttered to himself, far from the inhuman monsters. Of course, he received no answer. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the scene unfolding before them, and they had lost the power of speech. It was as if their souls had been snatched away.
“Hey, this is a dream, right? I must be dreaming, right?”
“Ahh. This is a fucking nightmare.”
The second time the question was asked, someone managed to answer. But their voices sounded like they wanted to run away from reality.
I don’t want to believe this.
Thoughts like these spread through the infantry. Even as the lumbering shapes grew steadily larger ─ even as the inhuman beings approached them, they still did not want to accept that this was reality.
If they were simple monsters, perhaps they might have been able to gather up the courage to raise their weapons. However, the monsters which had appeared after an entire wing of the army ─ a full 70,000 people ─ had been slaughtered in an instant could not possibly be simple monsters. It was like watching an advancing hurricane, and nobody could muster up the courage to brave the storm.
The gigantic, bizarre beings galloped nimbly on their thick stubby legs, charging at incredible speeds.
“Get your spears up!”
A voice rang out.
That shrill, high-pitched scream came from the mouth of a noble. His eyes were bloodshot and foam flecked the corners of his mouth.
“Spears up! Get your spears up!! Get your spears up if you want to live!!!”
Although he had already gone mad from fear and it was hard to understand what he was saying, the soldiers still managed to make out the order “Spears up”, and they knew it was probably the best command he could have given.
Acting on reflex, the soldiers raised and set their spears, forming a braced spear line.
They planted the butts firmly on the ground, so their opponents’ speed would only harm themselves when they charged into the hedge of points.
Although this formation was nigh-unbreakable by Imperial knights, the Kingdom soldiers wondered —in some small, detached corner of their minds which still held onto calmness— what good they could possibly do with the tiny spears they were grasping. Even so, they knew it was their only chance of salvation.
Given the speed at which those bizarre creatures approached, escape would probably be impossible. Even if they ran with all their strength, they would still be squashed flat from behind.
They prayed that the monsters would not come for them, even as they braced for their charge.
The monsters —which should have been very small in the distance— closed the gap with frightening speed.
As they grew larger, and the earth began shaking under their thunderous hoofbeats, the soldiers’ hearts began pounding madly. Then, as their hearts felt like they would burst in their chests, the enormous silhouettes were upon them.
It was like a dumptruck smashing into a swarm of rats.
The soldiers of the Royal Army raised countless spears in trembling hands. But what use were they against the massive, solid bodies of the Dark Young? The spears snapped like toothpicks without so much as scratching the Dark Young.
The massive bodies of the Dark Young trampled the Royal Army underfoot.
Splinters from countless shattered spears flew through the air.
Although they crushed the meaningless resistance that did not even count as resistance, the Dark Young of the Black Goat were merciful in their own way.
There was no pain.
There was no time for their victims to feel pain before they were squashed flat under the titanic weight of the Dark Young’s charge.
The spear-wielding soldiers did not even have time to realize that the pikes they were holding had been pulverized by those massive bodies. All they saw were black shadows falling over them.
They screamed and they screamed and they screamed.
Gobbets of meat flew through the air. They had not come from just one or two people, but tens, hundreds of victims. They were stamped flat by the enormous hooves, and thrown— no, flung away by the waving tentacles.
Be they patricians or plebeians, now they were all the same chunks of bloody flesh.
Some of them had families in their villages. Some had friends left behind. Some had people waiting for them. Once they were ground into the mud, none of that mattered any more.
The Dark Young treated everyone the same way, bestowing death upon them all.
Surely they must have been satisfied after crushing countless humans underfoot, but they showed no signs of stopping.
The Dark Young began to run.
They ran on. They did not stop while in the midst of the Kingdom’s forces, simply running on.
The screams rose up every time those gigantic hooves came down. It blended with the sound of humans pulping under the Dark Young’s mighty legs, and the sound as they playfully batted humans away with their tentacles.
A sound which men had never heard before went on and on without end.
What better word was there to describe this scene?
Several people desperately thrust their pikes forward. The Dark Young, whose bodies were massive and who had no intention to evade the attacks, were hit solidly by the points. However, the pikes could not pierce deeply enough to cause harm to their slab-like bodies. They were masses of iron-hard muscle sheathed by thick, rubbery skin.
The Dark Young did not mock their futile resistance, but simply charged forward.
Before the soldiers realized that their fatal resolve was meaningless, the Dark Young had already reached the centermost portion of the Kingdom’s army.
“Run away! Run away!”
They heard the shouts from the distance. In response, all the soldiers began to flee. It was exactly like a swarm of spiders scattering in all directions.
But of course, the Dark Young were much faster than human beings.
Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat. Splat.
The sounds of humans being crushed to death and turned into chunks of meat went on and on.
♦ ♦ ♦
As though they had arrived in a barren wasteland, three of the monsters crossed the center column of the army drawing near the right wing amidst sprays of blood and gore. In moments, they would be upon Raeven’s troops.
The way Raeven shouted these orders was closer to a wail.
They could not fight those monsters.
They should not throw their lives away for no reason.
As they heard Raeven’s words, the surrounding soldiers threw down their arms and fled in a panic.
Of course, since there were just too many people, it was impossible for them to move freely.
At first he had signalled an orderly retreat. His was because he was wary of an attack from behind, but now he realised that the time he had wasted in doing that was a big mistake.
“Ainz Ooal Gown, what kind of creature, what kind of magic caster are you?!”
He had underestimated him. No, he had not done so on purpose.
After taking Gazef Stronoff’s words into consideration, he had viewed him as an enemy of the highest caliber imaginable. However, all he could say now was that he had still underestimated the man’s abilities.
His imagination simply had not been enough.
Who on earth could have predicted that Ainz Ooal Gown was so powerful? Who could have known that such power existed in this world?
Seeing the ever-approaching, ever-expanding silhouettes of the monsters, Marquis Raeven shouted orders at the troops surrounding him.
“This isn’t a battlefield any more, it’s a killing floor! Just run!”
“My lord!” a knight said as he removed his helmet. “The King! What about the King?”
“You idiot! There’s no time for that! My lord! It’s coming right for us!”
As they looked in the direction of the shouts, the monsters had already begun trampling the fleeing men, and the crushing of the right wing had begun. Although it seemed as though they were charging toward them in a straight line, they were not aiming for Raeven so much as trampling wherever they wanted. In truth, the other Dark Young were far away from where Raeven was.
“Where’s the King?!”
He saw the royal flag in the direction where the soldier was pointing, but a Dark Young was already bearing down on it.
Raeven hesitated. What could he do if he went to help? However, if King Ranpossa III was lost here, the entire country might come apart.
“Leave it to Gazef-dono!”
Raeven had faith in Gazef.
He was a warrior worthy of praise from the King. Although even he would still be unable to defeat those black goat monsters, at the very least, he could bring the king safely out of this hellscape.
“Marquis Raeven! The situation is bad! Please retreat with all haste!”
The voice of the formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurers, the subordinates he most trusted, wiped away Raeven’s hesitation.
It was less of a shout than a scream. Raeven bellowed a reply.
“I know, let’s run!”
Things being what they were, with the monsters at such close range, there was no point disguising it with fancy words like “retreat”.
“Please leave the task of rallying the men to me! My lord, you need to get out of here now, and head for E-Rantel!”
The shout came from a sleepy-eyed man. Although he looked unremarkable, Raeven could not have entrusted his command to a better person.
“I’ll leave it to you! Use my name as you see fit! I’ll bear the consequences!”
The sound of hooves was very near. Marquis Raeven was so afraid that he did not dare turn around to see how close they were, and his fear led him to stick his spurs into his horse’s flanks with all his might. However, the horse did not move. Even when he kicked it with more force, it still did not move. It flattened its ears against its head and stayed still.
At that moment, amidst the chaos, a group of horses kicked their way through a horde of fleeing people. The men on their backs clung tightly to their horses’ bodies, seemingly ignoring the reins that dangled loosely.
Ironically enough, the trained warhorses were frozen in panic, while the untrained horses were running wild in terror.
“To think training would have the reverse effect!”
In the first place, horses were timid animals. It was only after training that they could be considered fearless warhorses. However, it was precisely because of this training that they could not move. Their minds were already overloaded, but they had not forgotten their training.
“Forgive me! [Lion’s Heart]!”
The priest of the Wind God, Yorlan Dixgort, cast a spell of fear resistance on the horse. The calmed horse whinnied loudly.
“Marquis Raeven! We’ll lead the way!”
With the voices of his subordinates wishing him well echoing at his back, Raeven spurred his horse into wild motion, escorted by the former adventurers.
Riding a horse through a violent mob that had lost their discipline in the chaos was very difficult. However, it was possible because they had once been orichalcum-ranked adventurers, who stood close to the pinnacle of humanity.
The group skilfully threaded between the flow of humanity.
“That magic caster’s a monster! How can someone like him be allowed to exist in the world?!”
Raeven cursed Ainz as his horse jerked up and down in its top-speed gallop.
“Dammit! We have to do something! I need to think of some way to protect our world — our future!”
Fear was probably the reason why he was subconsciously mumbling to himself. If he did not say anything, if he did not distract his mind, that intelligent brain of his would probably sketch horrific nightmares of the danger approaching him.
When he returned, he would need to sit down with the Prince (Zanack) and the Princess (Renner) and draw up some form of countermeasure against that incomparable magic caster.
If this went on, all of humanity would be conquered ─ no, that was still alright. In the worst case, all of humanity might become toys for Ainz Ooal Gown, to be tormented until the ends of their lives.
The sound of a tongue clicking carried over the sounds of the horse’s hooves.
“Not good! My lord, please guide your horse to the right! It’s caught up with us!”
“How did it find us without eyes?!” Lockmeyer the thief shouted. “Lund! Do you have any magic for this?”
“Of course not! Do you think any spells would work against that monster, Lock?”
“Even so, how will we know if we don’t try—”
“Stop! Don’t do anything until you have to! It might just be advancing in the same direction as us! Marquis Raeven! Move in front of us! We’ll form up single file!”
Their voices were trembling.
In accordance with the instructions, Raeven moved his horse to the pole position. Then, he turned his horse toward the direction where less people were fleeing.
The cry of a Dark Young came from nearby, and it felt like it was going to squash his pounding heart in his chest.
—It was close.
The sweat poured off Marquis Raeven’s head like a waterfall. He was so afraid that he did not dare turn around, but he could sense the air behind him getting warmer and warmer.
And then, he heard it again—
“Son of a bitch! No good! It was coming this way all along! …Everyone! Prepare yourselves!”
THe magic casters responded to the shouts of the leader Boris with their spells
“Good! Then, my lord! Let us receive the enemy’s attack! Do not look back under any circumstances and continue riding!”
There was only one thing he could say to the adventurers, who had conquered their fear.
“…I’m counting on you!”
“Understood! Let’s go!”
He could hear the horses of the former adventurers drawing away from him.
Raeven lowered his head, doing his best to minimize wind resistance. Although he did not know how much time they could buy, he knew he had to run as hard as he could without looking back — returning alive would be the only way to repay their loyalty.
“I’ll blow you away! [Fireball]!!”
As he rode away on the back of the wildly-galloping horse, Raeven thought he could hear the sound of the former adventurers joining battle, even through the wind whipping past his face.
And then — within two seconds he could not hear the former adventurers any more.
What he did hear was the sound of an enormous hoof falling.
His heart lurched in his chest.
As he saw the shadow from his lowered field of vision, Raeven did his best to hold back a scream.
He realized there was a massive shadow beneath his feet ─ his body carried by the speeding horse ─ and that a long and thick tentacle was reaching out for him.
The horse ran like it had gone mad. It was faster than Raeven had ever ridden it. It might have been the fastest it had ever gone. Even so, the mighty shadow still stretched out across the earth.
“I don’t want this!”
He screamed. He had not expected himself to scream, and so loudly.
Warmth spread through his crotch.
Raeven forced his eyes open, and without looking back, he forced the horse forward.
He could not die yet. It did not matter what happened to the country. If it was to fall, then let it fall.
If taking up arms against Ainz Ooal Gown meant death, then he was willing to abandon this country and flee.
He had been an idiot.
Truly, he had been an idiot.
Coming to this battlefield was truly foolish.
Since he knew how powerful Ainz Ooal Gown was, he should have stayed in the Royal Capital no matter the cost.
He would not think of the Kingdom’s future any more.
“I don’t want this!”
He could not die yet.
He could not die while his son was still so young. And… he could not leave his beloved wife alone by dying.
Raeven imagined the form of his son before him.
My lovely boy.
A tiny little life had been born. It slowly grew up. It got sick. Back then, he had made a huge fuss because of that. The image of himself running around half-mad, bellowing orders, while his wife sat there in silence was deeply embarrassing.
His hands were soft and his cheeks were rosy. When he grew into a youth, he would be the talk of the Kingdom. He believed his son’s abilities would surpass his own. He could already see traces of that from time to time.
His wife kept saying that any parent would think the best of their child, but he did not think that was the case.
Raeven was deeply grateful to his wife, who had bore his beloved son. However, he rarely said so because it embarrassed him.
It was time for a second child.
If he had not come to this battlefield, he might have been able to hold their hands─
The sound of the hooves had stopped.
Driven more by curiosity than courage, Raeven turned around. All he saw was the Dark Young standing motionless, as though frozen in place.
He had no idea where he was. It was like he had been hurled into a nightmare.
The title of the Four Knights —the title belonging to the mightiest warriors of the Baharuth Empire— now seemed so shockingly superficial.
How pathetic a creature was he, to be so proud of such an insignificant little thing? That was how great of a shock he had received.
Nimble could hear the sound of subdued weeping. It was the sobbing of people who had been pushed past their limits by fear and unease. It was a childish — no, it was the agonized wailing of men who had been reduced to children. The ones who wept were the Imperial knights.
He heard people beg “just run away.”
That was the prayer of the knights who had — with eyes full of pity — watched that hideous carnage swallow up their fellow human beings.
So wretched was this tragedy that even the enemies of the Royal Army, the Imperial knights, offered up prayers for them.
They prayed that at least some would survive. The more, the better.
They had come here to kill the enemy. However, no human being could remain unmoved and not feel pity when they witnessed the massacre taking place in front of them. Anyone who could remain unmoved would be a fiend with a man’s face, an inhuman being.
In addition, Nimble and the knights realised that this could not be dismissed as a matter of “us vs them.”
Certainly, from the point of view of the Kingdom against the Empire, this disaster was happening to “them.” But when you looked at it from the perspective of men against monsters, this brutal slaughter was happening to “us.”
“Well then, I think it’s time.”
All eyes went to Ainz as he spoke quietly.
There were 60,000 people present, and his voice was not loud enough to reach all of them. However, they could tell when the people beside them turned their heads. And once they knew that the faces of their neighbors were turned to Ainz Ooal Gown, they too followed suit.
After all, every move and gesture made by the man who had orchestrated this nightmare —Ainz Ooal Gown— filled all present with uncontrollable terror.
Ainz slowly removed his mask.
He exposed his skinless, fleshless, polished white skull to the world.
If the circumstances had been different, perhaps they might have thought he was wearing a mask under his mask. However, as they saw this, the hearts of Nimble and all the knights of the Empire sank.
They understood that this was his true face; that Ainz Ooal Gown was a monster.
That was because they had a premonition; anyone who could wield such power could not be human.
Ainz slowly spread his arms. He looked like he was embracing a friend — or was it a demon spreading its wings? In the eyes of all who were watching, he seemed to double in size.
In the silence — interrupted only by the anguished screams of the Kingdom’s soldiers in the distance — Ainz’s still, small voice rang out with exceptional clarity.
“— Applause, then.”
What is he saying, Nimble thought as he stared at Ainz with his mouth open.
Everyone who could hear him thought the same thing, and as Ainz’s words were whispered throughout the army, more and more people turned their eyes to him.
Then, when everyone’s attention was on him, he spoke again.
“A round of applause, in celebration of my supreme power.”
The first to applaud was Mare, who stood by Ainz’s side, opposite Nimble. As though sparked by it, the scattered sounds of clapping began rising up from the soldiers, until it become a thunderous ovation.
Of course, they were not truly cheering for him.
Nobody wanted to applaud a person who brought this kind of cruel butchery with him. This was not war. It was slaughter. A massacre.
Only, nobody present could speak these words. Nobody dared.
Their earth-shaking applause was the sum of all the knights’ fears.
And then the intensity of the riotous applause, which all present thought could not get any greater, rose several more notches.
That was because one of the Dark Young had slowly changed its course. It would soon reach the Imperial army.
Shouts of praise rang out, to match the applause.
The Imperial knights cried out in praise of Ainz Ooal Gown. They screamed until their throats bled.
Yet, the Dark Young did not slow its pace.
And so, the knights cried out even louder. They thought the beast was approaching because he was not pleased with their volume.
─But still, it did not stop.
─And thus, their tightly wound nerves snapped.
Nobody knew who started it. It might have just been the wavering of a single knight. However, that was enough for the terror which filled them beyond their limits to burst forth..
The soul-wrenching scream echoed throughout the ranks and shook the Imperial army.
One of the monsters which had trampled the Royal Army underfoot was bearing down on them. This abnormal situation so terrified some of the Imperial knights that they abandoned their unmoving horses and fled for their lives. After seeing the hellish sight from just now, even those who lacked vivid imaginations knew exactly what would happen when it was their turn under that beast’s hooves.
And of course — fear was contagious.
While less than a hundred people fled at first, that number swelled within moments, until it was a flight of sixty thousand.
The Imperial army had fallen into panic, their regimentation in tatters.
It was a disgraceful rout.
The knights had obviously been taught how to fall back in good order. However, they no longer had the luxury of adhering to such discipline. If it would let them leave this place one second faster, if they could move one step more in flight toward a safe place, they would push down their comrades in front of them with all their might and flee.
When shoved from behind, it was unavoidable that people would lose their balance and fall. And once they fell down, the panic-driven throng behind them would not give them the chance to rise.
The ones who fell would be trampled by the ones behind them.
Even if they wore metal armor, everyone else wore metal armor as well. They would be stamped into a single fused mass of metal and meat.
Scenes like this were happening everywhere.
The Imperial army’s casualties were not caused by the enemy, but by themselves.
Nimble did not know what to do next, and he hesitated.
He wanted to run as well. However, he could not do so, and not all the knights had escaped, in any event.
As he looked back across the formation, he saw a scant few people remaining, stock still atop their horses.
They had not remained because of their fear. Rather, it was because they were mesmerized by the sight of overwhelming power, and had forgotten themselves in their excitement.
For instance, normal people would flee when they saw a huge tornado sweeping in toward them. However, there were certain beings who admired the beauty of the tornado and stood still ─ even though they realized it would claim their lives. Those that remained could be considered deviants.
The Dark Young arrived before Ainz, bent its knees, and lowered its tentacles. It was probably displaying its submission.
Nimble smiled, his face twitching, as the monster acted in a decidedly non-monstrous way.
The Dark Young’s body should have been splattered in fresh blood, but it was nowhere to be seen because it had already been absorbed by its skin.
It wrapped its tentacles around Ainz’s waist, then extended several more to firmly grip his body before raising him up. Then, it placed him on its head.
“I believe the original plan was that I would cast a spell upon the enemy, and then the Imperial army would follow up with a charge, but it would seem you have no intention to act.”.
Nimble had nothing to say.
Ainz was right. The Empire had broken the terms of the agreement which they themselves had made with the King of their allied country.
However, one could not blame the knights for losing their nerve. Nimble would defend them even in front of Jircniv, because he knew the overwhelming terror which had gripped them.
“Ah, I have no intention of rebuking you. I understand you’re concerned that if you launch an assault, there is a chance you may be trampled along with the enemy. Truthfully speaking, if that happened, I would be hard-pressed to explain those deaths to your Emperor. Well, in that case, I guess I’ll handle your part of the job as well.”
Nimble looked to the company of the undead, which had remained still all this time.
“Will… will… will those undead troops make an assault, then?”
“Oh, no, I’ll let these lambs handle it since it’s such a rare chance for them to do so. I simply perform some light cleaning up. Mare, do not lower your guard.”
“Yes, yes! Please leave it to me, Ainz-sama!”
Nimble was speechless.
He said he would press the attack; him, in person, the one who had cast a spell like that.
His tone suggested that he did not intend to let anyone return alive from this battlefield. It was clear that his hunger for carnage was insatiable.
“To think… it’s not enough. Is he a devil?”
Although he was muttering to himself, Nimble’s words were louder than he thought, and Ainz turned his terrible visage on him from where he was seated atop the Dark Young.
He shook his head at the quivering Nimble.
“Do not be mistaken. I am undead.”
What Ainz must have been trying to say was that he was not a demon that exalted the idea of evil, but an undead being that hated the living. As such, he would not permit a single soldier of the Kingdom to escape. He would take even more lives.
That was the most likely answer, and also the most disastrous one.
If Ainz wanted to slay everything that lived because he was undead, then it was possible that his sights might someday be set on the Empire, which was filled with the living.
No, that was sure to happen in the future.
What should I do? Assaulted by confusion and fear, Nimble lacked the ability to focus, and he did not hear Ainz’s last whispered words.
“…And it seems I have found my target.”
♦ ♦ ♦
The headquarters of King Ranpossa III was located in the center of the Royal army. It was surrounded by countless banners belonging to numerous nobles of the Kingdom of Re-Estize.
Although there had been many nobles gathered here before, only a few remained here. Most of them had already fled, and only a scant few remained in this camp. Of course, the king had no intention of blaming the court nobles for running away.
“You lot, leave me behind and run!”
“This is no time for jokes! Your Majesty, please flee with all haste. Once it has its eye on us, we’ll have no chance to survive!”
The speaker was Gazef’s subordinate, the vice-captain of the warrior band.
“How can I run away, as the King?”
“Even if your Majesty stays, there is nothing you can do. Should you not return to E-Rantel and plan the counter-attack?”
Ranpossa III smiled bitterly. It hurt to listen to those words.
“That’s right. Even if I stay here, there is nothing left for me to do.”
It was impossible to rally his broken, routed army under these circumstances. It was not just Ranpossa III who could not do it; even the famed generals of old would have found this unreasonable task to be impossible.
“Your Majesty! There’s no time! Listen up, you lot, you must bring his Majesty home even if you have to tie him up!”
Gazef’s subordinates leapt into action.
Wasting more time would endanger not only himself but the people around him. With that in mind, Ranpossa III made his decision and rose to his feet.
“Alright. Let’s go. But what will change if we flee now?”
The footfalls shook the ground like an earthquake as they drew closer. But even under these extreme circumstances, Ranpossa III remained calm. It was a far cry from the chaotic noises the nobles had made.
“First of all, it’s impossible. If we try to flee on horseback, it’ll come after us. It seems to target large groups of fleeing soldiers first. Therefore, there’s only one way for us to be saved.”
It was only now that Ranpossa III realised why they had urged the nobles to mount up and flee in groups just now.
“So all we can do is run on foot.”
Some of the warriors began removing and discarding their armor.
“These men will carry your Majesty and flee.”
“And what about you?”
Not everyone had removed their armor. For instance, the vice-captain was still wearing his.
“I’ll act as a mounted distraction and flee in the opposite direction.”
Ranpossa III saw the bright smiles on the warriors’ faces, and realized that they had made their peace with death.
“Impossible. You are the treasures of our Kingdom! No matter what, you must survive! I still need you to serve my descendants!”
“Of course. Although we intend to be bait, we do not intend to die!”
That was a lie. They were planning to die. Or rather, they had accepted that death was their destiny.
Ranpossa III tried to think of something to convince them, but he could not speak. In the face of the warriors’ smiles, everything he came up with sounded insincere and shallow..
The warriors around him helped remove Ranpossa III’s armor.
A warrior in pure white armor stepped forward. He was Climb, his daughter Renner’s sole subordinate, who had given everything he had in her service.
“Allow me to assist in the diversion. Although we don’t know if these monsters have eyes, but if we wave our flags non-stop, we should be able to draw their attention. And this armor should be quite eye-catching.”
Climb held the Kingdom’s flag in his hand. it had been dirtied by the footprints of fleeing soldiers, and it seemed to summarize their current current situation.
“Aye. Then I’ll go too.”
Beside Climb was Brain Unglaus. Apparently he was a first-rate warrior who was the equal of his trusted vassal, Gazef Stronoff. Brain had entered this war as Renner’s subordinate. In other words, he was in the same position as Climb.
“Are you sure? Strictly speaking, you are not exactly the Princess’ subordinate.”
“Ah? Well, don’t worry about that. During the demonic disturbance we were on the frontlines, and somehow we still made it back alive. This time, we’ll just hope that luck is with us. And we hope that luck is with you too.”
“The gods will not watch in silence. During that disturbance, a hero came to save us. I trust they will change our fate too.”
Before Ranpossa III, Brain and the vice-captain touched their knuckles together to bid him farewell.
“How did it end up like this…”
Where had it all gone wrong?
Ranpossa III moaned softly. In all likelihood, none of the men in front of him would survive.
The vice-captain and Climb would die as bait.
And he did not know what had happened to Gazef, who had vanished into the chaos after saying he intended to stop the Dark Young.
His eyes burned.
Forgive me, he wanted to say.
They were going to act as decoys for an old man, throwing their lives and futures away for him.
But he could not say that. They probably knew they were going to die, but they were going to cling to life as hard as they could.
In that case─
“Return safely to E-Rantel, and I shall grant you any reward you desire.”
Climb and Brain paused mid-step and turned around.
“There’s no need for a reward, your Majesty. I exist to aid Renner-sama. How could I dare ask for a reward…”
“As for for what I want, well, I’d like this kid I’m interested in here to marry the prettiest princess in the country.”
“…Hahahaha. Well, that is a lavish reward.”
“Brain-san! What are you saying?”
“Well, we’ll have to start by giving the kid a lordship. Work hard!”
“Then you must return alive no matter what, Climb-kun.”
Climb’s frightened eyes and open mouth no longer had the warrior’s spirit they had possessed just now. The King, however, had forgotten everything and allowed a bright smile onto his face.
“Then, we’ll be off, your Majesty.”
“I’ll leave it to you.”
The now-unarmored Ranpossa III was borne aloft by a soldier.
“Your Majesty. Even now, our flight is still a matter of luck. If the worst happens… I pray you will forgive us.”
“That’s fine. It was my decision to use your idea. If it fails due to misfortune, then I will have no complaints.”
“Then! Your Majesty! May we meet again in E-Rantel!”
The vice-captain galloped off on his horse. As though it was waiting for him, one of the Dark Young changed its direction.
“Alright! Let’s go while everyone’s drawing it off!”
Amidst the chaos caused by men desperately fleeing for their lives, Gazef fixed his eyes ahead of him, and then slowly drew the national treasure of the Kingdom, Razor Edge. Every time he had drawn this coldly gleaming blade, he had achieved victory. In other words, this sword was the proof of Gazef’s triumph.
However, the sword seemed terribly weak and fragile today.
He was tiny and insignificant compared to the Dark Young which was charging right at him.
“If I let it past me, the King’s main camp is next. I need to stop it here.”
As he said that, Gazef face’s softened, as though he were mocking himself.
There was no way for Gazef to beat that monster. Just delaying it for a second was worthy of praise.
Even a man hailed as the Warrior-Captain of the Kingdom —a warrior renowned throughout the surrounding nations— could only do so much.
“Take his Majesty and flee. Pave his way home with your lives.”
Gazef whispered these orders —almost like a prayer— to his subordinates who were not here. The strongest soldiers in the Kingdom had stayed behind to protect their King. However, even if they stayed behind, they would not worthy of protecting the King from the savagery of those monsters. Even if they put their lives on the line, all they could do was serve as meatshields that would crumble after one hit.
However, that was enough.
They would die if the enemy hit them, but as long as they could make sure that hit was wasted on them, the King’s life could be extended just a little more. Maybe it would work if 80 men were there to be shields, he thought optimistically.
Gazef apologized to his subordinates even as the monster approached with uncanny speed, churning up sprays of flesh and gore in its wake. He knew that an apology to absent comrades was nothing more than comforting himself. Even so, he did not want to die without having spoken those words.
As he felt the earth trembling under his feet, Gazef exhaled forcefully.
He gripped the sword in his hands tightly, and raised it.
Compared to that vast body that crushed humans into red paste, his sword seemed utterly useless.
If it were a runaway horse cart, he could easily get control of it. Even if a ferocious tiger pounced him, he could evade its first blow and strike off its head.
Yet, in front of the Dark Young, his chances of survival seemed very low indeed.
As Gazef breathed out, a dramatic change appeared in the flow of people around him. Until now they had gone in all directions, but now it seemed like they were moving to avoid Gazef. It looked as though they were creating a clear path between Gazef and the Dark Young.
The Dark Young continued splattering humans under its feet as it closed in.
As Gazef raised his sword, he studied its body. Where could he attack for the best results?
He activated a martial art — [Sense Weakness].
“—It has no weaknesses.”
Gazef did not know if that was because it truly had no weaknesses, or because it was so much more powerful than him that he could not read them.
Still, he did not despair. He had expected that much, after all.
He activated another martial art.
This was a secret move that was truly worthy of being called a secret move, a technique that strengthened his extrasensory perceptions, [Possibility Sense].
The difference in their physical abilities was so vast that it made no difference if he shrunk a gap of miles by an inch or two through augmenting his own physical attributes. In that case, he decided to rely on something else — perhaps his sixth sense might be more effective.
The Dark Young seemed to have heard the challenge, and set a course straight for Gazef. The distance between the two shrank dramatically.
This was the truth.
Gazef was afraid.
If it was at all possible, he would have liked to flee with the surrounding soldiers.
Even after activating [Possibility Sense], he could not feel anything. It was like he was enveloped by an impenetrable wall of night.
As the Dark Young closed in, he studied its form in greater detail.
Judging by the way its hooves remained undamaged, it was likely that normal swords would not be able to deal any harm to it. From the deep prints it left in the ground where it stepped, its weight would instantly kill anyone it was applied to.
The more he learned about it, the more his fear of it grow.
Right now, Gazef was exposed to a terror far more intense than those of the soldiers fleeing willy-nilly around him.
But he could not turn back.
The Kingdom’s strongest warrior could not flee. He cancelled [Possibility Sense], and calmed his breathing.
The Dark Young closed in.
It was close enough that the clods of dirt kicked up by its hooves could reach Gazef.
It ignored the soldiers around it, like they were nothing but crawling worms, and headed straight for Gazef.
No, he was wrong.
The Dark Young swerved to the side, like it had hit a wall. Because it had turned so quickly, the Dark Young’s footsteps were messed up, and even with so many legs, it lost its balance.
Of course, Gazef did not think it had run away from him.
It had simply considered where it could find more prey and felt that it could trample more people if it turned to the side.
The Dark Young charged past Gazef, making the world quake in its passing.
Because there was only a meter or so of separation between them, the ground under his feet shook like an earthquake. Anyone but Gazef would have fallen down.
He aimed at the Dark Young’s gigantic hoof as it ran past—
Gazef swung his sword. At this speed, the enemy’s own velocity would become a weapon that would tear itself apart on the edge of his blade.
In the instant the hoof touched the sword, a massive impact travelled up the weapon and into Gazef’s arms. It made him feel as though his arms had been torn off.
His feet, planted firmly in the ground, left two trenches in the dirt as he was dragged backward.
Somehow, he had kept his grip on his sword, but pain spread through his entire body. Be it his muscles or his tendons, every part of him hurt from the stress it had to bear.
Gazef panted heavily, and stared at the giant body that passed him.
Not far from Gazef, one of the Dark Young had finally stood still as opposed to running madly.
One of its tentacles became a blur.
Fear shot through his body. Gazef hurriedly raised his sword.
In that instant, an extraordinary impact struck him, and his body floated into the sky.
Gazef could not see anything, but he guessed that he must have been slapped away by the tentacle. His body flew through the sky.
After hanging in the air for a surprisingly long time, Gazef’s body finally struck the earth. He rolled several times. This rolling was not the tumbling of a flung corpse, but the deliberate action of a human that was trying to bleed off the energy of his rotation.
Gazef slowly stood up, spurring his ungainly body into motion. He stared at the distant Dark Young.
It had been just one hit.
The arm that took the strike had broken. It was probably sheer good luck that his sword had not snapped as well.
All emotion vanished from Gazef’s face
Why had he been spared? Why had it not pursued him?
It was probably because it had no need to finish him off. Gazef felt that was the most appropriate answer.
This was not a defeat. He had not even come anywhere close to the arena.
Fresh blood flowed from his bitten lip.
Following that, Gazef suppressed the intense pain which filled him and ran forth with all his might.
Even if he could not beat his opponent, even if his limit was one more hit, even so, he still had to protect his King.
However, his footsteps ─ filled with conviction and determination ─ faltered after several paces.
He looked at the Dark Young that had changed direction toward him —there was no mistake here— and he realized why he had managed to survive.
Upon the Dark Young, there was a king seated upon what looked like a throne made of tentacles. However, he had a bizarre face. It was skeletal, and there was no doubt that he was an undead monster.
He was not nearly foolish enough not to recognize who that king was.
“Ainz Ooal Gown… dono. So you weren’t human after all.”
The Theocracy’s special forces. Gazef had no hope of defeating them, yet they had been easily wiped out. No human could have done that, which made this realization simple to accept.
Yes. Why had he even thought someone that powerful could have been human to begin with?
Even before he looked back, he knew who it was by the hoarseness of the voice. The familiar pair came running toward him.
“Are you two alright?”
Climb and Brain were unhurt, and Climb’s pure white armor had not been so much as stained. Considering the two of them had not tried to escape at once, that was a considerable stroke of good luck.
“I’m glad you’re safe!”
“I didn’t think you would die, and turns out you didn’t. However, it’s not over yet, right?”
The two of them joined their lines of sight to where Gazef had been looking just now.
“It can only be one person, Climb-kun. The monster who rules over other monsters. That is Ainz Ooal Gown.”
“That is… that is… How shall I say this… I, I’m sorry.”
At a glance, Climb’s body was shuddering. His stiff, frozen expression betrayed the fact that he was not quaking in excitement or anticipation.
“Don’t worry, Climb-kun. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Or rather, it can’t be helped! A third person whose strength surpasses all rational sense! What has my life become ever since that day!”
Brain radiated a powerful fighting spirit he took a stance. Gazef was surprised at his facial expression, which was casual and easy and did not suit the circumstances.
“I-I mustn’t run away either!”
Climb and Brain stood at Gazef’s side.
Amidst flying chunks of meat, the Dark Young halted in front of Gazef.
Distant screams echoed over, and only this place was silent.
It was as though this area was no longer part of the world.
Ainz’s line of sight turned from Gazef, passed uninterestedly over Brain, and then halted on Climb. He shrugged, and looked back to Gazef.
“…You’re looking quite lively, Stronoff-dono.”
“I could say the same to you, Gown-dono… huhu. Would that be a problem, to say you’re lively? After all, if you stopped being a human after we parted ways back then, it would be terribly rude.”
“Hahaha. No, I have not changed since that time.”
Ainz floated down from the top of the Dark Young as he chuckled. He must have been using some sort of magical effect, given how he slowly floated down in defiance of gravity.
Although he thought it might be that famous spell [Fly], after considering the fact the Ainz Ooal Gown was a mighty magic caster, he concluded that it must be a superior version of that spell – though how superior it was, or what kind of spell it was, Gazef did not know.
“Truly, it has been a long time, Stronoff-dono. Ever since Carne Village.”
“Indeed it has, Gown-dono. Then… permit me to ask, why have you sought me out? Could it be that you found a familiar face on the battlefield and decided to meet me?”
“Well, yes. I don’t like fancy talk, and beating around the bush is not appropriate for this place. So… I’ll get right to it.”
Ainz slowly raised a skeletal hand.
There was no enmity there, but instead, it was a gesture of friendship.
“Become my subordinate.”
In that instant, Gazef’s eyes widened into circles.
At the same time, one could hear Brain and Climb on both sides of him gulping audibly.
Who could have imagined that such a mighty magic caster could say such a thing to him?
“If you do—”
Ainz snapped his fingers. How exactly he had done it with skeletal fingers remained a mystery.
Gazef’s body shuddered, as though something had been done to him.
However, there had been no changes in his mind or body. He felt nothing.
“Look around you.”
Gazef turned his eyes to his surroundings. Everything was—
“I see. They’ve stopped.”
The Dark Young had all stopped in the middle of whatever they were doing. The way they hung motionless in the air, halfway through stomping down, made them look like statues.
“This is only temporary. What happens after this will depend on your decision. If you refuse, I will give orders to these lambs once more. I trust I don’t need to tell you what those orders are?”
Gazef stared dumbly at Ainz.
Even if he forced Gazef to swear allegiance to him by using hostages, the bond would lack loyalty, and it would be courting betrayal from within. Surely Ainz must have considered all of this before making his offer.
Then, it meant there must have been some other reason behind his words.
But what it was, Gazef did not know.
Still, there had to be some reason why he —a being who could command an army like this— was interested in Gazef alone.
“How about it? Gazef Stronoff, enter my service.”
Ainz extended his bony hand.
If he took that hand, he would save many lives.
Gazef’s heart wavered mightily.
He had been granted the chance to save the lives of the Kingdom’s people.
However — Gazef could not take that hand.
It was a poor decision.
That choice would only satisfy his ego.
A hundred out of a hundred people would curse Gazef for a fool.
Even so, Gazef could not do anything that would betray the Kingdom.
Gazef firmly shook his head in refusal.
“I refuse. I am the sword of the King. He has shown me his kindness, and I cannot compromise on this.”
“Even if, in the end, your choice costs more lives? You risked your life to challenge a mighty foe at Carne Village. Will you now throw others’ lives away that you could have saved?”
Gazef’s heart felt like it was being carved by a knife.
But even then, Gazef Stronoff still could not take Ainz Ooal Gown’s hand.
The Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain could not betray the King.
That was the extent of Gazef’s loyalty.
His irritation building in the face of the silent Gazef, Ainz shrugged.
“Such a foolish man. Then—”
Gazef did not allow him to complete the sentence, but turned his blade on Ainz.
His injuries from facing the Dark Young just now had not fully recovered, even with the power of the Talisman.
Even so, it was not his wounds which made the tip of his sword tremble. Gazef’s entire body radiated fighting spirit.
“Gown-dono. As one who has benefited from your kindness, I wish to apologize for this disresepctful act… I wish to request a one-on-one duel with you.”
Ainz’s face was a fleshless skull. Because of this, one could not tell what kind of expression he had, or discern what he was thinking.
However, for some reason, Gazef thought he was speechless. It was the same for the two behind him. They were silent, but he could sense their consternation.
“…Are you serious?”
“…You will die.”
“There is no doubt of that.”
“If you knew, then why do so? I had no intention of killing you at first… are you suicidal?”
“I did not think so at first, no.”
“…What are you thinking? I cannot understand your logic. If you believed you could win and challenged me, I could understand it. If you thought there was a chance of victory under the circumstances, that would be reasonable as well. However, you firmly believe that you will lose. Have you lost the ability to make proper decisions?”
“The enemy king stands before me, and he is within the reach of my sword. Is it not natural to see if I can take the head that presents itself?”
“It is true that the physical distance between us is very small. However, it seems to me that there is an overwhelming gulf between us. Am I wrong?”
With a whoosh, the sagging tentacles of the Dark Young behind Ainz snapped forth, gouging a crater into the earth beside Gazef.
Even Gazef’s motion-tracking vision could not follow the tentacle striking the ground beside him.
“That may be so, Gown-dono.”
“Are you pushing your luck because I said I did not want to kill you?”
Gazef laughed from the bottom of his heart.
“Certainly not. I simply wish to do what I, as the Warrior-Captain of the Kingdom, should do. That is all I was thinking.”
“…If I accept your challenge, you do realize I will slay you without mercy? It is only to be expected.”
“Indeed it is.”
“So that’s how it will be… even after I’ve said all this, you refuse to change your mind. What a shame. Speaking as a collector, it is a poor thing to have to destroy a rare specimen (you).”
Gazef had no intention of backing down.
This was an unbelievable stroke of luck. To begin with, Ainz, who surrounded himself with incredible subordinates, was now standing alone in front of him without any bodyguards.
On top of that, his pride as a mighty individual meant that he would not order the Dark Young behind him into action.
He would never get a chance like this again.
His enemy stood at a height that he could not reach with both hands. However, right now, he had a chance to bridge the gap between them.
The next time they met, he would probably surround himself with a multitude of guards, as befitted a magic caster who was poor in close combat. Gazef would never get within sword range of Ainz again. Having considered that, he had challenged Ainz to a duel.
And there was another reason for the duel.
While it was a very slim chance, even so—
Gazef issued his formal challenge.
“Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown-dono! My name is Gazef Stronoff, Warrior-Captain of the Kingdom of Re-Estize! I formally request a duel with you!”
The other two could not bear it any longer, and Brain cried out while Climb murmured. However, Gazef did not heed them and continued speaking.
“If you find it acceptable, Sorcerer King-dono, I pray you will find these two suitable witnesses for our combat.”
Go ahead, it seemed to say. When Gazef realised this, he nodded.
“Wait, wait a minute! Hang on, Gazef! I can always die alongside you! Don’t go alone! My lord Sorcerer-King! Please, I beg you! I know this is shameless beyond belief, but this is a heartfelt request! Please allow us both to face you! I know it won’t inconvenience you in the slightest!”
As he heard Brain’s strangled plea, Gazef thought, as I expected…
The carefree expression he had seen on Brain’s face then was that of a warrior that had embraced his fate.
He had long since resolved himself to die beside Gazef at the hands of Ainz Ooal Gown.
However, he did not accept it. He could not accept it.
“Brain Unglaus! Do you wish to stain my conviction as a warrior?”
Brain’s face was a picture of shock.
“—That is fine, Stronoff-dono. I don’t mind taking you two on at once.”
“Please don’t, Sorcerer King-dono. This duel is with me. You two, stay out of it.”
The pinpoints of red light floating in Ainz’s skeletal eyesockets glowed even brighter.
“…I see. I’ve seen those eyes before. They are the eyes of a man who has embraced his death and advances anyway. Firm, unyielding eyes. I admire them.”
Ainz was speaking like a human being.
“Very well. I accept your proposal. I will duel (PVP) Stronoff-dono.”
Brain’s knees crumpled, and he collapsed to the ground.
His low-hanging face could not be seen, but droplets of rain spattered the crimson earth below him.
Gazef told Brain in his heart.
“The corpse will be returned intact. It will facilitate the use of resurrection magic—”
“—There is no need for that.”
Gazef’s words left both his friends and enemy speechless.
“I do not wish to be brought back to life. You may dispose of the body here if you wish.”
It was not that resurrection magic was bad. However, Gazef disliked it.
Everyone only had one life.
That was why the decision to stake one’s life meant so much.
In addition, he could not come back from the dead, for the sake of the Kingdom.
If Gazef died, then the King could spread the news that he had lost an important subject. THat way, the King could temper the hatred and resentment which the people would feel towards the royal family for all the deaths in this battle.
This was a final act of loyalty from the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain, who had chosen to act selfishly.
Ignoring the surprised stares around him, Gazef smiled calmly.
“Then, let us begin. You two, I hope you will bear witness to my final battle.”
Climb could not have imagined that the man called Brain Unglaus could have shown such a fragile side of himself.
The Brain he knew was strong, free-spirited and untouchable. However, he saw no traces of that in the man whose head was lowered. Even so, he did not think Brain was weak.
“Brain. Will you not complete this duty?”
Gazef spoke these words without looking back.
Brain refused to move. The way his hands clawed at the ground conveyed his regret to Climb. Even so, Climb had to say it.
“…This is Stronoff-sama’s wish.”
He did not think Gazef Stronoff could win at all.
That was why Climb and Brain had to fulfil Gazef’s request.
Slowly, Brain rose to his feet
It was hot.
Climb nearly turned tail and ran.
There seemed to be some kind of hot air propelling Brain upwards.
“…How many times have I made you see the disgraceful side of myself, Climb-kun? I’m fine now. I’ll scorch Gazef’s noble form into my eyes.”
What kind of relationship did Brain Unglaus and Gazef Stronoff have?
Climb could not understand the bond between them, especially on Brain’s side.
After losing to Gazef, he had embarked on a journey to advance his sword skills. This was the Brain that Climb knew. However, he did not think their relationship was that simple.
“Then, Stronoff-dono. Could you let me take a look at that sword? I wish to quickly look over it.”
Ainz made that request like he was asking about the weather. Enchanted swords could have all kinds of abilities imbued into them. Examining one would be like revealing the inner workings of one’s strategy. By common sense, nobody would ever agree to that proposal.
Climb was not the only person who had thought that way, which was why Brain’s eyes also went wide at what happened next.
Gazeff turned his sword a full 180 degrees and presented the hilt to Ainz.
“Gazef! Have you completely given up on winning?!”
“Brain! Don’t say such rude things! The Sorcerer King is nothing like that.”
Ainz held the sword and cast a spell. After that, he laughed happily.
“What a marvellous sword.”
Ainz returned the sword to Gazef hilt-first, the same way it had been given to him.
“Stronoff-dono. How much of this sword’s power do you know?”
“I fully understand it. This sword has an unreal sharpness that can cut metal like paper.”
“Incorrect. That is only a fraction of the sword’s power.”
“—What? What do you mean, Sorcerer King-dono?”
“Well, in short, this sword is a weapon that can kill me. Something like that is the absolute minimum condition for a duel. Without a weapon that can harm me, this would be nothing more than an execution.
Sorry for comparing you to the rats that entered my fortress.” Ainz muttered as he suddenly produced a shortsword out of thin air.
Without hesitation, he dragged the edge of the gleaming blade across his face in a forceful slice.
However, it did not leave so much as a scratch.
“Weakly enchanted objects like this cannot harm this body of mine. Incidentally, this shortsword is imbued with about as much data —or rather, as much mana— as that sword you bear, Stronoff-dono. However, your sword can harm me, in clear defiance of what I know to be true. Could I request that sword after I win?”
Gazef smiled thinly.
“Forgive me for refusing, but this sword is a national treasure.”
“Mm. PVP under the pretext of returning dropped items, then? Very well.”
“My deepest thanks, Sorcerer King-dono.”
After returning the sword to Gazef, Ainz stroked his chin in thought. He backed up, one step at a time, as though conforming to some regulated distance between them.
“I think this should be about five meters. And… because there’s no countdown, we will need a signal. You, in the white armor. Find something to start us off.”
Having been suddenly named, Climb shuddered.
“I, I have a magical handbell here. I’ll ring it, and it will signal the start.”
The two of them nodded silently to Climb’s proposal.
Gazef raised his sword, pointing it at his enemy’s eyes. Strength suffused every fiber of his being. In the eyes of Climb who stood behind him, Gazef’s body seemed to grow larger before his eyes.
This was an overwhelming fighting spirit. He had never seen the true pressure the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain could exert. Yet, his body seemed distant and illusory, like a mirage.
This was the last time he would see Gazef alive.
“It’s not guaranteed.”
Suddenly, Brain denied Climb from where he stood beside him.
“There’s no guarantee Gazef will lose. The chances are extremely low, but there’s still a chance of victory. That guy has a killer move, you know? The martial art he uses as a trump card?”
“The [Sixfold Slash of Light]?”
Brain smiled quietly.
“No. It’s an ultimate martial art that far surpasses it. That fellow learned it.”
“Is, is that so?!”
As Climb prepared his handbell, he looked to Gazef’s raised sword, and the profile of his face, which was filled with the utmost focus.
It was the steely face of the man hailed as the Warrior-Captain, renowned in the surrounding countries.
“Yes. It came from a former adamantite-ranked adventurer of the Kingdom. It was a martial art invented by Vestia Croft Di Lofan, but he could not use it because of his advanced age. If my greatest secret move, [Nail Clipper] is the result of using multiple martial arts at once, Gazef’s trump is the strongest single technique. Who knows, that blow… it might even be able to reach Ainz Ooal Gown.”
Perhaps that was why he had asked for a one-on-one duel, Brain muttered. His eyes did not leave the scene before him for an instant.
The hand holding the bell felt heavy. Once he rang it, Gazef’s fate would be sealed.
“Want to swap with me?”
“…Thank you. But… I’ll do it.”
Is that so, Brain mumbled, but he did not say anything else.
Climb raised the bell. He could only pray that victory went to Gazef.
And then —louder than expected— the bell rang.
His consciousness focused to the absolute limit, Gazef stepped in with an unbelievable speed—
Without missing a single moment, Brain and Climb opened their eyes and watched—
—And before any of them, the world went quiet.
“I see… so time-stop countermeasures are important, after all.”
Because Ainz had instantly cast a silent [Time Stop], Gazef was frozen in front of Ainz, his sword raised high.
No attack would work while time was stopped. Even if he used attack magic to barrage Gazef, it would cause him no harm. Because of that, Ainz cast a spell while keeping track of the time.
“[Delay Magic: True Death].”
This was a 9th-tier spell.
He did not use it often because [Grasp Heart] was a more convenient spell.
If no spell could affect an enemy while time-stopped, then all one needed to do was delay the activation of the spell until the moment the spell ended. Although it was a basic combination attack, the timing for it was extremely difficult. As such, only about 5% of all magic-users could pull it off.
Naturally, after much training and practice, Ainz was one of them as well.
“…Farewell, Gazef Stronoff. I never hated you.”
The spell ended, and time returned to the world.
Before anything else could happen, the spell took effect.
—Gazef slowly fell.
Climb and Brain had no idea of what had just happened.
In the moment Gazef had stepped forward, he had suddenly fallen over.
Ainz caught Gazef’s body.
His sword fell from nerveless fingers, and fell to the ground.
The battle was over.
Yet, they could not understand it.
Nobody knew what was going on.
“What on earth happened…?”
“The hell should I know!”
Brain gave voice to an angry cry.
“What’s wrong? Get up! Gazef!”
However, Brain’s earnest hope was coldly denied.
“He is dead.”
Respectfully, perhaps even reverently, the Sorcerer King Ainz laid Gazef upon the ground. After that, he slowly closed the man’s wide-open eyes.
While looking at Gazef’s face, he spoke to the two people nearby.
“…Seeing how he made a challenge with no chance of winning reminded me of that time. As a sign of respect for the Warrior-Captain, I will call off the Dark Young. His body will be returned to you after it is properly prepared.”
“…No, there’s no need for that. We will bring Gazef back. There’s no need to trouble you.”
Climb exhaled heavily.
Would Brain challenge Ainz to a hopeless battle? he wondered, However, there was no need for that.
“Is that so,” Ainz replied before standing back up.
“The instant death spell I used, [True Death], will invalidate lower-tier resurrection magic. Tell this to the people of the Kingdom. Tell them I will be merciful to those who submit respectfully.”
Ainz lightly floated into the air.
Even as they saw his defenseless back, the two of them knew they could not commit a shameful act like attacking from behind.
Ainz sat on the tentacles of the Dark Young.
It was truly a terrifying throne.
“Cede E-Rantel and the surrounding areas to me without delay and these lambs will not frolic through the royal capital. Tell the King this, when you see him again.”
The Dark Young turned and left, and the other four Dark Young also began making their way back to the Imperial castrum.
“Climb-kun. I have one request…Could I bring Gazef-dono back?”
“…Very well. Then I will bring Stronoff-sama’s sword home.”
“A lot of people died.”
“Yeah, too many to count.”
“…What just happened?”
“I don’t know. But, if someone as powerful as that calls himself a king and claims this territory…”
“I’m sure that in the future, a war will definitely break out. And who knows, the dead may outnumber the corpses here today.”
Walking behind Brain, who was carrying Gazef on his back, Climb’s thoughts turned to the future of the Kingdom, which was wreathed in dark clouds.
Brain’s words would definitely come true. What was important was what he could do, and then, what he would do.
And the most important thing was─
—I have to protect Renner-sama.
Climb clenched his fist, and made up his mind. At the very least, he had to protect his mistress, no matter the cost.