Chapter 2: In Pursuit of the Land of the Dwarves
Shalltear and Aura gathered at the lakeside near the Lizardman village, accompanied by their hand-picked followers.
Under Shalltear were 25 undead beings, each around level 80 or so. Aura had picked out 30 magical beasts. There were six Vampire Brides who were attendants to Shalltear, Aura and Ainz. Then, there were the five Hanzos Ainz had brought with him. After that were five Mammoth-like magical beasts of burden which had been summoned with in-game currency. Said beasts had cargo harnesses on both sides, the kind that was commonly used in YGGDRASIL.
They could be considered the weakest beings in the group, given that they were only level 40 or so. Still, their cargo-carrying capabilities were quite impressive, and their cold and fire resistance meant that they could move easily through frozen tundra or near calderas filled with churning lava. The most important thing was that their appearances belied their incredible mobility and ability to operate for long periods without eating or drinking.
Ainz ordered Cocytus to stand by behind him, and then called Zenberu forward.
“What do you wish of me, Your Majesty?”
Zenberu stepped away from Zaryusu and Crusch — Ainz remembered their names — and came before him. Ainz could not help but look at the little white Lizardman that Crusch was cradling.
Perhaps Crusch sensed Ainz’s collector spirit, but she instinctively moved to protect her child.
It’s not like I’m going to snatch it away…
Feeling a little depressed, Ainz handed Zenberu three items.
“Take them. This ring eliminates the need to sleep, eat or drink. This ring grants cold resistance. And this necklace grants the ability to use the [Fly] spell. I will teach you how to use it later. It’s in case you fall off a cliff.”
“Many thanks, Your Majesty.”
This was the basic mountaineering gear he used during his YGGDRASIL days. He could swap out his gear in response to any unique area effects he encountered in the Azellisia Mountain Range.
“Sorry about interrupting your preparations. I have done everything I needed to do. You may return.”
Zenberu nodded and returned silently.
“Cocytus. It would seem the children are quite curious.”
The children did not flee but kept their distance, looking at Ainz and the others with sparkly (?) eyes.
Mm. Would the kids be able to adapt if I brought them to a human city? No, what if I did the opposite and brought human children here? Maybe I could build a campsite nearby, and then bring the Lizardman children there.
Ainz imagined a scene of human, Lizardman and Goblin children playing together. Then he added Aura and Mare, the Dark Elf children. And then he decided to throw in Shalltear as well.
He had put Shalltear in because he saw her making preparations alongside Aura, the undead and the magical beasts. There was no special significance to it.
I like that image. Maybe I should suggest this to Albedo and Demiurge…
“If. They. Displease. You. Shall. I. Order. Them. To. Leave. Immediately?”
“That was not what I meant… Don’t you feel that children might be able to get along, even if they are of different races? Don’t you think human children could walk hand in hand with Lizardman children?”
“I. Am. Unsure. But. If. It. Is. Your. Will. Then. I. Am. Sure. That. They. Will. Join. Their. Hands. Ainz-sama.”
…This has nothing to do with my will or orders or whatnot, it’s just a matter of getting people of different species to work together. I guess I can’t make this suggestion due to my position as King…
Ainz’s ideas would all be interpreted as absolute orders. Thus, to some extent, it was quite frightening.
“…Really now. Then, it’s about time we set off. —Aura, Shalltear! Are you ready?”
The two of them replied almost instantly
“Yes! We’re all set!”
“The same. If you give the command, we can move out at any point, Ainz-sama.”
“No problems here!”
“All right, then let’s go!”
“Ainz-sama. Be. Careful! If. Anything. Happens. I. Can. Mobilize. My. Forces. At. Any. Time.”
Cocytus had a point. If there were enemy players around, things might escalate into a full-scale battle, and that would require the use of military force. However—
“—That might happen eventually. However, this is more of a reconnaissance in force. If we encounter anyone strong, we will fall back after gathering sufficient intelligence. If that happens, we will look forward to your accomplishments on the battlefield.”
The plan was to head north and climb the mountains, guided by Zenberu’s memories.
The mounted undead acting as their vanguard proudly displayed the flag of the Sorcerous Kingdom.
All the intelligent beings who lived near the lake were under Cocytus’ banner. Thus, raising the flag meant that they did not need to fear any attacks. Even so, that only applied to intelligent creatures — those that understood the concept of being ruled. It meant nothing to low-intelligence creatures, like beasts, for example. On the contrary, it raised the chances that such creatures would attack them. Still, there were no monsters in this forest which Ainz and his group could not handle.
Shalltear seemed to be looking around for such foolish beings, but she could not find a single monster. In the end, they reached the northernmost end of the lake.
Their eyes followed the course of a small stream that fed the lake, and ahead of them lay the serrated peaks of the Azellisia Mountain Range. Under a clear blue sky and sunny weather, it was quite a majestic sight, and it stirred a faint emotion within Ainz’s heart.
Just then, Zenberu closed the distance to Ainz, and made a suggestion.
“Could I be allowed to walk ahead of you? I think looking at the surrounding scenery might help me recall something.”
Naturally, there were no objections.
“All right. Go to the head of the column, then. But don’t go alone. Take one of my people with you. If anything attacks, use them to cover you and fall back. You are a very valuable member of this expedition.”
“My deepest thanks.”
After commanding — or rather, asking — the magical beast that he rode, the creature obeyed and began moving. Since Zenberu had no experience in riding, Ainz had put him on one of Aura’s magical beasts, which could be controlled by speech rather than technique.
There was a big difference between their speed in the mountains and their speed while travelling along the lakeside.
In other word, they moved very slowly.
At first, they simply followed the stream north, but they slowed down after detouring to avoid a waterfall.
Zenberu tried his best to recall the route he had taken, but it was very difficult to retrace the steps he had taken only once, several years ago, while heading in the opposite direction. In addition, their elevation was still very low, so the tall trees blocked their line of sight.
Even if the shape of the land had not changed, the trees still grew as time passed.
Zenberu continued forward as he struggled to jog his memory.
Most of the group’s members did not require rest, but Zenberu — the most important person of all — was among the few exceptions to that. Thus, they had to stop several times to take a break before they continued on in silence.
They caught glimpses of what seemed to be monsters in the distance, but they did not seem to want to approach. Perhaps Ainz’s group was too numerous, or perhaps the monster had fed itself already. Ainz thought that capturing an unknown monster to play with might be fun, but he decided to give up on that idea this time round.
Their current objective was to reach the Dwarven Kingdom.
Ainz knew very well that a hunter who chased two rabbits would catch neither.
With a faint twinge of regret, Ainz chose to hurry on their way.
As the group neared the edge of the forest, the trees gradually grew shorter, and the sun began falling behind the mountain.
The blue sky was dyed a madder red, and then it passed into night. The silhouette of the mountains against an endless sea of stars could only be described as majestic. The knowledge that even this magnificent view was but a fraction of this world made Ainz feel like nature itself was bearing down on him.
His sinuses quivered, and he took in the fresh, fragrant air.
Why could he do that — or rather, if he could do this, why could he not tell how food smelled? Ainz pushed those thoughts out of his mind, and instead chose to savor this air, which could not be found in Nazarick or the outskirts of E-Rantel.
In YGGDRASIL, he would not have been able to experience the greatness of nature in this way.
He felt a sense of fulfilment, just like when he had gained new experience while adventuring as Momon, and Ainz’s heart filled with satisfaction. In all honesty, they could go back now without ever finding the Dwarven Kingdom and he would not mind at all.
Isn’t — isn’t this the sort of scenery adventurers should be seeing?
Ainz chuckled, and then spoke to the people behind him.
“Then, we shall camp here for tonight.”
After they all replied in the affirmative, Shalltear asked Ainz, “Shall we return to the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick?”
Indeed, the wisest thing to do would be to make a mark here and then teleport them all back to a safe place to spend the night. However, for some reason he did not feel like it. It was not a matter of the merits or demerits of the situation, but a purely emotional issue.
“There’s no need for that. We shall set up camp here.”
“But Ainz-sama, the thought of making you camp at such a place…”
A quick look around would reveal only bare rock, and the frigid mountain winds — granted, they had no effect on Ainz, who was immune to cold — stole body heat. Anyone without cold resistance or thick woollen clothing would feel as though they were being pricked by needles. This was probably because the wind had blown across heaped piles of snow and brought the cold air down the mountain slopes.
Ainz smiled as his respect for the grandeur of nature grew ever deeper.
In YGGDRASIL, there were guilds that explored and adventured to turn the unknown into the known. They travelled on an endless journey with those feelings in their hearts.
They were weak in guild battles, but threw themselves singlemindedly into the unknown reaches of the world. At that time, he did not understand what they were thinking. However, after encountering a magnificent world like this one, he began to see where they were coming from.
While he had been Momon, he too had entertained the thought of letting go of everything and travelling the world—
The thoughts that had begun floating up in his head were suddenly scattered.
“What is it, Shalltear?”
“F-forgive me for interrupting your contemplation, Ainz-sama.”
“Ahh, no, it’s fine. I wasn’t thinking of anything important.”
“Really? All right, then…”
“Then, what’s the matter? Ah, you’re talking about camping here, right?”
“Yes. Please accept my sincerest apologies for not preparing a suitable tent despite knowing that you might wish to stay here, Ainz-sama. I wish to retrieve one from Nazarick. Might I be allowed to use [Gate]?”
“There’s no need for that. It wasn’t that you forgot the tent, but rather, I didn’t write it down on the list because it wasn’t required. Did you know that Mare can make a shelter with magic?”
I see. Then, you should know that I can do so as well. I could use a magic item like the Green Secret House instead, but that might be a bit too cramped for our numbers. Now, watch this.”
Ainz looked for a suitable location. It could be slanted, but the important thing was that it had to be open and free of rocks.
He found one almost immediately, and then Ainz cast his spell. It was a 10th-tier spell.
As the spell took effect, a mighty tower appeared where there had been nothing before. It was a tower which stood over 30 meters tall, standing erect and proud like it was going to swallow up the starry sky.
Its massive double doors looked strong enough to shrug off battering rams. The walls were studded with countless spikes to keep anyone from climbing them. Four demonic statues adorned the corners of the uppermost level of the tower. They felt weighty and oppressive even at a glance.
This sturdy fortress-like fortification was the physical incarnation of the word: “towering”.
“Then, let’s go.”
As Ainz approached the door at the head of his group, the iron doors swung open. He waited there for everyone else to enter. In YGGDRASIL, anyone on the same team could open those doors with a touch. On the contrary, everyone else could only gain entry by destroying the door. He wondered how the door in this world would make that judgement.
Ainz left two of the undead outside, and then ordered them to open the door after it shut. The doors remained closed.
He waited a bit longer, but there was no sign that the doors would be opening.
“…Could it be that only I can open them? Aura, go touch the doors.”
With a “Sure!” Aura touched the doors experimentally, but they did not seem like they wanted to open.
It would seem only Ainz could open those doors. He mentally furrowed his brows. Friendly fire was a pain in the ass… If other players existed in this world, small changes like this might end up affecting others, and in the worst-case scenario he might end up killing someone by accident.
It’s been nearly a year now… And I still have to be careful about using my power. It would be a tragedy if someone got caught in our area-of-effect attacks. Should I point it out to the higher-ranking people? Mare, especially… although they might resent me for nagging them about it if they’ve already realised it… I guess I’ll try and pass it off as an off-hand remark or something.
Subtly reminding people was unexpectedly difficult. It was completely different from just going up and scolding them. Ainz had become thoroughly acquainted with that fact during his time in the working world.
As his heart grew heavy, Ainz decided to terminate his experiment and open the gate to let the two undead outside come in. He closed the gates once more after ensuring that everyone was through, and then moved forward.
A pair of double doors faced the entrance, and a passage stretched on beyond them. At the end of the passage was yet another set of double doors. The way was lit by magical lights, so there were no problems travelling along it.
The instant he opened the inner doors, a blinding light shone upon them.
Before them was a round hall. The floor was as white as snow and the ceiling was high above. A spiral staircase coiled up from the center of the room and connected to the upper levels.
“Then… we shall spend the night here. Anyone who needs to rest can do so. Anyone who does not… well, standing here isn’t very good either. Everyone, stand by in your rooms.”
Ainz indicated ten doors with his pointing hand. Incidentally, space here was expanded, so this place was larger on the inside than the outside.
“There are more rooms like these on the second and third floors, so go ahead and use them. Aura, Shalltear, Zenberu, the three of you stay behind. I want to plot our future route given what we have learned today. Ah, yes, let’s gather on the couch over there. Then, carry on, everyone.”
“Ainz-sama, what shall we do with the Vampire Brides?”
Ainz could not answer Aura’s question right away. After all, bringing them along had been Decrement’s idea, and he could have done perfectly fine without them. Ainz paused briefly to think before saying, “I’ll give them orders later. For now, have them wait in their rooms.”
Thus he handed the problem off to his future self.
Then, Ainz headed to the sofa and sat down. Shortly afterwards, the three people he mentioned earlier sat down as well, he began speaking.
“Then, let’s start by recording our travels for the day. Aura, please.”
Aura flipped open a memo pad, holding it open with one hand and sketching a map on it with another.
“I’m not too confident on some of the smaller details, but it should roughly be like this.”
“Umu. Thank you, Aura.”
It was a fairly crude map, but they could verify distances and the like from the air.
“Now then, I know you’re tired, Zenberu, but I would like to request your cooperation. You might not like this.”
“…What do you mean, Your Majesty?”
Ainz smiled to the somewhat nervous Zenberu.
“In other words, I wish to look through your memories.”
“W-what does that mean?”
“…I think I came off like a villain when I said that. I can control others’ memories with magic, but that same magic can browse through the memories of others. Frankly speaking, it drains a lot of mana and I’d rather not use it if I could avoid it, but relying on your clouded memories alone is somewhat worrisome.”
“I, I trust it will not have any side effects?”
“It’ll be fine. Thanks to the assistance of a certain cleric, I can safely say that I’m quite the veteran at this. There won’t be any problems as long as I don’t do any weird things in there. In fact, I’ve performed the same procedure on one of my maids and there were no problems either.”
“You mean Shizu, right?”
“Exactly, Aura. That said, the spell isn’t all-powerful. If the person himself has almost forgotten an event, I can only get rough details. There are also other things which complicate the spell’s use. For instance, the memories might not reside within the brain, but accessed from a more primordial source—” Ainz shrugged as he realized he had gone off topic. “Well, something like that. In any case, I’d like to investigate your memories.”
“I see… Just in case, I would like to ask again, but is it really going to be alright?”
“I understand your concerns. Do not worry, Zenberu. I will not alter your memories. I swear that on my name.”
“Then — what should I do?”
“Umu. Sit there, and relax. This won’t hurt a bit. However, I need to verify some details with you before I cast the spell. Things like, how many months and years ago and where these memories took place, and so on.”
After hearing Zenberu’s explanations, Ainz cast the spell.
Having cast this spell many times before, Ainz had an expert’s confidence in his handling of the magic, but still, using it was extremely difficult.
Since any changes to the memories remained forever, mishandling them might lead to an irrecoverable situation. It was like trying to reprogram a computer without making any backups of the data. One could say it was an excellent spell for making vegetables.
More importantly, the spell expended a vast amount of mana while it was in effect. That was what made it hard to use.
Ainz felt his mana draining away in torrents after briefly browsing Zenberu’s memories.
Ainz’s original plan was to find the targeted memories and then browse around at his leisure. However, he estimated that his MP would run dry before that. In addition, the problem with this spell was that even if he wanted to wait until the next day for his mana to recover before casting the spell again, he would still have to start from the beginning.
As a result, other spells were more effective at gathering information.
After grumbling in his heart, he saw what looked like a mountain. Just as he found the place he was looking for, his mana ran out.
Examining memories of the past are the most tiring. It’s much easier to view recent memories…
As he had expected, the memories he found were blurred, as though shrouded in mist. He saw the faces of Dwarves, but they all looked the same to him. He did not know if that was Zenberu’s fault, but he could not tell them apart. All of them were simply beards who bellowed in crude tones and swilled beer.
This is no good. I used that cleric as a test subject and it worked well on Shizu. But I feel like I still can’t use it well enough… I can’t afford to make mistakes with delicate things like memories. I wanted to continue experimenting with that cleric, but he can’t even speak coherently any more… Well, rewriting memories works if I limit myself to the recent few years. I guess I should conduct an experiment on what’ll happen if I wipe a person’s memories clean…
Maybe I should select a few people sentenced to death from E-Rantel and use them for experiments…
With that thought in mind, Ainz ended the spell.
“How are you, Zenberu? Do you feel unwell?”
“Eh? I feel fine, but weird…”
“I merely looked through your memories. It would be strange if that felt weird to you, given that I made no changes. That is probably a placebo effect of some sort; it should fade soon.”
Zenberu shook his head forcefully. Ainz paid him no heed, but turned his attention to the map.
Even after looking at Zenberu’s memories, he still did not quite get it.
There were no distinguishing features there, and how could he confirm his position in the confusing scenery of the mountains? In addition, the memories of hiding from monsters had been far more vivid in comparison.
The fact was that even if his mana recovered by tomorrow, he would not gain information which was worth that massive expenditure of magical power.
“Then, we shall stick to the plan and have Zenberu lead us north. I didn’t see anything helpful in his memories anyway.”
It was not as though he had any better ideas.
Dispatching outriders would only serve the purpose of massacring the monsters ahead of them.
“Dismissed. Everyone, rest… well, it looks like nobody needs to rest besides Zenberu. Well then, prepare yourselves for tomorrow.”
As she watched her master return to his room, Aura turned to Shalltear, who was seated beside her.
“There are rooms to the left and the right of Ainz-sama’s own room. Which do you want?”
Aura had a magic item which allowed her to go without sleep, and Shalltear was undead. Strictly speaking, neither of them needed a room. However, it would be rude not to use the rooms provided for them, and it would be bad for security if they were too far away from him.
“Hm~ well, I’d think either side would be fine, don’t you think?”
“Well, I guess that’s right… Say, what are you doing?”
Aura looked over to Shalltear after hearing her distracted response. This was when she realized Shalltear was writing something in a memo pad.
“Hm, Ainz-sama said that, check. I’m taking notes, of course. I don’t want to forget Ainz-sama’s words.”
“Hmmm~ that’s pretty hardworking of you. Lemme see.”
Aura paused to peek, and saw that the memo pad was covered in densely-packed script, with hardly any blank space left in between the letters.
After a quick glance, she discovered that Shalltear had essentially recorded her master’s words down in exacting detail, as well as the actions he took.
This… how shall I say this? Of course, it makes sense to preserve Ainz-sama’s words for posterity, but I doubt Shalltear is writing them down for that purpose…
Shalltear should have recorded the key points of her master’s wisdom, and then learned from them. However, this situation was beginning to make her feel uneasy.
“Ah, you know. I feel that taking notes is a good idea, but that shouldn’t be the whole point, right?”
Shalltear looked at her with a baffled expression on her face.
“Got it? Maybe taking notes makes you think that you’ve done a good job. But what you should be doing is recording the important things and using them to teach yourself how to deal with similar situations, right? Is it really okay to take notes like this?”
“It seems okay…”
“Well, if that’s the case, then great. Just in case, you should go over them again once you return to your room. Try to think about what Ainz-sama had in mind and then put yourself in his place and imagine what you would do in his shoes.”
After saying that, Aura suddenly wondered why she was saying that sort of thing to Shalltear. And then, for some reason, she felt that guiding her in that way was very natural to her.
Haaa. For some reason, I feel like I have a useless little sister… It might be a little disrespectful, but I wonder if Bukubukuchagama-sama felt the same way?
They prepared to set out on a particularly brilliant morning. That said, their preparations were nothing more than walking out of the magically-created tower and forming up in a column. Ainz felt that this was much less enjoyable compared to his travel preparations from his time as Momon.
After that, they continued their search, but their efforts from dawn to dusk yielded no fruit.
As the sun sank below the slopes of the mountains, Ainz narrowed his eyes.
They had travelled more than 100 kilometers on the backs of their magical beasts — in other words, they had exceeded the distance to the Dwarf city which Ainz had estimated. Yet, they found nothing. In other words, they would have to begin the time-consuming task of combing the countryside.
Ainz used magic to create a resting place as before, and then, it was time for the next day — in other words, the third day.
Suddenly, Zenberu exclaimed in a strange voice.
“Over here! I remember this place!”
There were no more trees in sight, only a field of rocks. Zenberu’s voice echoed exceptionally loudly in this place.
“Your Majesty! We should be very close!”
“Is that so! Then, everyone, proceed with caution!”
In accordance with Ainz’s orders, the group formed up into a neatly-ordered column.
“Then, I’ll leave this to you, Zenberu.”
“You can count on me!”
The group advanced, led by Zenberu.
Finally, they saw something which looked less like a cave than a crack in the mountain.
Ainz had seen something similar in Zenberu’s memories, but he felt that it should have been bigger. Still, this was probably the right place, given Zenberu’s overjoyed reaction.
The memories were Zenberu’s own; the Lizardman’s perspective ought to be more reliable than Ainz’s fragmentary glimpses.
Ainz smoothed out his mussed-up robe, and gestured to Aura.
Acting as they had planned earlier, Aura led her beast towards the fissure.
“Kingdom of the Dwarves! His Majesty Ainz Ooal Gown, King of the newly-founded Sorcerous Kingdom of Ainz Ooal Gown to the south, has come to pay you a visit! Will you not send someone to receive him?!”
The voice of Aura the herald echoed through the fissure.
Yet, there was no response.
Aura looked at Ainz with an expression that said, “What should I do now?”
Ainz indicated that she should announce them again.
And so, Aura shouted at the top of her voice once more.
However, there was still no response. There was no sign of anyone appearing even after waiting a while.
Zenberu had said that there should be guards watching this exit in order to prevent intruders from the outside. If this was the case, someone should have heard Aura’s voice.
Were they avoiding the Dark Elf?
Ainz recalled Aura for the time being, and then summoned Zenberu.
“It’s your turn now. Go shout a bit and see how it goes.”
Ainz cast several buff spells on Zenberu. While it did not guarantee his safety by any means, it greatly reduced the danger he might face compared to being sent out without those spells.
Zenberu drew near the cave and shouted. Still, there was no response.
“Presenting ourselves to the Master.”
The ninjas poured out of Shalltear’s shadow. The other Hanzos were arranged behind the Hanzo Leader.
“Infiltrate the interior and verify the situation. Do not be spotted.”
“It shall be done. May I ask how far we should investigate? The Dwarven city is said to be riddled with mining tunnels. Fully investigating the intricate web of those tunnels will take a long time.”
“Perform a cursory inspection. Focus on the central region and the administrative areas of the city. You may investigate the tunnel interiors later.”
The Hanzos took off in a sprint, following their Leader. The way in which they ran, leaving afterimages behind them, was a motion unique to high-level ninja-type monsters.
Ainz indicated that Zenberu should return to the center of the group — allowing him to wait in a safe space. He could be very useful when negotiating with the Dwarves.
“—Shalltear, don’t slack off on security.”
After using a skill, Shalltear was fully armed and armored in an instant. She surveyed her surroundings carefully, not letting a single detail escape her.
Now that Shalltear — the strongest Guardian of Nazarick — was ready for battle, no opponent, however strong they might be, could instantly kill her with a single combo. That said, experience was the important thing when fighting players, and giving that task to the inexperienced Shalltear was quite dangerous.
In other words, the experienced Ainz might still need to act as a role model for her.
Ainz carefully watched his surroundings as well. Soon, the Hanzos returned. They had taken longer than expected, probably because they had travelled a long way.
The Hanzos lined up before Ainz and fell to one knee. Naturally, their leader spoke for them.
“—Ainz-sama, we have discovered what might be a Dwarven residential area. We searched it, but found no signs of life.”
“We did not investigate thoroughly, but there were no corpses or any sign of household products within the houses. Neither were there any signs of battle.”
“It would seem the Dwarves abandoned this city of their own will, for some reason.”
He glanced at Zenberu, who seemed very shocked as well. He might only have known him for a short time, but he had gained a bit of insight into Zenberu’s personality, and this did not seem like an act.
“—All right, then. Lead us to the residential district.”
Ainz followed behind the Hanzos. This was unknown territory and he could not be careless here. Shalltear, Aura and Zenberu were also escorted by high-level undead and magical beasts.
The only ones left outside were the low-level Vampire Brides and the Mammoth-like magical beasts.
This was done to set a trap. Any unknown beings who saw them as enemies would surely start whittling down their fighting strength from the part of their forces which they were confident in beating. In addition, it was basic tactics to begin attacking their supply lines in the hope of learning something from the objects which they dropped.
Thus, he did not leave them there alone. He had also positioned a Hanzo nearby, in concealment.
That Hanzo was not there to rescue them.
Rather, it was there to observe the enemy and learn about their attackers. After that, being able to learn their fallback point — or better yet, their home base — would be an unexpected bonus.
The reason why they had not returned to Nazarick at any point during their journey was also to prevent the opposition from knowing that they could replenish their forces infinitely using the [Gate] spell. This would make them think that Ainz and company could be worn down over time.
Well, even if the enemy does appear, it would be good if the Vampire Brides were safe.
Ainz did not want the Vampire Brides to die. However, he did not mind sacrificing respawning POP monsters to gain information on the enemy.
Was this being a little cruel, Ainz thought as he entered the cave.
There was no light from the outside in the cave, and soon they were immersed in complete darkness. However, it posed no problems to Ainz, who had darkvision. Shalltear, Aura, the other undead and the magical beasts also possessed that ability. At their level, mere darkness was not a disadvantage to anyone present.
Zenberu, on the other hand, was being cradled like a princess by one of the undead.
Given the fact that all the stalactites and stalagmites in the area had been cleared away, and the fact that the area was flattened and easy to walk through, there was no doubt that this place was a Dwarven city.
The Hanzos led them onwards. There were many forking paths along the way, all of which led quickly to dead ends, according to the Hanzos guiding them. They had probably been dug to confuse intruders and buy time, or perhaps to help mount a counterattack.
There were spells which Ainz could use under these circumstances, but the Hanzos lacked such abilities. It only made sense that they had taken a long time considering they had to investigate all these possible paths.
As he thought about that, one of the Hanzos turned to face him.
“Ainz-sama, we are about to reach the residential district.”
“Really now. …There’s some kind of blurred lighting in the distance, Hanzo. Didn’t you say there were no Dwarves here?”
“Yes, there are none. This light is being emitted by a crystalline mineral.”
A vast open space sprawled ahead of them.
As he looked for the source of the illumination, he saw multiple sturdy pillars supporting the ceiling. Crystal-like objects grew from the ceiling, and they radiated the light which the Hanzos had spoken of.
There were no other sources of light — no man-made ones, at least — as far as Ainz could see.
This place seemed like a residential district, as the Hanzos had described it. It certainly looked like a city, with long rows of dull buildings, roughly two stories tall.
Perhaps it was because their builders were a short race, but their structures were all shorter than human-constructed buildings. Even so, they were still taller than Ainz, and he could not tell the size of the city on account of his line of sight being obstructed by the buildings. However, the sheer number of buildings here made him feel that counting them all was an exercise in futility.
As Ainz surveyed the city, the flame of hope in his heart went out with a “chu~”, as if extinguished by a basin of cold water.
(TL Note: the chu~ refers to a rakugo called お七の十)
It was too run-down.
The stories he had heard of the Dwarven city conjured up a mental image of a shining, intricate and dignified place, but there was no sign of that here. There was no trace of YGGDRASIL — of a player’s presence — here either.
Ainz stepped forward, and pushed open the door to one of the buildings.
As the Hanzos had said, he was greeted by an empty space.
He could not see any furniture from where he stood at the entrance. The only things that remained were shelves which had been installed into the walls and other things which could not be moved. White dust covered the ground. It would seem nobody had been in here for quite some time.
“—Zenberu! Call out and see if there’s anyone there!”
After hearing Ainz’s order, Zenberu shouted the name of the Dwarf who had taken care of him in the past.
The fact that there was no echo within this confined space clearly demonstrated the sheer size of the cavern.
Zenberu shouted several more times, but as before, there were no signs of anybody emerging in response.
“—Hanzos. Search the tunnels outside this city for anything that might serve as a clue. Find the reason why this city was abandoned. However, given that we know nothing about the extent of the tunnel network, return if you feel you have gone too far.”
While it might have been faster to have everyone head out on their own and search, Ainz was not nearly stupid enough to split the party under these circumstances where he did not know what was going on. He ordered everyone to gather and conduct a little investigation. As Ainz waited behind, they opened the doors of one building after another.
All of them were the same as the first.
Some of them contained abandoned furniture, but that was more of a bookshelf here and a table there. He had not found a residence with a complete set of furniture.
Checking all the houses like this would take a lot of time.
“Aura, you have the best senses of all of us. Have you found any clues?”
“Nope. Can’t feel anyone around.”
“Is that so… Then we’ll split up into two teams to search further. Shalltear, take command of the undead and act as our lookouts. Aura, go ahead to the house where Zenberu stayed the last time he was here. Search the city for the reason why the Dwarves are no longer around, but take care not to stray too far.”
The two Guardians replied in the affirmative, and then he saw Zenberu bowing in gratitude.
After nodding magnanimously, Ainz cast [Fly].
He slowly floated up.
This would be a dangerous course of action if anyone was waiting in ambush, but for some reason, Ainz had a feeling that there was nobody around.
Shalltear flew over in a panic.
“It’s dangerous! Please descend!”
“Come to think of it, you’re right. It seems I got careless.”
It was only natural that Shalltear would be angry. After all, he had flown up — where anyone could draw a clear line of fire to him — purely because he was acting on a baseless instinct.
“Still, the fact that I was not attacked is further proof that there’s nobody here. Also, there’s a chance that anyone who spotted me might want to come closer to learn more, so I’ll leave perimeter security to you.”
“Please do not use yourself to lure the enemy into a trap.”
Punitto-san had a point; depending on the circumstances, a leader might have to use themselves as bait. …Still, I guess it’s hard for someone like Shalltear to understand that, given that she isn’t one of my friends, but my protector.
“Forgive me,” Ainz said to Shalltear before looking downwards.
This was a city, filled with many identical buildings, as neatly laid-out as a go board.
“—There’s an impressive-looking building over there, and there and there.”
Although most of the buildings looked like they had been cast from the same mold, there were few which seemed larger than the others.
“Shall we go and look?”
“…Let’s call Aura back first. It feels like things might become very troublesome if there’s an ambush there.”
Everything Shalltear had said since just now had a point.
Just then, Aura’s voice came from below. Looking down, he saw Aura and Zenberu waving to Ainz, and given the way they were doing so, it would appear something out of the ordinary had taken place.
“Looks like they’ve found something.”
“It seems that way.”
The two of them exchanged looks before landing alongside Aura, followed shortly by the undead hurrying to their position.
“Come see this, Ainz-sama!”
Aura led them into one of the houses she had opened up.
Ainz gave the place a once-over, but he could not detect any differences from the other buildings, and he found nothing special within it.
“Is this the Dwarven home where Zenberu once stayed?”
“No, this isn’t it. On our way to the home of the Dwarf who took care of Zenberu, we found several buildings that had been opened up. After checking them, I found footprints on the ground, and those might not be Dwarven footprints. Here, have a look. Zenberu, Dwarves don’t go barefoot, right?”
“Ahh, of course not. They all wear shoes, and they don’t take them off even inside their homes. I used to see them in sturdy, metal-soled boots.”
“That means these footprints are clearly not Dwarven.”
“How much can you learn from them?”
“Hmm, let’s see…”
Aura tilted her head in contemplation.
“They seem to have been made by a biped, and the drag marks between the left and right footprints suggest a tail of some sort.”
“Was it something like a Lizardman?”
Shalltear turned to look at Zenberu.
“No, it wasn’t. The tail is slim, not thick like Zenberu’s. Also, the footprints were filled in with dust, so they must have been left there for quite some time. Whoever left them did not go back and forth often. Also, it looks like the person who came in here left immediately after entering. …Did they come because they were interested in a Dwarven city?”
Aura shifted her gaze from the house to the road outside.
“And it’ wasn’t just one person… there were a lot, at least 10 of them.”
“How far can you follow this trail? This is our only clue, after all, so I’d like to follow up on it as much as possible.”
“Understood. Could you follow behind me, then?”
There was no possible reason to refuse.
Everyone trailed after Aura, while Shalltear stood by behind Aura to protect her.
The owner of the footprints moved as Aura had predicted — it had the same objective as Ainz, wandering around and looking into the Dwarven buildings.
Halfway through the trail, Aura suddenly ground to a halt and stared at the road ahead. She was looking at one of the huge buildings that Ainz had spotted from above.
“There’s many identical footprints here. It looks like a squad of them came from over there. What should we do? Should we investigate this squad?”
“…No, it might be better to see where these footprints’ owners disappeared to. We’ll investigate the other group later.”
Aura started moving again. In the end, they reached a building that was fused with the walls and seemed to span the entire city.
It looked like a bungalow, but it was huge.
“…There shouldn’t be anyone inside, but for safety’s sake, I will use magic after this. The enemy’s defensive spells might take effect centered on me, so everyone should keep their distance.”
Using divination-type magic carried the risk of being targeted by counterattacks. While the only one among them who might actually be killed in one hit by such a backlash was Zenberu, there was no reason to unnecessarily deplete his subordinates’ health.
“Ainz-sama, please allow me to guard your person.”
“Eh? Then I’ll come too.”
“No, you need to stay where you won’t be affected and watch your surroundings.”
After being rebuked by Shalltear, Aura looked pleadingly at Ainz, but in this case, Ainz shared Shalltear’s opinion.
“Indeed. Your sensory abilities are the best among us, Aura. While it does not seem likely, if there actually is an ambush, you may end up being the first one to deal with it.”
After hearing that from her master, Aura had nothing left to say. All she could do was reluctantly express her acknowledgement.
Ainz conjured a magical sensor and sent it into the building.
As expected, there was no sign of anyone hiding within, and so he sent it deeper inside.
What was this building used for? A counter and — are those lockers? It looks like a bathhouse, but there’s no separation for genders… is this a Dwarf-only building?”
As Ainz observed the interiors of several rooms, he found a place that looked like the tunnels through which he and the others had passed through just now.
Could this building be a checkpoint or base of some sort? Maybe it was meant to stop the enemy coming from the depths of this tunnel. Does that mean the tunnel leads somewhere else?
A quick search of the building’s interior revealed no trace of the enemy. He quickly summarized the state of the inside of the building, and then let Aura head inside, in order to verify if the footprints ended inside that tunnel.
After that, Ainz, Shalltear and Zenberu followed. He left the magical beasts and undead waiting outside in case the Hanzos returned in the meantime.
As they followed behind Aura, Ainz whispered to Zenberu: “What do you know about this building?”
“Sorry, Your Majesty, but I don’t know that much. All I know is that the gigantic building that our company saw just now — the one in front of the building where we picked up the trail of the footprints — was apparently used for administrative tasks. Also, the other big buildings we glimpsed from time to time used to house taverns or blacksmiths and the like. Even the Dwarven chiefs — no, their people in charge — don’t live in big houses. I don’t know the reason for that,” Zenberu concluded.
Just then, Aura stopped at the tunnel’s entrance.
“The footprints came from here. Shall we go on?
Ainz was briefly stymied by Aura’s question, but it soon passed.
“No, let’s not. There’s other places to investigate in the city. We’ll leave this place to the very end. Also, it would be better to have the Hanzos around for it.”
One could also say that the tunnels were very extensive, considering that the Hanzos still had not returned.
After they went back outside, Ainz cast a [Message] spell to speak to the Hanzo Leader.
“What’s the matter, Hanzos? Haven’t you found anything yet?”
『Our deepest apologies for taking so long. However, please take heart; though it has taken some time, we have finally found a trace of someone’s presence.』
“What? Really? Did you discover any evidence about the disappearance of the Dwarves?”
『This is not proper evidence, but there seems to be something — a sound coming from the depths of this tunnel.』
“Not a natural sound, I take it?”
『Indeed! It sounds like someone digging out an ore vein. What should we do? Would it be best if we went forth to investigate?』
“No, forget it. Before you do that, take us there. Our present location is—”
Come to think of it, he probably could not get the message across clearly using speech alone.
“That’s it, we’ll use a torch as a signal.”
After ending the [Message], Ainz took out a torch. It was self-igniting, and he handed it to one of the undead waiting nearby. The undead creature waved it from side to side, signalling the Hanzos, whose location was unknown.
Of course, this was no ordinary firebrand. It was an artifact sold in shops; it did twice the damage of normal torches when pressed against the bodies of slime-like monsters.
This was somewhat wasteful, but Ainz did not have any ordinary torches with him.
The torch seemed to sear a red band into Ainz’s vision before the the Hanzos finally appeared before him.
“Forgive our tardiness, Master.”
“Dispense with the formalities, time is money. Take us there now.”
Ainz rode atop a magical beast in pursuit of the running ninjas.
Eventually, they came before a building like the one they found while following the footsteps. The Hanzos stopped here, so this was probably their destination.
After alighting from his beast, Ainz listened to the Hanzos’ explanation of the situation.
“There is a hidden tunnel within this building. The entity in question is inside that tunnel.”
“Ainz-sama, there’s a new set of footprints here. It doesn’t look like it came out of the tunnel, and they only lead inside. The person who made them wore boots, and given their size, I would put them around Shalltear’s height. Also, there’s only one of them.”
Ainz nodded to Aura, who was staring at the ground in front of the building.
“…Let’s try to open a friendly dialogue with this person. Even if they attack, you are only allowed to defend yourselves. Under no circumstances are we to make the first move. Do you understand? In order to avoid alarming the other party, we’ll have Aura try to talk to them, and then—”
Ainz touched his face.
Were humans the only species that shunned the undead? Or was it a given fact of this world?
In any case, his subordinates still stood at the head of an undead army. That being the case, he might make a better impression by exposing his face and not hiding his identity.
“Alright, Hanzos. Take us to where you heard that sound.”
The Hanzos led them through the building and into the tunnel.
The ceiling was fairly low, so it should have been excavated by Dwarves. Dwarves in YGGDRASIL were universally short in stature.
If they had dug this tunnel, it would probably be around this height.
Aura’s ears twitched as they moved through the tunnel. That confirmed the accuracy of the Hanzos’ report.
Ainz strained to listen, but he could not pick up the sound Aura had heard.
“Is that it? …Is it close?”
“It’s hard to tell. I can’t judge the distance accurately because of the echoes.”
“Umu. If it’s in a straight line, an arcane eye would be able to reveal the other side’s identity…”
Someone without Aura’s keen hearing — derived from racial or job classes — would not be able to hear anything due to the distance between them. However, if they drew closer, the other party might pick up on the presence of a long procession on the move.
If anyone heard an unknown group approaching them, their first instinct would probably be to flee for their own safety. Of course, having Aura around meant that they would not be able to escape, but the opposition might still be able to elude her if they could [Teleport] or if they had skills which allowed them to meld into the earth.
The wisest decision would be to send Aura and the Hanzos, or for Ainz himself to go, since he could go invisible.
“Then, we’ll send out the stealth-capable people from this point on. Aura and the Hanzos, you’ll go first. I will follow. Shalltear, you should wait here.”
“If that is your order.”
“…No, would it be a bad idea to wait here?”
Ainz looked to the ceiling. It looked like sturdy bedrock, but there were no such things as absolutes.
“Fair enough. Return to the building from earlier and wait for us to return. …No, if I do that, the Hanzos will also… Aura, do you think the footprints lead toward the source of the sound?”
“Yes, they’re heading there. The person who made them is probably the source of the sound.”
“I see. Then, can you lead me there?”
“Then, the two of us will go ahead first. Everyone except Aura and myself will proceed to the building at the entrance of the tunnel. If anything untoward happens, particularly the appearance of powerful beings on our level, fall back immediately. In that case, we will make our own escape, so do not be worried. The destination for any [Gates] will be Aura’s building in the forest.”
“Understood! But will the two of you really be alright by yourselves?”
“I’m not sure. Well, I’d like to think that we’ll be fine.”
One could consider flaws all day long and end up nowhere. All he could do was accept that he was compromising his safety to some extent as he took action. This was something Ainz had learned recently.
Shalltear had not said anything which made him want to change his mind. Or rather, it might be that Ainz’s orders left no room for objection, so all she could do was obey gracefully.
Ainz set out with Aura. He did not use magic yet since they were still some distance away.
The two of them walked in silence for some time, and then the sound reached Ainz’s ears.
“…It seems whoever’s doing this is doing their best to minimize the amount of noise generated.”
Ainz had no idea why that topic came up, but if Aura mentioned it, then it should probably be correct.
“Does that mean we can assume the other side is on high alert as well?”
“So should we start by capturing them?”
“Only if they seek to flee. After all, if our first contact is violent, it might be very difficult to have friendly relations with them in the future.”
“I understand. Then, let me go ahead and talk to them normally.”
“Proceed. Then, I shall make myself invisible — no, for safety’s sake, I’ll follow behind you while invisible, Aura. If the other party makes a run for it, then we’ll have no choice but to capture them.”
After a brief discussion, the two of them prepared themselves and headed for the maker of the sound.
There was a Dwarf-shaped creature in the depths of the tunnel. In this pitch-black world, all they saw was him diligently digging at the walls of the tunnel with his pickaxe.
They were some distance away so they could not be sure, but he seemed to be around 140cm tall. His body was shaped like a beer barrel and his legs were not long. In fact, it was instantly clear that his legs were short.
He wore a brown-colored cape, and the items laid out nearby should all have been his property as well. One of them was an unlit lantern and a water flask.
What’s a miner doing all by himself in an uninhabited city? This is strange. Let’s ask him and solve this mystery.
Aura silently crept towards the miner.
In contrast, Ainz did not seem to care.
[Perfect Unknowable] erased one’s traces and sounds, making the caster very difficult to detect if one did not have very high-level thief-type job classes. Even someone of Aura’s level would have a very hard time spotting him. Ainz registered on her senses as a vague presence.
Once she was close enough to the miner, Aura called out to him.
“Heya. Whatcha doing?”
The miner wailed like he was about to die as he turned to face her.
His beard was long — there was no doubt that he belonged to the Dwarven race.
The wide-eyed man pulled his brown cape tight around himself.
However, that was all. The man was still there. However, it would seem Ainz was the only one who thought that way.
“Hmph! Invisibility, huh—”
Aura’s voice made Ainz — who could see through invisibility — look carefully in the Dwarf’s direction. Just as Aura had said, the Dwarf’s image seemed somewhat fainter.
The cape must be a magic item, and doing that probably activates its powers of invisibility. Feels pretty much the same as Shizu…
“Hey, hey, you know I don’t intend to hurt you, right, Dwarf-san? I know you’re there. Let me take a look at you.”
Aura’s adorable and heart-warming tone must have had a great impact on the Dwarf’s heart.
He parted his cape slightly, and peeked at Aura through the slit.
“Are, are you a Dark Elf? What are you doing here?”
“Hm? When I came to the Dwarven city, I found that it was an empty shell, so I decided to find out why there was nobody around. I looked around and here I am.”
“I, I see…”
“Dwarves were still living here until five years ago. Where are they now? Did something happen? And speaking of which, why not let me take a look at you?”
The Dwarf shifted slowly, but Aura followed him with her eyes.
“Sure enough. It seems you really can see me.”
The Dwarf folded up his cape. That was probably to terminate the effects of the magic. It all seemed quite comical to Ainz, given that nothing had changed from his perspective.
“Then, let’s start afresh. How do you do? I am Aura Bella Fiora, from the Sorcerous Kingdom of Ainz Ooal Gown.”
“The Sorcerous Kingdom? Forgive me for my ignorance, but is that a Dark Elven Kingdom? Something like that? Oh, pardon me. I am Gondo Firebeard of the Dwarven Kingdom. Pleased to meet you.”
Aura extended a hand. Gondo seemed to pick up on the meaning of the gesture and wiped off his own dirt-stained hand before shaking.
Things seem to be progressing well. Ainz nodded as he watched the proceedings, still sustaining his spell of unknowability.
“Well, I guess we don’t need to be so formal. How about speaking normally?”
“Ohhh! I was about to ask that myself. I am a mere commoner myself. But if you were an important figure, then all I can do is keep quiet.”
Aura saw Gondo’s smile, and she smiled in turn.
“Then, back to the previous question. There were Dwarves still living here five years back. Where did they go?”
“Mm, they all moved to another city three years ago. Is something the matter?”
“Yeah, sort of. I came here with a Lizardman who said he stayed here for a while. He told me about this place.”
“A Lizardman? Five years ago?”
Gondo thought briefly, and then he slapped his palm.
“Ohhh! I didn’t see him myself, but I know that it did happen. It was the first time a Lizardman visited us, so it became quite a hot topic. I believe he was a fellow with an exceptionally thick arm, am I correct?”
“That’s right! That’s him.”
Gondo muttered “I see, I see” to himself over and over again. A look in his eyes suggested that he had lowered his guard.
“The person who was kind to that Lizardman seems to have moved as well. Could you tell me where he went?”
“Well, telling you should be fine… But I’ve heard that Dark Elves don’t dwell beneath the earth, am I right? Even if you knew the underground way there, could you reach it safely?”
“Well, I think it would be fine, but if possible, I’d like to know the aboveground route as well.”
Gondo scrunched up his bearded face.
“Oh, I must apologize. I rarely travel the surface, so I’m not confident in describing the route to Feoh Gēr — that is to say, the city that they moved to. All I can give are rough directions, like so and so kilometers north, and so on.”
“That’s fine too. Actually, I wanted to ask you to lead the way… What if I hired you? You’ll be paid, of course…”
“What an attractive proposal. Still, did you — no, you mentioned the Lizardman just now — did the two of you come here by yourselves? You’re not an adult yet, right? How many people came with you?”
“Quite a few. Still, if we all came in, it would cause problems, so I had them wait at the tunnel entrance.”
Gondo fell into thought, as though he had just remembered something. Still, that was only for an instant. He cast it aside and continued speaking.
“Well, that’s a relief. Walking by yourself in a tunnel… that’s not a good idea. You’re not an underground-dweller so you probably don’t know, but some monsters can swim freely through the earth. It’s not a place where someone can go alone, you know? Well, if you had my magical gear, you might be able to do something about it…”
He glanced repeatedly at Aura’s outfit to see if she had any magic items.
“Well then, I need to complain to your comrades. Sending a child out alone is a terrible disgrace for adults.”
Gondo turned his back towards Aura and tossed a chunk of rock into a bag which had been laid out beside him.
The bag did not swell up. It must have been a magic item as well. Then, he picked up the nearby lantern, and pulled up the shutter.
A surprising blue glow — a magical glow — illuminated the tunnel. Until now, the two of them had been conversing in complete darkness.
“Then, let’s go. It seems you can see in complete darkness, but a little light would help, right? … Well, it greatly raises the chances of being spotted by monsters, so I don’t recommend it. Do you have a way to flee if a monster attacks? They aren’t very common here, but you can’t rule out the possibility entirely.”
Ainz nodded. The Dwarf did not know Aura’s power, so it was quite admirable for him to take this mature attitude with her. However, Ainz felt that Gondo’s caution was not enough. He should have taken various possibilities into consideration before advising her.
“Don’t worry. I can escape by myself just fine, and I’m not alone either.”
Aura looked towards Ainz. However, her line of sight seemed to be slightly off.
“Hm? Really now? I have a Cloak of Invisibility, so you can abandon me and flee. However, the monsters that burrow through the earth can sense their opponents’ location through vibrations in the ground. Therefore, I wanted to warn you not to move carelessly.”
With a grunt, Gondo shouldered his bag and rose to his feet.
“Let’s go, then.”
Gondo headed forward. Aura and the still-unknowable Ainz followed closely behind.
“Come to think of it, you mentioned earlier that this place was not safe, but wasn’t this once a Dwarven city? What made it so dangerous that you had to evacuate?”
“Well, it wasn’t this city, but our current capital, Feoh Gēr. It lies to the northeast. We spotted Quagoa (Tunnelling Beastmen) nearby. It would be a tragedy if our cities were destroyed piecemeal, so we decided to temporarily abandon this city — Feoh Raiđō.”
“Quagoa? What kind of race are they?”
“Umu. They’re underground dwellers like we are… but they’re troublesome fellows. Things are bad enough between us that it’s kill-on-sight when we encounter each other.”
Gondo rambled on about the Quagoa as he walked through the tunnel. This was probably to keep Aura on her toes as well.
At a glance, they were bipedal demihumans who resembled moles. They were about 140cm tall, weighed about 70kg on average, and they had short but powerful builds.
They were predominantly dark brown, with black and brown being less common. Special colors like blue or red apparently denoted an individual of some power.
They lived in places where light could not penetrate, but their vision was stronger than those of human beings.
Their technology level was low, on par if not lower than the Lizardmen. They could not make armor or weapons, probably because their own bodies — their claws and fur — were superior to subpar wargear.
The fur that covered their entire bodies was about as tough as metal armor, and it could dissipate blows from metal weapons. The fur grew tougher if they fed on rare metals in their youth. One could tell their resistance to damage by the color of their fur.
From a YGGDRASIL player’s point of view, one could say that they probably possessed a racial skill related to damage resistance — in this case, the damage of metal weapons. The question now was how resistant to metal weapons they were. It was unlikely that their damage resistance was broken to the point of complete immunity, but it still warranted investigation.
Then there were their claws — like those of armadillos and anteaters — which could even pierce steel.
“Those guys, huh… I think we found traces of them in the city just now.”
Gondo suddenly stopped and turned to face Aura.
“What did you say? Is this their nest now? It’s become just like that place!”
“That place… Well, it doesn’t feel like they’ve taken up residence here. I think they probably just came as scouts. Still, if you were going to abandon this place, why not destroy it?”
“That’s true, but we don’t intend to abandon this place forever. Once our armies are ready, we intend to take it back. As you can see, there’s a lot of ore here, like in the place where I was digging just now.”
The two of them walked on in silence. Gaps in conversations were commonplace, and if they did not fill the space with a new topic quickly, their dialogue would end here. Ainz judged that they had asked everything that could be asked, and decided to show himself. It might be better to tell Gondo about himself before he left the tunnels and saw the undead.
“Then, it’s about time I introduced myself.”
Ainz said that, but thanks to the [Perfect Unknowable] spell which was still in effect, his voice did not reach the two of them.
Feeling a little embarrassed, Ainz dispelled the magic.
Perhaps Gondo sensed Ainz’s presence behind Aura, but he turned around, and his eyes widened into saucers. His expression underwent a surprising and complex series of changes. Bafflement, shock, terror, confusion, and then—
Ainz wondered if he had made a sound which might have disturbed him, but Gondo gripped Aura’s hand tightly.
“Amon, a mon—! Ruh, run away! Quickly, run away!!”
However, Aura knew the person who had appeared, and had no reason to run.
“Come on, hurry up and run!!!”
Gondo could not move, as though he had been chained to a great boulder.
“It, it’s so heavy! What’s wrong! Did something happen to me?!”
“Fear not… Gondo.”
As Ainz spoke, Gondo’s frightened face twitched.
“How, how do you know my name! Did you see through me!!! Or was it magic!!!!!”
I should have worn the mask after all, Ainz thought. Then, he spoke calmly, so as not to agitate Gondo any further.
“Calm down. I merely overheard your conversation. I am the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown, ruler of the Sorcerous Kingdom.”
Gondo’s face underwent another series of changes, and this time Gondo’s eyes flickered between Aura and Ainz.
“The, the Sorcerous Kingdom? Is the Sorcerous Kingdom not a nation of Dark Elves?”
“No. It is a country of various species which acknowledge me as their King.”
There was only wariness and suspicion within the eyes of Gondo, while his tone was taut with apprehension.
“One of the undead, huh… So that’s not a mask? Eh? You mean those undead? Those beings who hate and slaughter the living?”
“Hey, it’s just as Ainz-sama said. He wasn’t lying at all. I’m a Dark Elf and the story about the Lizardman coming here was true too. Ainz-sama’s been with me ever since I met you, you know? Like I said, I didn’t come alone.”
“Eh? I thought my ears deceived me. But…”
Gondo mumbled to himself, and then took several deep breaths before putting a determined expression on his face and asking:
“Could it be that Your Majesty — may I use that term? Ah, was Your Majesty formerly a Dark Elf?”
That was an unexpected question. The correct answer was probably that he was an undead being of human origin. Ainz paused briefly to consider his answer, and then replied according to his predictions:
“No, I am a natural-born undead creature… although I don’t know if that’s the right term to use. —Well, there’s no need to be afraid. Human, Dwarves and Elves all have good and bad members of their species, right? Similarly, there are undead who hate the living, and those who seek friendly relations with them. Naturally, I belong to the latter group.”
“But, but friendly undead, that’s about as unthinkable as compassionate demons…”
That was pretty well said, Ainz thought as he shrugged.
“Really? I know of an angel who fell into the darkness and a demon who aspired to the light…”
The demon in question was an NPC in YGGDRASIL, called Mephistopheles. He was a character who was famous for spouting tsundere lines to good-aligned beings. He looked fearsome but was surprisingly friendly and logical, and he gave out missions that ranged from trivial to high-level, which made him almost as popular as the Dark Young.
“To think such things actually existed…”
Ainz shrugged at the shocked Gondo.
“I understand your caution. However, I only ask that you remember this. I have no intention of harming you. Let him go, Aura.”
Halfway through, the person holding onto the other’s hand had changed from Gondo to Aura, and naturally, their intentions for doing so was exactly the opposite to each other.
Gondo stumbled back quite a distance once Aura let go of him, but he did not appear to be fleeing.
A very rational move, Ainz mused. A misstep could have led Gondo to make the emotional choice of fleeing. That would not have ended well for him. However, Gondo as he was now qualified as someone who could be negotiated with.
“Then, shall we start again? I understand your caution, but I — we have no intention of harming you. Rather, we would like to be friends with you.”
Gondo did not respond. As expected, he was still peeking at Ainz with doubt written all over his face.
“In particular, my nation would like to sign a treaty of friendship with the Dwarven Kingdom. Therefore, we have no intention of harming any Dwarven citizens.”
“And what do you mean by a treaty of friendship?”
“…Pardon me. It’s best not to mention national-level issues to an individual who cannot represent a nation, don’t you think?”
“Mm. That’s right, ah, no, I mean, it is as you say—”
“—Don’t worry. Both phrasings are fine. Dealing with someone who stumbles over their words is tiresome.”
Ainz’s relaxed answer drew the first bitter smile from Gondo ever since they had met.
“Thank you very much — Your Majesty. And if the words of this girl — this young lady are true, I take it you came to this city for that purpose?”
“Indeed, that is so. But Gondo, why don’t we leave the tunnel first? Talking to the Lizardman who came with us might be a good idea. You’ve heard of him before, haven’t you? Also, I’d like to discuss the matter of the Quagoa with you.”
Gondo narrowed his eyes at Aura.
Aura smiled, as though to say, “who, me?”
“Alright. It seems this little lady has a lot of trust in you. And it’s clear that that you’re no ordinary undead.”
Gondo walked before them, while Aura and Ainz followed him through the tunnel.
“That’s right, might I ask you a question?”
“What is it?” Gondo replied as he turned back to look at Ainz.
“I would like to know more about the runic characters and the craft related to them.”
Gondo’s brow bunched up, his eyebrows squishing up into steep slopes.
“What do you want to know about runes? What’s there to ask?”
The unhappiness was plainly audible in Gondo’s voice.
Until recently Ainz could sense confusion and fear while talking to him, but there was no anger. In other words, Gondo’s rancor was entirely due to that simple question. Did he recall a bad memory concerning runes, or was this some sort of secret that could not be revealed to non-Dwarves?
Ainz hesitated. Should I continue asking?
Gondo was the first Dwarf he had encountered. Upsetting him was not wise. However, if he could learn the source of the anger, it could prove beneficial when negotiating with the Dwarven Kingdom.
Of course, that assumed Gondo’s anger did not spring from a personal reason.
Ainz coldly considered whether he needed to eliminate Gondo as he shared what he knew about the runes. Granted, most of that was parroted from Tabula Smaragdina.
The truth was that he did not know much. He knew how many different characters there were and that they were a form of writing, but that was it.
He barely remembered the individual meanings of each character, so he had to fumble through the description.
In contrast, a dramatic change occurred in Gondo.
He halted in his tracks, and turned back.
His face was twisted in a grip of a completely different emotion. He was overflowing with excitement.
“You… who are you… no… the Sorcerer King… an ageless, eternal undead being… lost knowledge…”
He could hear Gondo muttering to himself. There was no meaning in his words. It appeared to be an unconscious response.
Ainz held out a hand to stop Aura, who was anxious and had been preparing to make a move since Gondo did not answer immediately. It would be best to let him think this through first.
After Gondo got himself together, he studied Ainz intently. His attitude still spoke of wariness towards Ainz, but it seemed to have been supplanted by some other emotion.
“I know of more runes than these. There are 50 lesser runes, 25 middle runes, 10 upper runes, and 5 top runes, for a total of 90. That said, many of them have been lost, and only a few are left. Exactly how many secret and divine-class runes there are is the stuff of legends.”
“Really now… there might be some differences, but the runes I know of look like this. Do you recognize them?”
Ainz traced a rune from his memory on the ground.
“Ho! This is one of the middle runes, Lagu.”
(TL Note: this is an Anglo-Saxon rune meaning “lake”.)
Although Ainz did not know why there were so many of them, it was certain enough that some of them matched the ones which Gondo knew.
“I understand. Then, please continue telling me about the runes.”
What Ainz really wanted to know was who taught this knowledge and information related to other players . However, that question would be best addressed to a historian. For the time being, he would build a knowledge base with other related information.
“About 100 years ago, the Dwarves exported rune-carved magical weapons to a human nation to the east of these mountains — the Empire. However, the flow of such weapons stopped after that. What is the reason for that?”
What he really wanted to know was whether a player died 100 years ago, but pushing too eagerly for such information could end up exposing him. Ainz had been contemplating this question for some time now, and it seemed like a good question since it did not run the risk of leaking anything about himself.
Gondo’s face darkened. He paused briefly, and then continued walking.
“This will take a long time. Let’s talk as we walk.”
For a while, the only sound audible in the tunnel was the footsteps from the three of them.
He’s probably silent because he’s smoothing over the gloominess in his heart.
“Firstly, my friends know me as the rune developer.”
Does that mean he gave himself that title?
Gondo continued speaking without waiting for Ainz to respond.
“Dwarven magic items have always been made with runes. But 200 years ago, we were attacked by the Demon Gods, and the last remaining royals left our Kingdom to join the fight against them. Technology from the outside flowed in and as a result, runes were regarded as outdated.”
Gondo produced a sword from his pack and gave it to Ainz. There was a runic character on the blade’s body.
“This is Cuern, a lesser rune which means ‘sharpness’. When carefully engraved, it creates a magic sword. Its effect is to increase the weapon’s sharpness and makes it easier to inflict deep wounds upon the enemy.”
“This is a very basic effect on magic weapons, no? The time it takes to inscribe a rune depends on the amount of bonus damage the rune adds. That said, I’ve heard that it should not take long to complete a low-end weapon, am I correct?”
“That is exactly why runecraft fell behind the times. The same item takes three times longer to make with runecraft as compared to other methods. From a mass-production point of view, it isn’t even in the same league as the enchantments of mankind.”
Gondo sighed deeply.
“Thanks to superior technology from the outside, the number of runesmiths who could inscribe runes gradually dwindled. That was because everyone felt that it was better to become a magic caster, who could perform enchantments.”
That was probably why the flow of weapons into the Empire had stopped. Ainz understood that much. In other words, the ancient traditions and crafts had died out.
Gondo narrowed his eyes.
“Still, abandoning our Dwarven techniques was utterly foolish! More to the point, runecraft has its merits too! For instance, you don’t need to spend money on it!”
Gondo’s voice echoed through the tunnel. After realising how dangerous it was to get worked up in a place like this, he took a deep breath. That, in turn, allowed him to speak more calmly.
“Did you know? The typical enchantment costs a lot in reagents and supplies.”
That was correct. Ainz had once heard that half the market price of magic items came from the ingredients.
While the production cost for magic items was abnormally high, one could ignore markups from suppliers and retailers when calculating their price. That was because the Magician’s Guild did not collect administrative fees — probably because they felt that those were included in their yearly dues — and so magic casters could sell directly at no further cost, or negotiate directly with their clients.
Therefore, when one sold them through a retailer of magic items, the price would go up.
“However, in contrast, rune-empowered items have hardly any material costs.”
Ainz suddenly leaned forward.
He had agonized over this expense many times, both as the adventurer Momon and as the ruler of Nazarick. Therefore, the wonderful idea of something being “almost free” was very dear to Ainz’s heart.
That was why he could not understand it. In truth, Ainz would never have allowed such a technique to die out.
“…Are there any other flaws?”
“Ah, those do exist. Mainly, they’re hard to produce. Taking too long to make is one thing, but there’s too few people who are suited to becoming runesmiths as well. According to the people of the Empire, there’s fewer of them than those who can become magic casters.”
“Hm. I have a question. While you said that runes fell out of fashion 200 years ago, why does the title of rune developer still exist? Isn’t it too late for that sort of thing? Or is that normal for the Dwarven lifespan?”
Gondo did not respond, so Ainz asked another question.
“What sort of runecraft are you developing now?”
Ainz took several steps forward, coming up alongside Gondo.
Gondo’s face was fixed forward, with none of his passion from before. He simply answered Ainz’s question with another question.
“Why do you wish to know about runecraft?”
Answering a question with a question implied that he did not want to give a proper reply. If he could give the answer Gondo sought, he should be able to uncover what he was hiding. After all, he had gone from addressing him as “Your Majesty” to “you”. This must surely be an important question.
However, they were not close enough that they could bare their hearts to each other. And more importantly—
Why is he leaking this knowledge? Is it a trap? Or does he not know the importance of the information he holds? …If it really is a secret art, he should understand what that means, right?
It was somewhat confusing, but for the time being, he would give him the explanation for his motives which he had prepared beforehand.
“It’s because these runes differ slightly from the ones which I know of. You understand how someone can be interested in the historical background and spread of runecraft, no? If so, I hope you can answer my question.”
Gondo looked away, and fell into contemplation. They continued walking forward in silence for a while.
Just as Ainz was starting to get restless, Gondo finally answered him.
“I’m now experimenting with reducing the time it takes to performing runic enchantment, as well as a way to mass produce them. However, that is only a means to an end. My final objective is to develop techniques that make runes essential. In other words, I want to make runecraft unique and able to stand the test of time.”
In other words, he wanted to add value to runes. The boss of any company would understand that motivation. When developing a product, it was quite common for that point to be repeatedly emphasized, to the point of revulsion.
“Hoho. That’s pretty amazing research, is it not? How is it progressing?”
He did not think he would actually get an answer, but Ainz had asked that question anyway because he was confused on one point. Namely, that anyone who was developing a new technology like this should be a VIP in the Dwarven Kingdom.
I have no idea why he’s out here by himself, collecting samples in such a dangerous place. Shouldn’t someone like him be better guarded?
Ainz’s question was immediately answered.
“Not at all. There hasn’t been any progress,” Gondo mumbled in a depressed tone. “People who use runecraft to make magic items are called runesmiths, but I’m nowhere near amazing enough to be addressed by that title. I can’t even do what an apprentice should be capable of.”
Eh? Ainz mouthed in surprise. Did that not mean that someone who could not even apply proper runes was trying to advance the field of runecraft? This was an utterly ridiculous situation.
Could he really make any breakthroughs like this, or was this very normal for them?
No, this could not possibly be normal. If it was normal, Gondo would not have been so depressed. In other words, he too must have felt that he was merely fumbling around.
In truth, Ainz was in quite a quandary. He had no idea how to make use of Gondo.
“I’m not talented. I can carve runes, but it takes too long for me to do so… although, they say all runesmiths have to pass through this phase before they can grow. But other runesmiths progressed forward instead of being stuck at a plateau like me.”
Gondo drooped his head powerlessly.
“I’m no good as a runesmith. I’m just a useless descendant that my great father left behind.”
I see, Ainz mused. So his problem was simply a lack of talent.
After considering the knowledge from this world and that of YGGDRASIL, he was quite sure that this was the case.
One needed ten other levels in certain job classes before being able to take levels in the runesmith career. However, if his overall level cap was 11, then he would not be able to gain further levels as a runesmith. And if he had only one level of runesmith, he would only be able to learn skills of no great import.
There was nothing Ainz could do to help Gondo, so he said nothing else.
There were times when comforting someone could save them, and times when all they could do was give up.
If Ainz were in Gondo’s situation, he would not want someone he had met for the first time to comfort him either.
“…Is that so. Speaking of which, do all Dwarves have the goal of advancing runecraft and developing new techniques for it?”
“No, I’m the only one who does that,” Gondo replied, with a terribly lonely laugh. “All the runesmiths have given up on their craft. There’s nobody left who wants to break free of the current state of runecraft and develop new technology for it. They all feel that it’s alright to abandon it.”
“I see… Then, there’s something I’d like to know. What will you do after developing new runecraft techniques?”
“What will I do? I just want to use runecraft to enchant things and increase the number of runesmiths. Runes are an amazing technology. It would be a terrible waste to let them die out.”
“Is anyone helping you in this?”
“No. Like I said, almost all the runesmiths have given up their craft and spend their days drinking and cursing bitterly about how it’s going to die out with their generation. I’ve tried to talk them around in the past, but they all rejected me.”
“…Hm. Well, the weak perish. It’s only natural for useless technology to vanish.”
Gondo suddenly glared at Ainz, but his gaze lost its strength within moments.
As he watched Gondo hang his head and move on, Ainz contemplated the value of runes.
Frankly speaking, he had no interest in them beyond their historical involvement with players.
However, abandoned arts could be developed on the cheap, and a brief investment might not be a bad idea. The concept of not having to spend money was also very attractive. In addition, he wanted to collect rare technologies.
Also, if other players appeared, one could use their interest in runes as an excellent lure.
“…I have a question or two. What basis do you have that techniques like what you mentioned earlier can be developed? What I heard just now sounds like empty fantasies thought up by someone who knows nothing about the craft.”
“That’s not true! Well, it’s true that I don’t have the talent to be a proper runesmith. But my father, and my father’s father — my grandfather — were both the top runesmiths of this country, and they served the last royal — the Runesmith King — as his right and left hands. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve read the literature and theses my father and grandfather left behind. I’m sure it’s possible! My father confirmed my theories on his sickbed. He told me it was difficult but not impossible!”
Gondo looked like he was going to cough up blood with his words as tears welled up at the edges of his eyes.
The feelings and thoughts he had long kept inside of him had finally burst forth.
Though that torrent of emotion crashed against him, Ainz remained unmoved. While Gondo’s words made him hope that the Dwarf’s research would bear fruit, the fact was that Ainz merely wanted access to rare techniques which might have otherwise been lost. If Gondo could not deliver concrete results, then Ainz would give up on him.
“It’s true that I’m useless as a son! Still, I don’t want to let the art which my ancestors passed down die out! I won’t let the glorious name of my father vanish from the history books, no matter what I have to do!”
And then, those words struck a chord with Ainz.
He too wished to preserve all the things left by his comrades in Ainz Ooal Gown. He wanted them to endure for all time.
In that instant, Ainz could understand Gondo’s feelings deep in the marrow of his bones.
His affection gauge maxed out in a flash.
At the same time, he understood why Gondo went on and on about runecraft.
To him, runecraft was dead, or perhaps, close to death. Thus, he had no reason to hide it. For all he knew, he might have wanted to let it spread as far and wide as possible, so it could survive in one way or another. Of course, he did not know if he had thought that far ahead.
“…Forgive me. This might anger you, but I hope you will permit me to say this. From my point of view, you are you, and you are neither your father nor your grandfather. Am I wrong?”
An inexplicable blend of emotions appeared on Gondo’s face. It was hard to tell if he was angry, hurt or touched. But it eventually faded into dejection.
“—Your Majesty, I am very grateful to you. But I have already decided my reason for living.”
“Then, allow me — no, the Sorcerous Kingdom to provide the financial assistance for your endeavours. Allow me to become your patron and aid you in the advancement of runecraft.”
Gondo’s eyes went wide, and he exclaimed in shock:
“You, are you serious? This, this is incredibly good fortune… this is unbelievable!”
There must be some catch to this unimaginably tempting offer. Anyone would think that way. Ainz understood how Gondo must feel.
“Well, all I can say is that I hope you can believe me. However, someone like you who isn’t a runesmith probably won’t be able to develop those techniques you were talking about, am I right?”
Gondo’s mouth pressed flat, and he went silent.
“Therefore, I wish to recruit all the runesmiths in the Dwarven Kingdom to my country, to work on developing runecraft techniques under your direction.”
“What, what does that mean?”
“It means exactly what it implies. I will gather all the runesmiths and compare their knowledge to serve as the prototypes for new techniques. For that reason… I hope you can help me recruit them. Is that impossible?”
Gondo considered it, and then replied
“No, it should be doable. Almost all the runesmiths have given up on their craft, but there should be a lot of them hoping for a chance to shine.”
“And then you will move their hearts… then, Gondo. How about it? Will you help me? WIll you give your soul to me? How far are you willing to go for me?”
“It will be very difficult to revive an almost-lost art if you do not focus all the runesmiths on a single objective. This is why you cannot slack off on the recruitment of talent. I want to bring all the runesmiths to my country. Thus, it is quite likely that I may have to employ certain… unsavory methods. This may lead to my collaborators performing actions which might be termed treason to this country.”
“What, was that it? The answer is simple. If you want my soul, then take it all, the whole thing. It is a small price to pay in order to make runecraft live forever.”
Gondo extended his hand.
Ainz took it.
“I am undead. Does that sit well with you?”
Gondo laughed at Ainz’s words.
“As long as you can make my dream come true, I don’t care if Your Majesty is undead or the fearsome Lord of the Frost Dragons.”
“Then, first things first, can you lead us to the Dwarven Kingdom? I plan to sign a treaty of friendship with the Dwarven King in order to recruit runesmiths for my country. After all, it would be difficult to recruit people if our countries have no ties between them. In addition, I believe the Dwarven Kingdom has strict controls on the export of technology, am I correct?”
“That should be fine. There’s hardly any demand for runecraft. Ah, also, the Dwarven Kingdom no longer has a King. The country is ruled by a regent council which is headed by several leaders.”
“Umu. I’d like to hear about that. Can you talk as we walk? I’d like to hear a rough outline of it.”
As Gondo spoke to him, the exit to the tunnel finally appeared before their eyes.
After the three of them emerged, they were welcomed by Shalltear, among others. Naturally, Zenberu was there as well.
Although Gondo had been expecting a mass of undead, he could not help but take a defensive stance as he saw the magical beasts as well. The fact that “there are no Dark Elves” had already dealt him a blow, but now his mumbling reached Ainz’s ears.
Shalltear quietly stepped forward and bowed.
“Ainz-sama. Forgive me for bothering you just as you returned, but there is a slight problem.”
“…Where are the rest of the Hanzos? What happened?”
“Yes! Actually, someone else entered this cave, through the tunnel in the building to which Aura guided you. My deepest apologies for only telling you now, but I have already sent some of the Hanzos to investigate.”
“There’s no need to apologize, Shalltear. You chose wisely. We’ll wait for the Hanzos to return, analyze their reports, and then decide what to do. Then—”
He paused, then glanced at the Dwarf who had once stayed here. The Dwarf was not paying attention to the events on this side. Instead, he was engaged in an animated conversation with Zenberu. Listening closely, it seemed to concern the Dwarf that had saved Zenberu.
“—Gondo. Pardon me for a moment, but it seems someone has infiltrated this city. There is a possibility that the use of force will be warranted here. When the time comes, I hope you will serve as a witness to your nation that such a course of action could not be avoided.”
“Of course. Leave that to me. Although, I hope you will limit any damage caused to a minimum.”
Ainz nodded. It was only natural to avoid obstacles that would affect future negotiations.
“Shalltear, how’s our perimeter?”
“I’ve already dispersed Aura’s beasts into the vicinity… How’s that, Aura?”
“That should work. Even if the enemy can turn invisible, my beasts can still sniff them out.”
“I see. Then let’s wait for the Hanzos to return.”
After a while, they did.
According to them, the opposition seemed to be Quagoas. There were over 100 of them. Gondo was listening from the side and seemed quite shocked. This was far in excess of a mere scouting force; in all likelihood, this was a combat group, or a migrating tribe.
There was only one course of action Ainz could take.
“…Shalltear. Capture them all. Can you do that?”
“If that is your command.”
“Then I command you to do so. Do you understand why I want you to capture them?”
“It is to question them and prevent word about us from leaking out.”
Ainz nodded grandly.
“Correct. If we only capture one of them alive, then we can only interrogate one of them. This increases the chance that we might be compromised and that we might end up learning false information. In addition, we must consider that we may need to make an example of them.”
There was one more thing Ainz did not mention because Gondo was there — that simply believing one side of the story might turn out poorly for them. Who knew, it might be better to strike a deal with the Quagoa than the Dwarves.
“Go then, Shalltear. I await your good news.”
Shalltear and her underlings picked up the pace as they headed towards the location of the Quagoa. They leapt from roof to roof at breakneck speeds. Since she was already in armor, she did not have to worry about the several layers of breast pads within her clothing.
She glanced back at Aura, who was following from behind.
The fact that she was being followed by a Guardian — who was supposed to stay by her Master’s side — was proof that he did not trust her.
That was only natural.
She might not remember her failure, but she had heard the details from others.
Although her compassionate Master had said “Shalltear, you did nothing wrong”, that could not possibly be true. Thus, she had been waiting for a chance to scrub away the stink of failure from herself, but sadly that chance had not come.
Aura might have comforted her, but that was not what Shalltear wanted.
Shalltear looked ahead, her gaze full of strength. She would not allow herself to make any mistakes on this journey.
Before long, they reached a building near their objective. Shalltear looked down on the Quagoa from its roof.
There were many silhouettes visible, of the kind that the Hanzos had described.
“Now then — what shall I do…”
Shalltear pondered the matter.
Aura should have heard what she said, but Aura merely folded her arms, intent on remaining silent. That too, was expected. Before Aura had come here, her Master gave her an order: “Keep an eye on Shalltear’s movements. If she looks like she’s about to begin massacring them, make her stop by any means, even if you have to hit her. Apart from that, you are not to interfere with Shalltear’s battle plans.”
Shalltear had also been told that Aura would merely observe from behind, and she was not to be used in any combat operations. In other words, the entire operation, from planning to execution, was solely Shalltear’s responsibility.
Firstly, she had to perfectly and elegantly fulfil her Master’s orders.
She unclenched her fists.
The ninja-costumed minions gathered before her.
“I want to make sure that none of them escape. Can you verify that there’s nobody else in the tunnel?”
“Certainly. We await your command.”
As expected of her Master’s minions. Their enemy would have no means of retreat now. The next thing she had to worry about was if the enemy was scattered throughout the city. Of course, she could take some time to hunt down and root them all out, but she wanted to avoid wasting time. While her Master had not given her a time limit, wasting too much time was proof of incompetence.
“Alright. How about this…”
Shalltear relayed the details of the plan she had thought up on the way here.
She would surround the enemy, and then disable everyone within the perimeter.
In other words, she would use the Hanzos to cut off their retreat, then compact them into a mass before taking them all out in one blow.
Granted, this plan was a little dangerous, given that she did not know the abilities of the opposition. However, if the enemy had the power to kill Shalltear and the Hanzos, the Dwarven Kingdom could not possibly have survived this long.
Well, provided that Dwarf Gondo was not especially weak.
After dispatching the Hanzos, Shalltear counted out three minutes. She had to do so because she had no means of communicating with the Hanzos.
Fortunately, the Quagoa seemed to have circled their wagons around the building, with no intentions of dispersing.
“Let’s start. Begin as ordered; keep them from escaping into the surrounding area.”
After giving orders to the undead she had brought along, Shalltear ran along the rooftops, and then leapt in front of the Quagoa. At the same time, her undead landed around them.
They had taken control of all the major thoroughfares around the building. The Quagoas’ routes of retreat were almost completely cut off.
Shalltear sensed their confusion, and she cast a spell long before they could recover.
“[Mass Hold Species].”
As she had expected, they were not high-level opponents. Many of the Quagoa had stopped moving, frozen in place.
Those Quagoa who had not entered the spell’s area of effect managed to recover from their confusion, but none of them attempted to attack Shalltear. She had appeared out of nowhere and used a spell they had never seen before to pin down their comrades. Even choosing between fighting or fleeing must have been very hard for them.
Shalltear smiled thinly.
It would seem the conclusion she had reached from observing them, that of centering the spell on an outstanding-looking Quagoa — for now known as the commander — had been a worthwhile one.
“[Mass Hold Species].”
She cast the same spell again, and now even the fleeing Quagoa were neutralized.
In response to Shalltear’s shouted orders, the surrounding undead shrank their perimeter.
The Quagoa within the building heard Shalltear shout and sensed the abnormality in their comrades, but it was far too late for them.
As a sadistic grin grew on her face, Shalltear clapped her cheeks. She could not be careless. Her failure in the past was most likely because of that.
After recovering her composure, Shalltear stormed the building. While breaking through a window would have given her the element of surprise, she considered the effort of breaking through and decided on going straight through the door instead, using herself as bait.
The waiting Quagoa swiped their claws at Shalltear over and over again.
Three in front of me, four deeper within, nobody who looks like a commander. I should take their attacks and verify their strength.
Shalltear did not avoid their attacks, but bore the brunt of the Quagoa offensive.
As expected, she was unhurt.
Shalltear could only take damage from magical silver weapons. Some high-level monsters had natural attacks which counted as magic, while others had attacks which counted as silver, but those were very rare in low-level monsters.
While she might have expected this, the Quagoa were taken aback. As though unable to believe what they were seeing, the surrounding Quagoa clawed at her, but to no avail.
“Alright, the experiment’s over. Shall we end here? [Mass Hold Species].”
As the spell was cast, all the Quagoa present stopped moving.
“Now then, next up.”
Shalltear looked around and saw the Quagoa in the next room through the remains of a broken door. Their wide eyes held the emotion she most loved — fear.
As Shalltear’s stride brought her forward, the Quagoa clambered over themselves to flee.
However, they were too slow. To Shalltear, they were as slow as slugs. She resisted the impulse to give voice to mocking laughter, and instead cast her spell at their backs.
There would be no escape.
Shalltear would not tolerate any slipups.
Now that all the Quagoa within the building had been captured, she entered the tunnel and found six Quagoa by the feet of the Hanzos. Given the faint movements from their bodies, it would seem that they were still alive. Shalltear then asked the Hanzos:
“Now then, are these the Quagoa who tried to flee?”
“Yes. Nobody else managed to escape through here.”
Since Shalltear had not let anyone get away, one could consider her mission to have been perfectly accomplished.
“Just in case, go make sure there’s nobody else lying in wait within the building. After that, have the undead who are bringing them in carry these Quagoa out. You can tell the undead to bind them with ropes, right? I’ll wait here until you finish searching the interior and see if anyone else is trying to make a run for it.”
After receiving Shalltear’s orders, the Hanzos picked up the Quagoas on the ground and returned to the building. They returned to Shalltear after two minutes had passed.
Having flawlessly completed her task, Shalltear emerged from the building, where she saw many bound Quagoa and the forms of Ainz, Aura, the Hanzos, the Dwarf and Zenberu.
“Well done, Shalltear. It seems you accomplished your mission and didn’t let anyone escape.”
“Yes! Thank you very much, Ainz-sama!”
“Now then, Shalltear, I shall give you your next order. Interrogate these people, but do your best not to hurt them.”
To begin with, she ordered the undead to drag out one of the Quagoa who had been captured with magic — in other words, one of the first captives.
“Hiiiiii! Save me!”
“Hehe, well, if you’re honest, I won’t kill you. If you’re honest. First things first, who’s the greatest of you people here?”
“Him, the one with the streaks of blue in his fur.”
“You son of a bitch! You sold me out!”
The one shouting back did seem to have a faint hint of blue in his pelt.
“Okay, okay, don’t fight. Then, can you bring him to me? Send this one back.”
They brought the highest-ranking Quagoa was brought before her.
“Hmph! You must be a friend of the Dwarves! I’ll never talk! I’ll stake the pride of my race on it!”
“Really now. All right, then. [Charm Species]. Done, can you answer my questions?”
“Ahh, of course! What do you want to know?”
The Quagoa behind him could not help but gasp at his earnestness.
Charm magic caused the target to regard the caster as a trusted friend or colleague. However, since friends would not tell friends to kill or hurt themselves, the targets would not obey orders which would result in such. Also, the term “friend” was also a bottleneck of sorts; there were secrets which people would keep even from their friends, so this magic would be ineffective at winkling out such information. If that were the case, more powerful mind control spells would be needed. However, such measures did not appear to be necessary this time round, a fact for which Shalltear thanked her luck.
“Firstly, are you really the greatest one here?”
“Ahhh, I was appointed the leader of this group. Oi, quiet down there, she’s a friend so it’s fine to tell her. Ah, could you keep that a secret?”
“Of course. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Ahhh, yes, we are, I’ll trust you, then. Still, those guys… Especially that guy, is he undead?”
The Quagoa stared at Shalltear’s glorious master. It annoyed her, but she had to bear with it to extract information from him.
“It’s all right. We’re friends so you’ll believe me, right?”
“Is he your minion?”
I’ll fucking kill you, Shalltear almost said. However, she swallowed those words. That was because her master spoke before she could.
“That’s right. She is my mistress.”
“Ho, that’s my friend for you, you’re amazing.”
Shalltear agonized over these complex feelings, which she could not put into words. Although she wanted to roll around on the floor, she could not waste the loving assistance which her Master had given her.
The Quagoa commander fell into deep thought, and the Quagoa behind him went, “What happened?” “What’s going on?” “Are we the only ones who don’t know that she’s a friend” and so on. However, the Quagoa commander ignored them, and a twisted look dawned on his face, which was probably a smile.
“I get it. Since you said so, I’ll believe you. After all, we’re comrades joined by a firm bond of friendship, aren’t we?”
“Then, could you speak loudly enough that the people behind me can hear? Who are you people? What are you doing in this city?”
Normally speaking, they should have been suspicious that a friend did not know this. However, this was the greatness of magic. The Quagoa commander replied without raising any doubts.
“We’re a detached force from the invasion force. We came here to kill the Dwarves which might have fled to this city.”
“Say what?!” the Dwarf exclaimed in shock. “What, what does that mean?”
“Shut up and keep quiet, Dwarf. Filthy races like yours should be exterminated.”
“Alright, alright, that’s about enough. You were saying something about an invasion force?”
“Ahhh, sorry, I seem to have gotten a little over-excited. There’s a Dwarven city north of here. The invasion force was raised to destroy that city. The problem is that the suspension bridge over the Great Rift is protected by a fortress, so our attacks have always been defeated. However, we’ve found a shortcut that bypasses the Rift and runs alongside the fortress, so we’re planning to use that to wipe them out in one fell swoop.”
Shalltear narrowed her eyes at the Dwarf. His expression looked ghastly. Apparently this was very bad news.
“When will the attack come?”
“We’re a detached force, we split off from the main body so we don’t know the exact time. But I think it should be today, or maybe tomorrow.”
Shalltear overheard the conversation between her master and the Dwarf.
“That said, will the city actually fall if the suspension bridge is taken?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard that since the enemy needs to use the bridge, they can only attack one spot. Thus, we can use the magic items within the fortress to repulse them. However, if the fortress is taken, the enemy will have a clear path to the city, and it’ll be hard to stop the advance of a large army. If that happens, we might have to abandon the city and escape to here, but if we’re ambushed here, the Dwarven race might be wiped out.”
The Quagoa commander chuckled deviously as he listened to their conversation.
“So are you the only detached group?”
“We’re the only ones who were sent here. We don’t know how strong the Dwarven city is or how many men we’ll need, so most of our troops are there.”
“Ain—eh, ah, then, then, is there anything you want to ask?”
I can’t say Ainz-sama, Shalltear fretted as she tried to piece her next words together.
“…There’s not much else. Strictly speaking, we only need to know how to communicate with their main body or something similar.”
After Shalltear repeated her Master’s question, the charmed commander babbled like a brook.
“Nope, our mission wasn’t seen as very important. In the end, our job was just to hunt down anyone who fled.”
Shalltear looked back to her Master, who nodded to her.
“How should we deal with them?”
“…Gondo, I’m sorry about this, but can you prepare to travel?”
The Lizardman and Dwarf understood the meaning behind those words, so they turned and left in silence. Ainz watched them leave, and gave Shalltear her next orders.
“…Then, let’s go. Shalltear, send them all back to Nazarick. They are to be observed. Whether they are to be killed or spared depends on the kind of relationship we forge with the Quagoa. Do not kill them until they are fully hostile to us. However, order some light experiments to be conducted. The hardness of their claws, the physical and magical resistance of their bodies, that sort of thing. Although, some of them might die as a result… Order them to minimize the number of deaths.”
Shalltear immediately cast her [Gate], opening a portal to the surface of Nazarick.
“Come, you lot get in here.”
Led by the Quagoa commander, the others followed him in one after the other. Some of the Quagoa stood in place, frozen by fear, but Shalltear simply picked them up and chucked them through the [Gate].
After sending them all through, Shalltear briefly returned to Nazarick as well. She repeated her master’s orders to the Old Guarders standing by there, and then returned through the still-open [Gate].
Beyond it was Shalltear’s Master. His arms were crossed and he seemed to be waiting for her.
“Your collection of information was very thorough, Shalltear.”
The first thing he said was to praise her! Shalltear’s flat chest surged with heat.
Shalltear reflexively got to her knees. That was the only appropriate position to take in response to her Master’s praise.
“—Mm, umu. I look forward to your loyal service in the future.”
“I understand, Ainz-sama!!”
“Don’t stay like that. Stand up. We’ll need to discuss things with Gondo. …This is a chance to have them owe us a big favor.”
“How fortunate. Ainz-sama, your actions seem to be blessed.”
Their gazes met, and they smiled.
Granted, her Master’s face did not move, but Shalltear was absolutely certain that he was smiling.
“Then, let’s go.”
Mmmm~ This is great! The two of us, walking side by side… Haaa, I’m so happy.
Shalltear left the building as she savored the taste of happiness.
“Gondo, sorry for the wait. What do you want to do now?”
“Would anything we do even make a difference… It takes about six days to travel underground to the city. It’s too far for us to bring that information back to the city.”
Shalltear’s slightly slack face tensed up, and as she exchanged glances with Aura, her Master and the Dwarf began their discussion. She strove to memorize it so she could record it into her memo pad.
Since he was her glorious Master, he probably intended to crush the Dwarf’s heart into utter submission. Either that, or he would fasten a heavy shackle around his neck and ensure that he would never betray him. Something like that.
“Is that so? Well, since you can’t make it there in time, what’s there to be done? If that’s the case, why not come to my country? You can’t do anything by yourself either, right?”
“Although, I’d like to save the runesmiths… but even if we rushed there to help them, could we maintain an advantageous position during negotiations? Are the Dwarves a species that appreciates kindness shown to them?”
“Umu, I hope you can believe that. If you save the Dwarves from the threat of the Quagoa, I’m sure the negotiations will go well.”
“If that’s the case, then we’ll need to pick the right time to step in.”
After her Master made his experimental declaration, the Dwarf shrugged, as though to say he was alright with anything.
“I have already taken my lord’s… Your Majesty’s suggestion to heart.”
Shalltear had no idea what those words meant, but for some reason, she knew that the Dwarf had chosen her Master over his race.
Shalltear was both awed and frightened by the fact that her Master had managed to utterly dominate the soul of this Dwarf during the brief period in which he had entered the tunnel.
It must have been this charisma which enabled him to lead and coordinate the Supreme Beings.
“…No, I guess we ought to make haste. After all, we want to avoid the deaths of the runesmiths, and there’s no telling what will happen if we go underground, so we shall proceed from the outside. Can I trust you to guide us?”
“I’m not very confident, but I shall do my best.”
“Alright, then prepare to move out!”