“What’s the matter? Is something bothering you?”
“Ah, no! It’s been only three days since the search started, so I think it might be a bit hasty to conclude that he fell there…”
“I see. That does make sense. However, would it not be better to be prepared for anything?”
“That is true.”
“Alright. In that case, maid demon-kun. This is the third time I have spoken to you. The day we found you, yesterday, and now.”
The maid demon said nothing and looked at Caspond.
“If I asked you to go to a certain large city to rescue someone imprisoned there, would you help us?”
“…It is like I said yesterday. I will.”
“Ahh, good, I understand. Then, I apologize for this, but would you mind returning to your room? Vice-Captain Montagnes, if you would.”
He led the maid demon away, and they began speaking again once Gustav returned.
“Miss Baraja. While I do not know if I need to tell you all this, possessing this information might mean the difference between success and failure when you infiltrate Kalinsha. Therefore, I will speak to you about a few things. The first concerns Jaldabaoth.”
Caspond told her what they had learned from the maid demon.
It would seem she knew little about Jaldabaoth, practically nothing, in fact. She did not even know what abilities or attacks or weaknesses he possessed. In addition, she did not know what Jaldabaoth was doing now or what his objective was.
However, she had said that he would need a very long time to recover if he was severely injured. It was like how it would take longer to refill a larger vessel when the water level inside it decreased.
And so, after learning about Jaldabaoth, the demihumans and the other demons, Neia asked Caspond the question whose answer she wanted to know most of all.
“How far can we trust her?”
“We can’t. We should kill her to be safe.”
That answer had been supplied by Remedios.
Neia resisted the urge to ask if she could beat a difficulty 150 maid demon, and listened to Caspond’s judgement.
“I find it hard to trust her. This might be one of Jaldabaoth’s schemes. She might be a spy sent out in case someone like Momon appears, someone who can fight back against Jaldabaoth.”
That was why they had asked the Zern envoy to leave before bringing the maid demon in, and spoken obliquely in front of her.
“I told you, right? It would be better to kill her. That way there’ll be one less thing to worry about.”
“I see, Captain Custodio. That is an option. However, it is very likely that the maid demon is indeed under the Sorcerer King’s control. That is because she has not been spouting false information about Jaldabaoth nonstop, but replying that she does not know. However, why is she not asking about the Sorcerer King at all… Umu. Still, you agreed to hand the rights to the maid demons over to him, did you not? Since you did that, once they find out we killed her, they will regard our country as incapable of keeping its promises, you know? Once that happens, it is possible that nobody else will want to help us no matter what happens to our country.”
“He’s already been killed by Jaldabaoth, hasn’t he?”
Remedios’ words made Neia look down as she struggled to bite back her anger. Thanks to Remedios, she felt like she had gained the ability to better manage her emotions.
“We cannot be sure about that. That is why I feel we need to test and use her during the rescue of the prince. If she betrays us and leaks the information, then only the Zern will be eliminated, which will reduce the number of demihumans. We will also be able to root out the rat among us. These are the two merits of this option. And of course, if we succeed, we can simply rejoice.”
Please don’t forget about the life of the person who will be carrying out the infiltration, Neia grumbled in her heart.
“Did you ask the maid demon about her own weaknesses? If she betrays us en route, would it not be better to have some way to deal with her?”
“We didn’t ask about anything like that.”
Caspond smiled bitterly. Neia followed suit.
Even if she told them, there would be no way to determine if she were telling the truth. They could not tell by looking, and obviously they could not test it out.
“Well, we’re not the ones who control her. Ultimately, she’s only helping us because the Sorcerer King ordered her to do so.”
Gustav was still going on about that, but in truth both Caspond and Neia had realised it already. There was probably only one person present who did not understand the situation.
“So the infiltrators will be myself and the maid demon. Has anyone else been selected?”
“On that point, if you have nobody else to recommend, then the two of you will go by yourselves.”
For a moment, Neia looked at Caspond because she thought he was kidding, but his face was serious.
“Allow me to add on to the Prince-denka’s words, but surely an infiltration is best handled by a very small number of people, am I wrong? People getting in the way would be bad news, which is why we have nobody to put forward.”
While Gustav’s explanation was convincing enough, Neia knew that was not the only reason.
It was because of Neia Baraja’s situation.
It would be all well and good if this rescue operation went well. If it failed, all they would lose was an interfering squire who had grown close to the Sorcerer King and one of the Sorcerer King’s minions. In addition, they would lose little even if the maid demon betrayed them. It was perfect.
In that case — was it a lie when they said they had asked Remedios to go before? It was also possible that it was not, and they were just trying to minimize their losses.
Neia exhaled. There could be no other answer. This was a good chance to show her loyalty to the Sorcerer King.
“I understand. I and her–” she mused that she was probably a female “–The Maid demon will go together.”
“Oh, I see. Then we’ll be counting on you.”
“Then Vice-Captain Montagnes will draw you a rough sketch of the city. Prepare yourself before you leave. Also, avoid combat if any demons close to Jaldabaoth are present.”
According to the maid demon and the Zern’s information, Jaldabaoth was served by three great demons. These three demons were–
The ruler of the Abelion Hills, where the demihumans lived.
The marshal of the invasion of the Southern Holy Kingdom.
The one in charge of three major cities, who teleported between Kalinsha, Rimun and Prart.
That seemed to be it.
Therefore, if she was unlucky, the great demon in charge of the cities would be present.
The great demon in charge of the cities apparently had no head, and its body was like a withered tree. It was two meters tall and had no wings or a tail. It had clawed hands, and its slender body possessed an unimaginable strength. Also, it lacked a head, but it was still able to sense its surroundings, and similarly it could even read.
As a demon, it had a truly fiendish physiology.
Incidentally, the capital of Hoburns was apparently under Jaldabaoth’s direct command, and not that of his aides.
“May I know who is stronger between it and the maid demon?”
“In the maid demon’s own words, she does not know.”
She wanted to see the maid demon’s fighting ability just once. In particular, she wanted to know what weapons she favored and what special abilities she had. If she did not know that, they might suffer an unexpected defeat.
The three great demons are both generals and lords. He probably feels that demihumans are not suited for brainwork, so he seems to have set up a dictatorial power structure. Therefore, the great demons handle much of the administration and they have not appointed any successors or substitutes. If you can defeat them, you’ll be able to deal the Demihuman Alliance a devastating blow. “
“That would satisfy the victory conditions you have laid out, Prince-denka.”
“Ahh. Although Jaldabaoth might lead in person once his wounds have recovered… Right now, I don’t think he’ll force himself to take the field. However, if you can take the limbs, then victory will be close at hand even if you do not crush the head. That said, your main priority now is the rescue, so avoid combat if you can.”
“In that case… when will you begin the rescue mission?”
“I was planning to set out as soon as possible. However, I would like to speak to the maid demon before that.”
“I see. Then how about in two days’ time?”
Neia replied in the affirmative and received permission to meet the maid demon. After that, she left the room.
While she had a heavy burden to bear, her stride was energetic and her face was filled with determination. The flames of madness that came from losing her purpose recently received new direction, and they became a blinding light that illuminated her path.
There was still something she could do, and her path led to His Majesty. When she thought of it that way, even travelling with a dangerous demon was nothing.
The maid demon lived in an average-sized house with a garden. It should have once belonged to a wealthy resident of the city. During the savage takeover of this city, part of the beautiful decorations had been destroyed, and statues which should have been there had been smashed. Still, the house itself was intact, and it did not seem like the cold air outside would leak in.
Still, even a cheap and crude house could boast that. Every opening that could be considered a window had been boarded up tight, as though whoever did it were determined not to let air flow in — or out. It smacked of paranoia.
On the whole, this was a cage, or some kind of sealed-off space. It was a place for someone who was nominally a minion of an undead being or a demon, but also a place for the subordinate of a hero who had come to save the Holy Kingdom. It was a place which blended many purposes, as well as a sense of impending crisis and aversion.
While she wanted to ask what she could do with several loops of chain around her, the Sorcerer King had not officially introduced her, so they could not treat this maid demon politely.
The wall around the house had been hastily repaired, but it did not have a gate with a lock. Had they taken it away because there was not enough steel to go around? In its place was a hastily-built guard post that looked like a temporary hut.
The man standing there was a fully armored and powerful-looking man, the paladin who had been appointed commander of this place. Neia handed the scroll Caspond had prepared to him.
The paladin quickly scanned it, then returned the scroll to her while handing over a lit candlestick.
It was daytime, but the boarded-up windows meant that light could not penetrate inside. Since the maid demon did not need light either, the interior was pitch dark.
Neia went through the door and looked around the desolate garden before heading toward the house. As she walked over a shattered brick road to the main door, Neia took a deep breath.
She used the knocker on the door, but there was no response. Neia hesitated, and then tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. She cracked the door open, and peered into the darkened interior. There was no sound from the inside, and it was as silent as a mausoleum.
She made up her mind and then entered. There was no light inside, and no servants. There was nothing in this house but Neia and a difficulty rating 150 demon.
Sweat beaded on her back. The candle she held shook unsteadily. Everything outside the candle’s small circle of illumination seemed to have been sucked into the darkness.
“I’m Neia Baraja! I’m here to see you! Where are you!”
Neia shouted into the darkness, but the darkness did not respond.
Was she sleeping?
She shouted again, louder than just now, but there was no response.
Neia screwed up her determination, and stepped forward.
This was a two-storey building. It had many rooms, and checking them all would take quite a lot of time. Still, even without doing that, Neia might be able to pick up something with her acute hearing.
She began with the first floor.
As Neia gathered up her courage and took a step forward–
Someone called out to her from the side and a face appeared in the light.
Her shoulders twitched, and she unconsciously backed away from the face that appeared.
She hit a wall with a thud.
She could not have missed that face. It had appeared beside her as though it had passed through the walls.
“…Feels surprisingly good.”
She saw the maid demon through her tear-limned eyes. She watched the panicking Neia with a blank expression on her face.
Was even the Circlet of Iron Will helpless to prevent the feeling of surprise? Her heart was pounding like a drum, and it felt fit to burst. If that was the demon’s aim–
Nah, it couldn’t be…
“…Why did you come here?”
“I came here to ask you something. In two day’s time, I want the two of us…”
It would probably be too dangerous to explain the operation in detail since she did not know how far she could trust her.
“…To go on a certain mission.”
“So I think it would be good if we could share what we know and discuss what we can do…”
“…Sharing information is important. Understood.”
Whether or not she would really share information would depend on the upcoming discussion.
“…Alright, then come this way.”
The maid demon moved with rapid steps, as though she did not care about the lack of light. It would seem the paladin she had met earlier was telling the truth.
As Neia trailed behind her, she studied the back of the maid demon.
She was a beautiful girl whose slender limbs and pretty face all evoked a protective desire in others.
Still, it all seemed like a charade to Neia, who knew the truth about her.
The chains she had been festooned with in Caspond’s chambers were nowhere to be seen. However, the chains were meaningless to begin with. This demon was simply made in the shape of a human girl. Her true identity was a monster that could surpass Dragons.
As she considered that even a slight pat might be the death of her, her stomach began to ache.
“I’m very fragile, so please be gentle with me.”
As she heard Neia mutter those words reflexively, the maid demon stopped in place, then turned around and said, “Got it.” Even Neia’s eyes could not make out any changes in her expression. Not knowing what she thought made her a little uneasy
In this way, they arrived at the reception room.
There was only a single candle for illumination.
“…Sit,” she pointed to the facing chair. Neia sat down. “…Drinks.”
She suddenly produced a bottle of brown liquid. It was just like how the Sorcerer King took out objects.
As Neia watched in surprise, she opened the cap and inserted a straw. It was made of a bizarre material that looked both soft and hard at the same time.
She hoped that muddy liquid was not poison. It would be very distressing if she accidentally forgot that it was harmful to humans.
However, if she was really a subordinate of the Sorcerer king, then she would not be able to refuse. Neia emboldened herself and moved her tongue.
She took a mouthful of it, and swirled her tongue.
It was not as bitter as she expected, and it did not prickle like needles–
It’s sweet!? What is this!
Neia took one mouthful after another. While it was sticky and needed some effort to suck up, it was cool, refreshing and delicious.
“…Chocolate-flavored. Calories are a little high… around 2000. But don’t worry. Eating good food and getting fat is a long-cherished ambition for women, according to a certain great person.”
The change in tone made Neia peek at her face again, but she was still expressionless.
The words “great person” made her think of the Sorcerer King, but Neia had the feeling she was referring to someone else.
The maid demon probably knew that it would be a shame to finish it up in one go, and she took out another bottle.
Neia was also a girl — although the Orcs had wondered if she was a female — and it was hard for her to reach out for something that would make her fat. However, this drink was in a small container, which meant there was not much of it. Eating too much of anything would make one fat, so all she had to do was eat less at dinner to cancel it out.
I have no idea what these calories are or how much two thousand of them make, but she said it was a little, so it should be fine.
It was a sweetness that was completely different from that of fruits or honey. This time, she would savor the taste before drinking it.
She took a mouthful–
“Ah! No, that’s not why I came. I came to talk.”
The maid demon sucked on the straw and drank in the same way as Neia had, while her eyes signalled Neia to continue.
“Er, well, first, if you have a name, could you tell it to me? I’m Neia Baraja, but you can call me whatever you want.”
According to Blue Rose, each individual maid demon was completely different from the others in terms of appearance and equipment. In fact, the maid demons she had seen behind Jaldabaoth at Caspond’s room were completely different from this one. Maybe there were different names for different types of maid demons, much like Goblins and Hobgoblins.
While there might not be a need to know its individual and race name, if she really was a subordinate of the Sorcerer King, then as a squire, it would only be polite to treat her with all due courtesy.
“…Fuhaa. CZ is fine. I’ll call you Neia.”
“CZ, is it?”
Neia had expected to be addressed as “human”, so she was mildly surprised.
Is the maid demon’s personal name CZ? Or is CZ her race name? Well, both of them work for me…
“Is that your personal name?”
“…Personal name? An excellent question. Yes. Personal name.”
“Ah, forgive me. I don’t understand demons that well…”
“…Mm. Demons… huh. This… mm.”
CZ seemed to be mumbling. Neia could hear all of it, but since she was talking to herself she decided not to take a jab at her.
“Alright then, CZ. What can you do? Also, there were several maid demons, so why did the Sorcerer King choose you?”
“…I’m good at ranged attacks. Also because I was MVP (the best).”
“Best? Ahh, is that it? So at that time you were the most troublesome opponent, is that it?”
CZ chuckled. That said, her face did not seem to change. However, Neia had sharp eyes, and she understood after observing her carefully.
There was a very slight change in her expression — she seemed proud.
At the same time, Neia relaxed. It would seem she had not been easily controlled because she was the weakest.
“I can use ranged weapons too, but in turn I’m not good at close combat… We don’t have a frontliner.”
CZ sipped her drink in silence.
“Got any ideas?”
“…What are we doing?”
“Infiltrating a city and rescuing a VIP.”
She could not mention the word Zern yet.
“…Then we need the ability to move stealthily. Better not to have a clanky frontliner.”
“Yes, that’s right.
“…Can you move quietly, Neia?”
“I had some training, so I’m probably better than before. However, I’m not fully confident in myself.”
“…Can you cast spells like [Invisibility] or magic items like that?”
Neia shook her head.
“…I see. Work hard then.”
“Yes. I’ll work hard. Then…”
Could she really trust her — could she believe that she was under the Sorcerer King’s control?
If CZ was still a minion of Jaldabaoth and was pretending to be a subordinate of the Sorcerer King in order to spy on them, then telling her about him would be very bad. However, it was very likely that the Sorcerer King had wrested control of her from Jaldabaoth. In that case, not trusting her enough would be throwing away her best trump card.
And so, nervously and haltingly, she spoke.
“In this place, er, I have the duty of being the Sorcerer King’s squire.”
CZ’s sculpted features did not move.
“…I heard. He said she had vicious eyes. And then he lent her a bow, which was runecrafted™. Show me.”
Alarms blared in the corner of her mind — Jaldabaoth had seemed quite interested in it as well. Still, if CZ really was in the Sorcerer King’s employ, she would not be able to refuse.
Neia handed over her bow, and CZ took it. However, she only glanced briefly at it before returning it to Neia.
“This is very good. You should let many people see it.”
She delivered the line calmly, so it felt like she was reading off something. However, she was probably imagining things because CZ was not looking at the bow with interest. After all, she had spoken this way ever since she had first seen her.
“Thank you. Ah, yes. About what happens after the mission–”
CZ held out a hand to interrupt Neia.
“You should let many people see it.”
Why is she so hung up on this? CZ probably noted the bafflement on Neia’s face, and continued:
“He lent you an excellent runecrafted™ weapon. You should spread the word of Ainz-sama’s greatness.”
The word Ainz made Neia twitch. Making this clear to her was her top priority.
Neia sensed from CZ’s blank face that she had not been clear enough, and added:
“That’s ‘His Majesty’. Calling him Ainz-sama is too familiar, don’t you think?”
This time, it was CZ whose face twitched a little. No, at a glance her face was still blank, but Neia was sure that her expression had changed.
“It’s not too familiar.”
“No, it is. Normally, you don’t address him by his name, but by his title. You just came into his service and haven’t been of use to him yet… What’s with that face of yours?”
“Nothing. However, I want to call him Ainz-sama and not His Majesty.”
Was the expression that could be vaguely glimpsed past that blank mask a look of pity, or was she crowing her victory? Even Neia did not understand, but it made her mad. This thick-skinned newcomer had come out of nowhere, and the fact that she was trying to cozy up to the person she so revered made her very unhappy.
Neia decided not to pretend any more. While she wanted to act as a squire and deal with her politely as a person of the Holy Kingdom, she decided to give up on it. It did not matter if she was dealing with a monster which knew no equal in past or present, she had to make one thing clear.
“Someone like you–”
“I was told to do so by Ainz Ooal Gown-sama — Call me Ainz-sama, he said.”
“So I’ll call him Ainz-sama. I’ll. Call. Him. That.”
Left unspoken was “but you can’t”. Neia’s body trembled.
No, she was a demon that the Sorcerer King had bound into his service with magic. Maybe it was natural that she would go that far.
“No, that can’t be. You, you must be lying. You’re lying like a demon would. How could he have explained in such detail in a situation like that?”
CZ shook her head, as though to say, “good grief.”
“It is a shame, but also true. Well, I know you must be shocked. I understand very well. Still, that is where you stand now. However, if you work for Ainz-sama, someday you will be able to call him Ainz-sama too. Devote yourself to it.”
“…Neia. It is a predecessor’s duty to teach those who come after them.”
While that was a pretty good line, had CZ not come after herself? Still, the fact that she could call him Ainz-sama made her feel that maybe she was the senior after all. It was a little hard to accept, but for the time being–
“I want to thank you.”
“…Don’t mention it. One must show kindness to those who know of Ainz-sama’s greatness.”
Neia’s eyes widened in surprise. She had only been bound to him for such a short time, so how had she gained such respect? No, that simply proved how great the Sorcerer King was.
“Yes, that’s right. I know very well how great His Majesty is.”
After Neia answered, the two of them looked at each other for a while.
CZ was the first to move.
She dextrously extended her right hand. Neia responded instantly and without hesitation.
While Neia was mildly bothered by the fact that CZ had not taken off her glove, the two of them shook hands on the table.
Given how much she reveres the Sorcerer King, it would seem she really is under His Majesty’s rule. Otherwise, she would not have called him Ainz-sama, but instead she would have called him His Majesty like me, so she would not sound strange.
Was she being naive? However, at this point, Neia was very confident in her belief. She understood that CZ’s loyalty was genuine. Just like how the teeth of two cogwheels fitted together, they could understand each other because they were fellow worshippers of the same god.
“…Speaking of which, it’s easy to get along with you. As a human being, you have a bright future, Neia.”
“I have very mixed feelings about getting along with a demon. We’re talking like this because you’re speaking the truth about how great His Majesty is.”
Hm hm, CZ nodded.
“…Although I feel it doesn’t matter what happens to Neia, I will bring you back safely to this country. I promise.”
Neia’s gratitude was honest and straightforward. CZ’s difficulty rating was 150. She was on a level where even Blue Rose would be hard-pressed to win against her. It was only right to be grateful for the protection of such a demon. This was doubly true if she was a subject of the Sorcerer King. Although, there was one thing she had to clarify with her.
“…Can you swear that in the name of the Sorcerer King?”
CZ raised a hand, like she had been called on by a teacher.
“This I swear in the name of the Supreme One, Ainz Ooal Gown-sama… However, if Neia dies and is resurrected, that still counts as keeping my word, right?”
“Safe…? No, I think that’s slightly different…”
The two of them looked at each other.
To Neia, there was a big difference between “safe” and “coming back to life after dying”. However, that was just barely within the bounds of what she could compromise with.
“If you don’t become a demon or one of the undead, but come back to life as a human, that ought to count, right…”
“…That should be fine. …Alright.”
There was a slight change in CZ’s voice, which had been in a monotone all this while. She sounded like she was motivated now.
“…While you’re not cute, this is specially for you.”
CZ took something out and went to Neia’s side. Then she pressed something tightly onto Neia’s forehead.
“Eh!? What!? What is this!?”
Frightened by that inexplicable action, she tried desperately to peel it off, but she could not. It was stuck on so tight that it would not budge. It was very frightening.
“What’s this! Eh! Wait! I’m scared!”
“…It’s okay. It won’t hurt and it’s not scary. Look.”
CZ showed her something with the number 1 and a strange design — it might have been a letter — on it. It was made of some kind of paper that gleamed with a frightening lustre and the one on her head was similarly slippery. She had heard of talismancy, so was that a kind of talisman used as a magical medium for that art? No matter what, she could not have given out a trivial item like this, so it must be some kind of magic item. That was what sent a chill down Neia’s spine. Could it be that she would not be able to remove it for the rest of her life?
“Why did you have to stick it on my forehead! Aren’t there better places to put it!?”
“…Mm, like a little sister.”
“Eh!?” Although she had heard something quite shocking, there was a more important matter at hand. “Anyway, take this off. At least stick it on my clothes or somewhere else!”
“…It can’t be helped, then.”
CZ took out a small bottle and placed a drop of something on Neia’s forehead. After that, the tightly stuck-on object peeled off easily, like it had never been attached at all. She picked it up, looked at it, and saw that it was the same as the one CZ had showed her earlier.
“…Sticker. It needs to be pasted somewhere obvious.”
It would seem she would have to paste it on. Making CZ would do no good, so Neia did as she was told.
“…Are we done?”
“Eh? Ah, no, after this, er, I wanted to talk about finding His Majesty, ah, no, to welcome him back…”
“…I’ll go too. …We need a lot of preparation. After all that is over.”
“…I promise. But I hope we can make time to finish the map of the demihumans’ hills.”
“That’s true. Eh, demihumans?”
A moment after she agreed, a question suddenly popped up in her heart. Right now, she had not told her anything. Even so, why had she suddenly used the word “demihuman”?
Could it be… she heard about him landing in the Hills from Caspond-denka?
“Er, um… I got it. I’ll talk to the people on top.”
“…Pleased to meet you, Neia.”
“The pleasure was all mine, CZ.”
Although she was still mildly bothered by the sticker from just now, Neia stuck out her hand, and CZ responded. They both shook hands again.
“You don’t think His Majesty is dead after all, do you, CZ?”
CZ’s eyes went wide.
“…What did you just say?”
“Actually, His Majesty fell to the east, and then he didn’t contact us again… Since His Majesty can cast teleportation spells, the fact that he still hasn’t come back makes me think something happened to him… So… what if… His Majesty…”
It hurt too much to speak any further. She hesitated, because if she said it, it might come true.
To this CZ responded with what was probably surprise.
“…He’s fine. He’s not dead. My binding is the proof. Hm? …Why are you crying?”
Her tears were flowing on their own.
The Sorcerer King was really alive.
She truly believed that he was not dead. But sometimes, the uneasiness that suddenly reared up in her mind left her unable to sleep. Many people had told Neia that the Sorcerer King was fine, but all of them sounded like they were just trying to comfort her, to try and keep their own worries at bay, and not because they truly believed it.
But at this moment, someone had told her that with absolute confidence and certainty. That, and CZ was the proof that the Sorcerer King was alive. That allowed Neia to relax at last.
It was relief, like that of a lost child finding her parents, that made Neia weep.
CZ produced a piece of cloth that was printed with the same design as her scarf — it was probably a handkerchief — and covered Neia’s face with it. And then, she rubbed forcefully. She was not so much violent as inexperience, but the place where she rubbed hurt a lot.
CZ pulled the handkerchief away, and Neia’s snot stretched out into a bridge.
“…There’s snot on it. …I’m super shocked.”
After hearing CZ’s distinctly shocked voice, there was an indescribable look on Neia’s face.
Therefore, she took a handkerchief out of her own pocket and broke the bridge of snot.
“…I’ll wash it.”