Overlord Light Novel Volume 7 Chapter 2
Overlord Light Novel Volume 7 Chapter 2
Chapter 02: Butterfly Entangled In A Spider’s Web
(Re)Translated by: Nigel
Proofreader/Editor: Deus Ex Machina
The sun had not yet risen, but there were already quite a number of Workers gathered in the Count’s courtyard. The last people to arrive were Hekkeran and the members of Foresight, for a total of 18 people. All of the people gathered for this job were capable Workers within the Imperial Capital.
Each team kept a fixed distance from the others, and at the same time they sized each other up warily, so the fact that every single eye went to the members of Foresight as they arrived last was quite an intimidating sight.
“Ah, there’s a few familiar faces. Speaking of which, didn’t we meet that stag beetle at the Katze Plains?”
“Strange, didn’t I mention it at the inn? Gringam’s team was hired too… what, I didn’t tell you? I have the feeling that I brought it up… in any case, as you can see, all the notable Workers in the Empire are gathered under one roof! A warm round of applause for our client’s ample finances!”
“We can dispense with the applause, I think. Let’s leave that aside for now; the ones over there should be the team leaders.”
Everyone present was divided into their teams, and among them, a group of three people were discussing information.
“Gringam’s there too, right. Okay, I’ll go over to say hi.”
“…Ah! Ugeh, that bastard’s here too? Ah! Seriously? Then, those elf girls must be… this is terrible. Die, you son of a bitch.”
Imina muttered bitterly to herself. She might have been keeping her voice down, but Hekkeran and the others still panicked as they surveyed their surroundings for signs of hostility/
“I know, Rober. He’s a colleague for the duration of this job, after all… but I just wish I didn’t have to see his face.”
“—I don’t like him either.”
“Ah, if you want to talk about whether or not we like him, then I hate him too, but you need to mind your attitude.”
A look of “you’re really annoying” came over Imina’s face. Hekkeran came between her and Roberdyck, then smiled mischievously as he shrugged.
“…Hey, I’m going over to greet him. Don’t say annoying things like that. What if I end up showing it on my face?”
“Work hard, leader.”
After hearing Roberdyck cheer him on, Hekkeran deliberately scrunched up his face and grumbled, “those two talk like it doesn’t concern them”, and then went over to the group of three people.
The first to greet Hekkeran as he walked over was a Worker in a suit of steel-colored full plate armor. Due to the strange, rounded structure of the plates and the curiously oversized pauldrons, he did not look like a human being so much as a beetle standing on two legs.
A large horn stuck straight out of his helmet, a sign that he was deliberately cultivating that image.
However, the part after that was not intentional. The man’s legs were very short, so he looked like a stag beetle that a child had deliberately forced to stand on its hind legs. A nicer way of putting it would be to say that his short, stumpy legs stood securely upon the ground, and he had a Dwarven physique that was well-suited to being a warrior.
“As I expected, thou cam’st too, Hekkeran.”
“Yes, Gringam. I thought the terms this time round weren’t too bad.”
Hekkeran waved to the other two people. His attitude was hardly dignified, but neither of them looked unhappy. This was because the four of them might have been of different ages and had different experiences, but they were equally skilled as Workers.
“So, your guys…” Hekkeran glanced at Gringam’s team and counted them before replying: “There’s only five of you; what happened to the other members?”
“They are taking their rest, and alleviating their fatigue. In addition, they worked the same assignment as myself, and now they must repair or replace their damaged or destroyed panoply.”
This man — Gringam — led the team called Heavy Masher, a large Worker team with 14 members.
There were merits in having numbers on one’s side. One of them was the ability to approach a job from many different angles, which gave one many ways to handle a job. In particular, the ability to recombine into a team that could take on any request was a great boon.
However, that approach also contained demerits. One of them was the fact that payment was divided among the number of people, and so each individual would be paid less. The second flaw was that deciding something would take a very long time, which led to slow movements.
After adding up the pros and cons, the fact that this man could group up Workers and their tendency to break apart based on personality conflicts, and then go one step further to perfectly control them was a sign of his great skill as a manager.
“Oh~ That’s tough. Although… why don’t you act as our support, so the friends you left behind won’t end up hating you for earning too much?”
“Utter foolery. As a leader in mine own right, the task falls to me to assuage the underlings once the task is concluded. Regretfully, our band must seek the best possible outcome for ourselves.”
“Oi, oi, don’t be like that. I’m just saying that it’ll be fine if you speak normally around us.”
Gringam smiled thinly. Hekkeran saw that he did not agree, and so he shrugged and turned to the other man.
“This is the first time I’ve spoken face to face with you.”
He extended a hand to the other man as a show of respect, and that man took it. His was a sturdy and strong hand.
His narrowed eyes flickered, then focused on Hekkeran.
“—Foresight. I’ve heard of you.”
His voice was as clear as a bell. One could say it fit his appearance very well.
“You too, Tenbu.”
There was nobody who did not know of this genius swordsman, who was undefeated in the arena. This man’s team — Tenbu — was essentially a team composed of one man, to some extent. However, that was also why Imina’s face contorted with disgust.
“I’m glad to be able to team up with a sword genius who can rival the mightiest warrior of the Kingdom — the great Gazef Stronoff.”
“Thank you. However, shouldn’t you say that he can rival me — Eruya Uzruth?”
“Oh~ bold words~”
Eruya smiled coldly, an arrogant look on his face. After seeing his expression, Hekkeran blinked several times to hide the emotion he had nearly revealed.
“Well then, I look forward to seeing your swordsmanship on full display in the ruins.”
“Yes. You can leave that to me. I hope there’ll be a monster in those ruins who can give me a challenge.”
Eruya patted the weapon at his side.
“…We don’t know what kind of monster may emerge. For all we know, we might even encounter a Dragon!”
“Now that would be a frightening sight. Perhaps a powerful monster like a Dragon might challenge me. However, I’ll win in the end.”
“Really now,” Hekkeran smiled, albeit on the surface. He glanced to see the reaction of the last person, and worked to suppress his own feelings.
He recalled a rumour going around that in swordsmanship alone, Eruya was more than a match even for an orichalcum-ranked adventurer, so perhaps that answer of his was no idle boast. In addition, confidence in his own abilities was a good thing; bragging was very important for Workers.
Of course, that was as long as he did not take it too far.
Dragons were the mightiest species on the world.
They soared through the sky and expelled ruinous breath from their maws. Their scales were sturdy and their physical attributes were extraordinary. Old Dragons could even use magic. They possessed a lifespan incomparable to those of human beings, and even a sage would have to admit defeat to their accumulated wisdom.
Due to their power, stories frequently depicted them as wicked foes, or beings who lent a hand to heroes. The objective of the Thirteen Heroes’ last adventure was the Dragon known as the Divine Dragon. In much the same way, the final adversary of a hero was often one of the Draconic race.
It was quite startling how he could compare himself to such a powerful being and act so cockily, even if it was idle banter. His swaggering tone sounded like he was joking, but unfortunately Eruya’s eyes were serious. How full of himself was he?
Nobody knew what sort of monsters lay within the ruins they would soon be visiting. He predicted that Eruya’s mental state was very dangerous and might end up dragging down everybody else as well. That ought to be the case.
I’d better stay away from him.
It was his own business if he wanted to die, but it would be troublesome if he came over to beg for help. Hekkeran smiled to him, and having made that decision, he amended his approach to Eruya; now he would be “used and then discarded”.
“And the people over there should be the members of Foresight. Oya…”
A look of disdain and scorn filled Eruya’s eyes the moment he saw Imina.
Apparently, Eruya had been born in the religious nation that revered humanity as the greatest of all races; the Slaine Theocracy. The citizens of that country often viewed people with nonhuman ancestry as second-class citizens.
From that man’s point of view, having a Half-Elf like Imina working on an even basis with him must be very upsetting.
That part of him lends truth to the rumors… however, if he really was born in the Theocracy, then he ought to have a baptismal name. There’s also a rumor that he abandoned his baptismal name.
Hekkeran grumbled in his heart, and just to be sure, he muttered:
“Oi oi, hands off my buddies, okay?”
“Of course. For the duration of this job, we are all comrades. I will work together with you.”
“I would very much like to believe those words.”
This man Eruya was like a strong kid who had directly become an adult. He unnerved others; or rather, he was mentally unbalanced to some extent. The mood around him was distasteful to others, and even after reminding him, Hekkeran could not find it in himself to relax.
“Oh yes, please believe me. Now then, let’s return to the previous topic. In any event, I’d like to turn overall command of the expeditions to someone else. Provided it’s not too troubling, I will obey the instructions of all the other members. Feel free to use me as a vanguard during battle; I will cut down all the foes before us with this blade.”
“…In that case, I’ll be returning to my team. Let me know if there’s anything.”
Eruya bowed, and then left.
As he saw the women waiting for Eruya, Hekkeran’s face twisted for a moment. However, he could not let his feelings be written on his face. Allowing others to know how he felt might occasionally prove disadvantageous, and someone like that was not fit to lead a team.
He quelled his emotions, and hid his expression.
He turned away, like he had seen something filthy, and greeted the last person.
“Greetings, honored elder. You’re as healthy as ever.”
“Hoi, Hekkeran. You seem well.”
He wheezed whenever he spoke, because almost all his front teeth had fallen out.
He was Palpatra “Green Leaf” Ogrion.
The source of his nickname was the suit of armor he wore, which resembled green leaves glistening with morning dew. That armor was not made of metal, but the scales of a Green Dragon. Palpatra and his team had once succeeded in a Dragon Hunt. Of course, it was not a very big Dragon, but even a small Dragon was not a foe which an average Worker or adventurer could handle.
Palpatra was an old man who was in his 80th year of life.
Usually, people in this line of work retired after the age of 45. There were also some who would retire in their early forties. Very few people remained as adventurers after the age of 50. The people who worked such a cruel job where death was a very real danger could not ignore the effects of age withering their bodies.
In truth, Palpatra was an exception, but his strength had deteriorated greatly from when he was in his prime — apparently, when he had reached the level of the orichalcum-ranked. Even so, Palpatra refused to step down from the frontlines.
Palpatra and the way he continued adventuring despite his advanced age was an object of admiration for many people in the field.
“Mhm, still, he seems a little dangerous.”
Even more wrinkles appeared on Palpatra’s already-wrinkled face, and he lowered his voice, a gesture of which Hekkeran approved.
“Yes. If he wants to die, that’s his problem, but I’d rather not go down with him as well.”
“Granted, he is very strong, but excessive confidence might end up endangering his compatriots. He is extremely dangerous.”
Gringam seemed to be muttering something along the lines of “how troublesome”. After seeing Eruya’s attitude probably all the workers were thinking the same thing.
“Actually, how strong is he? I haven’t been to the arena in a while.”
“Know’st thou not? I am aware… is it not the same for thee, revered elder?”
“I’ve only heard of his prowess, but I haven’t actually seen it with my own eyes. Perhaps I could ask my companions. However, when we get down to it, what are we going to use as a benchmark for strength? For instance, if we used Gazef Stronoff as an upper limit, then where would something we were more familiar with… like say… the Empire’s Four Knights stand on that scale?”
“The Knights who are also known as Heavy Explosion, The Immovable, Lightning Bolt and Violent Gale, huh… using them as a benchmark only complicates things. The four of them ought to be inferior to that great man — to the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain — but then, the days of Gazef Stronoff towering over the common herd are a thing of the past. As time goes by, new powerful warriors will emerge.”
“So you want to say Uzruth is one of them, that he’s really that strong? Besides, I’ve never seen the power of the Four Knights up close… the strongest person I’ve seen is probably the leader of the Platinum Imperial Guard, who answer directly to the Emperor himself. That man’s skill is quite something… as I recall, he’s on par with the Four Knights?”
“The mightiest entities I know of are the Dragon Lords of the Council Alliance. Humanity cannot defeat foes like those.”
“Some say there’s five of them, others say there’s seven… Ah, we’re looking for a way to gauge Uzruth’s strength. Please limit yourself to human swordsmen.”
“That said the Agrand Council Alliance’s swordsmen are almost all demihumans, so we’ll have to count them out as well. The Martial Lord of the arena is the same way. Then I’ll cite the lady paladin of the Roble Holy Kingdom, who wields a holy sword. That said, she does seem somewhat inadequate in terms of pure swordsmanship.”
Collecting information on mighty individuals was very important for a Worker, when it came to handling jobs. That was because the presence or absence of such information often determined victory or defeat. And of course, that aside, they were all warriors, and they could not help but want to know more about people who inhabited the world of martial arts with them.
It was the same now. The conversation had started by discussing Eruya’s strength, but things had gotten more and more heated, and it became something like a swap meet for news about powerful beings. It was like a group of kids arguing about who was strongest.
“The Slaine Theocracy’s people tend to be of a uniformly high level, but I haven’t heard of any particularly outstanding individuals among them. Then again, even if they were, divine magic casters are outside the scope of this discussion.”
“I heard there’s a female warrior in the Kingdom’s highest-ranked adventurer team. What of her?”
“Ah, the “no breasts, just pecs” one, am I right? She’s very strong. Although, I heard that she lost a duel with the Warrior Captain.”
“…I heard an adventurer addressed her with that made-up nickname and got beaten half to death. Hahaha, what a frightening young lady.”
“After mentioning the names of the strong, I’ve come to realize that there aren’t many powerful pure swordsmen. There’s Dark Knight of the Heroes of the City-State Alliance. Then there’s “Flash” Cerebrate of the Draconic Kingdom’s adamantite-ranked adventurer team Crystal Tear, as well as “Crimson” Optix of the Worker team “Blazing Inferno”, and then the Kingdom’s… Brain Unglaus.”
The conversation stopped here for the first time.
“Brain Unglaus? Who’s he?”
Palpatra directed that puzzled question at Gringam.
“Dost thou not know, revered elder? That man is a famed swordsman of the Kingdom… what about thee?”
Hekkeran shook his head in response to that question. He had never heard that name before.
“Verily, all of thee know not…”
Gringam could not hide the look of disappointment on his face. Then, he spoke in a voice that lacked confidence, like he was perusing memories of the past:
“This is a matter of years gone by, when I once took part in the Kingdom’s grand martial tournament. During the semi-finals, I had the privilege of measuring his blade skills a measure. At that time, mine abilities could not hope to compare to his.”
“You’re talking about the tournament which Gazef Stronoff won, right?”
“Indeed. In the end, Unglaus met defeat at Stronoff’s hands, but the battle of those contenders was truly a sight to behold. They were paragons of swordsmanship both; how did he deflect that flash of light? And being able to strike with but a single curve of the blade under those circumstances….mine eyes were opened upon witnessing such sights and more.”
Given the way Gringam was gushing with praise for him, and the fact that he could fight evenly with Gazef Stronoff, the mightiest warrior of the surrounding nations, it was clear that his strength must have been top-rate.
So it was just that he did not know that the world contained such skilled exponents. Hekkeran was filled with awe.
“Mhm… then, who do you think is stronger, between that Unglaus chap and Uzruth.”
“Uzruth,” Gringam answered without any delay. “If he had to battle Unglaus from the grand martial tournament, it would definitely be him. I witnessed a fight of his in the arena recently, and I am certain of it,”
“So that means he can stand on par with the Warrior-Captain from several years ago? Is he really that strong? Oh my.”
Hekkeran had exclaimed in a moment of excitement, and he hurriedly lowered his volume.
“I see, Unglaus, is it. Looks like I’ll have to pay attention to news from the Kingdom… alright, have you two heard of it? That there’s a third adamantite-ranked adventurer team in the Kingdom?”
“Of course I have.”
“Ah, pardon me, I haven’t.”
“Hekkeran… ignorance will endanger thy team.”
“I know that, but I just don’t have the money to gather information about our friends in the Kingdom. I can’t spare the cash.”
“Hyahyahya, how bold! I do not dislike such courage!”
“Revered elder, I seek your opinion on a certain matter. Having heard the rumors of Darkness’ Momon, do you not feel they are far too exaggerated? They say the two of them slew a Gigant Basilisk, without the aid of a healer.”
“Uwah, it ought to be just a rumor.”
Such a mighty foe (a Gigant Basilisk) could not be felled by just two people, not even if they were adamantite-ranked.
“Thou agree’st with me then, Hekkeran? The more news I gather, the more dubious the provenance of such. It has even reached mine ears that during the great uproar in the Kingdom, he dispatched a fiend of well over 200 difficulty in but a single blow, To me, that might be a fabrication concocted by the Adventurer’s Guild of the Kingdom to frighten those within and without the nation, and thus they granted those people the rank of adamantite.”
“That’s possible. After all, the birth of a high-ranking adventurer is a momentous occasion. Still, would the Guild tell such lies? The Guild is quite stubborn about the way they do things.”
“The Guildmaster of each city handles things differently. The Guildmaster from my adventuring days was filth. So I punched him right in the face! Hyahyahya! I’m a Worker now, thanks to that!”
Palpatra laughed loudly and with good cheer.
His reasons for becoming an adventurer were well known. Anyone in the business within the Imperial Capital would have heard of it. Palpatra would repeatedly recount the incident whenever he sat down to drink.
“That said, I feel the Guild wouldn’t do something like that.”
“So you think it’s true, then?”
“It’s hard to believe. Even if you viewed it in the most generous terms, a difficulty of 200… that number alone is suspicious; any foe who was that powerful could not possibly be felled in a single blow. I think that part was an exaggeration that was deliberately spread. If an extremely high-difficulty demon really did show up, they probably engaged it with multiple teams and then had Darkness deal it the finishing blow.”
“That sounds more likely.”
“Well, if you counted all the adventurers who were stronger than orichalcum-rank as being adamantite-rank, I could believe such a mighty warrior existed. After all, adamantite rank can cover a very broad range.”
“Hekkeran and I are of one mind, but thou feel’st it is true, do you not, revered elder?”
“Hyahyahya. I don’t consider it to be entirely true either.”
“Seeing is believing, as they say. I wish we could meet the man himself… then again, maybe not.”
Just as the other two were expressing their agreement with Hekkeran, they heard the sound of flesh striking flesh, followed by a woman trying to bite back a scream of pain.
All the Workers present turned their eyes onto the same spot. Several of them had already lowered themselves into battle-ready stances, believing something had happened.
The source of the scream lay before Eruya — one of his female companions, who lay upon the ground. Judging by the circumstances, Eruya had probably punched her. The woman looked up at Eruya’s face, which was twisted in anger. Her own face was filled with fear as she begged pathetically for forgiveness.
Hekkeran fought back a rising wave of nausea, and a thought flashed through his mind. He hurriedly turned his attention towards his companion — Imina.
Just as he had imagined, her face had gone blank. There was a dangerous air around her, as though she would launch an attack if things went any further.
Hekkeran hurriedly signalled to Roberdyck and Arche who were standing beside her, telling them to hold her back.
Personally speaking, Hekkeran was as angry as Imina was. However, he could not stick his nose into the problems of other teams. Of course, he could do so if he wanted. However, if he did, he would need to be prepared to bear all the consequences of that choice. That was the reason why the other teams simply wrinkled their brows in displeasure, but none of them made a move.
Imina’s reason eventually overcame her desire to fight, and she spat on the ground after directing a lewd gesture at his back.
“…The only thing he has that’s comparable to the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain is his swordsmanship. It would be wonderful if his character were similar to his as well, but I guess that’s too much to ask for. Alright, we’ll stop here for now.”
“…Indeed. Since Hekkeran’s here too, let’s decide the most important thing.”
“That man refused, so who’ll be our overall leader?”
The three of them fell silent.
There were four teams present here. While all of them possessed ample fighting power, without someone to coordinate and lead everyone, they would not be able to take effective action. It was like having many arms but being unable to use them all at the same time; little different from only having one.
Being able to make effective use of a team of strong personalities was not an easy task, and doing so without complaints from anybody was even more difficult. If the instructions resulted in failure, or if others thought that one was placing their own team’s gain above their own, it would incur the wrath of the other teams.
Frankly speaking, the position demanded excellent skills, yet there were more demerits than merits to taking it.
Every team leader understood that point, so they all remained silent while watching each other’s faces. Each of them wanted to dump this burden onto the first person to open their mouth. After about a minute’s silence, Hekkeran tiredly suggested:
“Honestly, we don’t need an overall leader, do we?”
“That’s just delaying the inevitable. It’ll be troublesome once fighting breaks out.”
“…Mine idea is that we should alternate. That way resentment will not accrue. I feel we may discuss the matter at greater length upon reaching the ruins.”
“You do have a point.”
Both of them approved of Gringam’s suggestion.
“In that case, we’ll go in order of when we arrive there.”
“How about Uzruth and his Tenbu?”
“It’s fine if we skip that punk. Besides, he won’t be able to do it.”
“I agree, revered elder. Then, as the one who proposed it, my Heavy Masher shall take the lead.”
“I’m counting on you, Gringam.”
“Please do, young man.”
“Understood. That said, there will hardly be any vicious monsters within the Empire. The problem lies within the Kingdom; a situation may arise once we draw near the great forest.”
“Ahhh~ If I’d known I’d have reversed the order.”
Hekkeran made a show of grabbing his head in mock regret, while the other two smiled quietly. After that, they immediately quelled their facial expressions and turned to look at a man who was walking towards the Workers. The surrounding Workers had already turned to face him.
The Count’s butler walked proudly through the courtyard that was dimly lit by the brightening sky, with a pose that befitted a servant of a Count.
He arrived before the Workers, and bowed. Nobody responded to it, but he did not mind; instead opening his mouth and saying:
“It is time. My thanks to everyone for accepting my Lord’s request. We shall dispatch two drivers with you and six adventurers as an escort. The objective is an unexplored ruin within the Kingdom — very likely to be a tomb, from the structure of it. The duration of the expedition will be three days, and the bonus will be awarded based on what my master learns, so we will arrange later on. Are there any questions?”
The butler had said the same thing as the employment request; the only difference was probably the presence of adventurers as bodyguards.
They wanted to know how the Count had learned about the ruins, but the Workers knew which questions could be answered and which questions could not. If their employer was willing to tell them, then he would have said so when hiring them.
Besides, if this job was really so clear-cut and aboveboard, adventurers could take care of it. Since it was dirty work, the employer had to keep quiet, and so not asking would be safer.
“…In that case, I shall take you all to your awaiting carriages.”
Nobody objected, and so everyone followed behind him.
Hekkeran and the rest of Foresight were at the end of the group.
“That fucking son of a bitch, why isn’t he dead yet? How about it, want to kill him?”
Imina could not tolerate Eruya, and she whispered her displeasure into Hekkeran’s ear the moment she was beside him, in order to vent her anger.
Her voice was very soft; there was no telling if it was because she was utterly furious or because she was trying to restrain herself. Hekkeran did not know, and could only hope it was the latter.
“I’ve heard it before, but he really is a crude man.”
“—He’s absolutely disgusting.”
The other two replied quietly, making no attempt to hide their displeasure.
It was only natural that Foresight would think that way. With a woman like Imina as their companion, there was no way they could tolerate Eruya’s actions.
Aside from Eruya himself, the rest of his team was all female, and they were all Elves.
Imina and the other team members would not have been revolted by him if that was all. However, there was a reason why they had the unanimous and unreserved opinion that Eruya was a piece of disgusting filth.
The Elf girls were minimally equipped with crudely-made gear. In addition, their short-cut hair exposed their long elven ears, which had been cut in half at the middle.
The reason why Eruya’s team members were like this was because they were all Elven slaves from the Slaine Theocracy.
The previous system of slavery in the Empire had undergone a great reform under the previous Emperor. They were still slaves in name, but their situation was completely different. However, just like the demihumans in the arena, the conditions of some slaves had not been improved.
The Elf slaves Eruya had in tow belonged to that type.
The three nations of the Baharuth Empire, the Re-Estize Kingdom and the Slaine Theocracy were almost all human, and they discriminated more heavily against other races than the other surrounding nations. Thus, even humanoid species — like Half-Elves and Elves — had a hard time living in these countries.
Only the Dwarves were an exception. The Azellisian Mountain Range that stood between the Kingdom and the Empire contained a Dwarven Kingdom, and due to the trading relationship the Empire had with the Dwarves, they were assured of protection under the law.
“I feel sorry for the Elves. However, we should not try to save them now.”
Imina sighed heavily. She understood that fact in her head; her heart was simply taking longer to catch up.
Imina moved to the head of the group after that quiet reply, and the others quickened their pace so as not to fall behind. Then, their eyes all went wide in surprise.
There were two large covered carriages waiting at the place where the butler had taken them, which would be heading for the ruins. There was also a group of people helping to load their luggage onto the carriages. Those ought to be the adventurers that the butler mentioned, because the metal plates around their necks glinted with a golden light.
However, what surprised them was not the adventurers, but the horses pulling the carriages.
“—Sleipnirs, “ someone exclaimed in surprise.
The eight-legged Sleipnirs were larger than an average horse and possessed excellent physical strength, stamina and mobility. Some people considered them to be the ideal creature for land travel.
Naturally, they commanded a startling price as well. Most nobles could not afford a mount that cost five times as much as a warhorse.
Yet, there were two two-horse carriages before them, for a total of 4 Sleipnirs. Their employer must have considered the risk of losing them during adventuring, and so his determination was very admirable. Or could it be he felt that they would unearth so much treasure that only Sleipnirs would be able to move them?
Everyone was probably thinking the same thing. The sound of swallowing came from somewhere.
“Please use these carriages. Your rations and other supplies are inside the vehicle compartment. In addition, we have hired adventurers to protect the carriage and your campsite. According to their contract, they cannot enter the ruins, so please keep that in mind.”
Hekkeran realised that there was something which needed to be resolved right away, and so he left his companions and ran to Gringam.
“Pardon me, Gringam, I need to discuss something with you.”
“What troubles thee that thou seek’st my counsel?”
“When it comes to allocating carriages, could you put us separately from Tenbu?”
“Hm? Ah, I see. Thy concerns are known to me; thou fear’st for that young lady, hm? In that case, we shall travel with Tenbu.”
“Sorry, and thanks. You’re a big help.”
“Pay it no heed; in this endeavour, we are comrades. A quarrel even before reaching the ruins would be a thorny matter, and I too am…”
“—Are you sure we’ll be fine with these puny gold-ranked adventurers? I don’t want to come back to a wrecked camp or wake up to find myself sharing it with monsters!”
A great shout came with all the force of a fireball. Two people stared at each other, and tensions were running high.
Eruya expressed his dissatisfaction to the butler, but he did not make any attempt to lower hsi volume. The adventurers stopped moving their luggage, as though time had stopped.
When one looked up, one could see higher realms ahead. Whether or not one could reach those heights remained to be seen. Yet, some people continued marching toward their goal, one step at a time, and Eruya’s statement was very displeasing to those people. They were engaged in a struggle to prove their strength, and once their competency was called into question — especially if their client doubted their ability — it would affect future tasks that they were assigned. In that case, they had to prove their worth in a simple and quick fashion.
This man, whose words could not be tolerated by either the adventurers or the Workers, did not know how to consider things from the perspective of others. Therefore, he was virtually unaffected by the foul mood in the air, and continued babbling to himself.
“No, I do understand that they’re fit to handle our luggage, I’m simply concerned that they won’t be able to help us get rid of threats.”
Give me a break! What good does it do to ruin the mood? Granted, they’re here for work, so they should be able to bear with it a little, but still…
Level-wise, all the Worker teams here were on par with mithril-ranked adventurers, which meant that they were better than these adventurers. However, some things ought not to be said out loud.
Someone, anyone, punch him to shut him up.
Several of the Workers had evil glints in their eyes, and they were exchanging glances. Hekkeran hurriedly ran over to Imina. No matter what happened, he could not let her draw her blade.
However, the person who came to stop this was not a Worker.
“You must be Uzruth-sama, hm? I assure you that there will be no problems.”
“…Are you saying that on the assumption that we’re helping too? I could understand it, in that case.”
“No. That is because there will be a stronger individual travelling with you — Momon-san.”
A warrior in full plate armor poked his helmeted head out from one of the carriages, as though in response to the butler’s icy tones. He had probably been in the middle of moving luggage onto the carriage.
“Allow me to introduce you to the adamantite-ranked adventurer team of two, Momon-san of Darkness and his teammate Nabe. The two of them will travel with you and defend your campsite. I trust you will be able to accept that?”
The air changed again. The pinnacle of adventurers and Workers — those who handled this sort of work — now stood before them. None of the Workers could speak in the face of this proof of absolute strength.
The adventurers regained their good spirits as they saw the Workers’ naked reaction to the most highly-placed of all adventurers, and they went back to their work. A man who looked like the adventurer team’s leader smiled, and then spoke to the dark warrior:
“We’ll handle the rest; Momon-san, would you mind interacting with the Workers? Being that you’re our leader, I hope that you will discuss our security posture with the workers.”
“Alright. As long as your team agrees, I’ll take on this task, despite my lack of ability. However, I believe you should be the ones to take charge of security. After all, you’re more numerous, so it would be more convenient to follow your lead instead.”
“Ah, no! What do you mean by a lack of ability? You’re being too humble! Besides, how could we disregard the great Momon-san…”
“—No, I insist that you be in charge of security. Then, I’ll be counting on you to skilfully command us. Nabe.”
Momon chuckled softly, and then lightly descended from the cabin. An astoundingly beautiful woman followed behind him.
When a beautiful woman showed herself, people would sometimes make a commotion out of shock. However, once her looks exceeded a certain threshold, said people would not even be able to do that much. In the face of true beauty, all people could do was allow their gazes to be stolen away.
“Mm, Rober, I’m thinking the same thing too. We saw him before, at the North Market. That man is… Momon of Darkness, and his sole companion. When you look at his mighty form, perhaps the rumors of him beating the Gigant Basilisk were not so exaggerated after all.”
“Giga…! Is what you say really true?”
“So I heard. In addition, I heard Gringam say that he took out a difficulty 200 demon in one blow.”
“—That can’t possibly be real, a difficulty of 200 isn’t in the realm of possibility for a human being… could it be that you misheard 100 as 200?”
“Even 100 would be quite amazing. But how shall I put this… after seeing his words and actions, I feel like it’s the truth.”
He had grasped Momon’s character from his brief interaction with the leader of the gold-ranked adventurers. He felt that the man exuded the dignity and charisma befitting an adamantite-ranked adventurer, which naturally endeared others to him.
“Before we mingle… I have a question to ask you.”
His voice was soft, yet its rich tones allowed everyone to feel his heroic spirit through his armor.
“Why are you going to the ruins? I know you’ve been hired. But you’re not like adventurers, who find it difficult to refuse a strongly worded request. Why would you, whose actions are not bound, choose to accept this assignment? What drives you to do such a thing?”
The Workers looked at each other. They hesitated over who should answer, and in the end, it was someone from Palpatra’s team who spoke up.
“For money, of course.”
It was a perfect answer; there was no better reason than that. The Workers had not hesitated over what answer they should have given, and Momon should have expected such a matter-of-fact reply from them. The fact that he had still asked the question anyway left them at a loss as to his true intentions.
After seeing the Workers murmur their agreement, Momon continued asking:
“That is to say, if your client pays you a great deal of money, it’s worth paying with your lives?”
“Indeed. Our client offered us recompense that satisfied us. In addition, there might be a further prize depending on what we find within the ruins. It is my contention that such largesse warrants the risk of our lives.”
That answer came from Gringam.
“I see… so this is what you have all decided, then? I understand. Please forgive me for asking such a worthless question.”
“Such a trifling matter requires no apology… do not allow it to weigh upon thy heart.”
“Hyahyahya, well, if you’ve finished asking, might I ask a question in turn?”
“Please do, old sir.”
“I wish to verify a rumor I’ve heard. They say your strength is extraordinary; may I see if those rumors are factual?”
“I see, seeing is believing, after all. Of course you may. I shall show you my might if it means you will accept my… no, our protection. Then, how shall I demonstrate my power?”
“The best way is to spar with someone else, of course!”
All eyes gathered on—
“–And of course, I will be the one to do the sparring, that’s right, me.”
“What? You, old sir? …My apologies, but I am not accustomed to holding back. I do not wish to harm you, yet I have no confidence in restraining myself… do you mind?”
“Hyahyahyahya! That’s adamantite for you! Not a thought given to the fact that I might hurt you instead!”
A quiet chuckle came from under the helmet.
“But of course, old sir. This is the difference in our respective strengths — I am strong, stronger than any of you. That is why I can bear the name of adamantite.”
Despite his extraordinary arrogance and sense of superiority, it did not displease those who saw it. This must be the presence of the man called Momon. His statement overflowed with persuasive power in addition to a frightening puissance that could slay countless foes.
“Yes, he’s just too amazing.”
The feverish murmurs rose and fell.
Many women adored strong men. In terms of respect, many men were fascinated by strong men. They were like moths mesmerized by a flame, and for those who lived in a world of blood and steel, great power was the flame in question. They could not tear themselves away from the charm that bound them, even though they knew that they would be immolated if they misjudged their distance.
“Hyahyahya! I doubt anyone will doubt that you’re adamantite-ranked now. Still, speaking of which, it’s rare that we get a chance like this, so I’d like to get a few pointers from you. The carriages here will get in the way, so could I borrow that patch of empty ground, butler-dono?”
After receiving permission, Palpatra led everyone to the courtyard. It was not just the Workers who followed him, but even the adventurers and butler as well.
“Given the revered elder’s skills, there’s probably no way he can do it.”
“—That man seems very strong.”
“Mm~ rather than say he is strong, it would be better so say that the divide between them is precipitous. Even the two adamantite-ranked adventurer teams in the Empire would hardly qualify as superhuman.”
“You have a point there. Silver Canary’s members have very exotic professions, so they each have strange skills, but their overall abilities fall below people with basic jobs. And I hear that the members of Eight Ripples derive their strength from their numbers and teamwork.”
Silver Canary was led by a heroic bard, and its members all had exotic vocations. Eight Ripples was a nine-man team. Due to their numbers, some said that their strength was not yet adamantite-level, but others also said that as long as they worked together to focus on a problem, they could handle problems which even other adamantite-ranked adventurers could not tackle.
However, whether or not those two teams qualified as the secret weapons of the human race, those who could make the impossible possible, the strongest entities (adamantite) remained in doubt.
Hekkeran said all that after hearing his teammates whisper from behind him.
The three of them were not the only ones doing so. If one listened carefully, one could hear the rest of them discussing various topics. The most-repeated question was how long Palpatra could hold out. Nobody here felt that he could beat Momon, because even after their brief time together, everyone had acknowledged that the aura around Momon was most fitting of an adamantite-ranked adventurer.
Hekkeran thought as he walked, and just then, someone came to his side. After hearing the noise of metal armor, there was no need to ask who it was.
“Gringam, how do you think their fight will turn out?”
“While saying so might upset the revered elder, there is no doubt that Momon will win. Beyond that is the question of how long the revered elder will endure. Wilt thou not queue behind the revered elder?”
“As if, give me a break. How about you?”
“Permit me to humbly refuse. Witnessing a superhuman warrior in action is more than enough for myself. Although, I would not object to a few lessons on swordsmanship from him during the course of our journey.”
“Same here… ah!”
Momon and Palpatra stood before the two of them in the courtyard, maintaining a distance between and looking at each other.
Palpatra’s eyes were not those of an ordinary old man. They were those of a veteran campaigner.
The aura around him had hardened into needle-like killing intent, and the air held no trace of this being just a regular old spar.
Everyone present broke out in a cold sweat, their hearts filled with uneasiness.
“…Hey, this is pretty bad, right? The old man’s serious!”
Beside him, Gringam had reverted to his original way of speaking.
“Well, his opponent’s an adamantite-ranked adventurer, so he’s got no choice but to be serious. Still…”
Hekkeran shifted his eyes towards the dark warrior standing off against the old man. Having just spoken those words, he immediately drew a breath.
He could not sense anything from Momon.
His arms drooped down, he looked completely unguarded, and he did not look like he was about to fight a duel of blades. He was as composed as an adult looking at a child holding a sword.
“Amazing, he’s not reacting even in the face of such powerful bloodlust. There’s no way he couldn’t have sensed his opponent’s killing intent. So this is what the supreme perfection of warriorhood looks like. In other words, the supreme perfection of emptiness!”
“Is this what they call no-heart? Or the realm of clouds and water? He’s so calm despite the difference in their weapons. He must be extremely confident in his skills… Ah, I want to throw myself down before him in awe.”
(TL Note: both of these are terms from Buddhist philosophy: no-heart refers to a lack of obstructive thoughts while clouds and water refers to moving and flowing freely)
Palpatra was holding a magic item whose point was made from a whittled-down dragon’s fang. In contrast, Momon held a staff he had borrowed from one of the adventurers. It did not look magical in any way. Magic weapons had all sorts of special effects, from improved sharpness, improving their wielders’ abilities to doing additional damage and so on. Right now, Palpatra had an overwhelming advantage in terms of armament.
“No, that’s probably not it. It’s true when it comes to weapons, but the enchantments on Momon-san’s armor ought to be stronger than the old man’s. His other magic items ought to be of a higher standard too. Overall, I’d say they’re either pretty close or Momon-san has the advantage.”
“Art thou not too hasty in thine judgement? Hast thou not heard that the magic items the revered elder carries are worth more than an adamantite-ranked adventurer’s panoply? The revered elder has completed countless jobs over the years. One could say he was the best paid man in the Empire!”
“Nonono, wait, wait…”
“Thou should’st calm thyself…”
As the two of them argued, the ever-rising urge battle-lust led to the beginning of the duel.
“Then, shall I go first?”
“There’s more pressing work to be done after this. Don’t push yourself too hard, come at me in a more relaxed way, old sir…”
Without letting Momon finish, Palpatra instantly stepped in with a smoothness, speed and power that an 80 year-old man should not have possessed. In contrast, Momon had not even raised the staff in his hand.
“—[Dragon Fang Thrust]!”
Hekkeran’ eyes went wide as he saw Palpatra open with a martial art without the slightest bit of hesitation.
The technique made his spear’s shaft curve, allowing him to stab twice, like a Dragon’s fang. In addition, it could deal elemental damage on top of that. This was a development of the martial art [Thrust], being a technique which Palpatra had apparently developed over 40 years ago, and it had become widely known due to its excellent balance. Many other warriors had learned that move up till this date.
And among the [Dragon Fang Thrusts], Palpatra had chosen the [Blue Dragon Fang Thrust], with the additional effect of dealing electrical damage.
What’s that old coot thinking?! We might have healing magic on hand, but nobody would use a move like that under normal circumstances!
A move like that, which could inflict electrical damage on the merest graze, was ideal for use against an armored opponent. Palpatra’s use of that technique was a sign of how deadly serious he was.
However, Momon easily avoided that strike, which would have otherwise been the bane of someone in armor. Even in his jet-black full plate armor, his movements were as graceful as a feather. More astounding was the fact that he had not leapt away, but remained in place and dodged it while hardly moving at all.
That’s impossible! What kind of dexterity and motion-tracking vision is that?!
Palpatra continued using his martial arts.
You’ve gone too far, old man! Has your brain gone senile too?!
“[Dragon Fang Thrust]!”
He used the same move from before upon Momon again. Snow-white freezing vapors shrouded the spear’s tip; it was the [White Dragon Fang Thrust].
That lightning-fast series of four attacks—
A great commotion rose from the onlookers.
That was only to be expected. After all, not a single one of those four attacks had managed to so much as touch Momon’s armor.
Palpatra leapt back. His forehead was beaded with sweat; he was not exhausted from attacking, but the mental strain of wielding his spear on deadly ground had been too much for him.
“—He’s stronger than Hekkeran.”
“But of course, Arche. Don’t compare me to him. He’s what they call the highest-level adventurer, the peak of everything. That’s the power of an adamantite-ranked adventurer.”
“Now then, I believe it is my turn next.”
Momon slowly raised his staff into a middle stance. In contrast, Palpatra took the spear he had been clutching and rested it on his shoulders. That was not a fighting stance; it was the posture of a man who had lost the will to fight — who had given up the battle.
“That was incredible. I give up. My skills can’t even land a scratch on you, much less beat you.”
“…Is that so.”
Gasps of awe rose from the people watching by the side as Palpatra announced his surrender. It was a truly overwhelming display; they had all seen with their own eyes a difference like the one between children and adults.
The crowd debated excitedly, discussing what school his dodging footwork hailed from and so on, sharing the emotions within their hearts. Hekkeran paid them no heed and took Gringam with him as they went over to Palpatra, who was wiping his sweat off as he spoke with Momon.
“Is it over, old sir?”
Momon’s tone and the air around him had turned gentle.
“…Don’t tell me you’re about to show your true power now?”
“…Hyahyahya, my, you speak quite harshly to an old man. That was my true power just now. What you saw was the full extent of my abilities, Momon-dono.”
“—Ah, forgive me. I was being rude.”
“Please don’t apologize. That would fill me with shame Also, you don’t have to be so stiff when talking to me, because our worth isn’t measured in our years, but in how skilled we are. Having an matchless man of power like yourself defer to me makes me feel a little itchy.”
“…I see, then I shall dispense with the formalities, however reluctantly. That said, I’m not quite satisfied with ending things here. If we do get another chance, I’d like to make the first move instead. Now then, I still have to help move the luggage into the carriage. I’ll see you later.”
“Moving luggage is a trivial task; you could hand it to someone else, right? Surely this can’t be your job.”
“I don’t think so. No matter what position I may hold, I must still do the job assigned to me.”
With those words, Momon returned to the carriage, trailed by that beautiful girl. The two people who met them in passing watched them leave.
They looked at his mighty back.
“Hyahya, judging by your expressions, you seem to have something you want to ask.”
“—Revered elder, what did thou think of that exchange?”
His wrinkled face twisted. It looked like a bitter smile, and at the same time like something else.
“That man is very strong. No, as an adamantite-ranked adventurer, strength comes with the territory, but I honestly had not expected him to be that powerful. From the instant I faced him, I had the feeling that every blow I struck would be blocked.”
Hekkeran felt the same way. He had also felt that any attack he launched would have been easily blocked and promptly countered by the man called Momon. And even if everything had gone according to plan, he could imagine how his strikes would have been deflected by that armor. Palpatra had faced him head on, so surely he must have felt that even more intensely.
“So that… is an adamantite-ranked adventurer.”
“Indeed. That is an adamantite-ranked adventurer, one who belongs to a realm which only those favored by the heavens may dare to tread. Ahhh, what a matchless beauty, a pinnacle to which we cannot hope to aspire… … say, you must have been happy just to glimpse that peak, no?”
“Indeed! Watching from the sidelines, I could see thy movements clearly. If I was facing him in person, surely I would not have been able to observe his skills so calmly. Personally — while this may offend thee, revered elder — I would have very much liked to see Momon-dono’s strength as he went from the defense to the offense.”
“That’s impossible. Momon-dono had no intention of attacking me at all, I couldn’t sense any fighting spirit from him. It was probably like he said, he sucks at holding back. He must have felt that if he had actually struck at me, he could have easily taken my life.”
If that were the case, then one could say Momon’s thinking was very arrogant. That was because the old man — Palpatra — was a skilled warrior, yet Momon had scorned him without so much as looking at his moves.
However, it was because he could do such a thing that he could be called an adamantite-ranked adventurer.
“It can’t be helped, the difference between his strength and mine is far too great. At first, I was unhappy too, but then he ended up taking the defense, and evading all my strikes. What could I say after that?”
That was what it meant to be strong.
He had used a weapon which he was not familiar with — whose balance and weight were completely different from what he normally used — to show how confident he was. That was the difference between the two of them.
Palpatra whined, “Ahhh, so tired, so tired,” then turned his back on them and left. Naturally, he was headed for the carriage.
As he watched Palpatra leave, Hekkeran heard a quiet grumble.
“Even when I was young, I could not step into that domain. So that’s adamantite… what an unattainable peak…”
Palpatra’s back shrunk in his eyes. In contrast, Momon’s back seemed massive, and oppressive.
“…That is the highest rank, that of adamantite.”
“Yes. It’s truly amazing.”
Nobody around them could dispute their awed words.
A carriage ran like the wind, over the paved roads of the Imperial Capital Arwintar.
The magical beast that pulled the luxurious carriage had eight legs — it was a Sleipnir. A pair of skilled-looking warriors occupied the driver’s seat, while above the carriage’s cabin — in a place modified from a cargo rack — were four magic casters and bow-wielding warriors, vigilantly watching their surroundings.
The reason why such an excessive detachment of security personnel — like a mobile defensive formation — was travelling so boldly over the roads was immediately obvious once one saw who rode in the carriage.
Anyone with the slightest bit of academic knowledge would immediately recognize the emblem of three crossed staves on the side of the carriage, and from there they would know who it belonged to and who rode within it. That was why the knights on guard duty by the roadside did not stop the carriage and its passengers for questioning.
There were three men in the carriage. All of them were dressed in long robes, and they looked like magic casters.
All three of them were renowned individuals within the Empire’s magical society, but their attitudes showed the distinct differences in their status. The most highly-placed of them was a white-haired old man.
Just as Gazef Stronoff was a famed warrior, when one spoke of magic casters, nobody’s name echoed across the surrounding nations like this man did. This old man was the Empire’s most powerful grand magic caster, “Tri-Arts” Fluder Paradyne.
Seated opposite Fluder were his adept disciples, who could use the fourth tier of magic.
After leaving the Imperial Capital, an air of silence had filled the interior of the carriage. As though unable to bear the crushing pressure, one of his disciples nervously asked:
“Master, what about his Majesty’s orders?”
Silence filled the carriage once again, but only for a moment. Fluder replied in a calm, inscrutable voice:
“This is his Majesty’s will, and as his vassal I must investigate. However, doing so through magic is far too dangerous. We ought to start with researching the archives, then summon demons to gather information.”
“So that means you don’t know either, Master?”
Fluder closed his eyes, then opened them a few seconds later.
“Unfortunately I have been too long isolated, and I have never heard of a mighty fiend named Jaldabaoth.”
A month ago, an army of demons had assaulted the Kingdom’s capital. According to the information obtained, their commander Jaldabaoth and the maid demons attending him were incomprehensibly fearsome beings.
This demonic disturbance had caused the Empire’s knight corps — which invaded the Kingdom every year — to stay put. Normally, it was perfectly sensible in warfare to attack a beleaguered foe.
However, the fact was that there were two main reasons for the Empire to make war upon the Kingdom.
One of them was to indirectly exhaust the strength of the Kingdom. In contrast to the Empire’s professional armed forces, the Kingdom employed conscription. Therefore, every time the Empire mobilized its troops, the Kingdom would have no choice but to rally the masses in order to make up for the shortfall of individual quality in their troops. For that reason, the Empire had embarked on a long-term plan: they declared war during the harvest season, forcing the Kingdom to gather its peasants and have them take the field. As a result, the peasants lacked the manpower needed for a proper harvest, which in turn damaged the Kingdom’s agricultural output.
Another reason for doing so was to weaken the strength of the nobles within the Empire. The nation would levy a special war tax on nobles who opposed the Emperor, making them cough up funds. If they refused to pay, they would be charged as traitors and stripped of their holdings. In the end, whether they were strangled to death or swiftly decapitated, the end came for them all the same.
For these reasons, the Emperor — Jircniv — believed that once the Kingdom exhausted itself, the Empire would not need to force itself to go to war. After all, the nobles within the Empire were almost all toothless.
However, one problem remained.
Where had the wicked Jaldabaoth gone? What sort of being was he? It was all very disturbing.
That was why he had ordered Fluder, the Empire’s top magic caster to investigate Jaldabaoth. One could say it was only to be expected.
“Also, there’s Darkness’ Momon — who defeated Jaldabaoth — and his companion, “Beautiful Princess” Nabe. Both of them are quite interesting. Then, there’s the mysterious magic caster Ainz Ooal Gown. Have these hidden heroes finally decided to make their move? Perhaps there might be an intense battle like the one against the Demon Gods 200 years ago.”
“…Will there be one?”
“We don’t know yet. However, only a fool would start preparing for it after it happened. The wise are always on watch against the future.”
Eventually, the carriage reached its destination.
The sprawling grounds were encircled with thick, imposing walls, with watchtowers to keep an eye on both the inside and outside. Hand-picked knights from the 1st Legion — the most elite of the eight Imperial Knight Legions — were mixed with a number of magic casters into several security teams, which were in charge of surveillance.
When one looked to the sky, one could even see members of the Emperor’s own bodyguard, the Royal Air Guard, mounted on flying beasts, as well as high-tier magic casters using flight magic as they stood on watch.
This place was the symbol of the Empire’s power, into which the previous Emperor had channelled the greater part of his efforts and energies — the Imperial Ministry of Magic,.
The production of magical equipment for the knights, the development of new spells, research into raising the standard of living through magical experiments and so on; all of these could be said to be the the essence of the Empire’s magic, and they took place here. And the overall person in charge of this place — although the Ministry of Magic had no commanding officer — was Fluder.
The carriage passed through the grounds, and finally stopped at a tower in the heart of the grounds.
They had passed many strangely-shaped buildings on the way here, and many people had come and gone from each building, but there was hardly any movement of people in and out of this tower. However, in contrast, the security around this tower was much stiffer than that around the other buildings.
For starters, the knights here were dressed differently. They were not the same as the First Legion knights in other places.
They were sheathed in suits of enchanted full plate armor, carrying magic shields, and with magic weapons at their waists. Their crimson capes — which were embroidered with the emblem of the Empire — were also magic items, of course.
While the enchantments on their gear were somewhat weak, ordinary knights could not wear such equipment, not even in the Empire. The most important thing was that ordinary knights would never be assigned to such a vital state institution.
These ultra-elite knights were part of the Emperor’s bodyguard, the Royal Earth Guard.
The magic casters lined up here were no less impressive than the knights themselves. These experienced, valorous magic casters had the air of grizzled veterans around them.
In addition, there were four Stone Golems, each over two and a half meters tall, guarding the entrance. They did not sleep and they did not rest and they did not eat, eternally focused on their duty as guardians.
The security around this facility was as heavy as that defending the Emperor’s own body, and only elite magic casters whose levels were in the upper reaches of the third tier or a very few research-oriented magic casters were permitted entry. Naturally, Fluder and his two disciples were permitted entry into this tower.
The three of them raised their hands to acknowledge the knights and magic casters presenting arms to them, and then they entered the building. After walking through a straight passage, the three of them came to the upper level of a room shaped like a crucible. Many magic casters worked here. The highest-ranked of them hurriedly ran up to Fluder.
“Has there been any progress?”
“Not at all, Master.”
The disciples gulped, and his Adam’s apple shifted. The usual answer had two meanings, good and bad.
Fluder simply nodded, with a complex expression on his face, and then turned to the 30 disciples he had personally tutored — they were particularly famous disciples, known as the Chosen Thirty — and faced one of them, who was the assistant supervisor of this building.
“Is that so. You still haven’t been able to induce a natural genesis, then?”
“Indeed. Not even a Skeleton, the least of all undead, has appeared so far. Currently, we are placing corpses beside it in the hope of inducing the creation of Zombies.”
Fluder stroked his long beard, and then looked down at the sight beneath him.
There were ten-odd Skeletons there, and they were tilling a field.
Each Skeleton raised their hoe, then swung them down, in an identical manner to the one on either side of it. If one were to look at them from the side, their overlapping forms would seem like just a single Skeleton.
This highly coordinated spectacle, which vaguely resembled a form of group exercise, was the true identity of the large-scale project which the Empire had been conducting. In other words, it was “undead labor”.
The undead did not need to eat, drink or sleep, and they did not tire. In other words, they were the perfect workers. Granted, low-tier undead were unintelligent; they could only listen to orders, and they could not perform complex tasks. However, that problem could be solved by having someone stand by to supervise them every step of the way.
The merits of ordering the undead to carry out tasks in a crop field had exceeded their expectations. The reduction of manpower costs had reduced the prices of crops, expanded the farms and fields, eliminated the risk of human-related damage and so on. It was truly a dream plan.
There were other, similar plans, using summoned monsters and Golems instead, but after taking all factors into consideration, the undead were still the most cost-effective choice.
However, there was still a reason why such a seemingly-perfect plam could not be put into practice on a large scale.
That was because people opposed it — in particular, the factions led by the priests. They believed that creating undead, creatures of death which hated life, was an act which stained the soul.
There were also problems from a religious perspective.
They used the corpses of criminals to make undead, but the religious point of view was that a criminal’s sin was paid off with the execution of their sentence. Going any further would be a form of blasphemy, and convincing then otherwise was a very difficult task.
Perhaps they might be able to talk them round if the nation was facing a desperate food shortage and many people were starving to death However, the Empire’s food stocks were ample, and they had no problems with manpower.
For these reasons, the clergy opposed this plan.
Ultimately, the true reason for this plan was to increase their military power. With the undead to handle production, they could divert their human resources elsewhere, potentially increasing the amount of talent for the knight corps and other fields.
In addition, once undead labor became widespread, there were people who were worried that human laborers would be made redundant. In addition, the undead would not listen to humanity forever, and large amounts of undead might upset the balance of life and death and lead to the spontaneous genesis of more powerful undead. It was not just the priests, but anyone who heard of the plan that was unsettled by it.
The reason for this facility’s existence was to address each of these concerns and find a solution to them.
“You haven’t found the underlying reason yet?”
“No, Master. My deepest apologies, Master.”
Why did the undead arise by themselves? Exploring this fundamental reason would have a decisive influence on the future.
There was a place which was perpetually shrouded in a light mist that only lifted when the Kingdom and the Empire did battle. That place was a cursed land, known as the Katze Plains. Undead appeared here at an alarmingly high rate, even Skeletal Dragons — some of the most powerful undead beings — who were immune to magic.
Even if the Empire wanted to conquer the region around E-Rantel in the future, they did not want to have undead-spawning land in their domain. Thus, discovering the process by which the undead arose would definitely be an aid to rulership. Perhaps they might even find a way to keep the undead from spawning ever again.
“Is that so, I understand.”
The assistant supervisor bowed, grateful to have been spared a rebuke. Fluder walked past him, going in one big circle around the crucible-shaped room.
By the time Fluder reached the door on the other side, there were more disciples behind him.
The knights guarding the door pushed it open, and the group passed through it. Behind the door was a passage like the one just now, but it was much colder than the outside, and there was nobody around. The scent of dust hung in the air, and the light was losing its battle with the darkness that pressed in on it
They walked along the corridor and its dread-filled atmosphere, and soon they came to a spiral staircase that extended downwards.
They passed through many doors in the process, and they did not spend much time going clack clack clack down the spiral staircase; they were probably only five floors underground. Even so, the air was heavy, as though they were in a deeper place.
This was not because they were underground. The best proof of that was that everyone — Fluder included — had a stiff expression on their faces.
When they reached the bottom — an empty room — everyone had a grim set to their faces. They were visibly tense, perhaps even ready for battle.
Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the single, heavy door in the room. That door was filled with a sense of foreboding oppression, and it seemed to set this world apart from what lay beyond. In order to prevent its destruction or easy opening, the door was reinforced with several layers of physical and magical protection. This was a door which would not permit escape.
In addition, the many sturdy doors they had passed through on the way here spoke of the danger behind this final door. If the threat behind this door stirred, those door-shaped walls could buy some time; in other words, they were effectively a seal.
Fluder issued a warning to his disciple in a tense voice.
“You must not be careless.”
It was a simple, terse statement, but that just made it all the more frightening.
The magic casters accompanying him nodded deeply, as one. Fluder gave them the same warning every time they came here, but since they knew what lurked behind that door, their expressions had never once slacked off.
That was because the ultimate undead was behind that door. If it was permitted to escape this place, it would spark a tragedy of unprecedented proportions in the Imperial Capital.
Several people began casting protective spells. These spells did not just defend against physical threats, but also included spells which protected the mind. After giving them ample time to prepare, Fluder looked around at his disciples’ faces, and saw that they were filled with determination
He nodded, and then uttered the keyword which would undo the seal.
The heavy doors went thoom, and by the power of magic, they slowly opened.
Chilly air spilled out of the darkened room, and several of his disciples shivered, as though they were very cold. Even with magic items that allowed them to adapt to the environment, the hatred of the living which emanated from the depths of the room was enough to chill their soul.
The sound of someone swallowing seemed particularly resonant here.
After hearing Fluder’s words, his disciples created several magical lights to disperse the darkness of the room. Yet, for some reason, it felt like the darkness was thicker and heavier beyond the light it had fled.
Led by Fluder, the group entered the room which was filled with the odor of death.
It was a small room, so the magical lanterns soon illuminated the room’s innermost reaches.
There stood a gigantic pillar which reached the ceiling. This tombstone-like pillar certainly attracted attention. But what truly held the eye was the entity that was crucified to it with thick and heavy chains.
Each link of the chains which bound it was much thicker than a grown man’s thumb, rendering it completely immobile. The chains were secured to the stony floor of the room. In addition, its arms and legs were hobbled with gigantic iron balls.
No entity could so much as move a finger under these conditions. This excessively harsh method of binding instead showed how wary they were of this entity. Therefore, whenever someone in the group looked on the thick chains, they still felt uneasy. They feared that this creature would easily snap the chains and regain its freedom.
From the outside, it looked like a knight in black full plate armor. However, there was a huge difference between it and a fully armored man.
The first thing that caught the eye was its massive frame. Even a casual estimate of its height would put it above two meters in height.
After that, there was its black full plate armor. The armor was covered in tracery that looked like blood vessels, and studded with brutal-looking spikes. A pair of demonic-looking horns sprouted from its helmet, and it exposed the face, which was a rotten human visage. Two crimson points of light shone from within the empty orbits of its eye sockets, formed of hatred for the living and a longing for massacre.
It was not a living being, but one of the dead. Otherwise, it could not radiate such an intense hatred for the living.
One of the disciples, who had come here for the first time, spoke the name of the legendary undead creature. Since it was a being of legends, it was not particularly well known.
The red points of light within the Death Knight’s eyes moved, sizing up all the magic casters like it was licking them with its gaze. No; they could not possibly see any movement from within those dancing masses of light. However, the spine-chilling terror made them feel that the death knight was looking right at them.
The people who came here were all mighty individuals in their own right, each capable of casting third-tier spells at a minimum. Yet, even they could not stop the chattering of their teeth.
Despite their spells to protect their minds, they could not stop the fear welling up from within them. Yet, the reason why they had pulled themselves together and not fled was probably because of their magical protections.
“—Be strong. The weak-willed will perish.”
After issuing his warning, Fluder approached the Death Knight. The Death Knight reacted to him; it radiated killing intent and began flexing its limbs.
The chains groaned as the Death Knight struggled and pulled its bonds taut, and its body quivered.
Fluder extended his hand straight at the Death Knight.
His incantation reverberated through the darkened room, lit by magical light. This was a modified version of [Summon Undead 6th], an original spell penned by Fluder.
The spell took effect — Fluder’s quiet words flowed out and filled the room.
However, the Death Knight’s eyes were still filled with hatred for the living. Everyone knew the spell had failed.
“…So I still can’t control it, even now?”
There was a hint of regret within Fluder’s voice. That was because he had tried to control this undead creature for the past five years, without success.
They had discovered this monster in that place known for being haunted by the undead, the Katze Plains.
The squad of Imperial knights who had first encountered this monster had never seen it before, but they were under orders, so they attacked it as per standard procedure. Several seconds later, they realized how rash and foolish they had been. The faces of those Imperial knights, known by all for their skill and bravery, were filled with fear and despair.
They had been utterly and one-sidedly overwhelmed — their opposition was far too strong.
After their foe mowed down countless knights like the passing of a violent gale, they finally realized that there was nothing they could do against it, and began to retreat.
Of course, they could not just leave such a monster be, especially after personally witnessing the the murdered knights become undead beings, serving the monster as its minions. Clearly, the more time they gave their opponent, the worse the situation would become.
After intensive debate among the Empire’s leadership, they decided to open with their trump card; the most powerful fighting force in the Empire, which was to say they would mobilize Fluder and his adept disciples.
And so, the Death Knight had been captured and imprisoned here, which was to say that the battle had ended with Fluder and company victorious. However, the reason why Fluder and the others had won was simply because the Death Knight had no way to fly. They launched a sustained area attack on it that was no different from carpet bombing — a repeated barrage of [Fireballs] from the air, which slowed the Death Knight’s movements, and in the end Fluder, who had been mesmerized by its overwhelming power, had captured it intact.
Currently, Fluder had imprisoned it here and gone through countless spells, countless magic items and countless means — searching through all the means which could control an undead being in order to control the Death Knight.
“What a shame… if only I could control this monster, I’d be able to surpass that magic caster and become the greatest magic caster.”
If he succeeded, he would be far superior to the necromancer of the Thirteen Heroes, Rigrit Bers Carau.
In truth, Fluder was not particularly interested in strength. His true ambition lay in peering into the abyss. This was just a step along that road.
His disciples did not understand that, and so they began spouting misplaced consolation instead..
“Master, you’ve long since exceeded that hero.”
“Exactly. The Thirteen Heroes are beings from the past; there’s no way they can beat our Master, who stands at the pinnacle of modern magic.”
“I also feel that Master has long since surpassed the Thirteen Heroes. However, if Master could take control of the Death Knight, the Empire would possess a source of incredible power.”
“It’s often said that an individual can’t defeat a group, but that’s just because the individual’s too weak. That Death Knight is the most powerful individual around.”
Fluder was standing at the head of the group, so none of them saw him smile bitterly to himself. Only the hate-filled eyes of the Death Knight saw it.
“Still, if even Master cannot take control of it… then how powerful is that Death Knight, anyway?”
“That… who knows? Theoretically speaking, it should be controllable. What are we missing? Does anyone have any ideas?”
The group’s answer to that was silence.
The undead could be controlled through magic, and one of the Thirteen Heroes had done just that. Fluder’s power was such that he could control undead beings of quite a high level. Perhaps he could even take control of the Death Knight before his eyes.
However, that was simply theoretical. Actually controlling an undead being with magic involved more complex mechanisms. Fundamentally speaking, controlling or destroying the undead was the domain of the priests, who borrowed the power of the gods. Magic casters used arcane power to emulate divine might, so various discrepancies were only to be expected.
“…It’s not my intention to insult you, Master, but…”
One of his disciples began cautiously with that, and Fluder bade him continue speaking.
“Could it be you’re simply not strong enough, Master? If magic of the 7th tier exists, then perhaps the Death Knight might require undead-summoning magic of that level in order to command it…”
“That is a good observation.”
“I’ve heard that the Adventurer’s Guild often summarizes the data of various monsters and converts them into a difficulty rating. Perhaps that line of thought is worth pursuing?”
“I’ve heard those values are very crude and are essentially meaningless due to changes in body and age,” another disciple said.
“Still, other than unknown monsters, there’s no metric which is easier to understand. After all, those values are based on combat feedback from adventurers and other forms of data; it can’t be completely inaccurate.”
“Going by what you said, you still can’t use it on a legendary-class monster like the Death Knight.”
“Ah yes, Master. Does that secret tome which records all manner of monsters mention that particular monster?”
“No,” Fluder said while stroking his beard. Perhaps the complete version of the Eryuentiu might, but the only copies circulating in the outside world are not complete.”
One of his disciples seemed to have a question, which he addressed to a disciple next to him. While his voice was very soft, the room was the very embodiment of silence, and so his words seemed surprisingly loud.
“What’s the Eryuentiu?”
“Isn’t it the name of a city?”
“I know that, but it sounds really weird.”
“Hm… I looked it up once. I think it’s a word from an ancient language which means, “The great tree at the heart of the world”.
Fluder rapped the floor with his staff, as a warning to his chatting disciples. This was a dangerous place which incarcerated a legendary-class monster. Carelessness was strictly forbidden.
His disciples heeded the warning, and the master of the chamber (silence) ruled it once more, aside from the sounds of the Death Knight struggling against its chains in an attempt to break them.
“What a shame. There’s no need for us to stay here any longer. Let’s go.”
After hearing the chorus of relieved replies, Fluder strode away from the Death Knight with big steps.
Even someone like Fluder could not maintain the same pace leaving the room as he had when entering it. His steps quickened as he felt the Death Knight’s vicious glare burning into his back. In that respect, his disciples were the same as him.
As Fluder walked through the darkness, he recalled the word his disciples had mentioned just now.
It was the capital of the kingdom founded by the Eight Greed Kings, and also its sole surviving city. At the same time, it was also a city defended by 30 city guardians equipped with magical arms and armor that surpassed conventional reason.
It was said that there were magic items left behind by the Eight Greed Kings there, and with them, he would surely be able to vastly improve his own magical skills. Fluder thought. These incredible items had never fallen into anyone’s hands, and only the Thirteen Heroes had been allowed to take several pieces away.
A black flame flickered in Fluder’s heart.
The Thirteen Heroes; heroes of the past. Fluder’s might ought to have been the equivalent of theirs, but only they had been granted that permission, while he had not. In what way did he not measure up to them?
Fluder tried to put out the wavering fire in his heart, thinking of other things to reassure himself. His present position and all the things he had built were no less than what the Thirteen Heroes had done. No, among the Empire’s magic casters, Fluder’s status was greater even than the Thirteen Heroes.
However, once that the black fire — the flame of jealousy — blazed up, it could not be easily extinguished, because what he envied was not their power, their knowledge, or their abilities, but rather, the fact that they had obtained a chance to peer into the abyss of magic.
Fluder was a magic caster of the highest order; nobody would dispute that. The only people who could compare to him were the Thirteen Heroes of the past. However, he could not control the Death Knight, and of the ten tiers of magic that were said to exist — although the reliability of that information was a little low — he could only cast spells of up to the sixth tier.
This situation was a stark reminder that he was far from the abyss of magic.
Fluder was old.
Among the sage arts he had learned as a spiritual magic caster was a certain branch known as the forbidden arts. He had used this forbidden magic to stop his aging. Of course, given the level of magic Fluder had mastered, using that spell was very difficult. In the end, he had barely managed to cast it with a ritual spell.
However, since this was a twisting of the impossible into the possible, it had been distorted. The spell which should have granted immortality if perfectly cast instead allowed Fluder to experience, ever so slightly, the passage of time.
He could still handle it now. However, the distortion would grow larger, and eventually there would be a weakness in it.
Indeed. Fluder would die before he could gaze into the abyss of magic.
Perhaps if a skilled predecessor had guided him, he might have been able to reach his current position sooner. However, there had been nobody ahead of him, so all he could do was blaze his own trail.
Fluder nonchalantly looked at the disciples around him.
He looked around at the people who walked along the trail Fluder had blazed.
It was fuel to the fire of his jealousy, which blazed even more fiercely.
He… as the most knowledgeable person present, how old had he been when he had been at his disciples’ level? No, there was no need to think about it; he would surely have been older than his disciples were. That was how great the difference was without anybody to guide him, without anybody to show him the way.
Why did he not have a Master of his own?
Fluder tried to think in a different direction to mask the complaints he often had.
—it was fine, right? He would go down in history as a forerunner. Every single magic caster would give thanks to Fluder for the results he had left behind, which were derived from the trail he had blazed. These pupils are my treasure; so long as any of them reaches a greater height than myself, it will be a part of my accomplishments too—
Fluder thought of one of his disciples while consoling himself. That disciple had long since departed his side.
What tier could that girl have reached?
“—Arche Eeb Ryle Furt.”
She was an excellent girl. She had mastered the second tier of magic at a young age, and even begun her first steps upon the third. So long as she continued training, she might well have been able to reach Fluder’s domain. But regretfully, at the end, she had abandoned her studies for some reason…
Fluder had been utterly disappointed back then. All the could think of was that she had been terribly foolish.
“What a shame.”
Perhaps she had been the one that got away.
Where was that girl now? Fluder thought, perhaps I could try and find her. If she can use magic of the third tier, perhaps I could give her a good position.
That said, there were still things which had to be done.
Fluder incanted the command word, and opened the heavy door.
After that, he exited the room, and took several deep breaths with his disciples. That was because the air in the Death Knight’s room was heavy with the stench of its presence, and it felt like the air would not enter their lungs.
A low, coarse voice called out to him. There stood one of his adept disciples, who was also a famous male adventurer. Due to the breadth of his experience, he was the second-in-command of the Ministry of Magic’s security forces.
“…What happened? Is there an emergency?”
“No, not an emergency. Two adamantite-ranked adventurers desire an audience with you, Master.”
Fluder looked upon the man with suspicion.
He had not arranged for a meeting with anyone. Fluder was the highest-ranked magic caster in the Empire. He had a lot of work to do, and then he needed to conduct his own magical research on top of that; he simply did not have any free time. He could not simply nod when someone said they wanted to meet him. In the Empire, only the Emperor could see him without making an appointment in advance.
That said, he could not summarily reject the request. Adamantite-ranked adventurers were heroes. They were individuals, but they were not beings he could simply overlook. The same applied even for a great magic caster like Fluder. At times, he would request them to help him find exotic objects, so he could not just ignore them.
“Are they from Silver Canary? Or Eight Ripples?”
He spoke the names of the Empire’s two adamantite-ranked adventurer teams.
However, his disciple shook his head.
“No. They are a duo calling themselves Darkness. They even produced adamantite plates to prove their identity.”
“What did you say?”
The adventurer team Darkness’ name was well known throughout the Kingdom. Even with just two members, they had accomplished many heroic deeds. Apparently, they had recently challenged Jaldabaoth, who had caused havoc in the Royal Capital, and fought him off.
Why would people like that come to see him? Several questions appeared in his heart, but more than that, he wanted to discuss magical knowledge with the “Beautiful Princess” Nabe, said to be a very high-level magic caster. He immediately cast his doubts to the back of his mind.
However, he was the Emperor’s servant, after all, and he remembered that his lord Jircniv wanted to see them.
He would bring the matter up after their meeting. Fluder gave orders to his disciples as he thought.
“Show them the way. I will tidy myself up and head over immediately.”
“Ah! I didn’t expect there to actually be ruins! What a shock. While I thought that it probably wouldn’t be a lie, given the sizable payout, I can’t believe there was actually an unexplored ruin smack in the middle of a grass plain like this. Really surprising, right?”
As they heard Hekkeran ask that, his comrades responded with their agreement
Apparently, this was a tomb of some sort, but when they actually saw it, it seemed to be sunk into the earth itself — as though something had pressed it down, like a basin.
One possible reason why ruins like these had not been explored was because the surrounding land was grass as far as the eye could see, with no remains of ancient cities nearby to draw adventurers’ attention. In addition, small hillocks of dirt were scattered around it like stars in the sky, so even if there were ruins buried in one of them, they would have missed it. The central building protruded a little, but one could only see it after climbing to a high vantage like this.
Part of the dirt wall surrounding the ruins had collapsed, exposing part of the walls, which was how the ruins had been discovered. That was the shared opinion of the various teams.
“No doubt about it. In truth, I’m quite excited about this. After all, unexplored ruins might contain startling treasures.”
“That’s a bit hard to say, but given that there haven’t been any problems for the area around the ruins, it’s pretty clear that there aren’t any dangerous monsters within. More than that, I’m more uneasy that our client actually specified a location for a base camp.”
The campsite was situated on the plains. One could say it was an ideal location.
Since it was surrounded by scattered hillocks, which blocked line of sight, they did not have to worry about being spotted from afar. All they had to do was be mindful of the light from their fires and torches, and it would be very hard for others to spot them.
And because of that — he was afraid.
“How did our client know about this place?”
The most likely answer was that the client had searched for an ideal location for a campsite around here for some reason. That would explain a lot.
But if that were the case, it would raise more questions in turn. For instance, why had the client thought of having them camp in such a secluded spot, and why would an Imperial noble enter the Kingdom’s territory?
“—I once heard that there was a massive criminal organization in the Kingdom, called Eight Fingers, if I’m not wrong. They say that organization did a lot of evil things.”
“I heard they even did smuggling to the Empire. Some of my thief friends complained that they were really influential in the Kingdom, so investigating them would cause a lot of problems.”
Imina pressed down her wind-tossed hair and spoke after Arche finished. Roberdyck spoke in quiet tones, like he was spitting on the ground:
“I’ve heard about their drugs. When used properly, medicines can be very helpful. But these people turn medicine into narcotics, which they sell to and use to harm the weak. I find that very displeasing.”
That he raised his voice slightly could not be helped. After all, Roberdyck had become a Worker to help the weak.
“That’s enough talk of all this idle fantasy that has nothing to do with the job. According to Arche’s research, our client isn’t doing anything dubious, but might be the subject of a purge, is he not?”
“Perhaps I didn’t investigate thoroughly enough, or it was very well hidden,” Arche said quietly. However, Hekkeran paid it no heed, and looked to the others for confirmation.
“Well, I think everyone understands.”
“Of course. Don’t mention that in front of the other teams. After all, Workers sometimes get requests from Eight Fingers for smuggling. We won’t shoot our mouths off if there’s a chance any of the other teams might be involved with that group. At least, until we’re done with this job.”
“Still, there’s no telling how many people’s tears went into our payment, and how dirty it is.”
“—Even if the money’s dirty, a payout is still a payout, and you can survive on it.”
Roberdyck glanced at Arche, then inhaled and exhaled deeply to cool himself down.
“—My apologies, I was being rude.”
“It’s fine, I almost said something rude myself. Please forgive me.”
“—Please don’t worry about it, because you didn’t actually say anything. I just wanted you to know that was how I thought about it. I’m not looking for spiritual fullness, but material satisfaction. However… “ Arche quickly raised her hand, to indicate she was not done yet. “I’ve been doing my best to avoid doing things that harm my companions, because I’ve seen many people who destroyed themselves in pursuit of their desires.”
“I believe you, Arche.”
Arche nodded, and nobody said anything to her. The message had been passed even without speaking. They had all argued with each other several times in the past, and they had long since built up a relationship of mutual trust.
“So, what do you guys think? I feel that the tomb might be ruled by some kind of entity.”
Hekkeran’s eyes carefully studied the cut grass. That aside, the angel and goddess statues positioned all over the place were very intricately carved, making onlookers gasp in awe. It was evident at a glance that they had been regularly maintained.
In contrast, the trees standing everywhere around the graveyard were twisted and drooping, creating a gloomy atmosphere. There was no order in the way the tombstones were arranged, sticking up from the ground like the teeth of some ugly witch. They felt very out of place in contrast to the cleaned portions.
Someone was in charge of this place. However, that someone was not a normal person, went the frightening conjecture which rose from the pit of his stomach.
In order to banish the chill that ran through him, Hekkeran turned his attention to the huge building. There was a mausoleum in the north, south, east and west of the graveyard interior, and in the center was a magnificent mausoleum. Eight tall warrior statues were positioned around the great mausoleum. They radiated an oppressive feeling, as though they were intent on eliminating all threats and evildoers who came near the mausoleum.
“The vegetation in the graveyard’s been neatly trimmed. There isn’t even a trace of algae here, so someone must be taking good care of it. But what kind of person are they?”
Indeed, each team — Tenbu aside — had felt something was amiss when they researched the records about the job.
Looking around at the place itself, what they saw was plains and more plains. It was singularly unsuited to building a tomb.
For starters, one had to consider the convenience factor. Building such a luxurious tomb in such a deserted place made no sense at all; it was far too inconvenient.
It would be understandable if this was not to honor the dead, but to serve as a memorial to future generations. After all, people sometimes built monuments upon places where great deeds took place.
However, in that case, the fact that this great accomplishment had not been passed down in history felt entirely unnatural. All the teams had shared the information they had gathered, but there was no relevant data among it, which indicated that this ruin might have been erased from history.
It all seemed highly irregular.
There was a bizarre sensation, like something stuck in his throat, and it made him furrow his brows.
“Still, there might be a big incident depending on who’s staying in the ruins. Have you checked up on that yet?”
“…I just hope they’re not innocent people.”
“—The brains of the various teams put their heads together just now, and they said that the Guild doesn’t know anything about ruins in this area. It’s also far from the nearby villages, so it’s not likely that there’ll be commoners around. If there’s anyone here, then they’ll be illegal squatters — the kind who can’t show their faces in public — or monsters. Since there’s no traces of footprints exiting the ruins, what we came up with was that either the creatures inside don’t need to eat or drink, or the interior of the ruins are self-sustaining. However, since we know too little, we’re limited to stereotypes for further theorycrafting, which might lead to our thinking being constrained. That’s where we left our consideration of the ruins.”
Once people discovered a set of ruins, news about it would be disseminated to various government organizations through the Adventurer’s Guild, and the first people to discover it would have investigation rights for a limited period. Under that arrangement, those people who discovered ruins which had been previously unknown to the nation or the Adventurer’s Guild had unspoken permission to kill any illegal squatters occupying the ruins.
In that respect, they had adopted a policy of “kill them on suspicion”.
Perhaps this was a very brutal policy, but humans were weak creatures in this world. Therefore, beings of unknown provenance occupying territory at the edge of human lands would be very troublesome.
The fact was, roughly 20 years ago, there had been a group called Zuranon which occupied a set of ruins, performed frightening experiments, and caused a major disaster. An entire city had been destroyed while everyone had sat back and watched due to a lack of information.
The Guild made that rule in order to prevent the same kind of mistakes from happening again.
“Ah, under normal circumstances, it’d probably be the undead. If the undead really have taken over these ruins, then we’ll need to clear them out and consecrate the place to disperse the negative energy, else it’ll be bad, right?”
“Like you said, it would be very bad. Leaving the undead be will only lead to the appearance of more powerful undead. That’s why powerful undead often appear in places like ruins and so on.”
“It would save a lot of trouble if they were just Golems tidying up the ruins on orders from their previous masters. Then, what do you plan to do after this?”
“—I think Hekkeran should attend the meeting in my place.”
“Don’t worry about it, the other team leaders didn’t take part either, right? This is called making full use of one’s resources, mm.”
Hekkeran winked at Arche, and she sighed with deliberate loudness.
“—In any case, all the teams will move in after dark. We’ll enter from four directions at once and meet up at the central mausoleum.
“I see, because we’ll be spotted more easily when entering in the day.”
The surrounding terrain was open, and there were no signs of observers or travellers. Thus, entering directly was also a valid option, but they had to be on watch against unexpected situations. It was somewhat safer to move around in the dark.
Besides, they might still be able to learn something if they continued observing the ruins, though they only had until nightfall. This job was under time constraints, but it would not hurt to spend some time here. That was probably what the smart people thought.
Perhaps they really wanted to continue observing the place for several more days.
“Still, can’t we scout safely with [Invisibility]?”
“—I’d thought of that as well. However, since a troublesome situation might arise, it would be better to go in all at once, so at least we’d be able to learn something.”
Invisibility spells were not perfect; there were many ways to see through them. If the Workers approached with magic, and they were spotted by someone — by the tomb’s sentries — it would raise their alertness level, and they might not be able to enter at all for the next few days.
In order to avoid that, they opted for a plan where everyone would go in together.
Hekkeran understood that point and nodded. While there were still some holes in the plan, this was the best balance they could strike between risk and effectiveness.
“In that case, we’ll be resting for now?”
“—Yes, Darkness and Screaming Whip will be in charge of security; but for safety’s sake and to keep everyone on their toes, the various teams will be assigning sentries to keep an eye on things. We’re going in order of arrival at the Count’s estate and rotating every two hours.”
“I see, so we’re the last, then.”
“—Yes, it’ll be a while before it’s our turn.”
Saying so, Arche cricked her neck and worked her shoulders.
“Thanks for your hard work.”
Arche nodded to Roberdyck.
“—I’m so tired. We spent so much time because that idiot wanted to just barge into the ruins. It took us a lot of time to talk him down. That man doesn’t know the meaning of teamwork at all.”
“…Ah, that sword genius guy…”
“Just call him Goddamn Son-of-a-bitch.”
Hekkeran smiled to Imina — whose murderous intent was steaming off her — and tried to change the topic.
“In that case, I’ll be heading back to the campsite to slowly wait our turn.”
“I approve. I don’t think it’ll rain for a while, but we’d best prepare just in case. Imina-san, it’s your turn, so please try not to look so scary.”
“Fine. Ahhhh~ it just pisses me off! I want to stab him to death. I’m pitching my tent away from them.”
“As long as you stay within the designated campgrounds.”
It was not actually a good thing, but it was much better than pitching a tent nearby and then getting into a fight.
The four of them turned their backs on the ruins and left the plains.
“—Still, the more I think about it, the stranger it seems. No wonder the Count put out a request like this.”
The group turned around as they heard Arche’s voice, and saw her staring at the ruins.
“I can’t tell the age or the background of these ruins at all. It’s as though they just suddenly appeared in this era. It feels out of place. Those carvings look just like the carvings in the region before the Demon Gods rampaged through this area, but those carvings had an eastern flavor to them. And then there’s these cross-shaped tombstones… no, I still don’t get it.”
As he listened to Arche’s scholarly dissertation, Hekkeran had to suppress the wicked smile on his face and he barely managed to hide the excitement in his heart.
“So you’re saying that we might find some very interesting treasure there, then?”
“Yeah, I’m sure there’ll be some amazing treasure in there.”
“…Either that, or some very frightening undead.”
“—Uwah~ how scary~”
“—That’s a horrible imitation, Hekkeran. It doesn’t look like me at all. And you’re trying to copy my voice too, that’s just gross.”
“Yes, sorry about that.”
“Still… I’m kind of looking forward to it.”
“Oh yes. Why does this tomb exist, and who was buried here? It piques my curiosity.”
“That’s right. Exploring the unknown always gets me a little jumpy.”
“—And money. I hope there’s a lot of treasure.”
Hekkeran looked at the smiling faces of his companions, and satisfaction filled his heart. While everyone here had done dirty jobs for money, it was not of their own free will. In truth, everyone here preferred adventurer work.
There was no telling if Arche would be able to continue adventuring with them once she had to start supporting her sisters. Once Arche left the team, it might take a while to find their next member, and even if they found one, they would have to take on easier jobs before they blended into the team.
Perhaps this job, as the last one with their current members, was the best choice.
In the future… maybe we can take adventuring jobs… like adventurers, no, it would be good if we could go explore the unknown together.
Hekkeran looked to the heavens, at the sprawling, boundless sky.
As sunset slowly shrouded the world, the Workers filed out of their cleverly-concealed low tents. As the ones charged with carrying out clandestine operations, it was time for them to work.
The adventurers had already prepared a meal for them.
They started by lighting several white bricks of solid fuel, then added charcoal to it. Since they had cast [Darkness] on the fire beforehand, there was no illumination which would otherwise have lit up the surroundings. [Darkness] only eliminated light; it did not extinguish flames. Then, they boiled the water from a Pouch of Infinite Water over the lightless, yet vigorous blaze.
They poured the boiled water into wooden bowls, and the travel rations within lost their shape, and a fragrant smell of soup steamed forth. That, along with hard bread, was what everyone ate.
After that, it was up to personal preference.
The bowls were filled with yellowish soup — the type which Workers liked, made to provide nutrition and to be stored for a long time. Some people would add thin slices of jerky to the soup, some sprinkled spices onto it, and others would simply consume it straight.
Dinner was over with that bowl of soup. When one considered the amount of activity they would soon be performing, it seemed like a pitiful amount.
However, eating too much would affect their upcoming work, At the same time, not eating enough was also dangerous, because there was no telling when they would be able to eat again.
Their supply of emergency ration bars was also limited, because carrying too many would hinder movement. A compromise had to be made in this area.
They handed the empty bowls to the adventurers, and then the Workers shouldered their pre-packed bags.
Under the watchful eyes of the adventurers, the Workers set off in unison. The adventurers would be guarding this campsite, and they would not follow them to the ruins.
To begin with, they circled around the base of the hill, and then dispersed around the ruins. They had already arranged to launch a flare into the sky if they were attacked at this stage.
Many people wore full plate armor, whose cumbersome bulk and noise did not seem quite suitable for stealth operations, but that was only within the constraints of normal thinking. For those who could use magic to violate common sense, it was a trivial matter.
First, they cast [Silence]. This spell smothered all sounds within a certain distance, be it the clanking of armor plates or that of running across the ground.
After that was [Invisibility]. That spell made it difficult for observers to detect them with the naked eye.
For safety’s sake, they had a ranger in the air with [Invisibility], [Fly] and [Hawk Eye] cast on him to keep an eye on their surroundings. He was equipped with special arrows imbued with a paralysis effect to deal with any sudden situation that might develop.
The group reached their destination under this double layer of protection.
It was time for the main event.
Their plan was to ascend the slope, then drop down onto the ruins several meters below. Then, they would search the surface portion and then meet up at the central mausoleum. All this had to be done while the [Invisibility] spells were still in effect.
That said, everyone had to move in sync in order to keep people from going off-script. However, it was late at night, and everyone was invisible, so it would be very difficult to verify each other’s location.
However, they had already taken that problem into consideration.
Strange sticks, each about 30 centimeters long, suddenly appeared on the ground. The sticks floated into the air like someone was holding them, and after they were bent, they glowed dimly.
These special sticks — glowsticks — could be bent, upon which the alchemical solutions within would combine and emit light. The reason why they had been dropped to the ground was because [Invisibility] also affected everything the subject of the spell was carrying. In order to keep an item visible, it had to be removed from the subject’s person.
The light shook back and forth a few times, and then the sticks broke, having served their purpose.They then poured glowing alchemical solution onto the ground and covered it up with dirt, neatly concealing it.
In this way, they learned that things were going smoothly for the Workers everywhere, and that they were waiting for the next stage of the plan.
While they could not see each other due to the distance, four ropes were simultaneously lowered to the surface of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. This was climbing rope, and it had knots tied at regular intervals along its length.
The ends of the rope were tied to iron pitons sunk into the rock, and they creaked as they swayed.
If anyone present could see through invisibility, they would be able to see a group of people descending the ropes.
This much was nothing even for someone like Arche, who had focused on honing her magical prowess over her physical body and had not learned much in the way of athletic skills, Or rather, it would be better to say that both Workers and adventurers needed at least that much physical training.
The training and the knots were put to good use as each Worker descended without a problem, landing within the tomb grounds.
The first destination of each infiltration team was one of the four smaller mausoleums in each direction.
Now that the effective duration of [Invisibility] was over, everyone came into view again. Each team ran towards their respective mausoleum.
They were crouched low, concealing themselves with tombstones, trees or statues, running through the darkened graveyard. During this time, the [Silence] spell was still in effect, so they did not make any noise, and even the warriors in full plate ran with all their might while seeking cover. Their movements were swift and fluid, like shadows racing across the land.
Heavy Masher’s leader Gringam slowly approached the mausoleum, and his eyes went wide.
That was because the mausoleum was grander than he had imagined.
While it was one of the smaller directional mausoleums, that was only in comparison to the huge central mausoleum. At a closer look, the structure was so impressive that its incredible grandeur made the breath catch in his throat.
The white stone walls gleamed like they had been planed flat. Many years should have passed since it had been built, yet there was no trace of weathering or stains from the wind and the rain.
A massive steel door stood atop a flight of three steps made from single slabs of rock. The door itself was polished and free of rust, and glinted with a dark, metallic light.
Just seeing this structure was enough to tell them how well it had been maintained.
—In other words, the tomb was definitely occupied.
As Gringam reached that conclusion, the thief among his companions stepped forward, and began inspecting the steps.
Gringam saw the thief gesture to him — because of the [Silence] spell — to move away from him, and so he slowly backed off. This was to avoid being caught in an area-effect trap.
The thief checked very carefully. It was somewhat frustrating, but it could not be helped.
Apparently, people’s souls resided in their bodies, and when the body started to decay, the soul would be summoned to the side of the gods. That was why the dead were essentially buried in graveyards right away — in the embrace of the earth — but this was different for certain nobles and those in power.
If one buried the body right away, verifying the decay of the body would require an exhumation of the grave. Therefore, in order to personally verify the decay of the deceased, these powerful people would not be buried immediately after death, but left in state for a while. However, nobody would choose to put their corpses in their own homes.
Instead, they would choose to have their bodies stored in the mausoleums of the graveyards. The corpse would be placed there for a period of time, and once the decay began, the priests would bear witness to the fact that the soul had, in fact, departed the body to be with the gods.
The bodies in question would be placed within a communal space within the mausoleum. There would be several stone slabs within a wide-open space and the corpses would be laid out on the slabs. The sight of rotting cadavers laid out in a row ought to have been a gruesome sight, but within this world’s frame of reference, it was an exceedingly normal sight.
However, if one were as wealthy and powerful as a Great Noble, things would once again be slightly different. They would not use a communal mausoleum, but an ancestral tomb. People believed that these were temporary resting places for the mighty to abide before they were summoned before the spirits of their family, and so being able to possess a family mausoleum was a symbol of power.
It was not at all unusual to decorate mausoleums with furniture or jewellery. In other words, mausoleums were essentially treasure troves for thieves. Therefore, these places were typically fortified with lethal traps and the like to ward off intruders.
Therefore, such a magnificent mausoleum must surely be laced with even more dangerous traps
After checking the steps, the thief began inspecting the door, and then suddenly, the sounds around them returned to normal.
The duration of the [Silence] had expired, perhaps just in time. The thief quietly crept towards the door, and began checking again. In the end, he rested something like a cup against the door, and tried listening to what was beyond it.
After several seconds, the thief turned to Gringam and company and shook his head.
In other words: “there’s nothing”.
The thief himself was quite surprised, and tilted his neck several times.
The door was not even locked, which defied understanding, but since the thief had not found anything, it would be the frontliner’s turn after this.
Gringam stepped up, and reached out to push the door which the thief had already oiled. The warrior behind him braced his shield as well.
With a forceful shove, the heavy door began moving. Perhaps it was the oil, or because the people in charge of this place had been very meticulous in their work, but the door slid open smoothly despite its massive weight.
The warrior standing by moved between the freshly-opened door and Gringam, bracing his shield forward, so Gringam would not be hit by an attack or trap.
No arrows or the like flew at him. The metal door was now completely open, and a vacuous darkness appeared before the members of Heavy Masher.
The staff which the arcane magic caster was holding glowed with magical light. Through its variable, controllable illumination, they had a clear view of the mauseoleum’s interior. The magic caster incanted another spell, and the warrior’s weapon glowed as well.
The twin sources of light illuminated what looked like a chamber belonging to a member of royalty.
In the middle of the room was what looked like a religious altar, upon which was placed a white stone sarcophagus. Said sarcophagus was over 2.5 meters long and it was inscribed with delicate patterns. In the four corners of the room were white statues of warriors in armor and carrying swords and shields.
“—Hm, does anyone know anything about that emblem?”
“No, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
A flag hung from the wall. It had a strange crest stitched on it in thread-of-gold. The thief and the magic caster knew most of the heraldry used by the surrounding nations, so if they did not recall this particular crest, then it probably did not belong to the Kingdom’s royalty.
“Could it be an emblem from nobles before the Kingdom was founded?”
“Thou meanst this is a relic from over two centuries ago?”
Many countries had been destroyed by the Demon Gods 200 years ago, and so there were surprisingly few nations around here whose history lasted beyond 200 years. The Kingdom, the Holy Kingdom, the Council Alliance and the Empire had all been founded within the past 200 years.
“If that’s really the case, then what exactly is this flag made of, to remain in the same beautiful shape despite its age?”
“Maybe someone used preservation magic on it, or someone used magic to repair the aged portions.”
“That’s right. Say, leader, you don’t need to talk in that weird way any more. We’re the only ones here now.”
Gringam’s eyebrows bent to a dangerous angle, and then his face promptly broke into a smile.
“Ahhhhh, what a pain, thou this and meanst that, it’s all so stupid.”
“Thanks for your hard work. Still, he’s right; when it’s just us, you can speak normally.”
“No, I can’t! Speaking stiffly and formally like that makes me sound more like a great Worker. And besides, changing the way I speak here and there is a pain in the ass, so I always speak like that on the job. That’s one of my principles; you know that, right?”
Gringam answered his companions’ bitter smiles with a wry grin of his own.
Gringam had originally been the third son of a farmer in the Kingdom.
If farmers evenly divided their fields between each and every one of his child over the generations, then the fields would shrink, which in turn would cause the crop yield to dwindle until the family line ended. Therefore, as the saying went, “dividing the fields” became synonymous with “foolishness”. Because of that, the fields of a farming family typically went to the eldest son, while the second son could choose to help with the housework and the fields, but the third son would be nothing but a waste of space. Therefore they typically chose to leave their homes and eke out a living in the city.
It was true that Gringam was blessed with exceptional physical abilities and friends, with which he had made a name for himself. However, he had originally been a farmer, and he was a second-rate piece of insurance to ensure the family line continued at that, so he had no education. He could neither read nor write, and he did not understand etiquette.
It was true that Workers needed the strength to complete their jobs, and not education. However, there would be problems if he, as their leader, was ignorant.
He did his best to study, but his mind was not as capable as his body, and he messed everything up. Even so, the reason why he had not been removed from his position as leader was because his comrades approved of his performance, academic abilities aside. In order not to disgrace these friends of his, Gringam had chosen to speak in a weird way.
This would let their clients feel, “He’s advertising for his team, so there’s nothing strange about him talking in a funny way.”
The fact was that people laughed at him for speaking in that way. However, it was far better than letting others say, “A team led by a clueless farmboy won’t amount to much.”
“Very well, we have tarried sufficiently. Let us be off, gentlemen.”
Nobody objected to Gringam’s declaration, and so they continued onward.
At their head was the thief, who carefully entered the mausoleum and searched the interior.
The other team members wedged stout iron bars into the gaps of the door. That way, no matter what kind of traps they sprang, the door would not close completely. After that, they half-closed the doors to prevent light from escaping the interior. While the thief carefully inspected the inside of the mauseleum, Gringam and the others kept a close eye on their surroundings, taking pains not to slack off. While it was necessary, they had still made light. Someone might have spotted it.
As Gringam hunkered down to watch the surroundings outside, the thief had already reached the bottom of the flag. After carefully examining the flag, he made up his mind to touch it, and in the instant he did, he immediately shrank away from it.
“It’s okay for now, so come in, everyone.”
The thief looked back, and after seeing that Gringam and company had entered the mausoleum, he pointed to the flag.
“…This ought to be worth a pretty penny; it’s been woven from threads of precious metal.”
“Whhaaaaaat?! Threads of precious metal? Are they mad, to hang such a thing here?”
Everyone exclaimed in surprise. Then, they rushed to the base of the flag and took turns to feel it up. The cold sensation was undoubtedly that of metal.
From the way it gleamed, the thief was probably correct. A flag of that size ought to be very heavy, and after factoring its artistic worth, it must be worth a fortune.
“It would seem our client’s bet paid off. While he has not yet made back the payment to us… no, to our four teams, there must surely be much treasure in a place like this.”
“Are we going to take it with us?”
Gringam replied to the thief:
“T’would be too bulky, and most weighty. We shall collect it later. Does anyone disagree?”
“Nope, carrying this around really would weigh us down. Also, I’ve searched this place; there’s no traps here, or secret doors.”
“…Then, I shall leave it to thee.”
Gringam nodded to the arcane magic caster — the wizard — and his colleague cast a spell in response.
“[Detect Magic] — I can’t sense any magical mechanisms around, unless they’re hidden by concealing spells.”
“…Then there is nothing else to inspect. Let us continue with our prime directive.”
Everyone’s eyes went to the sarcophagus in the center of the room.
The thief spent a long time inspecting it, and judged that there were no traps.
Gringam and the warrior nodded to each other, and then they pushed open the lid of the sarcophagus. The lid was massive, and they thought that it would be equally heavy, but it was much lighter than they expected. The two of them put their backs into pushing it and nearly lost their balance.
After pushing open the sarcophagus lid, the contents reflected the light and emitted a blinding, sparkling radiance.
There were ornaments and jewellery of gold and silver and various gemstones. There were over a hundred gold coins within the sarcophagus at a glance.
While he had expected something like this when they saw the flag, Gringam could not help but break into a smile as he saw all this. The thief carefully examined the interior, then reached into the sarcophagus and took out a piece of gleaming treasure — a gold necklace.
It was a breathtakingly beautiful marvel of craftsmanship. At a glance, the gold necklace looked like an ordinary necklace, but the chains were each carved with exquisite inscriptions.
“…It’s worth at least a hundred gold coins. You’d be able to get 150 for it no problem, no matter where you sold it.”
Everyone reacted differently when they heard the results of the thief’s appraisal. Some of them whistled, some smiled so widely they could not close their mouths. What they all had in common was that their eyes were filled with the flames of delight and desire.
“We already arranged to get half of this, so at the very least, we’ve already made 50 coins. 10 per person. What a score!”
“Looks like… these ruins might end up being a treasure trove after all.”
“Marvellous! This is just amazing!”
“Exactly, but leaving all that treasure here is too much of a waste. We should make good use of it.”
As he said this, the wizard reached into the pile of treasure and took out a ring socketed with a massive ruby, which he kissed.
The priest reached into the sarcophagus and pulled back a fistful of gold coins, which he slowly let slip between his fingers.
The coins clinked against each other with a clear, crisp sound.
“I’ve never seen gold coins like these before. Which era and which country did they come from?”
The thief nicked one of the coins with a knife, and said in a voice filled with emotion:
“These gold coins are really high quality. They’re twice the weight of the standard trading coin, and you could probably get even more just from their artistic value alone.
“This really is… ku… kukuku…”
The group could not control themselves and broke into quiet laughter. Just their share of this treasure alone would be a startling sum.
“You lot, thank the gods for your good fortune later. Let us take this treasure with us and discover the true trove. If we tarry, we shall not have a share of it.”
Gringam’s words were met with boisterous approval. Their voices were filled with excitement and passion.
They were at the central mausoleum. It was surrounded by statues of gigantic warriors and knights which looked like they were protecting their liege lord. They were so realistic that they looked like they might move at any moment. Hekkeran was hidden by the foot of one of the warrior statues, keeping a close eye on one of the four smaller mausoleums.
After some time, Hekkeran noticed five people running over at top speed from one of the mausoleums. He continued hiding, inspecting the running people for any abnormalities, and also whether anyone was observing them. After that, once he had confirmed that the running people were fine, Hekkeran finally breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
He leaned out from behind the statue and flashed a signal. Gringam — who was running at the head of his group — noticed it and ran toward Hekkeran.
“Gringam, what took you so long?”
“My sincerest apologies; it seems I have kept thee waiting.”
“Well, it’s not like we arranged a meeting time, so it’s fine. That aside, let’s move to a different place and decide what we’ll do next.”
Hekkeran lowered his stance, leading the way even as he kept an eye on his surroundings.
Shortly after they began moving, Gringam asked:
“A question, if I might; has thy team discovered treasure?”
After hearing the barely-concealed excitement in Gringam’s voice, Hekkeran recalled the way his own team had been, and smiled to him in satisfaction.
“Oh yes, we did. We were all smiles. The old man said so too.”
“So that was thy experience as well? Truly, we did well by coming to this tomb.”
“Indeed, we should properly thank whichever big shot was buried here.”
“Mm. That said, after discovering so much treasure, we might have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that the main tomb will be barren.”
“No, I’m willing to bet that there’ll be more treasure.”
“Thy words… how much dare you wager?”
“Not bad. Not only can I find more in the tomb, but I can make a tidy sum off you as well, wonderful. However, the problem is that you and I might bet on the same thing.”
Neither of them laughed out loud, simply smiled broadly.
“Indubitably. Speaking of which, this one has a question to ask of thee; what is that?”
Before Gringam’s eyes was a massive statue, which had something which looked like a lonely stone plaque by its feet.
“You mean that?”
Hekkeran told the results of their investigations as they continued walking. The other three teams had seen the characters on the slab, but nobody understood it. He had the faint hope that Gringam might be able to make sense of it.
“It seems to be a stone plaque with symbols that look like language inscribed on it.”
“Thou say’st the word ‘like’ in a vague sense…?”
“Nobody understands that language. It’s not from the Kingdom or the Empire’s language, and neither does it seem to be any of the old languages from around here. It might not even be a human language. However, we did understand the number 2.0.”
“A number? Logically speaking, that ought to be the date when the mausoleum was built. But in that case, it would be far too small a number.”
“Arche said it might be a riddle linked to these ruins… ah, in any case, just keep it in mind.”
“Indeed, I shall certainly do so.”
After passing the huge statue, they ascended a long, gently sloping flight of stairs that seemed to be made of the same material as the stone sarcophagus, and the entrance to the central mausoleum stretched before them.
“‘Tis the stench of the dead.”
“Yes, you’re right. It’s a common smell on the Katze Plains.”
Hekkeran expressed his agreement with Gringam’s muttering.
While it was not as nauseating as the vile odour of decay, the faint stench of undeath unique to graveyards hung in the cold air.
There were undead present in such a well-kept tomb
The group prepared themselves as they stepped into the mausoleum. Before them was a great hall. Countless mortuary slabs of stone lined either side of the hall, and opposite them was a staircase leading down. The door leading downstairs was wide open. A strangely chilling gust of ice-cold air flowed out from behind it.
Led by Hekkeran, Gringam’s group descended the stairs.
A burial vault lay at the foot of the stairs, with a set of doors straight ahead. It seemed to be the only one around.
While it was more cramped than the room above — the mausoleum — it was wide enough. Hekkeran’s companions in Foresight, Eruya’s Tenbu and Palpatra’s group were all here.
“Now then, what shall we do next? The original plan was to split up here and investigate the interior, but after inspecting the mausoleums, do you have any other ideas?”
After saying so, Hekkeran looked around at everyone else.
It did not feel like anyone wanted to propose anything new. Was it desire, or just a simple trick of the light? He could not be sure what that glow in everyone’s eyes was. Their faces were filled with excitement as they longed to rush into the depths of the tomb.
“In that case, I have a suggestion. We’ll sweep the outside in a circle to check for hidden doors.”
The team leader might have spoken, but the team members did not look happy at it.
After all, they had all seen the glittering prizes just now. Even if that opinion came from their veteran leader, it was very hard for them to go along with it. Surely, they must have imagined the treasure fleeing before their very eyes.
“How about it? We’ve checked the surface, but we can’t say we checked it very thoroughly. There might be other routes hidden beneath the mausoleums, don’t you think? Besides, we haven’t checked the graveyard, have we?”
“I believe what the revered elder is trying to say is that according to the songs of the bards about the great ruins — that is to say, the Ruins of Sasashal — there was a safe passage near the entrance which could take everyone straight to the heart of the area.”
“Ah, Gringam. We’ve checked already, but unfortunately there aren’t any secret doors in this room.”
“Precisely. We’re willing to take one for the team, so in exchange, we hope you’ll give us a share of the treasures you find on this level. How about 10% from each other team? Also, if you find another level below, can we ask for the right to go in and look first?”
“I have no objections to that proposal.”
The first to reply was Gringam. Shortly after that, Hekkeran also expressed his agreement.
“Alright, it seems nobody objects! By the way, how about you, Uzruth?”
“Personally, I object very much, but it’s only 10%, hardly a big deal.”
The old man laughed merrily at Eruya’s barbed reply. It was Eruya who was displeased by having his acidic words completely disregarded.
“Ah, old sir. In that case, we have a request for you. We found a huge flag woven of precious metal threads in the mausoleum we investigated. We didn’t bring it along because it was too bulky. Can we trouble you to help us bring it back?”
“I concur with Hekkeran’s opinion. Though it shames me to trouble thee, I would be glad if thou couldst help us recover ours as well.”
“Since it’s that way, we’ll leave ours to you as well.”
Eruya jerked his chin at one of the Elves, and the skinny girl shakily unloaded a large piece of cloth she was carrying on her back and laid it on the ground
“Understood. Is there anything else you wish to leave behind, or which you want us to take away?”
Nobody answered Palpatra’s question.
“Alright! Then, we’ll follow the suggestion just now and investigate the surface. You lot need to be careful too. However, if you find any valuables, feel free to leave them for us.”
“Haha, revered elder. Gladly will we leave the monsters to thee, but regretfully, we will not leave so much as a single coin of treasure behind.”
The group chuckled, and then Hekkeran asked everyone: “Then, shall we move out?”
The group accepted that suggestion immediately, and so they went forth. Their eyes gleamed with desire and expectation as they took their first step into the unknown ruins — the underground tomb.
After opening the door in the room, a passage led straight into the depths. Perhaps they should have expected this, but the passage was very clean.
This was a passage of stone with no mildew or algae growing on it. There were alcoves on either side, each filled with human-sized objects wrapped in funerary shrouds. There was none of the stench that was unique to corpses. There was just the cold, clear air, as well as a smell like that of the dead.
There were white lights spaced along the ceiling at regular intervals, but due to the great distance between them, there were still a lot of shadowy corners along the passage. While it did not affect their travels, the dimly-lit lamplight made them wonder if they had missed something. Moving without preparing illumination seemed quite dangerous.
“Rober, is there an undead reaction from that body?”
“No, none at all.”
“Really?” Arche replied, and then walked over to a wrapped corpse, slicing the shroud open with a dagger. After seeing her actions, two of the men from the group stepped forward to help expose the cadaver underneath the shrouds.
“Judging by the height and physique, it’s most likely human. And a grown male.”
“He’s not wearing clothes, so we can’t tell which era the ruins came from.”
“Still, these ruins really are a mystery. We can’t tell its age from its architecture or the burial styles. For all we know, these ruins might be from over 600 years ago.”
“—If that were really the case, then this would be a historic find.”
Perhaps that topic might have been interesting to an academic, but they were here to work.
As Hekkeran and Gringam stared icily at them, the three quickly added: “These ruins’ date of construction and background are still a mystery, after all.”
“Understood. Can we move on now? I want to kill monsters.”
The somewhat displeased Eruya expressed his agreement with Hekkeran and Gringam, and the group continued forward again. However, they stopped again after taking a few steps.
Everyone drew their weapons, steeling themselves for combat.
The sound of bones rattling came from ahead of them.
They could see undead creatures running at them from ahead under the illumination of the ceiling lights.
As the distance between them shrank and they saw what they were up against, a commotion rose from the shocked Workers, as though they had seen something they did not dare believe.
“Oh come on, are you kidding me…”
“Oi, oi, seriously…?”
“Eh? Are those really Skeletons?”
The moment someone mentioned the names of those monsters, their laughter exploded forth uncontrollably to fill the entire passageway.
“Oi oi oi oi! No matter how you look at it, Skeletons just won’t be enough, right? There’s all of us over here!”
Skeleton-type monsters did not vary too much in appearance, and sometimes, one might not be able to tell them apart at a glance.
However, judging by the impression they gave, the Workers were certain that these were just ordinary Skeletons.
“If this is supposed to be a recon in force, then they ought to be sending stronger monsters — I’ve got it! Either nobody’s in charge of these ruins, or the opposition can’t gauge our strength, or they’re stupid enough that they haven’t discovered the intruders yet!”
Everyone’s laughter continued.
“No, Skeletons are just too far-fetched. For all we know, the treasures of these ruins are only in the mausoleums above.”
“That would be terrible.”
Skeletons were far too weak in comparison to these Workers, who were comparable to mithril-ranked adventurers. In addition, they were fewer in number than the Workers, so they had no idea what the opposition was thinking.
Faced with the six Skeletons blocking their path, everyone looked at each other, not knowing who should go first.
“Count me out.”
Eruya clearly stated his opinion, and everyone could understand how he felt.
“Then I shall go.”
After that, Gringam strode forward.
There was no telling what was going through the Skeletons’ empty heads. Did they think the lone warrior had been cast out of his group? Or something else?
The Skeletons attacked at once, and then—
His cleaving axe and shield easily smashed them to bits.
It had only taken the space of a few seconds. No, in fact it had been even less than that.
After shattering the six Skeletons and treading their remains underfoot, Gringam sighed tiredly. It was nto because he had been fatigued by battle, but because he was very disappointed by the fact that after coming to these unexplored ruins which were a Worker’s dream, the very first battle which was supposed to add color and flavor to this adventure had turned out to be against Skeletons, the lowest-ranking of the undead. He found it quite sad.
“Pathetic, Skeletons are just Skeletons, after all. That said, don’t get careless. Consider that more powerful undead might show up, and advance while staying alert!”
Everyone’s lips drew tight as they heard Gringam’s words. They advanced, deeper into the ruins, their hearts filled with expectation for the mountain of treasure that awaited them.
“Good grief, they’re gone.”
“They’re all gone. They might be Workers, but we did break bread with them, and they’re our comrades for this job. I hope they’ll come back safely… what do you think, Momon-san?”
“—That they’re all going to die?”
Ainz answered in gloomy tones, and the leader of the adventurers who had questioned him froze up.
Crap. I said what was in my heart…
“Er, no, what I meant was that we should be mentally prepared for that outcome. These are previously undiscovered, and there’s no telling what dangers are waiting for them inside. Being too optimistic is harmful.”
“I see, so that’s what you meant… thanks for your concern.”
…I thought I was being pretty stiff, did that actually pass muster? I feel pretty good about this.
The leader was probably nodding non-stop because those words were spoken by an adamantite-ranked man, so he was blindly thinking the best of him.
It would seem that Ainz’s efforts — he had been as friendly and approachable as possible during their journey to Nazarick — had borne fruit, given their favorable attitude towards him.
“Then, in keeping with the plan, I will go rest first.”
Ainz headed for his — naturally, he shared it with Narberal — tent. Since it was some distance away from the other tents, he knew some people had been spreading rumors that it was because he did not want certain… sounds to be heard by others. In fact,, the adventurers’ leader had told him that just now.
Compared to the Workers, the leader seemed to want to become closer to Momon, who was a fellow adventurer, which was why he had told him what he had heard from the Workers.
Ainz and Narberal entered the tent together and closed the flap, and then just in case, they checked around outside. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to them; in fact, they seemed to be deliberately trying not to stare at Ainz.
“…While people call this a love nest, I guess I was right to not deny it right away. That way, they won’t be suspicious of why we pitched our tent so far away, and they won’t pay undue attention to us or come near this place.”
He might have lost some things, but he had gained much more in return.
Ainz took off his helmet, exposing his skeletal face.
“Now then, Nabe… no, Narberal, I will be returning to Nazarick. I plan to have Pandora’s Actor take my place; if anything happens before that, think of a clever way to deal with it.”
“Mm. If anything happens, contact me immediately. I’ll leave that to you.”
Ainz dismissed his magically-created armor and swords. The weight of the helmet in his hands vanished as well.
He did not feel tired, but after being liberated from the full-body bindings of his armor, he could not help but sigh contentedly. He rotated his shoulders — which did not ache — as a remnant of his human personality.
He felt that the lingering shreds of his human feelings were an impediment to him.
If he could calmly deal with all his problems, perhaps his present circumstances would be different. But if he did not have the remnants of his humanity with him, would he still cherish the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick? Perhaps his thoughts as the human being Suzuki Satoru and his fond memories of his friends would have vanished with it.
Ainz smiled bitterly as he cast a spell. There was no part of his mind that still pondered the question of his humanity. Ainz was not a great enough person to worry about two or three problems at the same time and what he should do about them. He ought to be focusing on the task at hand and discarding everything else.
The spell he cast was [Greater Teleportation]
Because he was wearing the Ring, Ainz bypassed the barrier deployed over Nazarick and arrived immediately at the chamber before the Throne Room.
“Welcome home, Ainz-sama.”
Right after that, a melodious female voice greeted him.
“I’ve returned, Albedo.”
The deeply-bowed woman raised her head, and a smile like a flower blooming spread across her ravishing features.
As he saw the look of loving adoration in her eyes, Ainz felt itchy all over and he wanted to roll around on the ground. However, he could not act in a way which did not fit Ainz Ooal Gown, sovereign of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.
In order to suppress the weak, lingering emotions within himself, Ainz deliberately coughed, something that his skeletal body should not have required.
“If all is proceeding according to plan, the invaders should be coming soon. No, perhaps they have already arrived. Have the welcome preparations been made?”
“They are flawless. I am certain we will be able to entertain our guests.”
“Is that so… Albedo, I look forward to the reception you have prepared.”
Ainz entered the heart of Nazarick; the Throne Room. Albedo was a step behind him, but soon caught up.
Ainz had given Albedo an order concerning the intruders this time round. He had expressed the desire to observe the performance of the defenses she had erected under live battle conditions.
In the past, his friends had decided where the POP monsters would spawn in Nazarick and where to station the monsters. His friends’ arrangements were flawless. But now that the situation had changed, there was no guarantee that there might not be a better way.
In that case, one could say that re-evaluating the security arrangements was a pressing necessity. Therefore, he wanted to take this opportunity to observe it for himself.
“…The intruders are very weak, so obviously it will be impossible to use them to verify all the systems. Still, I hope we will learn something from this operation.”
“Understood. I guarantee I will meet your expectations, Ainz-sama.”
“Very good. Also, as you know, spraying poison gas on the enemy before the undead charge them and other currency-utilizing traps are to be strenuously avoided. I hope you will stick to traps that involve the POP monsters. Will that be alright?”
Ainz nodded as he saw Albedo’s smile.
“Really now? Then I shall stay here and enjoy the show. Right, where are the other Floor Guardians?”
“I ordered everyone to gather upon your return. They will enter as they arrive. Is that acceptable?”
“I shall allow it. After all, it is more amusing when more people are gathered.”
As Ainz slowly sat down upon the throne, several television monitor-like objects appeared before him. The monitors showed scenes from within Nazarick; or in other words, the scenes which their controller Albedo wanted Ainz to see.
This should have been the result of Albedo’s tinkering with the defense network, but Ainz was not quite sure what had been changed.
…In order for this training exercise to be fruitful, I need to learn something from these images. Otherwise, things will go badly when the exercise is concluded and we swap opinions.
Ainz was the supreme ruler of Nazarick. Such a highly-placed man could not claim ignorance of the defensive systems to his own subordinates.
“Then, just in case, I’d like to confirm that Ariadne won’t activate, will it?”
He opened the control console and saw that all was well, but he still could not help asking.
“I don’t think so. However, I have a question for you, Ainz-sama. If the intruders block up the entrance, will Ariadne activate?
Ainz recalled Q&As he had seen before in YGGDRASIL. Or no, had it been explained in a patch?
“I don’t think so… I remember it shouldn’t… I think.”
It had been that way in YGGDRASIL, but nobody could guarantee that it would still be that way in this world. Besides, they could not be sure if the Ariadne system even existed.
“Then what if there was some sort of man-made manipulation? What would happen?”
“It might not activate, but after thinking about the losses we’ll take if it does, I’d rather not take that risk.
The Ariadne system.
This was one of the checking mechanisms involved in the YGGDRASIL base creation system.
The simplest way to make an impregnable fortress was to simply block up all the entrances so nobody could get in. For a large underground tomb like Nazarick, simply burying it underground would suffice. However, that was intolerable from a gameplay perspective.
The Ariadne system was used to monitor them in order to keep players from building a base like that, which was difficult to invade.
The system specifications required that there be a continuous path from the entrance to the heart of the dungeon. That aside, the Ariadne system would also measure the distance travelled within the dungeon, the number of doors one had to pass through, and many other categories, all in exacting detail.
Once a dungeon which violated these requirements was uploaded to YGGDRASIL, a penalty would be levied and a great deal of funds would be deducted from the guild coffers.
For Nazarick, the 5th and 6th Floors had solved all these problems — that, and the help of a great deal of cash items had helped them sustain such a large dungeon.
One of the monitors which Ainz was controlling showed an image of the Workers.
“Cheh! Alright, they’ve finally entered. I was getting tired of waiting.”
Ainz was deeply displeased to see these lowlives enter the fortress he had built with his comrades, staining it with their filthy feet. Therefore, the surge of emotion within him exceeded the cutoff point, and he was immediately calmed down. Even so, it could not fully bank the flames of his aggravation.
“Albedo, not a single one of them is to escape intact, do you understand?”
“But of course. Please enjoy the fate that will befall these foolish thieves who dare profane the sanctuary of the Supreme Beings. Also… I believe you said earlier that you wanted lab rats to test your swordsmanship with. Which lot shall we use?”
“Hmm, that’s right. I’ve sparred with the old man before, I’ve practiced with that man on the road, and this team isn’t suitable for practice. By process of elimination, it has to be them.”
Ainz shifted the monitor so Albedo could see, and pointed to a group of people.