Nothing stirred under their eyes as they swept them across the silent graveyard. The only things there were silence, darkness and starlight. As Palpatra took a step towards the stairs, his companions said:
“Gramps, don’t you think this is a bit of a shame? We should have let the other teams search the graveyard, no?”
“You’re right. Every team… well, that piece of shit team aside, the others have roughly the same abilities. Anything we can do, Heavy Masher or Foresight can do too.”
“In that case…”
Palpatra interrupted his companion halfway through his words and said:
“But we have priority searching rights for tomorrow, so we aren’t losing out on anything. Besides, we ought to have finished the surface investigation by then, and if they’re unlucky, the last team might not be able to find anything, and they might even be posted to guard the base camp.”
“Besides, going first into a mysterious set of ruins is far too dangerous. They’re like mining canaries for us, though hopefully they’ll come back alive.”
Palpatra turned back, a cold look in his eyes. The Workers who had charged into the ruins had disappeared in the direction he was looking.
There was a hint of disdain on his face, completely unlike the benign old man who was called “gramps” by others. However, his teammates knew him well, and they were not alarmed.
Palpatra had a very meticulous personality. He was a man who thought and thought again, the kind who would tap a stone bridge to test it before crossing. That was why he had been able to adventure on the frontlines for so long and slay a Dragon. On the other hand, his excessively nitpicky personality meant that he had missed several chances for gain. However, he had never once lost any of his companions, and so everyone on his team trusted him.
To just about anyone, nothing was more valuable than one’s life. Even so, they could not help but envy the treasure that had slipped through their fingers.
“We might have missed the chance to discover amazing magic items! What’s wrong with betting our lives on that?”
“You do have a point. However, look at this neat and tidy graveyard. Someone’s clearly tidying it up, which means monsters will be coming out to welcome us. Isn’t it better to let the others see what kind of monsters there are? Personally, I didn’t really like this job because there were too many uncertain factors.”
After hearing Palpatra grumble, his team members lightly asked:
“But you still took it in the end, right?”
“Of course. That’s because the other teams accepted it too. I felt that we could flee while they sacrificed themselves for us.”
The group descended the stairs and reached the ground.
“Is that why you chose to search the surface? So you could run once you heard them scream?”
“That’s one of the reasons, and the fact is my way of thinking was a bit of a gamble… Just like you said just now, we might end up losing out because of this. We’ll be safer if we can gather more information, but the fact is that I don’t know if that’s really so great an advantage. If I’m wrong, then I’ll apologize to you all for it.”
“Don’t worry about it, gramps. We’ve always trusted you, because for the most part, your choices were always right.”
“Besides, even if we end up losing out here, all we need to do is knuckle down and find another job with a big payout. You’ve said it before, haven’t you, gramps? As long as you live, there’s always a chance, so there’s no need to force yourself to take risks.”
“Man, those were the days. We were all young back then.”
“Aren’t you still young now?”
“Hah, it’s not very convincing when you say I’m young, gramps.”
The group flashed wry grins to each other as they headed towards the small mausoleum.
“That said, I should have discussed this with you all first, but I ended up making the decision on your behalfs. Sorry about that.”
“Well, that’s the only way you could have expressed it back then. Besides, you’re the team leader we chose, gramps. When our trusted leader makes a decision, we’re all happy to obey.”
“…You were all moping back there, what are you grinning about now? Alright, that’s fine. Let’s hurry up and check, and if we have time left over, I’ll see if Momon-dono can give me a few pointers. It’s a rare chance, so maybe you can have him teach you a thing or two.”
“Mm, we’ve engraved your spar with him into our eyes, gramps. That’s an adamantite-ranker for you.”
“…There’s many kind of adamantite-ranked adventurers. Eight Ripples from the Empire is, frankly speaking, not really adamantite-ranked. Momon-dono is a true adamantite-ranked adventurer. He ‘s on a level I can’t hope to reach.”
“Hyahyahya, don’t worry. When I was in my prime, I might have been jealous, but now I’m just a wrinkly old coot. It’s not like I’m shocked or anything. Besides, I’ve seen several true adamantite-ranked adventurers in my time, but Momon-dono is unique even among them. From his presence, he feels like an adamantite among adamantites.”
“Oh yes, which is why I’m telling you to get some pointers from him. After I die, gaining experience will be helpful if you want to continue adventuring.”
“How could you possibly die, gramps? I can’t even bring myself to imagine you retiring.”
“Exactly. You’re hale and hearty, so living to Fluder-san’s age shouldn’t be problem, right gramps?”
“Hyahyahya, no, no, not even I could do something like that. The man’s an oddity.”
“What a wonderful team you have.”
Suddenly, a woman’s quiet voice reached them.
The only women among the members of this expedition were the two ladies from Hekkeran’s Foresight and the three Elf slaves from Eruya’s Tenbu. However, the voice did not belong to any of them.
The group immediately raised their weapons, and turned back.
As they looked up the stairs they had just descended, they saw a group of women in maid uniforms standing at the entrance to the mausoleum. There were five of them in total.
Each of them was unbelievably beautiful, but at the same time it also made them especially abnormal.
The strange thing was that each of them was dressed in an outfit that resembled a maid’s uniform, but they were different from the clothes Palpatra had seen before; they gleamed with an armor-like sheen.
“You… who are you? I didn’t see you just… oh, so there was a hidden passage after all.”
“Women? They’re beautiful enough to rival the Beautiful Princess of Darkness… they’re clearly not ordinary people”
“They don’t seem hostile, but… they can’t possibly be people who were hired in addition to ourselves.”
“What should we do, gramps?”
His comrades dared not be careless. They observed the girls closely as they asked him.
The best option would be to negotiate with them, but it would seem they would not be able to conclude this amicably.
“Our numbers are roughly even… so we should just be able to handle it, right?”
Their opponents’ strength ought to be about the same as themselves, or slightly higher.
They had not attacked while the Workers were gathered together in order to get them all in one fell swoop. That implied they lacked the fighting power or traps to deal with so many people at once. At the same time, they had chosen to show up and show themselves off and initiate the conversation; that implied they were confident of defeating Palpatra’s group.
While his aged body hardly sweated any more, at this moment, Palpatra felt the hand gripping his spear turn cold and clammy.
“Still, maids showing up in a tomb… really calls their taste into question.
In the next moment, the friend of his who had tossed off that casual joke was suddenly covered in cold sweat, his face pale and trembling.
Palpatra thought the temperature around him had plummeted for a moment. However, the goosebumps covering his body were no delusion.
Even with only the light of the moon to illuminate them, he could clearly see murder in the eyes of the maids lined up above him. It looked like their eyes were glowing.
“LeT’s KiLL thEM.”
“…Have to die.”
“We can’t just kill them normally. We need to make their suffering legendary.”
An intense bloodlust roiled around the maids. Their anger was such that it felt like the air itself was warping.
“Alright, alright,” the most senior-looking maid said with a clap of her hands. “Our master has ordered us not to let any of them return unharmed, so we were going to kill them anyway. However, I’m quite pleased to see everyone so motivated.”
There was a clang, a sound of metal which seemed to come from the stairs that had been cut from a slab of stone. The sound had come from the greave-like metal high heels which the maids wore.
Shaken, Palpatra and company backed off.
Given their lack of weapons, their opposition ought to be magic casters. In that case, allowing them to take the high ground and fighting in this wide-open space which favored ranged weapons was not a wise strategy.
For Palpatra and the others, the ideal tactic for them was to shorten the distance between themselves and the enemy. The reverse would be to the maids’ advantage. However, why were these maids coming down the stairs? Were they planning to soar into the sky with [Fly] if anything happened?
The maids’ blank faces were like a mask, and their movements were as regal as a sovereign as they slowly descended the stairs. Palpatra and his group were at a loss for how to respond, but still, they sheltered behind their shields and discussed what to do and what tactics to use
A particularly strident sound rang through the air. The maids had stopped halfway down the steps.
“Alright, let’s start with a self-introduction. I… forgive me… this one is the assistant leader of the Seven Sisters (Pleiades), Yuri Alpha. While we will not be together for long, it was a pleasure to meet you. Now then, back to the main topic, while wiping you out directly would be faster, we cannot make a move ourselves for certain reasons. What a shame.”
The wind carried adorable, bell-like laughter over to them.
The smiles of these stunningly beautiful maidens overflowed with a charm that instantly seized the hearts of anyone who looked upon them.
Being a former adventurer and currently a Worker, Palpatra had seen all sorts of things over the years. Among them were supernaturally alluring monsters like Fairies and so on. Yet, even he had never seen such beautiful maidens before, whose fair features seemed to ensnare his very soul.
However, their scornful words overflowed with a sense of superiority, and below the thin veneer of their fair features was arrogance which belonged to the overwhelmingly powerful. For these men, who had walked hand in hand with death and who were very proud of their abilities, such high-handedness was utterly intolerable. It even made them want to show the maids exactly who they were looking down upon.
However, they had witnessed various indirect pieces of evidence which suggested that these maids were incredibly powerful, in contrast to their adorable appearances. Their faces were still filled with terror from the murderous intent they had felt just now, and they could not fully steel themselves for battle.
The best option might be to run, and let the adventurers 一 especially Momon 一 join the fight.
“Then, allow me to introduce your opponents.”
Yuri clapped, and the graveyard trembled, as though in response to the echoing sound.
“Come forth, Nazarick Old Guarders”.
“What?” Palpatra exclaimed in shock.
The earth behind him split open and several Skeletons showed themselves.
A pincer attack? No…
Looking up, he saw that the maids were still hostile, but they had no desire to fight. Perhaps they were in a spectator mode. While they could not be careless, it seemed to be as the maids had just said; they did not wish to attack right away.
Palpatra came to the conclusion that the only enemies in their way were the Skeletons behind them, and so he began assessing the new batch of enemies.
Skeletons were hardly powerful opponents. Given the strength of Palpatra and his group, they could take on a few hundred of them with no problems. That being the case, the Skeletons that had emerged from the earth 一 eight of them in total 一 were no match for them whatsoever.
However, there was a problem.
Palpatra’s companions gulped in unison and unconsciously backed up one step.
These Skeletons felt different from regular Skeletons, and their equipment was different too.
They were dressed in grand breastplates, like the sort a country’s royal guard would use. Their shields were emblazoned with a griffin motif, and they wielded all manner of weapons, in addition to composite longbows on their backs. In addition, all this equipment glowed with the light of magical power.
Skeletons outfitted with magical gear could not be ordinary Skeletons.
“What are those?”
“You don’t know either, gramps? I’m not too sure… but I think they might be an offshoot species of Skeleton Warriors.”
“An offshoot, huh? They don’t look like Red Skeleton Warriors either…”
Opponents one had never encountered before were always unsettling, especially foes outfitted with magic items that possessed special effects.
“一These numbers should be enough to deal with you gentlemen. Please do your best and show us how how far you can run.”
“We’re honored that you’re sending out such powerful undead against us. However…”
Palpatra calmly pondered the matter.
No matter what, they could not possibly have too many undead equipped with so many magic items. They were probably using their strongest forces against them right off the bat.
Otherwise, they would not have let them enter the ruins; they would have dealt with them long ago.
“一So these are the strongest fighters of the ruins, then? You think they’re enough to stop us?”
Looking up, Palpatra saw that Yuri seemed shaken by his question, her eyes roaming about.
I hit the nail on the head! I see. So they already laid a trap during our conversation…
The wisest way to use their best troops was to neutralize each group of intruders piecemeal. Of course, after considering that they might not be able to match their opposition, it might be smarter to concentrate their forces where a group of people would be after completing their explorations, when they were physically and mentally fatigued; at the entrance, in other words.
And so, they had learned part of their opponents’ aim from this. When the maid said, “show us how far you can run,” they were trying to bait them into fleeing, so they would have a chance to attack them from behind. From the maids’ point of view, they would be engaging in several battles, so they would want to minimize any wear and tear to their forces.
Therefore, there was only one thing they had to do.
“So all we need to do is defeat these Skeletons and break out of this encirclement, am I wrong?”
They had to defeat the Nazarick Old Guarders for the sake of the teams who would be following them.
The other teams might be rivals, but comrades were comrades. Besides, if they wanted them to flee, then standing and fighting would run a lower risk of falling into a trap. And of course this was just in case, but he was thinking about asking Momon to fight if their opposition was very strong. However, they ought to fight now, even if there was risk.
“So I messed up the plan and now we’re the canaries instead… ah, what a pain. Alright, do you think that’s all of them?”
“Given how well those undead are equipped, I can’t imagine there could be more of them.”
“This is a route which invaders would have to pass through, so stationing their best troops here would be the best tactic. That being the case, these Skeletons should be all of them. And since the opposition should have better intelligence than us, they probably aren’t dumb enough to split their forces.”
“…No, I think there ought to be a few more in the ruins. However the ones left are probably lower-grade undead.”
“Gramps… we should flee. This is bad. It’s very bad.”
“We’ve already been surrounded, there’s no escape for us! Even if we try to fly away, they’ll shoot us down with bows! Hang in there, lads! There’s no way for us to survive but by defeating them!”
The response to Palpatra’s shout was a resigned yet surprised voice.
“Well, that’s also a valid means of breaking through. We’ll cheer for you, so let’s begin.”
And with that, the Nazarick Old Guarders stepped forward.
Yuri and the others had troubled looks on their faces as they kept “cheering” them on.
They had been hard-pressed to hide their consternation since the beginning. To think they were actually so…
“Ahhh, this is bad ~su.”
“…Did not think it would be like this.”
“Cocytus-sama will be shocked.”
“IF tHIs keEPs Up… It’Ll ENd wiThoUt ANythINg To shOW fOr It.”
Yuri and the others watched a raised hammer swing down.
“Oh, that looks very bad, he’ll die ~su.”
Just as Lupusregina muttered to herself, the man in question took a blow to the chest and crumpled to the ground.
The sound of metal scraping and a heavy object collapsing somehow managed to fill the air despite the intense battle.
The first casualty was a human warrior, but the Nazarick Old Guarder holding an electrically-charged hammer did not seem particularly excited about it, instead looking for another target.
“Priest-san, if you don’t heal him, he’ll die ~su”
“…No point. Died instantly, and battle line fell with him.”
Yuri muttered worriedly to herself, while Shizu shook her head as an answer.
The two Nazarick Old Guarders that the warrior had been holding off were now freed up, so one went to deal with their priest while another one planned to circle around to attack the back-line. The priest was already occupied with two of them, and now with another one to add to his burden, he no longer had the time or energy to cast spells. He had his hands full just trying to fend off savage attacks from three directions at once.
Palpatra was the only one who seemed to be earnestly giving battle, but he had to deal with three enemies at once and did not have the freedom to help his comrades.
“The thief’s firepower isn’t enough. I wonder if they have any trump cards?”
The thief fighting to protect the arcane magic caster now had one more enemy to face. Now he had two. The thief’s light and nimble weaponry lacked decisive power against his foes 一 the undead Nazarick Old Guarders who could not be slain in one hit and who wore sturdy armor. The thief barely managed to avoid their attacks with agile movements, but there was a great difference between the untiring undead and human beings who could become fatigued.
“He’s looking at us like he’s about to cry ~su”
“Want to wave to him?”
“I guESS WAvinG To HIm wOUldN’t hURt.”
Lupusregina smiled sweetly and waved to the man.
“…It hit him.”
“It’s all Lupu’s fault for distracting him.”
“Ueeehhhh~ It’s my fault ~su?”
“…Mm, your fault. But we can cheer for them… Yay.”
“Yes, I do hope they can hang in there a little longer.”
The maids nodded at Yuri’s words.
The Nazarick Old Guarders held the upper hand throughout the battle with Palpatra’s team. At this point, this one-sided battle could be described as futile resistance. Even Yuri and the others could not help but pity them.
At first, they had even laughed and said, “Weren’t you very confident in yourselves before the battle started?” but then they had lost all interest and started yawning, and now they were even rooting for Palpatra and the others.
“Uwah, the difference in their strength is so great I can’t think of anything to say.”
“…No trump cards?”
“I think that summon spell they cast was it.”
“No, that’s too weak for a secret weapon. Although, using a summoned monster as a meatshield was a pretty good idea.”
“Indeed. As long as they could keep attacks from connecting, they might have been able to reorganize.”
“HOwEVeR, uSIng fLIGhT MAgiC aFter thAT wAS jUsT STuPId. DiDN’t that wriNKLy old gEEzeR SAy sO hIMseLF?”
“I don’t know if he was planning to flee or use magic from above…”
“…He became a priority target.”
The arcane magic caster collapsed after taking a mortal blow. If someone could cast a healing spell on him or apply a potion, he might have been able to get back into the fight, but nobody had the energy for that. In the end, all they could do was have the thief cover him and prevent the enemy from finishing him off.
“But why did they think there were only this many Old Guarders?”
That was truly a mystery.
Had they unconsciously imagined the scenario going in their favor? That did not mean they were stupid. Perhaps humans thought like that when they did not want to look despair right in the eye; their survival instincts flared to their limits in order to build up their courage.
“Besides, it was hopeless anyway.”
“Yes, no matter how you look at it.”
“WHat If tHEy WENt oN fULL dEfeNSe tO buY TiME aNd foR tHE otHeR tHIeVEs tO ComE BAck?”
Everyone glared at Entoma.
“As if they’d come back!”
“…Goes without saying.”
“There’s no way, right? It’s impossible for them to come back safely from the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick.”
There was a scream of unbearable pain, followed by the sound of something collapsing. The battle maids turned to look at the source of the sound, and then spoke sadly.
“Ah, THe tHIeF weNT dOWn TOo.”
“The outcome of the battle’s been decided.”
“Like I said, maybe we should have listened to them beg for mercy on the steps…”
“But they were so confident back then! Of course I was wondering if they had some plan in mind.”
The thick scent of fresh blood wafted over to the maids from the thief’s body.
“You can’t do that,” Yuri chided Entoma.
Their master had issued an order to recover everyone who was incapacitated, whether they were alive or dead. Naturally, they could not present an insect-chewed body to their master. It would be terribly rude.
“We’ll ask Ainz-sama if you can eat it later. Bear with it for now.”
“But this isn’t good, right? The original plan was to see if we could deal with fleeing people, right?”
“Seems like it. That’s why they posted pretty strong undead near the walls.”
“CoCYTus-saMA muST HAve pREdiCTEd THat We’D CATch uP tO thEM EasILY, bUT…”
“…Didn’t expect them to fight head-on.”
“Well, this is what happens when you don’t understand your opponent’s strength. Alright, we’ll heal the ones who are still breathing and send them to the torture room. As for the dead… we’ll report them to Ainz-sama.
And so, Palpatra and the Worker team he led vanished that night
“Push them back!”
Gringam’s furious cry rang through the burial vault that was filed with the stench of mildew and rotting corpses.
The room was 20 meters long on each side, and the ceiling was at least 5 meters overhead. This room, illuminated by the light spell of the magic caster and torches dropped on the floor, was packed full of people.
Gringam and the members of Heavy Masher had been forced into the corner of the room. The rest of the burial vault was flooded with massive quantities of low-end undead such as Zombies and Skeletons.
There were so many that counting them would be an exercise in pointlessness.
Gringam and the shield-carrying warrior stemmed the flood of death head-on, forming a defense to keep the undead from reaching the back-liners.
A Zombie pounded on Gringam’s full plate armor with both its hands. While Zombies were stronger than regular human beings, they were still not enough to put so much as a scratch on the steel plate armor. The rotted, fragile hands splattered on contact, leaving putrid chunks of rotting flesh stuck to the full plate armor.
The same went for the Skeletons. The rusted weapons which they held could not possibly harm enchanted full plate.
Of course, they might have gotten in a lucky shot. But such lucky shots had not occurred, thanks to the protective magic on them.
Gringam swung the axe in his hand, but every time he brought one down, another undead being would rush in to fill the gap. They pressed in ever closer, as though they wanted to squash Gringam and the others to death.
“Dammit! There’s too many!”
The shield-bearing warrior beside Gringam growled in pain. His shield covered his entire body, so he had not taken any attacks, but the shield was covered in filthy fluids.
He smashed the skulls of Zombies and Skeletons with his mace, but he could not hold out against the enemy’s pressure, and he was slowly forced back.
“Where did all these enemies come from?!”
The warrior’s question was very reasonable.
After Gringam’s group separated from the others at the crossroads, they had searched several rooms. Sadly, none of the rooms they searched contained wealth like in the mausoleums, but they had found several valuable treasures. They continued slowly exploring in this manner. Then, they entered the room and began searching it, whereupon the door had suddenly opened and a huge horde of undead flooded into the room from nowhere.
Zombies and Skeletons were hardly strong foes. However, their numbers were a threat of their own.
Once they were dragged down or pressed down, they would not be able to move even if they did not die. At that point, the undead horde would assault the back-liners.
The back-liners would probably not go down easily either, but the sheer numbers they faced left them uneasy.
If things went on like this, a stroke of bad luck might lead to their battle-lines crumbling. Having reached this conclusion, Gringam decided to use the power he had wanted to conserve.
“We need to finish this right away! I place my trust in thee!”
The back-liners 一 who had only been casting stones until now 一 made their move.
Normally, undead like this were not a problem for Gringam and the rest of Heavy Masher. However, that was also the reason why the backliners chose to wait and conserve their strength. Once the backline made a move, eliminating undead like these would be as easy as falling off a log.
“My lord, O God of Earth! I beseech thee to purge the unclean!”
The priest clasped his holy symbol, and his cry took the form of power. A cool, clean feeling surged through the burial vault 一 which had been filled with unclean air 一 in a wave of divine might that was more potent than usual. The priest used his ability to turn undead.
In the wake of that wave, the undead crumbled into ash and dust, starting from the ones nearest the priest.
When there was a great difference between the respective power levels of both sides, the ability to turn undead could instead directly destroy them. However, destroying many undead at once was extremely difficult, and the user needed a certain degree of power.
In the end, that single move disintegrated over 20 undead beings.
“I’ll blow you away! [Fireball]!
The arcane magic caster cast his [Fireball], which flew to the back of the undead horde where it detonated. In a single, ferocious instant of flame, the false lives of all the Zombies and Skeletons within the spell’s area of effect were consumed and burned away, leaving nothing but ash and smoke.
“I’m not done yet! [Fireball]!”
“My lord, O God of Earth! I beseech thee to purge the unclean!”
The backliners launched another round of area-effect attacks and the number of undead sharply decreased.
The warrior cast aside his shield, holding his mace in both hands, and together with Gringam, they charged into the undead horde. It would have been easy for the magic casters to wipe them out, but Gringam had chosen a charge anyway, because the truth was that he wanted to conserve their mana. In particular, the priest’s ability to turn undead had a limited number of uses. His profession made him particularly adept at dealing with the undead, and it was arguably their secret weapon in this tomb.
Gringam charged into the undead horde, his axe swinging. Sticky fluids oozed 一 perhaps it would have spurted, if its heart were beating 一 from the the flying body parts. The odor from the open, severed wounds on the corpses was nauseating but it was not unbearable.
Or rather, one could say that their noses were numbed to it.
Gringam and the warrior worked together, attacking, attacking and attacking some more. They gave no thought to defense.
They could make such an assault because of magical aid and the sturdy armor protecting them, in addition to the fact that they were facing such weak undead.
Every now and then, something would strike Gringam’s head, but his armor absorbed the impact, and he hardly felt anything in his neck. Even when his chest and belly were struck, he hardly felt the blows.
After all, their foes were the weakest of the undead to begin with. The only danger just now had been their human wave tactics; once the enemy ranks had been thinned to this extent, the fighting was much easier. The warrior kept swinging his weapon, and shouted:
“All the undead we’ve met are piddly little creatures, but there’s a lot of them in this tomb!”
“So there’s no guarantee that stronger undead won’t show up! Although, if there are stronger undead, I have no idea why they haven’t appeared yet!”
The person answering him was the priest, who was observing the battle from the rear as he picked up the warrior’s shield.
“…No, perhaps the undead here were summoned by some means. It might have been some kind of ritual, or through an item.”
The strange thing was that the corpses vanished after a certain amount of time had passed, so the ground was not carpeted in bodies, leaving them no place to stand. That part sounded like what happened to summoned monsters after they died, hence the wizard’s warning to the others.
“Some gimmick that mass-summons weak undead… I heartily reject it! I fear to imagine this tomb thoroughly flooded with zombies!”
Gringam replied as he felled skeletons like trees, and then he surveyed the interior of the room. There were few undead left, less than the number of fingers on both hands. It did not look like a new batch would be coming in through the door, and the battle would be over soon.
Just as he thought that, a bone-chilling sensation transfixed him through the soles of his feet.
His danger sense ordered him to flee immediately, but he could not do so right now. Even so一
“Look out! Head outside一”
The thief seemed to have sensed it as well as he shouted.
However, it was too late. All of a sudden, the originally sturdy floor suddenly turned weak. A floating sensation engulfed them. A moment later, their unbalanced bodies were dumped heavily on the ground.
His comrades cried out in pain. However, Gringam poured his strength into gripping the axe which he had not released even through his fall. As he smashed the Skeletons that had fallen with him, he stood up.
“Destroy the enemy!”
The undead had also been damaged from the fall 一 in particular, the Skeletons were weak against bludgeoning attacks and had thus taken a great deal of damage 一 so fighting them was much easier than before.
After eliminating the undead within the room, Gringam finally had the luxury of looking around the room.
They were probably at the bottom of a pit below a magical trap that caused the floor to vanish. Looking up, the ceiling seemed very far away. At a glance, it looked like it was 12 meters overhead. Three meters above the floor was a closed door. Three meters above 一 a total of six meters above the ground 一 was an open door, the one through which Gringam and the others had originally entered the room. One could say they had fallen a distance of roughly two floors.
The overall shape of this room was like a square pyramid. The floor of the room sloped down toward a point, and due to the steep incline, one might end up rolling to the bottom of the room 一 the center 一 if one were not careful. In fact, one of his comrades had actually rolled down there and gotten stuck at the bottom. He had almost been buried alive by the falling Zombies.
It was hard to believe they had barely been hurt by falling into a place like this.
The strange thing was that there were four tunnel-like structures on each wall at the three-meter mark, on the same level as the closed door, for a total of 16.
“It looks like a room used for drowning. I’ll bet they’ll pour in water from those tunnel-like things up there. I’ll pass on that, if you don’t mind. It’s worse if they’re Slimes or the like instead.”
“I agree. Let’s check out that door and get out through there if it’s okay.
Climbing two floors of a wall with no handholds was quite difficult. At most, only the thief could do it; people like Gringam in their full plate armor would have a very hard time. In contrast, that unknown door might not be safe, but reaching it seemed much easier.
Just as they were discussing how to climb up, heads emerged almost simultaneously from the sixteen tunnels. They were corpses swollen so badly they looked like they were about to explode 一 Plague Bombers.
Their bodies were bloated from the negative energy accumulated within them, and they exploded when killed. Their death explosions harmed the living and healed the undead at the same time, making them very troublesome undead.
The meat lump-like undead leapt through the air. The Plague Bombers’ bodies hit the floor and made a nauseating sound. The problem was what happened after that. Their round bodies did not stay still on the slopes but rolled down like boulders, towards Gringam and the others.
“Look out! Get clear!”
“I’m the intellectual of the group, don’t tell me what to do!”
Everyone 一 the wizard who was almost in tears included 一 barely managed to avoid the attack, and so the undead rolled into the center of the inverted pyramid. The next wave of Plague Bombers had already showed their ugly faces, which let Gringam and the others know that just now was just the first wave. At the same time, they also guessed what would happen after this.
“Run! This room is going to be flooded with them!”
If they were knocked into the center of the room by the intense impacts from the rolling undead, they would assuredly be squashed to death. Even if they were not crushed, they would be immobilized, and then they would die from the repeated negative energy explosions of the other undead being flattened by their fellows.
“What a despicable trap! Someone, please give me a boost!”
“As if I could! You fall in there and you’re done for!”
Even if someone managed to evade one attack, the moment they lost their balance, they would not be able to avoid the next attack. Nobody dared boost anyone else under those circumstances.
“Then I’ll use magic!”
“Don’t use [Fly]! You’re not strong enough to pull us all!”
“No, uwah! That was close! I’m going to use [Web Ladder]!”
“That’ll do! Please anchor it to the nearest door! Gringam, cover him!”
“一No! Halt! We must flee through the second storey door through which we entered! The door below is perilous!”
His companion did not question the basis for those words, but they trusted Gringam.
The magic took effect, and a spiderweb climbed up the wall, until it reached the second floor.
This magically created spiderweb had a unique stickiness to it. When one did not want to let go it would be adhesive, but when one wanted to move, it would not be, making it very suitable as a ladder.
Gringam and the others were worried, but in the end they managed to climb up the ladder in single file.
Gringam finally reached the door that had been open all this while, and carefully studied the passage through it. If they were hit and knocked down now, they would surely meet with a hideous fate.
He sighed in relief. It would seem what he feared 一 undead above the tunnels 一 had not taken place.
After he was sure of it, he jumped on top of the tunnels and then pulled everyone up.
“We’re saved! Being crushed to death by undead is one of the most horrible ways to die!”
“…These ruins are really maliciously designed. I sprained my ankle when we fell, hope you can heal me.”
I think the negative energy explosion grazed my toes! That was scary as hell!”
“I barely managed to avoid it by luck. It’s too much to ask a wizard to dodge attacks.”
His companions panted, swapping complaints and curses between breaths.
“Say, Gringam, why did you want us to avoid that door? I thought that door would have been the right choice. Don’t they always put the right route in the most dangerous place?”
“It was just a hunch I had… take a weapon you don’t need and attack that door.”
Gringam had reverted to his usual way of speaking now that he was exhausted. After hearing his reply, the thief immediately pulled out a dagger and threw it at the door. The dagger flew in a straight line, and struck home 一 or at least, when it was about to, part of the door bulged out and shaped itself into a tentacle, which deflected the flying dagger.
“That’s a… Door Imitator! No, given the color of that tentacle, it’s probably an undead Door Imitator. This sort of enemy captures its enemy with sticky body fluids and then delivers a one-sided beatdown with its tentacles.”
“Cheh! A double trap, huh, that’s pretty evil. Still, you’re amazing, you actually saw through it.”
“It was just a hunch. No, strictly speaking, I just went with what I knew over the unknown. Also, consider the position of that door; it would be taking repeated negative energy explosions. While negative energy explosions probably wouldn’t do too much damage to an inanimate door, I had the feeling they’d put something funny there. Then, let’s move一”
At this point, Gringam shut up. That was because the thief who had been going on and on since just now had a finger on his lips, and was tilting his head to listen.
Gringam pricked up his ears as well. He could hear a rhythmic tapping tak tak tak sound on the floor.
Everyone looked to the source of the sound 一 towards the passage.
“That… ought to be an enemy, right? Can’t they give us a break?”
“Yeah, there’s only one of them, and they’re not trying to be stealthy, so that should be it. I hope it’s the last one…”
Everybody raised their weapons, and the warrior at the front raised the shield his colleague had given him, hiding half his body behind it. The wizard pointed the glowing tip of his staff at the passage ahead, where the sound was coming from, ready to cast a spell at any time. The priest raised his holy symbol and the thief aimed his bow in the direction of the noise.
The tak tak tak sound grew louder, and the other party finally showed themselves.
It wore a luxurious 一 though fairly aged 一 robe, which covered a body that was slimmer than that of a woman’s or a child’s. It held a gnarled staff in one hand 一 that had probably been the source of the rapping sound.
Its skeletal face was covered by a thin layer of rotting skin, and there was a malevolent intelligence in its eyes. Negative energy wreathed its body like mist.
This was an undead magic caster. Its name was一
“一An Elder Lich!”
The wizard, who had been the first to surmise its identity, cried out.
Indeed. After a wicked magic caster died and the body was infused with negative energy, it would give rise to an evil monster like this.
The moment Gringam and the others heard that it was an Elder Lich, they immediately changed formation. Nobody stood in a straight line with anyone else, and each of them kept a distance from each other, to defend against area-effect spells.
Elder Liches were fairly powerful opponents. To adventurers, platinum-rankers would not be able to defeat one easily, but mithral-ranked teams would be certain of doing so. If Gringam and the others disregarded fatigue, they would be able to beat it. In addition, they were fortunate enough to have a team member who was exceptionally potent against the undead, which was a shot in the arm for everyone.
Also, Elder Liches were hard to deal with at a distance, but given the current distance, the battle conditions were very favorable for them.
“Is that the master of the tomb?!”
That was Gringam’s conclusion. Elder Liches were controllers. Sometimes they would control hordes of undead, and depending on the circumstances, they could even make deals with the living.
Good examples of those were the captain of the ghost ship that sailed through the mist of the Katze Plains, or the Elder Lich who became famous for ruling a city, and so on.
Therefore, it was not at all unusual for an Elder Lich to be the master of this tomb.
“Did we hit the jackpot? That’s a stroke of luck!”
“The job didn’t ask us to kill the master of the tomb!”
“We’ll show him the power of Heavy Masher!”
“Behold, the divine protection of the gods!”
His other colleagues were shouting. They were doing so in order to banish the fear they felt when facing a mighty foe like an Elder Lich.
Just as Gringam was about to start calling battle orders to his comrades, a strange feeling arose within him. He immediately found the reason for that feeling. It was the powerful enemy before them, the Elder Lich.
“He doesn’t seem to want to… attack us?”
The Elder Lich was clearly looking at Gringam, yet it had not made a move. It had not raised its staff, and neither had it begun incanting spells. It simply watched them in silence.
Gringam and the others were hard-pressed to hide their confusion. This was because they thought they would be charging into combat, yet they did not dare make the first move.
It was true that the undead bore hostility towards the living. However, it was also true that certain intelligent undead were willing to deal with humanity. While they would probably start from a weaker position if they opened negotiations first, sometimes the undead would ask for a ceasefire, and one could gain magic items made with long-lost techniques.
The most important thing was that avoiding combat was the ideal course of action when one faced a powerful enemy like an Elder Lich. Perhaps it had shown up because it was tired of not being able to eliminate the group with its traps, but it might also be because it knew their strength and wanted to peacefully negotiate.
After considering these possibilities, striking first would be far too rash. That would essentially be abandoning all possibility of negotiation. This was the heart of the enemy’s power. It would be too risky to plunge into battle without ensuring that there was a way for them to retreat.
Gringam and the rest of his group looked at each others’ faces, and verified that everyone was thinking the same thing.
It was his job as their leader to speak for the rest of them.
“Forgive my disrespect, but thou seem’st to be the master of this tomb. We一”
The Elder Lich turned its horrific face to Gringam, and then rested a slender finger on its lips.
In other words 一 quiet.
While such a gesture was very unfitting for an Elder Lich, they were not brave 一 no, they were not suicidal enough to tell this powerful entity such a thing.
Gringam obediently shut up. Then, he heard a sound again from the silent passage, and he immediately doubted his ears.
He had heard this sound before, that of something going tak tak tak as it rapped against the ground. And there were a lot of them一
Gringam and his group exchanged glances again. They did not want to believe the answer the sound was telling them.
And then 一 everyone screamed at once.
“Who was it?! Who said the Elder Lich was the master of this tomb?!”
“I’m sorry! It was me!”
“Are you fucking kidding me?! This is ridiculous!”
“Oi oi oi oi oi, we can’t possibly win this!”
“Even divine protection has its limits!”
More Elder Liches appeared behind the original one; six of them, in fact.
There were now seven of these powerful magic casters.
Granted, since they were the same sort of entity, they would attack in the same way. In other words, once they had a way to negate all the attacks the enemy could muster, beating seven of them would not be a problem.
The problem now was that they did not have such a way, and they could not possibly do so.
In the face of such utterly hopeless odds, Gringam’s group lost their will to fight.
“Now then, let us begin.”
As the Elder Lich spoke in its voice that did not sound like it wanted to negotiate at all, seven staves rose into the air. At the same time, Gringam bellowed:
Everyone in the team ran with all their might, as though they were waiting for that word. They ran in the opposite direction from the Elder Liches. Of course, they hardly had the luxury of contemplating what lay ahead of them; all they could think of was fleeing the excessive firepower of the Elder Lich cabal and buy themselves some chance of survival.
At their head was the thief. After that was Gringam, the wizard, the priest and the warrior.
They ran nonstop, without hesitating.
They reached a corner. These were places where they ought to have been on guard against traps or monsters, but as the footsteps pressed in from behind, they did not have the free time to check carefully. Everything was up to the heavens; all they could do was run.
There were two stone-carved doors on either side of the passage, but after considering that they might be dead ends, nobody was brave enough to rush in.
The armored people made a cacophonous sound of metal clashing as they ran, which echoed along the passage. While the sound might attract monsters, nobody had the time or energy to cast [Silence].
They ran, and ran, and ran some more.
They moved their legs, heedless to everything else. Turning corners and sprinting madly made them lose their sense of direction, and they no longer had any idea of where they were right now. If possible, they would have liked to return to the entrance, but nobody had the energy to consider that.
“一Are they still behind us!” Gringam shouted as he ran. The warrior at the end of the group replied:
“They’re still there! They’re running after us!
“Why the hell are they running! Why aren’t they flying?!”
“If they flew, we’d be eating spells one after the other, moron!”
“Let’s hide in a small room and parley…” the mage panted. He was the physically weakest member of the group, and he looked like he would collapse at any time.
Gringam decided that this was not going to work. The mage’s stamina was going to give out.
Undead monsters like Elder Liches would not get tired. If this kept up, they would be forced into a corner, and once their endurance was gone, all that awaited them was to be slowly picked off.
“How can there be so many Elder Liches…”
Such a thing was impossible if one went by common sense.
“Don’t tell me the master of this tomb is more powerful than an Elder Lich!”
That was the only answer they could think of. However, was there really such a powerful undead being? Gringam was at a loss for an answer.
“Dammit! This goddamn tomb!”
The warrior running at the end of the pack cursed between panting breaths.
A glowing magic circle floated off the ground at that very moment. The magic circle was very large, big enough to encompass Gringam and his team within its bounds.
There was no telling who it belonged to, but he heard something that sounded like a scream一
一There was a floating sensation, different from when they had fallen down just now.
Gringam’s vision was filled with blackness. The sounds of crunching and squishing came from under his feet, and he felt his body slowly sinking. It was just like falling into a swamp. He panicked for a moment, but this swamp-like place was not very deep, and he stopped sinking after it reached his waist.
In this silent world of darkness, Gringam called out uneasily, like a child who had lost his parents:
“…Is anyone there?”
“一I’m here, Gringam.”
He immediately received a response from a comrade 一 the thief. In addition, he was not far away. It was probably around the same distance that had separated them while they had been running.
“…Are the others here?”
There was no answer. He had guessed it; there was no light here, so the wizard and the warrior were not present. He had been lucky enough that the thief was here at all.
“It seems we’re the only two around.”
“Indeed, it is as… cheh! Yeah, you’re right.”
He stood in place, studying the mood in the air around him. The blackness extended infinitely around him, filling him with the fear of not knowing where the darkness ended and where he began.
Nothing seemed to be moving一
“Need a light?”
“Might as well.”
Would doing so break the silence? Would it trigger a trap? Despite the countless doubts filling his heart, it was a regrettable fact that human eyes could not see through darkness. Light was indispensable.
“Right then, hang on a bit.”
The thief’s voice seemed to be moving around in the darkness. And then, there was a source of light.
The first thing he saw was the thief, holding a glowstick high in his hand. Then, he saw the light reflected of countless smaller surfaces. It made him think of the glittering treasure he had seen in the mausoleum.
However 一 it was not.
Gringam fought the desire to scream, while the thief’s face seized up as well.
They saw countless reflections. The reflections were of the insects which filled every inch of the room; what humans called cockroaches. The smallest were only the size of his little finger’s tip while the biggest were over a meter long. The room was filled with cockroaches of all shapes and sizes, and they crawled on top of each other.
So the crunching sensation under his feet was caused by squashing cockroaches. The thought of being submerged up to his waist in cockroaches was that much more abhorrent.
The room was very wide, so the light of the glowstick did not reach the walls. Given the glowstick’s effective radius of illumination was around 15 meters, one could estimate the size of the room from there. He looked to the ceiling and saw countless cockroaches reflected in the glow.
“This… what is this place?”
The thief spoke like he was out of breath, and Gringam could understand how he felt. He must have had the feeling that if he made a sound, all these cockroaches would start moving.
“What on earth happened?”
“…This is a pit, right?”
As the thief looked around in fear, Gringam thought of the last thing he had seen before his world was swallowed by darkness 一 the magic circle that had floated up under his feet 一 and then he told the thief:
“It can’t be. I don’t think this is an ordinary pit, we must have been hit by some kind of spell…”
“To think there’d be a teleporting trap… or was that a spell from the Elder Lich?”
Teleportation spells existed; for instance, the 3rd-tier spell [Dimensional Move]. However, that spell only worked on the caster themselves. The ability to teleport others, and multiple people at once, was a spell of the一
“一I think it was a 5th or 6th tier spell that could teleport multiple people at once, right?”
“Right… I remember it should have been something like that.”
Could it be that our opposition is really so…”
They knew very few people who could use magic of the 5th tier. However, Gringam could accept that hypothesis. If a mighty being like that existed, then the peaceful coexistence of multiple Elder Liches was easy to explain. That was because it would surely be child’s play for such a powerful entity to rule over or command Elder Liches.
A chill settled over Gringam’s heart as he keenly realized the danger of the tomb. At the same time, he felt an intense resentment towards the Count who had offered him this job. Of course, it had been Gringam and the others who had accepted the job, and they had known there would be risks, and they had still laid their lives out as chips on the card table. Perhaps it could not be helped that he was looking for a scapegoat.
However, the Count should have known something about this place. Otherwise he would not have offered such a high payout and gathered so many Workers and offered the job to investigate this tomb.
“So he couldn’t bear to share that information? Son of a bitch… let’s get out of here! These ruins… are not a place we should have touched.”
“Ah, got it. Then, Gringam, I’ll go first, and you can follow me.”
It would seem the thief still had not realized it yet. Fortunately, he had not.
That was the fact that these cockroaches were not moving.
Gringam sized up the mass of cockroaches in front of him.
Their feelers were twitching faintly, so they were probably not dead yet, but they remained still. A mysterious air of dread filled the area.
“一No, you two gentlemen will not be going anywhere.”
Suddenly, a third person’s voice rang forth.
“Who is it?!”
Gringam and the thief frantically looked around, but they could not sense anyone moving.
“Oh, do pardon me. By order of Ainz-sama, I have been granted dominion over this place. My name is Kyouhukou. It is a pleasure to meet you two gentlemen.”
Their eyes went to the source of the sound, where they saw a bizarre sight. Something was forcing its way through through the pile of cockroaches as though it were going to emerge from below.
Their melee weapons could not reach that far. The thief silently drew his bow, while Gringam planned to pull out his catapult 一 but that was only for show. If the battle began, he could wade through this waist-deep sea of cockroaches and hack at his foe with his axe.
Soon, they saw that the entity that had worked its way through the cockroaches was, in fact, another cockroach.
However, this cockroach seemed different from its fellow cockroaches around it. It was only 30 centimeters tall, yet it stood erect on two legs.
It was draped in a grand-looking red cape edged with gold thread, and it wore a tiny gold-gleaming crown on its head. Its forelegs held a pure white scepter set with a gemstone.
The strangest thing was that it was looking right at Gringam and the thief despite standing upright. An insect would naturally look up if it were standing on two legs, but the being before their eyes was different.
Other than that, it was not too different from the other cockroaches. No, those alone were big differences.
Gringam exchanged looks with the thief, and they agreed that Gringam would parley with their opposition. After verifying that the thief had put down his bow and the arrow nocked to it, Gringam asked Kyouhukou:
“Who… are you?”
“Umu. It would seem you did not hear my introduction just now. Shall I state my name once more?”
“No, that’s not what I meant…” Halfway through, Gringam realized that was not what he ought to be doing or asking. “…Alright, I’ll get to the point; would you like to make a deal with us?”
“Oh, a deal. I am very thankful to the two of you, and I am delighted to deal with you.”
There was something strange about those words 一 why was it so grateful to the two of them? It bothered Gringam, but given the overwhelmingly unfavorable circumstances before him, he could not ask the other party such a question.
“…We would like… we would like to ask you to allow us to safely leave this room.”
“I see, it is only natural that you should think that way. However, even if you two gentlemen do manage to leave this room, your current location is within the second floor of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. It behooves me to mention that returning to the surface will be very difficult.”
The second floor一
Those words made Gringam’s eyes go wide.
“We passed through the mausoleum on the surface, descended a flight of stairs and passed through a doorway 一 was that the first floor?”
“Many would regard it as such, would they not?”
“No, I was simply confirming that.”
“Haha, well, you two gentlemen were teleported here from the first floor. Your confusion is eminently justified.”
Somehow, Kyouhukou was nodding. Gringam felt like he had been stabbed by icicles when he saw it.
This was a terror born of his suspicions being proven right.
In other words, while he did not know how they had done it, their opposition used teleportation magic as a trap. What kind of spell was it, and what kind of magical technology had they used? He knew how shocking this was despite not being a magic caster.
“…Indeed, I’m hoping you can tell us how to leave this tomb, but I dare not ask so much. Just allowing us to leave this room will be enough.”
“We… are willing to give you anything you desire.”
Kyouhukou nodded deeply, and looked as though it were deep in thought.
For a short while, the interior of the room was deathly silent. In the end, Kyouhukou seemed to have made up its mind. It nodded and said:
“What I desire is already within my grasp. The terms you gentlemen propose do not satisfy me.”
Gringam was about to open his mouth, but Kyouhukou raised a foreleg to stop him, and then said:
“Before that, it seems you do not understand the reason for my gratitude towards the two of you. Then, permit me to explain. In truth, my familiars have long grown tired of eating each other. Thus, I am grateful that the two of you are going to become their feed.
The thief loosed an arrow immediately upon hearing that.
The arrow whistled through the air, but Kyouhukou’s crimson cape caught it, and it fell powerlessly.
Then 一 the room began to writhe.
Countless rustling noises echoed through the room, and it became a torrent of sound.
Then, a tsunami loomed over them.
It was a churning flow of darkness.
“Regretfully, there are only the two of you, but even so, I hope you will fill my familiars’ bellies.”
The swell of the tidal wave swallowed Gringam and the thief. It looked just like being devoured by the ocean.
As Gringam sank into the black whirlpool, he frantically swatted at the cockroaches which had worked their way into the gaps of his armor.
Weapons were useless against a swarm of such tiny insects, and Gringam did not know any martial arts which could attack an area. In that case, smacking them with his hands would be faster. Therefore, he had already cast aside his weapon, and he did not know where it had gone.
He struggled and tried to flail his arms, but the countless cockroaches weighing him down had already taken his freedom of movement. His actions were just like a drowning man thrashing his arms about. All Gringam could hear was the rustling of countless cockroaches.
His thief companion’s voice was drowned out by the rustling, and he could not hear it.
No, it only made sense that he could not hear the thief’s voice. That was because the thief’s mouth, throat and stomach were stuffed full of cockroaches, and he could not vocalize.
Prickling pain filled Gringam’s body from head to toe. It was the pain from the cockroaches which had infiltrated through the gaps in his armor and were chewing at his flesh.
Gringam wanted to cry out, but the cockroaches working their way into his mouth blocked it up. He frantically tried to spit out the cockroaches, but every time he opened his mouth, another cockroach would squirm in through his lips, and then crawl around in his mouth.
Tiny cockroaches seemed to have burrowed into his ears. The rustling grew louder, and his ears were unbearably itchy.
Countless cockroaches crawled up and down his face, biting everywhere. Pain covered his eyelids. However, he could not open his eyes. He could imagine what would happen to his eyes if he did so.
Gringam understood what sort of fate awaited him. He would be eaten alive by cockroaches.
“I don’t want this!”
He screamed out loud, and the cockroaches promptly flowed into his mouth. They wriggled everywhere, and then burrowed into the depths of his throat. Then, he felt something slide down his throat into his stomach. The sensation of a live cockroach thrashing around in his guts made him want to throw up.
Gringam struggled desperately once more.
He could not bear to die like this.
He wanted his two elder brothers to look at him with different eyes. This was the sole, driving purpose which had motivated him and let him reach his present position.
Gringam had saved up enough that he could spend his days in leisure even without adventuring, and with his reputation, he could easily marry a beautiful woman, the likes of which one could not find in a village. Be it in terms of strength or wealth, he was far superior to his elder brothers who had chased him from the house. He should have been a winner in life.
He did not want to die in a place like this.
“Abbbooooaahhhhhh! I want to go back aliveeeeee!” he screamed as he spat out chewed-up cockroaches.
“…My, but you can endure. Then, another helping for you.”
Gringam’s cries vanished into the black vortex several seconds later.
His eyes suddenly opened
A ceiling came into view. Said ceiling was made of fitted stone slabs, and there was an object which emitted white light set into it. He did not know how he had come to be here, but when he thought to look around, he realized that his head could not move. No, it was not just his head. His arms, his legs, his waist and his chest were bound by something and immobilized.
These incomprehensible circumstances sparked terror within him. He wanted to scream, but something was stuck in his mouth. He could not speak, and he could not close his mouth.
All he could do was move his eyes. He frantically tried to see what was going on around him, and just then a voice addressed him.
“Aran~ so you’re awake.”
That voice was garbled. It was difficult to determine if it belonged to a female or a male.
A horrific monster worked its way into his immobilized field of vision, appearing before him.
That thing had a human’s body, but its head was a bizarre object that looked like a deformed octopus. It trailed six long, twitching tentacles that descended to its thighs.
Its skin was the cloudy white color of a drowned corpse. Its body was swollen like the aforementioned drowned corpse, with a few bands of black leather to substitute for clothing. Those bands bit into its skin, looking just like butcher’s twine used to wrap up cuts of meat, and it was hideous beyond belief. Perhaps they would have been bewitchingly alluring on a beautiful woman, but on a spine-chilling monster like this, it was less seductive than stomach-churning.
The monster’s hands sprouted four slender fingers each, with webs between them. They had long nails, each with beautiful nail polish applied, and they were further adorned with strange nail art.
This bizarre being looked at him with cloudy, pupil-less eyes.
“Ufufufu. Did you sleep well?”
His breathing was heavy under the twin assaults of fear and shock. The monster caressed his cheek with a gentle gesture, like a mother comforting a child.
The strangely cold sensation sent a chill through his entire body.
It would have been perfect if it emitted a heavy scent of blood or rot. However, it instead radiated a floral fragrance. That only served to heighten his sense of terror.
“Ara~ there’s no need to shrink in fear.”
The creature’s line of sight moved to his groin, and the sensation of the air against his skin let him finally realize that he was naked.
“Mmm, should I ask you for your name?”
The monster placed its hand on what seemed to be its cheek and tilted its head. Surely it would have been a delightful gesture if a woman had done it, but instead it was an octopus-headed creature that looked like a drowned corpse. All he felt was disgust and fear.
He could only move his eyeballs, and the monster laughed at him. Its mouth was covered by its tentacles, and its expression did not seem to have changed. However, he could still tell that it was laughing, because its cold, glassy, marble-like eyes were narrowed.
“Ufufufu, you don’t want to tell me? You’re so shy, how adorable.”
The monster’s hand slid over his chest, like it was tracing out letters, but all he felt was panic, like his heart might be ripped out at any time.
“Let me tell 一 you 一 my 一 name <3” the creature said, in a saccharine 一 though garbled 一 voice that sounded like it was appending hearts to the end of every sentence it said. “I’m Neuronist, the special intelligence gathering officer of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. However, everyone also calls me the torturer.”
The long tentacles moved, exposing the round mouth at their base. The mouth was edged with a rung of sharp teeth, and a glistening, slender tube that looked like a tongue snaked out of it, like a straw.
“Afterwards, I’ll use this to suck you dry~”
Suck what dry? He was so afraid that he tried to contort his body, but he was firmly bound.
“Alright, it’s like this. We caught you.”
Indeed, his last memories were of the thief and Gringam running ahead of him and vanishing. After that, he did not recall anything until now.
“You do know where you are, don’t you?” Neuronist chuckled, and then continued. “This is the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick, you know. The Kingdom of the only member of the 41 Supreme Beings who stayed behind, Momo一no, Ainz-sama. It is the most honored place in the world.”
Neutonist understood his poorly-pronounced words as its hand wandered over his skin.
“He’s one of the 41 Supreme Beings, and the leader who once coordinated the other Supreme Beings. And he’s also a very, very charming man. Anyone who sees him would want to pledge their utmost loyalty to him. As for me, if I were fortunate enough to be called to Ainz-sama’s bed, I would gladly offer him my first time.”
The way this monster shyly twisted its body could not be considered adorable, but abhorrent.
“Mmmm, I’ll tell you something,” The monster began tracing letters on his chest, like a young girl in the throes of her first crush. “The last time Ainz-sama visited me, he was staring at my body. His gaze was like a male beast selecting its prey. After that, he seemed embarrassed, and then turned his eyes away. It made my heart race and my spine shiver~”
At this point, the creature stopped moving and brought its face over, staring into his eyes. He desperately tried to distance himself from that frightening visage, but his body could not move.
“That little brat Shalltear and that ugly freak Albedo both seem to be enjoying Ainz-sama’s attentions, but no matter how you think of it, I’m more attractive than them. Don’t you think?”
“Ahh, hahh hink hoo thoo.”
What manner of fate would befall him if he dared disagree with her? The fear of that made him agree with her.
Neuronist narrowed her eyes in delight, and it clapped its hands together and looked into the air. It looked just like a zealot praying to the heavens.
“Fufufu, you’re sweet. Or are you just telling the truth? Still, for some reason, Ainz-sama has never called for me… ahhh, Ainz-sama… your stoic attitude is so attractive…”
The monster was so moved that it shuddered, and it made him think of a segmented worm crawling around.
“…Ah, I’ve gone all shivery. Ara, pardon me, I’ve been talking all this while.”
Please forget all about me. Neuronist ignored his mental prayer and continued:
“Let me tell you what your fate will be. You know what a chorus is, don’t you?”
He rolled his eyes at the sudden question. After seeing his confused reaction, Neuronist seemed to think he did not know, and so it began to explain.
“They are a choir that sings hymns and psalms, praising the love and glory of God. I want to have you join the chorus, along with your friends.”
If that was all, then it would be nothing much. While he was not very confident in his singing voice, he was not completely tone deaf. However, was this monster’s aim truly so simple? He could not hide the unease within him, and he glanced at Neuronist out of the corner of his eyes.
“Oh yes~ It’s a chorus~ Even a fool like you who has not sworn his all to Ainz-sama can make an offering to Ainz-sama if you but raise your voice and sing. We will have your singing in unison be our objective. Ahhh, my body’s gone shivery again. This shall be the gospel music that Neuronist will offer to Ainz-sama.”
A smoky color filled those disgusting eyeballs. Perhaps the monster was feeling excited about its idea. Its narrow, slender fingers writhed like worms.
“Fufufufu. Alright. I’ll introduce you to the people who will help you sing in harmony.”
They had probably been waiting in a corner of the room, but several people suddenly appeared in his field of vision.
Once he saw those people, he momentarily forgot to breathe, because he knew that they were evil creatures at a glance.
They wore tight black leather aprons. Their bodies were not so much white as cream-colored. Below that skin were 一 if blood could be purple 一 purplish blood vessels.
Their heads were covered in seamless black leather masks. There was no telling how they could see or even breathe. Their arms were also very long. Each of them was about two meters tall, but their arms extended down below their knees.
The belts at their waists contained countless work tools.
There were four of these vile creatures.
“一They are Torturers. These kids will help you sing with a sweet voice.”
He had a very bad feeling about this. He suddenly realized what “singing” meant, and he frantically twisted his body in an attempt to escape, but his body still could not move.
“It’s useless~ Your strength won’t be able to break them. These boys will use healing magic on you, so you can practice to your heart’s content. I’m very gentle, aren’t I?” Neuronist said in a voice nuanced with wickedness.
“Rho rhu thiiih!”
“Hmm, what’s wrong? Do you want me to stop?”
Neuronist asked him that question as he shouted and the tears welled up in his eyes. Then, it lightly waggled its six tentacles.
“Listen now, alright~ We, the creations of the Supreme Beings, have value in existing because that great person chose to stay behind. Serving that great person is our reason for existence. How could we possibly pity miserable little thieves like you, who tracked dirt into the home of the noble Supreme One with your filthy little feet? Did you really think I would take pity on you?”
“Yes. You’re right. Regret is very important.”
Neuronist produced a slender rod from somewhere. At its tip was a five-millimeter long section covered in spikes.
“We’ll start with this.”
He had no idea what it was for, but Neuronist was only too happy to explain.
“I hear that my creator was afflicted by a disease called urinary stones. In order to show my respect for him, we shall begin with this. As it happens, you’re so small now, so I imagine it’ll go in very easily.”
“Rho rhu thiiih!”
He wailed as he realised what was going to happen to him, and Neuronist brought its face up to his.
“We’re going to be together for a very long time. If you’re going to cry and make a fuss over this much, it won’t end well for you, you know?”
Each team had taken a different route at the crossroads, and among them Eruya Uzruth had simply charged straight ahead, on the baseless assumption that there would be a strong enemy waiting for him in the tomb’s depths.
He encountered stone doors and countless turns along the way, and he picked each one at random, walking silently through the tomb. His route was peaceful, which bored him. They had not even encountered any traps, much less monsters.
Perhaps I picked the wrong route. As Eruya thought that, he clicked his tongue.
“Hurry up already, slowpoke,” Eruya barked at the Elf walking ten meters ahead of him as she was about to stop. The Elf slave quivered for just a second before walking tiredly on. She had been walking continuously ever since they had entered the romb, and she had not been permitted to slacken her pace.
Fortunately, nothing had happened so far, but if there had been traps, she could very well have died.
The way he was using his slaves was not so much trapfinding as having her serve as a canary in a mine. Eruya’s team was composed of himself and three Elf slaves with skills different from his 一 a ranger, a priest and a druid. Giving such an order to someone like her, who possessed irreplaceable searching skills, was too much of a waste.
However, he had his reasons.
Simply put, he was tired of the Elf in front of him.
Surely anyone would be shocked when they heard that answer. Their shock would not be a matter of ethics, but economics.
Slaves from the Slaine Theocracy were not cheap. This was particularly true of Elves, whose looks and skills caused their price to soar. In most cases Elves were shockingly expensive merchandise, and not something an average citizen could afford.
Among them, those Elves with special skills cost as much as a magic weapon enchanted with special effects. Even someone like Eruya could not simply buy one because he wanted to.
However, Tenbu’s income was monopolized by Eruya, and so as long as a job was successful, he could make the money back quickly. Therefore, once he got tired of a slave, he did not particularly mind if she died.
I’ll buy one with bigger breasts next time, Eruya thought as he looked at the back of the tired-seeming elf.
Squeezing their breasts and making them scream ought to be fun.
Since this job was a cooperative effort with other teams, he had not bedded the Elves for several days. Granted, nobody would say anything even if he had slept with them, but jealousy brought about displeasure. That was not advantageous, and as a Worker, Eruya knew at least that much.
Therefore, his pent-up lust had led Eruya to these thoughts.
“Or maybe, next time I’ll ask for someone like that bitch’s type.”
One of Foresight’s members appeared in Eruya’s mind, the Half-Elf who had been glaring at Eruya.
That bitch was truly an eyesore.
She also had a girlish-looking female next to her, but Eruya felt that the girl’s distaste for him was understandable. Women often did not understand the libido of men, and girls of that age ought to have some desire for purity. However, lifeforms that were inferior to human beings did not deserve to look at mankind with an expression like that.
Just thinking about it filled Eruya’s handsome features with rage.
“I want to bash that slut’s face in, beat her until she can’t resist any more…”
The Elf slaves were thoroughly broken before they were handed to their masters, ensuring that they could not put up any resistance.
But if he made a move on that Half-Elf, she would surely struggle like a frenzied beast. It was not difficult for Eruya to break and conquer her. However, he would be hurt as well, and Eruya was not confident in his ability to subdue live prey. As he lost himself in imagining how it would be like to punch Imina in the face several times, he was a second late in noticing that the Elf in front of him had stopped moving.
“Why did you stop? Keep going.”
“Aiieee… ah, I, I heard a sound.”
Eruya furrowed his brows as the Elf plucked up the courage to reply. He concentrated on listening. The surroundings were silent, so quiet, in fact, that it made his ears hurt.
“…I don’t hear anything.”
Normally, he would have simply punched her right in the face, but Elves had keener hearing than human beings. It might be that she had heard something which Eruya had not. In order to verify that, he asked the two people beside him:
“How about you lot?”
“Y-yes, I can hear something.”
“It… it sounds like metal clashing against metal.”
“…Is that so.”
There was no way the sound of metal colliding with metal could occur naturally.
In that case, it must surely have been made by someone. In other words, this might be the first fight since entering the tomb. As he thought of that, Eruya’s heart filled with excitement.
“We’re going to check out the source of that sound.”
He let the Elf slave walk ahead of him, and they travelled in the direction of the noise.
Soon, Eruya heard the sound of metal as well. It was the sound of an intense collision between one object and another, accompanied by boisterous roars and shouts.
“Is that the sound of another team fighting? I didn’t think we crossed their path when we went forward, but it seems we’ve run into another team.”
What had been something like joy dampened in an instant, and Eruya sighed dejectedly.
“Oh well, forget it. We might be able to back them up and kill some monsters.”
Eruya continued toward the source of the sounds, but he began to feel strange. This did not sound like a battle. It was just like一
When he turned the corner, his doubts were answered.
After turning the corner, he saw a wide, spacious room before his eyes. It was big enough that several dozen people could run around inside it. There were ten Lizardmen in exquisitely-crafted armor within the room. All of them wore collars which had broken chains attached to them, and the ends waggled in the air.
They were swinging their swords within the room. Each mighty hack was deflected by an unhesitating parry. Scenes like that repeated themselves throughout the room. It might have looked like an intense battle, but Eruya immediately saw that they were training.
When Eruya and the others entered the room, the Lizardmen stopped swinging their swords, which indicated that his guess had been correct.
Apart from the Lizardmen, there was a gigantic fellow with a huge tower shield and wearing black plate armor with blood vessel-like tracery on it, and one more person 一 or rather, one more creature.
It was a massive magical beast, with a coat of silver-white fur and a pair of intelligent-looking eyes.
“So, thou hast come at last, intruder-dono.”
Talking magical beasts were often difficult opponents. Magical beasts were usually the sort who attacked by leveraging their powerful bodies, but some intelligent magical beasts could use magic as well.
Eruya was a genius swordsman, but his magical abilities were hardly exceptional. He channelled his strength into his core, steeled his soul, and prepared himself to resist hostile magic as he asked:
“And you are?”
There was no need to bother. Since it was here waiting for him, that implied that it was the guardian of these ruins. The question now was how powerful this guardian was.
By it looks, it might even be the overseer of these ruins. In that case, killing this magical beast would be a great accomplishment. In other words, his team would be the most outstanding of all the other Workers. Tenbu was a one-man team composed of Eruya himself, so that would mean that Eruya was the strongest of all the Workers. Luck was also an important ability for Workers.
“Someone hath appointed me to face thee, and perform several tests at the same time… but given thy strength, I fear it is somewhat insufficient.”
Disappointment and frustration surged through his heart.
The former was because the magical beast was simply a watchman, and the latter was because it had scorned him.
“You’re already looking down on me without even crossing blades with me? Oi!”
The Elf shuddered as her master addressed her. Doing so filled Eruya with satisfaction. This was the sort of attitude that he was entitled to. While it had just been a few days, he had to spend time around Momon, a clearly superior class of being, and it had deeply displeased him. This eased the annoyance a little.
“What kind of creature is that?”
“I… I’m very, very sorry. I… haven’t heard of a magical beast like that before.”
“Cheh, you’re useless.”
He smashed the useless Elf’s face with the hilt of his sword.
The Elf collapsed to the ground, shielding her face while frantically apologizing, but Eruya paid her no heed; instead, he examined the magical beast’s body.
The magical beast was quite large; fighting it head-on would be very unfavorable. However, magical beasts were generally very big, and Eruya had killed several magical beasts like this until now. There was no need to be afraid or whatnot of a magical beast he had not seen before.
Of course, he had to be wary, but if he was too cautious and shrank from his foe, then he would be a coward.
“I have a question; what makes you think you can beat me?”
“Well, it’s obvious at a glance that you’re very weak…”
Eruya’s face twisted, and he tightened his grip on his sword.
“…It seems those eyes of yours can’t see anything. How about I help you cut those useless eyes out of your head?”
“I pray thee spare me. Very well, my master hath ordered this one to slay thee here… so let us begin forthwith.”
It sounds extremely casual. That angered Eruya further.
He wanted to dispense with the pleasantries and start swinging, but if he got angry and slashed at a magical beast who was taking things easy, he would end up feeling like someone had gotten the better of him. Therefore, he swallowed his anger, and snorted.
“Let’s do it, beast.”
“Speaking of which, why dost thou delay? Will those Elves not prepare as well?”
“There’s no need. You should be having those Lizardmen behind…”
“Ah, they are not involved in this. The Lizardmen behind this one are merely to spectate the fight. Fret not about them.”
“So you’re throwing away your only chance of victory for nothing? How brave.”
“I thank thee for thy praise.”
Taunting it had not worked. Perhaps this magical beast could speak, but it was not very intelligent. As Eruya pondered this, the creature’s whiskers quivered as it addressed him:
“That said, this one must slay thee without mercy, so this one desires that thou assault me with all thy might. After all, as this one hath said before, this is also a test for this one.”
“A test? For a watchdog?”
“Mm~ a test to see if this one’s warrior prowess hath improved. Alright, let us commence. This one shall not strike at the elves behind thee, but only at thy person.”
“Do what you want.”
“This one is known as Hamsuke! Remember the name of the one who claims thy life upon thy voyage to the next world! State thy name as well!”
“…Unfortunately, a mere beast like you doesn’t deserve to know my name.”
“Then this one shall erase you my memory as a nameless fool!”
The massive body charged over to him in an instant.
There was no way he could have imagined such a large body moving so fast. A less talented warrior might have been shaken by the immense pressure bearing down on him, and he would have been unable to avoid being slammed by that huge body and taking severe wounds.
I’m not like those mooks.
Eruya waited until Hamsuke drew near then slid to the side, without moving his legs.
This was the effect of [Shukuchi Kai], an improved version of the martial art [Shukuchi].
The basic [Shukuchi] was a martial art that could only be used to shorten the distance to one’s foe, but [Shukuchi Kai] could be used to freely move in all directions. Sliding around without moving one’s legs was quite creepy, but very practical.
Large movements when dodging destabilized one’s body. But one could avoid that with [Shukuchi Kai]; in other words, one could convert a defense to an attack while maintaining a stable center of gravity.
He swung his sword一
But Hamsuke’s body caught up, breaking Eruya’s slash and sending him flying.
It felt very hard.
What looked like soft fur was as hard as metal; to Eruya it was like being hit by a wrecking ball. The impact blanked his mind out for a moment.
As he crashed heavily to the ground, he subconsciously confirmed that he could still move.
While he had been bruised and contused, he had no broken bones and so on. He could still fight.
However, the twin facts that he was rolling around on the ground and that he had disgracefully taken an attack from the enemy almost made him go berserk. However, Eruya the warrior reprimanded himself; now was not the time to be thinking of that.
As Eruya rose to his feet, he had already grasped Hamsuke’s position, and this time he pointed his sword forward, bracing his sword to take his opponent’s charge.
A slippery fluid flowed from his nose. He wiped at it with one hand, and as expected, it was blood.
“Damn piece of shit…”
Hamsuke watched Eruya rise with calm eyes. The word “observing” would best describe the expression on its face.
Those were not a wild beast’s eyes which said, “Can I eat this? Can I beat this?”, but a warrior’s eyes, attempting to determine the best tactics from their brief clash just now.
You’re using me as a touchstone for a magical beast’s growth as a warrior?!
While it upset him, the sequence of events just now had forced him to acknowledge that his opponent was no mere beast. The attack just now had been a snap reaction to realizing that Eruya had circled around itself, a leaping tackle that had struck home. While the attack itself had not been that strong, the fact that it could respond immediately was surely due to training.
“I see… so if I keep fighting at a slow pace like this, I ought to be able to win… Ah, I pray thee pay it no heed. This one hath never before seen a human being who could overcome this one.”
“If you want to talk big, how about waiting until after you’ve seen this, huh? Unlike a mere beast, warriors can use martial arts!”
He had thought he could win easily, so he had not used them. However, he no longer had the luxury of arrogance.
“Martial Art! [Ability Boost]! [Greater Ability Boost]!”
These martial arts were his pride and joy. [Greater Ability Boost], in particular, was a martial art that someone of Eruya’s level should never have been able to learn.
But I learned it, so I’m a genius! I really am very strong!
He swung the sword in his hand. The blade was light and his movements were smooth. The sword moved as he imagined it.
Eruya smiled thinly. Now it would be his turn to shine.
“Umu, this one remembers that one should keep a distance when one cannot gauge an opponent’s strength, right? But this one must also face battle as a warrior… alas, it cannot be helped.”
Hamsuke used two legs to walk over, step by step, until it was before Eruya’s eyes.
“This one wishes to fight in close quarters; wilt thou accede to this one’s request?”
“Don’t look down on me, beast.”
The moment it entered his attack radius, Eruya swung at his foe.
Hamsuke used its sharp claws to fend off the sword strikes that had been made with the aid of an augmented body. No, it tried to fend it off, but it had not succeeded completely. The blade had run over its arm. However, the force of the blow had been dissipated, and it could not tear through its sturdy hide and slice open the muscles beneath.
Eruya did not pull his sword back, but thrust at Hamsuke’s eyes. Some magical beasts had a protective film on their eyes which could repel insufficiently sharp blades, and some warriors could use ki or an aura to deflect the strikes of an amateur. However, Hamsuke did not seem to have such defensive abilities.
Therefore, Hamsuke would not let Eruya’s attack strike it.
Hamsuke’s body whirled, and as it evaded the thrusting blade, its tail ripped through the air and struck at Eruya.
Eruya blocked the blow with his sword. An unbelievable impact numbed his arm.
Hamsuke’s body once more became a spinning blur in his field of vision. That meant that the same attack would be coming again.
Eruya leapt back. He had roughly grasped the length of the tail; after the tail passed by, he would use [Shukuchi Kai] to charge back into close quarters with the enemy.
Just as it was about to flash past his eyes, the tail suddenly stopped.
It had been a feint. Hamsuke used this opening to regain its balance, and it pulled its tail away at the same time. Eruya frowned, having lost the chance to close the distance with Hamsuke.
The tail’s movements were completely different from those of the body. It was not a rat’s tail, but a serpentine tail like that of a Chimera; it could move independently.
“So its tail can move freely 一 is it?”
Eruya altered the information on Hamsuke in his head as he rushed into its embrace. Hamsuke had been waiting for this, and it responded to the attack.
Blade and claw crossed, and the fresh blood flying through the air came from Eruya.
Hamsuke could attack with both claws, and so he could strike more frequently than Eruya, who only had one sword.
Close combat was not favorable to him.
His bodily attributes might have been improved, but Hamsuke was still superior. In that case一
He used [Shukuchi Kai] to retreat.
Since Hamsuke did not pursue. Eruya raised his sword, and then swung down forcefully.
His slash ripped through the air at Hamsuke.
Hamsuke covered its face and braced itself, and its hide deflected the cutting strike.
Since it had travelled a long distance, its damage potential decreased as well, and it would be very hard to strike a mortal blow. However一
“So you can’t block this, can you? This is the difference between a man and a mere beast.”
“What a headache this is…”
He kept on using [Void Slash], but Hamsuke’s hide was very hard, so breaking through its protection would surely be very difficult. That was why he had to keep using martial arts on its face, which ought to be the least protected.
Hamsuke remained in place, covering its face with its forelegs. It spoke through the small gaps between its fingers.
“Begging for mercy? An animal is an animal, after all.”
“No 一 stop bothering this one. I speak of the one within this one’s mouth… ahhh, what a pain!”
He did not understand at all.
Well, obviously humans wouldn’t be able to understand what beasts are saying… that said, it ought to be charging over now!
“Ahhhh, how annoying! This one shall come at thee!”
Hamsuke lacked ranged attacks, so its options were limited. It would probably try to rush in, but that would suit Eruya’s purposes just fine.
It was difficult for [Void Slash] to strike mortal blows, so he would have to defeat it with a direct attack. When Hamsuke ran, it did so like a beast, sticking out its face, and during that time, Eruya could use a martial art that was more potent than [Void Slash] to stop its movements. After that, all he would need to do was keep attacking its face and victory was assured.
Just as Eruya smiled cruelly, certain of his victory, Hamsuke’s tail suddenly twitched. Then一
The tail moved like a whip, striking Eruya’s shoulder with preternatural speed.
His pauldron dented inward with a scream of tortured metal as it was crushed with his flesh. The sound of bones breaking crackled up and down his body, and agony flooded his brain like an electric shock.
Eruya staggered back, in so much pain that he was drooling.
The massive, serpentine tail twitched behind Hamsuke. It had become strangely long.
“This one was saying that this one’s tail was too strong. That was why this one wanted to end this in melee combat.”
This was bad.
Eruya swallowed a scream.
If his enemy tackled him under these conditions, his defeat was certain.
“You! You lot! What are you spacing out for! Use your magic! Heal me! Heal me with your magic! Hurry up and help me with your magic, you damn slaves!”
After hearing her master’s order, one of the Elves hurriedly cast a spell on him.
The pain in his shoulder vanished instantly.
“That’s not enough! Cast strengthening spells on me!”
Spells to improve one’s physical abilities, spells to briefly sharpen one’s blade, spells to harden one’s skin, spells to improve one’s senses… Hamsuke simply watched quietly as countless enhancing spells flew through the air.
After being buffed by several spells, the cocky smile returned to Eruya’s face.
Immense strength coursed through Eruya’s body.
He had never once lost after being strengthened by so many spells. It had been the same regardless of the strength of his foes.
He swung his blade, which hummed through the air. The blade moved faster than usual. This time, he was certain that he was on an even footing with his opponent; perhaps even faster than him.
“Humans and beasts have always been separated by the difference in their physical attributes! I’ve made up for that difference now!”
“This one originally intended to take all of thee on at once, so this was only to be expected, no? Rather, if thou canst fight on even terms now, it would please this one.”
Eruya charged forward. He planned to use the power suffusing his form to crush his foe in one hit, and keep the creature from spouting more nonsense. As he closed in with [Shukuchi Kai] he used [Void Slash] to suppress his opponent.
With a mighty cry, he swung his sword down with all his might. If the creature’s hide was thick, then he would simply have to swing harder to cut through it.
His blade, swung with all his might一
A slashing attack from above him connected with his arms.
Something spun through the air, then landed heavily on the ground. He heard the ear-piercing sound of metal, and a sound like a wet sack splattering on the ground.
Eruya could not understand it.
His arms 一 which had still been holding his sword just now 一 had vanished. Even as blood spurted from the severed stumps in time with his heartbeat, he could not accept reality.
Agony coursed up from his arms. Some distance away, his arms fell to the ground, still holding on to his sword.
Only after seeing that fact did Eruya finally grasp what had just happened.
He stumbled back from Hamsuke and screeched:
“My arms, my aaaarrrrmmmms! Heal… heal me, hurry up and heal me! Hurry!”
The Elves did not move.
The silent glee of the tormented lit up their clouded eyes.
“Marvellous! A resounding success! This one can use martial arts! Now Milord shall surely lavish praise upon this one!”
Eruya wailed hoarsely
In this world where creatures stronger than humanity roamed, adventuring meant that pain was a constant companion.
Eruya had experienced many sorts of pain. He had been struck by lightning, burned with fire, froze by cold, his bones had been broken, he had been mauled, slashed and bludgeoned, but through it all, he had never lost his weapon. That was only common sense; in this world, releasing one’s weapon indirectly equalled death. No, he was confident that as long as he held his sword in his hand, he could overcome any difficulty.
And in this moment, his self-confidence was shattered.
This was the first time in his life Eruya had taken such a great blow.
“My arms! Hurry!”
Fresh blood kept spraying, and his body started turning cold from the wounds out and became heavy.
As they heard Eruya’s pitiful screaming, the Elves were all smiles.
Just as Eruya was at a loss to describe the emotions bursting in his heart, a voice bearing a hint of kindness reached his ears.
“My thanks to thee! This one does not delight in tormenting others, so I shall dispatch thee forthwith.”
There was a whoosh.
A moment later, something hit Eruya’s face. The pain was such that he even forgot about his arms, as though his entire being had been shattered.
That was the last burst of agony Eruya experienced in his life.
The corpse with the half-smashed face collapsed to the ground with a thud.
Hamsuke nodded, and then backed off. If it stood by the corpse, they probably would not dare approach the man’s body. While the Elves looked like magic casters, they might come at Hamsuke with swords like this man. Hamsuke did not wish to stop them from doing so.
“Alright, wilt thou not come at me…?”
After leaving the corpse, Hamsuke began to speak, but its words trailed off. That was because the Elves were giggling as they kicked the body of the warrior who should have been their ally.
“But why? Is this how Elves inter the deceased?”
It tried to articulate its words, but the feeling was completely wrong. That was because there was a look of delight in their darkened, cloudy eyes. No matter how one looked at it, it could not be anything other than malice.
“…Oh, what a headache.”
Hamsuke had used the techniques it had been honing until today upon the intruder, in order to show the fruits of its training. It had only fought for that reason, but would attacking a non-hostile opponent truly count as showing the results of its training? Hamsuke hoped that they would challenge it, at the very least.
“Apparently, all one needs to do is to give verbal provocation… but what manner of provocation should I use? This one does not understand… it cannot be helped; I shall wait for Milord to contact me. Oh, yes…”
It turned back, to the Lizardmen who were rating its performance.
“Zaryusu-dono, how was it? Did this one pass muster?”
“Yes, you did very well. You definitely used a martial art just now.”
The Lizardman who had tutored it in warrior techniques nodded, and Hamsuke smiled broadly.
“How wonderful! Will it be armor lessons after this?”
“Yes. We’ll start from light armor, and then slowly go heavier.”
Hamsuke had not been able to wear armor until now, because wearing armor made it thoroughly uncomfortable and it could not move freely. Normal movement and running were fine, but once it entered battle, it lost its balance when swinging its tail, and it could not accurately strike its target with its tail. Therefore, it had taken the Lizardmen as its tutors, and trained as they directed.
“This Hamsuke shall become stronger for the sake of Milord, so Milord will look upon me with different eyes! But how much longer must this one practice before this one can count as a full-fledged warrior? Hamsuke shall be a warrior!”
“Well… I’d say you could be a warrior in one, maybe two more months, Hamsuke-san.”
“…That’s so far off!”
“I feel it’s already been going very fast, Hamsuke. Normal people take a year before learning martial arts. From that point of view, you’ve grown fast enough,” added Zenberu, the Lizardman standing beside Zaryusu.
“Is that so?”
“Indeed. You’ve fought live battles and been healed for your wounds, then enhanced with support magic and made to fight enemies stronger than yourself in death battles. After that hellish regime, you’ve made quite a lot of progress.”
Hamsuke’s body trembled. The two lizardmen trembled as well. They all recalled the training they had received.
“…I pray that our next training session will not call the word ‘death’ to this one’s mind.”
“Personally, I think you grow stronger more easily when you fight on the edge of life and death… that’s just a personal opinion, though. Besides, it would be a bit of a shame if our newly-wedded husband lost his life in training.”
“Ohhh! Indeed, thou art wed, are you not?”
“Yes. That’s because she seems to be with child.”
“That’s an excellent warrior for you, he’s got good accuracy. How many shots did it take, two, three maybe?”
Zaryusu punched Zenberu on the shoulder.
“Enough idle talk, let’s start training. What should we do about the Elves over there?”
“Ah, let’s leave them there for now.”
The Elves which had been kicking and beating the corpse sank into a sitting position on the ground, like puppets whose strings had been cut. Hamsuke could not sense any will to fight from them. Therefore, Hamsuke decided that unless his Master gave the order, or they tried to flee, he would leave them alone.