The Demon of Darkness
Translator: Skythewood, Nigel
Editor: Sena Jogn, Norris Chuck, SifaV6, Rockgollem, NoirX
The common conception of dwarves was brought back to human lands by the merchants who traded with them in their mountain fortresses; they were grim, hardworking individuals who kept to themselves, prided themselves on their workmanship, and insisted on a high price for their goods.
Then again, it was the merchants talking, so that last might just have been an excuse to overcharge the people they sold to.
The truth was that dwarves really were quiet and hardworking perfectionists who preferred to keep to themselves and had a pessimistic outlook on things… but there was a reason for this.
The dwarves of the Azellisia Mountains lived in close harmony with the stone, which they built with, lived in, and returned to when they died. They described stone with the same words humans would use for works of art, because all dwarves had a sixth sense which told them about the rock from which they were said to have been born.
Having stone all around them instilled a silent reverence in dwarves for the world, and working with stone meant that they would only use their finest techniques to properly honor the bedrock of their civilization. A well-made piece of dwarven workmanship could last for centuries; the dwarves prided themselves on the saying “enduring as the mountains”, and they built everything as though they would never be able to replace it.
And of course, as the sons of the stone, it was their destiny to delve into it, to respectfully excavate the bones of the earth and construct their homes and cities in the rock that birthed them. But there was only so far they could go building sideways, exposed to the air; and the dwarves did not like the outside world much. There was not enough stone, only dirt beneath their feet and nothing else but the vacuous light and air.
There had been clans who tried to expand onto the surface, of course. For a time, they even succeeded; there were deposits of metal and good stone beneath the soil, but far from any large mountains. These surface clans thrived and prospered.
For a time.
Six hundred years ago in the human reckoning, the Six Gods who would eventually become the Slaine Theocracy appeared in the world. They spread the doctrine of human supremacy; humanity would triumph at all costs over a world which was hostile to them.
The Six Gods themselves did not specifically name the reclusive dwarves in their commandments to their disciples to go forth and be conquer… but any message is bound to be distorted over the years. Eventually, the followers of the Six Gods began targeting the demihumans around them — including the dwarves — who had done nothing wrong. They pushed the dwarves away from the lands they claimed for themselves, back north to the mountains.
Four hundred years ago, the cataclysmic entities known as the Eight Greed Kings appeared in the world. With sky-rending sorcery and earth-shaking arcana, they scourged the land of anything which was not human. Entire cities were wiped off the face of the map, entire races exterminated because they had the misfortune to not be human. Any dwarves who remained on the surface and who survived the purges of the Six Gods’ followers were slaughtered by the magic and the monsters of the Eight Greed Kings.
After this, there were no more proponents of surface life. Either they had changed their minds, or they had been wiped out.
Two hundred years ago, the Demon Gods rampaged across the land. But by this time, the dwarves did not care. They were safe in their mountain holds, and anyone trying to dislodge them by force found that the legendary dwarven craftsmanship extended to their fortifications and defenses as well.
The lesser magic that humanity mastered could not even come close to harming the timeless architecture of the dwarven race. Perhaps the mind-bogglingly powerful spells of the Eight Greed Kings might have been able to carve passes through mountain ranges and force the earth to spit out the dwarven holds within it, but nobody them practiced the magic which could reave the earth and shatter the sky. The dwarves had learned their lesson: they belonged in the stone.
The deep dwarves, the ones who had never left the safety of the mountains, built their homes within the bowels of the earth. For centuries, generations lived in their vast subterranean cities, working, living and dying under the ground.There was less of the latter than the former two, because the dwarves were a long-lived race, though they reproduced slowly.
Indeed, so long did they live and so slow did they die that the dwarven cities eventually experienced a lack of room. Unlike the cities on the surface, they could not simply expand outwards. They had to dig; and often, they had to dig down.
So they dug down. They always dug down. Down was dark and deep, filled with welcoming darkness which the dwarves could see through with their darkvision, and the comforting presence of stone all around them.
It was their element.
It was their salvation.
It was their doom.
One of the deep shafts struck… something. Nobody knew what it was at first. They only recognized it by its handiwork; darkness, and death.
The newly-founded holds at the base of dwarven civilization were the first to fall. Entire vaults and cities vanished into the darkness. No longer was darkness an old friend; it soon became a thing to be feared, and even among the dwarves — who could easily see in the lightless depths — it soon became a common practice to light torches and shed illumination everywhere.
This was wise. In places without light, dwarves might walk fearfully through the darkness and never emerge again.
The first sight of their enemy came by chance; a blood-curdling scream drew a squad of dwarven warriors with lantern-shields and axes; they found a many-legged… thing , dragging the severed upper torso of a dwarf away in its wicked jaws, chittering mindlessly as it slithered into a crevice seemingly too small to hold its body.
Thus began a great campaign to illuminate the dwarven cities. Entire workshops labored day and night to produce lanterns and magical lights. Soon, they were everywhere, and their foe was forced into view.
The dwarves would soon come to regret this.
Deprived of hiding places, their shadow-dwelling adversaries decided on a frontal attack; a nearly-limitless horde of multi-limbed monstrosities boiling forth from the depths of the earth. Axes dulled, armor broke, and crossbow bolts ran out and the horde continued pouring forth. Still, with blood and sweat, the dwarves halted the advance of their foes, which they called the Darkbrood.
(TL Note: 闇種)
No two of the Darkbrood were exactly alike. They were creatures of flesh and bone twisted into monstrous shapes, with grotesque central bodies that looked like lumps of meat. Their limbs ended in sharp spikes which easily pierced armor and skewer flesh. They were coated in an oily black fluid that made them slippery and caused blows to slide off if they were not well-struck. They were mindless and feared the light, but they could overcome that fear, and they came in such great numbers that holding a lantern against them was like trying to hold back an ocean with a candle.
Their flesh of their bodies yielded easily to dwarven hold-forged steel, but their spiked limbs were like the pickaxes the dwarves used to carve through particularly tough segments of bedrock. They possessed incredible vitality and powers of regeneration; if not killed, they soon healed any damage done to them.
The black ichor coating their bodies was the same fluid that ran within their veins. This vile substance corrupted the stone wherever it splashed, pitting and weakening it to the point where a good punch could break it.
Worse, the corrupted stone no longer registered to the dwarven stone-cunning. Since that particular sense was as handy as vision to a dwarf, it was as though they had been blinded; a fatal vulnerability when the Darkbrood swarmed. For this reason, retaking a corrupted hold was considered nothing short of suicide.
It was like walking into a monster’s open mouth.
The only saving grace was the fact that the Darkbrood hated the light and froze briefly when illuminated, which was the cue to all dwarven warriors fill them full of crossbow bolts and hack them apart. Once killed, the horde would recede for a time, which was blessed respite for the beleaguered defenders.
The average dwarf’s life soon became one of quiet desperation; working nonstop shifts in the forges to build panoplies for the dwarven warriors who risked their lives to protect them all. No longer did they spread joyfully below the earth, but they huddled around their well-lit hearths and prayed that they would not be the next to vanish.
The Council of Elders agreed that they had to take back the depths, somehow. To that end, they squandered huge amounts of men and materiel on twelve failed reconquests of their cities, and in the end they settled for simply securing what few holds they still controlled with their depleted forces.
The situation was growing dire.
To that end, they issued a summons...
♦ ♦ ♦
Igni Ro Falen hopped off the wagon, landing heavily — and gratefully — on the exquisitely-dressed stone floor beneath him.
This was the courtyard of the Durdashak Hold. Well, it was called a courtyard, but the dwarves abhorred building anything under the sun. Instead, this was a large cavern, a square that was a hundred meters on each side. It had been expanded and reinforced and turned into a place for those brave human merchants who risked the ire of the Slaine Theocracy to trade with demihumans.
There was one entrance, through which he had come, and one exit, which led further into the Hold. All around him were ashlar walls, with torch-bearing sconces spaced every meter along their length.
He bade the merchant who had given him his ride here farewell, and savored the feeling of good, solid stone beneath his feet. Even through his thick travelling boots, the resistance and constancy of the worked rock reassured him.
They called him the Daywalker, one who had forsaken the Night Below for the sunlit lands, but that did not mean he did not take pleasure in dwarven things any more.
Igni was of average height for a dwarf, four feet of slab-like muscle and rock-like bones. His hands were callused things, suited for gripping a forge-hammer or wielding a battle-axe. He had never been suited to the former, and his hands now trembled every time he attempted the latter.
His brown beard was thick and bushy, as expected of a dwarf, and his eyes were a dark brown.
Within them glowed the embers of what had once been a fire.
Once, Igni had been a captain in the dwarven armies. It was after the 11th crusade, when they had not only failed to retake the hold of Kekataag, but lost hundreds, if not thousands of men to the Darkbrood. He and his squad had been one of the lucky few to survive, and they had been pulled back to tunnel defense duty as the dwarven armies consolidated to lick their wounds.
It was simple work, really. Set the traps. Patrol the halls. Make sure the lights never went out.
And if it came to it, die for your people.
And die they did. A massive Darkbrood ambush took them by surprise, and most of his men died before he managed to pull the ragged survivors back to a mustering point. There, they had to make their stand, lest the Darkbrood flood into the defenseless hold. Fortunately, there were great vats of molten lead nearby for such an eventuality. When poured into the strategically-cut tunnels, the liquid metal would not only sear the Darkbrood but also plug up the tunnels they infested as well.
Unfortunately, the Darkbrood were not kind enough to stay there to be roasted. They filled the tunnels, and were on the verge of spilling out beyond their ability to contain.
Igni’s men would have none of it, however. Led by his adjutant, Lieutenant Kasra, they charged fearlessly into the throng of Darkbrood, holding their lantern-shields high to stun the Darkbrood in place before forming a line and keeping them from breaking through. This was the perfect opportunity to spring the trap… except that if he did it, his men would surely be killed in the outpouring of molten lead.
As he hesitated over what to do, the Darkbrood began recovering from their exposure to the light. One of the dwarves in the line had his torso perforated by a diamond-hard pick-limb, but with the strength of the stone beneath him, he willed himself to stay standing.
Kasra shouted: “Do it! Captain, do it!” Her voice was soon joined by the other warriors beside her; they knew the end was near for them.
Igni shook his head; how could he? He had fought and bled with these men. Having to kill them was too cruel a fate for anyone to bear.
“If they get through, we’ll have died for nothing! For pity’s sake, do it!”
Kasra howled as she too was impaled by a Darkbrood, but with her last, plaintive cry, she implored him to drown them all in boiling hot metal.
Igni threw the lever, and her cry of pain was drowned out in the roar of displaced air and vaporized flesh.
His superiors tried to paint him as a hero, but he knew that there were no heroes in this world; only people who survived when others did not, taking the credit for victories won by the deaths of their brethren. He refused their honors, and resigned his commission, and renounced his people.
From that moment forth, he became the Daywalker. Up on the surface, his men’s desperate cries for him to “Do it!” did not echo in his mind like it did underground. Out of the darkness, where his hands no longer shook and he did not see good men and women simultaneously burn and drown with their enemies in a tide of red-hot lead..
He joined the ranks of those dwarves who had decided to defy the age-old wisdom that the surface was death, and climbed squinting into the light.
♦ ♦ ♦
Igni was not the only dwarf who had gone to the surface, but he was the only one who had come back. He did not want to stay beneath the earth any more, but he still wanted to help his kinsmen, though his hands trembled uncontrollably whenever he took up an axe. He quietly guided trading caravans to the mountain holds, where they traded the arms their fallen brethren could no longer use for the food that the living needed to survive. He wandered the land, looking for some way to help his people, some allies who could help the dwarves — all in vain.
The Elves were no longer in their ancestral homelands. The Goblins refused to leave their strongholds. The Frost Dragons had never been on good terms with the Dwarves to begin with. And the humans… well, the Theocracy wanted to kill them. The new Emperor was the sort to enslave them. The Kingdom was too far away, and they were more interested in their own gain than helping anyone else.
During his travels, Igni came to learn of the saber-rattling between the Re-Estize Kingdom and the Baharuth Empire. He thought little of their squabbling at first. It seemed like the Blood Emperor poking the Kingdom as a childish prank, albeit on a national level.
There was a vague sense of admiration there; they had turned wars into a form of pomp and circumstance, minimizing the number of people who died and soothing the warhawks.
He could support that approach of minimizing casualties, even if he thought fighting between two human nations was foolish. Down in the dark, every dwarf stood together or died alone, and every dwarven death only fed the Darkbrood.
Thus he was shocked to hear that both the Kingdom and Empire were mustering their greatest hosts ever seen in their shared history; 245’000 men for the Kingdom, ranged against 60’000 men, six legions, a full three-quarters of the Imperial Army. All these men, gathered to kill each other.
It was even more shocking when he heard that the battle had been decisively won, not by the Kingdom, not by the Empire, but by the magic caster supporting the Empire.
Ainz Ooal Gown.
The Sorcerer-King of Nazarick.
The Supreme Overlord of Death, the skeletal magic caster who had slaughtered an entire wing of the Royal Army, 70’000 men, with a single spell, and then summoned five tentacled demons that had massacred the rest. He had personally slain Gazef Stronoff — the strongest man in the surrounding region — in melee combat with his bare hands, and left Princess Renner’s knights to carry the tale of his death back to the Kingdom.
Not even the Imperial Army was exempt from his fearsome wrath. One of the demons moved toward the Imperial legions and they killed themselves in their thousands in order to escape it, trampling each other in an utter rout.
It was almost laughable that the only thing it did was hoist the Sorcerer-King onto its back like it was a mount.
He had spoken to one of the survivors, a pleasant enough legionnaire who manned a blockhouse at the Imperial capital’s east gate. Whenever he heard the bleating of a goat, he... broke. He stood to attention and reflexively screamed praise to Ainz Ooal Gown, even as the tears flowed down his face and the urine stained his breeches.
None of his comrades mocked him for it.
They had all been there, after all.
And then, after that, Igni had heard of the man who stood up to the Invincible Lord of Death and Decay. The Dark Hero, Momon, who gallantly sacrificed his own freedom to become the check on the undead king’s reign of terror.
Igni did not much like heroes. He knew what sort of people ended up being called heroes. But Momon was different.
The stories of Momon spoke of a warrior in jet-black plate armor, swathed in a red cloak that swirled around him, wielding a pair of gigantic greatswords, one to each hand. They told of how he had subjugated the legendary beast known as the Wise King of the Forest, how he mowed through the army of the dead besieging E-Rantel from its cemeteries and slew the members of Zuranon masterminding the event, of his dispatch of a Gigant Basilisk, of how he dueled Jaldabaoth the Archfiend during the Royal Capital’s demonic uprising amidst a storm of hellfire.
Yet he was not simply a warrior. People spoke of his virtue; of how he refused to put his own personal gain before that of others. They said that when the Golden Princess called him away from meeting his fellow adventurers, he refused her, because they had come first. During the demonic disturbance, he took his time out to rescue a beleaguered group of city guards. When the Sorcerer-King’s beautiful aide made to slay a hapless child, he defied her, and bought their safety at the cost of his own liberty. He treated everyone he met with respect and did what he could to help all who sought his aid.
Igni’s cynical resistance was worn down by the stories of Momon’s mercy, and he soon came to believe, as did many others, that Momon was a true hero.
This was why he had put Momon’s name forward to the Elder Council at first. By himself, he could not begin to muster up the coin needed to hire Momon’s services; but the dwarves still had much gold and platinum in their coffers. He put his hope in their vision.
He should not have bothered.
“What can one man do,” they replied, “When entire armies have failed?”
And then Momon became the vassal of the Sorcerer-King, and that point was moot.
He received news that the 12th crusade ended in failure, and Igni began to lose hope.
Then, he received a message from the Council. It was a simple missive of five words.
We want to hire Momon.
♦ ♦ ♦
The familiar fear rose in Igni as he entered the tunnel leading to the depths of the hold. The heavily-armored dwarf guard pulled their halberds back and nodded, and he could see a faint trace of hope in their eyes.
We’ll hold the line here, so please find a way.
He could practically hear what they were thinking. It made him sick to realise that he would probably have to deny them.
He would have to go before the Council and tell them that their hopes would be dashed. It was a burden that was as crushing as an avalanche. More than his claustrophobia, he felt the walls, the entire world closing in on him, and he remembered the screams and the skittering and the sound of pouring lead again —
No. He could not be weak here. He had to be strong, not for himself, but for the people around him.
He had to wear his scars on the inside.
He forced a smile on his face, cast aside the fear crawling up within him, and headed to the Council’s chamber.
He passed two more guards, who smiled to him under their nearly full-face helmets, and faced the doors between them.
So marvellously crafted were the ten-ton doors that even a toddler could push them open if they were not barred. They swung open without a sound, without any sign that anyone was opening them at all, and then he saw it, the Speaker’s Podium, where he would soon be standing
“Announcing Igni Ro Falen. Citizen Igni, you may address the Council.”
Igni strode forward, mounting the two steps to the podium, and then drew himself up to his full height.
“Good day, honored Elders. I have come before you today in response to your message.”
There was no response but muffled whispering.
“You ask to hire Momon, the Dark Hero.”
He noticed some of the bailiffs flinching at the word “Dark”.
“I am here to tell you that it is not possible.”
The room erupted like a volcano, laced with countless shouts of “What?!” “How could this be!” “You told us!” “Liar!” “Traitor!” “Daywalker!”
A voice cut through the commotion. It was a quiet, calm voice that pierced the heart like a stiletto and bade all who heard it be silent.
The voice belonged to Senior Councillor Gorgus Ga Damzen, a distinguished, senior member of a Council full of distinguished, senior dwarves. Though he no longer had the sheath of muscles that had won him fame as the Stonebreaker, he was still tall (for a dwarf), his platinum-white beard was still full, and he maintained the dignified air of command that had made him a general before he had chosen to become a statesman.
His eyes were like diamonds as they bored into Igni.
“Citizen Igni. At one point, you recommended hiring Momon the Dark Hero to this Council. We rejected the proposal, for various reasons. We have since come to reconsider that proposal, only to find that it is no longer an option. We would like to know why.”
Those eyes transfixed him again, and Igni found himself recounting the story of the Dark Hero becoming the Sorcerer-King’s vassal. When pressed, Igni also told the tale of the Battle of the Katze Plains.
He did not embellish the story. He did not need to.
When he was over, the consternation returned, quieter, but unopposed.
“So, our would-be savior is now a thrall of the Sorcerer-King of Nazarick,” Gorgus stated grimly.
“I cannot imagine the Sorcerer-King would let his pawn go easily, nor that Momon would want to leave him unsupervised,” Igni replied softly.
“Then… there is no hope?”
The iron in Gorgus’ voice was gone, and he was just a tired old man now. His eyes had lost their sparkle and Igni could see something in there which he could not have imagined before.
“Things… have gotten worse since you left, Citizen Igni,” Gorgus sighed. “The constant Darkbrood attacks were bad enough, but now it seems our foe has changed its ways. Captain Jasra.”
A female dwarven voice responded to Gorgus’ cue. Indeed, it was a female dwarf who rose and spoke to him.
Igni was briefly lost in how much she looked like his old lieutenant.
“As you know, the standard Darkbrood tactic is a frontal attack. They do not use any strategy beyond the brutality of overwhelming numbers. However, this has changed recently.”
She paused, to compose herself, and then continued.
“When the 12th Crusade entered the recently-lost hold of Gakarak, we found it uninhabited, but almost uncorrupted. Moving quickly, we sealed off all entrances with combat engineers and worked to fortify it against possible Darkbrood resurgence. We succeeded. No Darkbrood could have breached all the defenses we built.”
Igni’s eyes went wide. “But I heard the 12th Crusade — ”
“They did not need to, because they were already within them.”
Igni shut up. He could imagine what she was describing.
“Apparently the bulk of Darkbrood forces were lying in wait within Gakarak. We had sealed ourselves in — with them — but they had tunnels to bring in reinforcements.”
“Sacred Stone,” Igni breathed.
“My men forcefully carried me away through a breach they gave their lives to make. They ordered me to tell the Council and you what happened to them. I would have returned to active duty by now, but I must tell the Council of what I know before I throw my life away once more. I must tell you what you probably know by now — ”
“ — they can think.” Igni finished.
“And this was not limited to the 12th Crusade. The Darkbrood raids now use probing attacks, defensive feint retreats, all tactics we should have mastered. And they do so with the benefit of absolute numerical superiority.”
A pained expression passed over Jasra’s face. Gorgus decided to cut in.
“The Darkbrood press us further and further up every day, Citizen Igni. Our seers report seeing some sort of… entity, a black, demonic being, that speaks nothing but bombards them with images of death and devastation. Perhaps this is the source of our foe’s recent tactical innovation, but all we can say is that the situation is dire, Citizen Igni. In light of that, we reconsidered our decision not to employ the Dark Hero Momon. Our policy was never to rely on others — especially not the surfacers — for help. The reasoning was that they would sense weakness and attack us. But now… we have no choice. Our strength alone cannot win the day. We need… a hero. But he is denied us.”
Igni saw Jasra bite her lip.
An idea came to him.
It was almost too terrible to contemplate. If doing nothing was like a five-hundred meter plunge off a sheer cliff onto a rocky shore, then following this course of action was a three-hundred meter plunge instead.
It was practically suicide.
The spectres of his men and Kasra screamed at him.
If they get through we’ll have died for nothing.
He saw Gorgus looking at him, his eyes bidding him speak.
“I… Actually, I have an idea.”
Every eye in the Council Chamber darted to Igni.
“What is it?!” Gorgus exclaimed. “Speak, citizen!”
“This is just a conjecture, and there may be no basis for it, but… perhaps we might be able to beg the Sorcerer-King to aid us.”
Muttered whisperings filled the chamber. Desperate clutches at hope, clashing with the black lances of despair.
“The Sorcerer-King is undead,” Gorgus replied. “The undead do not love the living. Why should he help us?”
“Because we have wealth.”
“I cannot imagine the Sorcerer-King would be anything less than affluent.”
“Because we can avail him of our forges.”
“He is a magic caster — what need does he have for steel when he can trample it with his minions?”
He was not sure if he should say this. They were already calling him a traitor, and Daywalker was pretty much synonymous for race traitor anyway.
But he had come this far. There was no turning back.
“...Because we can serve him.”
“How dare you, Daywalker! You would have us sell ourselves to be an undead king’s bootlicks?! Or worse, his slaves from beyond the grave?!”
One of the other Councillors bellowed in anger, and neither Igni or Gorgus could keep the pained expression from their faces. For Gorgus it was because it might be necessary, and for Igni it was because he might be right.
But still, he had to defend his words.
“What other choice do we have?” Igni retorted. “Fight the Darkbrood? As if that’s helped us! Twelve failed crusades and we’ve learned nothing but that we can’t stop them! Or should we evacuate to the surface instead? Life up there is hard, Councillors, and I have only survived because of my friends and because I only had myself to care for. But the dwarven people have no allies on the surface, and your wounded, unfit and invalid outnumber the able-bodied. Nor do you know anything of surface life. And let us not forget that the strength of the Slaine Theocracy is untouched and they will see this mass exodus as an invitation to slaughter us all. Staying down here is certain death, and so is moving up there!”
Igni panted. Why was he saying this? He felt like he was in the grip of something greater than himself, some supreme being writing a script which he was merely reciting.
“Either way, we die, if not in body, then as a people. The dwarves without the Stone are not dwarves at all!”
“Then what would you have us do, Citizen Igni? You were asked to bring hope but instead all you preach is despair!”
“Swear allegiance to the Sorcerer-King, and then ask him to aid his loyal subjects,” Igni said simply.
“I do not say this as a man grasping at straws. Consider; the Sorcerer-King is a monster who commands other monsters. He chose to become a King — that means he wants to rule. Else he would not have bothered claiming E-Rantel, but instead slaughtered everything in his path. Nor is he picky in his choice of minions. I’ve seen some of his vassals — lizardmen who bear the brand of Nazarick — building statues in his honor. They say he conquered them, and then unified the tribes, a feat no lizardman has ever been able to accomplish in their history. They serve one of his lieutenants, known as the Glacial God of War in their tongue. And then there was his pronouncement to the Kingdom: ‘Tell them I will be merciful to those who submit respectfully.’.”
The Council Chamber was struck dumb by this revelation. Slowly, the whispers filtered back in, but Gorgus and Igni remained silent, looking at each other.
Finally, the hubbub died down, and Gorgus spoke in a quiet voice.
“Citizen Igni. Are you seriously asking the dwarven people to swear their loyalty to the Sorcerer-King of Nazarick?”
Igni took a deep breath.
“Councillor Gorgus, I have never been more serious about anything in my life. It is a great gamble, I agree. The Sorcerer-King might reject our offer of fealty. He might accept, and then enslave us. But every other option is worse, Councillor. At least, this way, we might live to regret our decision, rather than have future historians speak in glowing terms of our stubbornness as they excavate our remains. There are too many dead souls beneath us to cling to the pride that has brought us to the brink of extinction.”
Gorgus blinked, and visibly swallowed. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. Finally, he managed to make a statement.
“I move that we send an emissary to the Sorcerer-King, offering our vassalage, and to ask for aid.”
There was a gasp of surprise, and yet it was not necessary.
Everyone knew it was coming, ever since Igni brought up the topic.
Igni looked in the direction of the voice. It was the dwarf who had denounced him earlier.
The anger and hardness were gone from his eyes, replaced by a pained pleading.
I’m counting on you.
It was followed by more and more ayes, until everyone in the room had replied.
“A unanimous decision. So be it,” Gorgus said. “We shall send an emissary to the Sorcerer-King of Nazarick to request aid for our lands. Citizen Igni, come with me.”
Within the Great Tomb of Nazarick, Ainz sighed as he sat by his desk, staring nonchalantly towards the distant.
What a drag! Just how did it end up like this?!
Ainz looked back at the mountain of paperwork laid out in front of him. After the subjugation of E-Rantel his normal workload had doubled. On top of checking through all the reports of his subordinates in Nazarick he had to work out all the details of managing the city as the new enforcer, while posing as the adventurer Momon.
Even though as an undead he no longer felt fatigue or need for sleep or food, he still was under mental stress from constantly having to file mountains paperwork day after day.
Ainz mimicked the motion of sighing as he gathered what little motivation he had left to pick up where he had left of his work.
Next to him stood a platinum blond-haired beauty with a chest quite disproportionate to the rest of her body. She had a petite figure and beautiful crimson eyes that matched her black and strawberry red dress. This was the guardian of the first three floors of the Tomb of Nazarick, Shalltear Bloodfallen a true vampire. She appeared to be all smiles as she carefully watched her master work and was ready to be of service to her master in any way she could… in any way.
Ainz could guess why she was in such a great mood today. Normally Albedo would be the one helping him complete his administrative affairs which at this point were starting to fit the description Kafkaesque quite nicely. But Albedo and Pandora's actor had finally begun their secret mission to search for other members of the guild throughout the continent, starting with a few key points that Ainz had marked as POI's.
Haah, it feels kind of strange not having Albedo around who has a higher intelligence and is more of a help with these matters than Shalltear but at the very least Shalltear won't suddenly decide to jump me. In this regard I prefer Shalltear who has a more reserved personality.
"Ainz-sama please feel free to take a break from your work, I'm sure that those lower life forms won't mind you placing your own needs before theirs."
Shalltear must have guessed Ainz his current thoughts.
"No Shalltear, I have to finish these reports today otherwise tomorrow the people of E-Rantel might get upset with Momon for not doing his job properly which will lead to them being dissatisfied with the rule of Nazarick. We have conquered those humans and imposed our rule. We must make sure not to treat them badly afterwards."
"As expected of my Lord! To place those lesser forms' needs before yours, truly compassionate!"
Shalltear brought her hands together as if to start praying and she was starting to tear up from the heartfelt statement of Ainz.
Ainz shrugged his shoulders. He simply didn't want to deal with the troublesome task of suppressing the inhabitants of E-Rantel through brute force.
Ainz's thoughts were interrupted from the sound of soft knocking on the door. He responded in a calm manner.
A beautiful blonde girl wearing a maid outfit opened the door. It was one of the 41 homunculus maids that cleaned and managed maintenance of Nazarick's 9th and 10th floor. She bowed deeply to great Ainz and then delivered her message.
"Ainz-sama, please forgive my interruption of your work but Demiurge-sama requests an audience with you."
Was he supposed to report today?
Ainz thought deeply for a second. Demiurge was supposed to manage Nazarick's temporary embassy with the Empire on top of all his other duties. What could be so important that he wanted to report now? Ainz decided that it was better not to wonder and just ask him directly.
"Very well send him in."
The maid bowed deeply and responded to her master's order.
"As you wish, Ainz-sama."
Moments later a man entered the room wearing a tight suit, round glasses and had neatly combed black hair. The thing that stood out however was his scaly tail and pointy ears. The floor guardian of the 7th floor Demiurge. He kneeled down before Ainz.
Demiurge raised his head and began speaking to Ainz.
"Forgive my intrusion Ainz-sama. Thank you for receiving me so suddenly. Oh, and I see that Shalltear is here as well, that's excellent."
Ainz frowned his non-existent eyebrows and responded.
"No need to apologize, you wouldn't ask for a meeting without a good reason, Demiurge. But why is Shalltear being here convenient might I ask?"
Demiurge got up and resumed his orderly straight up posture before he began speaking again.
"Ainz sama I come to deliver a report of the highest priority which I believe cannot be delivered simply by message or messenger."
This statement made the crimson lights in the sockets of Ainz's skull shine brighter than usual. For the calculating Demiurge to value the contents of a report so much that he came personally made Ainz feel uneasy.
"Very well then Demiurge! Then tell me what you have found out."
"Yes Ainz-sama, I believe that I have finally discovered the hiding place of the vermin that used a World Item to brainwash Shalltear and make her rebel against us."
"What? Ah forgive me Ainz-sama."
Shalltear could not help but shout out her surprise after which she immediately covered her mouth with her hands and apologized.
Anger and surprise boiled up in Ainz at this moment. When Ainz thought back of how he had to personally kill Shalltear who was a creation of one of his former guild mates and close friend Peroroncino who he considered like a younger brother, it brought him close to where his passive skill had to forcibly calm him down. However it was still surprising that Demiurge was able to find the group that even Ainz was unable to track down after numerous attempts to lure them out.
"Hooh, so they've come out of hiding then?"
"No, Ainz-sama I was merely able to narrow down their possible hiding places thanks to the empire's intelligence network and spies."
At this point demiurge raised his finger like a teacher about to educate his students
My findings come down to these two points. First the people who brainwashed Shalltear do not appear to be from YGGDRASIL like us. Second, I am fairly certain that the culprits are hiding in the Slane Theocracy.
Upon hearing this doubt started to gnaw on Ainz. From the moment he discovered that Shalltear had been put under mind control by a world item user he had been convinced that the one responsible was a player like him, to hear Demiurge deny this felt like something of a misunderstanding.
If they really weren't players from YGGDRASIL could it be that my deduction of them specifically targeting Shalltear was wrong as well. The timing of their appearance was just too godly after all. No before that I must make sure.
Ainz glared at Demiurge and asked his next question whilst trying not to lose his composure.
"What proof do you have of these findings Demiurge?
"First off thanks to our experiments and findings we have concluded that some humans are capable of using items from YGGDRASIL and sometimes ignoring the level restrictions that even the members of Nazarick have to abide by. Thus the possibility of humans using items from beings of Yggdrasil comes to mind."
Ainz had already understood that, when he battled the human Nigun from the Sunlight Scripture he used a magic crystal which was clearly an item from YGGDRASIL to summon a high tier angel.
Could it be that world items are also usable to them despite world class items having a level requirement of 80?
Humans were regarded by Ainz and the rest of Nazarick as weaker beings no different than bugs beneath a shoe, however if they were capable of ignoring class and level restrictions and use even world Items, than that changed the level of threat they could pose to Nazarick quite significantly. But this alone did not prove that it was humans and not players that attacked Shalltear.
"But then let me ask you Demiurge. What makes you think that it was specifically humans and not other players that attacked us?"
To answer this question we need only but ask ourselves four other questions. First, why is the magic used in this world the same as in YGGDRASIL? Second, where did the humans get items from YGGDRASSIL? Third, how were we discovered? And fourth, why is Nazarick so powerful?
"Haah? What kind of question is that last one Demiurge?"
"Shalltear be quiet for a minute!"
"My deepest apologies Ainz-sama!"
Shalltear bowed and refrained from speaking any further
The light in Ainz's sockets went dim as he tried to solve these questions in order
The reason that magic here and magic back in YGGDRASIL was virtually the same was something that he had found strange as well. He had come to the conclusion that other players had come to this world before him and taught the other inhabitants of this world how to use their magic. However the difference of time is what worried him since that was supposedly hundreds of years ago. The existence of Fluder who had been practicing magic for more than a hundred years proved that.
Could it be that time flows differently here compared to YGGDRASIL? Or were we all transported at the same time to different points in time when the server shut down? Maybe in a hundred years or so ill encounter someone from YGGDRASIL as well. When that time comes will it be friend or foe?
The second question's answer was virtually the same as the first. They must have gotten them from other players. Suddenly Ainz realized where Demiurge was going with this hypothesis. To give a powerful item to a human was one thing. Ainz himself had done so in the past as well, as he had given horns of the goblin general to Enri Emmot from Carne Village. But to give a world item to one was something Ainz wouldn't even consider doing. But it was another thing to take it from a player after his death. If the players that came to this world before had indeed passed away, their items would become available to anyone that found them.
However this does not mean that it really were humans. It could still be other players who arrived around the same time as us or players that have been able to survive due to their race's long lifespan.
Ainz sighed as he probably wasn't thinking hard enough about what demiurge said.
The third question bothered Ainz as well. How they were discovered was a complete mystery. No matter what little blunders Ainz had made before Shalltear's revolt he was confident that he had never let slip information about Nazarick or himself, let alone Sebas or Shalltear. Shalltear at the moment of her mission should have been wearing her ring to hide from detection and divination magic this went for all active members in the field. It really was too convenient to have known that she was there and to have prepared a World Item to capture her no less.
So in the end it really must have been a random encounter between Shalltear and another party. Though I thought that was just wishful thinking, the fact that we haven't discovered a hint of surveillance upon us further proves that they themselves don't know who they were dealing with. But in the end the possibility of another player still exists.
Ainz was starting to get a feeling that everything would become clear after he answered the last of Demiurge's questions. Although he wasn't confident that he could, seeing as he could not compare with his intellect.
That said, the last question puzzled Ainz deeply. "Why were they strong?" it was a question that did not need an answer. Because to compare the power of Nazarick to any of this world's nations would be absurd to say the least. Just one of the many guild battles that Ainz fought with his former teammates would be regarded as a battle of gods by any inhabitant of this world. That's right, because Ainz and the rest of Nazarick were unfair beings from an unfair world with unfair rules they could be considered to be so strong…
The light in Ainz's eyes seemed to go out for a second only to come back on as Ainz softly Addressed Demiurge.
"Excellent Demiurge, you really are a genius to have thought that far. Even I hadn't considered that. Then explain to Shalltear the answer to the last one."
Haah, I'm getting tired of using this excuse to have Demiurge explain what he knows.
Demiurge smiled brightly as to him to be of service to his master on an intellectual level was the greatest joy he could feel.
"I am undeserving of such praise Ainz-sama."
"Eh, I don't get it Ainz-sama. What have you figured out?"
"Shalltear, you and I are in this world walking calamities. After Having easily killed the human Gazef Stronoff who was supposed to be the kingdom's greatest warrior we now know that virtually all humans are very weak compared to us. So if you were a player from YGGDRASIL and you'd encounter a humanoid being on an equal level just how would you react to such a development?"
At this point Ainz started to get the picture that Demiurge was trying to paint.
If Shalltear really did meet another player or players then why did they use a world item on her? If they were equal in strength they could have first talked it out, even though Shalltear would attack before asking questions due to her personality. Still there would be no need to use a world item as they could just overpower her or flee using other items. If they were stronger or outnumbered her then the use of a world Item was even stranger because the difference in strength or numerical difference made such an action obsolete. And if they were weaker and immediately used the World item then why did they leave her there?
If it was another player then then it couldn't have been because Shalltear had managed to kill the one using the item or wounded him to the point where they would have to retreat while leaving her there. Shalltear didn't possess a skill or spell that could cut a level 80 player's health to the point where he needed immediate and long term healing from just one hit.
"No matter what the setup was, if your opponent was a player or players from YGGDRASIL then it wouldn't have ended with you being left alone in that place in your neutral state. Thus a picture forms of someone who's only hope of beating you was using their world item to mind control you, however you managed to wound or kill the one using the world item before the control was complete and forced them to flee while leaving you in that state."