Overlord Light Novel, Chapter 63 Volume 9
Overlord Volume 9 Chapter 2
Preparations for the Battle
(Re)Translated by Nigel
Edited/Proofread by Deus Ex Machina
One month later.
The meeting was convened within the Valencia Palace of the Re-Estize Kingdom. Gazef Stronoff had been standing motionless beside King Ranpossa III, who was seated on his throne. He surveyed the serried ranks of nobles before him, and his eyes widened slightly as he picked out the forms of the Six Great Nobles among them.
The six of them gathered together was a rare occurrence indeed.
The heads of these six families controlled almost as much land as the King, and between them their military power surpassed that of the King himself. Because of this, they frequently found reasons to excuse themselves from the King’s summons. This was especially true for the leader of the anti-royalty faction ― the Noble faction ― Marquis Bowlorobe, who did not even bother to hide his disdain for the King. It was bad enough that for a while, people thought the Kingdom might fall apart from within.
Next, Gazef’s eyes went to the King’s three children.
The most eye-catching of them all was the King’s third daughter, the “Golden Princess”, Renner Theiere Chardelon Ryle Vaiself.
After that was his second son, the Second Prince, Zanack Valurean Igana Ryle Vaiself. During the demonic disturbance, he had earned much praise when he had followed the King in deploying for the sake of the people.
Last was the eldest son, the First Prince Barbro Andrean Ield Ryle Vaiself. He had a strong body and a neatly trimmed haircut, and he was the man who Marquis Bowlorobe was trying to place on the throne. Presumably, Bowlorobe was in attendance for this court session at Barbro’s own request.
Any meeting attended by Marquis Bowlorobe of the Noble Faction was sure to be an intense one. Gazef averted his eyes from the heavy atmosphere, which seemed to loom overhead like gathering stormclouds, and looked at the rest of the nobles.
Of the three men present, who belonged to the Royal faction, the first to catch Gazef’s eye was Marquis Brumerush, the most luxuriously dressed person in the court.
This nobleman with handsome features was approaching his forties. His domain contained gold and mithril mines, whose bounty of precious metals made him the wealthiest man in the Kingdom. However, dark whispers circulated that he was extremely greedy, to the point where he would even betray his own family for a gold coin.
There were also rumors that he had betrayed the Kingdom and was selling information to the Empire. However, because of a lack of concrete evidence, nothing could be done about him. After all, beheading Marquis Brumerush ―a prominent supporter of the Royal faction― without any proof would cause all the nobles who followed him to switch to the anti-Royal faction. If he was aware of this fact and took advantage of it to keep selling off information, then he would truly be the most despicable person present.
Next, Gazef’s eyes turned to the youngest and most handsome of the Great Nobles, Marquis Pespeya.
He was married to the King’s eldest daughter, and became the head of his household at the same time as his marriage. Although little was known about his abilities and personality, his father possessed an excellent personality and was a competent man, so Gazef felt that the young Pespeya might take after his sire.
In contrast, the eldest among the Six Nobles was Margrave Urovarna. His hair was white, and so little of it remained that there might as well have not been any at all. Though his body and limbs looked like gnarled wood, he still retained the gravitas expected of an elder.
Urovarna was the most persuasive of the Great Nobles.
Arrayed against them were the three members of the Noble Faction.
First was the core of the Noble Faction, Marquis Bowlorobe, who controlled the most territory among the Great Nobles. His face was heavily scarred, a lord who looked like a warrior.
As he was already in his fifties, his once-stout body which had been perfected through unrelenting training was little more than a memory of the past, but his voice and predator’s gaze made people think that there must have been more than a little bit of his warrior-self left in him.
Although he ―as a warrior― had lost much of his strength to age, as a commander, he was a better commander than even Gazef, which made him just as indispensable to the Kingdom as the Warrior-Captain.
Beside him was Count Ritton.
He was a man whose appearance called to mind the image of a fox, and also one of the lower-ranked members of the Six. As such, he resorted t ways and means to raise his status. However, his personality of not caring about others’ suffering if it meant he could expand his power was not well received by other nobles. Allying himself to Marquis Bowlorobe must have been a strategic move to escape his enemies.
The final man of the Noble Faction had slicked-back blonde hair and narrow blue eyes.
His face was pale and unhealthy-looking, with little sign that it had seen much sunlight. He was tall and skinny. Combined with his sallow complexion, he gave off the impression of a snake. He was not yet forty, but looked older because of his unhealthy pallor.
With mixed emotions churning in his heart, Gazef looked away from him ― from Marquis Raeven.
The impending succession of the next monarch had only intensified the power struggles.
Marquis Bowlorobe and Count Ritton of the Noble Faction, as well as Margrave Urovarna of the Royal Faction, all backed First Prince Barbro, while most of the unaffiliated nobles supported Marquis Pespeya, who had married the First Princess. Raeven was on the side of Second Prince Zanack, while Marquis Brumerush did not seem to be concerned with matters of succession.
For all these reasons, the King sat on his throne without making a fuss. If he pointed a finger at anyone, there was a danger of civil war breaking out.
Until recently, Gazef had no opinion on who should become the next King. But now, his heart was leaning toward Zanack. Either that, or Princess Renner as a dark horse, but the Kingdom, in all its long history, had never been ruled by a queen, so that was probably out of the question.
“Now then, let us begin.”
The King’s tone seemed slightly different than usual. Those with sensitive ears might have guessed the reason for today’s gathering and showed it with curious suspicion.
“Read out the proclamation delivered by the Imperial emissary.”
In accordance with the King’s orders, the vassals flanking him on both sides began reading the contents of the parchment.
The contents were roughly as followed:
The Baharuth Empire acknowledges the sovereignty of the independent Kingdom of Nazarick, ruled by the great magic caster known as the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown, and formally recognizes it as an ally of the Empire.
Originally, the region near E-Rantel was the domain of the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown. The Kingdom of Re-Estize is unlawfully occupying this territory and must now return it to its rightful owner.
If the Kingdom does not comply with this demand, the Empire will aid the Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown in an invasion to reclaim the Sorcerer King’s territory.
This will be a just war, fought to end unjust occupation.
After the contents were read out, the room exploded into a hubbub of discussion. These terms were insane, and so was anyone who agreed to them.
“Just in case, I have also had the scholars examine the Kingdom’s history, and no mention of any individual named Ainz Ooal Gown ruling the surroundings of E-Rantel was discovered. There is no legitimacy to this claim.”
“In other words, this isn’t even a proper demand, it’s a madman’s ravings!”
The boisterous cry rang throughout the hall.
Marquis Bowlorobe’s formidable presence ― a testament to his former glory as a warrior ― seemed to give the other nobles courage, and they returned his shout with their own approval.
“Although it’s been delayed, isn’t this just the same old Imperial invasion they announce every year? They always find some stupid reason to declare war, so this time round, they must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel to throw up this magic caster’s name, right? I want to see what kind of clown they’ve given that ridiculous title of ‘Sorcerer King’.”
Count Ritton’s words were followed by the derisive laughter of the massed nobles.
The count turned his fox-like eyes ―filled with disdain― toward Gazef.
“I believe we’ve heard of this Sorcerer King madman before, haven’t we, O Warrior-Captain Stronoff?”
“…Indeed, he was the magic caster who lent me a helping hand at the outskirts of E-Rantel.”
Count Ritton laughed mockingly before replying:
“I see, he must have helped because he thought they were his own peasants.”
The scornful laughter of the nobles could be heard all around, yet nobody stopped it, because Gazef, who was born a commoner, was hated by many members of the Noble faction.
If it had been a member of the Royal faction, the King would have intervened, but since Count Ritton belonged to the opposition, the King could only furrow his brow.
“Seems like it was the Empire who burnt down the farming villages near E-Rantel, don’t you think? The Warrior-Captain-dono seems to think it was the work of the Slaine Theocracy. The person who rescued them was call Gown, right? Isn’t that magic caster involved with the Empire? I believe someone previously said that magic caster was a spy trying to infiltrate us. And you couldn’t find any trace of the bodies of the people who nearly killed you, did you, Warrior-Captain-dono?”
In his mind, Gazef recalled the sight of the powerful members of the Six Scriptures, as well as the mighty form of Ainz Ooal Gown.
“Although the bodies vanished as Count Ritton said, I do not feel the Empire was involved. When I was at Carne Village, the knights that attacked us were far stronger than those of the Empire. They used angels, and there’s no doubt that they were a unit from the Slaine Theocracy.”
“And why would the Theocracy do that?”
How should I know?
Indeed, if Gazef could give an answer like that, it would make him feel a lot better.
Just as the court was about to fall into squabbling due to Gazef’s silence, a voice of aid rang out from Ritton’s side.
“That mad magic caster is irrelevant! What we need to decide on is how to respond to the false Emperor, isn’t that so, your Majesty?”
“It is as Marquis Bowlorobe says. We need to decide what the Kingdom’s answer will be.”
“I beg your permission to speak,” Marquis Pespeya said as he advanced. “Accepting the Emperor’s terms will be very difficult. Our only recourse is war.”
The mention of war sparked activity amongst the serried ranks of the nobility.
“Oh! Now is the time to crush them once and for all, and then take the fight to the Empire’s doorstep.”
“You’re absolutely right, I’m tired of the constant Imperial invasions.”
“It’s time to let the fools in the Empire know how fearsome we can be!”
“Exactly, just as the Marquis says.”
These words, sandwiched by scattered laughter and repeated throughout the throng of nobles, grated unbearably on Gazef’s ears.
The last few years, they had regularly met the Empire on the field of battle at Katze Plains.
For the most part, they had simply drawn up battle lines and confronted each other, or skirmished briefly with minor losses to the Kingdom. This year would probably be more of the same, and the nobles took on an air of laxity as they imagined the same old events playing out again.
However, Gazef spoke out, spurred by the cry of his warrior’s instincts.
“Don’t think that this battle will end in a small skirmish like it always has!”
The nobles looked like they had been splashed with a basin of cold water, and turned reproachful looks on him.
“I see. This is what our Warrior-Captain actually believes. Can you give us a reason for that?”
“Yes, your Majesty, that is―”
The image of a certain person set alarm bells ringing through his heart.
“―That is to say, it is because of that magic caster, Ainz Ooal Gown.”
“That being the case, the only one of us who has actually seen him face to face would be you, Warrior-Captain. That means we must give some weight to your words. Can you tell us what makes you say that?”
Gazef was a loss for words. He could not give a good answer. He did not know how to explain it, but his warrior’s instinct was telling him that making a poor decision about this war would be extremely dangerous.
“My King, could you not hand over the outskirts of E-Rantel to the Empire, no, to that magic caster?”
After a moment’s silence, angry shouts flew through the air..
“You craven coward! How shameless can you get, you chicken-heart?!”
Those shouts came from the nobles of the Royal faction.
“After his Majesty showed you such kindness, you turn around and tell him to surrender his demesne to outsiders? When did you start serving the false Emperor?! Not to mention, you haven’t even answered his Majesty’s question!”
In the face of such deserved castigation, Gazef could not answer. Had he been in their position, he would probably have done the same thing.
It was Gazef’s King who reached a helping hand out to him in his hour of need.
“But, your Majesty!”
“I am deeply grateful that my subjects would be so moved on my behalf. It is because of that reason that I ask you to remember that my Warrior-Captain would never betray me. He has fearlessly thrust himself into danger countless times for me. Someone like that would never do anything which would harm me.”
The nobles who had shouted at Gazef bowed to the King. While he acknowledged this fact, he continued speaking to Gazef.
“Warrior-Captain, whom I trust like my right hand. Even if you are the one who puts forth that proposal, I cannot agree to it. Giving up one’s domain without a fight is not befitting of a ruler. Such an act cannot be allowed for the sake of those who live upon it. It would ruin their peaceful lives”
Handing land over while moving all the residents off without harming them was nothing more than a fairytale. Even if it was possible, there would be no way to allow the displaced residents to live like they used to, and in the end their lives would be worse off for it.
“That is undoubtedly so, your Majesty, and I hope you will forgive me for my foolish words.”
Gazef lowered his head as his King, who loved the people so dearly, spoke to him. If he was a foolish noble ― a landlord who simply saw his people as a means of making money, the King would not have said what he did. It was because of the King’s compassion that Gazef was willing to pledge his life to him.
He recalled the words he spoke to his vice-captain half a year ago.
“When you seek help, the ones who will come are the nobles. The strong will bring aid.”
“Those are the ones who will come to the aid of the weak, regardless of the danger.”
The Gazef from before he had entered the grand martial tournament would never have said such things. Much like his vice-captain, he would have thought that there were no nobles who would risk themselves for the commoners.
After he began serving the King, however, Gazef realized for the first time that such nobles existed. Regretfully, said nobles lacked power.
There had been many lives that he could not save, and just as many incidents where the nobles’ pointless pride had led them to throw obstacles in his way.
Even so, the man he served had not given up. He had continued working toward building a kingdom where its people would be able to live better lives day by day.
Gazef was proud of his King, Ranpossa III. If that was not the case, he would have defected to the Empire when the Emperor himself (Jircniv) had tried to win him over on the battlefield.
But it was precisely because he was such a man that dark clouds loomed heavy over his heart.
What the King spoke was the truth, and he had the right view of things. The King had always been full of compassion, but Gazef knew the reason why the King had taken such a harsh tone.
After the demonic disturbance, the balance of power between the two factions had shifted greatly.
For a long time, the Kingdom had been divided into two factions that had been largely even until recently, but now the Royal faction had expanded, while the Noble faction had shrunk.
Because the King had boldly ridden forth and driven Jaldabaoth back, he was seen by the people as a strong ruler, and a fair number of nobles had thrown their support behind the King. Thus, the King could not afford to show weakness here. However, saying that would mean―
“Still, the Warrior-Captain has a point, no? We can avoid a war by handing over a single city. A king also has a duty to prevent undue suffering to his people. Would not a true king be willing to rend his own body for the sake of the people?”
The one who spoke was from the Noble faction. The words were pretty, but they were calculated to reduce the amount of land controlled by the King, and as such, the Royal faction instantly rebutted them.
“That land is the demesne of the King! If you would give up land to the enemy, why not surrender yours first?!”
The reply came just as swiftly
“What nonsense is that?! The Empire asked for E-Rantel and its surroundings! Do you really believe they’d accept my land from the other side of the Kingdom? Why don’t you think before you speak?!”
The Royal faction had grown stronger, while the Noble faction had gotten weaker. That simply made the Noble faction even more desperate to hamstring the King.
The upset balance between the two factions was the source of Gazef’s unease. Once the balance between factions crumbled, the Noble faction’s efforts to weaken the King would only intensify. That might lead to the Kingdom splitting down the middle in the near future.
That being the case, the King would have to show off his strength to quell any attempts at revolt from the potential rebels. However―
Was the inability to admit weakness not a dangerous thing in itself?
Lost in his thoughts, Gazef only snapped back to reality after several hard stares from members of the Royal faction. They must have thought he had secretly gone over to the Noble faction because he had suggested handing over the Kingdom’s territory. At the same time, they were looks of reproach for Gazef, for being an upjumped peasant who had forgotten the King’s largesse.
“Hmph! Then, why don’t you ask the King to exchange of your lands with the region around E-Rantel, and then hand it over?!”
“As though land could be so easily traded! You fools!”
“You are the fools here!”
The flames of this childish squabbling engulfed the entire meeting hall. In the past, disputes like this would have ended in a stalemate due to the even balance of power, but now the voices of the Royal faction were louder than those of the Noble faction.
Normally, the King would have stopped this. He did not seem inclined to do so now, probably because the Royals had the advantage.
Just about any human being would find it hard to put an end to circumstances which favored themselves. The King must also have wanted to vent his frustrations with the Noble faction.
It’s like he’s drunk a sweet poison…
Slowly, Gazef began to feel a cold, black conviction in the eyes of the Noble faction. A chill flowed down his spine
The attack of the archdemon (Jaldabaoth) had been the cause of everything.
At that time, the king’s decision to lead his men into battle was arguably the best one. Without his help, the battle lines might have broken and the adventurers would have been overrun. If Blue Rose had gone down with them, the Kingdom would have been in a great predicament.
However, as Gazef looked at the scene unfolding in front of him, he could not help but wonder if they should have done something else instead.
What would this court session have been like if the standings of both factions had been even?
I don’t know, but… ah, that’s right, what if we lost this war with the Empire? Would we continue resisting to the end? Would we not? The Royal faction would lose a great deal of its strength instantly, while that of the Noble faction would go up. Would we return to the days when both sides were evenly matched after such a great realignment? Or would the balance of power crumble completely and plunge the country into civil war? Would that be all right?
He disliked this feeling, the feeling that despite making his own choices, he was ultimately still dancing to the tune of someone else.
Could it be that all this had been planned from the moment I met Gown-dono? No, I don’t want to think that might be the case. We only spoke to each other briefly, but he didn’t feel like such a person to me.
From the way Gazef addressed him with honorifics even in his speech ― and his thoughts ― it was clear that he bore no ill-will toward the magic caster Ainz Ooal Gown, even though he was now an enemy.
…Maybe he could peacefully take control of… ah, no, if I continue thinking like this it’ll be treason.
“I think it’s about time we stopped this petty squabbling.”
A deep male voice cut through the commotion ― everyone fell silent as they tried to find its source.
Gazef bit his lip as someone else usurped the role the King was supposed to play.
That victory was like sweet honey…
He did not think it was a big deal. However, would the King forget himself in that sweetness? Would the King that Gazef was so proud of disappear? He could not erase such thoughts from his mind.
“Your Majesty, if the Empire’s invasion is a foregone conclusion, then we must prepare ourselves.”
“Marquis Raeven, it is his Majesty alone―”
Marquis Raeven interrupted those words from the Noble faction.
“―A moment, please. If his Majesty’s troops are defeated, who knows where the Empire will attack next? Therefore, I will cooperate fully with his Majesty for the sake of protecting my domain.”
The Kingdom’s troops were conscripted civilians. There was no way they were a match for the professional troops of the Empire’s knights. The only way to defeat the Empire’s advantage in troop quality was with overwhelming numbers. That had been the way things had gone the past few years. If they could not even muster up sufficient troops to match the Empire’s, then the outcome of the war was already a foregone conclusion.
After hearing Raeven’s words, the members of the Noble faction imagined the Imperial knights ravaging their lands as well.
The first to announce their support for the King were the nobles who held land between the capital and E-Rantel, followed by the nobles who held close ties to the first group, and in the end, all the nobles pledged their support.
“All right. Then, we shall delay our reply to the Empire, and gather our troops at the usual place before we declare war. Naturally, I will be going as well.”
“Please let me join you on the battlefield, father!”
The one shouting was Prince Barbro, who had been waiting silently at the side until now.
“…No, no. There’s no need to trouble you ― as the first in line to succeed the throne ― to take the field. I will go this time, ani-ue.”
First Prince Barbro turned to the person who had spoken from beside him, the Second Prince Zanack. Barbro’s answer was short and to the point.
His retort was filled with hostility.
Zanack’s proposal was a reasonable one. Since the king was already headed to the battlefield, it would be far too dangerous to bring his eldest son along with him. Barbro understood this, but even so, his refusal came from his hatred of Zanack.
That too had stemmed from the demonic disturbance.
During the demonic disturbance, Zanack had patrolled the capital and earned the praise of many citizens. Barbro, on the other hand, hid inside the palace. As a result, the number of nobles supporting Zanack had sharply increased as well.
At a glance, Zanack did not look particularly heroic, and the contrast between his looks and his brave deeds made him stand out. Conversely, Barbro looked impressive, but his inaction made him appear cowardly. In order to erase this shame, Barbro wanted to go to the battlefield to show his martial valor.
The First Prince (Barbro) was a reasonably talented warrior, in keeping with his appearance. That said, he had still led a sheltered lifestyle, and he was not strong enough to beat someone like Princess Renner’s bodyguard Climb, who had trained himself until he had thrown up blood.
Even so, he could still be said to be the strongest fighter of the royal family. Someone like him could not endure losing to Zanack, whose weight meant that he could barely keep his balance after swinging a sword once. Although Marquis Raeven had once said, “What good is a king’s swordplay?”, Barbro knew that he was Zanack’s intellectual inferior, and as such, he was even more determined not to lose out in his chosen specialty.
No matter what, one could not keep trailing behind one’s opponent in the game of thrones.
Gazef’s gut ached as he considered the potential crises hiding within the Kingdom.
Although he wanted to resign his commission after the King abdicated and dedicate himself to protecting Ranpossa III, realistically speaking, it would probably be very difficult to do that.
In addition, he would probably not qualify as a loyal subject if he did not work as the Warrior-Captain to save lives which could be saved. The King might not even allow him to do so in the first place.
If there was someone on his level who could replace him as Warrior-Captain, then he would gladly hand his position over. However,he could not think of any such people. There was one person who was as strong as Gazef, but that person would never agree to become the Warrior-Captain in his place.
What’s Brain planning to do in the future? Does he have something in mind?
Although Brain had become Princess Renner’s direct subordinate, Gazef had a feeling that he would leave soon. If he did vanish, it would probably be to hone his sword skills. As a man bound to the courts, Gazef could not help but admire that lifestyle.
He recalled Brain’s polished swordsmanship.
After the demonic disturbance, Gazef and Brain had exchanged blows in a friendly spar.
Although Gazef had triumphed in that serious match, he could feel the hours Brain had put into his sword work as the wind of his sword’s passage blew through his hair.
For all he knew, Brain might end up becoming stronger than himself in a few years’ time.
If Brain agreed to take my place as the next Warrior-Captain, I’d focus my energy into training the next generation, so the Kingdom would have its share of skilled warriors in the future.
“I certainly agree!”
Marquis Bowlorobe’s voice interrupted Gazef’s thoughts. Now was not the time to worry about the distant future.
“If you will permit me, I would gladly contribute my strongest troops to the effort and to the protection of his Majesty’s person. How about that, your Majesty?”
“Umu. Warrior-Captain, what do you think?”
He could not pretend that he had not heard it. That would be a lie. Gazef put on a show of earnest consideration, while ignoring the twitch of Raeven’s eyebrow.
The suggestion for Barbro to fight at the front had probably come from Bowlorobe, who supported Barbro for the next king. However, Gazef had no proof of this, so there was only one answer he could give.
“I believe it all depends on his Majesty’s opinion.”
The King nodded deeply, and Gazef suddenly felt a pang of guilt.
“Is that so… well, if that’s the case… then you shall come along as well.”
“Yes! Allow me to present the false emperor’s head to you, Father!”
As he listened to Barbro’s enthusiastic reply, Gazef could only hope that the impending preparations would blow away the clouds of unease forming over his heart.
♦ ♦ ♦
Marquis Raeven’s political ability was second to none among the Six Great Nobles, so one would expect that the office where he showed his abilities would be an impressive one. Yet, this was not the case. Many would be surprised if they knew the exact number of decisions which affected the future of the Kingdom that had been drafted in such a humble, cramped place.
The room’s interior was filled with bookshelves, and the books and labelled scrolls were neatly arranged in a way that hinted at their owner’s personality. However, it was not because of these things that the room was so small, although they were part of the reason for it.
The greatest reason could not be seen by the naked eye.
Raeven’s manor home was built of bricks coated in stucco. This was customary when it came to the construction of a noble home, and Raeven’s office was no exception.
However, the interior of those walls were coated with copper sheets that enveloped the entire room.
This was done to interfere with spells used to eavesdrop, observe or detect his location.
The windowless room felt a little claustrophobic, but from a cost-effectiveness point of view, it was practical and had to be endured.
Upon returning from Valencia Palace, Raeven had made a beeline for this office, which was proofed against magic. He crossed to the other side of his sturdy working desk before flopping down onto his chair, in a way that suggested that he had completely run out of energy.
Then, he covered his face with his hands. Anyone who saw him would not think of a great noble who commanded unrivalled power and privilege in the Kingdom, only a middle-aged man who had been worn down by the weight of stress and responsibility.
He brought up the limp strands of his blonde hair in his fingers, combing them back up and leaning back in his seat as his face twisted.
Perhaps it was because he was relaxed now, but the stress accumulated during the court session turned to anger, which filled his heart. Within moments, it had surpassed his ability to contain and exploded into the air with a mighty shout.
“Idiots, each and every one of them!”
Nobody understood what was going on. No, if someone had understood and was taking advantage of the situation, they would be masterful schemers indeed.
Right now, the Kingdom was in great peril.
The Empire’s frequent sabre-rattling led to severe problems such as food shortages, and then there were other issues that were starting to precipitate. The only reason why no cracks in the Kingdom had appeared so far was because the nobles honestly believed “we just need to hold on a bit longer until the other faction collapses first”.
The Empire employed professional warriors known as knights, but the Kingdom had no equivalent soldiers among their ranks. To resist the Imperial invasions, they needed to conscript peasants in their levies. The result of that was villages everywhere running short of manpower for a period of time.
The Empire had a firm grasp of the Kingdom’s practice of conscription, and thus they declared war during the harvest season.
During the busiest season of a farming village, the impact of their adult males ― the most important source of labor ― going missing for one month could not be overstated. Of course, the idea of simply not conscripting as many people had come to mind, but in the face of the Empire’s military, who were far better trained and armed, the Kingdom could not muster any resistance without the weight of numbers on their side.
There had been one occasion when a lack of conscripts had resulted in tremendous casualties for the Kingdom. Fortunately, the counterattack led by Gazef had succeeded, killing two of the original Four Knights and putting an end to the war, since both sides had won and lost. However, the truth was that the Kingdom had been weakened, and in light of the many citizens lost, the Kingdom had come out on the losing side of the equation.
And even during these circumstances…
“That traitorous filth! This foolish power struggle! Those idiots, fighting over a stupid seat!”
Marquis Brumerush, one of the Six Great Nobles, had betrayed the Kingdom by selling its information to the Empire. The nobles had split into two factions and were struggling for dominance. Both princes were eying the succession like dogs feuding over a bone.
Marquis Raeven pounded on his desk repeatedly, venting his anger.
“The King’s no better either! He’s no fool and he’s not drunk on power, but he isn’t thinking at all! If he doesn’t give up his seat soon, it’ll only make the succession crisis worse! Princess Renner gave him a good opportunity by making things favorable for the Royal faction, so he should hurry up and transfer power to the next generation already!”
During the demonic disturbance, the one who had encouraged the king to take the field personally was Princess Renner.
Because of that, the Royal faction’s influence had increased greatly, and they should have been able to put Prince Zanack on the throne if they had advocated it then and there. However―
“Things ended up like this because he pitied his first son. It’s not like I don’t understand his feelings, but nobody’s thinking about what’s important! Nobody at all!”
Strictly speaking, this was not true.Unfortunately most of them were in Raeven’s camp.
He should not have concentrated them all under his wing. Instead, he should have carefully disseminated them throughout the other factions and had them influence the leaders from the inside. However, his irritation was not aimed at himself for not doing this earlier, but at the members of the other factions, whose brainlessness was giving him headaches.
“Idiots, each and every one of them!”
Raeven shouted in frustration as he thought of these Goblin-brained simpletons who could only see the bait in front of them.
“―Even so, what should I do? Think, Raeven, think!”
Raeven’s frustration grew as his breathing calmed.
He had to think of how to keep the Kingdom going, even in the face of the dangers ahead.
“To begin with, this war with the Empire is dangerous, especially if that Ainz Ooal Gown commands great power. I should start by assuming he can cause over 10’000 casualties by himself before I begin strategic planning. Then at the same time, I’ll push for the prince to be the next king… Will that be too difficult? ”
Raeven spoke the words on his mind out loud while he organized his thoughts. Honestly, he wanted to share this matter with someone and discuss it with them. That was why Raeven supported Prince Zanack.
The Second Prince was his only ally ―though there was now another person, Princess Renner― amongst the royals. Both of them understood the danger which the Kingdom faced, and he considered her a comrade in arms when it came to planning for the future.
If only he could ascend to the throne, it would take a weight off his right shoulder.
“…I don’t think he was joking when he promised to make me the Prime Minister. Though I can’t relieve the burden on my left shoulder, at the very least it would improve the Kingdom’s condition.”
Raeven’s current objective was to place Prince Zanack on the throne. If he failed in that, the country would take another step toward ruin.
“With Princess Renner’s help, my job would be easier, at least.”
Raeven sighed heavily as he gave voice to his thoughts and future plans.
Even he had days when he wanted to just put everything down and walk away.
Sometimes, the excessive worrying had even made him contemplate destroying the Kingdom with his own hands, although that particular thought had only come up once or twice.
It was like he was trying to build a sandcastle, surrounded by little brats trying to kick it down. At times, he felt like destroying the sandcastle himself, just to deny them the satisfaction. Still, he had a reason for ignoring those destructive impulses and carrying on like he did.
There was a knocking on the door.
The sound seemed to come from a lower position than usual. For a moment, Raeven displayed an expression that was unlike his normal self. Perhaps you could say his expression melted; his eyebrows were drooping, and even the corner of his mouth was uncharacteristically relaxed.
“Oh, that’s not good. I can’t make a face like this.”
Raeven lightly smacked his face, since his willpower was insufficient to restore the proper dignity to it. After tidying up his wild hair, he turned to the metal door and spoke so the person on the other side could hear. Though his voice was loud, it contained a surprising gentleness that indicated that he was not angry.
The speed with which the heavy door opened indicated how much the other party had been looking forward to it.
On the other side of the door was a boy.
The boy’s innocent, adorable face was colored with a slight blush on the pale skin of his cheeks. He looked to be around five years old, and he padded across the floor, stopping at Raeven’s knee.
“Now now, you know you shouldn’t be running indoors, it’s hardly refined.”
A female voice followed the boy over to Raeven.
She was a woman with a pretty face that was shadowed by gloominess. She did not seem like a happy woman. Her clothes were of exquisite make, but their colors were muted.
The woman bowed primly to Raeven, and then she smiled.
With a hint of embarrassment, Raeven returned the smile.
When had his wife started smiling?
Suddenly, the memories of those days came unbidden to Marquis Raeven.
When Marquis Raeven had been a younger man, his heart brimmed with the ambition and drive that was the hallmark of youth. And the target of his ambition was the throne.
Aspiring to the throne was a treasonous dream.
The young Marquis Raeven, filled with confidence in his abilities, probably felt that he had no other goal that was worthy of being his lifelong objective. Toward that end, he had worked quietly, expanded his influence, accumulated wealth, expanded his connections, crushed his political enemies―
Taking a wife was nothing more than a part of his plan. As long as he could sell off the position of marchioness at a high price, he did not care what kind of woman he ended up with. As it turned out she was a beautiful, yet gloomy woman, but Raeven did not mind. After all, the important thing was the connections he made with his wife’s family.
Their home life was ordinary.
No, that was just how Raeven felt it was. He cared for the woman he married as a tool, but there was no love between them.
As fate would have it, it was a tiny thing indeed that changed Raeven.
He turned his eyes to the boy in front of him.
The first thing he thought when he learned he had a son was that he had another tool to use. However, as the newborn boy clutched his finger with his tiny hands, something broke inside Marquis Raeven.
This was his soft, squishy son, who seemed as much a monkey as a human being. He certainly did not think that he was adorable. Yet, when he felt the warmth that radiated from his finger, everything else suddenly seemed silly.
The throne felt like garbage to him.
The man driven by ambition had passed away at some point.
Then, when Raeven smiled in thanks to his wife that had just given birth to his son, he vividly remembered the expression on her face. It was a funny one, even if he would never say that out loud. He remembered that it seemed to ask, “Who is this person?”
Of course, his wife had thought that this was just a temporary change caused by learning that he had an heir. However, Raeven continued changing after this, and it made his wife wonder if there was something wrong with him.
In the end, when his wife considered her husband before and after his change, she came to the conclusion that she preferred the new Raeven, and her attitude shifted as well. The two of them were, at long last, a normal married couple.
Raeven reached down and lifted up his son, who was trying to scale his kneecap.
The boy gurgled in delight as he was placed on Raeven’s thigh. He could feel the heat of his body through his clothes, and the familiar weight felt comfortable. A warm, steady satisfaction filled his chest.
Now, Raeven had only one objective.
“I want to leave a well-kept domain to my son.” It was a goal that any noble father would have.
Raeven looked warmly to the boy on his leg, and spoke to him.
“What’s the matter-chu? Rii-tan? Chuchu~”
Only two people in the world would ever see a Great Noble puckering his lips and going “~chu”.
One of them, the boy, gurgled in delight.
“…Darling, babytalking him will spoil his grammar.”
“Hmph! Nonsense, that’s nothing more than a baseless rumor.”
That said, Raeven reflected that it would be bad if he raised his son poorly.
Since he was his son, that meant that he must have some measure of talent. Or rather, it was fine even if he was not talented, but as his parents, they had an obligation to discover or cultivate their child’s abilities. As such, it would be bad if they negatively influenced him. Even so, he refused to give up the loving nicknames for him.
Love was the best teacher, after all.
“Isn’t that right, Rii-tan? What’s the matter? Do you want to tell Papa something?”
Raeven ignored his wife’s perturbed expression and asked again.
He looked like he wanted to share a secret of some sort, judging from the way he covered his mouth with his little hands. As he saw that movement, Raeven’s heart melted, the corners of hsi eyes drooped, and he made a face one would never expect of the man who had been referred to as a snake.
“Well, what is it? Can you tell Papa~n? Uwah~ what is it?”
“It’s Papa’s favorite!”
“Uwah! Papa~n will be very happy! What’s for dinner tonight?”
“It’s Gabra fish à la meuniere.”
“Is that so― What’s wrong!? Rii-tan?”
Raeven saw the unhappy expression on his son’s face and frantically followed up with a question.
“I wanted to say it!”
Lightning seemed to flash behind Raeven’s back.
“Is that ~chu er, I mean, is that true? Well, then it’s Papa~n’s fault. Please forgive me. Rii-tan, do you want to tell me anything?”
As Raeven looked at her with furrowed brows, his wife, not knowing what to do, covered her face.
“Rii-tan, why don’t you tell Papa~n?”
With a hmph of annoyance, the boy jerked his head aside. Raeven looked like he had just experienced a tremendous shock, so despondent that he wanted to die.
“I’m really sorry, Rii-tan, Papa~n is a moron and forgot everything~ Therefore, could you tell me?”
His son glanced at him from the corner of his eye. It would seem he was almost there.
“Not telling Papa~n? Papa~n’s going to cry~”
“That ― well, it’s Papa’s favorite fish~”
“Really now! Papa is so happy to hear that!”
Raeven could not help kissing his son’s pink cheeks over and over. It tickled, and so the boy laughed innocently.
“All right, then let’s go have dinner!”
“―-I don’t think it’s ready yet.”
It felt like a basin of cold water had been dumped over his head, and an annoyed expression spread over Raeven’s face,. It would have been an easy matter to order the chefs to hurry up, but they still needed to follow the appropriate steps to do their work, and those steps had to be executed with specific timing. Thus, if he selfishly disrupted their routine, the food would not be as good as it could be.
This was why Raeven did not give those orders, even if he was not happy about the wait. It was also because he wanted his son to have the best meal possible.
“All right, your father is in the middle of work. Let’s go.”
Raeven could not hide his loneliness he felt as he heard his son’s lively reply.
“Ahem! Wait, actually, I’m done with work.”
“Umu. I really am done with work.”
“…Is that so? Are you just planning to put it off until tomorrow?”
Even if his wife was rolling her eyes at him, Raeven would not let his son down from his knee. He clutched the boy tightly, and sighed as he felt the heat from his son’s hot body flow into him.
“…Well, I was already at a dead end anyway,” he muttered. “Not like I could finish it in a day.”
This was not an excuse. The fact was that he did not have anything urgent to take care of.
His wife seemed to realize this and nodded several times.
“I understand, but still… it seems really troublesome.”
“That’s what I said. I don’t need more arms or legs to do my work, just good heads.”
“How about my brother?”
“He’s talented, but given that running your family’s estate is taxing enough as it is, I don’t think I could throw more work at him. Do you know anyone else who can be trusted?”
Raeven had already asked this question several times, and his wife had given him the same answer; there’s no noble who can work on the same level as you.
The truth was that if someone else was like that, his life would not have been as difficult as it was now. In the end, all that he could do was to look among the commoners. If this was a place like the Empire, where there was a national system of education that trained people up for public service, it would have been fine, but in the Kingdom, looking for hidden talents was like finding a needle in a haystack. All he could do was listen to rumors of talented people and recruit them.
As he thought of how much time and effort this would need, Raeven’s heart sank. At this moment, his son had a good idea and spoke up.
“Papa~n, I want to help you to work too~”
“Uwah~ Rii-tan, thank you very much! I love ~chu most of all!”
Raeven did not stop kissing his son as he continued his baby talk. This was without doubt the happiest moment of his life.
He could forget the stress of his daily life and achieve a small measure of peace.
Even if I have to sacrifice myself, I will protect all of this, Raeven vowed in his heart.
It had been two months since the Empire’s declaration of war, and now it was the season which turned one’s exhaled breath white.
In villages all over the Kingdom, the bulk of the work had transited from outdoors to indoors. Few people ventured outside now. Not many people were still working. This was true even for the adventurers, who gave the impression of working all year round.
Although there were cases where hungry monsters suddenly appeared in villages and there were emergency requests to fill, there was less to do for the most part. Stepping into uncharted territory was more dangerous during this time, be it to explore ruins or unknown lands during this period. Because of that, adventurers considered this something like a season of rest, and channelled their energies into training, recreation or their side businesses.
That said, the Fortress City of E-Rantel was not like that at present. It was filled with life and activity.
This commotion, however, was somewhat different from that of the other cities in the Kingdom. The activity here was not born of the usual energy of city life.
The source of this activity came from the outermost sector of the three walls.
The countless people gathered here were shabbily dressed. Most of them were commoners. But their numbers were astonishing ― there were around 250’000 of them. Of course, E-Rantel did not always have so many people in it.
It was true that E-Rantel was the nexus of trade and traffic between three kingdoms, with people, money, goods and other things flowing freely through it. Because of that, the city was a large one.
However, that by itself was not enough reason for just one sector to be packed with 250’000 people.
In that case, why were there so many people here?
The ones who could best shed light on this was a group of young men.
Carrying bladeless spears ―more like sticks, really― many young men stabbed and thrust at dummies made of wood and straw, clad in rusted armor and shields.
This was combat training. Yes ― the people gathered here today, all 250’000 of them, had been gathered for the battle against the Empire.
Loud battle-cries rang out everywhere. Of course, few of them were actually shouted in earnest. Most of them were gripped by the fear of the coming battle, and they trained to distract themselves from the nagging worry that they would not be going home after this.
Even so, not all of them were practicing in earnest.
The wars with the Empire were a yearly occurrence. As a result, many people had been broken down by them. There were those who lay down in unobtrusive niches. There were those who vented their frustrations to those around them. There were those who sat down and hugged their knees.
The older they were, the more likely they were to do this.
They had no fighting spirit at all and only wanted to return home alive.
This was the true face of the Royal Army. Yet, it could not be helped. To begin with, they had been rounded up by force. Then they were told that they would have to risk their lives in bloody battle for no gain to themselves. Even if they managed to return alive, they would return to a wasted harvest, and their lives would be very difficult, like a noose slowly strangling them.
This was no different from a drawn-out execution.
The wagons rode past the soldiers. Their beds bulged with vast quantities of foodstuffs.
Logically speaking, it would be difficult to house and feed 3% of the Kingdom’s population within a single city. However, E-Rantel was the frontline of the wars with the Empire, and had been designed to accommodate the Kingdom’s military might.
After several battles with the Empire, the city had been prepared to handle 250’000 people with ease. Their storehouses were massive, and were probably the largest buildings in the city.
The supplies kept pouring into those storehouses.
The unmotivated people looked fearfully at those wagons. It was as though they were staring at Death slowly creeping towards them.
Everyone knew what was going to happen next.
This was a large-scale transfer of rations.
That meant the war with the Empire was going to begin.
♦ ♦ ♦
This was the innermost sector of the E-Rantel’s triple walls.
In the center of the city was the mansion of the mayor of E-Rantel, Panasolei Guruze Dale Rettonmai. Although it was a luxurious home worthy of the city’s leader, it still paled in comparison to the building beside it.
That building was the most impressive in the city ― the VIP villa. It was typically sealed up, and only the royal family or those close to them would be permitted to use it.
And now, in a room within that villa, several men were gathered around King Ranpossa III and the Great Nobles.
Gazef stood silently beside the King, who sat upon a crude throne.
A large table dominated the center of the room, surrounded by nobles, who were studying the large map that had been rolled out upon it. There were several troop position markers on the map, an around it were countless scattered documents, nominal rolls, reconnaissance reports, combat logs, monster appearance reports and the like. Although there were waterbearers behind them, there was little water left.
It was testament to the intensity of the debates that had taken place here.
The truth was that fatigue was starting to appear on the distinguished, pedigreed faces of the Great Nobles. As one’s forces grew larger, there were more things which had to be discussed, and more decisions that had to be made. While low-level issues could be delegated to subordinates, they had to coordinate the matters of the nobles within their factions personally.
As nobles with their pride on the line, they could not afford to embarrass themselves before others, which only added to their workload.
However, that was over now.
Marquis Raeven, who looked the least exhausted of everyone here, opened his mouth to speak.
No, it was better to say that he was always the first to speak. He might have been slighted as a “bat,” but nobody doubted his intelligence. Having him chair these cross-factional meetings was the fastest way to get things done.
“Thank you all for your hard work. For the most part, I believe we’ve finished our preparations within the deadline. From now on we will begin discussing the strategy for the upcoming war against the Empire.”
Raeven’s gaze swept across everyone present, and he held up a parchment for all to see.
“This is a declaration from the Empire that arrived several days ago. It states the proposed site of the battlefield.”
The concept of proposed battlefield locations stemmed from the fact that battlefields invariably became cursed locations which spawned the undead. Therefore, when battles were to be waged between members of fellow species, they would designate specific locations where they would fight. Assuming both sides agreed, they could do battle there without harming each others’ countries.
Of course, not all wars were fought like that. Or rather, it was rare for such agreements to be made. However the Kingdom and Empire had fought on designated battlefields for the past few years.
Even if they took new land, it would be more trouble than it was worth if it spawned undead nearby, and there was no point in defending land from invaders if it ended up cursed and uninhabitable anyway. Both sides shared the same point of view, hence the agreements.
For that reason, someone sighed in relief as Raeven announced the missive. That noble must have thought this war would be the same as any other, given the familiar nature of the declaration.
“Then, the battlefield will be―”
“Isn’t it the same old place, Marquis Raeven? Where else could it be?”
“Indeed. As Marquis Bowlorobe says, the battlefield is the same place as all these years. That cursed land enveloped by mist, the Katze Plains. Specifically, the northwest region.”
“Since it’s the same place, does that mean the Empire’s invasion will be the same as always?”
Although the Empire claimed to be helping the magic caster Ainz Ooal Gown reclaim his rightful territory, most of the nobles felt that this was merely a casus belli for them to declare war like they always did.
If that was all, Gazef would have agreed, but Raeven shook his head.
“Unfortunately, Marquis Brumerush, that does not seem to be the case. According to my sources, the Empire has mobilized a great deal of military power for this engagement. I sent my subordinates ― a team of formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurers ― out to follow up on this, and while they aren’t sure of the exact figure, judging by the insignia and badges of the activated units, the Empire has fielded six full legions.”
Consternation rippled through the gathered nobles.
The Empire had eight legions of knights, but up to now, the most they had ever committed four to the field at any one time. But this time, they had brought out one and a half times that amount.
“Are they… serious?”
The question came from a noble with an uneasy expression on his face.
The six legions of the Empire contained 60’000 men. The Kingdom had 250’000 men, but although they had the advantage in numbers, the reverse was true in terms of troop quality.
“I’m not too sure, but we may need to consider that this may not end in a simple skirmish.”
In the battles to date, where the Empire’s 40’000 men went up against the Kingdom’s 200’000, the Empire would launch an attack, which the Kingdom would weather, and that would be the end of it. The Empire’s objective was to slowly exhaust the Kingdom and waste their stocks of food, so just forcing the Kingdom to take the field would accomplish one of their objectives.
If they were planning on doing the same thing, there would be no need to mobilize 60’000 men. That meant they had another motive for doing this, Raeven thought.
“It seems increasing the levy was the right decision to make.”
However, the increased costs of fielding more soldiers were also a headache.
In the past, their battles had been fought during the harvest season of autumn. This war would be fought in winter, requiring expenditures for things like firewood, warm clothing and so on which had never been needed before.
This war was financed by the King. If the Royal faction’s power had not increased, it would have been hard for the King to gather funds, and the King’s own power would have sharply declined.
“Still, Marquis Raeven. Don’t you think they’ve mobilize more men then usual in order to impress that magic caster calling himself a king which they allied with, or just putting on a show? After all, not raising a large army against us would result in them losing face in front of their allies.”
“I believe that is very likely. In truth, given that we’ve received no communication from this Ainz Ooal Gown, I suspect that this incident may have been masterminded by the Empire and this Ainz Ooal Gown is only a bystander who was drawn into this. He might not even be participating in this of his own free will.”
Personally, Gazef felt that it would be wonderful if that were really the case. That way they would not truly need to make an enemy of that mighty magic caster, and how many people would that save? However, that might be too optimistic.
Gazef opened his hitherto tightly shut mouth.
“May I speak?”
With the King’s permission, Gazef began unburdening himself of his doubts.
“I do not think that is the case. Much like with that document from the Slaine Theocracy, I do not think this declaration of war is a mere sham.”
Displeasure was clearly evident on the nobles’ faces.
E-Rantel and its surroundings was the meeting point of three nations. Every time the Kingdom and the Empire had their little wars, the Theocracy would make its opinion known. “To begin with,” they would say, “E-Rantel and its surroundings originally belonged to the Slaine Theocracy. The Kingdom has taken control of it unlawfully and they are obliged to return it to its rightful owners. It is deeply regretful that such improperly appropriated territory should become the object of a power struggle,” and so on.
When they heard this, both countries wanted to tell them to stop cutting in from the side, but to date the Theocracy had never mobilized their troops, so they believed that their disagreement was purely verbal.
This time, however, the tone they had taken was very different.
“The Theocracy has no records of him and cannot make a ruling on the matter, but if this land rightfully belongs to AInz Ooal Gown, then we will acknowledge the legitimacy of his claim.”
That was what their communique had said.
The nobles of the Kingdom were furious at this statement, which sounded like the Theocracy was spouting utter rubbish out of nowhere. However, there were those who understood the true meaning behind the document.
The Slaine Theocracy was saying, “We have no intention of antagonizing Ainz Ooal Gown” on a national level.
That implied that the Slaine Theocracy, the strongest nation in the region, was not willing to risk a confrontation with a single magic caster.
But that was understandable, Gazef thought.
“He easily wiped out one of the Six Scriptures… and although he said he didn’t kill them, the Slaine Theocracy feels that it would be a bad idea to make an enemy of someone with such power. If Ainz Ooal Gown was pulled into this war by the Empire, they wouldn’t need to roll over like this.”
“Hmph. So what if they have one more magic caster? Aren’t we the ones with 250’000 people?”
Count Ritton laughed in the face of Gazef’s caution, the mockery evident in his voice.
Gazef fought the urge to furrow his brows. Although he understood the shocking power of a great magic caster, he also understood where Ritton was coming from.
If he knew nothing else, he would have thought the same way too.
For example, there was the famed magic caster of the Empire, Fluder Paradyne. His name was known in distant countries. He was rumored to be able to use magic of the 5th or 6th tier, but to be honest, nobody knew how powerful he really was.
That was because he had never taken part in the Empire’s wars, nor had he used his magic to rout the armies of the Kingdom.
While the 6th tier of magic was impressive, exactly how impressive it was remained to be seen.
Even Gazef, someone who had survived countless battles as the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain, felt that way.
The nobles were not magic casters, but had probably only been told about magic as part of their education. Many of the Kingdom’s nobles thought little of Fluder, thinking of him as nothing more than a posterboy for the Empire’s propaganda. The nobles who had little contact with magic-users like adventurers were even more likely to think that way.
Count Ritton was one of them. To him, magic casters were little more than stage magicians. Of course, the priests he turned to when he was sick or injured were a different matter.
“…I don’t think that’s quite right. They can be quite hard to deal with if they use flying magic and attack with area-effect spells. Long-ranged attacks can be quite damaging. Of course, professional magic casters won’t do things which don’t benefit them. Still, the Empire’s treatment of Ainz Ooal Gown is just too strange. They wouldn’t go this far if he was a simple magic caster, so we had better stay on our guard.”
Those severe words were spoken by Margrave Urovarna, whose head of white hair and wrinkled face conveyed the stern dignity of a senior individual. As the oldest of the six Great Nobles, he was a clear contrast with the young Count Ritton. Every word and gesture of his made the Count nod in reluctant agreement. However, there was someone who opposed him ― Marquis Bowlorobe.
“Hmph! Who’s this Ainz Ooal Gown? Like Ritton said, what can one man do? If he flies through the air, we’ll shoot him down with bows. The same if he attacks from far away. What can one magic caster do? Those stories of magic casters who change the battlefield by themselves are just that, stories!”
“…I beg your pardon, but isn’t it possible that some of the heroic sagas which the bards might be true?”
“I believe that the Warrior-Captain-dono is not in possession of all the facts. Stories are embellished to draw attention. After the facts are exaggerated, the stories are well-removed from reality. This only gets worse when bards spread stories heard from other bards.”
“However, if they could gather a lot of magic casters that could use [Fireball]―”
“And how likely is it that they’ll be able to gather a whole group of people who can use [Fireball], hm, Warrior-Captain-dono?”
“I… don’t think it’s too likely.”
[Fireball] was a 3rd-tier spell. It would be impossible to amass a large number of magic casters who could use that spell, even if one had the magical academies of the Empire.
“Then, isn’t that the answer? Magic is a good weapon, but no matter how powerful he is, one man cannot change the battlefield! You ―forgive me― the Warrior-Captain-dono is a perfect example. While nobody can match yourself in a duel, even you can’t slay tens of thousands of people in one go!”
He was right. Gazef could not find anything to rebutt Marquis Bowlorobe’s argument.
Those tales of slaying ten thousand men with a single spell were dubious at best. Even that granny, Rigrit Bers Carau of the Thirteen Heroes, could not accomplish such a feat.
However, the disquiet still lingered in Gazef.
Could it be that he had not met a truly amazing magic caster, but was simply clueless?
“…Then, what if it was a dragon?”
“Marquis Brumerush… that magic caster is a human. Why would you even bring up a dragon?”
“No, I meant in terms of one man fighting a brigade…”
“In the first place, there’s no point mentioning dragons when we’re discussing humans! I don’t know what you’re all thinking, being so afraid of a measly little magic caster―”
He turned a sharp glare to Gazef.
“As nobles of the Kingdom, you should be ashamed of yourselves, cowering at the sight of his shadow! …Still, it’s not like I don’t understand the Warrior-Captain-dono’s concern… then, let us consider Ainz Ooal Gown to be a force capable of equalling five thousand men.”
Count Ritton’s eyes went wide.
“Don’t you think it’s a little much, valuing one man as equal to five thousand? Equating him to half would still be too much.”
“I, for one, consider the Warrior-Captain-dono to be a match for a thousand men, and given that our Warrior-Captain-dono is so wary of this individual, we shall count him as being able to battle five times that amount. I have faith in the Warrior-Captain-dono’s appraisal of him.”
“You honor me.”
Although he still doubted that Ainz Ooal Gown’s combat power was only equal to five thousand men, that much was already difficult enough to believe. It would be better to thank him and try to improve the other man’s mood. With that in mind, Gazef lowered his head.
At this juncture, the hitherto silent First Prince Barbro opened his mouth.
“If I might be allowed a bit of your time… I’ve been thinking. Why don’t we draft those adventurers into the army? After all, they work in the Kingdom, so aren’t they subject to the Kingdom’s conscription? Why can’t we force them to join the military? I don’t recall any law in the Kingdom forbidding that.”
The Great Nobles glanced at each other. As landlords, they clearly understood the value and power of adventurers. Because of that, they did not think as Barbro did.
On his part, Gazef felt that the reason why Barbro had such thoughts was because of the King. If the King had granted him a fief to manage, he would not have thought like that.
Marquis Raeven coughed.
“My prince. I trust you understand that aside from the copper ranks, every adventurer is stronger than the average soldier?”
“Umu. Of course. That’s why they’ll produce excellent results once they’re drafted. They’ll be able to defeat the Imperial knights with ease!”
“I do not dispute that point. However, if we did that, then our enemies ― the Empire, for instance ― would also conscript adventurers. The result of that would not be a battle between adventurers, but a systematic slaughter of the rank and file by adventurers. The losses would be far greater, and many of the weak would die. This is why both sides don’t use adventurers, to avoid such an arms race. In addition, the rules of the Adventurer’s Guild would never allow it.”
Workers were also not used for similar reasons. In addition, they were usually more expensive than adventurers, and less reliable.
“I see… I understand the idea, even if I don’t accept it. Then what if a city they stayed in was attacked? If they still didn’t lend their strength then, wouldn’t that be unforgivable as citizens of the Empire?”
“I understand the point you’re trying to make. However, they feel that they have discretion over whether or not they count as citizens of the Kingdom. In addition, they might also be travelling abroad at the time. In any case, the better they are, the more the nation is diminished when they perish in battle. It may lead to a situation where a monster appears, but there’s no adventurer around capable of stopping it. As such, we need to handle adventurers carefully.”
“…Marquis Raeven, didn’t mention earlier that you had conscripted some retired adventurers into your forces? Something about… formerly orichalcum-tanked? Why is that allowed?”
“That’s fine. They’re no longer bound by the rules of the Adventurer’s Guild once they retire and are no longer members. That’s why I hired them.”
“…How shall I say this, I hear it, but I still can’t bring myself to accept it.”
Soft laughter and sounds of approval came from the noble contingent.
“Still, that only applies up to adventurers ranked up to orichalcum. Adamantite-ranked adventurers are a different matter entirely. Of the two adamantite-ranked adventurer parties in the Kingdom…”
There was nobody here who did not know of the daring exploits of Blue Rose during the demonic disturbance.
“Before they took center stage, there was another group of adamantite-ranked adventurers. Although they’ve all retired, they haven’t been hired since then…Right, Warrior-Captain-dono?”
“That’s correct. There are four of them. One opened an exclusive sword school for pupils he chose himself. Two more went on a journey. The last one was the granny who once belonged to Blue Rose before vanishing.”
Gazef counted the familiar faces on his fingers as he recalled them.
While he was strolling through the capital, he had been dragged into a training hall by his future teacher, and he had been subjected to hellish days of sword training and lectures.
Because of that encounter, the Gazef who should have only been a mercenary had ended up serving the King, but even if that was the case―
No, come to think of it, those were good memories too.
“I see. I’ve also heard that the adventurer team called Darkness are within this city. If only we could count on the ‘Beautiful Princess’ Nabe to fight Ainz Ooal Gown… although that seems difficult.”
While that was fundamentally a good idea, the Adventurer’s Guild would never allow it.
Several nobles began loudly cursing the Guild.
For instance, “they’re nothing more than peasants!”
For instance, “who do they think pays them?!”
For instance, “if they’re citizens of the Kingdom, they should be working for the Kingdom!”
It was only natural that those in power would be displeased by the Adventurer’s Guild, which refused to submit to that power. However, it was also a fact that they were the only ones who could deal with monsters.
If the Adventurer’s Guild left the Kingdom, they would have no way of beating back powerful monsters. As a result, the Kingdom would be slowly destroyed, and not even Gazef’s presence would change that.
Monsters had many special abilities, and defeating them would require an equally diverse repertoire of attacks, defenses and healing methods. Because of this, adventurers were indispensable. It would be a different matter if they could incorporate magic casters and rangers into their forces, like the Empire had..
“Ah, as expected of your Highness! I feel that this is a marvellous idea!”
The one who spoke was a baron.
He was too lowly-ranked to be taking part in this meeting, which meant he was someone’s vassal.
“As a magic caster, she might have some insights into this situation. It might be good just to listen to what she has to say. Maybe we should send an emissary over, just in case.”
The idea met with a small amount of approval. Most of the ones who agreed were low-ranking nobles, and given the way they were praising Barbro, they were probably running dogs from the Noble faction.
They did not seem to have noticed the faces which the more keen-eyed people were making
“Then go,” the king ordered in a tired voice. “Momon-dono is an adamantite-ranked adventurer. You are not to offend him under any circumstances!”
“Understood! This Cheneko will carry out the royal decree to the letter!”
“Is that so. Well, then take care not to offend Momon-dono.”
The king waved him off again after repeating his orders. The noble in question left the chamber, brimming with pride.
He did not seem to have realised that he would be heartlessly cast aside if anything went wrong.
“Hah… we’ve come a long way from the original topic. Now, where were we… ah. So for Ainz Ooal Gown’s combat power, I don’t think anyone objects to him counting for five thousand men?”
Marquis Raeven looked to Gazef.
“I have no objections.”
Personally, Gazef felt that twice that figure would not be enough, but he understood that those who had not seen his power firsthand might not be able to accept that fact.
“I see. Then, as the Empire has already agreed on the choice of battlefield, I trust we can all begin moving our armies out toward the Katze Plains?”
Marquis Raeven’s line of sight swept through the room, and one by one the nobles answered in the affirmative. When he reached Marquis Bowlorobe at last, the man’s reply was loud and clear.
“There will be no problems, Marquis Raeven. My troops are ready to move out at any time. Then, your Majesty, might I make a suggestion? I wish to entrust something to the Prince…”
There was only one prince present. Everyone’s eyes turned to Barbro.
“It seems that Ainz Ooal Gown once appeared to save a settlement called Carne Village. If it was purely out of altruism, that would be well and good. However, he might have had a strategic motive in mind. I feel it would be best if we mobilized some troops and tried to question the villagers on the details. I would like to entrust the command of that unit to the Prince.”
Barbro glared at Marquis Bowlorobe.
“Be quiet,” the king said. “That is not a bad idea. My son, I command you ― go to Carne Village and learn what you can from the villagers.”
Gazef tried his best not to furrow his brows.
If they went to Carne Village now, they would not be likely to learn useful information about that magic caster. In addition, splitting their forces was hardly a wise move, even if it was a comparatively small amount.
“…The King orders and I obey. However, I wish to express that this posting is not of my will.”
Seeing that the king had no intention of withdrawing his orders, Barbro lowered his head without bothering to hide the unhappy expression on his face.
“I will lend you some of my elite troops to accompany you to the village. I will also send noblemen to accompany the prince. The total strength of your unit will be around five thousand men.”
“I see. You’re on guard against a flanking force from the Empire. I expected nothing less of your insights, Marquis Bowlorobe.”
Gazef could see the logic in Raeven’s words. However, he still had his doubts that the Imperial Army would use such underhanded methods (flanking troops) even after agreeing on the location of the battlefield. While this was a basic combat tactic, conducting a sneak attack like this after the agreement would only disgrace themselves among the surrounding nations. The Empire would be shooting itself in the foot.
“Although I don’t feel I need so many soldiers, since the Marquis has graciously proposed the idea, I am left with little choice but to accept it.”
“Many thanks, your Highness. Then, I have one more question.”
Marquis Bowlorobe paused for a moment. Rather than catching his breath, the delay was to draw attention to what he was going to say next.
“Who will be the overall commander for this battle? I trust nobody will object to myself?”
The room’s atmosphere changed.
This was an indirect declaration. It was phrased as a query, but it carried with it the unspoken weight and power of selecting the man who would wield authority over the entire army.
If asked who was the better commander between King Ranpossa III and Marquis Bowlorobe, many nobles would point to the latter. This was especially true given that the Marquis’ forces made up one-fifth of the Royal army ― 50’000 men.
In addition, Marquis Bowlorobe also commanded elite troops. He had been inspired by Gazef’s warrior band, and had thus created a unit of professional warriors.
They were very good fighters. Although they were still inferior to the warrior band under Gazef, they were still a match for the Empire’s knights ― perhaps more than a match. Of particular note were their numbers, which were numbered around 5,000. If they clashed with Gazef’s warrior band, Bowlorobe’s more numerous elites would triumph by a great margin.
If the king was not personally present, command authority would undoubtedly fall to Marquis Bowlorobe. But since the king was here, it would only be natural to have King Ranpossa III as the supreme commander, though the nobles of the Noble Faction would probably not accept that.
Gazef’s face turned stern as Marquis Bowlorobe placed pressure on the King with his question, but Marquis Bowlorobe remained unmoved even as he saw Gazef’s expression. To Bowlorobe, Gazef was merely a commoner who was good with a sword, and allowing one not of noble blood to remain in this room was nearly intolerable.
“I’ll leave it to you. Conduct the army safely to the Katze Plains. From there, you will also be in charge of the encampment and entrenchment.”
Raeven nodded in acceptance of the royal decree. Although the spot Bowlorobe wanted had been snatched away from him, he could not complain if it was Raeven. He knew the man was talented, and as a result, criticizing him would be very difficult. More importantly, Raeven had broad connections, and many of Bowlorobe’s men owed him favors. If he tried to criticize Raeven too harshly, it would only make them doubt him instead. As such, Bowlorobe had no choice but to grin and bear it.
“Marquis Raeven, my troops will be in your hands. Please let me know if you need anything.”
“Many thanks, Marquis Bowlorobe. I will be counting on you when the time comes.”
Gazef was as happy over the King’s brilliant decision as though it were his own.
“Is there anything else?”
The King waited for a while, but nobody replied.
“…Then let us begin the preparations to move out. We shall leave tomorrow. It will take us two days to reach the battlefield, so do not grow lax in your preparations. Then, you are dismissed. Marquis Raeven, carry on.”
“I understand, your Majesty.”
The nobles steadily filed out of the room to begin their marching preparations, leaving only the King and Gazef.
Ranpossa III slowly turned his head. A cracking sound reached Gazef’s ear. He must have been very stiff. After stretching, an expression of relief bloomed on the King’s face.
“Thank you for your hard work, your Majesty.”
“Ahhh, it was hard work indeed. I’m tired.”
Gazef smiled wryly to his king. “Tiring” was an understatement of managing the Royal and the Noble factions. However, there were still people who were more fatigued than Ranpossa III.
“It’s about time―”
Just as Ranpossa III was about to continue, several knocks came from the door. Then the door slowly opened, and the waiting guest entered.
He was a plain-looking, plump bulldog of a man who seemed otherwise unremarkable. His scalp reflected the light, his hair was sparse to the point of nonexistence, and what little remained was snowy white.
His body was round, his belly was fat, and his chin and jowls were flabby.
Yet, despite his plain appearance, the light of intelligence sparkled within his eyes. Ranpossa III smiled amiably to him.
“I’m glad you came, Panasolei.”
“Your Majesty,” said the Mayor of E-Rantel as he bowed to his liege lord. Then, he shifted his gaze.
“It’s been a while, Stronoff-dono.”
Panasolei was a noble, yet he was exceedingly courteous to Gazef, a commoner. It was precisely because he was a man like that which resulted in him being posted to this place.
“Greetings, Mayor. You took care of me back then.. My thanks for arranging to heal my subordinates. I was in a hurry to report to the capital, so I rushed off without properly thanking you. Please accept my apologies.”
“Ah, no, no, think nothing of it. I understand how important it was for you to report the ambush, Warrior-Captain. How could I be so inflexible as to hold a grudge against you for that?”
Seeing that both parties were bowing to each other, the King laughed in joy.
“Panasolei, aren’t you going to do that wheezing thing with your nose?”
“Your Majesty… There is no need to do so around people who do not patronize me. Or perhaps his Majesty and Stronoff-dono feel I am a jester who trades on that particular act?”
“Sorry, sorry, it was a joke. Please forgive me, Panasolei.”
“Ah, no, your humble servant overstepped his bounds. It is I who must beg your forgiveness, your Majesty. Then… shall we begin?”
“No…” The King hesitated, and then replied, “No, there’s still one more person who’s yet to arrive. Let’s wait for him.”
“Very well. Then, may we first discuss the issue of food costs within the city? After that, I shall report the projections on the Kingdom’s national strength for the next year, based on the data collected by the Marquis.”
“Umu. The sooner we get these headaches out of the way, the better.”
As Panasolei began to speak, even Gazef, who was unused to managing domestic affairs of state, ended up frowning.
His report concerned the alarming state of the country’s present and future expenses. The collection of food throughout the Kingdom was making food shortages even worse. Of particular note was the fact that the country would continue declining even after the citizens here returned from their conscription.
Panasolei’s predictions were on the optimistic side, and they still painted a dire picture of things.
As for the King, his face was a blank mask.
“How did it get like this…”
“If… if the Empire continues its yearly attacks, the chances of the Kingdom collapsing from within will be quite high. Keeping taxes as they are will cause a lot of people to starve to death, and if we reduce taxes, we won’t have enough to fund our policies.”
Ranpossa III placed his hands on his forehead, covering his face.
This was the result of responding to years of saber-rattling with the Empire. By the time they realized the Empire’s aim of paring away at the Kingdom’s strength, it was far too late.
“How… disturbing. If we’d known earlier… if only we’d dealt with this before the nobles had fully split into their factions… how foolish.”
“Certainly not, your Majesty. I feel trying to address it would only have caused the Kingdom to split into two and triggered civil war, and the Empire would have taken advantage of our weakness to invade and conquer us.”
Gazef was certain of this ― the King, Ranpossa III, had done a good job.
The conditions that had led to this situation were the result of the previous kings’ inaction. It was impossible for one generation to erase the accumulated sins of all its ancestors.
“I just want to leave a decent Kingdom to the next ― to my children.”
Although the King spoke slowly, every word was laced with powerful purpose.
“Then… is this not the chance to do so? I have many supporters now due to the disturbance. Should we not strike a telling blow to the Empire, no matter the cost, so we can win a few years of peace for the Kingdom?”
Gazef could see a light in the King’s eyes. That light made him worry. He knew he should have opposed this, but he could not make a sound.
If the King had spoken to advance his own desires and ambitions, perhaps he might have been able to bring himself to chide him. But as he realised the King was speaking of ensuring the safety of his people and country, the words caught in his throat.
As a first-hand witness to the King agonizing over his country, the Warrior-Captain could not speak out against him.
“While that is certainly possible, I trust you’re also aware that this is a very dangerous move. If you act to reduce the power of the nobility, the country may fall into chaos.”
The King knotted his brows, and Gazef’s heart ached.
“You’ve hit the nail on the head as usual, Panasolei. Although one might die during surgery, there’s also a chance that one might live longer. If we leave things be, the disease will spread through the body and slowly kill us. In that case, shouldn’t we step forward and seize the day?”
“My King, surgical operations are not reliable. It would be better to find another solution instead.”
“If there were some magical solution to the Kingdom’s woes, I would like to entrust my hopes to it. Unfortunately, there is none. The barbaric method of cutting open the body to remove the diseased portion is the only cure for our present predicament.”
This frightening and crude procedure (surgery), advocated by the Minotaur Sage, was the only remedy for the Kingdom.
A gloomy silence dominated the room, which had seen a king forced to extreme measures to save his country.
Then, just as it seemed this oppressive atmosphere would last forever, a knock rang out from the door, as though to shatter the despondence in the air.
The man who entered without waiting for a response was Marquis Raeven.
“Gentlemen. I apologise for the delay.”
Relief spread through the room.
“Ah, just the man we were looking for. Marquis Raeven, I put a great burden on you.”
Raeven looked confused for a moment as he tried to figure out what exactly the King spoke of, but he immediately reacted by replacing it with a tired expression.
“No, don’t take it to heart, your Majesty. In truth, entrusting command to Marquis Bowlorobe would have been foolish in the extreme. After all, he only knows how to order charges and retreats.”
It was unclear whether Raeven sincerely meant his harsh criticism. Perhaps he might have said so on purpose to lighten the gloominess he had sensed when he entered the room.
“In addition, if your Majesty was to assume direct control of the army, a misstep might result in the Noble faction retreating on the eve of battle. As such, there is no commander better suited to the role than myself. That being said, I’d like a break from all this work without rest. I wish to announce in advance that after this war is concluded, I would like to rest on my own lands for several months.”
With that, Raeven’s expression suddenly turned severe.
“I apologize for my curtness, but we can’t waste time here, so let’s get this over with quickly.”
Although his face remained as cold as that of a snake’s, Gazef could sense human emotions within him, as well as qualities that he could bring himself to admire.
I was a fool to not have seen his true nature beforehand. Am I really so bad at reading people?
With regret in his heart, Gazef recalled the meeting in the King’s chambers before they left the Capital. There had been five people present; King Ranpossa III, Gazef himself, Third Princess Renner, Second Prince Zanack and Marquis Raeven. The things which the last two had said filled Gazef with surprise and shattered his set-in-stone preconceptions about the court. In particular, there was that man whom Gazef despised, the man who reminded him of a snake and a scorpion… In particular, learning that the man Gazef despised as vermin was actually the man who worked hardest for the King shocked him beyond the capacity of words to describe.
“I seem to be constantly causing trouble for you, and my daughter, Marquis Raeven.”
Ranpossa III lowered his head to the seated Raeven, a sincere expression on his face.
“Your Majesty, please don’t do that. I’ve already acted on my own without consulting yourself; I only regret that I did not take action earlier.”
“Marquis Raeven, allow me to apologize to you as well,” Gazef said as he bowed deeply. “I was deceived by surface impressions and harbored disrespectful thoughts about you without understanding your true intentions. Please forgive this foolish one.”
“Warrior-Captain-dono, there is no need to worry about that.”
“Even so, if I am not punished for my foolishness, it will stick like a thorn within my heart.”
Raeven’s face seemed to say “really?” and then he shook his head several. After that, he dictated Gazef’s punishment
“I understand… then, from now on, I shall not address you as Warrior-Captain-dono, but as Gazef-dono. Consider that a token of my respect towards you.”
It was a punishment that did not even count as a punishment.
A thought ― that he had eyes, but could not see ― started growing in his heart, and Gazef replied with sincere gratitude.
“Many thanks, Marquis Raeven.”
“Think nothing of it, Gazef-dono. Then, let us begin discussing the direction in which the Kingdom will go from this day forth.”
Gazef passed through the main gate and reached the company stables on the outer ring of the city. He exhaled deeply, to relieve the fatigue clouding his mind.
He was exhausted.
The meeting he’d just attended made him acutely aware that he was a mere commoner.
As he stood by the King’s side and moved through noble society, he had gradually come to understand the way they thought.
Even so, he frequently encountered responses and attitudes that only those born and bred to the nobility would understand. Gazef could not understand why they would think that way, especially the concept of valuing the pride of the nobility over concrete benefits.
No, even more inscrutable than that was the idea of prioritizing one’s pride over one’s citizens.
Gazef slowly scanned his surroundings.
The soldiers, shouting as they ran back and forth ― they were the people. They were the people of the Kingdom, who came from villages all over the country to fight this war. They did not look too reliable as soldiers. Their hands were meant to hold hoes and shovels.
Protecting them should have been the duty of the ones who ruled over them.
If they handed E-Rantel over, they would be hurting the people who lived within the city, just like the King said.
Gazef recalled the image of Ainz Ooal Gown, wearing his strange mask.
He had returned to Carne Village just after dusk, with no sign of having fought a hard battle.
That was right. The two of them had easily defeated the enemies which had utterly decimated Gazef and his troops.
Truly, he was a Sorcerer King ― those words suited his peerless form that night.
FIghting him directly was foolish. Rather ― but that would make the people suffer.
Gazef cursed, unable to think of a solution. What should he do? Confusion on the battlefield was a sign of impending death. Even the man hailed as the strongest in the region could still die if he could not focus.
This was especially true if his opponent was Ainz Ooal Gown.
It was true that he had not witnessed the battle which had saved Carne Village. And he himself did not say he had won, just that he’d chased them off.
But anyone could tell that was a blatant lie.
“Speaking of which… why did he have to lie that they’d run off?”
After Ainz and Albedo had left, he went to the plains where they had fought, but he found no signs of a slaughter. He had not found a single corpse, but burying dozens of bodies would have been very time-consuming. Without bodies ―without physical evidence― the statement of “they ran away” gained credence.
However, that was assuming Ainz Ooal Gown had not used magic. Who knew, there might be spells which could send bodies away or destroy them.
In addition, Gazef had a hunch.
Although it stemmed purely from his warrior’s instinct, but when he saw the uninjured Ainz return to the village, he could smell the faint scent of death rising up from him.
It was not so much that they had fled, but he had “let them flee”.
Because of that, Gazef trusted his instincts over what Ainz had said. There was no basis or evidence for this at all. The bodies of the Sunlight Scripture were nowhere to be found, but they were most certainly dead.
“…I don’t get it…”
He was a magic caster who could annihilate the foes which had defeated Gazef, and he could do so without a scratch..
How powerful was he? Certainly, he was several levels above Gazef and his warrior band.
What would happen if a being like that appeared on the battlefield and used his magic?
Gazef once more looked at the people, filled with excitement, fear, despair and frustration.
When two magic casters using magic of the same tier, the stronger magic caster would naturally be able to bring forth a more powerful spell.
Then, what horrors would result if Ainz Ooal Gown was to cast a [Fireball]?
The fathers who had to feed their infant children, the sons who had to support their ailing parents, the youths about to be married, all of these people had left their families behind to come here. How likely was it that they could endure an attack like that?
It would be impossible, right?
They would expire in one hit with just a single spell from that great magic caster
If it was a fire spell, they would become charred corpses. If it was an ice spell, they would become frozen corpses. If it was a lightning spell, they would be electrocuted corpses. That much was certain.
Then, what about Gazef? Could he take it?
He was fairly certain he could take one hit without dying.
However, that sort of thinking might be too naïve.
“Ahhhh… why did it all turn out like this?”
Fighting against Ainz Ooal Gown was most definitely a mistake.
Gazef felt that Ainz Ooal Gown was not a heartless man, given the way he had saved Carne Village. Yet, at the same time, he sensed that he was no ordinary good Samaritan. The image he had of Ainz was that of a man who showed no mercy to those that opposed him.
They should have avoided conflict with him and treated him with politeness. After that, he might have been amenable to selecting a different location.
As Gazef looked out on the people surrounding him, a weighty feeling in his heart, he caught sight of a white-armored youth from the corner of his vision. Along with him was a swordsman who seemed to float lightly on his feet. It was Climb and Brain.
There was a third person behind them, and they were eagerly discussing something.
“Who’s that? I feel like I’ve seen him before… ah! He’s one of the formerly orichalcum-ranked adventurers under Marquis Raeven.”
Gazef was familiar with the former adventurer team were the ones whom the common folk pinned their hopes on, given that they were all of common birth themselves. In some ways, they were his seniors, the ones who had come before him.
The paladin of the Fire God, whose job class excelled in battling evil-aligned monsters, the Evil Slayer, Boris Axelson, aged 41.
The priest of the Wind God, a warrior priest that could hold his own in combat with any fighter, Yorlan Dixgort, aged 46.
The warrior who incorporated dancing swords into his four-sword style, Francen, aged 39.
The wizard praised as a scholar, who had created several spells bearing his name, Lundquist, aged 45.
And finally, the thief known as “The Unseen”, Lockmeyer, aged 40.
Gazef recalled them as he counted them off on his fingers. The one chatting idly with Climb was the thief, Lockmeyer. Speaking of which, he’d apparently worked with Climb and Brain during the demonic disturbance, helping them infiltrate enemy territory to rescue people.
They did not seem to have noticed Gazef, but it felt wrong to just barge in like that.
That being said, it would still be rude to not greet them at the very least. Besides, they would all be heading to the battlefield soon. Although the chances of them entering combat were low, given that they would be protecting the King, one never knew what might happen.
―It might be the last time they ever saw each other again.
If possible, he wanted to have a private chat with the two of them. As though the world was granting his wish, Lockmeyer waved to the two of them and departed.
Climb and Brain remained, smiling over something.
The bonds between the two of them had grown strong during the demonic disturbance in the capital. Be it as friends or disciples or companions, they had built a complex and mutually beneficial relationship.
And it was because of that relationship that Brain was now a comrade of Climb, a fellow soldier under Princess Renner.
Gazef could not help regretting the fact that he had allowed a warrior who could have rivalled him to be snatched away.
However, he managed to calm down as he watched the two of them. THis was how it should have been.
Gazef smiled as he approached the pair.
Still, that’s a really flashy suit of armor. It’s still all right in the capital, but on the battlefield he’ll be easy to notice. Should I warn Climb about that?
There were many soldiers on the battlefield, but Climb stood out among them because almost none of them wore full plate armor. On top of that, his armor was painted an eye-catching white. Bowmen would aim at him, and cavalry would use him as a target. Although Climb’s chances were pretty good against the average Imperial knight, there were still warriors who were stronger than him. The Four Knights of the Empire were one such example.
If I’m not wrong, Renner-sama gave him that armor… she must not be very familiar with the battlefield if she ordered it painted in that color.
She might be good with tactics, but it would appear she was out of touch with the realities of the battlefield.
If Climb dies, the Princess will be sad…
With magical dyes, they could temporarily change the color of the armor, and return it to normal once they returned to the capital.
He approached the two of them from behind as he thought about this. Brain turned his face, and his hand reached for the hilt of his katana.
As expected of Brain. He could sense me from a distance like this.
Metal armor made noise when its wearer walked.
It would not be strange for people to notice and react to the sound if it drew close to them.
However, there were many people here, all busy preparing for battle. It would be hard to notice the sound of him moving forward amidst the clamor here. Of course, it was a different matter for a thief, especially one with specialized training.
Brain widened his eyes. Then, he glanced at Climb and grinned, as if he had pranked him.
Although Brain seemed to have gotten the wrong idea, this was fine as well.
He grinned in a similar way and took care not to make noise as he carefully advanced on the still-unaware Climb. Although he had not been trained in moving silently and was wearing metal armor, Climb still had not noticed him, and seemed to be discussing something with Brain.
His challenge was to reach the spot directly behind Climb’s back, which he succeeded in doing.
Gazef brought his hand down in a karate chop, directly onto Climb’s unguarded head.
Climb stumbled back while squeaking in a thoroughly unmanly way. As his eyes recognized Gazef, they goggled open.
“This! Isn’t this Strono―”
After Climb swallowed his half-formed words, Gazef continued.
“Quiet. Revealing my identity here will be very troublesome. Just call me Gazef.”
Although he was the Warrior-Captain, the strongest man in the Kingdom, many villagers from the rural areas of the Kingdom did not know what he looked like. In their minds, the Warrior-Captain was probably two meters tall, bearing a gigantic sword, and armored in a suit of shining gold.
Gazef did not want to dash their expectations, and besides, drawing attention would be annoying.
“I-I apologize for my lack of―”
“No, you did nothing wrong,” Gazef said as he interrupted Climb’s apology with a wry grin. Then, the grin took on a new meaning.
“Although, I have to say that you need to be more alert. After all, you did miss someone in full plate armor sneaking up on you. Still, there shouldn’t be any enemies here.”
“What are you saying, Gazef? Being relaxed isn’t necessarily bad. Being wound too tight is.”
“Then, Brain, how did you discover me from so far away?”
“Isn’t that obvious? There was a strange presence in the air.”
Gazef noticed that Climb was looking at Brain and himself with eyes full of surprise.
“Climb, as Princess Renner’s personal guard, you need to be able to sense presences like that. If you miss a hidden assassin, your charge will be hurt.”
“Ah, so that’s what it is. I was wondering what you were up to. Now I see. Climb-kun, if I’m not wrong, you’re using a self-invented style, right? Does that include training your senses?”
“Ah, no, it doesn’t. I focused on combat techniques. My apologies.”
“I’m not finding fault with you. I just wanted to make sure. To be honest, I used to be like that in the past as well. It’s easy to forget about practicing sensory skills like that when you train by yourself. That’s a dangerous habit. After all, a lot of the time you won’t have a straight fight against an attacker that you know about.”
Gazef’s face was a little red. The look on his face as he glanced at Brain seemed to say, “You didn’t have to tell him that here.”
In the first place, training this hard-working young warrior was also a duty of the Warrior-Captain. He felt ashamed that he could not accomplish that.
Because Climb had been born a commoner like him, it was important not to let the nobles see them falter while in service to the royal family. For example, if Gazef crushed Climb in a spar, the nobles would whisper that Climb was not worthy of protecting the Princess. Meanwhile, if Gazef stumbled against Climb, they would turn their malicious gossip on him.
There was no need to praise a man like him for doing a little good deed ― not when that man had proudly declared that he would serve the King and thus abandoned a young warrior.
No, I shouldn’t feel ashamed. If I have the time to do that, I should―
“―Ah, never mind, I’ll leave it at that. Since you’ve been so kind as to point out Climb’s weaknesses in front of me, I’ll do my best to train them out of him.”
“Thank you, Gazef-sama.”
“…No, there’s no need to bow to me. You serve the royal family like I do ― that makes you my subordinate. Even so, I have not guided you, and have instead passed that job to someone else. You need not thank someone like that.”
The more Climb thanked him, the guiltier he felt.
“Isn’t that a pain in the ass, being someone with a foot in noble society. People hold you back over pointless things, and you can’t even do the things you want.”
“Since you’re Climb’s comrade, protecting Princess Renner alongside him, doesn’t that make you one of those people as well?”
“I’m as free as a bird. Being that princess-dono’s flunky or whatever… no. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Being the Princess’ subordinate is only a temporary thing. Once I’m tired of it or had my fill, I’ll move on.”
Brain smiled, his expression as cool and clear as the autumn sky. The drenched man Gazef had met in the capital was nowhere to be seen.
He was envious of how Brain could live in such a free-spirited way.
“Come to think of it, is it alright for you to chat idly with us, Gazef-sama?”
“Well, I’m actually kind of busy right now, but I just wanted to take a break… Say, do you two have spare time?”
Brain and Climb looked at each other in response to Gazef’s question.
“Spare time… huh.”
“Yeah, I guess. Don’t have much that needs doing, just prepping my gear.”
“Then, I hope you… right,” Gazef said as he looked to one of the watchtowers on the city walls. “Want to head over there?”
Nobody refused, and Gazef led the way.
As the Warrior-Captain, no soldier stopped him. In this way, they made it to the place Gazef had in mind, the place with the best view in the city.
E-Rantel’s outermost walls were the highest point in the city Which was to say, they had the best scenery and one could see furthest from there.
And because the air warmed by the heat from the many people below them did not reach this place, the cool, fresh winter wind refreshed their bodies.
“What a great view!” the lad exclaimed in heartfelt delight as he looked toward the southeast.
“Those are the Katze Plains, right?”
“Correct. It’s a place filled with undead, shrouded by mist all year round. It’ll become a battlefield in a few days.”
After answering, Gazef took a deep breath and then forcefully exhaled. The fresh air filled his body, and he hoped it would drive out the uneasy feelings he had about Ainz Ooal Gown.
“This is a magnificent view. It was worth becoming the princess’ subordinate for this. Is this what magicians who can use the [Fly] spell see all the time? No wonder they have so many weirdoes among them.”
“I guess seeing the world like this really changes your perspective, huh.”
“As if. Why don’t you bring a few nobles up here and see it if works? If they don’t change their tune, we’ll chuck them off the side of the wall. Two birds with one stone.”
Gazef smiled wryly at Brain’s joke. If people could be changed that way, he would drag them over in chains if need be.
Climb looked like he did not know how to respond, which made Gazef feel better.
“Haha. Coming here with you guys was the right thing to do. I feel relieved now.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. Then… why did you call us out here? Are you sure nobody’s watching us? Don’t tell me you gathered three strapping men together just to look at the scenery? Or is there someone you want dead?”
Brain’s sudden surge of aggression perturbed Gazef.
“Well, I guess I won’t be able to protect the Princess and it’ll be a shame to not be able to train Climb-kun any more… but Gazef, I owe you. I’ll do any dirty deed you want with a smile on my face.”
Brain was not kidding. The look in his eyes was serious.
“It’s nothing like that, Brain. I don’t want you to do that sort of thing.”
“…You do know I didn’t exactly lead a clean and spotless life, right?”
“Indeed, Brain. Your sword was quenched in blood. However, so was mine.”
“In your case, it was the blood of the Kingdom’s enemies, right? Mine’s the result of my own desires, and the blood I’ve shed is nothing like yours.”
“…Are you trying to atone for your sins?”
“No, nothing like that. I’ve done all sorts of things to beat you. I dedicated my life to it. But even after finding out that the goal I’ve been working toward is nothing special, I don’t feel any guilt for what I’ve done. But you did me a good turn, and I want to return the favor. That’s all there is ― don’t think too much about it.”
“Then, my request is that you not think of doing such things. Besides, what did you mean by ‘kind to you’? Was it when we met again in the Capital?”
Brain’s answer was a bitter smile.
“Don’t worry about it, I just felt like you helped me out.”
“The more you tell me not to worry about it, the more I end up worrying about it…”
In the face of this unyielding refusal, Gazef decided to change the topic.
“Ah, speaking of which, you do know I had no particular reason for bringing you here, right?”
Climb spoke, but Brain merely raised an eyebrow.
“…I was just thinking that it would be good for the three of us to have a chat while we had some free time, and that this was the only place where I could take my time to talk without worrying about what others would think of me. If we were in the capital, I know a place where we could have a quiet drink too.”
“What, so we’re really just talking? I thought you had some secret orders for me…”
“No, it’s not like that. How shall I put it…”
We could die at any time on the battlefield, and this could be the last time we see each other. Yet, how could he say such inauspicious things?
“Never mind. Oh, that’s right, Climb, that armor is a bit distinctive. Wouldn’t it be better to paint it a different color? As it is, you might become a priority target on the battlefield.”
“I’m sorry, Stronoff-sama, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Climb refused without hesitation.
“When I wear this distinctive armor and achieve excellence on the battlefield, I will bring credit to Princess Renner. In addition, many of the nobles know I wear white armor. If I change its color because I fear danger, they will mock me and it will inconvenience Renner-sama as well. Rather than that, I would prefer to meet my fate bravely on the battlefield, and win approval for her.”
As he looked into Climb’s eyes, Gazef swallowed the words he wanted to say.
“Princess Renner doesn’t want you to die.”
“Don’t confuse bravery and foolhardiness.”
“Endure a little hardship now for a better future.”
However, nothing he had come up with was persuasive enough to sway Climb from his course.
It was as Climb said. His armor was like Princess Renner’s flag. His heroic actions would improve her standing, and the reverse was true as well.
Climb had been saved by Princess Renner, and in his heart was the notion that “my life belongs to the Princess”. Gazef had no way to shake that kind of conviction.
It was the same sort of thing as his loyalty to the King, and therefore―
“I would gladly throw my life away for Princess Renner.”
Gazef had no idea how to respond to the youth who had already made up his mind.
“Oi, oi, oi. Why are you talking like you’re going to die at any time? Don’t worry, Gazef, I’ll keep an eye on Climb-kun. I won’t let him do anything stupid. No matter what kind of trouble he gets into, I’ll pull him out of it.”
“If it were only the Four Knights of the Empire, there’s no question you’d win, Brain. However… against that man, Ainz Ooal Gown… I fear even you would lose your life.”
“…Is Ainz Ooal Gown really that powerful? Ah, I remember you mentioned him before at your place.”
After the demonic disturbance, Gazef and Brain had drunk and discussed how their lives had gone ever since the grand tournament. That was how Ainz’ name had come up.
“I can confidently say no Imperial knight can beat you. The Four Knights, strong as they are, will be no match for you. Even if the Empire’s mightiest magic caster, Fluder Paradyne, took the field, you could probably escape if luck was with you. But against Ainz Ooal Gown… Brain, I’m sorry, but your life will end there.”
“That strong, huh. How powerful is he, really?”
“…All I can say, Brain, is that he’s beyond your imagination. You can take whatever you imagine after that and multiply that by a few times.”
“Well, if he’s that strong… I wonder if he could stand against Sebas-sama?”
“Sebas? Is that the old man Climb was speaking of? Although that old gent does seem to be astonishingly powerful, I still feel Gown-dono would be stronger than him.”
“I find that hard to believe, personally. I honestly can’t imagine anyone could be stronger than Sebas-sama… but more importantly, why do you address an enemy with such respect?”
“He is a worthy enemy. Although, saying that would be troublesome for the King, given the person of whom I speak.”
“You’ve done a great deal for us, Warrior-Captain-sama. Climb-kun, you’ve done your fair share for the Kingdom. As for me, I’m okay with anything. That air-headed Princess-sama is really too kind for her own good.”
Words like those suited Brain well. However, his disrespectful attitude toward the royal family could not be dismissed just like that.
Although the Gazef Stronoff who was a loyal vassal of the King might have knotted his brows in annoyance, the Gazef Stronoff who was a warrior would only grin at the man’s boldness.
If someone else were watching, he would have had to scold Brain, but right now, only the three of them were here. That meant that he only needed to be his warrior-self now.
“Although it’s true Renner-sama is too carefree… well, enough of that. I’ll understand if Climb doesn’t want to repaint his armor. Then, please take care of yourselves.”
“I’m extremely grateful for the concern everyone has shown me. However, Princess Renner told me before that I would need to work hard to match this suit of armor. So, although I am very sorry I cannot meet your wishes, I will not be changing my mind.”
“Is that so? Then I guess that’ll do.”
The cool wind blew past the three of them. The sky was a brilliant blue, and there was no feeling that a war was about to break out. Against this backdrop, Gazef saw Climb, with a serious look on his face. As he thought about not letting too many people die, his heart was filled with joy and sadness.
As though to wipe these feelings away, Gazef decided to change the topic.
“Speaking of which, what were you two talking about just now?”
Brain and Climb looked at each other, and then Brain spoke for them.
“Well, we had some free time just now, unlike you. So I had Climb follow me around on an errand. There was one more person, Lockmeyer; I had him show us around and take us to the messiah of the capital, that adamantite-ranked adventurer. We heard he was based in this city, so we decided to visit him.”
“Oh, Momon-dono, am I correct?”
“Right, right, that’s him. I saw him in passing in the capital. I heard them calling him the mightiest warrior ever―”
Here Brain’s attitude changed. He was more serious now.
“―So I wanted to discuss some things with him.”
Gazef repeated the word like a parrot learning to speak. Brain’s expression was hard to read.
“About that vampire. Shalltear Bloodfallen.”
The almighty vampire, who had shattered the spirit of Brain Unglaus, Gazef’s rival.
She was a monster that humanity could not defeat, and she had appeared in the Capital.
Brain thought she might have had something to do with Jaldabaoth, but―
“…Speaking of which, did you know that Momon-dono used a very rare magic item to defeat the vampire Honyopenyoko? Apparently, a part of the forest was destroyed by a large explosion, and when Momon-dono returned, his armor was covered with signs of a great battle.”
Gazef had heard that much from the Mayor.
“Ah, yes, I’ve heard of it too. That’s why I wanted to speak with him. To begin with, in my opinion, Shalltear Bloodfallen is a being that not even an adamantite-ranked adventurer could beat. And not that I suspect him or anything, but I wanted to ask if he really finished it off. And I was also interested in the vampire Honyopenyoko as well.”
“You mean, there might be other vampires like that around?”
“That’s right, Climb-kun. From what I’ve learned, Momon is chasing two vampires. I wanted to confirm if they’re Honyopenyoko and Shalltear.”
“And then what happened?”
“Well, about that…”
“Unfortunately, he wasn’t around. He was out of the city because of a request. I have no idea when he’s coming back.”
“Well, that is a shame. I didn’t have any luck either. I didn’t have a chance to speak with Momon-dono. If I had some time, I’d like to talk to him. If nothing else, I’d like to thank him for saving the Capital.”
“Is that so? Then… after this war’s over, why don’t we go together? If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to meet him. Climb-kun, want to come with us?”
“I would be glad to go with you.”
“Alright! I’ll have something to look forward to after this. He’s an adamantite-ranked warrior. I’ll be able to learn a lot, I’ll bet.”
“Indeed. We’ll definitely learn something useful. What kind of enemies he’s fought with… I look forward to hearing about his exploits.”
“Well, this is a surprise. Gazef, you like this sort of thing?”
“Ah, yes. After all, I am a warrior; it’s only natural that I’d be interested… So you’d better come back safe, all right?”
Gazef turned his eyes toward the Katze Plain.
“There’s a tavern in the Capital with excellent food. Once this war is over, we’ll go there to celebrate. It’ll be my treat. Savings are meant for things like that.”
“Let’s hope we’re going there to celebrate victory.”
Brain walked up to Gazef’s side, and looked in the same direction as him.
“Then, er, erm… could I come too?”
“Climb-kun, do you drink?”
Although the Kingdom’s laws did not technically set a legal age for drinking, nobody would sell alcohol to a boy in his teens.
“No, ‘ve never drunk before, so I’m not sure.”
“Is that so? Then you should drink a little and see how it’s like. There may come a time when you need to drink with others, like now.”
“Indeed. It might be good to get drunk and see if you can deal with it.”
“I understand. Then, I hope you will let me accompany you.”
“Good! Then, the three of us must return safely. Don’t throw your life away for nothing!”
After Gazef finished, Brain and Climb nodded to him.
A crimson expanse spread before the eyes. It was a barren wasteland, devoid of almost all greenery. Those who waxed poetic called this land of death a field of blood..
It was the Katze Plains ― a place where the undead and other monsters wandered, feared as a dangerous place by all.
The most fearsome thing was the thin mist that shrouded its monsters no matter the time of the day. This fog produced weak undead reactions.
By itself, the mist did nothing to living creatures. It did not drain life energy, nor did it inflict damage. However, because the mist registered as an undead creature to spells, it negated attempts to detect undead beings, and as a result many adventurers had been ambushed by undead while inside it.
However, that mist was absent now. Visibility was excellent and one could see a long way. It was as though the land was welcoming the combatants of the upcoming war onto itself as future undead.
The undead had dispersed with the fog, and none of them could be seen. A silent, lifeless stretch of land spread before them.
Collapsed towers, built hundreds of years ago, jutted out from the earth like scattered tombstones. Of course, none of them was intact.
The towers were originally six floors high, but everything above the third floor had collapsed, and the debris was everywhere. Less than half of the thick walls were left. The cause was not so much weathering by time and the wind as battles between monsters.
Scenes like these existed right next to normal grass-covered plains, sharply demarcated by an invisible line. This was why the Katze Plains was called a cursed land.
The sun shone on the land which had not seen its light for nearly a year. As though to look down on this unhallowed land, a vast structure loomed high over it from the other side of the boundary ― the world of the living.
It was built with huge logs that were nowhere to be found on the surrounding plains, with sturdy walls that seemed to deny passage to everything in its vicinity. It was ringed by a shallow ditch that was nevertheless carefully excavated and filled with sharpened stakes. This was to ward against unintelligent undead.
On the other side of the ditch flew countless flags. Of these, the most numerous were the Empire’s flags ― bearing the insignia of the Baharuth Empire.
That was only to be expected. After all, this building, this castrum, was the Imperial Army’s Katze Plain garrison base.
The Empire had mobilized 60’000 knights for this operation. The garrison could house all of them, which itself spoke volumes about the base’s size. And this formidable castrum, as mighty as a fortress, was built on a piece of easily defended terrain.
It was built on top of a hill. This hill was not native to the Katze Plains, but built up entirely through magical landscaping.
Even the Baharuth Empire, which had adopted a national strategy of increasing the number of their magic casters, could not complete work like this in a short time. This structure had been built over a period of several years.
Originally, this place was intended to be the starting point of invasions targeting E-Rantel. That was to say, this massive castrum had been built with the intention of withstanding an extended siege by the Kingdom’s hundreds of thousands of troops.
The Kingdom had no answer to the creation of this castrum, simply because they had no spare manpower or resources to attack the garrison.
Although they would unite when the Empire invaded their own country, when it came to launching an invasion, they had to discuss things with fellow members of their faction. In addition, deciding who would foot the bill for declaring war despite none of their land being at stake was also an issue.
In the end, none of the nobles would bother unless they were in the line of fire.
Three Hippogriffs flew in the skies above that massive castrum. They began with a wide aerial orbit, followed by a slow descent. Any knight would know that this was the ceremonial descent of the Royal Air Guard ― troops under the Emperor’s direct command ― which meant that an emissary of the Empire was about to land.
On the surface, there were around 10 mounted knights in a circular formation, each raising the Imperial flag. This was a return salute from the ground ― the ceremony for welcoming an Imperial emissary. The griffins landed in the center of the circle, and the accuracy of the landing was a test of the riders’ skills, but all three passed with flying colors, which showed the excellence of their ability.
After landing, the Imperial emissaries mounted on the Hippogriffs revealed themselves. Although these knights were given the honor of carrying out ceremonial duties, they were so surprised that the flags they were holding wavered.
The reason for their brief panic was the man who was dressed in a manner completely unlike the other two people accompanying him.
Once he removed his helmet and revealed his handsome features, everyone immediately knew who he was.
The wind lightly tossed his blond hair, and his eyes were as blue as the sea. His mouth, which suggested an iron will, was tightly shut. He was the picture of the perfect knight.
There was no knight who did not know who this man was.
More importantly, there was nobody who did not know about the full plate armor he wore. It was made of the rare metal adamantite, and further enchanted with powerful magic. There were only a few suits of armor like this in the Empire.
The wearer of this armor was one of the highest-ranking knights in the Empire.
He was one of the Empire’s Four Knights, “Violent Gale” Nimble Ark Dale Anock.
In a strident voice that matched the image he projected, Nimble addressed one of the knights.
“I seek your supreme commander, General Kabein of the Second Legion. Do you know where he is?”
“Sir! General Kabein is in a meeting now to plan the offensive against the Kingdom in a few days’ time! I will have you escorted to the General’s praetorium, Anock-sama!”
“I see. Then… has Sorcerer King Gown-dono arrived here as well?”
“Sir! No sir! The Sorcerer King-dono has not been sighted here.”
Nimble sighed in relief at the fact that the General had been informed ahead of time and that he had arrived before him.
“Then, may I ask you to lead the way? I also have another favor to ask of you.”
Nimble slowly closed his hands around something concealed in a breast pocket.
♦ ♦ ♦
The knights brought Nimble to a luxurious tent, where he waited for almost an hour, until the owner of the tent returned in the company of numerous guards.
He was an oldman whose hair was pure white, and he had a dignified air about him.
Although he was armored like all the other knights, he gave off a completely different impression from them. One could say that he looked like a noble, rather than a soldier.
The broad smile on his face made him seem even more like a noble than a knight. His voice was calm, far too out of place on a grim place like the battlefield.
Nimble responded in the approved ceremonial fashion.
Natel Inyem Dale Kabein.
He was a noble who had been overshadowed by others, but the previous Emperor had recognized him for his talents and placed him in command of the Second Legion. Although he was not possessed of martial valor as a person, he was famed for his ability to command, with rumors saying that he had never lost a battle. With him in command, the Second Legion enjoyed very high morale.
In fact, the knights accompanying Kabein were unable to hide their respect for him in every move they made.
“I do not know how to begin thanking the general-kakka, who came all this way to see me even though he is the supreme commander of this expedition.”
The Imperial Army was divided into eight legions, and every legion’s commanding officer was bestowed the title of “general”. The general of the First Legion was known as the Field Marshal, and he was the commander-in-chief of the entire Imperial Army.
If the First Legion ― if the Field Marshal was not present, the general of the next legion would assume his position as the overall commanding officer. That was to say, General Kabein of the Second Legion was in command of the entire Imperial Army.
“No, no, Nimble. Dispense with the formalities. You’re here on his Imperial Majesty’s orders, right? You’re not under my command. You need only speak to me as an equal.”
Even as he said that, Nimble smiled bitterly.
The Imperial Army was loyal first to the Emperor, and then the generals.
The Empire’s Four Knights, its strongest fighters, would often be tasked with carrying out the Emperor’s will. In terms of authority, they would be considered equal to a general. However, in terms of age, experience and prestige, none of them were equal to Kabein. It was very difficult for him to treat Kabein as merely an equal unless an outsider were present.
Kabein smiled, as though he relished the disquiet on Nimble’s face.
“It itches at me that one of the Four Knights, the Empire’s mightiest warriors, should be so stiff and formal around an old man like myself. How about just dispensing with the honorifics?”
“Understood, General Kabein.”
General Kabein nodded, as though to indicate his approval.
“Although, you picked a good time to come. The mist has dispersed, as though welcoming you.”
“General Kabein, I think the welcome is not for me, but for the tragedy that is about to unfold. I shudder to imagine what will happen.”
“A tragedy, hm… Well, then, Nimble. Can you tell me what this war is meant to accomplish? Until now, our strategic objective has been to exhaust the Kingdom, but this time round, it’s different. Our current objective is to take E-Rantel by diplomatic means, and for that we will need to comprehensively defeat the Kingdom in battle.”
Kabein’s eyes hardened as he said this.
“…We face the largest army the Kingdom has ever mustered in recorded history. Although our knights are more than a match for any of the conscripts the Kingdom can field, quantity is a quality of its own. An open field battle will result in many casualties. And all of this is for the purpose of seizing E-Rantel, which we will then immediately hand over to this Sorcerer King fellow. What is his Imperial Majesty thinking?”
“Before I answer this question, I hope you will send away everyone present.”
The old general opened his mouth as if to speak, then nodded his head instead.
“All of you are dismissed.”
Kabein’s advisors bowed as they retreated.
“Thank you very much.”
“Wasting time would be foolish. Now, can you tell me why?”
“Yes. I was originally dispatched to inform the Field Marshal of the objective of this war.”
Nimble shifted himself in his seat.
“The objective of this war is to build good relations with the Sorcerer King, Ainz Ooal Gown. As such, we are to obtain E-Rantel by any cost in lives, and then relinquish it at no cost to Ainz Ooal Gown, in order to strengthen the ties with both sides.”
“If the knights who maintain order in the Empire are depleted, the Empire will be in danger. Is the Sorcerer King really worth all that?”
Kabein folded his arms and closed his eyes. That was only for a brief period.
“I understand. If this is his Imperial Majesty’s desire, then I shall carry it out.”
“You have my utmost gratitude.”
“There is no need for gratitude… though we will have to work hard to meet with the Sorcerer King’s approval.”
“About that, I have a request,” Nimble said.
This was his main aim for coming here.
“We have asked the Sorcerer King to cast a spell to begin the attack. I would ask you delay the knights’ charge until after that spell.”
“And what does that mean? Are we not supposed to buy the Sorcerer King’s sympathy with our blood?”
“Indeed, that is the idea. However, we also intend to investigate the power of the Sorcerer King. As such, we intend to have the Sorcerer King use the most powerful spell he is capable of. His Imperial Majesty has asked for this in order to see what manner of magic that might be.”
“…So, the Sorcerer King… he is an enemy?”
“You seem to understand. The Sorcerer King ―Ainz Ooal Gown― is an enemy of the Empire.”
“I see. Then I will have the knights charge the breach created by the Sorcerer King’s spell in order to widen it. But what kind of spell will that be? I hope it’s not a simple [Fireball]?”
“We do not know, so we must find out what he is capable of. However, we can probably assume it is more powerful than Paradyne-sama’s attack magic.”
Kabein’s eyes widened, but that was only for a moment.
“I see, I see. Although I find it hard to believe anyone could be more powerful than that mighty magic caster, I can see why his Imperial Majesty would want to build good relations with him if he really possesses that sort of power.”
Nimble remained silent.
“Slaying hundreds in a single stroke would be a mighty blow. It would be a good chance for a penetrating charge. With that kind of power at our side, we would take fewer losses.”
If only that were all, Nimble thought.
After speaking with his fellow members of the Four Knights, “Heavy Explosion” and “Lightning Bolt”, he realised that Ainz’ power surpassed mortal imagination. He might be able to use a spell that slew thousands, perhaps tens of thousands if they were densely packed. Of course, he ahd his doubts, but there was a high chance that it was true if both of them concurred.
Just as Kabein said, the deaths of the knights which policed the Empire would be a huge loss.
While it would be a joyous occasion if Ainz, their latent enemy, turned out to be toothless, just this once, he wanted to believe what his comrades had said.
“Ah, General. There’s another thing I want to ask you. The Sorcerer King will be bringing his troops to the front. I hope you will allow them to accompany you to the battlefield.”
“Hoh. And how many thousand men does he have?”
“Forgive me for interrupting your conversation, Kabein-kakka, Nimble-kakka!”
A great cry rose from the knight outside the tent.
Kabein looked apologetically to Nimble, before speaking to the man outside.
“You may enter.”
The man who came in was a highly-ranked knight.
“What’s going on? Is it an emergency?”
“Sir! A carriage flying the flag of the Sorcerer King has arrived at the main gate. They request entry. Do we have permission to let them in?”
The knight’s eyes turned to Nimble. Kabein looked at him as well. On his part, Nimble nodded.
“…Understood, let them through.”
“Sir! Then… do we need to inspect the carriage?”
Nobody could enter the castrum without being cleared by the sentries. The normal procedure was to use magic to check the personnel in question, to ensure they were not intruders disguised by illusions.
If this were the Kingdom, they would not have used magic for inspections. The reason why it was used here was because magic and magical technology was a cornerstone of the Empire’s might. They were aware of the terrifying power of magic, and were thus vigilant against its use.
This was especially true for a huge military base like this which employed the latest magical technology. Such technologies were the pillar which shored up their future, and if they were leaked, it might cause great harm to the Empire. Were Emperor Jircniv to show up in person, he would still be closely scrutinized by the guards.
As a result, even if the visitors were from an allied country ― no, precisely because they were from an allied country, they would be subject to inspection.
However, there were situations where such things would not be allowed.
Kabein glanced to Nimble again.
Weighed down by the oppressive atmosphere and the power of the item in his breast pocket, Nimble could only smile bitterly in response.
“General Kabein, I tender my sincerest apologies. They are extremely important guests to the Empire. This is a special accommodationg and an exception among exceptions. Please permit them to enter as they are.”
Kabein’s face, which had borne a warm smile until recently, froze into an emotionless mask.
That was because he knew that Nimble had given an order to the knight over his own head.
However kind a man was, he would not be happy if his own people were given orders by someone else.
Nimble understood the reason for Kabein’s aggravation, but that was an order he had to give.
While Nimble was hesitating about whether to reveal the item he was concealing in his breast pocket, General Kabein spoke up.
“If it is the Emperor’s command, then we must obey. After all, the Empire and all within it are under the command of his Imperial Majesty.”
“I am very glad you understand, General.”
The object Nimble carried was an imperial decree. It was written on parchment, and said that the bearer was empowered to act with the full authority of the Emperor. Its remit extended to everyone involved within this war. Within this war, Nimble would outrank Kabein, and he would even be able to relieve him of command if needed.
For a moment, Nimble was relieved because he would not have to ruin the relationship between an elder officer that he respected. Then he tensed up again, because now was not the time to relax.
“Then, shall we go meet this Sorcerer King? After all he has received much favor from his Imperial Majesty, so surely he must be a man who can rival that great hero.”
Personally, Nimble did not wish to go.
After speaking to the other Four Knights ―no, there were only three now, including himself― and remembering what they had said to him, Nimble’s expression turned bitter. However, he had no choice but to follow the General.
“Of course, General Kabein. Do allow me to walk with you.”
A magnificent carriage advanced outside the castrum, following behind mounted outriders. What made onlookers gasp was the fact that the carriage had no driver, and that the horse which pulled it was bigger than an ordinary horse. It was not a Sleipnir, but a magical beast which looked like a scaled horse.
Nimble addressed the surrounding knights and Kabein.
“Please present arms to our guest.”
(TL Note: Highest form of military salutation, reserved for senior officers and high ranking dignitaries.)
What? Nimble could imagine that was what all the soldiers and Kabein were thinking, given the expressions on their faces.
Protocol dictated that one should present arms to the heads of state of allied powers.
However, that protocol did not exist in military installations. That was because foreign dignitaries would not normally come to a military base.
Even within human nations, there would be squabbles and infighting. Nobody would be that open-minded.
Presenting arms to an outsider was something which should be done in a safe, open place, and not in a military installation. That was what the soldiers present must have been thinking.
In addition, there was one more thing.
One would almost never present arms on the battlefield.
This is because soldiers might think that the person to whom their commanding officer was presenting their arms to was superior even to him. That was one of the unspoken rules of the battlefield.
As one of the Four Knights, Nimble understood their feelings perfectly. However―
“Gentlemen, please present your arms.”
Nimble repeated himself in a voice which was underpinned by steel.
After that, he heard Kabein sigh.
“You heard him, didn’t you? Present arms as the Sorcerer King approaches.”
Kabein’s orders calmed the disquieted soldiers. If it was an order, then all they had to do was follow. There was no need to think too much about it.
Nimble shot a thankful look at Kabein, but as he did, he noticed a mocking look on Kabein’s face. It seemed to say it might be hard on you, but it’s even harder on me.
The carriage stopped before them.
Nimble and the others gasped, for more than one reason.
The first was because the carriage itself was breathtakingly beautiful. Its base color was a black that seemed to have been cut from the night sky itself, and the entire chassis was covered in elaborate ornamentation. Said decorations had the subdued radiance of brass, while the leather was a copper color, giving the whole an air of elegance and classiness. Although the embellishments might have been a little overdone, it did not reach the point of tackiness. Instead, it resembled nothing so much as a giant treasure box.
Nimble had ridden the Emperor’s personal carriage on occasion, and he was of the firm opinion that the one before him was superior to it.
The other reason why he gasped was because of the beast pulling the carriage. It was most definitely not a horse. The creature gurgled softly, a liquid “gurururu” sound, and its sharp teeth could be seen in the slight opening of its mouth. Its entire body was covered in scales that seemed to belong to a reptile, and underneath those scales were prominent, rippling bands of muscle.
It was like a horse-shaped avatar of brutality and violence.
Everyone around it was filled with an acute sense of alarm. Nimble himself was starting to hyperventilate, and sweat broke out on his back and palms. The beast was that terrifying.
Amidst the storm of panicked breaths, the carriage’s door opened.
A dark elf girl alighted.
All thinking ground to a halt.
Nobody could speak. Their eyes were drawn irresistibly to her.
The girl holding her twisted black staff was adorable. When she grew up, she would surely break many hearts. Her beauty would be such that men would do anything for her. Even her demure expression was like a flower blossoming under the moonlight.
However, the things on her hands were utterly incongruous with the image she projected.
They were gauntlets.
The left gauntlet was an evil-looking thing that resembled the hand of some demonic lifeform. It seemed to be made out of some sort of ominous black metal which was covered in twisted thorns. Its fingertips were sharpened into points, and the dirty radiance surrounding it seemed vaguely metallic, but resembled some sort of strange secretion. Just a single look filled all who saw it with a distasteful feeling, like their very souls were rejecting it.
In contrast, the right gauntlet looked like the pure, immaculate hand of a maiden. It was white in color and its slender proportions were covered in elaborate gold embroidery, which further emphasized its exquisite beauty. It drew the eye like bees to honey, and just like seeing a world-class beauty, the onlookers felt like they might lose their souls to it.
“A-Ah, Ainz-sama. I think we’ve arrived.”
“Have we now. Thank you, Mare.”
With that, another figure revealed itself.
In that moment, the air suddenly turned stagnant.
The bodies of every man present was suddenly covered in goosebumps. This was not killing intent, but a feeling that was harder to describe.
Ainz Ooal Gown was dressed in the trappings that one would associate with an arcane magic caster. To begin with, he wore a jet-black robe, and on top of that, another black cloak, which was doubly curious. In addition, he bore a staff which was lavishly decorated, but not to the point of being overly ostentatious. Around his neck was a silver necklace set with a gemstone. And on his face was a strange mask.
“We bid you and your entourage welcome, your Majesty, Sorcerer-King Ainz Ooal Gown.”
Nimble lowered his head. However, he did not hear anyone else following suit.
Despite knowing it was very rude, he had to turn behind to look. The general and knights behind him were frozen in place.
They had been overwhelmed by the Sorcerer-King’s presence and could not move.
He could understand that. However, if this went on, it wouldn’t turn out well.
In the end, it was the general who delivered the solution to Nimble’s predicament.
The roar belonged to Kabein. It was a crisp, bracing command that did not seem to suit a noble like himself, but which perfectly fitted his rank as a general.
“A salute! To his Majesty, the Sorcerer King!”
The knights chorused their reply, and as one, they presented their arms to Ainz.
“I thank you for your welcome, you knights who are the pride of the Empire.”
It was a thoroughly mundane response, which made it that much more frightening. It felt strangely out of palce, like something monstrous was trying its best to act like a human being. Having heard of the face underneath the mask, Nimble experienced that sensation even more acutely than the others.
“Please raise your heads.”
The first time he said it, nobody responded.
“Can you not raise your heads?”
After the second time, they complied. After all, waiting until the third time was an honor only granted to one’s own ruler.
“Your Majesty, please forgive those who did not immediately raise their heads.”
A quick glance across the knights revealed that their lips were white and their faces were pale.
“They were so excited to see your Majesty that they forgot themselves.”
“No, I should be the one to apologize. I was excited because we would be heading to the battlefield. I hope you understand that I hold none of you at fault.”
Ainz cast off the black cape on his shoulders. The jet-black fabric flapped like a raven’s wings as it spread open. In that moment, the cold, oppressive air that surrounded him vanished like it had never been.
All that was left was an ordinary human being, with the presence of an ordinary human being.
It was frightening.
That was the emotion Nimble felt most keenly now.
He had heard of Ainz’ monstrous nature from his comrades. Even so, the man standing in front of him seemed too ordinary, which only deepened his fear. He felt like a large predator was slowly drawing close to him.
The knights, who knew nothing, were probably beginning to sense the oddity of the situation. The air filled with a growing disquiet. Kabein seemed to understand. He did not use his mind, but his heart and soul. Through them, he knew what sort of attitude he should hold toward the person in front of him.
“Please allow me, Nimble Ark Dale Anock, to lead you to your quarters.”
“Is that so. Then, I am in your care. Do alow me to apologize for any inconvenience I am causing you.”
“Understood. Then, this is the commander-in-chief of this expedition, General Kabein.”
“I am Kabein, your Majesty, Sorcerer King Ainz Ooal Gown. If you are inconvenienced by anything in this garrison, please inform me and we will immediately rectify it. Please, take your pick of the knights here to be your followers…”
“There is no need for that. I have a subordinate here.”
He gestured to the dark elf girl.
“And I will provide for myself in case of any insufficiency.”
The true intention behind Kabein’s offer was to assign minders to Ainz in order to keep him from doing anything strange in the base.
Yet, the answer had been a flat denial, an answer only the powerful could give.
However, given Kabein’s circumstances, he could not allow this sort of thing to happen. At this rate, they would never come to a consensus.
Although Nimble obviously understood Kabein’s feelings, he could not leave this matter be.
“Is that so… then, Sorcerer King-kakka, please feel free to inform us if you require anything at all. General Kabein, I hope you will allow me to handle things from here.”
“Ah… there’s something I forgot to mention.”
“Is something the matter, Sorcerer King-kakka?”
“I believe that I am to open this battle with a spell. In that moment, I would like to have my troops participate in the battle as well. I hope you will permit this.”
“We could ask for nothing more.”
Since it had already been discussed, Kabein promptly acquiesced.
Yet, he wrinkled his brow in puzzlement.
“…However, the battle will commence in several days, perhaps as early as tomorrow. From whence shall your forces arrive, your Majesty? We cannot wait too long…”
“That will not be a problem. They are already nearby.”
The answer raised doubts in Nimble’s heart. Looking at the sky, there did not seem to be any airborne troops approaching.
Kabein must have had the same suspicions as him. Naturally, the garrison was surrounded by an extensive security net. The approach of anyone apart from Imperial troops would be immediately reported to general-ranked personnel. Could it be that a report had been lost?
Nimble looked around, but it did not seem like anyone present knew anything about it.
“My apologies. No, saying they’re nearby would not be accurate. Well, I just wanted to say they can arrive immediately.”
“I see…” Kabein did not seem able to accept that, but he continued to ask, “How many troops will be coming?”
“Around five hundred.”
Although Kabein hid his reaction masterfully, Nimble could not conceal his own disappointment.
In order to demonstrate their loyalty to Ainz, the Empire had to shed oceans of its peoples’ blood. As such, Ainz’ unit would probably not be used at all, so putting them into the Imperial Army’s formation would be fine.
“General, will there be a problem integrating the Sorcerer King-kakka’s unit with our formation?”
“If it’s just five hundred, then we won’t even have to rearrange our formation. As for the Sorcerer-King’s honor guard, perhaps we should leave that duty to his subordinate.”
He was hinting, “Don’t be so eager to rush into the fray.” The Imperial army would have to go in first and take losses in order to prove their sincerity to Ainz, so letting Ainz’ unit do too much would be troublesome.
Ainz seemed pleased nodded in acceptance of Nimble’s suggestion. A great weight lifted quietly from Nimble’s heart, but when he thought about it calmly, it did not seem logical at all. What could a mere five hundred troops do? In all likelihood they were merely a guard of honor.
However, what happened next far exceeded Nimble’s predictions.
Ainz seemed to have cast some sort of spell and was speaking into thin air.
“Can you hear me― Shalltear? Open a [Gate] to my position and then send the troops over.”
The eyes under Ainz’s mask seemed to move.
“Now then, General, I have summoned my unit.”
As he finished saying that, a commotion rippled through the onlookers.
A black, hemispherical object appeared behind Ainz’ back.
Nimble remembered something about a [Gate] being mentioned earlier.
The gate opened, and what came forth was―
The world went silent.
A strange absence of sound filled the surroundings. The proverbial sound of silence rang forth.
The five hundred troops revealed their forms. Compared to the 60’000-strong Imperial army, they seemed so few as to be sad. However, nobody could look down on these five hundred soldiers.
The bizarre forces before them made that abundantly clear.
“These are my troops.”