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Overlord (LN) - Volume 16 - Chapter 4.5




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Part 5

Quite a number of Dark Elves had gathered in the plaza. It was likely that everyone in the village, excluding the children, were gathered here.

It seemed that they also used this plaza to hold meetings.

However, though it was called a plaza, because this was a Dark Elf village, it was mid-air. It was a place that looked like a giant tray held in place by the bridges that extended from the trees. It seemed like a place they couldn’t use if it rained, but they didn’t have a meeting hall in the village—there were no Elf Trees that could hold this number of people. Perhaps when there were far fewer people, they might have done it in one of the Elf Trees, but that probably wasn’t something he should ask about right now.

Ainz was participating in the meeting as an advisor.

Frankly, he wanted to refuse the role.

He wanted to decline with all his might a position with that kind of responsibility. Was there anyone, anywhere, who would be happy with this unpaid role in the first place?

The most desirable thing would have been to participate as an observer, but the other side wanted him to participate as an advisor. Since Ainz himself had been drawn to the topic of the meeting, he was hesitant, indecisive, and so bewildered that he just nodded in agreement while in that state.

What had drawn his interest was, first of all, the outcome. There was a big difference between knowing and not knowing what sort of conclusion they came to.

Next was who was for and who was against it? In what sort of atmosphere would they conduct their discussion? The things he wanted to know—things he wouldn’t understand just from hearing about it—couldn’t be learned by just reading the minutes of this sort of meeting. Even if some kind of conclusion came of this meeting as the consensus of the village, there would probably be people who would be dissatisfied with it or couldn’t accept it. He hadn’t decided on what to do about the village from hereafter, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take the course of disposing of those who would bring detriments to Nazarick. If they were beneficial to Nazarick, he would bring them in individually.

If it were Albedo or Demiurge, they might be able to infer everything without participating in the meeting, but for an ordinary person like Ainz, that would be difficult to do.

While looking out over the assembled Dark Elves, Ainz suddenly recalled his time in “Ainz Ooal Gown.” For instance, even in a virtual world, where faces didn’t move, the atmosphere of a meeting was clearly felt.

Be that as it may, it was never that big of a deal. At those gatherings where things were decided by a majority vote, the ability to read the room wasn’t that important. However, that probably wasn’t the case here.

{Being in this position might be unexpectedly convenient…If I leave in the middle and abandon my voting rights, then I won’t need to take responsibility for anything, and it's not like I have any degree of experience advising in a meeting anyway.}

To put it bluntly, Ainz didn't know much about meetings. Of course, he himself had participated in them before, Suzuki Satoru was a working adult after all. It would be rare for a company to not have any meetings at all. However, even if he did participate, his single vote was worthless. They were meetings in name only; they only served to receive orders from above. So his feelings toward them was only natural. Therefore, he only attended, nothing more.

Well then, how had it been since he came to this world?

Meetings in the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick were hell for Ainz.

Because the opinions of Ainz, the ruler, were always taken as being correct no matter how wrong they were, it was impossible for him to say anything wrong. However, since the Guardians recognized Ainz as their absolute ruler and—for some reason—a genius who sees through all, they would keep asking for his opinion. This heavy responsibility was one of the main causes of Ainz’s psyche’s deterioration.

{Since my opinion is always prioritized in Nazarick, it sure would be nice if I could acquire some useful knowledge about how meetings are conducted. At this one, there aren’t any conjectures about what the absolute ruler is thinking.}

What he wanted to gain and what he was searching for were difficult for Ainz to put into words. Even so, he thought that if there was something that could expand his knowledge, he would want to obtain it.

At long last, the elders appeared.

They stood in the center of the U-shaped crowd, to their right and left stood groups of miscellaneous Dark Elves who looked like they were inserting themselves into the meeting. Ainz’s position was in a spot that was a bit separated from where the elders were.

{Hmmm, yeah, to be honest, I failed. Because I was hanging around the temporary master’s house, I couldn’t completely grasp the relationships between the Dark Elves in this village…}

Even at this gathering of the villagers, there were people who he had exchanged casual greetings with as well as those whose names he didn’t even know.

Ainz only worked hard on gathering intelligence on the VIPs of this village. However, if you were to ask him if he knew what shape the web of relationships took centering on those people, he wouldn’t be that well informed.

That said, he had clearly explained why it couldn’t be helped. Furthermore, even if he had worked hard and built relationships with them, he wouldn’t have been able to become close enough for them to drop all pretenses and talk to him about anything in this short amount of time.

{Adults…have a lot of things going on after all. I’d like to believe it’s not like that for children though…}

Based on Ainz’s shallow knowledge of such things, there appeared to be no particular meaning in this arrangement of attendees.

While thinking that he wished everybody had nametags, Ainz used illusory magic to put on a serious expression for the time being and waited for the meeting to begin.

“Now then, let us begin,” one of the elders, the younger man, spoke. “I believe you all have already heard about it from someone else. However, in order to determine what is factual, please allow me to explain it once again. Today, a messenger from the Elf King came to this village. He talked about how the country of humans to the north is launching an attack near the Royal Capital. Th—” 

Many eyes turned to look at where Ainz was.

No doubt they were thinking the same thing as the one who came to the Chief Pharmacist’s house. That was the reason why he had to promptly deny it. It would be extremely inconvenient for them to have some weird misunderstandings.

“—Excuse me,” Ainz raised his hand. It seemed that they didn’t have that sort of rule, but he had interrupted the elder’s speech, so he should at least do that much. “Just in case, let me say this. It is a different country than the one I come from. The attacking country is a country of only humans—an ethnostate where Elves are enslaved.”

A few voices of hatred rose up from the crowd in response to the word “slave.” No sooner than that could he hear whispers of “we know,” “elves,” and other things of less significance. Somehow, it seemed that a rather free expression of opinions was allowed at their meetings.

“The country I live in is as I have said previously, it’s a country where various races live together. Because they are protected by law, there is neither hostilities nor persecution…Oh! That means they are not targeted because of their race. There are not very many criminals, but it is not as if they are completely nonexistent, so if you were to walk around dangerous places, then just maybe…I cannot state definitively that such a thing wouldn’t happen. I am sorry for interrupting you.”

Ainz lightly bowed his head to the elder and he responded in kind.

“So due to another country’s attack, they have also requested for the Dark Elves to send soldiers.”

“That wasn't a request!” one of the youngsters shouted, his hatred apparent in his voice. “It was an order to ‘send.’”

Though soft, voices of agreement could be heard from here and there.

The elders also didn’t immediately try to stop them. At the very least, they probably held the same opinion.

“Then what should we do? Thinking that we should discuss this, we held this meeting. We intend to take the consensus that emerges from this village to the other villages and discuss it with them. Therefore, we would like for you to understand that this doesn’t mean our opinion as it is will become the opinion of the Dark Elves as a whole. In addition, even if we bring this village’s opinion to our talks with the other villages, not only may it not be adopted, depending on the situation we may not even come to a conclusion.”

To this elder’s words, another one continued. 

“—No, there’s probably a good chance of that happening. There’s even a possibility that this village, where everybody knows everyone else, can’t come to an agreement either. As a result of that, it may come to pass that the Dark Elves would split up and live separately from one another as it had happened once in the past,” the elder looked in Ainz’s direction for only a moment. “Not seeing eye to eye is by no means a bad thing. However, by not being trapped by one’s own opinions and exchanging them with others inside the village, we can acquire all sorts of ideas. We also believe it necessary to take a broader perspective on things to decide on our course of action.”

{How would that even work?} Ainz, having experience as a Guild Leader, couldn’t imagine doing that.

It would be wrong for the leader of an organization to support the idea of letting everyone do as they pleased and not unify their opinion.

If the members of a guild went against the guild’s decision for reasons they couldn’t accept, or that they didn’t like it, then wouldn’t it have been meaningless to create the organizations called guilds in the first place? The reason they were able to attain strength was precisely because they were unified; splitting up made everyone a good target to get crushed.

Be that as it may, Ainz didn’t say any of those things.

Under these circumstances, it wasn’t good for an outsider who thought that their own opinion was correct to impose it on them. To see it from a different perspective, how would you feel having an opinion forced upon you by an outsider?

On top of that, life in a dangerous place like the Great Sea of Trees might be the reason why they emphasized the idea of self-determination.

Though he had only lived here for about a week, Ainz got a strong impression that the idea of self-responsibility was stronger in Dark Elves than it was in humans.

When he thought about it, there seemed to be many problems with that way of thinking—one that had been cultivated for who knows how many tens or hundreds of years until now—being changed by the opinions of one foreigner.

The first one—

{—Wouldn’t the Dark Elves scattering be a benefit to Nazarick?}

“It was for that reason that we had he who knows of the outside world participate.”

The discussion suddenly shifted and Ainz, lost in the incoherence of his own thoughts, lightly nodded in agreement.

“I do not know if I will be of any use or not, but I’ll wring out as much of my wisdom as I can.”

“OOH!” Among the voices of admiration that could be heard, a dark elf tossed out a question to them.

“So then, what is it that the elders are considering we do? Sending someone even though we have no such thing as soldiers in this village?”

“We agree with that opinion. We certainly haven’t heard of a Dark Elf village being attacked yet, but that might just mean they are not being attacked right now. I believe you all know this, but our village lies on the outskirts of the Elven Country—and since it is located in the Southeastern tip, if the adversary is attacking villages in order, this village would be last, yes?”

“After they have exterminated the Elves, we the Dark Elves may not be safe. If that’s the case, we should cooperate and drive them back.”

“…That is where the question lies, elders. Just because the Elves are being attacked, that doesn’t mean the Dark Elves will also be attacked, does it?”

That certainly was correct. According to Ainz’s—Nazarick’s—investigations, there was no evidence that Dark Elves were sold as slaves. 

“And conversely, if we stood with the Elves and participated in the war, the human country might then regard Dark Elves as enemies. To begin with, can we even fight and win against the human country?”

The air trembled with commotion

It was a reasonable question.

The adversary had penetrated as far as the vicinity of the Royal Capital. From there it would be rather difficult to have a dramatic turnaround. If you thought about it logically, their prospects of victory were low.

“I endorse the elder’s opinion,” a dark elf said uncomfortably. “Melon. In the past, when we fled to this forest, the Elves accepted us. Do you not feel the need to repay that kindness?”

The dark elf called Melon, who had thrown out the question from just a moment ago, hurried to answer.

“No, that isn’t what I was talking about. To fight or not to fight aren’t our only options, right? For example, why don’t we just invite the Elves to come with us and run away? This forest is still so big. I don’t know what kind of creature the ones called humans are, but they’re probably not more skilled at living in this forest than we are. If we ran away, they might not pursue us…And if push comes to shove, we also have the means to migrate to a forest that is far away…Besides, why are the humans even attacking the Elves? Isn’t there a chance that the Elves were the ones who attacked first?”

“…If that’s what happened, then you reap what you sow.”

The one who whispered that was the Chief Pharmacist. It was a quiet voice, but loud enough for everyone to hear.

“…Certainly, why are the Elven and human countries fighting? Are the humans also living in this forest?”

The elder looked at Ainz like he was asking him for help.

“—No, my deepest apologies, but I do not know the reason for the war. Rather than that, it is my first time hearing that the human country has penetrated this far. However, I do know that the human country lies outside the Great Sea of Trees. I do not think this a struggle for existence by any means.”

“Was that right? This forest is too big for us to know everything about it, and that means the outside world is even bigger than that, I suppose… So what is it you think we should do?

{What? You’re asking me, an outsider, something like that? Well, this is awkward. For the time being, it doesn’t mean the Dark Elves are absolutely one of the races I would want…}

The existence of the Elf Trees and the Chief Pharmacist’s knowledge were among some of the things he wanted, but they were not incentive enough for him to absolutely want them.

{…But, well, it’s not like I want them to die. I just have to steer the conversation in a direction where they won’t die without lying about anything.}

The faces of Aura and Mare popped into his head.

He didn’t know if everything had been going well for them, but they might be saddened to know that the children they played with had died.

Ainz thought for a little bit and found his answer.

{Yeah. Leading them out of this situation is impossible, since I didn’t even prepare any presentation materials this time.}

He hastily put together a plan that was full of holes; he wanted to avoid having it become the seeds of disaster. If that were the case, he should just honestly tell them what he was thinking.

“First of all, if you have a debt of gratitude, betraying that would be disgusting. If something were to happen to you again, the Dark Elves would be considered a race that cannot be trusted, and no one would help you.”

The elders nodded their heads in agreement.

“On the other hand, the guarantee of victory—not what the Elves believe, but based on the information that all of you have calmly collected—is it guaranteed? If your answer is no, then there is nothing more I can say other than the fact that all of you going to fight would be madness.”

The youngsters nodded in agreement.

“Therefore, if it were up to me, I would choose something that didn’t make use of either of those options.”

Expressions of curiosity appeared on everyone’s faces. While feeling everyone’s gaze on him, Ainz remembered his time in YGGDRASIL when there were disputes between guilds. They would carry out a strategy where they joined both camps so that they would benefit no matter who won.

There were even nastier tactics for the same sort of situation, but Ainz and his friends only used those strategies because of their circumstances at that time, the Dark Elves certainly couldn't use them right now.

“First, each village sends a few people as reinforcements. Those people will probably die in battle, but you will still send them. The Elves will be certain to complain about the small number of reinforcements, but if you make excuses like ‘we’re taking the protection of the village into consideration as well, we could only send this number of people,’ then even the Elves would probably not be able to say anything more. That is more or less the reason why you sent the reinforcements. In the meantime, the remaining people will evacuate.”

When Ainz finished his explanation, voices saying “I see” could be heard here and there. At the same time, there were also voices saying “isn’t that a little underhanded?” However, it appeared that there were many people who viewed it favorably.

“As expected of the Dark Elf who lives in the city. We would never have come up with such a thing.”

Ainz made his illusory face change into a wry smile in response to the elder’s words.

{I’m not really getting much of a feeling that they’re praising me.}

However, it was clear to him that the elder hadn’t said those words sarcastically or snidely.

{At any rate, maybe the reason that something even someone at my level could come up with but didn’t immediately occur to them is because they’re naïve…But the lizardmen used that precise tactic…Oops!}

“Rather than it being because I live in a city, it is simply that I am just sneaky.”

“No, it’s nothing of the sort. Cutting off one part to save the others—it is a method that we often use in the vegetable gardens and other places.”

The Chief Pharmacist spoke up and looks of shock could be seen on the faces of several people. Maybe he usually didn’t make statements in this sort of place? Or maybe he usually didn’t even participate.

“Thank you very much, temporary master, and there is something important I forgot to mention. This is the only thing I would like you to remember.” After the attention of everyone there was completely focused on Ainz, he continued.

“That in the end, this is just my suggestion. It is only a single opinion. The ones to decide will be all of you who are up against time, because all of you will be the ones to bear the responsibility for whatever happens after.”

This was the only thing he absolutely had to say. He should say it even if it was just to remind them.

It would be troublesome if they shifted the responsibility to Ainz because he proposed it.

Those few Dark Elves who were chosen would almost certainly die. No, having them die would be better for them as a whole in order to have an excuse for the Elves. If that were the case, the surviving families of the dead Dark Elves might hold a grudge against Ainz.

Therefore, he had to make them choose independently, so he could say, “wasn’t it something you guys decided?”

{It won’t get through to people who have some misguided grudge against me, but there’s no need to build a friendly relationship with those kinds of people. Punitto Moe-san also said that it’s impossible to win over everyone into being an ally. But, if the parents of the children who played with Aura and Mare were sent, it could come back to bite us a bit into the future? However, it’ll be a problem if I butt in about it. Although…just in case, I’ll confirm it later…Considering how little time we have to work with, that’s going to be difficult…}

Of course, it would be different if Nazarick stood to benefit. He would butt in, loan out items that could be collected later, and exert himself to have them survive. However, those Dark Elves weren’t worth him going that far. Since they weren’t a people he would regret losing, he had no intention of putting in that much effort for their survival.

As an idea in addition to that, he had wanted to suggest surrendering to the Theocracy, but that couldn’t come out of Ainz’s mouth. Well, he had absolutely no idea whether or not their lives would be spared if they did surrender, and it also wasn’t always true that yielding bore good results.

“It was a wonderful opinion,” the elder shifted his gaze from Ainz and turned it towards the Dark Elves. “Do any of you have any opinions on it?”

There were no voices of dissent.

Ainz’s suggestion had been finalized for the most part; in fact, it seemed like it was a done deal.

From there, the discussion about how many people, who to send, and where to escape to, started.

Since they were going to have a meeting with several villages afterwards, making a decision right now might be too hasty. However, to hold off on deciding these things until that meeting would be a bit too slow.

Ainz looked over that scene in a complicated state of mind.

He felt his need for social approval and self-esteem had been fulfilled by having his own opinion accepted, but this wasn’t like the joy that came from giving a successful presentation. Maybe it was because he didn’t have a clear goal in mind this time.

It wasn’t that he was leading them in a way that would be beneficial to Nazarick, it was just that his suggestion generated responsibility. The only thing he could do was to flee at once and have someone else shoulder the responsibility. Furthermore—they were already stretched for time. They had to leave right now.

“—This is incredibly rude of me, but it seems that my presence here any further is pointless, and it’s about time I returned to where those children are waiting for me.”

The eldest of the elders spoke as their representative.

“You have truly saved us this time. Later, we want to unify our opinion and propose it to the other villages.”

While thinking that the elder didn’t have to be so deferential to him, Ainz responded.

“If so, then on that occasion, would you mind not mentioning my name?”

“Wh-why not?”

“There will surely be those who would oppose it if they found out it is the opinion of one who does not really have any connection to this village—and the Dark Elves who live in this forest.”

Of course, his true intentions were different. His aim was to lower, by even a little bit, the chances of someone bearing a grudge against him.

“…No, there won’t be anything of the sort. Though they may have left the forest, they are the words of a Dark Elf with whom we share the same ancestors with. There shouldn’t be anyone who would spurn them. However…I do understand. Let’s conceal that part of it.”

“I am grateful for that. Now then…it is much earlier than I initially planned, but it is about time for us to leave this village and return to the city.”

“What did you say!?”

“I am terribly sorry to spring this on you so suddenly, but if anything were to happen to those children, I would never be able to apologize to their parents.”

“…Is the reason for Fior-dono being on guard…because the humans are that strong?”

For a moment, Ainz was baffled, but he understood that they were probably thinking that if people as strong as them were leaving the village as if they were fleeing, that might be connected to the strength of the Theocracy.

“I do not know about that. I am confident that I can win against ordinary opponents, but because there is no way I can know of all the powerful people of the human countries, what will happen is an unknown quantity. I am thinking that if there is even just a small chance that something could happen to the children, it would be awful.”

The elder nodded in understanding.

“…While our parting is regrettable, I would like to get our things in order and leave.”

“That is a…at least even a farewell party…Even though we haven’t even held the welcome party, and now not even doing anything for your departure has become an embarrassment for us.”

“Not at all, it will not amount to that. Right now it is a state of emergency. There must not be any hindrances to the village’s safety in the future because of us.”

Repeating their back and forth of “I want to have a party” and “You don’t have to,” Ainz ensured his victory to persuade them. “This is not our final parting. I pray that there will be a time when we can meet again.” In the corner of his vision, Blueberry was doing some kind of weird dance for some reason. Perhaps he had intended to introduce his child to Ainz at the party?

“Well then,” Ainz said and was trying to walk off when an elder stopped him.

“Uh, Fior-dono. I had really thought that we would be able to discuss this when nobody else was around; this is a completely irrelevant question, but would you mind me asking?”

“What is it?”

“Has Fior-dono joined his hands with someone in marriage?”

Ainz was bewildered by the elder’s question.

“If you don’t have anyone like that, how would you feel about taking someone from this village as a wife?”

When he passed his gaze over them, there were no Dark Elves directing negative emotions toward him. On the contrary, the colors of expectation were in the eyes of the Dark Elf women. And it was not as if they were being sacrificed for the sake of the village, there were even people directing favorable smiles at him.

It wasn’t as if Ainz was particularly knowledgeable about women. On the contrary, he didn’t understand a single thing about them. However, even then, he was confident that the smiles the women had on their faces weren’t fake.

“N-no, I will decline. That…the truth is, there are quite a lot of women who have approached me favorably, you see. It really is quite a problem, you know. Haha…”

Shaken by an attack from an unexpected direction, his way of speaking became a little confused. However, the elder didn’t appear to be particularly worried about it.

“I’m sure it is. If it were a gentleman with outstanding abilities such as yourself, there would be many ladies who would hold affection for him.”

It seemed that one’s attraction to another changed with the level of one’s combat ability, it was the same as it was in human societies. No, when looking at the attitude of the women, that tendency might be stronger in places like this with danger all around them. But, there were signs that the women seemed to have accepted his excuse just now.

This should probably be the last thing he said.

“These will be the final words I leave you with, but if all of you…if you were all to decide that you want to abandon this village and flee to the city where I live, then I would be more than willing to help you. Should that need arise, do not hesitate to tell me. It may be a few months from now, but I would like to return to this village. If by that time it seems like you have reached the conclusion to abandon this village, I would like to have you bury a map with everyone’s location on it in front of the tree I stayed in.”

“…I pray that such a thing won’t happen, but should the time come, we will be in your care.”

The elder bowed his head and in time with that, all of the Dark Elves there bowed their heads as well.

Ainz, seeing that they had all raised their heads, announced, “Well then, I will be taking my leave here,” he looked over at everyone and bowed his head. Finally, he sent a sincere and deep bow toward the Chief Pharmacist.

And then Ainz walked off.

No one stopped him—of course, he had thought that sort of thing wouldn’t happen—Ainz walked until he was no longer in their line of sight.

The figures of Aura and Mare were there. His performance as an uncle had now ended. Their attitudes were those of Floor Guardians. Furthermore, Aura seemed to be extremely cautious, as she quickly ran her eyes over Ainz’s entire body.

“Ainz-sama…I am happy for your safe return. However, did they do anything to you? Before Ainz-sama finally walked away there was an unusual presence being generated over there. It had the air of hunters with nocked arrows to it.”

There was only one thing that came to mind.

“Ah, that was just a slightly bothersome proposal they approached me with. That might have been directed at me by the ladies. That being said, I’m fine. I deceived them properly.”

“Is…that so? Even when Ainz-sama was walking toward us, a bit of that feeling remained. No, I had a feeling that it became even stronger.”

Ainz knitted his eyebrows. It had appeared to Ainz that the women had accepted his excuse, but perhaps that wasn’t true? In any case, Ainz didn't know what he should do about that. Plus, they were already heading home, so there probably wasn’t a better way to deal with that than what he chose.

“Normally, I would’ve asked this beforehand, but is there anyone who is paying attention to us right now?”

“It’s okay. There’s nobody.”

Aura assured him.

If that was the case, then there definitely weren’t any problems. No, Aura already knew that, and that was why she tossed out that question when they met.

“—Now, I thought it was fine, but were you listening to what we were talking about?”

“Yes, Ainz-sama. I have already finished explaining the contents to Mare.”

Rather than talking here, it would be better for them to return to their temporary lodgings and do it there. However, the two of them might have noticed something that Ainz had overlooked. Depending on what it was, and while it would be a little embarrassing, it might be better to return to that place and participate in the meeting one more time. For that reason, it was necessary for them to talk here whilst being aware of the danger.

“In that case, did you not have any thoughts about it? Let me hear your candid opinions.”

The two of them looked at each other.

“There were no points of particular concern. I thought Ainz-sama’s suggestion was perfect.”

“Y-yes. From what my sister told me, uh, umm, I also thought that.”

{Hm? Could it be that they didn’t notice that the parents of the children they played with might be sent to the battlefield—sent to die? Or is it that they did notice it, but they can’t voice their objections because it was my suggestion?}

If it were the former, it might make the two of them feel sad and put cracks into the friendships they had properly made. He should probably ask them about it a bit more.

“You know, the parents of the children the two of you played with might be sent off?”

The two of them had curious looks on their faces. After looking at each other one more time, they returned their gazes to Ainz. It was Aura who spoke as their representative.

“—That’s right. Is there something wrong with that?” Her expression said that she was sincerely curious. “Is there something bad about that?”

“…No, nothing at all.”

He couldn’t ask them how they could make those sorts of expressions.

All that he could think was just that a friendship hadn’t been born after all.

{Or is it that…just as my friends prioritized the real world, these two are prioritizing Nazarick…If so, then what’s the right thing for me to do?}

While Ainz was not sure what to do, Aura cupped her hand behind her ear, the motion of her trying to hear distant sounds better. Maybe some important topic had come out over there. Ainz was silent so as to not get in Aura’s way.

“—Ainz-sama. It seems the subject of Ainz-sama has come up over there.”

“Could you let me hear what kind of things they’re talking about?”

“Yes. Generally, they’re saying things like this.”

Aura slightly changed the tone of her voice—although she wasn’t very good at it—and let him listen.

“Why did you decide to keep it a secret that it was his suggestion?”

“Because the country he lives in is close to the human country. If the human country were to learn the truth, that he stated that opinion here, it might cause trouble for him in the future, don’t you think?”

“The chance of that happening, is that what the elder is thinking about?”

“I don’t know. However…isn’t it matter of fact that we should do it so that something that could cause him trouble didn’t occur?”

“—All the other villagers agreed with this and decided to keep it a secret.”

“I see. Thank you, Aura.”

“Uh, umm, the fact that Ainz-sama led them to this decision, err, won’t be leaked, right?”

He didn’t have any particular memory of leading them to it, and he felt the desire to ask Mare why he thought he had led them to it. All Ainz had done was make a suggestion, but more important than that was the following.

“So long as there is mind control magic, if we want to perfectly avoid information leaks, it will be necessary to kill them…”

“Are we going to kill them?”

“No, we won’t. I feel there is no merit in doing so. No, should I put it like this? There are no demerits in the Theocracy finding out, because the Theocracy is virtually an enemy nation. It’s not like I particularly want to deepen our ties to them, and supporting the enemy of your enemy is an obvious thing to do…No, that itself has merit to it. I had a false appearance and name. We’ll have the Theocracy spend their efforts on useless things.”

Ainz stole a glance at the twins’ attitudes there.

“…However…I suppose it’s too bad. If the Theocracy had directly attacked this village, we really could have gotten a lot more benefit out of it.”

After the twins looked at each other and made curious expressions, Mare tossed out a question.

“Uh, umm, Ainz-sama? Why didn’t you make them attack the village? Ah, err, we should have killed the Theocracy’s soldiers, uh, umm, while disguised as Dark Elves and drawn them this way, shouldn’t we?”

He was exactly right.

The benefits to Nazarick should be greater by doing things that way, even Ainz understood that much. It wouldn’t have been hard to accomplish by causing MPKs. In spite of that, the reason they hadn’t done that was—

(T/N: MPK = Monster Player Kill)

{—Because I didn’t want to.}

Life in this village had been unexpectedly fun. Setting fire to this kind of village with his own hands felt distasteful to him for some reason or another.

That would be a very natural feeling to have. Nobody would want to do something they didn’t want to do. However, that was an absolutely unforgivable excuse as the absolute ruler of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick. The one who was the head of an organization should prioritize the benefits of the organization. In spite of that, he had prioritized his own feelings.

In a sense, this might even be considered a betrayal of Nazarick.

{So I told them to make friends, but I’m the one who enjoyed it the most. Is that how things ended up?}

It would be bad if he wasn’t careful so that he could prevent this kind of thing from happening again in the future.

Ainz had to think and act with the benefit of the Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick as his priority.

That was his duty as the sole remaining Guild Leader, and his role as the leader of the NPCs.

Swearing that in his heart, he was lost as to how he should answer Mare’s question. He should probably apologize because he had honestly been naïve.

“…That’s right. I also considered that. If it were to obtain benefits for Nazarick, that’s what I should have done. Yet in spite of that, I didn’t do it because I was naïve…That was improper of me as the ruler of Nazarick. I will strive so that this sort of thing never happens again.”

The two of them were googly-eyed.

“Uh, n-no…I-it’s nothing like that.”

“That’s right. Everything Ainz-sama does is correct!”

While the two of them were comforting him, they had arrived at their borrowed Elf Tree. Once they collected the things they had left there, their preparations for withdrawal would be complete.

Since they originally had hardly any luggage, they finished right away and carried their luggage outside.

There, Aura lifted up her face. When Ainz followed where her gaze led, he caught the sight of the Chief Pharmacist running towards them.

He arrived in front of Ainz’s group right away.

The Chief Pharmacist was slightly out of breath. He possessed high abilities as a pharmacist, so he could be considered as a being of moderate level, but his physical stats were low. It was unclear what Class he had taken, but it probably raised Ability Scores in the same kind of way as an arcane magic caster did.

He didn’t have the air of someone who had come to give them a souvenir. No doubt he came here directly from the meeting place. Perhaps he had come to say goodbye?

“What’s the matter? I apologize for not being able to say goodbye to you directly—“

“—No, I thought I’d give a final present to my temporary apprentice. A number of the women are trying to go with you guys to the city. I know because I saw them dashing off to their own homes. If you really don’t want to deal with that, you’d best hurry out of the village.”

“What?”

“Whaddya mean, ‘what?’ They probably don’t intend to leech off you, but jumping into an unknown place, they’ll beg for your—the only one they can depend on—aid, probably as a tactic to slowly close the distance between you. Incidentally, if you can support them, our way of thought is that polygamy or polyandry aren’t really a problem. They're probably thinking that it wouldn't be too bad to reunite our separated tribes with you as the intermediary. And, if the other tribes find out about this too, well...I'm on your side so...you get what I'm trying to say, right?"

This was bad.

If they made contact with his body, his true form would be found out. He couldn’t guarantee that the women wouldn’t make those kinds of moves.

The Elves regarded the undead as enemies. That was the same for the Dark Elves.

Until Ainz had completely won over the Dark Elves, he couldn’t allow them to know his true form. When he took placing the Dark Elves under his rule into account, he absolutely couldn’t harm the women of the advance party.

“What? You didn’t even imagine that it would come to this? Not even this much? C’mon now, are you serious? A guy as quick-witted as you? Perhaps you did think this might happen but you didn’t think they would put it into action this quickly, or something? …Oh, come on. Be grateful I came to warn you, okay?”

There was only one measure Ainz could take—

“…Let’s go, you two! We’re going on a little run! Well then, temporary master.”

—and that was to just run away.

Having barely finished his goodbye, the three of them slipped past the Chief Pharmacist and jogged off.

They immediately entered the forest, but they didn’t stop. Naturally, they ran until they reached a point where they believed they could no longer be pursued, and finally stopped.

“…We’re okay. There are no signs of any pursuers. So then, are we returning to Nazarick from here?”

Ainz, the sign of relief appearing on his face, grinned broadly at Aura’s question. Of course, his actual expression didn’t move an inch, or rather, he wasn’t even controlling his illusion.

“We won’t do that. Returning to Nazarick, assembling troops, and taking action isn’t a bad idea, but I don’t want to waste this perfect opportunity. The three of us—a select few—are going to carry out the strategy that Punitto Moe-san taught me in the past.”

“Wh-what might that be?”

Mare asked, his eyes sparkling. Ainz was a bit happy. If Mare had taken an attitude of “whoop-de-doo” here, his enthusiasm would have diminished.

Ainz answered boastfully.

“Strictly speaking, it’s a little different but—we’re kill stealing.”

Chapter 5 - Kill Steal

Part 1

The highest authority of the Theocracy’s armies, the Grand Marshal, was said to have two right hands; General Valerian Ein Obinie and General Gael Russells Bulgari, each in command of a theater. Valerian was the one in charge of this war with the Elves.

A tent was erected near the Elven Royal Capital as a unified strategic command center which, at this moment, was occupied by Valerian and six other military strategists. In contrast to Valerian, who was over 50 years old, the remaining military strategists were pretty young, in their 20s.

Age was not always a good marker for ability, but for positions that required knowledge and experience, it was one of the more important indicators. So, it wouldn’t be strange if one found the strategists too young for the job.

However, despite being young, they already had bags under their eyes and wrinkles etched into their foreheads. Their faces showed chronic exhaustion and they looked like they were running on fumes.

Valerian ran his eyes over the documents that were partly responsible for their exhaustion.

It was the casualty report of the Elven stealth raid last night—it was still early morning right now, so it had been only a few hours since the event in question happened.

“—that’s too many.”

Even though he had already expected these numbers, he couldn’t help but be stupefied.

Fortunately, the Theocracy had an overwhelming number of divine magic casters compared to other nations. As long as they could retrieve the soldiers before they died, they could be healed. Due to this, the number of deaths was unusually tiny when compared to what one would expect from the corresponding number of soldiers who were heavily wounded. Most of the wounded should even be completely healed by now.

That said, there was an issue with the number of dead Elves they found in the camp. They were even fewer.

It was hard to think they took their dead and the heavily wounded with them considering that the Theocracy managed to fight back their night raid. So, it was probably accurate to think that the number of enemy corpses they found was pretty close to being the enemy’s total casualty count.

The kill ratio was absolutely terrible.

“Yes. We ended up taking higher casualties, probably because the stronger Elves are appearing more frequently as we approach the Royal Capital.” The strategist who compiled the numbers concurred with Valerian. “But, the enemy’s main army is also originally smaller so they can’t disregard their losses either.”

A single hero could defeat a thousand soldiers by themselves. Likewise, a hero’s death was also a bigger loss than the deaths of a thousand soldiers. Casualty numbers don't always directly translate to the proportional loss of fighting strength.

That was what the strategist is trying to imply with his words, but that’s no consolation.

“The soldiers will be grumbling more now.”

“That’s a natural reaction. They’ve lost their brothers-in-arms after all.”

Valerian replied to another strategist’s grumbles.

It was normal for humans to want others to like them instead of being hated; subsequently, the possession of mutual trust with the soldiers, or the lack thereof, could greatly affect battle command as well. Furthermore, people like Valerian with Commander classes couldn’t utilize most of their support skills if their subordinates didn’t wholeheartedly follow them.

“We managed to repulse the Elves’ night raids so it’s not like our defensive perimeter is at fault, but when the other side sends its elites out we need forces of the same quality to face them.”

“You’re right. We do have a certain amount of strong forces at our disposal but most of them are divine magic casters. When the area of expertise differs...an unbridgeable difference in strength is needed to erase that disadvantage.”

Divine magic casters were stronger when fighting face to face, but rangers were better at night raids. The casualty reports this time were the results of that.

“What we need to do is to make our defensive perimeter stronger so that something like last night won’t happen again. Does anyone have a good idea?”

Perhaps it was because they had been thinking about this since the raid, but multiple ideas flew out from the strategists immediately.

Some of them were things Valerian had already thought of, but there were also some he never had an inkling about. They could probably make an incredibly strong perimeter if they managed to use all of these ideas. The problem was that they would need a lot of labor and time if they wanted to put all of them into practice. So, they could only sieve through the ideas to find the good ones and put them to practice in order of their efficiency.

And most of all—

“—Your excellency. Does our focus on the defensive perimeter mean we will continue fighting here for a while longer?”

A reasonable question.

“You should have...” Valerian turned his gaze to look around at the others. “You all should have read the high command’s orders. We will have to fight here for a while longer. Am I wrong?”

No one objected, but that didn’t mean they accepted it either.

It was natural for them to not agree with him. He understood their thoughts and they certainly were not the kind that he could simply brush away as naïveté.

To be clear, their thoughts were correct.

The deaths from the Elven raid this time were unnecessary. They could have been completely avoidable.

The Theocracy had set up its main camp quite close to the Elven Royal Capital, a frontline it could barely support. You could say that it was advantageous for disseminating intel faster and they could immediately respond to any changes in the enemy’s forces. But, there was also the danger of the main camp quickly falling if, for example, the strong ones among the Elves resigned themselves to death and went on a rampage. Considering that the Elves were being pushed to the edges of despair, there was a very high chance of that exact thing happening now. There was no doubt the Theocracy should be making haste for a full-on frontal assault soon.

That was because if they made the stronger Elves occupied with their own camp’s defense, it would lower the threat to Theocracy’s main camp.

However, the Supreme Executive Council had ordered them to stop and leisurely exchange blows with the enemy here. These were the orders even as they acknowledged the threat of the night raids.

The orders were to establish the main camp at the very front to quickly respond if the Elves tried to escape from the worsening situation. These were reasonable orders. The orders also seemed like they were intended to bait out the enemy elites or the Elf King who rarely appeared. They agreed with this logic too, if not for the fact that they were not going to be assisted by the Holocaust Scripture in their efforts.

And why was it that they couldn’t borrow the Holocaust Scripture’s strength?

It was certainly not because their vice leader was killed by the Elf King.

The Supreme Executive Council excused it by saying that the Holocaust Scripture was assigned with some other mission, but no one here believed it.

Valerian knew the real reason; though the strategists here were all young, they too understood it.

They knew there were multiple reasons behind the Supreme Executive Council’s refusal to permit the Holocaust Scripture’s participation.

First, it was so that they could gain experience.

It was unimaginably difficult for humans who lived in the cities to live in such a forest. Unlike their life in comparative safety till now, they would have to be on guard against everything in their surroundings.

These battles were for them to address that issue.

Elves were supposed to be the stand-in for the monsters that attacked from the forest.

It would have been done differently if there were to be similar opportunities to gain experience in the future, but that was unlikely. In fact, it would be rather troublesome if such opportunities arose frequently.

That said, if they wanted them to gain experience, a mock setup in a safe place would work nearly just as well. They could use the Holocaust Scripture in place of the Elves. There’s no way that the Supreme Executive Council wouldn’t have realized that. But then, why were they doing this—going even as far as expending soldiers’ lives like they were nothing?

That’s for—

{A change in our mindset.}

For soldiers who would have to defend many lives, hunter and ranger skills were probably going to be necessary.

They plan to make the soldiers gain the expertise of fighting in the forest using this war with the Elves, who were skilled at it. If possible, they would try to make the soldiers passionate about obtaining classes like ranger. The existence of the casualties was required to spark that change. The more casualties there were, the more soldiers would start to feel a sense of urgency.

So, they were denied the help of the Six Scriptures—especially the Holocaust Scripture, who could have blockaded the Elves entirely by themselves.

Valerian grimaced internally upon remembering the orders from the higher-ups.

He could understand their way of thought, but he couldn’t really accept it.

“Your excellency. I have a proposal.”

One of the strategists spoke with a stiff tone; he was the youngest of all strategists present here. Incidentally, it need not be said that the predominance of young strategists in this war was also a part of the plan for a change in their mindset. 

Valerian nodded at the young man to continue.

“While we did expect these casualty numbers, they’re close to our tolerance limit. It’s probably going to be very difficult to take down the city, the enemy’s base, with a single all-out assault in such a situation. Especially due to the fact that as long as the Elves who are taking part in the night raids aren’t obliterated completely, we can expect further fierce resistance. I cannot accept spending any more of our soldiers’ lives. Please, can’t you test the waters to see if the Supreme Executive Council would change their plans?”

He probably understood that it was impossible, but his heart was likely softened upon seeing the amount of victims.

Valerian suppressed his urge to sigh. He could understand where the young strategist was coming from. This was a path every general had to tread through at least once in their life.

The value of a life—of the Theocracy’s citizens in this case—was extremely high.

Perhaps this was one of the weak points of the Theocracy.

This was certainly not a bad thing. No, in fact, it’s the opposite. If given a choice between a nation where one’s life was cheap and one where it’s high, everyone would choose the latter.

It was expected for the Theocracy’s armies to be soft due to them being protected by the heroes up till now, but the idea of keeping the deaths low was not wrong in itself. However, that way of thought belonged to those who didn’t need to hold a weapon. Was it right for soldiers, whose line of duty included taking others’ lives and having theirs taken, to have such thoughts?

There would certainly come another time when they couldn’t win without any sacrifices.

There would certainly come another time when they would have to fight without the Scriptures.

It would be fatal if they refused to fight out of fear when that time came, if they considered their lives to be too valuable.

But, that didn’t mean the soldiers’ lives had to be seen as cheap. It only meant that the top brass like Valerian would just have to bear the pain, and come to terms with the loss of valuable life.

The young strategists here were now going through this pain. The results of that were quite visible from their expressions.

They probably couldn’t even sleep soundly. The pained voices of the soldiers under them would probably never leave their minds.

Valerian felt a little pity for them.

This experience would have probably been a little gentler on them had it not been for the suddenly accelerated change in policy. The mental health of the strategists wouldn’t have been as grounded down as they were now.

That said, they couldn’t afford such leisures in this altered situation. More was being demanded of each soldier’s individual skills as well as the quality of the generals who would have to lead them compared to before. The soldiers had to cultivate their strength and the commanders would need to be able to command their soldiers to die ruthlessly.

{We are expecting a lot of deaths among the soldiers and even some injuries among the ordinary citizens in a hypothetical future war with the Sorcerer Kingdom. That’s why we are having them experience death here...The Supreme Executive Council is really cruel...}

“I can understand your feelings to a painful extent,” because everyone here, including him, also thought the same way. “Even so, we cannot change it. It’s not about the present, but the future.”

“...”

The young strategist let his face droop and then raised it again, looking at Valerian like he was his last hope.

“...at least, at least, please permit us to use large-scale attacks when we assault those tree freaks’ Royal Capital. Permit the use of high fire-power magic support to break the enemy’s interception line—the surrounding defenses. Never mind catapults, we are not even allowed to use fire arrows. There will be far more deaths under such constraints.”

“—I cannot permit that either. You can probably understand why, right?”

All of them were geniuses. They should have then reached the answer from what they knew about the Theocracy’s present circumstances.

He would be repeating himself, but it was better to say this out loud.

“Hereafter, we may not be able to avoid confrontation with that evil Sorcerer Kingdom. When that time comes, we can evacuate the citizenry here if we can take this city without damage...probably. That’s why we stopped cutting the trees from a point mid-route. That is why I cannot allow large-scale damage to this city. Understood?”

“So that’s how it is. The Supreme Executive Council is acting under the presumption that there will be future hostilities with the Sorcerer Kingdom. ...The Elven city was built using those guys’ magic so it should be possible to rebuild it using the captured Elves even if we destroy a part of it by fire. Is it not?”

Valerian agreed with another strategist’s words.

“You’re right. I know there are similar opinions. I also heard another idea about building a city in a completely different place using those Elves. But, considering the time it would take, we cannot take such a course of action.”

There were certainly plans to use the captured Elves. It wasn’t that difficult to force them to cooperate by using something like charm magic. That said, using mind control magic multiple times in a short period would gradually make them more resistant to it.

Also, from the experiments conducted, they found that it would take a lot of time to grow the Elf Trees from nothing even if they used magic. They were unsure about how soon the conflict with the Sorcerer Kingdom would occur, but they had estimated that there was not enough time to create a city from scratch for evacuation purposes.

So, considering that they would have to use what’s already here, they couldn’t go around destroying any more of it.

“The only thing that is permitted is breaking through the Elven city—their final defensive lines through brute force, while accepting the fact that we are going to take heavy casualties. Of course, the top brass doesn’t want more people to die. Even a single extra soldier helps in our future war against the Sorcerer Kingdom. We should not lose them here if possible.”

What the top brass was asking of them was truly unreasonable.

Valerian thought they were being contradictory, but he also understood that it was a painful decision for all.

“...Your excellency. The most important thing implied here is that those who defied death will gain strength, right?”

“Yes...you are right...It’s exactly as you have said.”

Valerian agreed with the words of the strategist who held the second most levels in the commander class here.

The Theocracy’s policy until now was that one hero is better than a thousand soldiers. However, that was no longer sufficient. So, it started to put effort into improving each soldier’s individual strength. That was why they were waging this war in such a brutal way.

The prediction of future hostilities with the Sorcerer Kingdom was at the root of everything.

And it was a fact that it was highly probable.

“Everyone, I know it’s going to be hard, but please squeeze out every drop of your intellect so that even one more person can return to our homeland alive.”

Everyone raised their voice in acknowledgment as Valerian bowed his head.

There’s one more reason he left unsaid.

There was a person no one here in the camp except Valerian was informed about. He was waiting for them.

The Elf King was tremendously strong, enough strength to kill even those who were a step away from the realm of heroes in an instant. Yet, the Theocracy had a trump card that could certainly kill him.

That’s the correct strategy. To pit the strong against the strong, a hero against a hero, and against those who surpassed even them—

But good military sense aside, he felt like the Supreme Executive Council was strangely fixated on having that person clash with the Elf King.

He didn’t understand the true intention behind it.

But Valerian kept waiting.

For their final trump card in this expedition.

Right at that moment, a messenger entered, interrupting the meeting. With a tense expression, he quickly approached Valerian and whispered “reinforcements from the homeland” into his ears. “I see” Valerian replied, standing up immediately from his chair and announcing to the strategists who were looking over, wondering what this was all about.

“Everyone, there’s no longer any need to defend the main camp. Redeploy those who were assigned to defense to the frontlines instead. Start preparing for a full frontal assault.”

The long, long war was finally coming to an end. They were finally entering the final stage.

♦ ♦ ♦

{Why are they fighting like that? Does the Theocracy not care about its soldiers’ deaths?}

It had been a week since they had left the Dark Elf village. This was Ainz’s first reaction after observing the Theocracy’s assault on the Royal Capital from a distance.

The Theocracy's soldiers made palisades out of trees and proceeded forward while pushing those palisades ahead of them. He could understand that they were guarding against those awfully precise Elven arrows, but still, it felt too wasteful. [bookmark]

As the palisades didn’t provide protection against attacks from above, they were meaningless against special abilities like the one that could make arrows turn mid-flight. There weren’t many with such special abilities so maybe they thought those losses were acceptable, but—

“—the Theocracy should have a lot of divine magic casters. Can’t they just go all out with area-of-effect attacks? Elves had a positioning advantage at present. Shouldn’t they summon angels to negate that advantage and attack them from above? No, they basically make their houses from trees so it’s just wiser to burn them to the ground. There are a lot of trees around so why didn’t they make siege machines from them and throw flaming projectiles from a distance?”

The stout and green trees weren't really that flammable, but the smaller branches and leaves were a different case. Plus, the smoke from those fires would also choke the Elves while obstructing their line of sight. The fact that the Theocracy’s forces were not using even a single one of those methods looked very strange in Ainz’s eyes.

{And why aren’t they deploying stronger people? If higher-leveled people similar to Fluder or Gazef were here, they could use far stronger spells or flashier attacks and turn the tides of the battle in an instant. There shouldn't be any reason to hold them back at this moment, right?}

“Ummm. I can’t understand their actions myself, but did you two manage to notice anything from the Theocracy’s movements?”

Ainz asked the twins, who were watching the developments beside him. After a short while, Mare replied.

“Ah, well, maybe they aren’t thinking anything...?”

“No, no. No way that's what it is. There should be some commanders or strategists in the army. It’s hard to think that none of them had any plans. There certainly should be a reason behind those actions.”

But he couldn’t think of a reason. It was possible that some incompetent general managed to gain command authority due to politics and took independent action, scorning the strategists. Yet, considering how systematically they had cut down the trees and advanced their armies, he felt like that wasn’t the case.

“Yeah. They are also attacking from other directions, but it’s the same there as well...”

The Theocracy blockaded the Royal Capital in a semicircle and placed forces on the other shore of the lake to blockade the waterside.

“I don’t see them using captured Elves as meat shields...it feels like they are pouring in the soldiers that they don’t mind dying...does the Theocracy practice slavery?”

“No, even though they have Elven slaves, I never heard about them using slave soldiers. I think we already have a general idea of their political system...but it’s hard to say that we know everything. Even so, I don’t think they would do that, you know?”

“...W-what if they are s-summoned soldiers?”

“The soldiers hit by the arrows left behind their bodies, so I don’t think that’s the case either...”

As the other soldiers carried the fallen ones in a panic to the back lines—to the Theocracy’s camp, it stood to reason that they were not disposable troops. Then, why are they not using the better methods at their disposal but instead letting those soldiers die?

Ainz searched his brain and finally squeezed out a single reasonable answer.

“This is just a hypothesis, but maybe they are fighting like that because they noticed we’re here?”

“Eh?”

“N-no way...”

“No, it’s too hasty to conclude that it’s because of us specifically. Maybe they are faking it to give the false impression that they are idiots to their enemy nations or organizations while also keeping their stronger cards hidden.”

The Sorcerer Kingdom couldn’t be the only nation they wanted to mislead with incorrect intel. It was likely that the Theocracy had other enemies that Ainz didn’t know about.

This type of misinformation campaign was something Ainz and others did multiple times till now. It seemed like the Theocracy had the same idea.

{The Theocracy is a nation with a long history, so they probably have a lot of enemies too. But, is that really the case here?}

He couldn’t think of any other reason to hold back the stronger personnel... in this case, the ones they were guarding against would be...the Sorcerer Kingdom and the Council State North of the Kingdom? It was easy to imagine that the Theocracy's human supremacist dogma made for fraught relations with the Council State due to its racial diversity.

{Umu. In that case, maybe we should form an alliance...No, Albedo and Demiurge have probably thought about this already. That said, there’s no use for a superior who threw all the work to his subordinates. Maybe I should ask them about this later.}

They had already formed a conjecture that the mysterious Riku Agneia who appeared at the tail end of the war with the Kingdom was likely related to the Platinum Dragon Lord of the Council State.

The only thing connecting them was the “platinum” theme they had in common. But, if that really was the truth, it would probably be a better idea to ally with the Theocracy against the Council State. Or, they could try allying with the Council State against the Theocracy while investigating their internal situation, that was fine too.

Whatever the case may be, they should make the first move before the Council State and the Theocracy formed an alliance against the Sorcerer Kingdom. Of course, if even Ainz could realize this, it was highly probable that those two geniuses had already made plans regarding it.

{...Ummm. Considering that there’s a chance those two are making preparations for forming an alliance right at this moment, we should do our best to avoid getting discovered here. If we do get discovered, we can just kill all the witnesses.}

“Ainz-sama. Should I then infiltrate the Theocracy’s camp and gather intel?”

Ainz shook his head at Aura’s proposal.

“No, that’s something we shouldn’t do at any cost.” Ainz tried to explain his thoughts to the two, “let’s see...say for example, if someone was hostile to Nazarick and was as powerful as I am, would it be possible for them to infiltrate Nazarick and steal the information they want?”

“Yes, it’s possible”

“I also think the same. If there’s really someone who is as awesome as Ainz-sama, I think they can do it.”

“Ah, umu...”

He got extremely confident replies—including a rarely heard, clear reply from Mare—but those were not the answers he wanted.

“Wait, the question came out wrong. Right, let’s see. Shall—”

{—Not her!}

He could easily imagine what the answer would be.

If he used Shalltear as an example, “impossible” would be Aura’s immediate reply. It was the answer he had hoped for, but the logic that would lead to that answer in this case was not what he wanted. So, he couldn’t use her as an example.

Then who would make for a good example, Ainz wondered.

{Pandora’s Actor...considering he can transform into other guild members, the twins’ answer will likely be “possible.” Demiurge...Ungh. It feels like he can do it easily.. Aura...or Mare won’t make for a good example. In that case...}

“I am going to repeat the previous question. Hypothetically, yes, hypothetically. Imagine if someone on par with Albedo opposed Nazarick. In that scenario, is it possible for them to steal all the intel from inside Nazarick?”

“Eh? Albedo, you say?”

“E-excuse me, b-but did she do anything suspicious?”

“What! No, no, you are completely mistaken! I am completely sure that Albedo will never betray us!” Ainz answered in a fluster. “Didn’t I say it was a hypothetical case? And the enemy was only someone on par with Albedo, not herself? Yes. A hypothetical scenario.”

The twins looked at each other like they didn’t really understand it. Aura then answered as their representative.

“I think it’s really not possible for Albedo. First, Albedo is not proficient in stealth skills. I also didn’t hear anything about her having equipment with such effects.”

“Well...you are correct but…Albedo is a tank after all...She certainly doesn’t have those skills.”

This ended up being a bad example too. “...disregarding that, do you think it’s impossible even if she puts her intellect to work?”

“Y-yes. I think it would be impossible.”

Well, whatever. He couldn’t think of any other suitable person, so he decided to use Albedo’s name while feeling sorry for her.

“Umu. That’s right. I think the same too. Nazarick’s multi-layered, multi-type defenses can’t be possibly broken through by a single person’s strength. In that case, don’t you think it would be the same for other places?”

“Impossible. The Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick is a holy land created by the Supreme Beings. It is a special—place. There’s no way any other place can be the same.”

Upon hearing Mare’s confident proclamation, Ainz nearly said “ah, yes” but suppressed the urge.

As a person who helped create Nazarick, Mare’s feelings for it were a delight to him, but that was not something Ainz could openly express in this situation. He couldn’t ask Mare to read the mood either—to understand what his superior was trying to say.

So, he decided to ignore Mare’s answer for now.

“Well, I think it’s something like this. If Nazarick can do something, maybe others can do it too.”

Ainz alone couldn’t steal the information from Nazarick. Similarly, it was likely the same for organizations built by other players.

No, there’s no way he could be wrong.

If they could intercept the opponent's intelligence, then the opponent could do the same to them. They had to take action while under the presumption of that being the case.

That was why Ainz didn’t send any spies into the Theocracy as he could see hints of other Players in that nation. The Theocracy was also a country with a lot of history. If there was a Player there, they would also have the advantage of experience accumulated over all those years the Theocracy was in existence.

There was also the fact that they managed to create a spell Ainz had no knowledge of, the one that killed the prisoner after they answered three questions.

“Of course, there will probably come a time when we have to make a move while acknowledging the risks involved. But, I doubt that time is now. Aura and Mare.”

“Yes,” the twins replied.

“We—The Great Underground Tomb of Nazarick— are strong. However, never think for a moment that we are peerless. Never look down on our opponents. Never forget to gather intel first.”

Hearing another “yes” from the twins, Ainz nodded.

“Good! Then—maybe we should continue observing the situation for a while longer. The present situation is not quite suitable enough for our goals yet.”

They were here to steal the kill. No, to be precise, it was a bit different from kill stealing.

Kill stealing was the act of killing a monster someone else was fighting to steal things like XP and stuff. So, it could only be called kill stealing if it involved them attacking either the elven country or the theocracy and hurting them in the process.

But that was not what Ainz was aiming for.

He was targeting the magic items in the Elf King’s castle.

Families with pedigree like royalty were highly likely to have a collection of magic items valuable enough to match their status. The more valuable they were, the more powerful they tended to be. Their power could be considered a part of the owner’s military strength from a certain point of view.

It was hard to think that the Theocracy would lose after they had come this far. In this case, all of the Elven Country’s magic items would finally end up in their hands. But, Ainz couldn’t allow a hypothetically hostile nation to increase its military strength. So their present aim was to preempt the Theocracy and steal the Elven Country’s magic items before they could.

There was also one more benefit to this plan; they would not be opposing the Theocracy directly. Of course, if their actions got out, the Theocracy would surely criticize them strongly. That said, the things they were going to steal weren’t the Theocracy’s yet, which made for a valid enough excuse.

All things considered, to describe this as thieves stealing from a burning house would be more accurate than calling it a kill steal.

Incidentally, Ainz did this many times during his YGGDRASIL days. He and his friends had cleaned out the enemy’s bases many times, laughing when other guilds found them empty and raged. That was why this was the first idea he thought of.

But there’s a problem.

Making a move here without knowing what kind of magic items the Elven Country and its royal castle held was not a good idea. They shouldn’t assume that there were any in the first place. It was entirely possible that they actually don’t have any magic items if their luck was bad. In that case, not only would they have to face danger with nothing to show for it, but it could also jeopardize their relations with Theocracy for zero gain. Originally, they should have gathered the intelligence first and then taken action.

Even if the Elven royalty possessed magic items, he could easily imagine that the dire situation of the war could force them to open the treasury and have the magic items put to use in the war effort. They could have also transferred them to a safe place elsewhere.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough time to investigate.

“...Let us observe the situation a little longer and then enter the castle. It would be bothersome if they took away the magic items before we could get our hands on them.”

“I can chase after them.”

“Aah. That’s an option. If Aura’s the one tracking...no, we can’t be sure the other party doesn't have any skills like [Forestwalker]. Our best choice is to get those items before they are whisked away. ...ummm. Maybe we should start sooner considering we still have to investigate where they are stored.”

“N-now?”

“Yes. We should go right now.”

Ainz looked at the Theocracy’s assault.

It’s been a week since they left the Dark Elves, so depending on how their talk with the other villages went, there were probably some Dark Elves fighting in there.

He felt a minor urge to look for them, but remembered the regret he felt because of his misconduct as Nazarick’s ruler that time. He should only be thinking about Nazarick’s benefit now.

Ainz turned his gaze from the castle to Mare.

“Well then, Mare. Depending on the situation, you might have to act as the frontline—tank. You don’t mind, do you?”

Ainz confirmed one last time.

“Y-yes. I-it’s fine. J-just like the village, t-the Royal Capital is also c-considered a part of nature so t-there’s no problem. I will do my best!”

Both Aura and Mare wore different gear from their usual set, especially their armor. Aura changed into an archer’s attire while Mare wore gear focused on defense.

These were not provided by Ainz, but given to them by Bukubukuchagama. The quality was also a bit lower compared to their normal stuff, but as they were matched with the twin’s abilities, their stats didn’t decrease by much.

They were preparing for a stealth mission. Perhaps Ainz should have worn a different set of gear like the twins, made the twins wear Secret Shoes and covered all of their faces with a mask. But, they didn’t do any of that.

The main reason for Ainz—whose appearance was the most well-known among them—to not change out of his normal gear was that since the twins had already changed into weaker gear, he decided it would be too dangerous if he himself was weakened too.

After some consideration, Ainz came to an extremely simple answer: “Wouldn’t it be fine if we killed all the witnesses?” And so, they abandoned all thoughts of disguising themselves.

The twins’ armor was also a small factor in this decision.

Even though they were just spares, their defensive ability was enhanced by data crystals that increased defense in return for sealing away an equipment slot. With Mare’s head slot being the one sealed, he couldn't cover his face behind a helmet anyhow.

That aside—

{—these ones are reversed for the genders as well, huh.}

And that was not all.

He couldn't help but wonder why they were given armor like these, especially in Mare’s case.

Mare was wearing something that could be called dress armor, showing a lot of skin and with his navel exposed. One could only wonder why someone would even make such a piece of gear.

YGGDRASIL’s armors’ defensive stats came from a combination of the metal’s quality, quantity, and the data crystals used. So even though Mare’s navel looked defenseless, it was being protected by the data crystal’s portion of defense at the very least. In actual terms, it could be said to be protected by a layer of magic.

Probably none of the ordinary people fighting here could even scratch his abdomen even if they hit with all their strength. Still, in YGGDRASIL mechanics, such exposed surfaces were more likely to trigger critical hits.

Frankly speaking, it was not something to be used as tank equipment.

Albedo’s grim-looking armor was how tank equipment should look like.

Even Bukubukuchagama, while burdened with the racial penalty that disallowed wearing armor, did things like equipping shields in both hands or using special skills to harden her clay-like body.

So what was she, who was a tank herself, even thinking when she gave this armor to Mare?

The answer was probably “she didn’t think about anything.”

No. She definitely would have seriously pondered on it; though not about its fighting ability, but rather how to best satisfy her tastes.

{They are siblings after all...} Ainz thought, but he wanted to defend his past comrades in this case. Originally, Mare and Aura were only NPCs, so they wouldn’t have changed gear on their own.

The navel-exposing armor Mare was wearing right now was an attire change and was never supposed to be used seriously. It was hard to think that someone would prepare useful gear for that. Bukubukuchagama should be praised here instead for the fact that she made sure the equipment had some utility even though it was just for fashion. 

For some reason, the image of the sister with a smiling face—although she didn’t have a face to speak of—and the brother who looked like he wanted to protest about something, flashed across Ainz’s mind.

Part 2 

The Theocracy’s assault turned fiercer, finally breaking through the capital’s outer defenses.

Seeing that the Theocracy’s soldiers had begun entering the city, Ainz and his party started to move quickly.

The first thing Ainz did after infiltrating the castle under [Perfect Unknowable] was to find an elf who was alone—with no witnesses around—and capture them.

After passing up multiple opportunities because of the possibility of being discovered, he finally captured a female elf who looked like a servant.

Ainz immediately charmed her and returned to the twins’ location using [Gate]. Then, he questioned her just like they did with the elf before. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get much useful information out of the woman.

Realizing there was no more useful information to be gained from the elf, Ainz immediately killed her with [Death] without hesitation. There shouldn’t be any problem with a single woman disappearing from a castle that was going to fall soon.

After divesting the elf of her clothes and other things that could be used to identify her, they moved her body to a faraway place—to the place they initially discovered the ‘Ursus Lord—using [Gate]. The wild animals would probably pick her clean. Even if she was discovered before that, she would just be a mysterious corpse without a single wound. It’s very unlikely that someone would connect it with Ainz and the others.

He thought it would be more natural to teleport her above the castle and have her die from the fall as it would have been a reasonable action for her in this situation. However, given that they might need to use her identity later, he just made her disappear.

Some MP exhaustion was necessary to deal with the body, but with Ainz’s MP recovery rate in mind, it was not a big deal. Plus, even if he wanted to wait until it recovered, they didn’t have any time left to observe things from the sidelines anymore.

The Theocracy’s forces were still having a hard time against the Elves’ guerilla warfare in the city. That said, considering the difference in their fighting strength, their victory was just a matter of time. No strong individual had appeared on the field yet, so it was probably correct of them to think that there was no one like that present here.

The Elf King, who was said to be a strong person, was nowhere to be found on the defending side, probably because he had already escaped from this place.

In that case, the magic items would have followed him, rendering their actions here into a meaningless endeavor. Ainz muttered such thoughts internally and then called out to the twins.

“—Well, let’s move.”

They now knew the general position of their destination, but it was unfortunate that they didn’t manage to find out the abilities and items of the king who was known as the strongest individual in this kingdom. Maybe they should have chosen a more important-looking Elf, but there wasn’t enough time to carefully select their target.

There’s only one problem left.

{How should we—no, to be more accurate, who should be the one to conceal themselves?}

In this hostile territory, each of them moving independently was out of the question.

They had acted out of sight up to this point, so moving brazenly in the open now would render all those efforts meaningless.

It would then be best if all three of them moved in stealth.

They certainly had the means to do that, but it also created a new problem.

Aura was the only one who could sense Ainz in [Perfect Unknowable] and even then, she could only sense that he was somewhere around them. Druids have a spell to see through [Perfect Unknowable] but Mare, who mostly specialized in the use of offensive spells barring a few exceptions, didn’t have that particular one.

If Aura went into stealth with her Ghillie-Ghillie Cloak, even Ainz and Mare couldn’t find her.

The Sunlight Dapple Cloak that Mare usually equipped had extremely high stealth capabilities outdoors, especially in the forests, but its ability would be reduced to half while indoors. Unfortunately, it seemed like this place was considered indoors even though the castle was made out of trees, reducing the cloak’s ability to the point where even Ainz could sense him more or less. If both Aura and Ainz could sense Mare’s location, it was highly likely that the enemy could as well, so it would be meaningless.

This meant:

If Ainz hid, Aura could find him but Mare couldn't.

If Aura hid, both Ainz and Mare couldn’t find her.

Mare’s Sunlight Dapple Cloak was weakened, and even if he used the Ghillie-Ghillie Cloak the result should be about the same. It’s highly possible that a third party could discover him as well.

They finally concluded that if the three of them could not move covertly together, one of them should hide to act as their trump card in an emergency. While Aura was the most appropriate one for the role, it would be troublesome if Mare and Ainz couldn’t grasp her location in a pinch. If they were too unlucky, they might even end up crashing into her while trying to move.

{This is really a large mistake on my part...}

They had a week of time to prepare. They absolutely should have discussed this before coming here.

Ainz went through such stealth operations many times in YGGDRASIL. For example, during Nazarick’s first clear, they had to secretly travel through the Tuveg-filled swamps. 

But, all of his guildmates generally prepared their own measures for stealth operations. As everyone was generally used to it, a little talk before taking action worked well enough for them even if they didn’t discuss it before.

Ainz got a little excited at the word “kill steal” because it made him remember things from YGGDRASIL, so he completely forgot about discussing the plan with the twins.

Then why didn’t the other two point it out to him? He didn’t confirm if his hunch was true since that would be scary for him, but they were probably thinking that “Ainz-sama probably has some plans” with full trust in him. Actually, their eyes were gazing upon him with absolute faith right at this moment.

He couldn’t tell them that he had no plans right now. He spun his non-existent brain matter at full speed enough to heat his—also imaginary—brains. Ainz could instead ask them about what they should do right now, but they couldn’t waste time here, so he should propose his idea first.

“—Then I will use [Perfect Unknowable], Aura will be the vanguard.”

Ainz decided.

The twins would not hide. They would just have to rely on Aura’s senses to avoid others.

If something unexpected were to happen, the twins would face them openly with Ainz ready to support them at any moment. He was more worried about them becoming separated during an attack than he was about them being discovered by someone, because they wouldn't be able to find each other in the first case.

The twins raised no objections.

{Is it really, really fine? You can speak your mind if you notice something you know?}

Honestly, Ainz would be happier if they had any objections.

Three heads together instead of using Ainz’s alone would probably think up a better plan.

There was also the possibility that the twins agreed just because it was Ainz’s plan. Strictly speaking, they were throwing the responsibility onto him. If Ainz overlooked something or his plans failed—which was a common enough occurrence—what were they going to do? They probably wouldn’t say anything even if things went awry, but that was most definitely not a good thing.

{...That’s the problem with the NPCs. But...even if I force them to squeeze out some ideas here, there isn’t enough time...Let’s just ignore this problem for now and be more cautious the next time around.}

He explained various countermeasures to Aura and Mare, and then walked after them into the castle with his spell active. There were barely any Elves, just like when Ainz infiltrated alone before, so they didn’t meet anyone on the way. Of course, the fact that Aura was listening to the footsteps around them and timing their movements so that they would avoid them was also a major factor in this situation.

{There were barely any people in the Kingdom's royal castle during its last moments as well, but they worked to create barricades at the entrances at least...}

There were no such things here even though the Theocracy was on their doorsteps. In fact, the mood here felt like nothing unusual was happening outside at all.

{It doesn’t feel like they intend to defend it...As I expected, did the country’s upper echelons leave the city to its own devices and escape already? From what I’ve heard there doesn’t seem to be any other Elven countries around here but the Great Sea of Trees is rather huge. It’s entirely possible that there are lands further south with cities and we just don’t know about them.}

All this trouble would be for nothing if that’s the case.

Anyhow, they would have an answer soon. It would be dumb of him to continue thinking about matters they could do nothing about.

The restricted area—likely the treasury—seemed to be on the upper floors.

It was two floors above the one where the king’s personal room was and it was the highest point in the castle. He initially thought about entering it from the outside, but abandoned the idea when he considered that it was unlikely that such a place had windows.

And so the three of them continued to advance up the stairs.

They climbed the floors without getting discovered. Upon reaching the floor of their destination, Aura raised her voice with a hint of suspicion.

“What is this place even?”

The entire ceiling, which was about 15 meters high, was filled with lights covering all of its surfaces. There weren’t any windows around so there was no doubt that it was done through some kind of magic.

But, it wasn’t bright enough to be called dazzling.

Ainz moved his body a little to try and see if he received any debuffs.

It would appear that this was not the kind of light the priests would use that negatively affected the undead. Considering that this was the Elven Country, it was probably some divine magic related to the druids.

The phenomenon itself wasn’t that weird. After all, Nazarick's sixth floor was similar. Even Arcane magic and Psychic magic had light-emitting spells after all, but the lack of secondary effects made it hard to know which type of magic this light belonged to.

But that was not what made Aura raise her voice. It was the thing directly opposite the ceiling, the floor—

—which was completely covered with soil.

Most of the floor, free of any walls or partitions and about a hundred meters wide in every direction, was covered by soil.

There were some areas free of the soil coverage but the area around the huge door further in was completely covered.

Aura lightly kicked the soil a few times and turned some over. It didn’t take that long before she hit the floor beneath it. It wasn’t that deep.

“A substitute for a carpet, maybe?”

Hearing that, Ainz felt like that was probably the case. The Dark Elf village didn’t have a culture of using carpets either. They at most used some floor cushions weaved from grass.

“Eh—, wait...no, culture is a diverse topic, but doesn’t this feel a bit primitive? Or is this a measure of caution? To make intruders leave their footprints?”

“B-but, in that case, s-shouldn’t there be a patrol or a guard watching this area?”

Ainz concurred with Mare’s words. There didn’t seem to be anyone around here.

{Too careless...to think no one’s here...no, maybe even the ones who were here were mobilized to defend against the Theocracy’s assault? That servant said this area was restricted, though nothing about soldiers being stationed here...}

“...M-maybe they planned to cultivate vegetables and stuff if they ever need to hole up in the castle...”

Aura raised an “ah” in agreement with Mare’s hypothesis. Ainz agreed as well.

It was possible for druids to cultivate crops here even though there wasn’t any sunlight coming in. Maybe this light substituted for real sunlight to grow plants here.

Though the area Aura kicked over was shallow, it was near the edge. It was possible that the soil further in was deep enough to grow plants.

{I can test this better if someone like Shalltear, who receives a penalty from sunlight, was with us here...I could use [All Appraisal Magic Item] if it’s a magic item, but...}

If they didn’t find anything good in the treasury, they can try taking this along with them as a consolation.

Ainz settled on that decision and started walking after the twins. Those two used skills to not leave any footprints behind, while Ainz cast [Fly]—while maintaining [Perfect Unknowable]—to do the same.

As the group neared the center of the room—

“—Hoo. I felt some strange presence and came over to check but to think it was some Dark Elves. Twin kids at that.”

A voice suddenly spoke.

Turning back, they found an elf standing about 10 meters away from them.

He had a cold-looking but handsome face, with each eye being a different color. He was definitely not a servant.

They could feel that this elf was used to ordering others around—one could feel the haughtiness that was radiated around him.

“—What?”

Ainz let out a surprised voice that no one else could hear. There shouldn’t have been anyone there. He was sure. Ainz and Mare may have missed him but there’s no way Aura would have as well.

He had not been invisible either, Ainz would have seen him if that was the case.

Maybe he deceived Ainz’s eyes with a special concealment skill while using invisibility at the same time to hide from Aura. Or else—

{—He teleported here? Shit. I should have deployed [Delay Teleportation].}

Aura moved gracefully to position herself between Ainz and that elf while Mare took on a fighting stance, gripping his staff with his two hands.

In contrast to the twins, the elf didn’t change his stance at all. Ainz found him full of gaps but maybe that was the opponent’s attempt to bait them.

A skilled warrior could probably judge if he was being genuine or if it was a bluff, but Ainz couldn’t.

Ainz moved a little and tried waving his hand at the elf.

The elf didn’t turn his gaze at all.

So, he couldn't see through Ainz’s [Perfect Unknowable].

Ainz turned to look at the twins.

His orders before the infiltration were, “in case we were to meet any mysterious individual, focus on gathering intel from them until they attack us.”

Aura nonchalantly extended her hand to grasp her necklace. The twins probably intended to gather the information while having a discussion among themselves.

He could understand their intentions, but they were being a bit rash.

If it were Ainz, he would have immediately attacked the infiltrators if they made any suspicious movements before him. Touching equipment was the same as drawing a gun in his eyes.

Expecting the mysterious elf to start attacking them at any moment, Ainz readied himself to meet him with magic at any time. But, he ended up tilting his head in puzzlement after observing the elf.

There’s no change in the elf’s attitude.

He saw Aura’s actions but didn’t look like he was particularly bothered by them.

Was it because he was highly confident in his strength or was it because he couldn’t understand what Aura was doing? Or maybe he was trying to gather information just like they were and so was hesitating to attack them?

“—nnnn. What’s the meaning of this? Those eyes...I don’t remember bedding any Dark Elves...No, maybe I did? Hmmhmm. Let me test you then.”

The elf’s air of intimidation became stronger. It even felt like the elf had swelled up a little.

Tch, Aura clicked her tongue.

“[Body of Effulgent Beryl].”

“Hoo. hooo. Hoo. So you can withstand this. This is probably the first time ever that I’ve seen someone being able to do that.”

“Hey, why did you point killing intent at us? Do you want to die?”

“[Indomitability].”

“—hah, hahahahahaha!”

The elf laughed like he had just heard the greatest joke. Aura furrowed her brows in a manner that screamed “danger.” She made a fist with a scary amount of force behind it, but gradually loosened it as Ainz continued to watch.

“[Greater Resistance].”

“That was splendid! No, no, I see. I see! I never even had an inkling. Grandchildren, I see. I understand now! So even if it doesn’t awaken in the children, it could awake in the grandchildren’s generation! To think that I didn’t realize it, that was somewhat stupid of me.”

“What nonsense are you muttering about?”

“[Greater Potential].”

“No, no, it just means I had the right idea all along. Well then, my grandchildren.”

{Grandchildren? What the heck is he saying? He seems to be having some sort of misunderstanding.}

“Eh? ...No way, are you Bukubukuchagama-sama’s...?”

That made Ainz panic for a moment. He realized that there was a possibility that Bukubukuchagama had arrived in this world alone and left this guy behind. But—

{—there doesn’t seem to be any slime bits left in him. Maybe he can change his form like Solution!?}

“Chagama? What are you talking about?”

{No...? In that case...could it be Akemichan-san!?}

Yamaiko had a sister named Akemichan. She had made an elf character, but as she wasn’t that into YGGDRASIL, he barely knew anything about her.

“Nnn—, you there, you are a pure elf, right?”

“...Oops. [Breath of Magic Caster].”

“What is this odd question—There’s no way you don’t know who I am, right?”

“We know, we know.”

“Y-yes. We know.”

“The two of you are shit at acting!”

Their perfunctory attitude and the monotone reply were enough to make Ainz retort unintentionally. The elf didn’t believe them either, opening his mouth in surprise.

“T-to think that you didn't know…It’s impossible… good grief. I heard Dark Elves live near the borders but to think you are so uncultured…”

The elf sent them an intense glare.

“I will forgive this once because you are my grandchildren, but ignorance is a sin. I will educate you thoroughly under my guidance.”

“Even if you say you will teach us...wait, actually, who are you? I am just making sure, but you are the king of the elves right?”

Aura likely made that conjecture because the Elf King was the only strong person they were informed about. 

“[Life Essence]. Hoo!”

Ainz let out a voice in surprise. The elf’s HP pool was huge. It easily surpassed the Pleiades and was probably at least level 70 by YGGDRASIL’s standards. This made him an opponent they couldn’t be careless around.

“Haa...I am stunned. What did your parents teach you until now? There shouldn’t be anything more important than the name of the pinnacle of all the Elven races...at present anyway, and the king of the elves, {THE} Decem Hougan”

{Shit.}

Ainz cursed.

He expected this, but he couldn't help but curse after receiving confirmation.

All their effort until now to stay hidden was in vain. He could only lament at all of their wasted efforts.

Now, they would have to kill this person, the greatest combat entity—probably—in this nation, one that they could have expected to decimate the forces of their hypothetical enemy nation, the Theocracy.

They certainly couldn’t leave him alive after this. Overwriting his memories was one option if they could incapacitate him and make him unable to resist, but after seeing his [Life Essence], Ainz realized that this king’s battle strength—his HP to be more precise—was surprisingly huge for a denizen of this world.

Of course, they would win without a doubt if they fought normally. There are three level 100 entities here after all, but it would probably be hard to incapacitate him without killing him, as holding back here could turn out to be a mistake.

Considering his sudden appearance, it’s highly likely that this elf—Decem—had some abilities unknown to them. It was dangerous to prioritize incapacitating him when they didn’t have enough information on his true strength.

After seeing that Akemichan’s name wasn’t mentioned, he was 90% sure that there was no relation between them. If there was any, she would have named him something recognizable.

He would only kill him if they were driven to the wall, if he really was the Yamaiko household’s child.

“The king? Is it fine for you to be here? Aren’t the humans attacking? Why won’t you immediately go over there and save your people”

“[Mana Essence]...I see.”

Even Decem’s mana was quite high for this world’s denizens. It was about the same as Shalltear’s.

HP and MP. Taking Elven culture into account, he most likely had the same class as Mare, a druid. A backline druid, to be specific.

“Why should I do something like that? Seems like you are misunderstanding what being a king means. A king is someone who should be venerated as a supreme existence by his people, not someone who works for them. Mercy is the only thing the superiors give to those inferior. Understood? And mercy can only be pleaded for, not demanded. They should be satisfied even if they don’t receive it.”

What the hell was this guy saying?

Ainz was stunned. If Decem was really being serious, then there’s something wrong with his brain. Ainz even found the Elves pitiful for having such a king.

“So you don’t feel like saving them? But, well—I can agree with a part of what you said.”

“Y-yes. We can’t say he is entirely wrong either...”

“—Haa?”

Ainz stared at the twins’ faces, flabbergasted at their replies. It didn’t seem like a tactic to loosen the opponent’s tongue by flattering him.

Which part of his utterance did they think was acceptable?

{N-no, maybe it’s me who was in the wrong? Maybe that is how a king should think...? Jircniv also had an air like that about him…How was the Quagoa King like? That one was too servile.}

“Hoo. As expected of my grandchildren. Even though unlearned, your minds can understand the truth”

“—Ah, not again. I wasted time...I have my own tasks to do. [Magic Ward - Fire]”

“But you made one big, critical mistake. Only the Supreme Beings can be objects of veneration, not a small fry Elf like you. Well, you can get venerated however you want as long as it’s only the Elves around here, I guess.”

{No, no...that’s completely wrong...But they won’t change even if I reproach them...and it’s not like I don’t understand their feelings...If only they made friends outside of Nazarick...From this point of view, I have hopes for Shizu who became friends with that girl with the scary eyes...This trip was a failure unfortunately. No, considering our talk on the way back, even Shizu’s a bit...as I thought, only Sebas—Ah! I am thinking about useless things again!}

“What? Supreme Beings? Did Dark Elves have such oral traditions?” Decem pondered a bit and slightly shook his head. “Well, whatever. I can just hear about it in detail later.”

“Do you really have the time for it? Like I said before, isn’t the human country knocking on your doors right now?”

Ainz was flustered at the time he had wasted, so he immediately cast the next spell.

“[False Data Life].”

Right at that moment, a rumbling came from under them, shaking the floor. It looked like the Theocracy finally brought out the siege engines.

The twins and Decem turned to look at the floor and closed their mouths. Ainz continued to cast magic.

“[False Data Mana].”

“—Tch. Humans are really troublesome. I could go over and wipe them out myself but...it’s bothersome. Let’s go.”

“...Where are you telling us to go?”

“[Penetrate Up].”

“I haven’t thought about it but, well, nowhere should be a problem with my strength.”

“To think you had no plans, aren’t you the worst...And what are you going to do if we follow you?”

“Is it earth...It would be a waste if I got it wrong...” Ainz hesitated for a moment before taking out a scroll and activating it. “[Earth Master].”

“Aah,” Decem stared intensely at Aura’s body. “You are still a child, huh. It will be some time before you mature...but there’s nothing to be done about it. I have already waited for this long. A few decades is too long to be seen as a mere miscalculation, but we will just have to think of it as inconsequential. You asked what will happen if you come along, right? That answer is simple. You will have children with me.”

“—Eh? What are you even talking about?”

“—Ah? ...[Greater Luck].”

“You too,” Decem turned his gaze to Mare. “After the women become pregnant, it takes time before they can bear a child again. I expect more from you on that account. You will also be making multiple children alongside me. I assume the blood will be further diluted, but seeing how it awoke in the grandchildren’s generation, it should be possible for the great-grandchildren as well. I should take time to experiment. Aah, it will be troublesome but I will probably have to take some people along with us to become your partners. But...why are you wearing a female’s attire even though you are a boy? Is it the Dark Elves’ tradition? Honestly, the fact that you are not a pure elf is a bit irritating, but it’s far better than extending my hand to all the humanoid races.”

Aura and Mare stared at Decem with their mouths agape.

“—”

“Well, I don’t mind if you don’t understand it yet. Let’s go.”

He was unsure what Decem was thinking, but he approached the twins who stood rooted to their place and extended his hand towards Aura.

—Ainz brushed that hand away. Determining the action as an attack, [Perfect Unknowable] got dispelled.

Before Decem could turn to look at Ainz in surprise, his bony fist planted itself in Decem’s face.

Decem flew away, sprawling on the ground.

“—This pedoshi. To think you dare to stare lecherously at the girl entrusted to me by my friend. Die.”

While he continued to hurl abuse, the small part of him that managed to stay cool clicked his tongue at his mistake.

He went through all that trouble to maintain [Perfect Unknowable], but ended up throwing a punch because he lost his temper. There’s nothing more wasteful than this.

Ainz’s emotions would be suppressed if they cross a certain line. He would have acted more rationally just now had that been triggered—instead of punching the guy, he would have cast instant death magic on him. However, it didn’t trigger, probably because he was more disgusted than angry. The extent of that emotion probably didn’t cross the line either.

“Wh, wha—”

Decem stood up in a fluster, with blood flowing from his nostrils. But, he didn’t receive much damage. [Life Essence] showed Ainz that only a little bit of his HP was gone.

Even though he received Ainz’s full-powered punch defenselessly, that’s all it managed to do to him.

There's a possibility that he was faking it with a skill like [False Data Life] or some equipment, but that was most likely not the case.

Ainz showed his open palm to the twins, making a pose to tell them not to move.

From his estimates of Decem’s HP and MP, he seemed to be above level 70 but below level 80.

That said, although it’s very unlikely, they should be on guard against one possibility.

YGGDRASIL had no such classes, but maybe this world had some that wouldn’t raise HP and MP when leveling up. Those could make it possible so that someone is at level 100, but their MP and HP would stay at level 70.

He would probably be right in assuming that there was nothing like that, but there is no such thing as an absolute.

{—The three of us can gang up and kill him, but that’s a bad idea for now. At least not until we figure out the method behind his teleportation...}

While Ainz continued to think up their battle tactics for the hereafter, Decem raised his voice.

“—An U-undead! Why, here, and so suddenly.” He turned his gaze to the twins.

“Is one of you a necromancer!?”

Ainz answered before the two could speak.

“Just like you have surmised. These two are peerless necromancers, and I am their guardian who was born from the power of these two and their parents, from the combined powers of four people. I will definitely not allow the weak to touch them. I wouldn’t mind you taking them away on the dawn of the day you defeated me but—” Ainz used his full effort to laugh scornfully, trying to anger the opponent. “—Well, I think that’s impossible for you, right?”

“Hoo...” Decem removed his hand that had been pressing down on his nose. It seemed like the bleeding had already stopped. “I am a little surprised. To make me bleed...how many decades, no, centuries has it been? I see. You are strong enough to match your boast, but that’s not the way to speak to a king. That said, this is rather fortunate. Rejoice, I shall teach you the difference between our strengths and discipline you.”

He said those words while looking at Aura and Mare. It looked like he really believed Ainz.

So, Ainz continued to think.

Why did it look like Decem believed his (the enemy’s) words without a doubt?

Did he really not have any abilities that could see through invisibility? If he had any, it should have crossed his mind that Ainz suddenly appearing was not because he was summoned, but because he was hiding using something like [Invisibility].

If he really didn’t, then he was probably a specialized druid like Mare.

{Or, in case this was all an act and he knew I was already here—a bluff in a sense—what is he aiming for?}

He wanted to simulate what he would do if he was in that guy’s place, but spending too much time pondering on it would look suspicious.

“Then why don’t we fight one-on-one, fair-and-square? That should make it easier for my masters to understand who is stronger, you or them, right?”

Decem widened his eyes and laughed like he just heard an interesting joke. Meanwhile, Ainz used the silent metamagic to send a [Message] to Mare.

{—Mare. That was a big lie just now. If it looks like I am in a bad situation, cooperate with me to absolutely kill that guy. Pass that along secretly to Aura as well.}

Obviously, he had no intentions of handing the twins over to the guy. Also, fighting one-on-one, fair and square in a fight with one’s life on the line was an act of utmost stupidity. Some battles were fine to lose, but not those where people were trying to take each other’s lives.

But—

Ainz felt like he had made a mistake.

He wanted to spend a little more time buffing himself, but there was no way he would let a pervert like that touch Aura. The elf also could have had skills to force teleportation that Ainz didn’t know about, which would have been dangerous if he had let him touch her.

“The sight now—the sight of you two commanding an undead made me sure that you are my grandchildren.”

Then, the floor moved.

Like waves receding back from the beach, the soil roiled towards Decem.

Ignoring it, Ainz took out a scroll from under his clothes with deliberate movement and activated it.

It was extremely wasteful, but he had no other choice. Until he knew how much the opponent knew, he couldn't let the enemy get cautious.

The activated magic was the Eighth-Tier spell, [Dimensional Lock].

This spell had the same effect as the special ability used by extra-dimensional beings like devils and angels. It blocked beings from teleporting out of a specific range with instant teleportation magic.

While he was doing this, the earthen lump that coalesced before Decem turned into something huge.

It was in the form of an elemental that Ainz knew.

He could hear a gasp of surprise from Mare, but Ainz was surprised as well.

{A Primal Elemental!?}

Upon seeing the elemental that couldn’t be summoned by normal means before him, Ainz instantly raised his level of caution.

Unlike Mare, Ainz suppressed his sound of surprise from leaking out. One of the fundamental teachings of “PKing for Dummies” was that you couldn’t let others find out that you knew. 

Mare’s surprise could be misunderstood as a kid’s terror at seeing the elemental, but in Ainz’s case, it would make it clear that he had knowledge about it.

So Ainz lowered his shoulders in an exaggerated manner.

“—hnn. So what? You created a big lump of soil called an earth elemental? Are you going to make it fight me instead of fighting by yourself? Aren’t you underestimating me?”

“Hohoo. So you know what this is?”

Decem smiled haughtily.

{Good!}

“—Of course. That’s just an earth elemental, right? I destroyed one that was summoned against me in the past. Well, that wasn't nearly as large as the one here, so you should be quite strong to be able to control one so large. Size is one of the marks of strength after all, but size is not everything.”

“Yes. You are correct. Dragon Lords who only have their large bodies to speak of can be defeated by Elves after all—But I am surprised. Your knowledge is not incorrect. You were right that this is an earth elemental. Hahaha. Your discerning eye—no, memory? I would bow to it.” Decem’s clearly scornful grin deepened further.

“—This is a rare chance, so why don’t you take a blow with your body? A blow from an elemental you called trivial”

The Primal Elemental slowly raised its fist.

{...It should move faster if it was a Primal Earth Elemental. Was this intentional? Well, I am thankful for it.}

Its behavior, like a cat playing with its prey, was a welcome thing for Ainz.

{Isn’t this the best?}

While hiding his smile—of course, his face won’t move in the first place—Ainz tried to recollect Primal Earth Elemental’s abilities.

The Primal Earth Elemental that was over level 80 played the tank role among the Primal Elementals of the same level. No, fundamentally, all earth elementals filled the same role.

Its attacks were considered to have nearly all of the metallic attributes under its level to be included in them.

For example, if beings like Lupusregina who had a weakness against silver got hit by it, it would trigger that weakness.

Also, as long as both the opponent and itself stood on earth, it would have a bonus to all of its stats, even though meager. But, that shouldn’t work now as the original floor that was exposed after all of the soil had collected near Decem was made from plant material. It also supposedly had the ability to hide in soil, but that couldn’t be used here either. All things considered, he could say that this was not a good battlefield for the Primal Earth Elemental.

What he should be on guard for were the punches from those fists. It was a simple way of attacking, but it was highly destructive. They were not exactly fast or precise, but it was hard for a backliner like Ainz to evade them. Furthermore, it does bludgeoning damage, which was particularly effective against Ainz.

It could also extend its arms like whips and do long-range attacks, but in that case, its power would go down a lot.

Just like its attacks, its defense was also supposed to have metal attributes imbued. It also had [Weapon Resistance V] against all weapons and physical damage reduction on top of that. Considering all of the above, it was the ideal tank and was troublesome to deal with using only physical attacks.

That said, it also had some weak points, naturally.

For example, it didn’t have any dangerous trump cards—that is, it had no special skills. That meant that it had no attack that could turn the tide in a battle.

The other weak point was that everything that worked against metallic attributes worked the same on the elemental.

{...Herohero-san could probably take it down easily.}

It was weak to acids and—there was one more element it was weak against.

Ainz made preparations to take out the staff from his inventory when needed. He wouldn’t be taking it out yet though.

Since the opponent was assuming that he was just a simple undead, he should play along and not display any skills that would put him on guard.

The question was whether or not he should take the incoming hit or not.

It would make for a good act if he made it look like that single attack was what made the undead being realize that this was no simple earth elemental. The demerit in this scenario would be that the enemy would turn cautious after seeing that one serious blow wasn’t enough to kill Ainz.

{...Right. There’s no doubt that he is specialized in summoning. The earth elemental’s attack will be more powerful than usual. It will be disadvantageous for the fight hereafter if I receive damage for no reason. In that case, what I should be doing here is—}

“[Wall of Skeleton]”

Ainz created a huge wall made of bones in front of him at the same time the elemental brought its fist down. The wall was instantly destroyed and disappeared into thin air.

{As I expected...did his mana just go down?}

“—W-what is this!” Ainz exclaimed in a voice loud enough for the elf to hear. “Why, why can it destroy my wall in a single hit!!”

“Hahaha. To think it was broken in a single hit from a simple earth elemental, isn’t your wall too brittle?”

Taking advantage of Decem’s good spirits, Ainz immediately shot a spell at him.

“[Lopsided Duel].”

This was a Third-Tier spell that made the caster teleport to the same place as the person he cast it on if they tried to escape by teleportation. Furthermore, even if the opponent was protected by [Delay Teleportation], it would still ignore it and instantly teleport the caster at the same time.

Still, this obviously had a fatal weakness. If the opponent teleported right into the middle of his comrades, the caster who followed them would also teleport to the same place and would end up as their punching bag. That was why, even though it looked like an extremely useful spell at first glance, it was relegated to the Third-Tier. Before it was patched, it could be cast on allies to teleport along with them. After it was patched out, the spell could only be cast on enemies.

So, Ainz should be prepared to escape if there were people on the same level as Decem waiting at the place he would teleport to. Luckily, [Lopsided Duel] had the small mercy of not taking the enemy along with the caster if it was the caster who used teleportation instead, so it would not be that difficult to escape.

“—What did you do?”

“...I cast an instant death spell. I see, so you already have measures against instant death?”

“...Well, it looks like you are somewhat intelligent, so you tried to deal with me after seeing that you can’t win against Behemoth. But, do you really think that I am weaker than the elemental?”

{Summoners being weaker than their summons is impossible in YGGDRASIL, but you are probably the lower-leveled one here. Keeping that aside, why didn’t he answer my question even though he is looking down on me as a weakling? Is it because he really had no anti-instant death measures? And, what is this “Behemoth?”}

Decem jerked his chin, making the Primal Earth Elemental lift its fists again. It was far quicker compared to the last time. He could also hear Decem cast a spell at the same time.

“[Mercy of Shorea Robusta].”

{Tch. His use of Tenth-Tier magic was within my predictions, but that’s a really troublesome spell. Now I will have to use twinned metamagic to kill him.}

[Mercy of Shorea Robusta] was a Tenth-Tier spell, and its mana consumption was one of the highest among them, on the level of [Reality Slash].

This spell had three effects.

First, for a limited period of time, it would gradually recover HP. However, the recovery rate was trivial and so it was hard to call it useful for people at this level range.

The second one was absolute immunity against instant death. There were far better spells in the Third-Tier if one only wanted to acquire resistance against instant death, but there was a reason why a lot of druids learned this spell despite that.

That reason was the third effect, which automatically resurrected the target when their HP reached 0 and died. This would not cause a drop in levels from resurrection. The trigger condition of HP going to 0 made it useless against deaths that weren’t caused by damage like those by drowning, but it was still a very useful spell. Priests had resurrection spells that wouldn’t cause level loss if they were cast right after death, druids also had spells like [Phoenix Flame], but many use this spell to cover for any careless mistakes. That said, they would be at low health upon resurrection, so they were very likely to die anyway after a few hits. Still, there were a lot of cases where people were saved by this spell.

Incidentally, it could avoid death from Ainz’s ultimate skill, [The Goal of All Life is Death] as this spell was considered resurrection magic. In that case, however, the spell would end even if there was still some active time left. It was because the spell was dispelled after it activated the resurrection portion.

{He is probably guarding against my bluff about using an instant death skill...I made a mistake. My bluff should have been about some magic I can’t use. Let’s do that next time.}

“[Triplet Magic - Wall of Skeleton].”

As he expected, the first wall was destroyed with a single attack and the second wall soon followed. While the third wall was obstructing Decem’s view, Ainz slightly changed his position, took out a scroll, and activated it.

[Piercing Cacophonous].

It was a buffing spell that he didn’t really need right now, but he used it just to be sure.

Primal Earth Elemental attacked again.

The [Wall of Skeleton] shattered and—

“—[Triplet Magic - Wall of Skeleton].”

At the same time the first of the three new walls he created was being destroyed, he heard Decem chant a spell.

“[Aspect of Elemental].”

It’s an Eighth-Tier druid spell that gave resistances similar to the elementals. It gave immunity towards bad statuses like poison and disease. Other than that, it also nullified critical hits and attacks with similar effects. 

There was also a similar spell in the Ninth-Tier named [Elemental Form].

The areas Ainz specialized in were being mitigated one-by-one, which was troublesome.

That said—

{—how much of his mana can I exhaust.}

[Triplet Silent Magic - Greater Magic Seal]

Ainz changed his position a little more. With this, he had moved ninety degrees from his initial position with Decem as the center, he was now closer to the stairs.

The Primal Earth Elemental destroyed one more wall. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make new walls of bone right now.

[Triplet Maximize Boosted Silent Magic - Magic Arrow]

His mana went down by a lot instantly.

Naturally, even a low-tier spell would consume a lot of mana after being strengthened by four metamagics.

If this Primal Earth Elemental was a summon, all it needed was a single successful [Greater Rejection] and he wouldn’t need to prepare all these spells. However, if Decem really was specialized in summoner classes as he assumed, it probably wouldn’t succeed in dispelling the summon even with their large level difference.

Plus, [Greater Rejection] could only dispel summons, not creations.

{Could it be an Elemental Adjutant? If it was created by sacrificing experience, it could be maintained nearly forever. But, it looks like he was consuming mana to maintain it so that shouldn’t be the case...I can’t really gamble on it though.}

Then, he should also be prepared for that possibility.

“Fina—” Decem stopped speaking, looked at the twins, and then looked at Ainz’s position with a puzzled expression. “—Why did you move over there? Are you planning to escape while calling yourself their guardian?”

“Tch!”

“Hahaha! Then let me lend you a hand.”

The Primal Earth Elemental landed a punch on Ainz’s defenseless back as he ran towards the stairs. The knockback caused by its gigantic fist blew Ainz away.

“Hooo? To think you weren’t smashed in a single blow, it stands to reason why you would talk big. Well, your resistance was futile in the end anyway.”

Ainz was sent flying away, but he managed to keep his posture with [Fly] and took his position before the stairs.

“But seeing that you are running away, can I assume that you are going to leave your masters behind with me?”

“There’s no way I would do that.”

Ainz created another [Wall of Skeleton].

“That again? How do you even expect to win without damaging my elemental? That is an idiotic plan you got there.”

Upon hearing Decem’s exasperation-filled voice, Ainz returned a sneer from behind his wall.

“Hahaha! I know that humans are assaulting this country right now. Hey, Elf King, don't you think time is on my side?”

“...I see. So that’s how it is. Aren’t you clever? But, that’s meaningless. Your plan’s impossible.”

“What? Impossible, you say?”

“Yes. Did you perhaps think that something like humans could take me down? Me, the one who controls this elemental?” 

{I was exasperated at similar words I had heard from the guy who summoned an angel in the past, but the Primal Earth Elemental is truly a top-class being. ...Is the Theocracy attacking while knowing Decem’s strength? If that’s the case, it means that they have a method to defeat him. Yet, this guy looks like he hadn’t even thought of that possibility yet. Either the Theocracy is ignorant, or this guy is. But, if the Theocracy really knew Decem’s strength, would that person at that time really have called that the highest angel?}

It’s unsure what he thought about Ainz contemplating silently, but Decem spoke in an utterly fed-up voice.

“You should have probably understood it if you thought about it a little bit, right? You really are such a shallow person. Well, maybe it can’t be helped. You are an undead after all. All you have is air for brains.”

{I don’t know. If they are prepared for a fight with the Elves, it stands to reason that there’s someone in the Theocracy's camp on the same level as this guy at the very least. In that case, time really isn’t my ally here. I want to avoid consecutive battles but...}

How much of his opponent’s energy could he exhaust?

While thinking about that, Ainz cast another [Wall of Skeleton].

As he said to Mare in a [Message] previously, fighting one-on-one is an idiotic thing to do when one really wanted to win, but he had to continue doing so this time unless he felt like he was in danger of losing. This battle also had one more irritating factor. 

He had to fight with a hand tied behind his back.

Ainz already concluded that Decem couldn’t see through [Perfect Unknowable]. He could easily win if he used that.

But that wasn’t an option.

Why?

What was the most likely development if he started to have an overwhelming advantage using [Perfect Unknowable]?

Or, say, what would happen if he used a high-tier spell like [Time Stop] and outed himself as a strong opponent?

Decem would likely run upon realizing that he couldn’t win. Luckily, he wouldn’t direct his attacks at the twins—well, he couldn’t be certain of that, but it was very unlikely. That guy’s aim was to capture Aura—and then, Mare. It was reasonable to think that he would not cause them fatal harm.

Ainz didn’t want to let him escape without finding how Decem teleported here. He appeared suddenly, so he could probably disappear suddenly as well. No—in fact, he should imagine the worst and assume that he had the ability to do just that.

If he let this guy escape, this pervert could continue to aim for Aura and Mare forever.

That was one thing he certainly couldn’t let happen.

The twins could be standing at a dangerous precipice depending on Decem’s true strength, which he was yet to be certain about.

That was why he was putting into practice what he said to them with the [Message].

—He would be sure to kill Decem here, and not give him a chance to escape.

That was why Ainz didn’t ask the twins to help.

Difference in numbers was one of the main factors that decided victory. The first thing Ainz would do if he were to encounter a group of opponents of unknown strength that outnumbered his group would be to escape. He should assume that Decem would do the same.

It was better not to make the enemy realize his disadvantageous situation before he could create an opportunity to take them out. So, not only did he not ask for the twin’s help, but he didn’t even summon any undead.

His great lie about Decem being allowed to take the twins if he was defeated was also for the same reason.

By restricting his opponent's actions, Ainz led his opponent into not wanting to leave the battlefield and gradually made him not able to leave it even if he wanted to.

{Su, su...what was it again? Yeah, the sankyuu-cost effect. The important thing is whether or not I can make him accumulate enough of it...I hope that he doesn’t see through it...Let’s just pray that he doesn't have much battle experience...I should break his will at the very least.}

(T/N: Ainz is trying to remember “sunk-cost fallacy” and mistook ‘sunk’ with ‘sankyuu’ (how ‘thank you’ is pronounced in Japanese))

♦ ♦ ♦

“「S-scary」”

Upon hearing Mare’s trembling voice echoing through the necklace, Aura immediately concurred.

“「Un. Scary.」”

“「So Ainz-sama can be this scary.」”

Aura and Mare understood well why their master was intentionally fighting like that.

To gauge his opponent—that was probably one of his aims, but that was not the only one.

He was aiming for one other major objective.

He was slowly dragging the opponent down like quicksand to stop him from escaping and would then go in for the kill.

When should someone choose to escape in a situation where they couldn’t get a read on the other party’s health? There were various opinions on this topic, but excluding cases like their attacks being completely ineffective on the opponent, it would be when their own health went below a certain threshold.

Then, what if their health mostly remained the same, but it was their mana that was getting worn down?

What if they already used a lot of their mana up till that point?

What if they felt like they could win with just one more push?

It was in everyone’s nature to be reluctant to cut their losses even when they knew that was the right thing to do. That was why everyone made their own rules from their own painful experiences and the information they had gained from others.

That meant that when one’s battle experience was meager and the information they had on their opponent was nearly non-existent, they would have trouble deciding on the right moment to cut their losses.

Their master saw through that very point.

Especially since the opponent was a king, someone haughty and inexperienced at battling others whose strength was on par with himself. He was pushing him to a point where he couldn’t easily cut his losses and escape.

“「All of those shameful utterances were a bluff. Although it’s rude to call him a monster, Ainz-sama really is one when it comes to a battle of wits isn’t he... 」”

Aura’s body slightly trembled.

“「It’s understandable why Demiurge-san said that he is someone above even him...」”

Mare also trembled in sync.

“「It’s also awesome how he is deliberately showing the guy that he is using the scrolls」”

“「All because he is trying to hide his own strength.」”

They couldn’t help but feel fear at the deliberate actions he had taken. They also learned a lot at the same time.

Both of them felt how blessed they were to have one such as him standing above them.

♦ ♦ ♦

A new wall appeared the very instant the previous one was smashed apart.

Decem hid his irritation behind a smile, realizing that the opponent was uselessly stalling for time.

He wondered how many times they had repeated this. Though he didn’t count because it was tiresome, it should be at least 20 times by now.

The walls were weak enough to break apart in a single hit, but the opponent was deploying multiple at a time to avoid Behemoth’s blows.

{Mooks will use their brains in their own way...no, it’s different. Maybe I should say that they need to be so desperate because they can only use such weak magic.}

It was probably incorrect to call him a mook, but that undead was certainly weaker than his Behemoth. What Decem saw till now in this fight showed that he was right.

If that undead was stronger than Behemoth, he would have proactively attacked them. However, all he did was fumble around while doing his best to defend against Behemoth with spells. It was like he was relying on some third party to do the real work. Sure, Behemoth was taking damage every time he broke one of the walls, but that was trivial. It was unlikely that the undead was stupid enough to think that he could take down Behemoth with that alone.

{His attempt to damage Behemoth bit-by-bit was probably a ploy to help the humans who he’s expecting to come here later...brings tears to my eyes really. Behemoth’s got far more health than you think, you know? Won’t your mana run out first?}

Another wall was smashed and he can see the next one behind it.

Decem sighed.

Continuing with this farce any longer would be tiresome.

{Maybe that was his aim all along. To make me just leave them alone because it felt tiresome—how do I quickly deal with him?}

He already understood that it was not wise to deal with those walls one by one, but Behemoth unfortunately didn’t have any special skills. If he wanted to ignore the walls, the only other choice was to walk around them. If he did that though, the enemy would just make another wall.

It would end up being a game of cat and mouse.

Decem could control and order elementals stronger than him. Generally, it would be impossible to summon or control those stronger than yourself, but due to one of the classes Decem had, he could ignore that restriction. However, it came with the price that his mana would be gradually consumed while the summon was fighting.

It was not like he had to concentrate while using Behemoth, so Decem could use magic at the same time. Although, doing that would reduce the time he could keep Behemoth active.

{It can’t be helped. Should I just use an attack spell? Behemoth and Me. He shouldn’t have any leeway to create new walls while taking on both of our attacks.}

Decem could use Tenth-Tier magic.

A realm that the magic casters of this world could never reach even with all of their efforts—a tier only allowed for the chosen few.

That said, he could only barely use it because he had specialized in summoning. He was certainly not good at it, though it should be enough to deal with something like that undead easily. But—was it fine to use his precious mana like that? He hesitated, wondering if he should save it for Behemoth instead.

{I have to somehow make that undead understand that humans can’t do anything to me. That would probably make him stop trying to buy time...}

He already said as much, but it didn’t look like the other side believed him.

No, even he could understand that it was only natural that they wouldn’t believe him.

One does not simply believe the enemy’s words, but it’s not like Decem was lying either. No one was able to beat Behemoth till now, even the ancient dragons weren’t a match. Though they used Second-Tier magic to strengthen their bodies, they were still beaten into a pulp by Behemoth in the end.

Even Decem himself would inevitably die if he turned Behemoth into his opponent.

His father was probably the only one who could defeat Behemoth, but he was already dead. That meant that there was no one left who could.

{He’s probably thinking that he can win if I exhaust my mana, but that’s wrong too...}

The undead was likely counting on taking down a magic caster whose mana was exhausted easily. That was probably a prediction made from his own experience as a magic caster.

Decem deigned to recognize that a part of its reasoning was correct.

If Decem—someone who specialized in summoning—used up all of his mana and was unable to use Behemoth anymore, his battle strength would drastically drop. However, that didn’t mean that he himself was weak. As someone who stood at the pinnacle of druids, his body was stronger than most living beings.

The brittle human body would split into two with just a single blow from his fist. If he kicked someone who wore armor, it would leave a footprint on it while turning the soft meat inside into pulp from the impact.

He was confident that he could wipe out a human army of thousands, nay, tens of thousands with just his bodily strength alone.

Yet, if he was asked if it was alright to exhaust his mana, he couldn’t be so sure.

He was a bit uneasy about it as he entrusted most of his battles to Behemoth till now. Killing a few thousand soldiers would mean that he would need to swing his fists thousands of times as well. He wouldn’t know if his stamina would hold unless he tried, and most of all—

{To fight directly by myself—to do an act as barbaric as dirtying this body with human blood is unthinkable.}

As someone proud of his nature as an elemental user, to swing a weapon at his opponent personally was nothing but savagery to him. He wanted to avoid that kind of battle at all costs.

What should he do then?

{I already consumed a lot of mana. I can still fight but...that doesn’t mean I can do it for long using Behemoth. I will have to kill humans while keeping the grandchildren bound with magic. Taking that into account, I really don’t have much leeway with my mana.}

He couldn’t spend any more mana on that undead.

{Should I just ignore him and leave with the grandchildren? But he will probably just be summoned again...}

Then they would end up going through a similar fight again.

That’s not the way he wanted to do this at all.

He wanted to break their will by showing them who was the stronger one. He wanted to win the battle here and imprint on them that he was their superior.

Those two would continue to rebel against him if he didn’t do that.

So that undead had to be destroyed completely.

{It all comes back to this, but how should I eliminate him?}

All of his opponents till now were no more than brittle branches that broke with a single punch from Behemoth. He never imagined a battle where he had to chase after the opponent who scurried here and there, trying to stall for time.

{Hnnn—this was a good experience. I should practice by killing those escaping worms as well the next time around. First, I should deal with—that.}

Decem glared at the wall standing in Behemoth’s way. Or, to be more precise, he was staring at the undead behind it.

{As I thought, there’s no way around it. I should quickly kill him even if I have to use a large amount of mana. It’s extremely, yes, extremely inelegant that an elemental user like me has to use attack magic but...it can’t be helped. I don’t want to fight physically so let’s just bear with it.}

After resolving himself to it, Decem selected a spell and activated it.

[Shining Burst].

The Seventh-Tier spell caused an eruption of heat and light which manifested like the sun. The wall made of bones was blown away the instant the hemisphere of white light touched it, but the walls behind it stood undamaged.

{I see, so even a wide-area spell can’t break through the inner walls.}

It would have been better for him if all the walls were dealt with at once, but finding out one of its characteristics was good enough. He would just have to choose a different spell next time with that information in mind.

Even wide-area spells differed slightly; some scattered and some exploded, while others radiated outwards.

Behemoth’s huge right fist of stone smashed through another wall and without a pause, his left fist also brought the last wall down. He finally caught the sight of the undead who looked flustered.

{He will just make another wall, won’t he?}

Then all he had to do was cast a more suitable spell based on the now known information.

But what happened next was unexpected.

The undead started to walk away in an attempt to create some distance from Behemoth, and took an item out from under his robe. It was probably another scroll.

The Elves used the bark from a special kind of tree to make scrolls and could only inscribe druid spells up to the third tier on them. That undead’s magic was not druidic, so Decem thought that was probably how scrolls looked for spells from a different system of magic.

{A low-tier spell? Is he mocking me? Does he think he can defend with just that? ...Or do the scrolls he uses contain higher-tier spells? ...But when did he even get them? A special type of summon?}

The undead burned the scroll, activating the spell stored.

“Wha!?”

A dense fog spread out with the undead at its center, covering Decem’s entire field of vision, reducing his visibility to only a few meters. The fog was so milky thick that he could only look ahead by maybe five meters at most.

More irritating magic from his opponent.

He was about to cast an attack spell, but it wouldn’t be effective unless he had a clear line of sight; It was the same for wide-area magic. That undead used the scroll while walking, so he should be moving right now. It was possible that the target was not in range even if he attacked the spot he last saw him.

Decem commanded Behemoth to search for the undead but realized that its movement was dull.

Behemoth’s senses relied on its eyes, so it couldn't find the enemy because of the fog.

{If that’s how it is going to be,} Decem thought. He cast the Fourth-Tier spell, [Tremor Sense].

This spell allowed him to sense even the smallest amount of tremors, allowing him to find his opponent's position. It was more effective on land but a floor should work as well. But—

{—What? He is nowhere around, you say?}

[Tremor Sense] told him that the two grandchildren were still here even though he couldn’t see them through the fog. The tremors were probably caused by them changing their postures. It was hard to think that the undead would escape by teleportation, thus leaving them behind. It was even harder to believe that the summon was canceled. Then, what happened? Decem soon stumbled upon the reason.

{He is not touching the floor! He is floating in the air!}

He didn’t realize it because the enemy previously only used his legs to run when he tried to escape, but he had to be floating through some means.

[Tremor Sense] could sense even the most trivial of vibrations from the floor, but its range did not extend to air.

The undead was doing a splendid job at getting on his nerves.

“Such attempts at stalling for time are meaningless! You irritating mook!”

This was starting to get really unpleasant. Maybe he should just call the humans over and wipe them out together, it would probably be quicker than this.

{This weakling! He would have been dead already if we had been fighting outside!}

He couldn’t immediately think of a way to drag the children and the undead outside. He could blast the wall and push them outside, but he doubted that it would go as expected.

Decem hurled an order at the Behemoth—who was stumbling aimlessly—and made him stand by his side.

He was not sure about the guy’s movements inside the fog, but it was possible that the undead was targeting him. That wasn’t something he had to worry about as he wouldn’t die in a single hit, but he didn’t really want his blood spilled again by such a lowly being.

Time slowly passed by as he tried to sense the enemy’s movements. It hadn’t been that long since, but the sensation of his mana gradually going down made him feel like time flowed slower than usual.

{—I can’t waste any more time!}

He would just blow the fog away. Decem tried to remember the spells he hadn’t used for a long time. As Behemoth had mowed down all of his enemies up till this point, there were a lot of spells he hadn’t used after learning them. He knew at least one spell that could blow this fog away.

He chose a Ninth-Tier spell—[Tempest].

A storm started rampaging, clearing the fog in an instant. However, the fierce rain that came along with it obscured their vision again. The swirling winds were ferocious, strong enough that even Decem had to spend his full effort just to stay put. It was extremely difficult to move amidst this.

As expected, only Behemoth with its huge body could withstand the raging winds enough to move around even though its speed would go down.

{That guy shouldn’t be able to move in the middle of this storm either.}

Nothing was visible inside this downpour, even Behemoth couldn’t find that undead amidst this. But, it was different for Decem. [Tremor Sense] would pick up the vibrations caused by all of the raindrops falling on the floor, so he couldn’t discern between them and the steps made by some entity even if they walked around him. On the contrary, he could sense the spots where the tremors from raindrops were weaker. Inside the image of the flat topography this room made inside his head, he found two such spots where the rain was being obstructed. One was the place where his grandchildren stood, the other one was naturally the undead’s location.

{—he is moving?}

This fierce rain was one in which he couldn’t even see before him. Even Behemoth, with all the strength its huge body provided, could barely move around in the ferocious winds. 

Then, how was that undead moving inside this storm? He should have been caught by the winds even if he tried to fly.

Decem was only puzzled for a moment. He immediately dispelled [Tempest].

The rain and the winds borne of magic disappeared like they weren’t there in the first place, but the wet floor and his soaked clothes proved that it hadn’t been an illusion.

Decem swiped away the wet hair that was stuck to his face and saw a wall standing between him and the undead’s location. The undead probably made it when the spell was dispelled.

“Cut it out, you bastard!!” Decem shouted angrily. “What was that about fighting fairly?! Sneaking behind one wall after another! Such cowardice!!”

“—isn’t it normal to use tactics in a battle? Please don’t ask me such obvious things. I have some questions as well that I would like for you to answer.”

The undead spoke from behind the wall.

He should have ignored it, considering his mana was vanishing by the second, but it sparked his curiosity. That undead’s words should contain the ideations of those twins—and by relation, their parents—behind them. He should listen.

“...What are they?”

“Is it fine to leave the humans alone? It had been some time since we started fighting here. Maybe the Elves below are being massacred right now, you know?”

He was stunned at the somewhat unexpected question, but decided to give an honest answer.

He momentarily thought about canceling Behemoth’s combat form, but then it would take some time if he wanted to return Behemoth to its present form again. We were talking about that despicable undead here. Even if they were in the middle of a conversation, he would surely come attacking if he saw a chance. A single hit would be far from fatal, but he wanted to avoid taking one head-on. So Decem decided to continue maintaining Behemoth in combat form even though it would continue to consume his mana.

“From a certain point of view, it’s probably better to save them considering that they could awaken their blood in the later generations like those two, but there are Elves elsewhere too. Plus, I have more expectations for those who could escape by themselves. In a gist, there is no need to save those who are weak enough to get killed by something like humans.”

“Onto the next question then. I heard there is a hidden treasure of the Elves?”

“A hidden treasure of the Elves? Are they talking about me? Or is it about this thing here?”

“... By ‘this thing,’ you mean Primal Earth Elemental?”

“Primal Earth Elemental?”

“Of all things, that’s what caught your attention? A Primal Earth Elemental is what you’ve summoned, right? Or is it a different race...an elemental with a different name? Do you call it by a different name?”

Even though it was fine if the lowly worm died in ignorance, Decem was irritated that he thought Behemoth was just a simple earth elemental or something from a similar race. Considering he also had to educate his grandkids correctly, he had to correct the enemy’s misunderstanding here.

“That’s Behemoth. The Elemental Guardian of the Land, Behemoth.”

“Behemoth? So I didn’t mishear it...Elemental Guardian of the Land? Not the Great Magic Beast of the Continent? The raid boss? The Behemoth I knew looked a lot different...Who was the one that named it first? You?”

“Someone else, but—”

“—Then, who?”

The questioning tone felt a bit forceful. Why was he interested in that of all things? What’s this Great Magic Beast of the Continent? He felt like he heard the term raid boss (a strong enemy that required a party to defeat) though... This guy—or his grandchildren to be more accurate; maybe they knew some things not even he knew about. It would be better to not answer the undead’s questions anymore.

“...How about taking down that wall if you want me to answer? Isn’t it rude to talk without even being able to see each others’ faces?”

“Then it’s fine if you don’t answer. I only asked that question out of intellectual curiosity.”

Was it the undead who wanted the information, or was it the grandchildren who somehow got their hands on some information and wanted to know more? The two kids who were drenched from the rain had blank expressions so Decem couldn’t read anything from them.

“And another question—”

“That’s enough. There’s no longer any reason for me to continue talking with you.”

Feeling anxious, Decem put strength in the stare he was directing at the twins. The questions were completely different from what he was expecting them to be about and he couldn’t expend any more mana. There’s no need to talk anymore.

“That’s the end of our conversation.”

Suddenly, the wall disappeared.

He was stunned at the unexpected development, just as he was about to use [Green Chain] on the twins. He hesitated for a moment about who he should target.

“—this should probably be your limit. Anyhow, your mana should be reduced by a lot at least.”

“...what?”

Decem was confused by the undead’s extremely cold voice.

Why could he sense complete calm from him?

An incompetent undead who could do nothing but stall for time—

He should just command Behemoth to crush him into a pulp—

Decem turned his gaze towards the stairs behind the undead. He thought that maybe this attitude was because he had achieved his goal to stall for the arrival of the humans, but he couldn’t see anyone coming up the stairs. Even if he concentrated on listening, he couldn’t hear any human footsteps—or any other footsteps for that matter.

He didn’t know what the undead thought of his actions just now, but the undead started speaking again.

“I said your mana should mostly be gone by now. How much longer can you maintain Pri—Behemoth? Probably a few more minutes at least I think.”

“Ah, so that’s what this is about. You thought that you could win against me without my mana. Sure, I wasn’t able to avoid your punch at the start, but that’s because you were summoned suddenly. I could have easily avoided it if I knew you were going to appear.”

“—I know.”

The voice was as cold as it was before. Decem took a gulp unconsciously.

Why does he behave like that?

Strange.

Why was he getting pressured by such a weak undead?

He, whose blood came from the one who dominated the world in the past.

He, who stood at the pinnacle of the Elves as the current strongest Elf.

Decem gritted his teeth and suppressed the shameful emotions welling up inside his heart.

“I see it now!” he shouted with a thunderous voice. “You made me bleed with your fist so you’re thinking that you can win in a physical melee. That punch barely did any damage to me you see!”

“I know that too.”

Upon receiving the undead’s calm response to his anger-fueled shout, Decem felt an unpleasantness that couldn’t be put in words.

Maybe he was—

Just for a moment, an impossible thought flitted across his mind.

Then why?

Why did he fight like that?

This was a bluff.

The enemy was trying to deceive him by acting calm.

There’s no way it could be anything else.

“Behemoth!” He wasn’t sure if that was an angry shout or a scared shriek. “—Crush him!!”

“Let’s start then”.

Decem understood the reason behind the undead’s calmness the very next moment. 

“[Triplet Maximize Magic - Cacophonous Burst]—Release”

There was an explosion of sound waves at first, then a pair of angel wings appeared next.

A storm of shockwaves hit Behemoth who stood between Decem and the undead as a rain of light rivaling the downpour from before pierced its body. The Elemental Guardian of the Land’s health was being blown away by the second. It didn’t bleed or lose parts of its body like a living being, but Decem, as its master, knew Behemoth was standing on its last legs.

Confusion.

Nothing but confusion.

Behemoth was the greatest elemental. No one was on par with it. Even though it received damage in fights until now, they were no more than a few scratches considering its enormous health.

And that—

Like this—

Not once was its health reduced to the verge of death like this.

“N-no way...”

“Well now. I didn’t expect that even six hits weren’t enough to take it down even though I triggered its weakness. Would it have been different if I was more specialized in offensive magic?”

Just like before, Decem couldn’t feel a single emotion from the undead’s calm voice. It was like he was a completely different person from the undead before.

{W-what the hell is even happening?}

The confusion welling up in his heart calmed down for a bit and in its place, fear ran through his body.

The fleeting thought from before loomed larger now.

That, perhaps, this undead was stronger than him.

“No! Behemoth! Protect—”

{Me}—Behemoth, upon sensing his thoughts, moved to cover Decem from the undead’s sight and brought down its right fist on the enemy.

“I did it!! —nn? What!?”

Behemoth followed with a punch from his left hand, meaning that undead wasn’t killed in a single hit.

Even though he had received two hits face-on, he saw that the undead still brazenly stood on the other side.

He wasn’t crushed.

Although it had crushed every enemy until now, that undead stood there like it was nothing.

“[Triplet Maximize Magic - Cacophonous Burst].”

In front of Decem’s eyes, Behemoth—the invincible great elemental— turned into a large pile of dirt.

He was assaulted by a great sense of—

| ||
|| |_

—in that instant.

Something that was inside him had now disappeared without a trace, leaving a gaping hole behind.

“So it’s overkill...but considering you might have some skills up your sleeves, I don’t think I made a wrong choice. What do you think?”

“—Hiyeee!”

Impossible.

The absolutely invincible elemental, his own shadow. It’s impossible for Behemoth to have lost.

But it’s a fact that it was not standing in front of him right now.

Then what should he do?

What action should he take?

Who the hell was the undead before him—.

“You don’t have to be so scared—[Reality Slash].”

He was assaulted by a flood of pain.

The kind of pain he never experienced till now.

“AA, AAAaaaa.” Looking down, he saw that his rain-drenched clothes were now soaked red. 

“Hurtss, It hurtssss!!”

It hurts.

It hurts.

It hurts.

That was the only thing echoing inside his head.

“I understand the feeling very well. If not for this body, I would have become hysterical from just a single one of those hits before. Well then, I have a proposal. Surrender. I will not cause you any more pain if you do that, and will guarantee your safety afterward.”

“Ah, ah, Aah, it hur...r-really?”

With tears welling up from the pain, Decem posed the question to the two grandchildren.

The two looked flustered for a moment, and then the granddaughter replied with “yes, really.”

“Now we have my masters' permission as well. Start removing your gear. Don’t fear. I will return them back after confirming if there’s anything dangerous with them. Really. I am not lying at all. I will swear it in the names of my masters. Trust me.”

The undead spoke with a sincere and gentle voice. Decem felt like believing him.

It hurts.

[Mercy of Shorea Robusta] was slowly healing the wound, but it didn’t take away the pain from the deep, deep wound.

Just for a moment, he felt like surrendering if it could take away this pain. But—he still had some pride left.

As someone who reigned over this country for a long time as its king, he was reluctant to plead for his life from people far younger than himself, even if they were his grandchildren.

It hurts.

He had no mana left. No, there was some, but he couldn’t see himself winning against this undead with the remaining amount.

Should he attempt to settle this in a melee?

No, first of all, he was not confident in himself right now. He would probably die first if he were to take multiple hits from the undead’s spells as strong as the one from before.

It hurts.

Decem turned his gaze behind the undead—towards the stairs.

There’s no one there.

In that case—.

He should run. That’s all he could do.

It hurts.

It hurts.

It hurts.

It hurts.

Even so, Decem started to run.

The blood he left behind was a sign of his declining health.

The fear of death welled up in his heart. Even though he had equipped magic items that resisted fear, it couldn’t eliminate what was born from inside him.

That was why—because he was being urged onward by his fear—his body followed exactly what his mind demanded of it. He kicked the floor with a speed he had never reached until now.

His vision of his surroundings blurred as he picked up speed, instantly reducing the distance between him and the undead.

“Stop! Or I will kill you!”

He ignored the undead’s warning as he passed by him, hearing a tongue click and then a spell being cast.

“[Time Stop].”

He expected more pain from the spell but didn’t feel any. No, maybe there was. Perhaps the pain from his deep wound had taken a turn for the worse from him running, to the point where he couldn’t even notice any other source of pain even if there was such a thing.

So—Decem continued to run. The stairs were very close.

The pain in his chest was surprisingly strong, but there was no hesitation in his legs.

“Aura!”

It seemed like the undead chanted another spell, but once again, this spell didn’t affect him either.

Then, all he had to do was run.

He reached the stairs—and the floor under his feet exploded. Three times at that.

His body flew in the air for just a moment, but by wringing the utmost effort out of his body, he managed to keep his posture and continued to flee without reducing his speed even a bit. He didn’t feel much pain from his legs. Or rather, he couldn’t really feel anything due to the pain in his chest and the overwhelming fear he felt.

He felt like the undead was saying something behind him, but he didn’t have the composure to hear it.

Decem ran like he was flying over the stairs.

He couldn’t hear anyone chasing him from behind. The moment his tension melted a bit, a fierce pain ran through his legs.

Decem nearly cried out by instinct, but suppressed it in a panic. It would be extremely bad to make a loud sound right now.

Looking down at his legs, he found them in shreds, probably due to the explosion before.

Acknowledging the wounds made his pain that much stronger.

Decem looked back the way he ran and saw the trail of blood his escape had made. Even if they were not good at tracking, they could probably follow after him very easily.

It hurts.

He didn’t want to run anymore.

But, he was sure there would be more pain waiting for him if he didn’t.

And most of all—he didn’t want to die.

With his mind filled with that single conviction, Decem bore the pain and willed his legs into motion.

{Why do I have to do something like this? Why won’t my grandchildren listen to me?!}

He couldn’t understand at all.

Why won’t they cooperate for the sake of the Elven race?

{Damn it all!}

Shouting silently inside his heart—because he was scared of giving his location away by his voice—Decem spat profanities, wiping his tears away as he ran.

♦ ♦ ♦

Ainz called for Decem’s surrender in the gentlest voice he could muster. Maybe because he couldn’t use that strange teleportation technique anymore or maybe because Ainz had succeeded in his attempt to guide the guy’s thoughts down a certain path by pushing him to the edge, it looked like he would accept his proposal.

{Finally,} Ainz smiled scornfully in his heart.

Of course, the proposal was a complete lie. He had no intention of guaranteeing the Elf King’s safety. He would be dealt with the moment he took off his equipment.

The guy probably wouldn’t target the twins anymore with his will broken, but [Death] was the more surefire way.

Yet, he felt a fire burning in Decem’s eyes the very next moment.

“Nn?”

Decem suddenly broke into a sprint. Straight towards Ainz at that.

“Tch! Melee!? In that case—I don’t mind at all!”

Ainz hid his smile from his face and instead adopted a voice of surprise and fear.

As an Arcane-type magic caster, Ainz hated fighting in close quarters so it could be said that the opponent was treading on his weakness. However, the fact that the guy still wanted to fight was a welcome fact for Ainz. He would now be able to kill Decem for sure in return for some of his HP. But, what happened next really surprised Ainz, so much so that it felt like even his face that couldn’t make expressions looked surprised.

Decem’s trajectory was just a bit off from Ainz, and it looked like he didn’t intend to reduce his speed either.

Ainz immediately realized that his predictions were off.

{—Damn it! He is making a break for it!}

This made his opinions of Decem go up by a level—or maybe not, but it was raised by at least a little. The most troublesome scenario for Ainz was the enemy giving his all to escape. Ainz would do the same as Decem in a situation like this, although far sooner, before things would reach this point.

It was because he understood this, that Ainz put many countermeasures in place to prevent the opponent from escaping through magical means like the way he came in. However, he didn’t prepare much against him escaping by physical means. There hadn’t been enough time to prepare and it had been difficult to set up the countermeasures in place while trying to hide his true strength.

“Stop! Or I will kill you!”

He shouted a warning but didn’t really expect the guy to stop. Plus, it’s not like he wouldn’t kill him even if he did stop running. Ainz immediately started thinking of the next card to play.

The opponent could just jump over any walls he made. They would instead obstruct him from seeing the guy’s escape, making it more difficult to deal with him.

Psychic magic could end this in a single blow, but it’s doubtful whether it would work on Decem who was expected to be over level 70. Skills or items to resist mind control were very easy to obtain in YGGDRASIL. It was hard to prepare against every type of mind control magic but he probably had countermeasures against at least some.

Jircniv had a magic item against being affected by mind control, so to think that Decem wouldn’t have any would be idiotic. Personally, he wanted to kill the guy with instant death magic, but considering that he was protected by [Mercy of Shorea Robusta], it was meaningless.

So, he finally chose [Time stop]. This could be resisted as well if he had measures against it, but it should be harder to deal with unless he used a magic item.

“[Time Stop]!”

He didn’t stop.

Decem didn’t stop.

Ainz didn’t click his tongue. He had already thought about this possibility in a corner of his mind. In this case, he only needed to borrow the help of others.

He immediately shouted a command.

“Aura!”

“Yes!”

Aura nocked an arrow and—

“[Shadow-Sewing Arrow].”

—shot an arrow that pierced Decem’s shadow, but that too failed at stopping Decem even for a moment. He managed to reach the stairs. Luckily, Ainz made the minimum amount of preparations while he was hiding behind the [Walls of Skeleton] from before.

[Explode Mine] activated under Decem’s feet.

“It’s useless. At your feet—”

Decem ignored him and fled. He could hear footsteps going down the stairs, gradually turning faint.

“—did he realize I was bluffing? Or was he just not in the mood to listen to anything? He was not knowledgeable enough to use piercing magic against wall-type magic, so I ended up underestimating him.”

He tried to stop him with a bluff, but it wasn’t effective.

Decem was a druid. Though from a different system, as a magic caster, it was entirely possible that he saw through Ainz’s magical traps. Generally, one couldn’t cast multiple instances of the same spell at the same time. It’s just like how one wouldn’t be able to amass a lot of monsters by summoning them repeatedly.

“Sorry for letting him escape!”

Upon hearing Aura’s apology, Ainz turned his gaze from the stairs that Decem had disappeared under to her.

“No... No, you are right...that skill was a poor choice, Aura. You saw that he had countermeasures against time stop and instant death during that fight. You should have also assumed that he had some countermeasures against crowd control.” Ainz lifted a hand to stop Aura, who was trying to apologize again. “But, I am also at fault for not warning you about it. In fact, I didn’t expect him to have measures for crowd control either. That aside...what do you think we should do now?”

“I will chase and kill him.”

“Wait!”

Ainz stopped Aura, who was on the verge of charging out.

Considering Decem was probably a druid above level 70, it was highly likely that Ainz couldn’t overtake him with his speed. Only Aura and Mare could do that. However, in that case, Ainz—who had exhausted a fair bit of mana—would be left alone.

{I should get some reinforcements from Nazarick through a [Gate]—no, there’s not enough time. First, I have to decide if I want to let him escape this time or kill him here.}

Even with most of his mana exhausted, Decem’s physical capabilities were comparatively high. Ainz couldn’t win in a melee where he wouldn’t be able to use his magic. Of course, that’s assuming he didn’t use [Perfect Warrior].

{Without her beasts, it’s possible that Aura may not be able to deal with him if he were to bring out some trump card he might be still holding on to. Maybe I should summon an undead...No, what if he summoned another Primal Earth Elemental? No, no, no...that should be impossible.}

It would be broken if one could just summon elementals stronger than them multiple times. Even Ainz, who specialized in necromancy, couldn’t do that. That said, what was "impossible" to Ainz was ultimately according to YGGDRASIL's standards and it was entirely possible that those rules didn't apply to this world.

Even though his game knowledge had been applicable till now, Decem’s command of that elemental was impossible by the game’s logic. In that case—

“—Mare!”

“Y-yes”

“It’s probably going to be dangerous, but you will have to kill that Decem by your strength alone. You are wearing different gear than usual so don’t be careless. If you feel like you can’t win, conserve your mana and stall for time.” Ainz wanted to give him more directions, but he couldn’t waste any more time. 

“Go!”

“Yes!”

Mare gave an unusually energetic reply and started racing down the stairs, following after Decem. He was fast as Ainz had expected, his steps already becoming fainter by the second.

Seeing him run alone, Ainz wanted to summon an undead to go after Mare as support, but decided to hold it back so that they could use it as a shield if there was an emergency. In any case, [Lopsided Duel] was still active. Maybe he could use the undead to quickly deal with him if he had to fight that king again.

“—Aura! You will be guarding me. Let’s go through the treasury as quickly as possible and get everything. We will then regroup with Mare right after!”

“Okay!”

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Mini-FAQs:

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A: 251/347

Q: When's the next release?
A: Next Sunday night burger time

Q: Where to send feedback?
A: As always: [email protected]


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