Thank you to PervySageChuck for a wonderful beta-ing job! Any mistakes are therefore mine.
Ainz looked over at the ruins of the Re-Estize Kingdom's capital. It hadn't been much of a battle. Even without Princess Renner feeding them information, the population had been starving, a result of their yearly war with the Baharuth Empire. Still, somewhere, deep within he had been hoping when they conquered the underworld of the Re-Estize Kingdom that it would not come to open warfare. He suspected the King, newly crowned Zanac did not want war, but the nobles left him no choice, attacking without permission.
Such a little detail would be lost to history and was not important. The Great Tomb of Nazarick had won. The survivors were being rounded up. Those prisoners of high worth were already in chains. He could see them kneeling with guards. The new King was amongst them. Standing off to the side, surrounded by others from Nazarick were those who had collaborated with them. The Heads of the Eight Fingers and Princess Renner. He knew it had been a surprise to her brother when she was greeted warmly by Albedo, but that was the nature of war.
There was a figure in white armour standing beside her. He was trembling. Ainz recognised the boy. Climb. He had been present at the battle of Katze Plains as well as various other events. Sebas spoke highly of him.
He stepped forward. His guards moved with him. This might be a conquered area, but he was never unguarded. He felt them relax when he headed towards the collaborators. Of course, they weren't fully trusted. Well, not all of them were, but they would not openly attack. And they deserved personal praise. The boy, no, that was wrong, he was now a man, but it did not seem right to call him that. The boy turned bright eyes towards him and Ainz was surprised to feel himself being measured. Surely not! Gazef had looked at him the same way, but had known he was going to lose. That this child…
Ainz calmed. The boy was confused. He obviously didn't know Renner's true loyalty and it was coming as a surprise. He looked back. The blue eyes were serious. He could see what Sebas saw in the human. He could thank the collaborators later. This was more important.
"Climb," he said as he came into ear shot. "Walk with me," Ainz instructed.
The boy looked at him. It wasn't measuring this time, more incredulous.
Ainz sighed. "Your Princess is safe," he indicated. Renner was standing slightly apart from the Heads of the Eight Fingers. They had been encouraged to cooperate, she had chosen this path. Albedo was with them and while he knew the Chief Guardian still hated humans, she was willing to be tolerant in the face of such destruction.
The boy sighed. He probably thought the gesture went unnoticed. It didn't. Ainz waved down his guards and the others who took offense on his behalf. Climb saw the gesture and nodded, though there was a curious expression now on his features. Is this what Renner saw in him? Did she like his sheer openness? Ainz didn't know.
He turned away from the ruins of the city and began walking. His guards spread out slightly. Climb was still armoured, but had surrendered his sword and other weapons on Renner's insistence, though it was unlikely, even if he was fully armed that he could successfully attack. Not now. Not yet.
"I want to tell you a story," Ainz said, before Climb could ask his purpose.
"A story?" It was obvious the boy didn't believe his ears.
"Yes, a story," Ainz confirmed. "It's about a man. An ordinary man. Will you listen?" It seemed right to give the boy the choice.
Climb looked back at him, still confused, but he recognised the importance of the question and he recognised the power of the being asking him. He swallowed hard. "I will listen." His voice was sincere.
Ainz nodded before he drew a deep unnecessary breath. "Many years ago, there was a man. He was an ordinary man. He went to work every day and he worked hard. He liked to think he was a good man, a fair man. He liked to think he was honest and honourable. When he wasn't working, he spent time with his friends. Forty of them. They were the best of friends. Together they built a wonder. It was not of this world. It was a home away from home.
"It was their kingdom. Of course, it was well defended, and the friends created the Guardians to defend their home. The Guardians were skilled and fierce and absolutely devoted to the kingdom the friends had created.
"For a while, there was peace. All was right with the world. The man went to work, but when he finished he went to the place they created. They laughed there. They cried. They lived."
Ainz looked towards Climb. The boy was still confused, but was listening with rapt attention. Obviously, he had not expected this sort of story. He turned away and walked on. The road was clear before them. He wasn't sure if it was empty because there was no traffic, or if it had been intentionally cleared. It was these little things he had learned not to think about.
"All too soon though, things changed. The friends who had built the kingdom withdrew. They left the things they had created. They left the friends they had made. They sought other worlds to occupy their attention.
"With each that left, the man was hurt, but he said nothing to his friends. He smiled at them when they went. He embraced them and wished them well in their new adventures, but within he was sad. He cried. He wanted the world to go back to the way it had been. He knew though, things had to change, and things moved on. He remained though.
"He maintained the Kingdom they had made. He ensured the Guardians they had created, their children, were not left alone.
"Then the day came. The day that everything ended, because for all worlds, there is an ending. He remained. His friends had moved on, every one of them, but he remained, hoping that they would come back before the end. Some did, but they didn't stay. He did. He remained in their kingdom all the way to the end, knowing that when the end came, he would be returned to his world and would return to his work in the day that followed. He stayed because he owed the Guardians and the Kingdom he and his friends had made, his loyalty. He loved them all, and he couldn't let them go into the unknown alone.
"Then the end came, but it became a beginning. He was surprised at that. It wasn't meant to be that way. The Guardians rejoiced in their new life. They were loyal to the Kingdom. They were loyal to the man who had stayed behind, the man who saw them as the children his friends had made. The Guardians pledged their absolute loyalty to him and to the Kingdom his friends had built."
Ainz paused, stopping walking as he looked at Climb. The boy didn't understand. He wouldn't, not for a while yet. "Was he a good man?" Ainz asked.
Climb's brow furrowed as he considered the question seriously. Ainz was reassured that he did think about it. It was an important question.
"I think he was. He cared for what he and his friends had made. A bad man could not, would not care."
"A well-considered answer," Ainz said, resuming their stroll away from the city. The smell of burning was dissipating. "So, the man found himself in the Kingdom he and his friends had created, but not in the world he had known. It was new. He did what he thought was best.
"His only thought was to keep what he and his friends had built safe. That was all that mattered, but first, information had to be gathered. The rules of each world are not always the same. Thankfully, the new world was similar to the one he had known.
"He went out into the world and saved a man. He did not regret saving the man, and through that act, maybe he changed the world. He took on a new appearance, a new personality, one he could use to explore the world. He made a name for himself. He made friends. He made enemies, but yet he learned about the world.
"He knew that the Kingdom he and his friends had made could not remain safe as they were. They made small gains, binding lesser creatures into the service of the Kingdom. Yet the man knew they had to come into the open, so a pact was made. An Empire aided him. He aided them. Not as the name the world knew him by, but by the name his Guardians knew. This was the name he wanted to spread. The name that his friends had built and made famous throughout the world they had lived in.
"It would be his legacy. It was his cry in the new world, that if his friends ever came to this world, they would know he was there.
"Thousands died. He was forced to kill the man he had saved. It was not his desire, but necessity made it so and his aim was achieved. His name was spread, and the Kingdom was safe. Of course, such an act makes enemies. The man had many enemies though few dared to strike at him. Such an act also attracts those who wanted to claim the friendship of one so powerful. The man did not care. His primary concern was, as always, the safety of the Kingdom."
Ainz cast a sideways glance at Climb. The boy's face was still attentive, he was still listening carefully, but he thought he could see a kindling of understanding. He nodded to himself. "Is he still a good man?" Ainz asked.
Climb's face twisted. He saw the boy swallow as he again thought. "I think he wanted to be," Climb answered slowly. "I have seen war," he said. "I have fought, I have killed. I'm sure those who I killed don't necessarily think I am a good man, but I did it for a reason. I did it to protect Her Highness and so I thought it was right. I'm sure the man thought he was doing the right thing, and it was, for him."
"A very mature answer," Ainz complimented Climb. The boy blushed. Ainz ignored it.
"The Kingdom grew then. From the initial creation he and his friends had made, a city was added. Then the Empire. Other countries called for his aide. He gave it. They swore their loyalty to him. Yet his enemies were within. They were those who were not happy with a new rule. They were those who should serve the people.
"Since they were meant to serve the people, he was content to let them be, so long as they served all. In the world he and his friends had lived in, species did not matter, only will. Only intent. The living and the undead worked together. Humans worked with demi humans, with those they called monsters every day. It was the norm. It was the ideal he wanted for the new world. It was the ideal needed to keep the kingdom safe, for there were no humans in the Kingdom. There were those who looked human, but many would look upon a human as nothing more than a meal.
"Still, the Guardians of the Kingdom, the citizens of the Kingdom would not touch a human without his permission and he did not give it often. There were always enemies to be disposed of. Those who swore their loyalty were safe.
"Yet those who were within the Kingdom's expanded territory, those who should have served the people cried out against him. They created much strife. They created pain, and misery and hunger. He did his best to teach them new ways, to show them that being united, as he and his friends had been, was the path to create greater strength for all.
"They would not listen, and the whisper of rebellion became a war.
"The man had to react. The war threatened the Kingdom. It threatened those his friends had made, those he cared for, those he wanted to see safe in this new world. There was blood, as there always is in war. Those who rebelled learned the truth of the new identity the man had made to learn about the world, but they also learned how far he would go.
"The kingdom would be safe. The sanctuary he and his friends had made, and those that now lived within it would be safe. That was his only concern.
"Thousands more died. Some through the fighting. Others through starvation, through slavery, through sacrifice. Those who were loyal were protected, but how to tell who was loyal? That was difficult. Some died who shouldn't. Some survived who should have died. Hatred breeds hatred, but still, all he wanted was to keep the Kingdom safe.
"He did keep the kingdom safe. Blood ran in the streets, and the rebels were routed. Their six gods cast out and shown to be false idols. The four gods were also routed, for they were merely a derivation of the six. The Guardians instituted a new religion. They called the man and his friends supreme. They worshipped them with him, he who had remained behind with them, the lord of all.
"The man cried out. The man wanted to say it was not so. He was merely the one left behind as the others moved on. He was merely a man, but to those he and his friends had created, to the Kingdom they had made and lived in, they were supreme. And in the worship, the man knew, that the Kingdom was safe, and so he said nothing.
"But those who had joined the Kingdom, those who had sworn loyalty were now weakened. It remained together though, because of the strength of the original Kingdom, the one the man and his friends had built. They were strong enough. The Kingdom now was vast, at least in the eyes of the new world. It contained humans, demi humans and undead, and all were equal. The man was above them all, as were the creations his friends had made, but they were to rule and ensure the peace and prosperity of the Kingdom."
They were far outside the city now. There was only the slightest hint of smoke in the air. You could pretend there was a cottage nearby, one burning wood for warmth or cooking. There were trees around them. A bird chirped in the distance. It was a comforting sound. A normal sound.
Ainz took another deep breath, savouring the air. It was clean here, even with the war. There was no sound from the city, no lament of those defeated. No cheers of those who won.
Climb gulped. "What happened then?" he asked, somewhat timidly. He was aware that the Sorcerer King was indulging him, and why would a being as powerful as the Magic Caster, the Master of Death indulge him? There had to be a reason, but he couldn't see it.
"Umhu?" Ainz murmured, turning towards the boy.
"What happened then?" Climb repeated his question.
"You don't hate him, do you?" Ainz replied with his own question.
Climb shook his head. "He was doing what he thought was best. He was doing it to protect his Kingdom. I understand protection," he replied honestly. In the face of such power, honest was all he could be.
"Well then, what happened then?" Ainz said, turning his head to the sky. "I think you can guess. The Kingdom was again threatened. There was a new call to arms.
"Though tired, though weakened, though still trying to unite everyone within his new kingdom, the man again fought. It was not an equal battle. Despite the hardship, his Kingdom was prosperous compared to his neighbours. Maybe they were jealous. Maybe they were used to taking what they wanted. They attacked without warning.
"The man, and those his friends had created, those he considered his children, retaliated. They were tired of war. They did not show mercy. Perhaps not all of those who attacked wanted hostility, but when one country attacks another, there is no space for those who want another way.
"The war was quick and decisive. The Kingdom was strong, stronger than those who attacked believed possible, even after everything that had happened. Those responsible for the attack were chained, their fate sealed by their actions. They never left the field of battle. Those who helped the Kingdom were spared, their friendship remembered. And thus, the Kingdom the man and his friends had made was safe again, though now, by the standards of the new world it was an Empire. One that would continue to grow…" Ainz trailed off, looking around. This was far enough away. Climb would not interfere.
"The continuation of the story can be another day, I think, Climb," Ainz finished.
The boy seemed disappointed. "Of course, Your Majesty," he said, "though may I ask one question?"
"What was the man's name?" Climb asked.
"His name was Suzuki Satoru," Ainz replied.
They were far away from the city now. You could almost pretend the land was pristine. Of course, it wasn't. This close to the city, the trees displayed evidence of man. There were no fallen limbs. The poor would have collected them for firewood. There was the occasional mark of an axe on a tree. The bird had fallen silent and there was no other game present.
Ainz looked around. It was almost peaceful here, but it was not and would never be Nazarick. He looked towards Climb. The boy looked back at him, his gaze serious.
"One day you may be called upon to kill me. Maybe you will have better luck than Gazef Stronoff." Ainz shrugged. "Maybe you won't."
"In the event that you do, that is the name of the man you should pray for." Ainz turned away, opening a [Gate] back to the Great Tomb of Nazarick, leaving Climb looking at him, again confused. His bodyguards clustered close. "Not any of my other names." He stepped through the portal, and the Gate closed.
Behind him, Climb stood for a moment before lifting one armoured hand to touch his face. He wasn't surprised when it came away wet. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He looked to the sky, collapsing to his knees as he howled his anguish to the world.