Often, the most inexplicable of things are those that are undefinable through common world logic and reasoning. Such quandaries bely a scenario that is either beyond a scope of personal comprehension, or the beginning of a revelation that the world is larger than what could be imagined.
Heavy chains clinked, rattling from bursts of frigid air leaking out in a mist of vapor beyond the boundary of an open gate. The path led to a lonely castle on an isle overlooking a forgotten plain where the specters of dark shadows meander with neither purpose nor achievement.
A prison, and its warden, queen, and Witch shackled by duty, and led on by a curse to never age.
It was another world. A land beyond the uppermost layering of reality.
That…What is that?
For the longest time, Ainz felt now more than ever, that he couldn't allow his preconceived notions to dictate the parameters of the bosses and Raid Bosses he knew in YYGDRASIL. What he was seeing now wasn't included in any ability the Rune Witch possessed during raids. It was closer to the biography that described her in the character sheet.
Lonely Witch. Cursed Witch. Arbitrator of the land between the living and the dead. Matron of the forbidden isle. Ah, a wish to die, yet refusing nothing less than a warrior's death. She wields the progenitor of all Rune Craft, the essence of the Primordial Runes. Her eyes discern the natural order born from wisdom to strike at the weakness of even the Gods and the strongest of Undead.
A wish unattainable.
YYGDRASIL: The Queen Seeking the End.
All too quickly, Ainz realized what he was seeing through the summoned gate. It was the very pathway to the domain described in the Rune Witch's biography- The Land of Shadows. A place where wraiths roam amidst the clacking bones of the undead and the guttural growls of the demonic. If field effects were still the same as what Ainz knew, then he'd rather avoid confrontation in that realm at all costs.
He shivered, glancing to his side to see Narberal clenching her jaw, complexion pale.
The aversion she could feel towards the gate before her was the exact same as Ainz, but different from everyone else aside from maybe Evil Eye who stumbled on her feet under the pressure and visibly shrunk in on herself.
That right there was a place that no undead or demonic aligned creature would dare enter. And that's exactly where Scathatch was pushing the look-alike of Evil Lord Wrath, a direct subordinate summon of Demiurge.
The systematic and ruthless manner in which the summon was put down by Scathatch revealed that she was just as skilled and capable as she was in game. No, in fact it could be even worse as she wasn't constrained by a field area in this new world.
'Do you see? Do you see it now? What you were provoking?!'
Ainz hoped to hell and back that Demiurge who was assessing everything through the senses of his own familiars would no longer act so daring.
Under the heavy silence, Scathatch was expressionless. The spears she'd used to pin Jaldaboath to the ground were flooded with a burst of runic energy and used to sever the legs right off. Blood splattered over her face accompanied by agonized screams, muffled by an annoyed punch to the gut. There was no mercy. Mercy was for the victor to give or not to give, and she was fresh out of it.
Jaldaboath did not stop struggling, trying to break out of the situation by using his arms, but those too were promptly severed. Large chunks of flesh and bone rolled over the ground, sizzling before being eaten away by glowing runes.
The witch herself seemed more bothered by the mess than any futile resistance directed at her.
Yell, and she'd make you quiet.
Attack, and lose whatever limb you had left.
Squirm, and have the area frozen.
In the end, the damage didn't matter. A Demon's vitality would not extinguish with just this.
Not a word was spoken before Scathatch then reached for Jaldaboath's broken horns, grabbed them with one hand, and then started dragging what was left of the body towards the gate. The eerie scraping sound of hardened scales scratching over pavement sent shivers down the spine.
"W-Who is she?" Lakyus murmured, nearly shrieking when she felt something grab her by the legs. She glanced down and saw Evil Eye trembling, trying to hide away from the open Gate by using Lakyus as an anchor. "What are you doing?"
"I-It's pulling me," Evil Eye stammered, panic bleeding into her tone.
Lakyus stared sharply at the grooves Evil Eye's heeled sabaton's were carving into the ground beneath her. However, this only confused Lakyus all the more. She couldn't feel the same dragging force as her fellow party member.
Ainz firmly planted both great swords into the ground, metaphorical sweat dripping down his brows. He was being pulled, but was doing his best to not show it by leaning on his swords. To his side, he instructed Narberal to subtly use magic energy to counteract the pull.
He wasn't stupid.
Neither Shirou or Lakyus were experiencing the tugging force, and Ainz had a hunch as to why.
They were both human.
If Ainz revealed that he was even a little affected, he would immediately draw suspicion. Something he refused to allow to happen when the damn Rune Witch was less than a few feet away from him!
"Demiurge!" Ainz inwardly signaled.
It happened in an instant.
Scathatch gave pause, eyes glinting in fury spurred on by frustration.
Jaldaboath erupted in flames, its body vanishing into embers carried in the wind: a forced de-summoning.
Scathatch's features twisted, lips pursing into a heavy frown while staring at the remnants of the embers in her hands. Clenching her palm, the embers died into ash that seeped through her fingers.
It was one thing to lock down spatial movement with her rune work, but it was another to stop the connection of a summoned familiar from being severed. The concepts were entirely different as one was a form of anti-escape, and the other was tied to an existence itself. Familiars or summons were often tied to their Master's unique energy, and if forcibly halted, would mean an instant de-summoning.
"...Bastard," she cursed under her breath.
Hands balling into fists, a surge of magic energy cracked the ground she was standing on, and sent spectating crows and ravens into a squall of crowing.
All at once, the pulling force of the summoned gate magnified exponentially, a cold breath of air passing throughout the entire capital.
The fighting abruptly stopped, the undead and demonic freezing in place.
Taloned feet forcibly clawed at the ground searching for purchase, as nails, teeth, and hands grabbed out for stability.
An unbearable suction force exploded in mass, the tongues of the flames of Gehenna flickering before they too were inevitably drawn towards an open towering gate. Skeletons were lifted off their feet, demons were dragged in by gusting winds carried by desperately flapping wings, and the Overeaters were scrapped along.
Near the defensive line surrounding the capital, the group of Adventurers and three swordsmen paused in wonderment, letting the dragged creatures through.
Others weren't so fortunate.
Ainz had never felt so weightless, the mantle attached to the lapel of his pauldrons flapping violently while Narberal could no longer feign subtlety. She was flying now, exerting energy to create a counter force before Ainz had enough and grabbed her by the wrist, tethering her to him and the swords he'd stabbed into the ground.
"E-Evil Eye!" Lakyus gritted her teeth and bear hugged her smaller party member whose legs had already left the ground.
Evil Eye groaned while wrapping her arms around Lakyus's waist, and only grew relieved when a cage of flat swords barred the path forward.
Lakyus gave a shaky nod at Shirou who's eyes focused on Evil Eye, and then towards Ainz and Narberal. If he couldn't make the connection about what manner of entities the gate was dragging towards it, he might as well be an idiot.
Momon, Nabe, and Evil Eye, they clearly weren't human.
It wasn't long before the first wave of undead and demons reached the front of the gate, and when they did, they were directly filtered through and swallowed, leaving nothing behind. The entire scene resembled a funnel forcing down disproportionate beads of 'sand.'
Seconds felt like minutes to Ainz, and when it was finally over, and he shakily managed to stay on his feet, a feeling of being watched fell over him.
He stiffened, utterly pensive as the sound of creaking spectral chains signaled the gate closing.
Once closed, the towering structure vanished in motes of golden light.
Standing alone, Scathatch's piercing eyes glanced at Lakyus and the others, lingering towards Shirou, then Evil Eye, before her attention roughly shifted to Ainz and Narberal.
Silence stretched, Lakyus the only one openly revealing her apprehension by biting down on her lips. She could tell without any prompting that the level of power she'd seen was far beyond her own understanding.
Instinctively, Lakyus hid Evil Eye behind her.
Ainz did the same with Narberal who grew flustered at the action, but Ainz had no room for embarrassment.
That pair of horrifying eyes was staring right at him.
For a second, Ainz felt as if he was suddenly frozen in ice, his nerves eating away at his rationality. Scenario after scenario ran in his mind detailing what he'd do if she approached, but the sheer relief he had when she grudgingly turned away nearly had him cheering for joy.
Obviously, he refrained from such actions, and instead took note of Chris and Charlotte who Scathatch chose to approach. He would keep their faces and appearance in mind.
The girl was still unconscious, and the boy was too teary-eyed to pay attention to his surroundings.
A flicker of gentleness fluttered over Scathatch's features before a sigh escaped her lips.
'To a new generation.'
Her current expression said it all.
She carefully picked up Chris and Charlotte, and then vanished in a murder of crows.
A shadow that neither took credit for heroics nor wanted it.
Shirou felt relieved after ascertaining that no one else was buried beneath the rubble of the capital. He'd been largely focused on carrying out rescue efforts while his current party preoccupied Jaldaboath.
In hindsight, something told Shirou that Merlin's absence or lack of participation in this battle had something to do with Scathatch.
Merlin had a certain degree of precognition, and if he knew that Scathatch was going to show up in Re-Estize, then there was no way he was coming in person. As far as Shirou could infer, Merlin had likely done something Merlin-worthy to have yet another headstrong woman gunning to gut him.
The lessons of Avalon had yet to deter Merlin in the least, but Shirou could dwell on this topic later.
Recent revelations had him thinking as he glanced at Momon and Nabe, and then to Evil Eye-
Shirou blinked, his thoughts momentarily halted by the sight of a rising cloud of dust. He wasn't the only one. Lakyus glanced up followed by Evil Eye, Momon, and then Nabe.
Through the dust, the silhouette of numerous people cheering could be seen. Tina and Tia of Blue Rose were there, followed by Gagaran and the rest.
Now that he thought about it, the capital was saved with Scathatch's interference. Wasn't it only natural for the crowd to greet their heroes with such relief? All they had to do was follow the trail of the demons dragged into the Land of Shadows to reach them.
Honestly, the rowdiness of the approaching crowd felt like a much-needed reprieve for everyone right now. He, Lakyus, Evil Eye, Momon, and Nabe likely had many thoughts to dwell over and could use a temporary distraction. And this thought was Shirou's sole mistake.
He realized the danger of complacency too late.
That wasn't a relieved crowd…it was an excited and ultimately biased one.
Shirou had a second to widen his eyes, and in the next, he was engulfed in an increasingly growing crowd.
He wasn't the only hero to participate in the capital's defense, but he was by far the most talked about both for his contribution and the benefits, benefits, and more benefits.
What happened now was a scenario produced by Shirou's own initiative. Money. He needed money, and what was the best way to do that other than to self advertise? When construed like that, his conviction to accrue funds for a revival without Gilgamesh around left him in his current dilemma.
"Y-You're him, right?!"
"T-The walking treasure!"
"What? Where?! Where is he?! I'm a representative of the kingdom!"
"Buzz off, he's from the Adventurer's guild. What kingdom?"
"Ooh! You're all talking about the 'Trace On' Adventurer, right?!
A lone arm trying to swim through the surface of an enlivened crowd was all that could be seen by Lakyus, Evil Eye, Momon, and Nabe.
Separated from Shirou, Ainz and Narberal saw first hand how terrifying a deranged crowd was, but more than anything, Ainz was relieved. This intervention bought him time to create a reasonable explanation. He didn't miss the flicker of suspicion Shirou carried when he'd looked at them.
He grew pensive before he and Narberal discreetly chose to withdraw while everyone's attention was focused on Shirou. Lakyus and Evil Eye were the only ones who noticed Ainz and Narberal's movements as a party that had fought together, but they said nothing. Each had their own circumstances, and each saw members of the other team's Adventurer party drawn into the manifested Gate.
This would bring up too many questions that their current level of trust wouldn't allow them divulge so easily.
In any case, how utterly disconcerting.
Ainz didn't think Shirou was the sort to care about racial differences, caring more about character, but the notion of falling out and losing a boon so precious soured Ainz's mood. If he still had a face, he'd be frowning right now, but barring that, the subtle tension in his shoulders belied his personal concerns.
He was uneasy.
Somewhere in this evacuated capital was a woman he had no desire of encountering again.
Grimacing, he tried to find a place away from watchful eyes in order to dispel his guise of Perfect Warrior, and access his Tier Magic as an Overlord-Class undead. His current form was strong against the New World standard, but against those that could equal or exceed him in level and ability, it was too much of a burden.
Directing Narberal to follow him into an inconspicuous alley, he felt more than understood the notion of ignorance was bliss. Contrary to his apprehension, Narberal was as stone-faced as usual, looking as if she couldn't be bothered with the trash milling around her feet.
The only time she'd actually looked nervous was in front of that gate rather than the summoner of it.
He hoped whatever information Demiurge could glean from all this had been worth it. He turned to address his companion.
A flutter of crows and distinct purple eyes entered within view. The beauty of those mysterious amethyst orbs that contrasted with hair of a darker shade was lost in that the pointed end of a spear sidled directly against Ainz's neck. Armour or not, said spear's anti-demonic properties made it feel as if fire was burning that spot where the spear was touching.
'How careless. No, not careless, astute.'
He'd only needed a second to dispel his Perfect Warrior, but the woman before him wouldn't even give him that.
The fact that she'd acted so quickly meant that she had likely never taken her eyes off of them from the moment she left. Bitch. A ruthless warrior who knew not to leave even a single loose end.
"Move and you die."
The voice was flat, yet bereft of tension. That was the sin of pride. Her confidence in her own strength couldn't be assailed, and she'd be right in that few could hardly contest her.
In the depths of Ainz's mind, the character bio of the enemy before him was immediately pulled up as if flashing before his eyes.
[Scathatch: Rune Witch, Queen of the Land of Shadows, Lord of Spirits, Witch of Dunscaith.]
[Likes: Adores Warriors, Men of Valor, Honesty, and Courage.]
[Dislikes: Detests Undead, Cowards, Liars, and Oath breakers.]
The look in her eyes was not friendly.
…Were they found out?
The notion caused Ainz to shudder, but who was he kidding?
Ainz forcibly grabbed Narberal by the sleeve, freezing her in place before she could act rashly. Veins had already popped over her temples at the mere fact Ainz was being held at spearpoint. Narberal herself was no better.
Scathatch did not just wield one spear, but two. The other was aimed squarely at Narberal's heart. Both spears were cursed with death attribute, and Ainz refused to test whether that attribute would mean 'true death' in the sense that he'd not be able to cast a revive. It wasn't as if such spells didn't exist in YYDRASIL.
He had to tread this like he was on a frail tight-rope.
"Perhaps, there's a misunderstanding?" He barely suppressed his voice from shaking, keeping it calm yet authoritative, earning an almost approving twitch of the witch's lip.
Such composure was praise worthy.
"There is no misunderstanding, warrior," she banished such doubts from the conversation with that sentence alone. "The armor you don may conceal it, but you cannot escape these eyes imbued with the Wisdom of Dunscaith, nor deny the attractive force enacted by the gate between the living and the dead."
Scathatch narrowed her eyes with certainty. She wouldn't have acted so decisively otherwise. As to why she'd wait until Ainz was away from the public eye, she had her own considerations.
"You…are an undead mingling in the domain of the living, that makes me your natural arbitrator by duty." Scathatch shifted her expression to Narberal, dark amusement lacing her tone. "The woman too is no better. She can't even conceal her disgust for humans let alone her murderous intent towards me."
Scathatch leered, pressing closer to Narberal whose icy fury had contorted her features into a barely restrained glare. "Why? Want to kill me?"
Ainz felt his nerves fraying at the provocation. The way Narberal kept opening and closing her hands into fists as tendrils of magic energy erupted around her revealed she was genuinely considering suicide.
Scathatch barked out a laugh, pulling her weapon slightly away from Narberal and then offering her cheek.
"Go ahead then. Attempt it. I welcome it." For a second Scathatch seemed almost sad before indifference returned to her features. "Many have tried, and yet I remain."
Narberal's indifferent expression finally broke.
No. Absolutely not!
"Narberal Gamma." Ainz could watch this no longer. "Compose yourself."
Narberal visibly flinched, the energy surrounding her fuzzing out entirely. She clenched her jaw, and demurely lowered her head in submission. The wry grin Narberal saw on Scathatch's face was engraved into her mind, twisting her features into a horrendous scowl.
The expression Narberal was making made Ainz feel guilty, but guilt was better than seeing her throw her life away from blatant provocation.
Ainz thought fast.
The moment he'd intervened, Scathatch's undivided attention returned to him.
Although he was being held at a spear-point, his emotional inhibitors allowed him to think things through rather than react impulsively. There was meaning in that they hadn't been immediately struck down despite the Rune Witch's capabilities.
Think. Think. This was all he had to work with!
"We mean no harm." Ainz began to negotiate, trying to pick every single detail that could be of use. Truth would help him far better than lies of misdirection here. "Our actions so far as Team Darkness were made with the intention of defending the innocent, and mitigating damage to the capital."
The bitch scoffed.
"...Do you take me for a fool? An invasion by Demons with hundreds of undead and demonic aligned enemies, and you just so happen to side against them? How convenient?"
The implication was not lost on anyone, but in this case, Ainz was confident.
He refuted Scathatch immediately. "I had no part in it."
Scathatch almost huffed, half in doubt, and the other in genuine confusion. Her senses and experience would not lie to her, but her instinct and intuition were running counter to the other. It felt like she was onto something, but what she could verify with her own skill said otherwise. The mismatch of her own senses and discernable truths compounded into a headache.
As Ainz had expected, Scathatch couldn't discern a lie from his words and was frowning heavily because of it.
Whether this meant anything substantial or not was anyone's guess, but Ainz could only grimace while placed into a passive stance; placing his fate in the hands of his enemy's own abilities.
He really had no part in this attack on the capital to begin with, and was in fact dragged along and forced to improvise.
That was the truth, and nothing but the truth. Someone of Scathatch's caliber would not fail to discern this, but her intuition was conflicting.
It was like she was weighing the scale of his life and death in her mind, and it left little to be imagined about how that made him feel, let alone Narberal.
She soon made her choice.
"You have one chance, as I will offer the same courtesy to that other undead," Scathatch slowly withdrew the blade of her spear away from Ainz's neck. "Make your case."
Her level of leniency was rather unexpected given his current race, but Ainz would not question it, nor what significance it had for Team Darkness to have included Shirou in its ranks.
"Is there anyway that you could just let us go?" Ainz wasn't going to make excuses. He already understood her character biography, and knew it was better to be direct than to be eloquent.
Sure enough, she answered without pause, the annoyance in her creased brows relaxing before she answered.
"I refuse. I cannot condone leaving undead as capable as you are to your own devices. I can feel it. Your power is far above the average of this world."
'And yours isn't?!'
Ainz would have called bullshit. It wasn't him the new world should be worried about running rampant, but raid bosses on the level of Scathatch and her peers.
"Then before anything else, what do you intend to do with us?"
That was the question. If it was the Scathatch he knew, they wouldn't have been having this conversation in the first place.
Scathatch answered bluntly. "I will make you both sign a contract that will bind you to the Land of Shadows. It is the only way I will allow you both at least some degree of freedom should you remain outside the gate."
Shackles then, Ainz concluded the outcome darkly.
"If we refuse?"
"I will be welcoming two new additions to the isle of Skye, right here. Right now."
There would be no empathy or pity for undead or evil with her. Why she was even bothering to entertain the notion of this conversation was already beyond her character sheet.
Ainz was at least thankful for the opportunity.
"What about a trade concerning information on the group who orchestrated the attack on the capital?" He proposed.
Her features hardened quickly upon hearing his offer, the aloofness of her demeaner growing poised. "You have information?"
"I do." He confirmed, watching light glint in Scathatch's eyes.
"Then speak." She pressed, hands balling into fists around the spears she carried. Her hair rose violently as she expelled an aura of red-laced magic energy.
Narberal pursed her lips at the sudden pressure, but marveled at Ainz for not reacting in the slightest. Frankly, he was frozen in terror, preventing him from even moving, but at least he could still speak.
"Not until we can come to some sort of agreement," he forced out.
Oh? Scathatch hummed. "How naïve. You think I can't force it out of you?"
"You will not." He remained firm.
One reason for this was due to the character sheet Players in YYGDRASIL could view during a boss raid that would denote the boss's health, stats, alignment, and whatnot.
The Rune Witch was a noble Warrior through and through.
She was averse to dishonourable means and would disdain to do them herself.
It goes without saying that she looked like she swallowed a fly, but nonetheless, she withdrew her magic energy and grunted.
"State your terms," she said gruffly, holding back a sneer.
"A nonaggression pact," Ainz tried to be hopeful.
Hope didn't exist.
"That's too much, for information I can extract myself."
Then, something in the present?
"Let us go free."
"Heheh- Do not ask for the impossible."
This damn woman!
"Then…A chance to try escaping?"
Scathatch opened her mouth, paused, and then closed her mouth. She crossed her arms, and eventually nodded to herself as she assessed both Ainz and Narberal with a critical eye. Amusement was plain over her face. To her, this likely wasn't even a difficult price. It might as well be free.
"That is…agreeable," she conceded, feigning her smug countenance with a cough before shaking her head impatiently. "Our deal is decided," she focused back on what mattered. "Now fulfill your terms."
Ainz would admit that Scathatch's nonchalance at the chance of their escape irked him, but from her perspective, it was understandable. He construed that last condition on purpose knowing that the other two wouldn't be accepted.
A chance was still better than a certainty.
Now it was also his opportunity to paint the scenario from a position of a seller to a buyer. Consumer disinformation was at its finest when both sides didn't have access to the same information, but rather only one side did. That side was him, and it was his choice what to do with it.
Lies would be immediately seen through, so he must lie while simultaneously speaking the truth.
"Jaldaboath is not merely a single entity, but is part of an organization that is seeking to spread their roots throughout the kingdoms."
Scathatch listened intently, subconsciously nodding as she confirmed her own suspicions. Something had to be weighing on her mind, and before even that, it would seem part of Demiurge's objectives have already taken root.
Ainz was secretly relieved.
He and Demiurge would create an imaginary force to draw all focus away from the Great Tomb. If you couldn't match a power head on, then use diversion tactics to weaken the enemy or create a target on another's back.
"Their current work is focusing on Re-Estize and the Baharuth Empire before moving onto Roble and the surroundings nations."
Ainz noted Scathatch snorting when Roble was brought up, but he didn't look that much into it. Rather, he was too focused on the hint of suspicion that once again resurfaced over Scathatch's features.
Often, knowing too much was to incur doubtful conjectures.
"How do you know this?"
Indeed. She didn't waste a second to broach the topic.
"I was offered a position to participate." Ainz gave a prepared answer. Demiurge had been more than eager to try and include him.
Scathatch fell silent before shaking her head.
"Location?" She stressed, ready to start a massacre.
"Sorry," Ainz shook his head. "But I don't have that. The best I was able to gleam from interacting with their members was to look out for missing persons cases. It's a sign that they're gathering new production 'materials.'"
Scathatch didn't openly react, but soon nodded in acceptance. The information wasn't much, and was rather basic, but it was worth enough to point her in the right direction.
As for other things…well that could start now.
Scathatch suddenly crossed her arms, and then closed her eyes as the conversation fell into a tense lull.
Ainz strained his hearing, and began to shiver as he heard Scathatch distinctly begin counting down under her breath.
His brain stuck on overdrive, Ainz didn't immediately clue in on her intentions.
Scathatch frowned as she realized that Ainz and Narberal were still in front of her.
A warrior does not play foul.
"What are you waiting for?" She muttered, Ainz swallowing in abrupt understanding.
-This was her end of the deal.
He'd fulfilled his end, and now she was doing hers.
Scathatch opened one eye, stared at Ainz sharply, and then briefly gave a piece of advice before closing her eye and resuming her count down.
"You best run while you can."
Was all she said.
Against this witch, there wasn't even a single moment of reprieve!
Thanks for reading!
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The Lonely Peak
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