His name was Parpatra Ogrion, an old man reaching his senior years, and the leader of a renowned Worker group named Dragon Hunt operating in the Baharuth Empire.
His features were aged and somewhat wrinkled, but vigor still existed within his sharp eyes. Back in his hay days, he'd been a valiant man who's strength and capability of an Orichalchum-Rank Adventurer. However, he'd had a dispute with the prior Adventurer Guild Master and punched out the bastard's face.
Ogrion had been black listed as an Adventurer ever since, and that was why a man of his capabilities had been living as a Worker in the Empire for over twenty years.
Did he regret it?
No he did not.
In fact, Ogrion had managed to accumulate a hefty sum of gold throughout his entire career and created a team he could always trust his back to. Even the equipment he wore wouldn't lose out to leading Adventurer teams, let alone the spear he wielded.
Money was good, and his off time was spent at leisure. More importantly, opportunities in Baharuth that Ogrion had recently felt were drying up had managed to hit a honey pot.
A crypt or a tomb of sorts was recently discovered in the area, and Ogrion and many other Worker teams were betting big money on what treasures could be found within.
It was odd that something that wasn't there before was suddenly there, but Ogrion considered that it could be due to simple negligence than a ploy of sorts. Besides, he doubted that any scheme would be effective against his Worker team let alone a collection of elite Worker teams sent to explore.
Traveling with Ogrion was a Warrior, Thief, Magic Caster, and a Cleric that covered all bases in any kind of situation.
If things go well, this final run could enable Dragon Hunt to lead an early retirement for everyone.
A good life.
Ogrion felt as if he owed that much to those who trusted and followed him.
"It should be just up ahead across the next stretch of hills," Ogrion muttered while acting as the leader of his group.
Presently, they were traveling on the road, a supply wagon pulled by two large horses trailing behind them. Ogrion and his party members were moving on foot despite the wagon behind them. The reason was simple.
Being a Worker was dangerous both as a trade without support and funding by the Adventurer Guild, and a profession high in mortality rates.
Rather than pursue comfort by traveling on the supply wagon, Ogrion and his party would rather use their weight on the carriage to load more supplies. Potions, tents, food, and spare armor and weapons were a must in case anything went wrong.
Regardless, Ogrion's pace was quick, and although his party members were showing signs of weariness, they still kept a fast pace to not be overtaken by competition.
Unfortunately, they ran into an unknown variable that was leisurely taking up the entirety of the road, and effectively blocked the wagon's advance.
It was a gold carriage.
It must have been plated.
It was too blatantly preposterous if it wasn't.
Ogrion's pace began to slow as his and his party's eyes hyper focused on the spectacle before them.
Gold was not a hard metal, rather, one could bend it by simply biting it with their teeth. Such a soft metal would never be used lightly, especially for travel.
However, Ogrion's aged eyes could discern the truth. It was flamboyant and bordered on sheer arrogance, but the entire carriage was really made out of heavy gold. Rather than a horse pulling it, there was some kind of ceremonial clay bull whose muscles bulged with every step.
The golden carriage was traveling opposite to them, and due to its size and grandeur, would certainly cause problems for passing traffic.
The question now was simple.
Did Ogrion dare to not give way to whoever was in that carriage?
"Wait." Ogrion suddenly called his party to a halt.
"Captain?" The warrior called, grunting. "Weren't we in a rush? It's just some pompous noble."
Compared to punching the prior Guild Master of the Adventurer's Guild, offending a traveling noble seemed trifling at best.
Ogrion's instincts were warning him. It was intuition sharpened to its finest level.
"Move our supplies and let them pass." Ogrion gestured to the horses pulling their supply wagon, and got the horses to move off the road. It was better to just let that golden carriage pass by. Everything else he said at this point was simply justification.
"It's not worth it to get entangled with nobility, especially one with the capital and influence to ride such a carriage" he reasoned. "When we have a tomb we're competing against other Worker teams to investigate, it's better to avoid hassles on the journey than to make them."
The Warrior didn't seem convinced, but the others sided with Ogrion, making the Warrior follow suit.
Nearing each other, the golden carriage wheeled by, a subtle hum echoing in the air that caused goosebumps to form on Ogrion's skin.
The direction the carriage was heading was, Re-Estize?
Ogrion's eyes lingered on the disappearing form of the golden carriage traveling leisurely through the countryside before he shuddered.
No. Don't think about it.
It was only after Ogrion pried his attention away did relief settle over him.
In reality, the feeling had been literal.
The weight of a stare finally lifted from the old man's shoulders.
Ogrion shook his head and stopped dwelling over overarching matters.
The times were certainly changing, and all he had to do was focus on his own priorities.
Ainz took in a deep breath, and tried to gather his thoughts.
It was difficult in that the spirits of undead and wandering souls were constantly glancing at him in the Land of Shadows, but humans were adaptable. It didn't long to get used to the stares, let alone the ethereal smoke-like black chains that wound around his neck, wrists, and ankles in the form of a debuffing curse.
Ainz was free, yet not free, doomed to wander in a dreary leafless forest with only his mind as company, and undead to shower him with attention as an elder Lich.
The Land of Shadows was a decrepitly depressing place for undead and the demonic, to the point where Ainz felt that his mental processes were slowed.
A castle stood in the distant bluff of a hill with towering walls and a cliff that overlooked a murky seaside.
Ainz dared not approach it. The feeling of constriction around him only grew stronger the closer he was to that damned castle. Naturally, he veered away from it, his legs carrying him further towards the boundary of the surrounding forests where the effect was weaker.
The tier and class of undead and demonic only grew stronger and stronger the further away Ainz travelled from the castle. With strength came awareness, and wandering skeletons were soon replaced by curious wraiths and piercing eyes.
Not once did Ainz shudder or tremble.
He might have felt fear or apprehension if he were still human, but strangely enough, he felt more welcome than rejected.
The Land of Shadows would have been perfect if it weren't for the Rune Witch that oversees it.
Shaking his head, Ainz continued to wrack his mind for a solution to free himself from his predicament, but instantly grew sidetracked when a familiar voice called out to him.
Rather than the voice, it was the name.
Ainz stiffened, his feet firmly planting into the ground. Few if any in the New World knew his original name. Unless-
"Dammit, the witch got you too."
A figure stood with his shoulders hunched and features listless at the opening of an underground cave.
It was a monster with the head of a distorted squid wearing a leather outfit studded with silver jewelry. Numerous belts were slung around him filled with alchemical devices and reagents, but they appeared mainly empty as if all used up.
Within the cave, the suppression of the curse appeared weaker with numerous demonic and undead entities bunched together as if to offer joint resistance.
No. That wasn't what was important.
Back to the person standing in front of the cave as a look out-
Ainz felt his eyes widen, well, the red orbs that replaced them.
The name of a dear guildmate left Ainz's mouth before he was overcome with a sense of disbelief.
No. Not just Tabula.
Ainz peered into the dark lighting of the cave as he approached. Drawn out by Tabula's voice, more figures began to curiously peek their gazes out of the cave.
"Takemikazuchi, Peroroncino, Garnet, Bell River, HeroHero…"
Ainz felt dizzy all at once, a mix of joy and a jumble of everything else causing him to lose his words.
There were so many of them. From the Forty-Nine members of Ainz Ooal Gown, there were just over half in this single space. Granted, that wasn't exactly the best news.
Ainz's emotions surged and then plummeted.
"H-How?" He stammered out.
The one who answered first was Takemikazuchi, a lumbering heteromorph in full-plate red samurai armour. Tabula fell into thought on the side.
"I don't think it is the time to get all sentimental, but don't you remember the invite we sent you just before the servers were meant to be cut off?" Takemikazuchi asked
Ainz blinked while trying to recall his memories of that day as best as he could.
"Ah, that?" The scene eventually came to mind. He'd been busy organizing things at the guild hall, and trying to make the most of the final moments of YYGDRASIL's server shut down. "Wasn't that for an after party?"
"We figured you didn't have the time to read through the entire invitation, but it was actually a final party request." Amanomahitotsu, a crab man, and blacksmith of the Great Tomb spoke up.
"You all went on a raid…without me?" Ainz could not believe what he was hearing, but the looks the others had made things evident enough.
"You were our Guild Leader, and it wasn't as if we didn't notice that you were the most sentimental about the servers shutting down," Touch Me, a white paladin and creator of Sebas Tian, reasoned.
A part of Ainz still felt kind of upset at this revelation.
"What does that have to do with anything?" He muttered.
"You were busy with the Guild, and it was kind of awkward," Peroroncino interjected, knowing Touch Me was being too blunt.
"What?" Ainz grunted when HeroHero, a moving slime, formed a hand and patted him on the shoulder.
"You asked us to spend our final moments before the server shut down in the Guild Hall, didn't you?" HeroHero reminded.
Ainz nodded. It was true. He defiantly did that. He was even speaking with his Guild members before everyone supposedly logged off before Ainz made his way to sit in Nazarick's throne room on his own.
"You were there though. You logged off in front of me." Ainz reasoned.
"Sorry we weren't exactly logging off…we were starting one final raid, and we had a feeling you wouldn't agree to dying in our final moments," Peroroncino muttered, his wings fluttering as he grew somewhat agitated. He was a bird man.
Ainz paid Peroroncino's subtle actions no mind, and focused on just the words.
Agree to dying, and final raid?
When he understood the implication, and then comprehended it, "no way." The words escaped Ainz's lips.
No one denied it. Even Tabula spoke up in support.
"One last time, we tried a raid that Nazarick had always deemed impossible."
Ainz rounded his head towards Tabula.
"You agreed to this, Tabula? I thought you were the smart one!"
There were only a certain number of boss raids left in YYGDRASIL that Nazarick had not completed due to the sheer difficulty, and Ainz could easily guess who his guild mates had targeted.
It was the only reason they could all possibly be here.
"The Raid Boss of the Land of Shadows expansion pack. The bane of all Heteromorphs, and you thought that a fitting end for the server shut down?!"
Tabula shrugged, much like everyone else who avoided Ainz's stare.
"Told you he wouldn't have agreed," Yamaiko whispered to a shield slime next to her. It wasn't Herohero, but Peroroncino's older sister, Bukubukuchagama.
Tabula cleared his throat, the tentacles that made a bastardized beard curling as the squid suckers popped and clicked.
"YYGDRASIL was ending, and wouldn't it have been a grand achievement if we managed to win?" Tabula reasoned. "We're gamers trying to escape life at times. Maybe it could be different if there was nothing left to do in YYGDRASIL, but there were still bosses that were yet to be subjugated. It was worth a try. How was I supposed to know that this was going to happen?"
Ainz was still annoyed.
But against Scathatch? Ainz would have refuted that judgment. He'd argue that it would have been better to end the game laughing among themselves rather than dying.
"The result?" Ainz ground the words out, to no surprise.
"We were all defeated, well, cursed, and then everything turned black." Takemikazuchi crossed his arms. "YGGDRASIL's servers closed just as our party was wiped. Rather than log out, we all woke up here, weakened and caged."
"Could have been worse." Tabula shrugged, his harpoon-like fingers moving to rest under his chin only to realize they were too sharp and wincing. He still didn't seem used to his current form.
"Thank God we didn't choose to raid 'Mongrel King' stick-up-his-ass, or we'd all be dead rather than trapped here because of a curse." Peroroncino muttered before pausing and starting at Ainz. "Speaking of which, how did you get caught, Momonga?"
Ainz flinched, but had no intention of hiding anything from comrades.
"Let me start from the beginning..."
"That's crazy, h-how's my Shalltear?"
"Of course, he'd ask that."
Takemikazuchi shook his head while listening to Peroroncino and Bukubukuchagama bicker with each other over points in Ainz's story.
For the sake of finding them, Ainz explained how he took on the guild name for himself, and then how he'd been forced to act in order to keep appearance with Nazarick's NPCs.
Ainz would have kept going to if Tabula didn't suddenly raise a hand to interrupt.
"What matters now is getting out of here." Tabula got to the main point. "We can think of other things later. You have the most experienced compared to us who were trapped here from the start. Any ideas, Momonga?"
Ainz fell into thought. It was something he'd been thinking about ever since he'd been forced into the prison of the Land of Shadows.
"There's something I want to try."
Stats and skills related to heteromorphic races and undead were restricted in the Land of Shadows, but it didn't mean that they weren't usable.
Ainz raised a hand and activated a skill to call forth a revived undead.
A familiar yet twisted form appeared.
Tabula and the others perked up immediately.
"I-Is that Cu?"
Tabula's eyes twinkled.
He was the brain of the Supreme Beings and possessed an analytical mind.
Something that wasn't known in the game, but had an existing connection of some sort.
"Is this…a hidden piece?"
"I think this should be enough for an after-dinner workout." Shirou tried to concede, but his opponent wasn't listening.
Musashi's blades viciously continued attacking, but were parried by the two-meter sword in Shirou's hands.
Sparks grated, and the echo of clanging steel reverberated throughout the surroundings.
Sweat was matting Shirou's brow, and his hands shook with every impact he endured. He could tell that things were starting to get out of hand, especially when neither side carried any malice for the other.
In contrast, Musashi was looking more and more eager to escalate things. This was probably why Sasaki had constantly refused her sparring requests. Inevitably, it would turn into a death match.
"Alright, I'm going at it!"
No. no you're not.
Shirou wasn't Sasaki.
He pulled on his magic energy and decided to end things here.
He forced Musashi to disengage by Tracing a pair of swords behind her back and diverting her attention to her blind spots.
"T-That's cheating," she glared, but easily maneuvered away from the sudden projectiles by backpedaling.
"And we aren't fighting to the death," Shirou grouched, dismissing his sword before Musashi could get anymore ideas. He didn't miss how every attack was practically aimed at his neck in a bid to spur a fiercer retaliation.
What a crazy woman.
Musashi grew sheepish and reluctantly sheathed her swords. It was no fun now that Shirou was unarmed.
"Thanks for the fight," Musashi said with an unruly pout. She looked dissatisfied, as if something good had been pulled out half-way through.
Nevertheless, Shirou wouldn't reengage in combat no matter what expression Musashi made.
He reciprocated Musashi's words, then made his way back to the crowd of spectators.
The way Lakyus and the others were looking at him was noticeably different, but Shirou had no doubts that Merlin was the cause of it.
Merlin winked at him, but it didn't elaborate on anything at all. Instead, he tried to gloss things over as if he had a feeling Shirou would be more annoyed than thankful for the wizard's efforts.
Brain was staring hard at Shirou, mouth opening and closing before he sighed and kicked at the ground, cursing the world's inequality.
Lakyus coughed, acting as Blue Rose's spokesperson.
"Will you be staying in Re-Estize?" She asked for clarification. Her reason why was quickly said in the same sentence. "In any case, I was asked to let you know that the royal family is giving you a formal invitation to a ball this coming weekend. This here is the invitation."
Lakyus fiddled with something she kept secured in a pouch under her armour. It was a red wax-sealed letter of invitation.
Upon hearing word that Blue Rose would be in contact with Shirou, the King did not waste time to use the opportunity to request Lakyus a favour and personally deliver the invitation. It would have been hard for anyone else, attendant of the king or not, to approach Blue Rose and Shirou given the fame they accrued in the capital's defense.
Lakyus had therefore become the best alternative, not that she enjoyed being someone's middle man.
Passing the invitation to Lakyus, she crossed her arms and stared at him. "If you ask me, you might be able to use the opportunity to form connections with the higher aristocracy. No doubt they're greedy to draw in your particular talent, more so for the upcoming skirmish with the Baharuth Empire."
"We'll certainly be there." Merlin suddenly accepted the invitation on Shirou's behalf.
It wasn't as well known, but Merlin also served diplomatic missions as Camelot's court mage. This was a chance, but not one that warriors or heroes would find appealing to jump at.
"Merlin, really?" Shirou raised a brow.
"This is an opportunity." Merlin said, eyes twinkling. "No kingdom is an island, and Camelot would benefit through international politics. Just leave it to me."
Leaving it solely to Merlin was exactly why Shirou was somewhat skeptical.
Merlin was capable, but it was difficult to read Merlin's intentions even at the best of times.
"Besides, I think you have your own issues to settle, yes?" Merlin gestured to the distance.
Shirou turned his gaze, followed by everyone else.
Lakyus and Evil Eye froze as they noticed who was approaching, but that was followed by a shared look of relief.
Momon and Nabe had safely returned.
Only Shirou seemed doubtful.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patrons: Everwinter and Grant W!
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