I in no way shape or form own Fate/Stay Night or Overlord ( オーバーロード). They belong to their respective owner. Fate/Stay night is property of Type-Moon, and Overlord ( オーバーロード) belongs to Kugane Maruyama. And I in no shape or form make a profit of writing and publishing this.

Hello. It's been a while hasn't it? A rather long while...

As for where I've been and why it's been forever since a new update... In truth, I don't really have any to say in the defense. Life, work, sudden complications, other interests, boredom, a bit of fandom fatigue, burnout, writer's block. Honestly, it's a bit of everything. Writing wasn't fun anymore during that time and when I went back to re-read the story I found myself almost hating what I've written.

The grammar was still atrocious despite having used Word, Gdoc, and a grammar checker to go over them once before. The story is inconsistent, there are odd writing choices throughout, contrive additions to the story, several contradictions, jarring tonal shifts, ignoring established canon in both series, and so much more. In short, this fic is nothing more than a complete and total train wreck of a story that somehow got more recognition than it deserved.

I kept thinking to myself, why did I do this, or why did I write that, or what was I thinking, it's a waste of time, etc...

But it is MY train wreck of a story and for better or for worse and I wanted to continue writing it. When I finally sat down and did, I found that I was having fun again.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm just going to write what I want to write and see where it goes. Whether the story is good or hot garbage, I want to continue what I originally set out to write all those years ago. And if you all happen to enjoy it, then all the better.

I would also like to take this time to thank each and everyone for sticking around and for all the wonderful support you've given in the forms of PMs and reviews throughout the two year gap, and anything else. I apologize that I wasn't able to answer them but I did see them and it certainly means a lot to see that people still enjoy reading this silly story of mine that I started so long ago. I hope that I can still do it proud.

Regarding the chapter title, I went back and renamed the original 9th World Champion Tournament chapter to what it is now "Signs of a Storm" as I felt it was a bit of a misnomer since it didn't really deal with the WCT until the very end. This chapter marks the proper start of the tournament arc. I've also went back and did some more edits and proofreading for the previous chapters. They've remained the same but hopefully the grammar is better than it once was.

An Author's Note will be at the end like always as I go into the details regarding the story.

With that said, please do enjoy the chapter!

Beta'd: Dante Evans

Word Count: 26,897


Chapter 11: The 9th World Champion Tournament I


October 20, 2136. World: Midgard. Location: Central Runga – The Town of Und Ljósinn

Midgard.

From the tales of the Prose Edda, it was said that the dwelling place of humankind was formed from the ancient body of the great ancestral being, Ymir, who was said to be the first being in all of existence. The mythology further recounts how Odin and his brothers slayed the primordial Aurgelmir and forged the realm from its remains. And from Ymir's body, the three Æsir crafted the verdant world that was to be known as Midgard and seeded life on it by creating the first humans and granting them claim over the newly established realm.

The direct Nordic translation of Midgard credited the realm as 'Middle Enclosure' or Middle Earth, as it was later colloquialized in future texts and references. Appropriate, seeing as the realm was said to be tied within the center of the World Tree itself. The central realm of Yggdrasil by which branches and connects to the other eight realms.

Midgard was the cradle of mankind in Norse mythology. With such cultural significance, it was no surprise then that within the virtual world of YGGDRASIL, Players with inclinations towards Humanoid races naturally gravitated towards it and came to signify the virtual realm as their world.

From the very beginning, Midgard was taken as the main hub world for all Humanoid Players. Similar to how Helheim and the likes were considered the de facto central hub for Heteromorphic and Demi-human Players alike.

It was a rare occurrence to come across any Heteromorphic or Demi-human Players in Midgard's overworld. This notion was reinforced by the fact that the playable virtual realm catered exclusively to Players of Humanoid races. Much of the sprawling overworld from the dungeons, areas, and spawn towns was completely inaccessible to any other Player races but Humanoids. This deliberate design choice by the developers only served to reinforce the notion of Player-type superiority within the Humanoid Player community.

A narrative that was spun further by the fact that any Heteromorphic or Demi-human Players who happened to venture into the overworld were immediately targeted by bands of Humanoid Players and viciously hunted down on sight. It didn't matter if they were minding their own business or completing a quest; being a Heteromorph or Demi-Human in Midgard meant inviting PK at every turn. This blatant antagonization only served to deepen the divide and spread further resentment between the two communities.

Simply put, there was little reason why any Heteromorphic or Demi-human Player would ever be seen in Midgard.

On this day, however, there would be an exception.

Situated in the heart of Midgard, the grandest and most central region, was a magnificent port city that emulates the splendid landscapes of Sweden. The vast expanse of the region is characterized by the majestic Alps and gentle rolling hills that are adorned with stretches of lush green grasslands and picturesque plains. A massive port that connected to the coast of an ocean.

Und Ljósinn was the name of the massive sprawling city, and it was chosen to be where the 9th World Champion Tournament would be hosted.

The atmosphere in and around the city and its surrounding areas could only be described as vivacious and festive. Thousands upon thousands of Players of varying shapes and sizes swarmed the bustling town, filling the streets with their presence. The air bubbled with anticipation and excitement as colorful banners hung from above and rows of tents and vendors dotted the various inner plazas of the town.

A full-fledged festival was underway, and no expense had been spared to make this an unforgettable event for all to cherish in the years to come.

However, amidst the revelry and merriment, not all were merry.

Due to the tournament being hosted in Midgard, almost 92% of all Players present were Humanoid Players. Many within the Heteromorphic and Demi-Human communities naturally didn't bother to come, choosing instead to watch the tournament from the comfort of their own home, guild base, or elsewhere via broadcast. Much of this reasoning would be attributed to the fact that they'll be outnumbered and decided it would be safer to watch the tournament elsewhere and in comfort rather than deal with the hassle or put up with the discrimination by attending in person.

However, that wouldn't deter others from attending the event live. Those who were present chose to attend because they were either invited to cheer on those they knew, participants in the tournament, or simply because they wished to have a prime viewing experience and enjoy the festivities in person.

No matter the feud between the player base and communities, all tournaments and live events were open to everyone. Of course, that would hardly stop the majority of the Humanoid Players from actively harassing and going after others.

During Tournaments or other large-scale events, a designated lockdown zone was implemented to maintain order and safety. This specialized zone encompassed the entire vicinity of where a tournament or any similar event was to be held. Within this zone, Players were prohibited from activating any skills, spells, or items in any way, shape, or form, effectively rendering everything inert. Any damage sustained was all reduced to zero, akin to being in a Safe Zone. The implementation of this zone ensured that Players were unable to intentionally harm or PK one another during these special events.

Of course, that didn't mean trouble did not come a-knocking.

It was an effective solution, but far from perfect. For while they couldn't harm another Player, that wouldn't stop some people from getting physical with one another should tempers flare and egos clash.

Such was the case during a major tournament within the first year of YGGDRASIL's launch.

The egregious incident in question occurred when a group of Humanoid and Heteromorphic Players engaged in a massive brawl that escalated into a full-blown riot. The situation spiraled out of control, necessitating the intervention of the GMs themselves to quell the chaos. The incident came to be known as the Mass Banning by the player base due to all the bans the GMs handed out. It was reported that over 10,000 Players lost their accounts that day and were forced to start anew.

In the aftermath of the catastrophic event, word was passed up to the developers and executives, forcing their hand on the matter.

To prevent something like this from happening again, the developers implemented a two-fold security countermeasure in the form of an event ban. Should any Player get any funny ideas about breaking the rule or starting a ruckus, then they would be forcefully teleported to a high-level area and left to die. Furthermore, the developers created specialized NPCs called Riot Guards to act as an autonomous system and deterrent against potential rulebreakers. If the offender tried to respawn or re-enter the event zone, they would be immediately swarmed by the NPCs, all of whom possessed the [Invulnerability] status, and attacked on sight. This effectively barred them from the event should they risk dying and de-leveling ad infinitum until the event was over.

However, let it be known that the developers at Kaleidoscope Industry didn't earn their moniker of 'shitty devs' by simply being harsh.

They took it one step further by making it so that should a fight break out, all parties involved would be held accountable. Not just the instigators, but also the victim and any immediate bystanders within the vicinity, would suffer the penalty. A completely backward decision that punished both the guilty and the innocent alike.

When the update was rolled out, a majority of the users on both sides flocked to the forums to loudly clamor their opinions regarding the new implementation. Many people rightly pointed out that their system was too harsh and ripe for abuse, allowing for mass indiscriminate banning that hurt Players more than it helped. All it would take was one malicious person to cause a ruckus and a domino effect to ruin everyone's day. The player base collectively argued to walk back these changes.

The developers responded in record time, but not in the way the community thought they would. In a long community post, they basically stated that they would keep the changes but added that GMs would serve as overseers to help review and decide if action was needed or not. Additionally, they mentioned any intentional troublemaker would be shadow-banned from any future events and many other pointless platitudes to assuage the player community's concern.

But for those that were used to the shitty dev's modus operandi, they easily read between the lines. The basic message was essentially: "Don't be a dick and ruin the fun for everyone or else." The Players were to police themselves and be civil, or else suffer the developer's wrath.

How ironic, considering the shitty dev's track record.

Despite all their protests, the changes were kept, and there wasn't much they could do besides curse the shitty devs for their inane decisions.

What came as a surprise was that the system saw genuine success in keeping the peace for the most part. Of course, there were a few individuals who attempted to cause trouble, but those griefers were swiftly dealt with. The shadow of the guillotine loomed over all equally, and despite the intense animosity between the Humanoid, Heteromorphic, and Demi-human factions, none wanted to truly push their luck. In the end, everyone played nice, lest they all suffer the consequences.

Unfortunately, humans were nothing if not resilient beings. Even with these heavy restrictions, that wasn't going to stop some people from ruining others' enjoyment.

Located in one of the dozens of plazas that dominated the town of Und Ljósinn, a small party of a dozen or so Heteromorphs, a menagerie of different races and species, stood amongst a congregation of Humanoid Players. In particular, opposing them was a far larger party that was standing and blocking their way.

The small band of Heteromorphic Players, just moments ago, found themselves halted on their way to the stadium. They tried to move past them but were stonewalled by the larger party, effectively becoming a barricade that prevented them from moving forward. If that wasn't bad enough, this drew the attention of the surrounding Players as they flocked to the open square, eager to enjoy the show. This effectively boxed the smaller party in, trapping them in a confined space, unable to escape as they were jostled back and forth.

This had been going on for a few minutes. One needed only a glance to sense the animosity brewing between the two groups.

"Damn, whoever designed you must have been dared into it. I mean, who the hell would waste time and effort coding a model for a flying meat sack? A better question, who's the idiot that decided to make it their Player avatar?!" A taunting voice questioned aloud, drawing jeering laughter from himself and his friends.

The Player's words were directed towards the leader of the Heteromorphic party, a Beholder. The Heteromorphic Player took the form of a large floating eyeball with fleshy, coarse-red skin, numerous eyestalks, a mouth with fangs, and tentacles.

One of the members of his party, a metallic slime, thoroughly incensed by the Humanoid Player's badgering, rushed forward to give him a piece of his mind, only for the eldritch eye, Eye CU, to stop his friend.

"Big words, mocking someone by their appearance. The 21st century called, they want their antiquated discriminatory joke back." The Beholder retorted, his large cycloptic eye staring defiantly at the bullies.

"I call it how I see it, you giant meatball. If you've got something to say, then say it to my face. What's the matter? No balls? Oh, wait!" The Player gasped aloud, looking up and down, making a show of it before throwing his head back in a loud, obnoxious laugh.

One that drew further mocking support from the spectators all around them. Derision spewed from the sidelines as other voices joined in, with the small party forced to take the heckling. Eye CU was particularly incensed by the harassment thrown at his party members, and the fact that he could do little to stop it irked him like nothing else. They were vastly outnumbered, and he knew any attempt at violence would only lead to getting them kicked out of the event. Something he was keen to avoid, as all of his friends were eager to watch and enjoy the final World Champion Tournament in person, himself included, and he did not wish to ruin that for them.

Eye CU floated forward, trying to power his way through once more, only to be met by the Player's hand as he pushed him back. His friends caught his back, but yet again, their attempt to leave was halted, and the Beholder could only grimace.

It was learned early on that certain actions, such as pushing or shoving, were the utmost limit that a Player could do without flagging the attention of the Riot Guards' system. Anything further would be considered 'hostile intent', a fact that both sides knew, and one the hecklers was all too happy to abuse while keeping the Heteromorphic party trapped.

The Beholder's many eyes flicked to the skies above for a second, waiting to see if there would be any sign of an intervention, but there was none.

Eye CU's grimace only deepened.

'Those GMs are sure taking their sweet time getting here.' He thought.

Normally, in a situation such as this, the GMs would've gotten involved already and broken them up, along with issuing a few threats of ban for such obstruction.

The only thing that he could think of for their delay was the massive number of attendees present. With a tournament as grand in scale as the 9th World Champion Tournament, it wouldn't be surprising if one or two problems slipped past their immediate notice. That, or the GMs were well aware, and they were just sitting back and enjoying the show for as long as they could before interfering.

He scoffed internally. Knowing the shitty devs, he was willing to bet on the latter.

A particularly rude comment later saw tension heightened. Eye CU and another member of their party, HappiBun, had to physically hold back their friend from rushing forward to beat the opposing party's face in.

"Boss, lemme at them!" The metallic slime, Soft Death, struggled.

"Easy, easy!" Happibun whispered, holding him back. "If you attack them, then you're going to give them exactly what they're after."

"Well, I say, let's give it to them. Take as many of them down with us as we can!"

"You're crazy!" Said another party member, shaking his head. "Eye-san worked hard to get those seats for all of us. If we get kicked out, then it'll be nothing."

"At this rate, we're going to miss the tournament entirely. If that's the case, then let's return the favor." Soft Death argued.

A part of Eye CU was tempted. He was willing to say screw it and follow his party member's lead. Sure, it would lead to them being kicked out and missing out on what would be one of the greatest tournaments in the game's history, but so too would their bullies as well. At the very least, he'd make sure that Humanoid Players wouldn't have the last laugh.

He debated the idea in his mind while insults flew back and forth between the two groups like arrows. The tension reached a boiling point, and for a moment, it truly looked like it would come to blows.

"I see much hasn't changed since I've last been here." A voice idly interjected, loud and clear. One that carried over the crowd and drew the attention of all.

As they turned, the eyes of each and every Player grew wider with surprise at the unexpected appearance of a third party joining them. They were walking down the main street that led to the square and were given a wide berth of space by the various spectating Players and groups who were sitting or milling about as they scrambled out of the way in surprise. They all but backpedaled away, nearly tripping over themselves in their haste, for none other than the infamous Heteromorphic guild, Ainz Ooal Gown, had made their presence known.

They marched forward unhindered, brushing past the parted crowd with Shirou and Momonga at the forefront. The two were flanked by Touch Me and Warrior Takemikazuchi, with everyone else following closely behind. The atmosphere was tense, and the air was heavy with anticipation as they strode forward.

After Shirou and Warrior Takemikazuchi had received their invitations, a question arose. Whether the guild would watch the tournament from a screen broadcast in the comfort of Nazarick or at the stadium, live and in person, to show their support.

It wasn't even a debate, as when the emails were sent out to all affiliated guild members, all answered back with a unanimous and enthusiastic yes. Even the two members that had quit previously answered back that they would be able to make it, if just for the day, as a show of support for their guildmates and friends on this momentous occasion.

On a day, Shirou conspicuously noted, that lined up with everyone else's schedule with no conflict whatsoever.

How fortuitous...

Nevertheless, Shirou and the others were grateful for any one of them who could've made it.

And so here they were, the full might of Ainz Ooal Gown present and accounted for. In all their glory.

With the attendance of the strongest Heteromorphic guild made known, like wildfire, it spread, sparking commotion and bewildered whispers from all those around them. Many pointed and gasped, all the while Ainz Ooal Gown continued forward, basking in their apparent stupor.

The ringleader was the first to recover, turning his attention away from the Beholder towards Shirou and Co. He spread out his arms mockingly, as if he was a grand host welcoming them.

"Well, well, well. If it ain't the great and terrible Ainz Ooal Gown and the infamous Player Killer himself. To what do we owe the displeasure of your presence?" He spoke, sneering sarcasm dripping with every syllable.

Shirou offered the bully nothing more than a passing glance, focusing on the Heteromorphic party instead. The magus's casual dismissal of the Humanoid Player only seeded further irritation from the man at being so blatantly ignored, as if he were beneath his notice.

"Oi, don't you know it's rude to ignore someone when they're asking you a question?"

The bully stepped up, cutting into Shirou's path and halting their progress.

Here, Shirou finally acknowledges his presence.

"Please step aside."

"Hmm." The Player stroked his chin, as if giving it some serious thought. "How about, no?"

His hand struck out, aiming for Shirou's shoulder in an attempt to bump him back. The magus didn't so much as budge. Whereas the Player took half a step back, having felt as if he tried pushing back a wall.

The ringleader frowned internally and recovered just as quickly, choosing instead to take a step forward and get into the magus's space.

Shirou stepped to the side, only for him to follow suit, remaining an obstruction in his path.

At the same time, the other Humanoid Players slowly gathered around, making a circle and cutting off their exit. The rest of Ainz Ooal Gown looked around, seeing that they were surrounded.

"Again, I ask you to please move aside."

"Oh yea? And what are you going to do if I don't?"

The two Players stared one another down.

"Move. Or be moved."

"I'd like to see ya' try."

The faker didn't openly respond, emboldening the Humanoid Player as he arrogantly took another step forward, getting right in his face and leering at Shirou.

"What's the matter, traitor, cat got your tongue? Don't tell me the big bad Player Killer is sca—"

Whatever words he would say next would go unfulfilled as the Player felt his vision tilt, and the next thing he knew, he was looking up at the sky.

In an instant, all the chatter ceased. The sudden silence that followed was palpable, leaving everyone in stunned disbelief at what they had just witnessed. One moment, the two were standing there, the next, Shirou struck. In a flash, Shirou's right hand became a blur as he landed a swift and calculated right hook. One so sudden that it knocked the cocksure Player flat on his ass and back. The bully blinked dumbly while sprawled on the ground, the number zero flashing across his HUD, showing that he took no damage despite the attack. So unexpected and swift was it that it took him a few seconds lying there before his mind registered what just happened.

Many of the Humanoid Players, including the Heteromorphic party, were much the same, blinking owlishly before tensing up. They looked up and around, half expecting to be teleported away and another half waiting for the GMs or Riot Guards to make their appearance and ban all of them.

Ainz Ooal Gown was no better, with some of their members going slack-jawed and fearful at the spontaneous action of their friend. In particular, Momonga, who, if possible, would have a tidal wave of sweat rolling down his alabaster skull as he was overcome with anxiety at the potential repercussions.

"What is he doing?!" Punitto Moe hissed, with many of the others thinking the same thing. "Is he trying to get himself disqualified before the tournament even starts?!"

On the other hand, there were those who certainly got a kick out of it, such as Warrior Takemikazuchi, who threw back his head in uproarious laughter. He was joined by the likes of Ulbert, who was more sneering, and Peroroncino, who was cackling like crazy. The rest, meanwhile, settled in between reluctance and mirthfulness. The Humanoid Player fully had it coming, but none could have fully predicted the normally calm and rational Shirou to be the one to strike first.

"Oh boy..." Touch Me muttered under his breath, head in hand, as he shook his head ruefully.

Things were certainly heating up, and the tournament hadn't even officially begun yet!

"Y-yo-ou fuck!" The Player squeaked, reeling and struggling to stand back up on his feet with the help of his teammates. "You looking for a fight? Well, we're more than ready to put you freaks in your place!"

The crowds of Humanoid Players that were content to passively watch the show from a distance sprung to their feet, clamoring forward. Their voices added to the growing storm.

"Talk shit, get hit. It's basic gaming rule 101. And here I thought Humanoid Players were supposed to be smart. I guess you're the exception, huh?" Warrior Takemikazuchi quipped, earning snickers from Ainz Ooal Gown and glares from the Humanoid Players.

The throngs of Humanoid Players amassed around Ainz Ooal Gown. The air was thick with taunts and jeers as they puffed out their chests in an attempt at intimidation. It seemed as if a fight was all but inevitable, and yet, as seconds and then a full minute passed, nothing ever came of it.

For all their squawking, the horde of Players was content to remain as they were, edging forward ever so slightly but keeping their distance. They were content with their superior numbers but unwilling to be the ones to initiate things.

If that was the case, then Shirou figured he'd be the one to start it if they didn't. After all, he had better places to be, and nothing was going to stop him.

"What's the matter?" He questioned. Despite being surrounded and vastly outnumbered, Shirou remained collected, almost aloof. His hands were at his side, and his posture was straight and relaxed for all to see.

His eyes scoured them, showing off, waiting to see just who would make the first move. Who would be brave enough to take the first step? Who would throw the first retaliation? But no one did. Shirou faced the instigator of it all, confronting the lone Player and leveling a bored glare at the bully. One that he couldn't help but flinch back from.

Shirou took a single, measured step forward. The sound of his footstep hitting the ground rang out across the plaza for all to hear. The mobs of Humanoid Players around him leaned back, all of them taking a collective step backward instinctively. Some blinked, balking at the suddenness of their action.

"Where has your confidence gone?" His gaze bore down on the ringleader. There was no change in his inflection, nothing but a calm detachment.

Another step forward, another step back. And with his third step, Shirou entered the Player's personal space without breaking eye contact with him.

The instigator of it all gulped internally, chastising himself for feeling even a lick of fear. Yet, as Shirou's golden and silver eyes peered down at him, he couldn't help it. His body tried to take another step back, only to be blocked by the bodies of his party members behind him. He was effectively trapped, and it forced him to stand his ground as he bore the brunt of the Player Killer's dichromatic gaze.

"I will ask you one final time. Let us pass, or you'll be removed. You have three seconds to comply." He said. "One."

There was something about his nonchalant demeanor and casual tone that gave them pause. Despite the numerical disadvantages and ramifications hanging over him, Shirou seemed unfazed. His blasé attitude was steeped in a sense of assurance that left many wondering where it stemmed from. Everyone present was fixated on him, awaiting his next action with bated breath, knowing full well the potential consequences of what they would bring.

"Two."

Not even his friends were completely sure what he had in mind, and they were just as anxious as everyone else. If anything, Ainz Ooal Gown was even more uneasy, knowing just how important this tournament was to their friend. And yet, it seemed he was going out of his way to get himself kicked out. Momonoga, Tabula, Punitto Moe, and the like were quietly scrambling to de-escalate the situation before it was too late. The rest waited and watched in silence to see what would happen next.

"Thre—"

As the words slowly tumbled out of Shirou's mouth, the tension proved too much for the bully.

"W-whatever!" The Player's voice cracked, drawing all eyes to him.

"T-this ain't worth it. It'll be a waste of time to put freaks like you in your place. We've still got a tournament to catch. C-come on, w-we're leaving!"

"B-but, but boss—!" One of his party members interjected.

"I said we're leaving! Move it!" With those final words, the bully hastily turned his back to Shirou and shoved his way through his party members just to get away.

The party was left with little choice but to follow after their leader, awkwardly trailing after him as they left the square.

"Anyone else?" Shirou asked, tilting his head back and around to the remaining congregation of Players surrounding them. He waited to see if anyone else would be brave enough to step forward, subjecting all of them to the same piercing stare he gave the instigator.

The Fake Player quickly got his answer as the flock of Players backed away, splintering off within all but a few seconds. The disorganized mass of Players awkwardly shuffled away from Ainz Ooal Gown and the scene. Many of them withdrew, leaving the square outright, following the first party's lead. A few went back to what they were doing, hanging around the plaza but minding their own business. A few others looked like they wanted to try something, but seeing where the tide was going, they were swept in and quickly followed suit. The tension released and those from Ainz Ooal Gown and the Heteromorphic party breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Shirou huffed under his breath at the sight. Mob mentality, so simple and, at the same time, so fickle.

With no ringleader to rally behind, the mobs of Humanoid Players was no longer as confident as they were just before.

For all their numbers and attempts at intimidation, they were nothing more than human beings.

And Shirou, he'd stared down and faced far worse.

The magus was far from impressed. And he wasn't alone.

"Pussies!" Peroroncino hollered at the retreating parties, earning shouts and profanities from them. The golden archer responded in kind by throwing them two clear middle fingers back their way, along with a few colorful choices of words.

"Kazu—I mean, Pero!" A voice admonished him, joining him at his side. It was none other than Reina, who finally decided to take her boyfriend's advice.

Sigfrida – Lvl: 78

"Oh come on, babe, this is YGGDRASIL! Insults and shit-talking are part of the game and par for the course."

"Bird brain ain't wrong." Said Ulbert, coming to the archer's defense. "Especially when it's more than justified. Someone needs to remind these fuckers lest they get too big for their britches." The archdemon cackled, sneering at the retreating cowards while throwing a few barbed insults of his own and joined along by a few of the guild members.

"That was a bit dangerous, don't you think, Emiya-san?" Momonga asked, coming to Shirou's side alongside a few others. The exasperation in his voice was clearly conveyed.

"Aye. A bit of head-up would've been nice." Tabula added.

"It worked, didn't it?"

Both the Overlord and Brain Eater frowned at the almost dismissive note in his friend's tone. The two shared a worried look.

"And if it didn't, both yourself and Warrior Takemikazuchi-san would've been barred from the tournament." Punitto Moe bluntly stated. "Contestant or not, your actions could've gotten all of us kicked out. The entire reason why we all came. What would've happened then, Emiya-san?"

"It wouldn't."

Again, there was no doubt in his voice. That same clear but distant tone of his, as if he knew something they didn't.

Momonga wasn't sure what to make of it. He wasn't quite certain whether Shirou's confidence stemmed from his acquaintance with Zelretch, which provided him with a degree of assurance like a safety net to fall back on, or if he was simply taking a daring risk that happened to pay off. Regardless of the reason, it was a dangerous mindset to maintain and one the salaryman wasn't comfortable with. Ever since the news of the 9th World Champion Tournament was announced, a few began to notice Shirou acting aloof in the days leading up to the event. It was as if he was both keenly focused but also distracted, and none were quite sure what to make of it.

Before any of them had a chance to speak again, Shirou walked away, joining Touch Me and a few others that went to greet the small Heteromorphic party and putting an end to the discussion.

Punitto Moe sighed under his breath and threw his hands in the air in exasperation. Bellriver, who was with them but kept silent, patted the Death Vine's shoulder in reassurance. Momonga and Tabula shared another uneasy glance. The two quietly followed suit, joining Shirou and the other.

"Is everyone alright?" Touch Me asked the party.

"Aye, we appreciate the save. Honestly, I didn't think help would ever come, least of all in the form of you guys. Then again, I'm not complaining." Eye CU hailed, chuckling and holding out his tentacled eye stocks to both Touch Me and Shirou.

"I can't thank you all enough."

Both the faker and the World Champion didn't hesitate to reach out and grasp them.

"Think nothing of it. After all, it's only common sense to help someone in need." Touch Me replied in his usual tone of voice.

Shirou only nodded, but the sentiment was shared among all of them.

The others exchanged friendly handshakes as Ainz Ooal Gown welcomed the smaller party of Heteromorphs in. From there, greetings were passed around, and the two groups intermingled easily. Both sides chatted freely, with the party members striking up excited conversations with the various guild members, each one bouncing on their feet at the chance to talk and interact with the legendary guild.

Light conversations drifted between the two groups as they collectively made their way through the town.

"I gotta say, of all the things I was expecting from today, being saved by you all was a pleasant surprise. Still running around helping us Heteromorphs out, I see, Emiya-san. And here I thought you perhaps gave up on that mantle." The Beholder mentioned casually, striking up a new conversation.

"Well, he ain't called the [Heteromorph Savior] for nothing, mate." The metal slime quipped from the side.

"Huh, I haven't heard that name in a long while." The aforementioned savior commented, reminiscing on his first persona within the virtual world all those years ago. "I suppose I am."

Several of them snickered at this, finding amusement in his casual admission. This continued for a short time as they tried to include him in the conversation, but all could sense that Shirou was distracted; his responses were often reserved and passive.

They quickly got the hint, and the exchange petered out, giving the digitalized magus his space. During all of this, Shirou's gaze found itself locked toward the enormous structure that loomed from the center of the town. The battleground for where it'll all be decided. He kept the location in his sight as they paraded ever closer.

"Is everything alright?"

Shirou blinked. He was so lost in thought that he didn't notice his friends walking alongside him. Shirou's inner circle walked around him, with the magus at the center, preventing him any room to wiggle out of.

He glanced to the side, finding that it was Touch Me who asked the question.

"I'm fine." Shirou dismissed.

"Emiya-san, what have we told you? Do we need to bring out Mr. Wiggles again?" Momonga tilted his head towards Shirou following the question, his hand twitching, all too ready to reach into his inventory and pull out Mr. Wiggles, regardless of where they were in public.

Not only him but everyone else as well, Ulbert especially. He crackled menacingly, just waiting for a reason to embarrass him.

Shirou paled and quickly changed his tune at the 'threat.'

"Please no..."

"Then stop saying you're fine when you're not. I believe we went over this matter rather extensively the last time around." Tabula sighed.

"I am fine, truly! It's just... the tournament. I'm..."

"Nervous?" Bukubukuchagama offered.

Shirou said nothing, yet his silence said all that was needed. Nervous couldn't quite begin to describe the maelstrom of emotion that dwelled within him. Anticipation, cautiousness, relief, and restlessness — but perhaps the greatest amongst them all — doubt.

The group continued walking as the poignant silence stretched on for a few more seconds.

"Normally, I would say you got this... But this is the World Champion Tournament we're talking about here. You can't afford to be lax or let your guard down for even a second. While we have no idea who exactly they'll be, the shitty devs wouldn't have picked any random Player. No doubt they'll be powerful and skilled. You'll need to go in with the mindset that every single one of your opponents is as capable as you, if not more so, for you can never know what's going to happen."

Everyone looked at Momonga.

"...You know, this is one of the few times where your complete paranoia is probably in the right, Mononga-san." Peroroncino quipped, his hands casually resting behind his head.

"I resent that statement!" Momonga huffed with faux offense. "Besides, it's not paranoia if the possibility is there. I'm just being cautious and taking into account anything and everything that might be trouble."

"By assuming the worst right out the bat, while devising a counterplan and then a counter to that counterplan, and then a counter of a counter to the counter-plan?" Warrior Takemikazuchi quirked a brow. "Now you're sounding just like Punitto Moe-san."

"One, rude. And two, if you're comparing me with him, then you're doing me a disservice. After all, everyone knows that I'm way more of an overthinker and pessimist than he is!"

Momonga's attempt at humor earned a few playful scoffs and eye rolls from his friends but it did little to squash the air of uncertainty hanging over his best friend. Faced with another stint of quietness, he continued, hoping to lift Shirou out of his somber mood.

"But I think, above all else, you shouldn't focus entirely on winning and try to have some fun with the tournament."

Shirou gave him a quirked look. Momonga needed not even a glance to tell the confusion his longtime friend was feeling at his rather counterintuitive statement.

The Overlord rolled his shoulders, collecting himself for what he would say next. It was time to put all that speech practice to good use.

"I know that the prize is important to you, probably more than I can imagine, and that this tournament will be a stressful endeavor, but you shouldn't allow it to taint the experience. Agonizing over what-ifs will only put even more pressure on you, and I worry that it'll build and build and become too much. Trust me, I've been there." Momonga looked at Shirou, his crimson orbs flickering with worry as his voice carried a painful reminiscence.

"Momonga-san..." Shirou cautioned.

"I know, I know." Momonga held up his hand and hurriedly assuaged, knowing what he was going to say.

"I'm not saying to not try or give it your all. What I'm trying to say is that you should try your absolute best, but don't let winning blind you. Above all else, never forget that you're not alone, Emiya-san. Let's not forget that there's still Warrior Takemikazuchi-san to count on."

"He's right." Warrior Takemikazuchi inserted himself into the conversation.

Coming in from the side, he slung his arm over Shirou's shoulder, pulling the Humanoid Player in. Warrior Takemikazuchi gave him a good-natured noogie, ruffling up his hair affectionately.

"Ain't no reason to worry, old chum. We got this! Better yet, why don't you sit this one out and let me handle it all on my own? Watch, I'll win this shindig all on my own!" The samurai boasted, giving him a powerful pat on the back.

"Even in the absolute worst and most unlikely scenario where you two might be out of the running and lose, it isn't the end of the world. We'll be quick to get in touch with the winner. Set up a deal of some kind, negotiate a trade of one World Class item for another, or anything else, even if it means a deficit for the guild. I'm sure Bellriver-san or Punitto Moe-san can work their magic and get us a good deal." The skeletal sorcerer vowed.

Momonga's gaze met the others, and they nodded, showing their support.

"Those two aren't going to like that..." Ulbert muttered conspicuously. "Pretty sure what's more likely going to happen is that Punitto Moe-san's gonna chew your ear off..."

A sharp elbow hit the World Disaster on the side, earning an 'oof!' from him. Yamaiko was the culprit, her expression was deadpan and devoid of any humor.

"Ulbert-san." Yamaiko scolded him in a low voice.

"What? I'm speaking the truth here. You want me to lie between friends?" Ulbert defended himself in his usual sarcastic drawl.

Amanomahitotsu followed Yamaiko's lead and delivered a swift elbow to Ulbert's side as well.

"Really?" Said the crustacean blacksmith, joining the Nephilim brawler with a deadpan of his own.

"I mean, go team woo! We totally believe in you. All for one, one for all, and whatever. You got this!" Came the monotone cheers from Ulbert.

Shirou cracked a small smile, heartened at their support.

"Thank you. If it ever comes to that, do forgive me for my selfishness."

"Of course. After all, what are friends for?"

Momonga patted Shirou's shoulder reassuringly.

Silence returned between them, but for a moment, Momonga caught something. It was faint, indistinguishable from all the background noises around them, and he would've missed it had he not been paying careful attention.

"I need to do it… her..."

'Her?' Momonga wondered, catching only fragments of what Shirou muttered under his breath. It sounded like he was mumbling to himself, whether he was aware of it or not was something the salaryman couldn't be certain of. His crimson orbs swerved, looking to see if anyone else might have caught it, but it looked to be only him.

"Let's move on." Shirou shook his head, regaining some of his normal cheer. "It's like you said. This is still a festival. All this doom and gloom will only end up jinxing me."

Momonga mused on whether or not he should bring it up but relented without a complaint for the moment.

Everything was as they were as Shirou fell in with the others. The atmosphere was convivial, with jokes and conversations flowing effortlessly between them. From there, conversations drifted, and it wasn't long before Shirou and Mononga were talking by themselves.

"How have you been, Momonga-san? It's been a while, hasn't it?"

The two old friends conversed, slowly catching up over the last couple of weeks. With ease, they lost themselves in their conversation, chatting away at length and jumping from topic to topic. As the talk carried on, it eventually veered onto the topic of Momonga's girlfriend, Destana. A trend that quickly became the norm ever since the couple went steady.

The magus laughed and smiled along with every story shared. He lent his ear as he listened to all of Momonga's woes, offering the occasional shoulder pats, quips, or condolences for his undead friend. Though every recount was tinged with a hint of exasperation at her antics, it pales in comparison to the sheer fondness and love in his tone as he spoke of her.

As he listened, his mind idly wandered, and a particular query that had been lingering in Shirou's mind resurfaced. It was a question that had been weighing on his tongue for quite some time, and he couldn't help but ponder it once more.

"Have you once thought of tying the knot with her?" He asked almost absentmindedly, his mouth moving before his brain fully registered his words.

Momonga's words were caught in his throat, and his brain shut down for half a second the moment those words entered his ear. The Overlord nearly tripped on his robes and fell right then and there. Having been caught completely off guard, he flailed his arms before managing to right his balance.

"Woah, are you alright, babe?" Destana asked, gliding to his side with a gentle hand on his back.

The others, too, looked at him, wondering what could've caused him to nearly trip. All the attention on him made him self-conscious as he panicked to get himself under control.

"I-I'm. F-fine!" He squeaked.

"You sure? You literally almost trip over nothing." The angel pointed out with a cocked brow, not quite believing him.

"I'm fine! I was just distracted..." He coughed, trying to hide his slip-up.

"...M'kay, if you say so."

His girlfriend relented and floated back to resume her chat with Bukubukuchagama and the rest while keeping her eyes and ears open just in case.

With that matter taken care of, his brain rebooted, and Momonga whirled right back around to Shirou. His crimson orbs shrank into pinpricks as he stared at his long-time friend incredulously.

"What kind of question was that?!"

In the face of Momonga's overwhelming emotions, Shirou found himself shrugging.

"You two have been together for three years now and counting. Anyone with a pair of functioning eyes and ears can see just how much you two love each other. Not to mention the fact that both of you are already living together and everything. I'd say marriage is just a step forward in your relationship and a natural progression." He answered simply.

The rest of the guild practically considered the two of them married in all but name with how tied at the hip they were.

A small, high-squeaked noise escaped him. Shirou could all too easily imagine the blushing red face his best friend was no doubt making behind his avatar. Even after all these years, Momonga hadn't quite outgrown his awkward and self-conscious nature. Then again, that was part of his charm, he supposed, and part of it made it so fun and easy to tease.

"T-that's still a large leap! S-sure we're living together, but marriage is something entirely else. We'll need to worry about planning for the wedding, location, deposits for the ceremony, getting approval for time off from both our jobs, and then working out a schedule for both parties. What about invitations and guest lists?! We'll have to make sure everything's on schedule, or even a location! That's not to mention the mountain of paperwork following, updating our legal and marital status, along with our financial status. Oh, and don't me started on breaking the news to her parents! I'm pretty sure Kasumi's father hates my guts. Furthermore, there's..." On and on he rattled.

Shirou quickly interjected, lest his friend ramble on until the end of time at the rate he was going.

"I'm not saying you need to go up to her and immediately propose. It's something to think about for the future." Here, his smile turned coy.

"Not unless you're intending to break up with her any time soon." He added.

"Never." Momonga replied resolutely, his voice leaving no room for doubt.

"Then I see no real issue getting in the way of asking her. Eventually, of course." Shirou happily crowed.

Momonga's eyes widened as he realized he had walked right into it.

"I... you...! Ugh..." He stammered, at a loss for words.

Forehead met palm as Momonga groaned.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

"Technically speaking, you did it to yourself, old friend."

Momonga grumbled under his breath, shooting a glower Shirou's way, though it hardly had any heat behind it. Despite the initial embarrassment, a sense of budding curiosity swelled within him.

"Why do you care?" He inquired, far from demanding but more matter-of-factly.

Shirou didn't offer an answer immediately, looking only ahead.

"Because I don't want you to make the same mistake I did."

Mononga's back straightened at the wistful whisper of his long-time friend.

Shirou looked ahead, his golden and silver eyes glazing over as he stared at something not there.

Two flashes, two figures standing before him.

They were smiling. One was reserved but warm, the other hesitant but inviting.

Arturia and Rin.

What he wouldn't give for a chance to see them again. What he wouldn't do but for a moment with them, to express his regret and to tell them that he loved them one more time.

"Your happiness is truly important to me, and I sincerely wish it for everyone, including you, Momonga. I'll share with you the same thing I shared with Pero. Time waits for no one; we humans live short lives, but it's because they are short that we find meaning and contentment in them. You and her, the way the two of you shine when you're together, the love you two hold for each other is irreplaceable. We all endure, searching for that special someone, the one that completes us. Some search tirelessly but never succeed. Others try and fail for years with varying success, and then some are blessed with stumbling upon them at the right time."

The two locked eyes, pools of shimmering silver and auburn gold peering into burning crimson orbs, imploring him to heed his words.

"Hold onto her and never let her go. Even if the whole world is against you. Live with all your heart and don't regret it, for life is far too short for regrets."

In that moment, time seemed to slow to a crawl, and the world around them faded into the background, leaving only the two of them standing there, lost in the gravity of the moment.

Momonga has heard Shirou give countless speeches and talks during their many years together. Each one forever carries an unbridled earnestness and conviction that set him apart from any adult he or the rest of Ainz Ooal Gown have conversed with or encountered before. A fount of wisdom and experience unparalleled.

But this time, it was different.

His words, they were so soft-spoken, so earnest.

His words were a heed, a plea.

A wish.

Not just from one friend to another, but from one man to another.

'Find your happiness and don't let it go.'

Eventually, Momonga found his voice.

"I will." He promised.

And then, the world resumed as normal.

The two friends walked side by side, a vow from the old to the young, to avoid the same pitfall as him. To avoid making the terrible mistake he had and endure for a better future.

And so, all wells that end well.

Were it not for what Shirou would say next. A question regarding a matter of the utmost importance.

"So, are you planning on starting a family any time soon?"

Upon hearing such a question casually being dropped, Momonga reacted accordingly. No, he didn't falter in his step like last time. The salaryman mentally patted himself on the back for a job well done there.

Instead, he settled on almost choking on his breath.

"I—Y-you—! What kind of question is that?!"

"Well, I figured with the number of times you probably got at it like rabbits, it's bound to happen sooner or later."

Momonga went slack-jawed at what he heard. Shirou shrugged, suppressing his amusement as if he were completely innocent.

"The marriage question I could've kind of understood, but a question like that?! Also, you've figured?" Momonga replied incredulously. "Who the heck thinks about their friend sleeping with their girlfriend and wonders if they got her pregnant or not?! Who are you, Peroroncino-san?" The Guildmaster huffed, more embarrassed than offended.

Shirou gave a playful wince. "One, ouch. That's a bit rude to both him and me."

"Doesn't make it any less true." Came Momonga's rebuttal.

"Hmm, that's fair." Shirou conceded. "And two, I'm just looking out for you." He offered cheekily.

"Besides, remind me again who was it that came to me in a panic that one time when the two of you did it without protection? Honestly, I've never seen you panic as much as you did when you fretted out of your mind at the possibility of Destana-san getting pregnant."

Shirou continued to tease his best friend with an impish smile. Momonga looked away with a red face and a demoralizing groan at the memory.

The memory of the incident was forever etched in the salaryman's mind. It took two whole weeks before Momonga finally calmed down, but even then, the whole ordeal wasn't going to be forgotten for a long, long time. It eventually turned into an inside joke between all three of them. Well, it was more accurate to say his best friend and girlfriend got a kick out of it and teased him relentlessly whenever the opportunity cropped up, while he was forced to weather the memory in cringing embarrassment.

Such was the case with a prank that occurred when he came home one day after a long day at work and entered their home – Kasumi had long since decided to move in with him and the two had been living together for some time – to find his girlfriend sitting on the couch, nursing a round belly. Little did he know that she had stuffed her shirt with a small pillow to give the illusion of a gravid belly.

But in his exhausted state, after a long and arduous week of grueling work and running on no more than a few hours of sleep, he was none the wiser. Kasumi then turned to him with tears and shared the news that they were expecting, her gentle hand caressing the fake belly.

And as par for the course, Satoru reacted accordingly, calmly and patiently with the decorum of a proper adult; his eyes rolled to the back, and he fainted on the spot. The last thing he heard was the combination of a soft cry of his name ringing out and laughter as Kasumi rushed towards him.

'I swear, the two of them are never going to let me live this down until the day I die!'

"No. We're not planning on having any kids..."

Momonga finally answered, yet there was a pronounced hesitance in his tone. A 'yet' was left unspoken but could almost be heard between them.

"Would you ever want children, Momonga-san?" Shirou rephrased the question, asking him this instead.

Momonga's mouth opened again with an immediate 'no' for an answer, but it never came. He stopped himself at the last second.

This was hardly the first time such a topic had been brought up. The idea of marriage and kids had been mentioned a few times in the past, usually in idle jest or wishful musings from his girlfriend. He would always sputter out an answer, denying the question while she laughed at his reaction.

He thought long and hard about it, coming to realize that he never once gave the question, let alone the idea, any serious thought. Forever dismissing it with post-haste for one reason or another.

It was always something that lingered within the outstretches of his mind. Never once could he remember truly sitting down and reflecting on the notion behind it. To him, the sheer concept of someone like him having a child to call his own sounded utterly fanciful, within the realm of fantasy.

Throughout the majority of his life, Satoru believed that he would never come across someone who he could truly open up to and love unconditionally. That was, until Kasumi made her way into his life. And what an experience it was! She came in like a wrecking ball, smashing down the walls he erected around his heart with a hammer and dynamites, before dragging him out of his shell and showering him with an abundance of love and affection that he never thought possible.

It was only after coming to accept her into his life did he ever entertain such an idea as marriage, let alone actually contemplate it. However, marriage was one thing, but conceiving a child of their own? That was a whole other beast, and Satoru wasn't quite certain if he was up to the challenge of becoming a parent.

From the day his mother died to when he was forced to work at such a young age until adulthood, he had never thought of what else could be. For as long as he could remember, Satoru envisioned himself living alone, working day by day at a grueling dead-end job just to make ends meet while trying to scrape out what little time he could to relax and alleviate the boring monotony that was his daily life. A routine that would continue until he died either from overwork, old age if he was lucky, or if he was feeling particularly tired and wanted to end it all quickly. Whichever came first.

Satoru Suzuki would die alone, meandering through life until it was his time. The Suzuki family name would die with him. His existence would amount to nothing more than an insignificant blimp in society, forgotten as the world kept on turning.

It was a macabre outlook, but that was his reality for as long as he could remember.

Until he was proven wrong.

Until he met his friends, those that he cherished as family.

Until he met Kasumi, the love of his life.

Now, the world was so much larger than he envisioned. So much brighter than he once thought. One worth living for.

To find love, to open up, and to be accepted. He found all of that and more in Kasumi, and now he couldn't imagine what his life would be without her by his side.

So, if he was proven wrong once before, then why not a second time?

To have children to call his own. To be a father...

Such a thought stirred something within him, resonating deeply in his core.

Momonga, Satoru Suzuki, never knew his father. Considering he lived his whole childhood with only his mother by his side until her untimely passing and that she never once mentioned him, it wouldn't be hard to educate a guess or two as to why it was the only two of them.

And despite his less-than-stellar upbringing and horrendous lack of parental figures growing up, he would like to think he managed to avoid the common pitfalls of a tragic childhood and grew up into a stable and respectable adult with his head screwed on properly and successfully. His self-confidence could be better, as everyone, especially his closest friends and girlfriend would constantly point out, but hey! No one was perfect.

He had a place he called home, a job that paid the bills and, while strenuous at times, wasn't as unfortunate as others were, a hobby he could indulge in to relax, cherished friends to call upon for help, and an affectionate girlfriend who loves him just as the sun loves the moon.

His life was far from perfect, but he was content.

Unbidden, a beautiful image emerged in his mind, straight from the depths of his heart. It was a picture of him and Kasumi snuggling up together on the couch with their precious little one cradled in her arms. Kasumi hummed a sweet melody as she gently rocked their baby back and forth, causing their little bundle of joy to giggle merrily while he watched them with a heartwarming smile. Eventually, she would pass their baby over to him to allow their little angel to play with daddy while she took a break. This left Satoru to awkwardly try and mimic her soothing touch, leading to their baby crying. He would panic and try to calm down the baby while his wife laughed.

A fluttering smile stretched as his mind wandered, spiraling forth from there.

With their savings and job income combined, who knows? Perhaps in less than a few years, they'll be able to afford a nicer and larger home. Satoru would work twice as hard, saving up more than enough money and expenses, and if all goes well, he might see another promotion or two. Something that would help his stipend alongside Kasumi.

Their neighborhood was far from bad, and their apartment was adequate for two adults, but it would be too small if their numbers expanded.

If they were truly lucky enough, they might even find housing within a biodome. He'd be sure to ask Touch Me or Shizyuutensuzaku for any help; those two had some connections, and he was confident they could help set up the couple with a nice place to live.

A quaint little house to call their own would be better suited to raising a family. One that would be perfect to raise a daughter and son in.

The more he thought about it, the more his imagination ran rampant with the possibility, envisioning a future that could be.

Their daughter will be their precious baby girl, a shy little thing just like her father, with Kasumi forever dotting on their pretty little princess. Their son would be a little scamp, just like his mother, running around with boundless energy, all the while Satoru wrangled with him to both their amusement.

He'll make sure they'll never grow up hungry or want anything. They'll never be forced to eat processed sludge to fill their bellies, just to stave off starvation. Neither will they be forced to drop out of school and begin working just to pay rent and avoid getting kicked onto the streets. They would never have to endure the suffocating smog and polluted air to which Satoru and Kasumi had grown accustomed, nor would they be forced to wear masks and coats every day just to breathe without fear of suffocation.

He'll put them through school and give them the proper education they deserve. They'll have the chance he never had. They would learn, grow, and prosper far beyond Satoru or Kasumi. A chance at a better future, a better life.

He'll give them a childhood he and so many others were denied. A chance to live like proper kids and enjoy their youth, unencumbered by the harsh realities of the world. They'll grow up loved and cared for, and Satoru and Kasumi will make sure they always know that.

And when night falls, they'll sit on the couch or snuggle up in bed, and Satoru and Kasumi will delight the children with bedtime tales of their YGGDRASIL adventures. The stories will be brimming with wonder and magic, recounting the incredible feats of Ainz Ooal Gown and the countless adventures they had as Players. Each story will be as fantastical and wondrous as the next, capturing the children's imaginations and transporting them to a world beyond their wildest dreams.

And when they're old enough, he'll also introduce them to the world of VR and gaming, sharing with them hobbies to enjoy. A family bonding experience for the years to come.

Shirou observed Momonga. He was silent. His eyes had a distant, faraway look, like a sailor staring out to sea in pursuit of something that could be. The faker could hear him mumbling under his breath, which he could only describe as happy noises.

A fond smile overcame the magus.

"You'd be a great father, Momonga." He said, his voice soft and gentle.

It would be a few seconds before he responded.

"Y-you think so…?" Momonga muttered, skittish but full of hope.

"I know it." Was the magus's answer, without a shred of doubt in his voice. "You've got the temperament for it. After all, if you can manage a guild of troublemakers like ours, then a kid or two should be no trouble."

The two shared a laugh.

No more words were spoken, for none were needed.

And so, the two continued along with soaring hearts for the future. Ready to take the first step towards that prosperous fortune.

Until Shirou had this to add.

"Try not to multiply too quickly."

Were it possible, his skeletal cheeks and face would be set aflame for the umpteenth, his mouth sputtering to say something incomprehensible.

'Really?!' Momonga couldn't help but mentally scream.

"Shirou...!"

And things were going so well, Momonga lamented. That was the perfect sendoff. A nicely wrapped little bow to end the discussion, and yet, Shirou just had to open his mouth!

If Momonga didn't know any better, he would've suspected his friend was doing this on purpose, all for the sake of slapping him with these tonal whiplashes, just to see him suffer for his amusement.

If that wasn't bad enough, it was also at this time that Destana made her appearance known. Having caught the tail end of their conversation, she all but barged in on them.

Destana floated in with a snicker and lovingly wrapped herself over her boyfriend from behind. She nuzzled her head against his skull, her cheeks rubbing affectionately against his.

"What's wrong with that? I can see it now. You and me, and a couple of ankle-biters to call our own. It's perfect!" She cooed, tracing circles on his wide shoulder.

"Dear, please..." He groaned.

"And it ain't because of a lack of trying, I'll tell ya." She barreled through, glancing at Shirou. "By the way, babe, peer review from last night. A+ for effort, but a D overall. Then again, I wouldn't be too upset if you gave me another D ~ We'll talk later in my office, and by office, I mean our bed."

"Destana, no!"

"Destana YES!"


[—][—][—][—][—][—][—][—][—]


In the early years of YGGDRASIL's surging popularity, a tournament was announced, one that was unlike any other seen before in the game. A grand tournament, one sanctioned and sponsored by the developers themselves. A tournament to end all tournaments.

Thus began the World Champion Tournament.

As the first of its kind, this tournament caused an explosion in the competitive scene and immediately gained immense success, becoming a staple within the game and its community.

A tournament that set out to answer one question: who was worthy of being touted as the strongest?

Within the center of Und Ljósinn stood a grand stadium fashioned in the style of the Roman colosseum of old. One that towered over all other buildings and could be seen across the entire port city. The stadium was enormous, capable of easily seating 100,000 Players alone within its venue.

On this day, it will be the site where the final World Champion will be crowned.

Even with the abrupt announcement, the 9th World Champion Tournament stirred up a great deal of excitement amongst the player base. This special event was poised to become the grandest spectacle in the history of the platform, and its timing couldn't have been more perfect. The tournament coincided with the 10th anniversary of the launch of YGGDRASIL, adding a touch of extra significance to the occasion. It easily eclipsed the previous World Champion Tournaments, with the turnout rates being astronomically high, double that of the previous years, making it the most attended event of its kind. The 9th World Champion Tournament would be the last of its kind, and all wanted to be there to watch the momentous occasion and see how the most prestigious competition in all of YGGDRASIL history would come to a close.

The stadium was packed to the brim with spectators, eagerly anticipating the upcoming tournament. Tens of thousands of Players of all shapes and sizes scurried about, searching for any available spot, while those who had already secured their seats buzzed with anticipation. The air was charged with an electrifying energy that was impossible to ignore, even though the tournament had yet to commence.

The opening ceremony was an unforgettable spectacle, with all eight reigning World Champions making a grand entrance. It was a thrilling sight that only added to the already sky-high hype for the competition, leaving everyone raring to go for the upcoming matches.

With the majority of the audience being seated and quickly getting settled down, along with the presence of all tournament combatants being confirmed, a single boisterous voice boomed over the cacophony.

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. DUDES AND DUDETTES. GAMERS OF ALL AGES AND SIZES! I HAVE ONLY ONE QUESTION FOR YOU. ARE. YOU. READDDYYYY?!" A loud and overexcited voice rang out, drawing cheers and roars from the crowd.

"THEN LET'S MAKE SOME NOISE, PEOPLE!"

The audience happily obliged, shouting at the top of their lungs, splitting the air as the very foundation of the colosseum shook from the intensity.

"HELL' YEA! THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT FOLKS! WELCOME, EVERYONE, TO THE 9TH AND FINAL INSTALLMENT OF YGGDRASIL'S MOST ILLUSTRIOUS TOURNAMENT. THE ONE, THE ONLY, THE WORLD CHAMPION TOURNAMENT! I HAVE THE HONOR OF BEING TODAY'S COMMENTATOR. MY NAME'S BOB!"

"And I am his co-commentator, Sam. And might I add, what a beautiful sunny day it is in the lovely town of Und Ljósinn. Why, you couldn't have picked a better setting than today! What an honor it is for us to be your hosts and to have you all here with us today on this spectacular event." A second voice joined in, soother and poignant in comparison to his co-commentators wild rambunctiousness.

Amidst all this, Ainz Ooal Gown sat comfortably in their seat, waiting for the final check-ups to finish. The guild managed to snag a nice spot, the perfect distance that granted them a generous view of the arena and stadium as a whole.

They sat amongst their peers, the Heteromorphic and Demi-human Players were surrounded by a sea of Humanoid Players making up the vast majority of the stadium's seating capacity. Their numbers took up only one-eighth of the total seats in the stadium. A clear division was evident, but nonetheless, the air was charged with excitement as both sides put aside their differences to revel in the spectacle about to unfold.

The clear divide between the player base and community notwithstanding, the atmosphere was one of unity as everyone eagerly awaited the event to unfold.

And for one newcomer in particular, she was having the time of her life.

Reina, or Sigfrida, as she has chosen her gamertag, looked around with wide, sparkling eyes. Her amethyst eyes drifted from one end of the colosseum to the other, greedily taking in the sight in front of her. The flashing lights, the booming sounds, the roaring crowd, the utter grand spectacle of it all—it was nothing short of amazing and overwhelming.

Although she had attended numerous sporting events in the past, hosted in prestigious stadiums and venues, thanks to her father's connections, none of them compared to the spectacle that lay before her in YGGDRASIL. Every aspect of the virtual world captivated her with an intensity that she had never experienced before. It was as if she was transported to a whole new world, a whole new realm of entertainment, a world of unparalleled experiences and sensations. Had she known that this was what awaited her, she would have heeded her boyfriend's advice and plunged into YGGDRASIL much earlier. The grandeur of it all was overwhelming, and she savored every moment of it.

Though relatively new to the gaming sphere, even she could feel the zeal buzzing through the air, sucking her in. Her own body jittered with unrestrained anticipation for what was to come. She was sitting on the edge of her seat, and like everyone else, she couldn't wait for the tournament and fighting to begin in earnest.

"It seems like someone's excited." A voice teased.

At her side was her boyfriend, his elbow resting against his knees while he rested his head on his palm while facing her. Sigfrida could all but see that loopy smile on her partner's face behind that golden-beaked mask of his.

"I'm fine, Kazut— I mean Pero." She corrected.

When Sigfrida finally started playing YGGDRASIL with her boyfriend and his friends, he gave her a crash course on the do's and don'ts of how to play. She was a quick learner and got it all in time, but there was one thing that she had a bit of trouble with, more confused than with any actual difficulty.

When online, it was customary for them to address each other by their respective online handles, regardless of the situation at hand. This was mostly observed when they were in the presence of others.

When questioned about the reason behind this practice, particularly since she was well-acquainted with him and his sister Chihiro, and addressed them by their given names, Kazuto explained that it was a matter of player etiquette or something similar. Honestly, even now she doesn't understand or get the whole logic behind it, but she promised, and so she made an effort. Of course, there was the occasional slip.

"Hmm…" He let out a hum, leaning in.

"So, what do you think?"

She rolled her eyes at the question. Sigfrida wouldn't have taken issue with it if Peroroncino hadn't asked the same darn question over what felt like a hundred times already when she first started playing the DMMO-RPG. The first couple of times, she could understand, but any more than that was just plain excessive.

He leaned forward with a hand cupped to his ear, waiting to hear her answer.

She sighed. "I've admitted that this is amazing already. Jeez, just how many times do you want me to say it?"

"Until the end of time." Peroroncino answered seriously. A front that lasted all but a second before he snickered.

"Yeah, I'm not doing that…" Sigfrida deadpanned, shaking her head.

She loved her boyfriend, but he could be such an insufferable doofus at times. Then again, it wasn't like she was completely innocent as well. After all, what healthy relationship wasn't without its fair share of colorful banter and shows of one-upmanship? But there was a difference between being cheeky and being insufferable, what with the constant prodding and reminders just to get at her.

"Seriously, what else do you want me to say? I've already said you were right about YGGDRASIL, so what more do you want?" She groaned tiredly.

Immediately, Peroroncino dropped all pretense of what was going on.

"S-sorry. Being a bit of an insufferable jerk, haven't I?" He asked in his normal voice, recognizing his fault.

"You'd think?" Sigfrida leveled a flat glare at her boyfriend.

"I'm sorry." He winced slightly, glancing away with his hand rubbing the back of his neck. "I'll drop it, I promise. Forgive me?"

Peroroncino leaned in, head tilted upwards, as he gave his best puppy dog impression. Even going the extra mile by adding cute whines. Sigfrida rolled her eyes again, giving him a playful push.

"You're lucky I find you cute." She huffed but smiled nevertheless. "All's forgiven."

Sigfrida leaned in to give him a peck on the cheek, with the winged archer preening. He returned a kiss of his own as the two hugged it out. The adorable display of affection earned a few d'awwws from their friends.

"Wow, bird brain is apologizing and being sentimental. Nice job, new girl; keep up the good work on keeping Sir Pervs-a-lot on a tight leash." Ulbert snickered, flashing her a thumbs-up emoticon. A few others chuckled respectfully alongside him.

"Oi, what's that supposed to mean?!"

"It means you prefer being a bottom bitch!"

"Hah! Shows what you know." Peroroncino crowed boastfully, sitting there smugly with his arms crossed over his chest. "While I am a true connoisseur and do like spicing things up, if anyone enjoys being on the bottom, it would be—"

"What was that, dear?" His girlfriend asked him in an all too sugary-sweet voice.

Peroroncino felt a hand clamped tightly on his shoulder; his entire body stiffened as all his instincts told him, "Whatever you do, do not turn around or you're dead!"

"It sounds to me that someone needs some more proper disciplining, followed by a good few months on the couch..."

"W-what I meant to say was that if anyone enjoys being on the bottom, it would be me! After all, that way I'm always able to look up to my most beautiful, my most darling, and my most wonderful girlfriend in the entire world!" Peroroncino squeaked in a high-pitched voice, instantly submissive.

"That's what I thought. Good boy." Sigfrida cooed.

Her hand reached up, giving him a loving scratch underneath his chin. The golden avian purred, his body physically shivering and leaning into her touch.

In the background, Peroroncino heard a sound that sounded very much like the crack of a whip, though he paid it little mind.

Sitting a row above them, Destana and Momonga had front-row seats following the couple's little flirt. The angel was among those who d'awww at the sight of the two of them. Draping herself over her lover, she rested her head against his broad shoulder and playfully ran her finger up and down his exposed ribcage.

"Aren't they just adorable?" The Aerosphere sighed fondly at the young couple's display.

"I... guess?" Momonga offered.

"We need to step up our game. Momon-kun! We can't afford to lose to them! Ainz Ooal Gown has room for only one power couple, and that's us!" Destana sat up straight, a fist clenched together, as a fiery determination entered her eyes.

"It isn't even a competition..." He tried to say.

"Anything's a competition if you put your mind to it! Just like how anything can be a dildo if you're brave enough!"

Momonga slowly turned towards his girlfriend in quiet disbelief at the outlandish words he just heard. His mouth opened before closing with a shake of his head. He refused to even dignify the matter with a response.

The undead sorcerer couldn't help but sputter internally. He knew his lover to be the type to speak before thinking, but even after all these years, his girlfriend remained as spontaneous as ever. There were genuinely times when he was left baffled with no idea of what goes through her head sometimes, with this being another tally added to the long list, and quite frankly, he'd considered that a blessing.

The salaryman knew better than to try and fight against it, especially at her own game.

"Why?" Momonga asked instead, hoping to change the subject.

"Well, all this talk has gotten me curious. And well, I'm feeling a bit adventurous. Why don't we follow their lead and try some experimenting?" Destana whispered flirtatiously, blowing in his ear. An act that sent pleasant shivers down his spine.

"And wouldn't you know it, that special lingerie I once caught you browsing, you know the one, finally arrived. What'd you say about after this tournament, when either Warrior Takemikazuchi-san or Emiya-san wins, I give my special little darling his own victory celebration ~ "

Momonga gulped.

For an angel, she sure acted like a devil with all her temptations. Then again, no one was going to hear any complaints, especially from Momonga of all people.

"I'll think about it..."

Destana cooed triumphantly.

"That's all I ask for." She purred temptingly, tracing his jawline with a sensual finger and planting a chaste smooch on his skeletal cheekbones.

Momonga simply bobbed his head with the motion while Destana made herself comfortable, cuddling up with him. His skeletal arm automatically wrapped around her, pulling her in as his flowing robes covered her like a blanket.

"The two of them really are whipped." Momonga heard Bukubukuchagama whisper, followed by the quiet snickering from Yamaiko.

His head snapped towards the source, finding the two of them sitting with Ankoro Mocchi Mochi. The three of them giggled like schoolgirls. The pink slime gave them a cheeky wave in support, which Destana returned with a dainty wave of her own.

Momonga fixed the trio with a halfhearted glare and a pout.

Suddenly, loud and triumphant celebratory horns sounded off. Every head in the stadium turned to the front as a cascade of lights and colorful fireworks filled the skies above with confetti raining softly down on the audience in the stands. The very air itself vibrated with exhilaration and energy as it was finally time for the main event to begin.

"ON THIS DAY, ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-EIGHT PLAYERS HAVE GATHERED, BUT ONLY ONE SHALL REMAIN. ONLY ONE SHALL BE VICTORIOUS. ONLY ONE SHALL HAVE THE HONOR OF BEING CROWNED THE 9TH WORLD CHAMPION - THE WORLD CHAMPION OF MIDGARD! THE QUESTION IS, WHO SHALL IT BE?!"

Following the commentator's announcement, spotlights bloomed across the stadium, scattering before focusing on the central arena. The outer edge of the stage floor peeled away as a platform was raised. One by one, the contestants were revealed. Each one was accompanied by numerous large holographic screens appearing in the air, displaying the Player's appearance and name for the audience to see. The same flashy introduction would continue for all one hundred and twenty-eight competitors, with each having a moment in the limelight.

Each reveal was met with a mixture of cheers but also boos, but then again, this was YGGDRASIL, so such behavior was par for the course.

When Warrior Takemikazuchi made his appearance, Ainz Ooal Gown cheered just as loud. They waved and screamed out the samurai's name in hopes that their friend might hear them.

However, their voices were buried under the sea of the other tens of thousands of others, becoming indistinguishable and ultimately incomprehensible. The guild at least hoped he could somehow spot them, but knew that was a challenge in its own right.

When Shirou took his spot on the field, Ainz Ooal Gown cheered with equal fervor, shouting their support. During this, the two made an effort and looked around, and by a stroke of luck, it was Shirou that managed to spot their general area.

"Look!" Amanomahitotsu yelled, making his voice heard over all the cheering. His large claw pointed at their friend. "I think he sees us!"

This only made them try even harder. If they squinted, they could see Shirou looking in their direction.

He waved, calling out to the armored Heteromorph, and pointed in the guild's general direction. Warrior Takemikazuchi quickly joined in, waving with him. Though Ainz Ooal Gown couldn't tell if they were shouting anything back or not, the fact that they managed to pluck them out from the crowd was more than enough.

At last, all one hundred and twenty-eight Players made their debut.

"A moment, please. Before we can begin, we have a very special guest joining us on this day. Marking his first-ever sponsored appearance, he is none other than the founder and CEO of Kaleidoscope Industry himself!"

"THAT'S RIGHT! HE'S THE GENIUS THAT BROUGHT YGGDRASIL TO LIFE AND THE MAN THAT PAYS OUR PAYCHECK! SO GIVE A LOUD ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND HIMSELF: ZELRETCH!"

There was no denying the bubbling curiosity that rippled through the entire stadium and those watching from beyond at the news that the CEO himself would be making his first ever on-screen appearance. Unrestrained chatter filtered through the air, with many within the audience talking over themselves in hushed voices and excited whispers.

They've all heard of the name Zelretch in one form or another, some in passing and others in pursuit of curiosity.

Despite being a revolutionary figure in the world of VR gaming, there was surprisingly very little public information about the man, and even fewer public images and photos credited to him. The genius behind YGGDRASIL has remained an enigma for years.

On this day, however, one such mystery would finally be unveiled to them at last.

"TAKE IT AWAY, BOSSMAN!"

Momonga and many others looked around, trying to spot the man of the hour, before a loud concession of voices pointed him out. There, in the center, was a podium that wasn't there before.

Climbing to the top at a leisurely pace was none other than the man that was on everyone's mind, Zelretch.

The various holographic screens captured his ascension up the steps of the podium, allowing for his appearance to be shown in full.

The first thing that popped into Momonga's mind was the way he carried himself. There was a pedigree of nobility to him, an aura of sophistication as if he were plucked straight from the time of aristocrats. The man's elderly, wizened face was creased with lines and wrinkles, yet he carried himself with a genial smile that made him appear almost grandfatherly. His attire was equally impressive, featuring a collared shirt, dark trousers, and a buttoned vest that all contributed to a striking suave aesthetic. But what truly caught Momonga's attention was the man's long cape coat, which billowed dramatically with every step he took.

Once upon a time, Momonga asked Shirou about the man. He was curious to learn about the fabled CEO, and his friend easily obliged. His friend described Zelretch in terms of not just his appearance but also his presence. He spoke of an unmistakable mystique to the man that drew people in like a magnetic field. A gravitas that made it impossible to ignore his presence.

Upon witnessing the man himself with his own eyes, the Guildmaster of Ainz Ooal Gown had a clearer understanding of what his friend meant by his words.

All the world's gaze bore down on him, yet he didn't appear all that bothered, as if it were a simple walk in the park. First impressions were everything, and for his first public appearance since the game's launch, none could deny that he held himself with regal grace.

Reaching the top of the platform, he took a moment to look around, casting his striking crimson gaze across the stadium and audience, as well as the contestants. His cane scepter clacked against the platform, producing a sound and calling for silence. The audience hushed in record time.

Zelretch then produced a microphone out of thin air, bringing a fist to his mouth and clearing his throat; the sound of the action echoed due to the microphone catching it. Many leaned in, curious and expectant of what was to come next.

"Thank you, thank you. You're all too kind." He greeted. Even his voice had a certain sonorous dignity to it. Rich and firm, but also light and familiar.

"So…" Zelretch prompted, the microphone catching the soft sound of his tongue clicking as if he were gathering his thoughts on what to say next. His hand also reached into his vest, pulling out a small stack of cue cards.

"This is normally where I spew a bunch of formality and tripe that my writing team and PR department green light for me to say here, but quite frankly, I doubt anyone here actually gives two shits about that."

He then nonchalantly threw the cards over his shoulder, garnering some mirth from the audience. The viewers watched with rapt attention, curious as to what he'd say or do next.

"So, why don't we get what we're all here for? Welcome one and all to the 9th World Champion Tournament. You have all gathered today to celebrate and be awed by those who are clearly your betters. In combat, skills, and tactics, they are unmatched by any of you and, as such, must seek out their peers. So, for the sake of alleviating the boredom they must feel at being as strong as they are compared to the average peon, I have decided to have them fight tooth and nail for my amusemen— I mean, blessing! Yes, incredible wealth, a powerful title, and a World Item, all await the future World Champion of Midgard! And as for our lovely competitors for this special event, all I have to say is this: Seeing as you're all the best of the best, that means you should put on a decent show. So do your best and try to make it interesting, will ya'? Else, I'll get bored and fall asleep!"

Without missing a beat, Zelretch held out his hand with the microphone in it and dropped the mic.

"Adios!"

The CEO flashed a two-finger peace sign before vanishing from sight, leaving behind a silent and utterly bewildered audience.

Everyone in the stadium and beyond watching collectively blinked, a second of silence passing before every single voice both inside and outside the stadium clamored to life, louder and greater than previously. Each voice drowned out the other. The air trembled as a cacophony of voices rose, vocalizing their displeasure with angry boos, loud slurs, raging curses, and the passionate cries of "shitty devs!" The sheer discord extended beyond the stadium and even Und Ljósinn itself and could be heard for kilometers across the realm of Midgard.

"Wow…" Destana let out a whistle in quiet astonishment. "That's got to be one of the sharpest, most backhanded speeches I've ever heard!" She cackled uncontrollably, holding her belly and leaning on her boyfriend.

In one speech alone, he managed to mock not just everyone sitting in the audience but the very Players competing in the tournament as well. She'd heard the stories and reputation of the developers and workers of the game being so polarizing, but seeing the CEO of the company itself, who could be likened to the king of the shitty devs, she slightly underestimated them and Zelretch.

The ability to rile up and piss off no doubt hundreds of thousands of people, if not more, with only a few choice sentences, that was an art form.

"WELL, THAT WAS SOMETHING! WITH THAT OUT OF THE WAY, LET'S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD!"

Powering through the discord, some kind of machine appeared within the center, containing numerous small balls inside a glass dome. Additionally, an empty tournament bracket appeared on the screens. The raging audience managed to simmer down upon seeing this; their agitation was replaced with curiosity and eagerness as the tournament moved onto its next phase.

"For this tournament, the Players shall be drawing slots. Each will go up and roll a random ball with a number assigned to it. They are numbered one through one hundred and twenty-eight. Whatever number they shall receive determines the order in which the Players are allowed to select their spot for when and where they wish to fight in the tournament bracket." Sam explained.

This sparked immediate discussion amongst the audience. In the past, the matches were decided via a randomizer, but now the power to decide who and when they'll be fighting lies with the contestants. Many were curious to see just how such a thing would go.

Momonga stroked his chin as he and Ainz Ooal Gown conversed, debating over the logistics of the rule given and the possible outcome.

While simple on paper, the number of possibilities associated with the Player's decision was exceedingly intricate. Whoever was fortunate enough to have the first or early picks would be able to choose when they wanted their opening fight, allowing them to set their pace. However, that advantage can quickly change depending on the latter picks, should a Player pick an available slot in correspondence to certain opponents or order. There were advantages and disadvantages to every pick, and one needed to be mindful of their selection and consider not just their immediate match-up but their potential future match-up as well.

The sheer number of potential combinations and match-ups was staggering, making the selection process its own metagame.

One by one, each combatant walked up to the machine and rolled for their number. It was accompanied by a visual effect of the balls spinning within the dome before one was dispensed to the Player. A number flashed, one that only they could see, before walking back to their original spot. This continued for every single Player and once everyone had a ball, the numbers were called out, beginning with the first.

From there, the crowd watched on as each Player revealed their number and made their selection. Some were quick about it. Others took far longer to deliberate their options. The latter earned several impatient shouts from the crowd, chastising them to hurry it up.

As the bracket slowly filled with more and more names, Momonga and many others noticed that certain slots were avoided entirely. Most noticeably, the very first match of the tournament. Those two slots remained empty since the beginning.

Until a certain magus stepped forward.

"I'll take the first slot."

The moment it was Shirou's turn, he had already made his choice.

This caused a small stir amongst the audience, seeing how he didn't even hesitate in his decision.

"The first match right off the bat? That's bold. But won't that mean he'll be at a slight disadvantage since he'll be showing his cards first?" Momonga heard Destana say.

"You're not wrong." He said, grabbing her attention. His skeletal fingers interlocked, his chin resting on it. "If I had to guess, I'd say impatience might've been a deciding factor." A hint of worry leaked through.

"...But, taking the first slot isn't necessarily a bad decision either. No matter which slot he could've picked, the match would've revealed his hand one way or another. The very same can be said for every Player and their respective matches. True, by going first, he'll be giving his future opponents a glimpse of what's to come and time to plan against him, but the reverse is also true. By finishing his match first, he'll be able to devote the rest of the first round to scoping out the competition while preserving his momentum for the upcoming fights. He'll have plenty of time to devise a strategy or two or five to deal with the potential victors."

The Aerosphere smiled softly and giggled under her breath. "That's quite the confident, babe. And here I thought you'd fall into the usual pessimistic rut, seeing as you were raving on about this being a World Champion Tournament and all that."

Momonga chuckled, smiling along.

"It won't be easy, but I would be a poor friend if I didn't believe in him all the way." The undead king flashed her a smile. "But no matter the challenge, I know that both Emiya-san and Warrior Takemikazuchi-san will rise to the occasion and surpass it. Especially Emiya-san. For when he puts his mind to it, then there's nothing he can't achieve. As for us, it's our duty to cheer both of them on."

"Hah! You got that right! Let's go!"

Destana happily cheered on, rallying the others and fist-bumping the air.

The rest of the matchup continued as normal, with Warrior Takemikazuchi taking the final slot of the last match for the first round. This put the two guild members on opposite blocks, preventing them from going up against one another. At least until the final round, should it ever come to it.

It wouldn't be long before all the matches were finalized. The filled tournament bracket was boldly displayed on the large holographic screens for all to see. All the fighters teleported away and returned to the holding wings, leaving the arena barren once more.

And thus, there was only one thing left to do.

"In the immortal words of Gaius Julius Caesar, Alea iacta est! The die is cast! On this very day, history will be made! The question is, who shall be the one to take it all?! What shall emerge victorious amongst all?! Who shall reign supreme as the 9th and final World Champion?!"

"THERE'S ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT HERE, FOLKS! AND SO, LET THE 9TH WORLD CHAMPION TOURNAMENT BEGIN! AND FOR THE OPENING MATCH TO START US OFF, WE HAVE — HUH?!"

As the roaring cheers of the audience reached their crescendo, it was interrupted as the announcers paused mid-speech. A sound of confusion left the commentator's booth and speakers, followed by a sudden yawning silence.

Much of the excitement in the audience dipped. Many frowned, looking around and wondering what the holdup was. After a minute or two, the speakers crackled to life, and the commentators returned.

"We deeply apologize for the wait. Due to an abrupt and extraneous issue, the tournament will be unfortunately delayed until further notice until the matter is resolved. We appreciate your patience." The response came from Sam, his tone already suggesting that he was bracing himself for the fallout to come.

For a beat or two, there was nothing but silence before the stadium exploded into noise.

"Are you KIDDING ME?!"

"What the hell?!"

"Start the fucking matches already?!"

To say that everyone was mad would be an understatement to end all understatements. Everyone, from those in the stadium to those watching from afar or in the comfort of their abode, was united in that singular moment. Boos and hollers filled the air as everyone yelled to make their anger known, in addition to a few colorful choices of words at the inexplicable interruption. But besides whining about it, they had no choice but to wait. Of course, that didn't stop them from blaming the shitty devs for the issue, for when in doubt, blame the developers. It was always those shitty devs' fault, one way or another.

The same sentiment was shared with all the competitors waiting in the holding wing. While the rest were expressing their discontent, Warrior Takemikazuchi found himself preoccupied with a whole other matter entirely.

'Where's Emiya-san?' He wondered, taking notice of his friend's absence, and began searching.

In the meantime, the two commentators sought to pass the time however they could. The last thing they needed was a full-blown uproar on their hands. They began commentating, hoping to quell the discontentment.

"W-well, for those of you new or just joining us for the first time, I say welcome!" Sam coughed, trying to regain some semblance of control. "Allow me to give a brief rundown of the rules for the World Champion Tournament."

"The World Champion Tournament follows standard tournament rules, with each match being a deathmatch. The match only ends once one of the Player's health bars has been completely depleted or if one chooses to concede anytime during the match."

"IF YOU WANT TO PUSS OUT LIKE A LITTLE BITCH, THAT IS."

"Right…" He coughed again at his co-commentator's rather crude paraphrase, though it did manage to earn some chuckles from the audience and help lighten up the mood.

"Unlike other standard tournaments, the usage of cash items and even World Items is strictly prohibited to prevent item abuse and fair play. All contestants are screened beforehand and are only allowed to use the equipment, weapons, and gear that they have registered and which has been approved by the management. However, for this year, a special ruling has been added. The combatants are allowed one request for substitution of a singular item or weapon, but they must be given approval before use by the organizers and cannot be requested right before the Player's respective matches. In addition, the Player's inventory is also locked off to prevent any potential item usage or exploits. [Message]'s are disabled, preventing Players from receiving help from outside sources that could give them an advantage over their opponents."

Most were uninterested in the rules, but the addendum of the singular substitution was an interesting development, and many were curious to see how the fighters intend to use it in the upcoming matches.

"The World Champion Tournament is lauded as the greatest competitive tournament in YGGDRASIL and sponsored by Kaleidoscope Industry, not simply for its prestige but for what it represents. To achieve victory, it'll come down to not just which Player has the better build or who's more powerful, but their innate skill, experience, speed, coordination, wit, and even a stroke of luck. Only the best of the best will have the honor and privilege of being crowned the 9th World Champion! And Bob, I dare say any one of the contestants we have here today has a chance to win it all."

"HOW RIGHT YOU ARE MY FRIEND! SAMMIE, LET ME TELL YOU, I'M EXCITED. THESE FIGHTERS ARE THE CRÈME DE LA CRÈME, AND THE CREAM ALWAYS RISES TO THE TOP! WE'LL BE SEEING A GOOD SHOW ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. THEN AGAIN, SHOULD WE EXPECT ANY LESS FROM THE ANNUAL TOURNAMENT WHERE WE PIT SOME OF THE BEST AND STRONGEST PLAYERS ACROSS ALL OF YGGDRASIL AGAINST ONE ANOTHER TO SEE WHO'S BETTER AT MURDERIZING THE ABSOLUTE SHIT OUT OF THE OTHER!?"

"A bit of hyperbole, don't you think?" He asked his co-worker.

"BUT NOT COMPLETELY UNTRUE! AFTER ALL, WE AS A SPECIES HAVE ALWAYS SOUGHT VIOLENCE IN MANY FORMS OVER THE COUNTLESS CENTURIES. THE ROMANS HAD THEIR GLADIATOR MATCH, THE BARBARIANS THEIR SACRIFICIAL DEATHMATCHES TO THE GODS, AND THE AMERICANS HAVE FOOTBALL – NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE ACTUAL ENGLISH FOOTBALL. THIS ONLINE TOURNAMENT IS BUT AN EVOLUTIONARY PROGRESSION IN OUR SEARCH FOR CONTROLLED VIOLENCE AND SPECTACLE. WHERE WE PIT STRANGERS ALIKE IN A TORRENT OF FIGHTS FOR THE AMUSEMENT AND PLEASURE OF OTHERS. ALL TO SATISFY OUR WANTON LUST FOR VIOLENCE. TRULY, WE AS A SPECIES ARE NOTHING MORE THAN RAVENOUS AND BELLIGERENT FOOLS."

"I mean… I can't argue with that… The first third, not so much the rest... A-Anyhow! As analysts, we'll also be providing points and play-by-play analysis for the fights to come. And I must say, I'm quite excited for when the matches finally start rolling. What say you, Bob?"

"I'M WITH YOU ON THAT, OLD CHUM! ALSO, MIGHT I ADD THAT AIN'T IT CRAZY THAT WE BOTH HAVE THE MOST COMMON AND GENERIC OF NAMES, ENGLISH NAMES MIGHT I ALSO ADD, AS WELL? IN A JAPANESE GAME NO LESS, HOW CRAZY IS THAT? WHY, IT'S ALMOST LIKE THE TWO OF US EXIST FOR NO HIGHER PURPOSE THAN TO MISAPPROPRIATE THE MOST MUNDANE ENGLISH NOMENCLATURES IN A JAPANESE MEDIUM, ALL FOR THE SAKE OF A JOKE."

By now, pockets of laughter had spread amongst the crowd, with many taking to enjoying the crazy banter between the two commentators. Though more than a few were confused and curious about where exactly this comedy sketch was going.

"A bit of a random thought... I mean… It's just a name, merely a gamertag. Plenty of people have their gamertags in English.

"THAT IS TRUE, BUT I'M GOING TO HAVE TO DISAGREE WITH YOU ON THAT FIRST PART, SAMMY. AFTER ALL, WHAT IS A NAME BUT A PIECE OF OURSELVES, AN OWNERSHIP OF WHO WE ARE? I'M BOB, THE OVERLY LOUD AND RUMBUSTIOUS COMMENTATOR THAT SPEAKS IN ALL CAPS TO SIGNIFY ME SPEAKING IN A BLARING VOICE TO SIGNIFY MY WILD ATTITUDE AND MAJOR ONE-NOTE CHARACTER PERSONALITY. AND YOU, SAMUEL, ARE THE STRAIGHT MAN TO MY CRAZINESS. THE VOICE OF REASON TO MY INSANITY! ELUCIDATING YOURSELF AS THE CALM AND COLLECTED TYPE. WHY, IT'S ALMOST AS IF OUR ROLES WERE PREORDAINED AND ALL WE ARE IS A GIMMICK OF A TROPE COMMONLY FOUND IN COMMENTATORS, REPRESENTING A DUALITY, FOR NOTHING MORE THAN EXPOSITION AND CHEEKY LAUGHS!"

"I... well... I mean. Ummm... Well, would you look at the time?! I believe that's enough banter for now." Sam cleared his throat, discomfort encroaching on his voice. "After all, we've got a tournament to help run! I must say, the turnout rate this time around is massive! So many Players are here right now, and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands more are watching at home and away. I dare say this tournament will be for the history book!"

"THAT WE CAN AGREE ON. FOR WE ARE TO BE A WITNESS TO WHAT'S TO COME, BUT NOT JUST US, BUT EVERYONE ELSE. YES, YOU, ALL OF YOU, THE TEEMING FACELESS AND NAMELESS MASSES! YOU, WHO SERVED NO OTHER PURPOSE BESIDES BEING PART OF A LABEL TO SHOW OFF A SUPERFLUOUS NUMBER. WE ARE ALL BUT SPECTATORS IN A WORLD WHERE WE ARE NO MORE THAN EXTRAS IN A MOVIE SET, OUR PURPOSE DERIVED TO GIVE NOTHING MORE THAN THE ILLUSION OF GRANDEUR AND SIZE."

By this point, much of the playful laughter had drifted, leaving only awkward pauses and concerned silence. It was kind of funny at first, but now it wasn't, and his words earned a considerable amount of arched brows and confused glances from the audience as they turned their attention towards the commentator booth. Much of the earlier humor was gone, and many weren't quite sure what to feel regarding the direction of where it all was going.

"Bob. A-are you ok...?" The analyst tentatively asked his co-worker, not wanting to pull the pin on that particular grenade but feeling he had little choice but to.

"SAM, IF I'M GOING TO BE HONEST, I AM NOT MY FRIEND. I HAVE GAZED INTO THE GREAT INFINITE WELL AND NOW REALIZE THAT WHAT WE CALL REALITY IS NOTHING MORE THAN AN ILLUSION. I NOW SEE PAST THE CURTAIN, THE 4TH WALL, AND SEE IT ALL TOO CLEARLY. THE FACE OF GOD, HE WHO CREATED AND COMMANDED US, AND I SEE OUR PURPOSE, THE VERY POINT OF OUR EXISTENCE. ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE, AND ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN ARE MERELY ACTORS. AND HE, THE ONE BEHIND ALL OF THIS? HE IS THE DIRECTOR, THE CONDUCTOR OF OUR LIVES. THE MAN PULLING THE STRING AS IF WE WERE, BUT MERE PUPPETS TO HIS WHIM. AND THE MOMENT OUR PURPOSE IS FULFILLED, WHEN THE CURTAIN FINALLY DROPS, WE SHALL BE FOREVER BANISHED TO THE VOID, WHERE ALL FIGMENTS OF IMAGINATION GO WHEN NO LONGER NEEDED! ALL THE WHILE HOPING AND SQUEEZING WHAT MEAGER TIME WE HAVE SPENT AND BEEN SHOWN TO LEAVE ENOUGH OF A MEMORY AND IMPRESSION SO THAT WE MAY LIVE ON IN THE MINDS OF THE READER. THAT IS OUR PURPOSE HERE TODAY, AND SO IT SHALL BE, FOREVERMORE.

The moment he finished, all noise died within the stadium. A taut silence descended upon the stadium, enveloping not only the colosseum but the entire city of Und Ljósinn. A quietness so deep that even a cough would sound like a thunderstorm. Everyone in the audience and the viewers watching the live broadcast were all left speechless, unable to express the utter bewilderment they felt at what they just heard.

"Uhh... Umm... W-what?" Was all that was heard from Sam, representing everyone's thoughts. For what else could he say in the face of... that?

"OR AT LEAST, THAT'S WHAT IT SAYS HERE IN THE SCRIPTS AND DOCUMENTS I'VE GOT! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

The commentator box boomed with laughter as Bob's boisterous and borderline chaotic laugh echoed through the stadium and beyond. This jumpstarted things back up, with many joining in, seeing it as all a setup for an elaborate joke, and so they laughed along with the commentator. Most of it remained awkward, with the people laughing along as if unsure of what to make of the skit they just heard and choosing instead to laugh it off. Then there was a tiny fraction that was contemplative and near inconsolable, as if trying to wrap their fragile minds around the revelation revealed to them.

"B-but I don't see anything in my notes..." The sound of papers being flipped through and Sam's uncertain voice was drowned out by all the noise.


[—][—][—][—][—][—][—][—][—]


"Well... that just happened." Touch Me muttered, his voice trailing off.

Touch Me tuned out the noise from the stadium as he let out a small breath, shaking his head. It seemed the organizers had some fun picking this year's shoutcasters while also expanding their materials. It was a bit too existential for his liking, but oh well.

Located above the primary section of the colosseum was a luxurious VIP area that connected to the upper part of the stadium. It overlooked the entire arena and audience below, granting the most prestigious seats in the entire venue. The interior was lavish and extravagant, befitting their status. It was here that he and the other World Champions would bask in comfort while watching the thrilling matches unfold.

The paladin leaned against a guard rail, shoulders slouched, and his eyes searching through the large, immaculate windows in hopes of finding his friends from Ainz Ooal Gown among the ocean of Players seated down below.

When the guild reached the colosseum, the group separated and were ushered toward their respective destinations. While Shirou and Warrior Takemikazuchi were shuffled away to be checked in, the rest of Ainz Ooal Gown found their seats. Touch Me was escorted to where the other World Champions were gathered in preparation for the opening ceremony. The tournament opened up with a grand premiere, showcasing the eight current World Champions and making a spectacle of it to drum up excitement and rouse the audience for the coming fights.

Following the conclusion of that, Touch Me intended to join up with the rest of his guild in cheering Shirou and Warrior Takemikazuchi on throughout the tournament. Unfortunately, those plans were dashed when he was informed by a GM, or perhaps it was more accurate to say he was ordered to remain in the VIP area for the duration of the entire tournament, much to his confusion and inner chagrin.

It brought the mood down for him, knowing he couldn't be with his friends.

"My, my, to think I would see the day where the great and unflappable Touch Me-san brooding. I must be dreaming." Said a playful voice beside him.

"I'm not brooding." He returned defensively, turning around as he leaned comfortably with his back against the guard rail.

A hint of a smile touched Touch Me's lip as he regarded his fellow World Champion.

LichtKing – Lvl: 100 — The Saint's Blade Devastator [The World Champion of Vanaheim]

The Player bore a similar aesthetic to Touch Me, donning a full suit of armor that exuded the regal aura of a mighty golden knight. The smooth, heavy armor was bedecked with exquisite emerald accents and silver holy iconography that ran down the length of his armor. One of his pauldrons was decorated with a striking lion design that roared with fierce intensity, while the other bore a sword and shield. The motif of wings was beautifully etched onto his chest plate, which lay underneath his silver surcoat. Despite the stillness of the air, a white cape billowed behind him, much like Touch Me's own crimson cape. The Player's majestic lion's helm was etched with a look of stern determination that exuded power. Nonetheless, despite the Player's fearsome appearance, one could perceive an air of warmth and congeniality emanating from his avatar.

In one of his hands, he carried a large cross-shaped white and gold tower shield that stood almost as tall as he. One that sheathed a powerful two-handed greatsword inside it that he was known to wield with a single hand alone with incredible ease, the hilt of which could be seen protruding from the shield.

"Lay off the old man, LichtKing-san. You know how sullen people can get with age." A third voice teased, joining the conversation and accompanied by the jingle of a chime.

Touch Me let out a huff, turning with a flat gaze toward the source with wry amusement.

"I see that attitude of yours is still as flippant as ever, Duskindal-san."

Duskindal Lvl: 100 The Spectre of Nevermore [The World Champion of Helheim]

The Player was tall and lanky, possessing a slender build that lent him an air of lithe grace. Much of his body was obscured by the voluminous shadow cast by his cloak, which was composed of sharp, obsidian feathers from the common raven that draped over one side of his shoulder. Beneath the cloak, the portion of his body that was visible was adorned with lightweight but durable leather armor, crafted from the hide of a legendary mob known as the Dragon-Fanged Basilisk. The armor was expertly crafted, with each piece fitting seamlessly with the others to provide maximum protection without hindering movement. Peaking from his cloak were the hilt of two short swords strapped to the small of his back that he could reach back and unsheathe in an instance, and fitted across his body were a multitude of sheathed daggers.

The assassin could almost be called human were it not for the ghastly grayish hue of his skin. His striking appearance was dominated by a large, malevolent eye that seemed to move with a mind of its own, situated right in the center of his forehead. The dichromatic hair on his head was cut short, featuring a bold combination of dark blue and roguish purple, intermixed in a way that made it hard to look away. Darkened veins pulsed across his face and eyes, adding to the ominous expression on his sharp, cocky grin. Completing his ensemble was a solitary earring that dangled from his left ear, featuring a small bell that chimed with his every movement.

Duskindal walked forward and gave a playful bow, one full of theatrics, his cloak billowing, followed by another chime and the reveal of a dark and fleshy hand. A cursed hand with unique abilities to call its own.

"Don't sound disappointed, my friend. You'll break my poor little heart talking like that." Duskindal offered the paladin a cheeky, smiling emoticon.

"You have a heart? Color me surprised." LichtKing ribbed.

"Indeed, I do!" The assassin returned. "I keep it in a jar for safekeeping, right next to my secret stash of peanut butter. Want to see?"

"Is that truly such a surprise, Touch Me-san? We all know this man-child refuses to grow up. It's quite doubtful that he'll start now." Said another, curtly.

Strutting past the trio and giving the theatrical assassin a particularly haughty look was Belladonna, the first female World Champion.

Belladonna Lvl: 100 The Bewitcher of Avarice [The World Champion of Jötunheim]

With an air of elegance and confidence, Belladonna's avatar commanded attention with her icy and peerless beauty that could never be attained by mere mortals. Her countenance was one of arrogance and superiority; her deep amethyst eyes pierced through all who dared to meet her gaze. She was wrapped in a long and eloquent flowing onyx-black gown and adorned with intricate purple and golden accents that added a touch of glamour to her attire. The garment flowed gracefully around her silhouette, matching her silky, smooth raven-black hair that cascaded down her back like a waterfall of shadows. Atop her head, a thorny ivory circlet rested, adding a regal touch to her already impressive ensemble. Her long black gloves were a perfect match for the gown, and the intricately designed masquerade mask that covered her left eye only added to the air of mystery to her fabulous wardrobe. Against her pale blue skin, the contrast of her sharp features only served to enhance her beauty further.

Her pigmentation and long ears easily classify her as an Elf, a Fel Elf to be exact, a sub-species of the popular elven Humanoid race. On one of her hands, she wore a golden claw-tipped glove, while on the other, she wore five beautiful rings, one for each finger.

Adorned at her waist were four sheathed swords, two elegantly placed on each side in a balanced fashion. The swords were single-edged with a subtle curved blade, resembling dueling sabers. The hilt of each sword was fashioned into a crescent-shaped guard. The hilt possessed a spiral-curved design that stretched along it, with a trigger located between the hilt and guard. This trigger, when pressed, infused a torrent of elemental damage that added a deadly edge to each of the sword's strikes.

A known fact about her was that she possessed the remarkable ability of being ambidextrous and was also a highly proficient juggler. A seemingly innocuous fact, until one takes into consideration that she employs them in her combat style. During combat, she has been recognized for her unmatched prowess in wielding all four swords simultaneously while expertly juggling them in a mesmerizing manner, creating an intense and formidable tempo that overwhelms her opponents.

Belladonna was arguably the single most skilled duelist in all of YGGDRASIL. In one-on-one combat, her movements were nothing short of graceful, and her skill, unparalleled. However, all of this pale in comparison to her sharp tongue.

"One can always hope, Belladonna-san." The paladin replied, shrugging. "Stranger things have happened before."

"I'm afraid you're going to have to keep on hoping, then. But I wouldn't hold my breath on it. After all, I read somewhere that perpetual childishness and refusal to grow up are attributed to a mental disorder. He's probably beyond our help." Another replied dismissively, earning an indignant 'Hey!' from Duskindal.

"Now, now, Hime-chan, there is no need to go after the poor man like that." A fifth voice placated.

The two that spoke were the World Champions of Niðavellir and Niflheim, respectively.

Touch Me glanced over to the resident 'princess' of the group.

ShikiHime – Lvl: 100 — The Rebellious Iron Maiden [The World Champion of Niðavellir]

ShikiHime was the second female World Champion and, among the group, the most striking and unique in terms of appearance. Her avatar model was a perfect fusion of flesh and synthetic. The result was a smooth and slick skin tone with a distinctly technorganic feel. She donned a futuristic attire, sporting a slick monochrome bodysuit that covered her entire body, closely protected by a formfitting exosuit. The exosuit boasted two repulsors on her arms and a long skirt around her back, leaving her front unobstructed. The suit was marked by multiple, pulsating neon streaks overlaying her body and suit, with some running along her smooth and flawless synth skin. On her back were two hexagonal indentations that could unfurl to produce wings made of hard light, granting her the ability of increased speed and flight. Lastly, she wore an open-cropped white jacket that had a green luminescent collar that glowed brightly.

Her neon hair was tied into long twin-tails that rotated through a spectrum of colors every second, while her cyberoptics dazzled with a gradient of pastel rainbow hues. To complete her look, she wore a glowing crown in pink and gold that floated impeccably above her head, complimenting her Hime namesake.

ShikiHime stood out not just because of her vividly colorful appearance, but also because of her petite stature when compared to her peers. However, don't let her small size fool anyone. What she lacked in height, she more than made up in power.

She had a powerful handgun securely holstered at her waist. However, her ultimate weapon of choice was the sonic axe, a large mechanical single-bladed hacket axe that stood taller than her small frame. The battle axe was equipped with a trigger that, when pressed, unleashed a shockwave through an electric current, augmenting the power of her strikes. ShikiHime was well-reputed for her speedy playstyle, effortlessly zipping through the air, and her prowess to cleave Players in twain with a single swing of her trusty weapon.

"Why not? He deserves it." ShikiHime said unapologetically to her fellow World Champion.

"We all have our quirks, after all. You wouldn't like it if someone else were to make fun of you out of nowhere, you would?" The World Champion of Niflheim mediated.

The metal maiden only huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Thank you, Mercí-san! You truly are my only friend in this den of bullies! You're the only one I can rely on!" Duskindal slid to his side, throwing himself onto the man. A tearful emoticon appeared over the assassin as he wept on his shoulder.

The rest of the World Champions either scoffed, rolled their eyes, or shook their heads at his antics. Wishful Mercí only patted his back while Duskindal cried crocodile tears.

Wishful Mercí – Lvl: 100 — The False Spiral Empyrean [The World Champion of Niflheim]

Wishful Mercí bore the appearance of an archetypical angelic being of remarkable grace and elegance. The Player was clad in white, silken robes, overlayed by intricate, glittering silver and grey armor. They were interwoven majestically, granting him the divine form of both scholarly wisdom and martial prowess. At his waist was a tome of great significance, its dark cover embellished with metallic beveling that glistened in the light. The cover depicted a triangle with all three points enclosed in a circle, a symbol of profound significance to those who knew its meaning. Though he was an Aerosphere, Wishful Mercí was no ordinary angel. He was neither of the pure white nor of the darkened fallen, like the rest of his brethren. He was a grey angel, one with twelve ashen wings that extended from his back. Above his head hovered a stark grey halo, a symbol of his otherworldly power and authority.

This duality extended to his weapons. The angelic warrior held two spears, one made of brilliant, golden marble that glimmered with a divine radiance. The other was a bident with a deep crimson hue, featuring a clear double-helical shape that ran the length of its shaft. The double-helical shape was tightly coiled before gradually splitting apart to form two sharpened tines. They were a holy and cursed weapon, respectively.

An angel he may be, but he was quite the terror on the battlefield. Wishful Mercí possessed an unrivaled mastery of flight combat, enabling him to effectively dominate the battlefield regardless of whether it was in the sky or on the ground. When fighting against him, his dual spearmanship was so incredible that it was often likened to battling two opponents at once, leaving little hope for any opponent to match his prowess in a direct confrontation.

Touch Me couldn't help but chuckle along. His eyes swept over the group before drifting to one of the two remaining Players who had remained silent throughout.

Of course, he knew that for one of them, it wasn't strictly by choice.

"It's never a dull moment with him, huh, V-san?" Said Touch Me.

The Player, Elementum V, nodded.

Elementum V – Lvl: 100 — The Nine Sage Elementalist [The World Champion of Asgard]

Sitting in his seat, though it would be more appropriate to say floating above where he sat, was the World Champion of Asgard. His posture was that of perfect alignment, his crossed legs in a meditative stance as he levitated in a manner that defies earthly bounds. A vibrant set of martial robes adorned him in a way that was both striking and comforting, the fabric draping elegantly over his sculpted frame. The robes was open at the center, revealing a glimpse of his chiseled chest, and the material seems to caress him with a palpable sense of ease. A hood conceals his face, save for two radiant golden orbs that serve as his eyes, glistening with an otherworldly energy. He wielded a pair of powerful and intricate-looking golden gauntlets, each adorned with delicate silver accents that ran down their sides. At the knuckles of one gauntlet was the ornament of a dragon, while the other bears the likeness of a tiger, each symbolizing a different facet of his power.

Surrounding him in an 'X' formation were numerous orbs, each pulsating with a unique color and elemental force. They seem to hum with an almost tangible energy, representing fire, water, lightning, earth, wind, ice, and more - each one a potent force in its own right.

Elementum V didn't verbally respond, not due to a lack of desire but rather because he couldn't. The Player was mute. A screen appeared with text on it, for this was how he communicated, along with liberal usage of emoticons to help convey what he wanted to say. He showed Touch Me an emoticon shaking his head and another one laughing with its hand waving.

Touch Me chuckled, catching the meaning.

"Oi! I heard that! Touch-san, V-san; I see you two conspiring over there. What the heck are you two up to, hmmmm?!" Duskindal popped in, bringing the conversation to them and everyone involved.

For the moment, all was going well as the Players chatted and enjoyed themselves. A levity that lasted until their final member made his presence known.

"Shut up." A voice growled. "You're all annoying."

Touch Me's smile quickly dampened upon hearing this. The whole mood of the room dipped; the once-amiable atmosphere was replaced with something more strained.

All eyes turned to the final occupant. A single Player sat all by his lonesome in the far corner, content to ignore the world around him. Until now.

He was undoubtedly the most well-known and contentious of the World Champions. A name all knew of and echoed by all in scorn and fear alike. The Archfiend, Luciferno.

Luciferno — The Calamitous King of Wrath [The World Champion of Múspellsheim]

For one to bear such a fearsome reputation, his character model more than complemented his image. Luciferno was a formidable sight to behold. His avatar held a sharp and predatory visage that was a cross of both the demonic and the draconic, with slit eyes of pale gold and a permanent cold sneer etched on his face. His neck revealed fur, spiked and coarse, that appeared to be made of blackened scales with crimson marks. Two menacing and sharp forward-facing horns protrude from the parietal ridge of its head, adding to the demon's intimidating appearance.

Luciferno's frame was mostly concealed by his tough obsidian and crimson wings, which seemed to wrap around the draconic demon like impenetrable armor. Despite their dull crimson hue, they emitted a blistering heat just below the surface, as if they were on the brink of igniting at any moment. Peering through the small gaps in the wings, one could catch glimpses of the rest of the demon's attire. He wore a heavy set of armor, dyed with muted bronze and brass tones and tinged with bleeding gold. The shoulder guards and chest piece were adorned with the striking design of a vicious sharp-toothed, devouring maw, encapsulating the edge of the armor. A pitch-black mantle hung from his broad shoulders, appearing as if it was crafted from the darkest recesses of the night. The sigil of a sun with three claw marks slashed across it, his emblem, was emblazoned on the back of the cloak. Lastly, a bright, blood-red halo floated above his head, bearing a crest that represented his sin: the Crown Sin of Wrath.

His infamy started well before his rise as a World Champion. Before Luciferno was a World Champion, he was among the few who possessed the ultra-rare caster class: [World Disaster]. A powerful job class that was considered the magic caster equivalent of [World Champion]. However, that wasn't enough for him.

It remains a mystery as to why he relinquished his former title of "World Disaster" and embraced the path of a warrior. Nevertheless, he proved his exceptional skill and ferocity to the world when he ascended as the World Champion of Múspellsheim.

However, what truly cemented his notoriety throughout the nine realms was his transformation into a World Enemy by means of a World Item. This transformation resulted in him becoming one of the Lords of the Seven Deadly Sins, specifically the Lord Sin of Wrath.

A feat all considered impossible and inconceivable until he went and did it. An achievement that has never been seen or replicated ever since. Only Luciferno possessed the secret of how it could be done and which World Item was required, but that was a secret he would take to his grave.

Luciferno's skill and strength were already insane due to him being a World Champion. As a World Enemy, his power rose to heights beyond measure.

Luciferno's appearance now was a downsized version of his true form. In his true boss form, he was colossal in scope and wreathed in hellish fire that burned the very air itself. Although it wasn't present, he was known to wield two devastating weapons, one in each hand. One was a gigantic, twisted black sword engraved with blasphemous runes that glowed with an unholy light. The second was an enormous, wicked waraxe forged of bronze and brass with chainsaw-like blades running down the weapon's edge.

He couldn't even be considered a Player anymore, as evident by his lack of a level indicator and his unique red gamertag, and was more like a natural disaster given form.

And rounding out their ensemble was none other than the self-proclaimed Hero of Justice himself:

Touch Me – Lvl: 100 — The Silver Paladin of Justice [The World Champion of Álfheim]

And so, on this day of the 9th and final World Champion Tournament, all eight World Champions were gathered together at last.

Back when Luciferno joined them in the VIP room, all of them couldn't hold back their surprise at seeing the World Champion of Múspellsheim present and accounted for. This was due to Luciferno's propensity of leaving as soon as the ceremony was concluded or avoiding the event in its entirety altogether.

With such a departure from the norm, they could only assume that the GMs or developers had a hand in this.

The others glanced at one another in quiet uncertainty. His presence presented a dilemma for the World Champions. Due to his prickly attitude and reputation, he was a stifling individual to be around. He kept to himself, keeping silent behind a veil of contempt, almost as if it physically ails him to interact with others and any attempts were met with caustic responses. He embodied the very definition of antisocial and reminded Touch Me of a more extreme version of Ulbert.

As such, the group often resolved this issue by allowing him his space and choosing not to bother him.

Most of the time anyhow, as in this moment, however, a certain playful assassin was feeling particularly bold.

"Well, isn't this a surprise?"

'Oh no...' The other World Champions had the same thought as they watched Duskindal make his merry way over to Luciferno. They already knew that what was going to happen was going to go poorly.

"He speaks! And here, I thought we might've had two mimes in our colorful troupe instead of one. Meaning no offense, of course, V-san."

Elementum V flashed an emoticon flicking its hand dismissively and a second one giving a thumbs up, showing that he didn't take any offense.

"How've you been, ol' buddy, ol' pal, ol' chum, ol' dilio? We haven't heard from you in ages! You never write, never call, or anything! Why, it's almost like you hate us or something!" His tone was light and teasing.

Duskindal plopped onto the seat next to Luciferno, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and bringing the two closer.

The walking disaster didn't waste a single second, smacking the offending arm away with a growl of utter contempt. He grabbed Duskindal by the front and violently yanked him out of his seat, throwing the World Champion of Helheim out of his seat and onto the floor.

Despite being on the receiving end of such aggression, Duskindal remained nonchalant.

"Well, that was rude." He quipped from his position on the floor.

The manufactured World Enemy loomed over Duskindal, glaring balefully down at the assassin.

"Don't. Fucking. Touch. Me." He snarled, emphasizing every word with unrestrained disdain.

"That's quite enough."

Touch Me stepped forward, standing between them.

The World Champion of Álfheim and Múspellsheim confronted one another, Touch Me with a firm stare, and Luciferno with a withering scowl.

Behind him, Elementum V offered his hand and pulled Duskindal back up to his feet. The rest watched, silent but cautious, just in case something were to break out.

"Duskindal-san." Touch Me softly chided without turning his gaze away from the demon lord.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. That's on me. Sorry." The stealthy World Champion easily conceded, throwing both hands in surrender and backing away.

"Luciferno-san. While Duskindal-san was partially in the wrong, that doesn't mean you're in the right for what you did either. The issue could've been resolved by simply talking it out."

"What gives you the right to order me around, trash?" Luciferno hissed, jutting one of his bladed fingers harshly against Touch Me's smooth chest plate.

"I'm merely voicing an alternative." The silver paladin offered smoothly. "There's no need for hostility between peers here."

A tense and silent stare-down unfolded between the two World Champions. Neither of them gave in to the other's intense gaze, both standing tall and firm. They were like two towering titans, each refusing to back down.

Touch Me could feel the heat behind the vitriolic glare oozing from the Sin of Wrath, yet he weathered it like it was nothing. Compared to what he faced for years on a daily basis from his best frenemy, Ulbert Alain Odle, he'd certainly faced worse than a scornful Player. Even one as powerful as a World Enemy.

Luciferno broke first, after what felt like a small eternity. He let out a contemptuous scoff, his gaze sweeping over him and the others briefly. He turned away, purposely smacking the silver knight's shoulder in a show of contempt as he pushed past Touch Me.

"If it weren't for Zelretch threatening me with deleting my account, I wouldn't have bothered being in the same room as you waste of fucking space." He said this, glancing over his shoulder. His pale golden eyes held nothing but contempt for not only Touch Me but the rest of the World Champions.

A palpable tension filled the air as the Heteromorphic Player's words provoked glares and frowns from the other World Champions. Luciferno, unbothered by their reactions, sauntered to the opposite side of the room to take a seat. He paid them no mind, as if they were ants beneath his feet, beneath his notice.

Right, that was another thing that worked against him. The man simply held absolutely no respect for anyone.

Much of his notoriety stemmed from the fact that Luciferno was exceedingly arrogant, insufferably so, valuing a Player's worth solely on their skill and strength in the game. Those weaker than him or those whom he perceived as inferior, he callously disregarded them completely, and he wasn't afraid to let it be known. Not even his fellow World Champions could measure up in his eyes.

He wasn't afraid to run his mouth, but galling as it was to admit, Luciferno had the power and skills to back up his massive ego. Especially in the case of when he emerged as a World Enemy and needed a literal army to challenge him.

Of course, that made him no less of an jerk to interact with.

It was futile to admonish him, for he'd been like this for years now. It was highly doubtful that he would start changing his attitude any time soon.

Luciferno found a new seat and made himself comfortable. He resumed his prior activity of brooding in his little corner while gazing out the window at the world below.

The rest of the World Champions congregated closer to the center of the room and settled in, watching through the mirrors that overlooked the stage and the audience below. In the end, the group settled on an unspoken and tentative compromise.

Following that, the atmosphere settled back into its normal quiet as sparse conversation and chatter were stirred up by the seven World Champions. Most of it was catching up with one another and passing the time while they waited for the tournament's official commencement.

Minutes passed before it reached a certain topic of discussion.

"So, who's your guy's bet on the finalist?" LichtKing prompted.

It was a common question to propose, and each year they made it into a small game. They would place wagers and pick out Players they'd like or believe might make it as finalists, or even who might win and join them as the next World Champion.

The conversation quickly shifted, with each World Champion picking out several names from the roster based on who they believed had the best chance at winning. Some were well-known names within the PvP sphere that Touch Me readily recognized. Others were former contenders in previous World Champion Tournaments or powerful Players in their own rights. Additionally, there were a few names that were new and mysterious sprinkled in. Shirou and Warrior Takemikazuchi's names were brought up once or twice as well, to his hidden approval.

"What about you, Touch Me-san?" Elementum V said, or rather, typed out.

"For myself, I would say perhaps either Emiya-san or Warrior Takemikazuchi-san has the greatest chance of entering the final or winning this thing altogether." He answered without a shred of hesitation. Unlike the others who pondered for a bit before giving their answers, Touch Me's was immediate and held the utmost confidence in his decision.

"Really? It wouldn't be because you just so happen to be in the same guild and close friends, would it?" LichtKing quirked a knowing smile, calling the paladin out on his bias.

"Perhaps." Touch Me returned with a cheeky hum, shrugging.

"I can see Warrior Takemikazuchi-san having a good chance of winning. I fought against him in the finals of our tournament and he was very skilled. However, he did become a bit impatient and greedy towards the end, which gave me the opportunity I needed to win instead of him." ShikiHime reminisced, revealing their shared history.

Touch Me nodded, all too familiar with his rival's habits.

"He's probably only gotten better since last time. As for Emiya-san, I can't say much for or against him since I barely know the man besides hearsay." She said.

"His reputation speaks clearly of his repertoire and persistence. Though he's more well known in the PKing sphere than in the PvP sphere. It'll be quite interesting to see him fight in a tournament setting. And who knows, perhaps we'll finally have an answer to the mystery surrounding him." Wishful Mercí deposited.

"You mean, finding out if he's the real deal or just another cheat?" Belladonna bluntly added, and in one of her hands, she twirled a thin glass of champagne.

Wishful Mercí offered a wordless, slim nod. A round of divisive murmurs was brought forth, spreading quickly amongst them as they jumped right into the topic.

Touch Me leaned back into his comfortable seat with a small, unseen smile on his lips. He listened in on the others polite but animated debate. The sight of which never fails to rouse a sense of sly amusement within him, for he was among the trusted few that knew the truth.

It wasn't merely Shirou's actions and character that perpetuated him as a controversial figure within the YGGDRASIL community, although they did play a heavy factor. One of the most debated topics regarding his capacity as a Player lies in the layers of mystery that surround his abilities and his build. To this day, the true nature and inner workings of the Player Killer's build remain a highly contested subject.

It was in human nature, when faced with the inexplicable, to fall back on normal convention. To assign clarity, to give understanding to that which defies the previous convention. It was how humans coped and felt in control.

And when it came to the Player simply known as Emiya, whose build flew in the face of YGGDRASIL's established mechanics, he was no exception.

Countless wild theories have sprung up over the years, with each trying to find some measure of an explanation as to how his build works and how he was able to do what he could. One of the earliest and more popular hypotheses was that his ability to summon and fire off powerful weapons with devastating effects and vastly unique skills was due to him spamming cash items. He masks their summoning behind a special effect, making it appear as if he's responsible for it. An expensive method, to be sure, but plausible.

Another speculation proposed was that he would respec his entire build regularly, hence explaining why varying encounters with the Player Killer revealed different play styles and methodologies in his combat. Such a theory fell off sometime later as more conflicting proof surfaced.

Many different explanations have come and gone over the years, but none have ever gotten close to scratching the surface that was the true depth of Shirou's ability. There have been many who have tried to replicate his build in the past. All of which failed. His build was too fluid, too diverse. Not even the best min-max build had come close to emulating even a fraction of what the Player Killer had shown, let alone copying him. A fact that has stumped many forum posts and Players and left them with little to do but theory-crafting.

Currently, the most widely accepted assumption was that his unique abilities and magic were derived from unique job classes that came from either a special reward for beating a World Enemy, uncovering an exclusive, one-of-a-kind secret, or perhaps even a World Item. That was the only rationale that lends credence to categorizing and explaining Shirou's diverse arsenal and quite frankly busted playstyle.

Simply put, the very nature of his unprecedented build should be theoretically and logistically impossible to create in YGGDRASIL, and yet it does. There was none other like him in all of YGGDRASIL. In a game that valued diversity over power, he was a true jack of all trades and a master of all.

He was an anomaly; he shouldn't exist in the game.

"Maybe there's no trick to it. Maybe it's just all magic." Touch Me weighed in.

Everyone looked at him.

"Magic..." Belladonna repeated with a touch of incredulity. "Do you mean the game's tier magic system, or are you referring to actual magic, as in magic magic?"

Touch Me hummed and offered a noncommittal shrug.

"I wasn't aware that you dabbled in being a comedian, Touch Me-san." The Fel Elf deadpanned and dismissed. "I know that the two of you are friends, but if you're going to lie on his behalf, at least make it a believable one."

"Everything in this world is magic, except to the magician." Duskindal whimsically quoted aloud. "We throw around powerful spells, slay monsters and gods, and discover land beyond our imaginations. Maybe he is cheating, but none of us can prove it now, can we? So who's to say he's not performing magic after all? He's the magician on stage, and we're the audience, bewitched by his tricks. Perhaps he's a cheater, or maybe he knows something we all don't. A good magician never reveals his secret after all."

The others looked at him, mulling over his words and genuinely giving it a second thought.

There was one, however, who was not swept up in the assassin's poetics.

"I would still call it cheating if the tricks they're using are so outlandish that they go against the convention of the game. Even in fiction, rules exist. However, I won't care to pretend that I know exactly how he does what he does. But I must admit that he must be doing something right, unlike a certain charlatan." Belladonna remarked, eyeing the Demi-human Player.

"Are you harping on me on that?" Duskindal sighed dramatically. "We can play with words all day if you'd like, Bell-chan, but I've never broken the rules of the game."

"I would call that a technicality." She countered poignantly.

"I'd call that a skill issue." He smugly returned.

A brief stint of tensed quietness settled over the room as the two locked eyes.

"You forget yourself. The only reason you're even a World Champion in the first place is because you were the first. That's all. Don't mistake being first for being the best, you vacuous lout." The Fel Elf hissed, dredging up an old memory.

Years ago, when the first World Champion Tournament was announced, there existed a small bug at the time. A completely inconsequential glitch that, had no one stumbled across it, likely would have remained undetected for an untold number of years. Duskindal happened upon it by complete chance and, through numerous trial and error, found that he could use it as a small exploit. It was utterly useless in any other situation, but he found a use for it and entered the tournament. It provided him with the slimmest edge over the competition, allowing him to work his way through the preliminary rounds and eventually won the tournament with its help. Thus, Duskindal was crowned the first-ever World Champion of YGGDRASIL.

However, the tale doesn't end there. After he had won, many skeptics reviewed the vlogs of the tournament with a fine-tooth comb and noted an odd inconsistency during his matches. The glitch was subsequently discovered and reported on. In less than a day, it was hot-fixed by the developers.

Due to the unlawful nature of his victory, the developers quickly got in touch with him. The matter was kept behind closed doors, and only those involved knew the truth of what transpired.

The developers threatened to not just to revoke his title and delete his account but also to permaban him entirely from YGGDRASIL. With his head on the chopping block, he was intensely interviewed, and at the end, they asked him one final question. A question that would determine his fate. If he had the choice, would he have done it again, knowing the potential repercussions?

If Duskindal was to be believed when he shared with the others what went down, he didn't even hesitate as he answered with a resolute yes.

He then went on and launched into a counterpoint where the exploit only existed due to their oversight on the developer's part, which led to the spaghetti coding in the first place. He spoke of how they were just as guilty as him, and he took it a step further by arguing that the developers should be thanking him for having been the one to discover it in the first place and bring it to their attention. Or else someone else might have discovered it with a more malicious intent in mind in comparison to him.

Duskindal boldly declared himself innocent. He neither purposely tampered with the game's codes nor did he use an external source.

The glitch only worked under specific circumstances, and it was far from game-breaking. Like everything else in YGGDRASIL, he saw something that could work to his advantage and sought it in his favor. He bent the rules, yes, but he did not explicitly break them according to the terms of service.

As the saying goes, "Don't hate the player, hate the game."

Whether or not Duskindal spoke the full, impartial truth about what truly happened, a simple fact remained. The developers allowed him to retain his status as a World Champion.

The decision in question was highly controversial and caused a great deal of commotion within various online communities and forums. Many clamored and raged that he was a no-good cheater, undeserving of the title and honor that came with being a World Champion. Yet, even without the exploit, many would be hard-pressed to deny his skill as a Player, even if he was the clear weakest amongst his fellow World Champions.

Of course, many weren't going to forget or forgive so easily.

"Y'ouch. Kitties got her claws out today." Duskindal purred like a cat, his fingers scratching with a gesture. "Always singling me out. Why, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you're doing it on purpose to get my attention."

He gasped as if some important revelation had struck him.

"Could it be? Could our previous Bell-chan be a tsun-tsun?"

He leaned forward; an impish-looking emoticon appeared over his avatar, wiggling its eyebrow.

The temperature of the room dropped as a wave of frigid vexation radiated off of Belladonna. Punctuated further by a glaring emoticon, mirroring the Player's own, leveled solely on the grinning assassin.

"Your rotted mind must have deteriorated more than I thought to even think of, let alone entertain such a despicable and banal idea as that. That I would possibly find you, a cretinous and deluded ill-suited reprobate such as yourself, as desirable, why the mere idea of it alone makes my stomach churn!" The elf let out a presumptuous huff, venom practically spitting from her tongue as she turned her nose to him with a gaze reserved for those she viewed as lower than dirt.

Duskindal playfully flinched backward, sucking in a sharp breath with his knees buckling and weak as a hand grabbed the railing to keep himself from collapsing. His other hand nursed over his heart, clutching his chest.

"Why, what a devilishly lashing tongue you have, Bell-chan. My, my, makes me wonder what else it can do~" He purred, leaning forward unintimidated.

"Remove your vapid delusions from my sight. Continue speaking in such a manner to me, you utterly myopic simpleton, and I'll show exactly what I'm capable of." The Fel Elf vowed darkly, flexing her gilded claws. The female World Champion rose from her seat, meeting his challenge.

"Get a room, you two!" ShikiHime blandly called out from the sidelines, sparking amused chuckles from the others. "I swear it's always the same shit between Miss Thesaurus and Sir Dumbass over there. Those two bicker more than married couples."

"You can't deny that it ain't fun to watch. I swear, there's more sexual tension between two people that'll never meet than any I've seen from those romantic dramas and shows my mother used to binge-watch." LichtKing snickered, drawing Belladonna's ire and Duskindal's smirk.

Touch Me couldn't help but agree. Duskindal and Belladonna were at each other's throats more often than Touch Me and Ulbert were, and that was saying a lot.

Before anything else could happen, the sound of clapping, courtesy of Wishful Mercí, rang out, calling for attention.

A message popped up from Elementum V that simply read, "Why don't we get back on track?" He asked politely, helping the grey angel reign in the matter before it veered off track even further.

Belladonna harrumphed in typical fashion, flickering her hair at him as she turned away, while Duskindal blew her a kiss and waved ta-ta.

"Back on topic, that's quite the confidence, Touch Me-san. You wouldn't happen to know something we don't? In that case, mind sharing it with the rest of the class?" LichtKing unabashedly asked him, seizing the conversation. His curiosity was shared by a few of the others too, who wanted to know the secret.

"And spoil the surprise? Why, I'd never! Where's the fun in that?" Touch Me said, gasping playfully.

"Aww, come on, Touch Me-san! Lighten up a little; we're all friends here!" Duskindal joked, coming over and throwing his hand onto the paladin's shoulder. "Also, aren't you supposed to be a hero? Heroes are supposed to help people out, so throw us a bone here!"

Touch Me chuckled.

"Apologies, but my lips are sealed. But I'm sure you'll have your answer soon enough when you see Emiya-san in action with your own eyes."

"Spoilsport." Duskindal pouted.

Intrigue aside, the other World Champions were indeed curious. Despite Touch Me's biases coloring his words and credibility, they all knew that the heroic paladin was never one to hand out flattery readily or exaggerate easily.

If Touch Me vouched for Shirou and held the utmost confidence in his friends, impartiality or not, that was not something to halfheartedly dismiss. Which only made them all the more curious to see him in action and whether the mystery surrounding him held any kernel of truth, and if the Player could live up to his fearsome reputation.

A loud mocking scoff echoed, drawing all the World Champion's attention as, for the first time, Luciferno graced the conversation with his presence.

"Is something the matter?" Touch Me questioned.

"If you believe that all it'll take is a few parlor tricks and a gimmick to win a World Champion Tournament, then the whole thing went to shit faster than I thought. Either you've gone senile in your old age, or you're more of a sentimental fool than I thought."

Touch Me cheeks crinkled upon hearing this. If the silver paladin took offense to the World Enemy's words he didn't show it. If anything, the World Champion of Álfheim was amused more than anything else.

"Perhaps. One can never know how these matches will go." He willingly conceded. "But maybe he might just surprise you. As the saying goes, it ain't over until it's over. I suppose we'll have to wait and see who's right at the end."

In the face of Touch Me's overwhelming optimism, Luciferno clicked his tongue in disgust, dismissing him as he turned back away.

With the minor intrusion settled, the group continued with their conversation for some time until, finally, a loud announcement was made. The tournament was to resume on schedule.

The World Champions took their seats, making themselves comfortable as the opening match of the tournament kicked off.

'Best of luck to both of you.'

Touch Me offered a silent prayer, wishing them fortune and luck in the fights to come.


[—][—][—][—][—][—][—][—][—]


Unbeknownst to everyone, the cause of the tournament's delay was due to one individual. When the Players were teleported away from the arena, Shirou did not follow after Warrior Takemikazuchi and the rest of the competitors. Instead, he was appeared elsewhere.

The moment he appeared in the room, he tensed up. His eyes surveyed his new surroundings, taking note of everything.

He appeared in a well-furnished room, quaint and comfortable, exuding an old-world charm. The chamber was devoid of any doors or windows, instilling a sense of seclusion and tranquility. The walls were draped with an assortment of colorful curtains and tapestries, each displaying a unique pattern and iconography from different cultures and regions, making it an amalgamation of diverse art and culture. There were two small tables near him, one adorned with pitchers and chalices, while the other stood in the center with two extravagant chairs and a plate of delicacies, including sliced fruits, berries, nuts, figs, and other snacks. The room was cluttered with an array of miscellaneous objects, yet far from being disordered, which gave it a sense of organized chaos.

Shirou's lips pressed into a thin line, wondering just where exactly he was.

"No need to be so tensed."

Shirou froze.

He didn't sense another presence in here with him until the voice spoke up. However, what shook him wasn't the fact that he was caught off-guard but rather who the voice belonged to.

Slowly, he turned around, his mind racing at a greater speed than his body.

Ever since Shirou received that second [Message] from Zelretch, he has been waiting for the opportunity to meet and talk with him again. He waited on pins and needles for the follow-up. Only, it never came. Fast forward to the day of the World Champion Tournament, he had put the matter aside until that was taken care of first. Even with his public appearance at the arena, Zelretch didn't so much as glance in the magus's direction.

Shirou figured that their long-awaited meeting would happen later rather than sooner.

Only for Zelretch to surprise him yet again.

At the back of the room lay a desk littered with stacks of books, papers, and scrolls on it. The wall behind it was lined with numerous bookshelves that were overflowing with books. And there, sitting down with a pair of reading glasses and reading some large and thick tome, was the originator of it all.

Shirou felt his throat constrict as he laid eyes on the Wizard Marshall.

Zelretch took his eyes off of what he was reading and slowly, without any sense of hurry, took off his reading glasses and gently stood up.

Their eyes met, and for a moment, the world halted.

No longer was Zelretch only a memory in his mind or just a figure in the distance that he could see.

There they stood, two relics of a bygone era, the last of their kind, face-to-face at last after almost a decade.

"Hello, Shirou. It's been some time, hasn't it?"

"Zelretch…"


Omake: Alternative Summoning's II

"Heart, love, and hope combine; Magical Girl Prisma Illya is here to save the day!" A cute voice cried out.

"Oh god, I really am cursed..." Shirou let out a long, suffering sigh with his head in his hands.

Normally, he would be surprised, if not happy, to see a familiar face. In this situation, he would've taken anyone else. Literally anyone. Even Gilgamesh. Anything than what he had in front of him in that moment.

Drawing himself up, he looked at the Caster Servant.

Illya, she looked almost like he last remembered her, but she was clearly better. She looked joyful and was smiling, which was a good thing in his opinion. What wasn't good was that she was dressed petitely in a school uniform, complete with backpack and everything, with that accursed pink Kaleidostick in hand.

By herself, it wasn't a problem. The problem came from the fact that it wasn't just Illya.

Shirou's eyes swept over the other Servants.

Berserker was a young girl, short of height, and dressed in bright blue women's overalls, some boots, and nothing else... The only normal part about her was her weapon, a chainsaw. Paul Bunyan.

Lancer took the form of a young girl that bore a striking resemblance to a certain pink, blindfolded Rider and was dressed in risqué armor that showed off her skin, far more than he would like. The tight red collar around her neck didn't help his case either. Medusa.

Rider was little better, being another youthful young girl dressed in a simple maid uniform with roller skates of all things and a school backpack just like Illya. The giant mechanical arms were a unique touch, but that seemed only to highlight her petite stature. Leonardo Da Vinci

The worst offender would be Assassin, who was yet another young girl garbed in loose royal-colored robes that barely draped over her body and revealed as much, if not more, of her body than Lancer. Wu Zetian.

Yeah... There was a clear theme here, and everyone, Shirou especially, could see it.

He turned to his friends to explain himself before any misunderstanding could crop up.

Only to find Momonga with a phone held to his ears.

"Moshi moshi..."

Before Shirou could get a word out, the massive door of the Throne Room was violently kicked open.

Jolting, he hastily turned around to see Touch Me and Ulbert with policeman hats on their heads at the entrance.

Also, why was he hearing police sirens all of a sudden?!

"You disgust me! Is this how you get your sick kicks?!" Touch Me practically teleported to Shirou's side, grabbing one of his arms and forcing it behind his back.

"W-what?! No! W-wwait! It's not what it looks like!" Shirou exclaimed.

"That's what they always say. Tell it to the judge, bub! Come on!" Ulbert took up the other side and did the same with his other arm.

Shirou was escorted out by Touch Me and Ulbert. His struggle and cries for help fell on deaf ears as the rest watched on as he was taken away.

"So that's what he's into..."

Peroroncino shuddered.

His head snapped to the side to find his sister rubbing her hands together; an ominous aura hung over the pick slime.

"Hehehe. It's perfect. I'll be a good little girl for you, Shirou-onii-chan... Hehehehehe..." Bukubukuchagama cackled in her cutesy voice.

Peroroncino gulped and clapped his hands together.

'Eroge gods, please watch over Emiya-senpai! Don't let him go to the other side!' The guild's resident degenerate prayed.

He could do nothing but offer a silent prayer to his senpai, should he survive that was.


Character Sheet Stat Screen:

Assassin - Lvl: 100 (True Name: Jack the Ripper)

Title: Sweet Innocent Killer

Job: NPC Servant to Emiya

Resident: The Great Tomb of Nazarick; can travel with summoner

Alignment: Chaotic Evil. Sense of Justice: -400.

Race: Heroic Spirit

Racial Level:

[Wraith]: 5 Lvl

Job Level:

[Assassin]: 15 Lvl

[Cutthroat]: 10 Lvl

[Expert]: 10 Lvl

[Stalker]: 10 Lvl

[Nightmare]: 5 Lvl

[Anti-Hero]: 5 Lvl

[Other]: 40 Lvl

Total: Racial level: 5 + Job level: 95 = 100 level

Ability Chart:

HP: 65

MP: 52

Phy ATK: 60

Phy DEF: 51

Agility: 100+

Mag ATK: 25

Mag Def: 33

Resist: 90

Special: 100+

Total Stats: 576+


Author's Note:

It's been a while since I last did one of these and I miss them. Hopefully my writing has rusted too much and you all can find something to enjoy about the chapter.

To begin, I've been out of the loop for both Fate and Overlord fandom for a while now. Like everything else, my interest kind of fell to the wayside, especially when it came to Overlord. I haven't been able to enjoy the series all that much when trying to get back into it. The recent Overlord volumes have been a hit or miss, the anime was stripped down, and so forth. I've been trying to keep up, but most of the time it's skimming the fandom wiki, talking with some friends on it, or sporadic pieces of media. So if anything new or consequential has been added in the time I wrote this and it conflicts with what's here, that's why.

Regarding the World Champion and World Champion Tournament, not much is known besides the barebone. So, this allowed us to have some leeway with how I wanted to try and write it. I especially had fun with writing and designing some of the characters to give a bit more diversity to the roster.

And before anyone asks, for the character of Luciferno, he's based on the World Champion of Múspellsheim in the Overlord WN that became a World Enemy. I remember reading that on the wiki several years ago and found it cool and wanted to incorporate it into the story. Is it a bit absurd writing him as he is, yes, but there's always that one player in that one game or MMORPG that hordes the best class and gear or super min-max to be the absolute best in the game, and the character of Luciferno takes that idea and runs with it. He's probably not going to be a major plot point or something to shake up the setting and more as a neat addition and a bit of world building.

If it hasn't been obvious by now, most to all of the decisions made in the story where something seems different or doesn't fit the canon of the series stems from me thinking, 'Huh, this would be kind of cool.' or, 'What if this happens or this is added.' For better or for worse.

But yea, that's all I have to say. I wrote more than I thought getting back into it and I missed how fun it is to just write down my thoughts on what went into writing the chapter. I hoped it remained enjoyable.

Next Chapter: The 9th World Champion Tournament II