Chapter 1

Part 1

The clashing of metal against metal rang out, echoing against the walls, repeated regularly, almost rhythmically. The trained ear might notice a bit of variation across strikes, some hits lighter, others heavier, but even an amateur adventurer could broadly classify it as the ringing of two blades.

Though there were several individuals contributing to the metallic orchestra, the great skill with which each weapon was being swung resulted in an unexpectedly proper percussive performance as equally-matched individuals repeatedly exchanged blows, their match more a dance with blades than a battle to the death.

On one side, five individuals fought with a door to their back, denying entry to any attempting to pass through without sufficient strength.

At the front, there was a massive Knight over two meters tall, wielding a tower shield and flamberge scaled proportionally to its own height. Next to it was a slightly shorter, less armored, but far more heavily armed Warrior, an axe in one hand, large warhammer in the other, and half a dozen other assorted weapons strapped to various locations on its body.

Directly behind these two was an Assassin wielding two broadswords as if they were featherweight daggers, followed by a Wizard and Priest, dressed in black robes with crimson details, regal but for their tattered appearance, matching with the rough, decayed appearance of the rest of this group.

The five of them were collectively the model of a well-balanced adventurer party, if one were to ignore the fact that all five of them were already dead. Beneath helm and robe were the rotten visages of undead; behind gaps in armor were streaks running across their limbs like veins, though carrying a dark and fetid liquid not at all similar to fresh blood.

Unlike simple undead such as zombies or skeletons whose ability to comprehend orders was roughly limited to 'charge' and 'withdraw', this was a group created by one master, and were capable of fighting with coordination as if they shared one mind.

Even without the ability to exchange words, each moved with the understanding of how its allies would act at any point in time. If there was one consolation to the people who were forced to fight these nightmares, it was that these undead wouldn't act on anything they heard from somebody who wasn't their summoner. Whereas some liches might listen to and take advantage of their opponents, they were free to shout strategy in front of these without repercussions.

"Gagaran, from your right!" (Tia)

Hearing Tia's warning, Gagaran glanced away from the Death Knight to see the Death Assassin dashing towards her flank, a trail of black smoke drawing a trail as it leapt out from behind the shield to exploit an opening.

"Dammit!" (Gagaran)

She took a step back away from the reach of the huge shield, then parried the assassin's first sword with her own weapon, but felt the second dig a shallow cut into her side the next instant. The gray blade which seemed to melt into the darkness had perfectly found its way between two plates to her skin, leaving a long gash underneath, cutting the mail below and into skin.

Using a large two-handed weapon had its advantages, particularly when dealing with huge monsters with hides not easily penetrated by ordinary weapons, but her lack of a shield quickly turned into a severe vulnerability when facing multiple humanoid enemies wielding blades. Heavy armor helped to make up for that difference, though it was not a perfect solution against particularly powerful enemies.

Left alone the injury would heal quickly enough due to her armor's enchantments, but the gap created in that moment gave the Death Assassin plenty of time to prepare further attacks to other vital points.

Before it had the chance to do so, it was interrupted by a pair of flying daggers. The first of these it blocked by pulling back the sword it was about to strike with, the second by stepping back out of its path.

Immediately afterwards, it twisted to turn in place, vanishing from the spot and appearing a short distance away, its two blades intercepting Tina's knife from striking at the Death Priest in the rear lines.

Tina abandoned the attack as soon as it failed and tried to pull back into the shadows, but the Death Assassin wouldn't let her go so easily. Though avoiding or deflecting its stabs and slashes was just barely within her abilities, she couldn't find a free second to gain some distance from the attacker.

Each strike pushed her towards one corner of the corridor, next to the wooden door the undead had been blocking.

Currently, Gagaran was blocked by the Death Knight while Lakyus was holding back the Death Warrior, which was easily matching her with the Death Priest's support. Tia was providing support behind those two, but wouldn't be able to sneak past the two large vanguard undead in this narrow corridor.

She narrowly slipped out of the way of a stab from the Death Assassin's right-hand sword, receiving a thin gash across her cheek in the process. The height difference between the two added additional force on top of the monster's strength, which didn't lose out to the even larger Death Knights, on account of their being some of the most offensive-focused of similarly-leveled undead.

Attack after attack, Tina was backed towards the wall. She was experienced enough in combat to recognize the disadvantageous position she was pressed towards, yet not quite strong enough to fight her way out without support. Avoiding any critical damage took the entirety of her focus, leaving her no time to reposition away from the wall, or counterattack in any meaningful way.

Two swords wouldn't necessarily allow for faster attacks without adequate training, but in the case of undead whose entire existence was designed around using that skill, balancing to perfectly make use of both weapons despite lacking the biological functions necessary for a sense of balance.

The Death Assassin lunged towards her with both blades, which she dodged away from while parrying the attack. However, absorbing the weight of the huge undead predictably knocked her off balance. At the same time, the Death Assassin had thrown off its own form, so it was unable to counterattack, and also left vulnerable.

Yet, while Tina's three allies were currently occupied, the four other undead were not all being restrained. She had up until then fought while keeping the Death Assassin between herself and the two magic caster undead.

Until just now, since she had stepped away to see the Death Wizard looking directly at her, one hand raised and pointed in her direction.

A bolt of lightning shot out from its fingers in her direction while she was still in the air, traveling far faster than she could put up a shield technique to defend herself.

In quick succession, she was knocked to the side by the Death Assassin and electrocuted by the Death Wizard's [Lightning], only to be left paralyzed in the air.

Except, it didn't end there. Both she and her opponent originally had similar speed, and each would take roughly the same duration to regain their balance, but now she was frozen for an extra instant, while the Death Assassin was still free.

Adventurers were often forced to fight against monsters much stronger than themselves, wielding the advantage of cooperation and superior equipment. When those two were lost, hunting became a precarious balance where the slightest misstep carried grievous consequences.

Before anybody else in the room could respond, the same Death Assassin spun on its heel to drive a sword straight through her abdomen.

Her eyes were thrown open in shock, but could do little as the undead followed through with its swing, finishing the attack by throwing her away at a nearby wall.

With a brief scream cut short upon crashing into the hard stone, she collapsed onto the ground, a dark pool of crimson slowly growing underneath her.

"Tina!" (Lakyus)

Lakyus screamed out at the scene she had spotted out of the corner of her eye, swinging her demonic sword at the Death Warrior she was still fighting against, to which it crossed its two weapons to stop the hit, pushing the two of them apart briefly.

Spotting the gap between the two vanguard undead she had just forced open, she took one hand off her own sword to command each of the Floating Swords hovering around her shoulders towards the Death Wizard who had been left open.

By her command, the six enchanted blades shot towards the caster, flying by past the staggered Death Warrior's weapons at an angle where the Death Knight couldn't move to intercept them with its own shield.

Despite that, they were not fast enough to slip past the same Death Assassin who had rushed back to the center of their formation without stopping to admire its handiwork. Swinging its own dual swords in succession, it quickly deflected two of the projectiles before they could find their target, sending them straight into the ground.

Four did fly true to their target, although the first to find its mark instead hit a transparent barrier around the wizard, breaking the shield buff placed onto it by the nearby Death Priest, at the cost of losing its momentum and falling to the ground harmlessly.

Though only half of Lakyus's attack reached the target, three golden swords still found their way into the Death Wizard's rotten flesh, one striking each shoulder and a third burrowing into its chest. And yet, the undead merely scowled in irritation at having been damaged.

Not even the holy-element effect added to her attacks were particularly effective against many of the undead found here. Somehow, their primary weakness had been entirely negated – or perhaps she was simply not strong enough to deal meaningful damage to such powerful enemies even while exploiting a weakness of theirs.

Lakyus wasn't without any other trump cards, but none were ideal for fighting in a confined area, nor against the likes of undead which couldn't be affected by holy magic of the level she could cast.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the Death Warrior charging forward once again. Being out of position to properly dodge or parry the attack, she raised Kilineyram above her head to block its axe. The momentum behind the impact passed into her arm and spread through her entire body, yet even that wasn't enough to absorb the entire attack, and she slid backwards a meter across the ground before the two stopped, their respective weapons locked together.

A quick glance to the side revealed that while Gagaran was still able to stall the Death Knight for the moment, the situation was not stable. With Tia moving forward to take her sister's place against the Death Assassin, she would no longer be available to provide support by throwing out her ninja techniques towards the undead.

Where four struggled desperately, it was obvious what the inevitable outcome would be were they to continue fighting as a team of three against the same five opponents, especially after taking into account their getting tired while the undead continued to fight without fear or fatigue.

Worse, Tina was still injured and unreachable, on the ground unconscious and bleeding heavily from the stab wound the Death Assassin had inflicted onto her. It wasn't the most severe of fatal wounds, but placed them on a finite timer to finish, lest Lakyus be forced to resurrect her again only months after she and Gagaran finished recovering from their deaths at Jaldabaoth's magic.

With the Death Warrior charging towards her once again, Lakyus made the only choice she could to keep the party alive.

"We surrender!" (Lakyus)

She shouted, and the Death Warrior stopped in place, freezing its movements as if it was disjoint from the concept of momentum. Around her, the Death Knight had pulled back its shield, the Death Assassin withdrew its blades, and both the Death Wizard and Death Priest cancelled the spells they had been casting.

Each nodded their rotten heads, then turned away, walking straight into the stone wall, which promptly opened up to let them enter, before melding back into a solid barrier.

Without pausing, Lakyus ran forward to Tina's side.

Much like the Death Knight would create Squire Zombies from the enemies slain by its blade, the dual swords of a Death Assassin carried with them the power to interfere with healing the wounds it inflicts: 1st tier magic would lose its effect entirely, 2nd tier would recover with the effect of what 1st tier magic normally would, and so on.

Fortunately, Lakyus was capable of using [Heavy Recover], which would carry the effect of a 2nd tier spell after taking the curse into account, which should be sufficient for healing a fresh stab wound, provided the internal organs were relatively undamaged – the extremely sharp swords used by the Death Assassin easily satisfied that condition, passing in one side and out the other without tearing off too much unrelated flesh.

She set to work immediately, pressing her hands to Tina's stomach and casting her magic. The body lit up with a glow as the many scratches all on her skin quickly sealed, while the largest wound in the center slowly began to close.

Even though this was enough for a stopgap treatment, Tina would no doubt require additional treatment over the next couple days to allow her to recover the missing blood and ensure any broken bones were properly healed, but those few days should be plenty for a natural recovery. Adamantite-ranked adventurers were quite resilient, after all, at least by human standards.

With Tina's rough breathing beginning to smooth out and stabilize, Lakyus allowed herself to relax as well, after which the sentiment spread to the other two.

"What a ridiculous job we've gotten ourselves into…" (Gagaran)

Gagaran muttered while watching the scene, her own cuts and bruises slowly regenerating themselves by the enchantment on the gauntlets she wore.

"… We've been at it twice now, and the result is the same. These things are impossible. I don't see how we'll get past without magic support." (Tia)

"Ha, if only a lazy somebody would get off her ass and help out…" (Gagaran)

"… Oh? And who might you be referring to?"

Tia jumped up with one hand on her dagger, drawing it halfway from its sheath before getting a good look at the intruder.

"Damn, Keeno, where did you come from?" (Tia)

Keeno shrugged.

"You all seemed to be having such a fun time, I couldn't bring myself to interrupt." (Keeno)

"… Fun, she says. Just where did the stupidly defensive Evileye we all knew run off to…" (Tia)

"Well, as much as I hate to say it, there's really nothing better for training… at the end of the day, getting beaten up isn't as bad as actually dying, even if it does feel like we're bashing our heads against a wall for this." (Gagaran)

Gagaran muttered her own dissatisfaction alongside Tia, but in reality, the opportunity to practice fighting against powerful enemies without much risk of death was itself valuable.

"-But damn, those undead aren't normal, how the hell can anybody beat those?" (Gagaran)

"We've seen them before, haven't we? It's just, the power of the magic caster who summoned them, an environmental effect like that of an absurdly powerful druid… and probably a number of others I can't begin to imagine. They've been strengthened to a new level entirely, but in the end defeating them is the same, just keep hitting them until they stop moving." (Keeno)

"If only the boss's holy magic were to work like it should, it might be a different story." (Tia)

"Having fewer idiots running around swinging swords wildly is fine, but if it meant a hundred years from now, some divine magic caster on the level of Momon-sama comes around, they might well be grooming their own worst enemy. This place is meant to be for training, no doubt they understand the dangers of that as well. It's hardly surprising that the Sorcerer King wouldn't want to encourage it." (Keeno)

"Right, I can understand the reasoning, but it still doesn't feel right to think that we're going to be helping them to train up the next generation of E-Rantel's adventurers like this." (Gagaran)

"Work's dried up. It's basically down to this or retiring on our savings." (Keeno)

"… So she says, but it's another convenient excuse for her to stay in this city." (Tia)

Keeno looked over at Tia, unamused.

"I really mean it. While we were off marching around the Theocracy, I had some time to go looking around. Adventurer work in the Empire is pretty much down to just the plainest of goblin hunting, everything else has turned into work the Emperor throws to the borrowed undead army in the name of cooperative training… and they've still come out better." (Keeno)

Tia tilted her head and asked,

"How bad has it gotten in the Kingdom since we were last there, then?" (Tia)

"The whole guild's falling apart. Where the Empire has more or less managed to keep their branches of the guild under thumb and force them into working with the Sorcerous Kingdom, the Re-Estize Kingdom just lost its leading nobility twice. Most of them were never the sort to treat adventurers well from the start, and now guild branches in those cities are outright refusing to submit.

The guild is split down the middle, between the half convinced by the guildmaster from E-Rantel who are willing to fall under the Sorcerer King's proposed system, and the half insisting their guild is purely international and their own charter must still apply no matter what Raeven or the Princess try to say about it." (Keeno)

Tia's face briefly lit up in understanding.

"Ahh, now that you mention it…" (Tia)

"Right. I don't know whether they're just trying to prove they still have power in the Kingdom, but yes, only human species are able to hold adventurer rank, so they're blacklisting every demihuman or heteromorph registered in the Sorcerous Kingdom from working in the Kingdom. Except, they're also pushing to revoke the registration of the adventurer that is 'Evileye' for misrepresentation, or according to the extremists trying to show off, you're all liable by association." (Keeno)

"After everything that's gone on in the capital in these last few years, what the hell are they thinking?" (Gagaran)

Indeed, making this decision in the wake of Jaldabaoth's attacks on both the Re-Estize Kingdom and Holy Kingdom seemed nonsensical.

The Adventurer's Guild failed to properly subdue the self-proclaimed Demon Emperor, who went on to terrorize the Holy Kingdom, until he was twice defeated by the Sorcerer King and his agents. Immediately afterwards, the guild began to retaliate against the policies put forth by the Sorcerous Kingdom.

Even if these events occurred by coincidence and held no relation to the Guild's decision, they were nonetheless polarizing: Their leaders care only for maintaining their own positions; They care more for extorting money from their clients than providing for those adventurers who risk their lives on their behalf; They lack the means to adjust for changing times and continue providing work when circumstances change.

Having been placed in the position of being unable to defend against external threats, lacking money as soon as the Kingdom's nobility lost the means to pay for work, and generally having insufficient work for the adventurers they employed, the decision to double down on opposing the Sorcerous Kingdom who were busily advertising new work, training, and true 'adventure' for their own adventurers.

Under these circumstances, adding a seemingly political decision did nothing to improve the guild's failing reputation. To threaten and alienate the same Blue Rose who had become almost universally beloved in the capital seemed nonsensical to everybody who heard the claims the guild was making about them.

So strange was the choice to some that sections of the guild even went so far as to test lower members for the effects of charming magic, but to no avail.

"… What does the situation look like now, then?" (Tia)

"It's hard for me to say. The guild in the Kingdom is probably deep in the red, from the way the rewards they're offering have been dropping. Meanwhile, Raeven's cutting away the commissions the they would normally make to keep the Crown afloat for a while longer, but with how much they're having to spend on buying the Sorcerous Kingdom's grain, they're bound to go bankrupt before the Kingdom can recover on its own." (Keeno)

"So this is what it's like to watch your home country slowly dying…" (Lakyus)

Lakyus finally commented on their discussion, slowly standing up with a forlorn expression.

"How is she?" (Tia)

"Don't worry, Tina is stable. For now, she just needs some rest. Gagaran, could you carry her back up?" (Lakyus)

"Sure, I've got her. The way back to the entrance seems to be safe on the way back, anyway." (Gagaran)

"… Well, yeah." (Tia)

Gagaran easily lifted Tina's still-unconscious form. Any one of them had plenty of strength for the task, but it was natural that the one with the largest build would be the least constrained by crrying somebody else, so long as enemy attacks were not a concern.

With the exception of Lakyus, the other three walked through the dimly-lit corridors seemingly without a care in the world. It was only the party leader who remained on alert.

"I can't understand just how you can be so relaxed with the presence of undead all around us." (Lakyus)

The abilities of a priest gave Lakyus the ability to sense when undead were nearby. It wasn't unheard of for intelligent undead to seek out and possess artifacts which could deceive recognition, with Keeno's ring being a prime example. Nonetheless, it helped to identify the number of enemy presences around her. In this dungeon, that sense was constantly active as she felt dozens, perhaps even hundreds of assorted undead monsters filing around behind the walls surrounding them.

"Of course there are undead, but we're in a training ground with its own rules, and we've all already lost." (Keeno)

"… Hm? I get us, but when'd you lose? Where were you getting caught up while we were fighting?" (Tia)

"A couple minutes after you started, I entered as well, from the fourth floor. Those things you got clobbered by were swarming everywhere, fighting them alone is a pain, and even worse, half of them can just see through invisibility." (Keeno)

"So, not even the ancient vampire of legends can beat these things?" (Gagaran)

"No, they weren't the issue. There was a damned Night Lich at the end." (Keeno)

"… You're kidding. Those really exist?" (Gagaran)

"Of course they do, just not this far north, anymore. Last one got hunted down by the Theocracy's heroes over a century ago. Well, maybe I could beat a natural Night Lich as I am now, but with the same summon bonuses as the other undead in here? It wasn't even a fight." (Keeno)

Everybody looked shocked at Keeno's assertion.

"… Oi, oi, wait, was it that overwhelming?" (Gagaran)

"He was, but… no, I meant that literally… he said that his master was still busy constructing the next area, and turned me away at the door." (Keeno)

"-And once again the monsters from our legends are just ordinary Subordinate A… I don't know what we're supposed to be surprised about anymore…" (Tia)

"Just give up and be glad we don't have to fight them seriously, I guess? Better be thankful there wasn't some moronic noble back in the Kingdom to start a war. Or, should we say it's thanks to Jaldabaoth for stopping them before one of them could?" (Keeno)

"Oi, that's…" (Gagaran)

"… Sorry, Lakyus. I said too much." (Keeno)

Darkness covered Lakyus's face just from hearing Keeno's casual words, who apologized immediately after recognizing the weight of what she had said, but the damage had already been done.

Lakyus lightly shook her head, looking down.

"… No, it's not as though I don't know where your words are coming from. What happened at the castle was truly awful, but a single look at how the Theocracy's army fared against a detachment of what the Sorcerous Kingdom sent out is more than enough to see what would have happened had the Kingdom somehow gotten involved in a war against them. We as the nobility have nobody to blame but ourselves." (Lakyus)

"Are you sure about not going back to your territory?" (Keeno)

"It's fine. Our Alvein family has enough capable retainers that they'll be fine managing the territory for a few months without supervision. Anyways, my going back now probably means staying there. After that, there really is nothing for me but marriage, if the family is to continue… it'll be the last of my adventures. My final duty to Father is at least that much." (Lakyus)

"The duties of a noble, eh…" (Gagaran)

"For those who have a kingdom of their own, that is." (Keeno)

"Then, the oni boss just needs to become a proper Oni Boss to keep adventuring?" (Tia)

"Pah, out of all the reasons to abandon humanity, that might be the most ridiculous I have heard suggested." (Keeno)

The party shared a quick laugh while ascending the long staircase towards the surface. Their banter continued as they emerged out a plain dirt mount with a door, flanked by a pair of the same Death Knights which they had just been fighting.

Neither of them paid attention to the group exiting through the door behind them as the glowing sockets under their helms continued to peer out, sentinels against anybody attempting to enter the dungeon before it properly opens.

Though the entrance was a barely-recognizable hillock covered by the dense fog of the Katze Plains, guarding it was important both to keep spies from taking the chance to examine what they were constructing, as well as to prevent any accidental deaths which might be blamed on the Sorcerous Kingdom's negligence. Even if there was nothing to be done about the claim officially, trust was a precious resource when convincing adventurers to participate in using the labyrinth.

To that end, only a small number of parties were informed of its location and permitted to enter: one Mithril-ranked party called 'Rainbow' who had originally been sold on the idea of Ainz's new adventurers, and one Adamantite-ranked party in Blue Rose, allegedly by Momon's request and invitation.

Mere days after their departure, the international adventurer's guild called into question the party's legal legitimacy, having waited until they were away to send a notice requesting that the party be reorganized to resolve some inconsistencies with the members' registration – the notice being burned and discarded promptly upon receipt without a reply. To even answer might legitimize the argument the guild was making.

So the five of them continued to pass time in another country, waiting to see whether the state of events in the Kingdom would change, for developments within the guild which had lost so much of its renown and profitable work and found several nations' worth of guild branches deep in the red.

Under those circumstances, the work offered by the Sorcerous Kingdom was both convenient and lucrative, provided one was willing to perform unusual work for the kingdom of undead. Of course, the choice to do so was not without consequence, particularly for Lakyus, whose decision to do any sort of work with the same nation they had once suffered a crushing defeat against led a number of the Kingdom's few surviving noble families to denounce her.

Even though the person in question was very much the type whose loyalty would compel her to stay and fight to the death against an insurmountable foe, to the point where her own companions would have no choice but to forcibly kidnap her out of harm's way.

Yet, the truth did little to appease some. While most of those who failed to comprehend the power dynamic between the Sorcerous Kingdom and their own had conveniently found their names included among those present in the room during Jaldabaoth's appearance, there were still a number who were nonetheless unable to come and therefore survived that day.

In the following months, however, they were among those who just happened to be revealed as complicit in Bowlrob's attempted treason, or just happened to be hiding evidence of crimes which Raeven or Renner were able to discover, or on occasion, just happened to get caught in and killed during a rare peasant uprising caused by mismanagement of their territories.

A series of very unfortunate coincidences, without a doubt.

Anybody suggesting otherwise would result in another unfortunate coincidence.

Such was the nature of random chance.

The party carefully made their way through the dense fog of the Katze Plains, easily dispatching a number of ordinary undead found in the depths of the region: Skeleton Warlords, Organ Beasts, and Necrosome Giants – the sort of undead which were generally an even match for a party of Platinum-ranked adventurers – fell without much effort on the part of Blue Rose.

Common sense was a fragile thing, one which fell apart when one spent too long interacting with unreasonable beings who lacked the slightest care for established strength rankings.

From the plains they returned to E-Rantel, passing through the huge portcullis of the fortress city roughly an hour after the sun had set, the last leg of their journey lit only by the light of the full moon.

If there was one convenience for the traveler to a city managed by undead, it was that the gates could be kept open through the night, so there was no need to camp outside for an entire night should they arrive at the wrong time.

All undead had darkvision as a racial skill, as did several of the demihuman races which had fallen under the Sorcerer King's rule, so there were plenty of options for guards to watch from the towers without caring whether it was day or night. Thus, there was no need for the city to restrict itself to human cities' limited schedule.

Of course, this didn't mean that every establishment would be open through the night. Excepting some bars, much of the pleasure quarter, and a few shops marketed towards nocturnal races, the majority of the city still did their business while the sun was up.

Yet others were slowly trying to adapt, such as the Adventurer's Guild itself. A year ago it would have been bustling for most of the day, but it had since decayed into a husk, leaving less than a dozen staff, and even that was arguably excessive.

Although a single receptionist at the front desk was more than sufficient to handle the occasional party passing through, the local guild, rather than firing the excess staff, kept them on by extending the guild's hours to operate day and night.

The choice came at the suggestion of Ainzach, the guildmaster, to show off the guild's desire to work with the Sorcerous Kingdom and accommodate the many races which it would employ in the future.

In reality, light-sensitive species in the Sorcerous Kingdom were few and far between: The Quagoa, for instance, preferred life in the mines and quarries and were ill-suited to travel. It was clear enough to everybody who thought about it that Ainzach was paying the difference out of his own pocket to continue supporting his guild's staff.

Still, it was occasionally convenient to the few adventurers still in E-Rantel, there was no need for anybody to complain about how the formerly active adventurer and guildmaster chose to spend his own money.

The receptionist at the desk this time was a middle-aged woman with a scar on her right arm, peeking out from underneath the long sleeves of her shirt. An adventurer as well, long ago, retired and widowed in the field years ago. Without full use of her dominant hand, there were few jobs left open to her, so becoming a receptionist was both a source of income for an incapable adventurer and a way for the guild to keep hold of an experienced member's knowledge even after they were no longer to go into the field, for the few cases where an accomplished adventurer was injured beyond recovery but not beyond survivability.

The five members of Blue Rose split up in front of the large guild building: Gagaran went ahead with Tina to let her sleep and recover, while Lakyus and Tia moved to the receptionist's desk, and after a brief discussion, passed around the desk and straight to the guildmaster's room in the back, as he personally handled reports from the adventurers testing out the training labyrinth. Incidentally, Keeno had effectively given a report directly to the Night Lich she had encountered, and skipped explaining the same to Ainzach in favor of following behind Gagaran.

And, upon reaching the inn, they split once again into different rooms. There was plenty of unoccupied rooms, and money was of little concern. Besides that, since undead did not require sleep, Keeno would naturally work on some hobby or another all through the night, bothering the normal human members.

In particular, Gagaran was despite appearances a very light sleeper, sometimes woken by simple rustling of pages, and so the vampire would regularly be consigned to her own space, be it at an inn or in a tent.

The inside of her room was, as usual, nearly pitch black, with dark blinds on top of the regular curtains which had come with the room.

No sooner had she tossed her equipment to the side and sat down than she froze in place, suddenly alerted to somebody intruding from behind her.

Part 2

The presence wasn't like that of an assassin creeping up, and neither had the doors or windows been stealthily opened. The intruder had arrived through teleportation. Not plain 5th tier [Teleportation] she had learned, nor a higher-tier spell of a similar nature, but something else: a racial ability, teleportation which was a function of the world itself.

Thinking that, the image of her old companion, clad in platinum immediately came to mind as the one possessing such an ability, but they had just met. Rather, it was because they had spoken so recently that she scowled as the thought came up.

"… Dammit, what are you thinking, meeting in this city-" (Keeno)

She turned and stood up from her chair to face an unknown little girl in a white dress listening to her with one eyebrow raised. She froze, and the two maintained eye contact.

The girl's appearance was stunning, as if a collection of the finest features had been molded together by the hand of a god, if a tiny bit mismatched with her lacking height. The dress as well, a perfectly crafted piece of the highest-class material, but strangely overdecorated, almost childish.

Her irritation quickly turned to confusion, until she simply muttered, "… Who?"

In response, the girl chuckled with only the slightest shift of the corner of her mouth and stepped forward. In doing so, her face began to shift, stripping away like a mask as she passed through a plane in front of her, revealing a more familiar blond-haired, blue-eyed, pale-faced girl in her place.

"… What a rude fellow, I put on a different face and it's enough for you to forget about your favorite demon…" (Tanya)

Tanya voiced her complaints sarcastically, before turning serious for a moment.

She continued, "… Before that, I'm more interested, just who were you expecting to see here…" (Tanya)

Keeno froze up, thinking carefully about the exact words which had been overheard. After a few seconds of hesitation, she quietly shook her head and answered.

"Sorry. It was my misunderstanding, but I cannot answer." (Keeno)

"Is that so? Well, fine, confirming who else an independent contractor works for isn't my concern." (Tanya)

Tanya shrugged and gave up with unexpected ease.

Were she dealing with somebody without an undead's complete immunity to mind-affecting effects, she might follow up with the practiced combination of [Dominate] and [Control Amnesia] to extract information before erasing recent memories of the interrogation, but that option was presently sealed.

Even still, there was no pressing need for her to immediately confirm what she already believed. The history of this world, as she had heard from those natives of the world who had studied it – or lived it – implied a couple of candidates out of the remaining members of the original Thirteen Heroes.

Certainty sometimes carried value, but under the current circumstances, there would be no action to follow knowing, so it would be mostly inconsequential. Regardless, there were other ways to extract information without magic.

"Then, on an unrelated note, what do you think about necromancers? … Dragons?" (Tanya)

Tanya carefully watched the movements of her eyes, changes to her countenance, even the way magic was flowing through her body. But even without the latter, the former two were more than enough to draw a conclusion. Try as she might to hide them, Keeno lacked the experience or ability to control her emotions, which had always been hidden from the world by the mask which usually served to disguise her race.

"I was wondering who it was you were off meeting with… well, no matter." (Tanya)

"Even if I am the one saying it, can you really just ignore it? Aren't they your enemies?" (Keeno)

"Hypothetically speaking, even if you were selling information about an open city, there isn't much to be said, and neither would you be the only one attempting to do so. Of course, were it to come to actual hostilities, you had best avoid getting involved, for your own sake." (Tanya)

A fair number of spies and agents were known to be in E-Rantel, representing everybody from the Republic to the northwest, the City-State Alliance in the east, down to the Draconic Kingdom to the southeast, and every nation in between.

Some sent adventurers, others their own covert agents. Some were quietly collecting information, others made contact trying to gain favor.

Regardless of their origin, they were mostly being allowed to stay in the city, so that they might be followed back to whoever sent them. The few who attempted to sneak into the castle itself were made to disappear, as were those who attempted to bring harm to Nazarick's NPCs.

In the end, there was little harm to allowing them to spend time in E-Rantel, as there was little of worth being hidden in E-Rantel. Any information of value would be hidden within Nazarick itself, or otherwise defended.

Time spent attempting to spy on the city would be wasted, so one or two extra independent agents in the city were hardly worth reporting – or so Tanya reasoned.

"Uninvolved, huh. We aren't even at the level of being worth conscripting… what a strange country this is." (Keeno)

"Of course that's not the case. Talented magic engineers are more than valuable enough to crush a few countries over. Only so many people can research magic at a fundamental level, after all, and I'm already fed up with dealing with obsessed old men for that. Personally, I'd say you're the only one worth recovering out of that entire Kingdom." (Tanya)

"… I'm not interested in hearing those words from you…" (Keeno)

Keeno turned away, picking the old mask up from the corner of the desk, where it had been propped up, and placed it over her face.

It was a simple Magic Item, useful more for covering up her inhuman facial features than the actual magic effect it was enchanted with. That, combined with the hood which covered the rest of her head created the enigmatic magic caster that was Evileye, whose thoughts were indiscernible to the outside world.

Except, for instance, when dealing with a mage already trained in spacial perception to better use magic for interfering with the world, whose talent in doing so was further augmented by specialized equipment to an unreasonable level. Against an observer who viewed the world through the movement of magic as easily as light, a simple opaque barrier proved no obstacle.

She's unexpectedly weak to praise, Tanya thought to herself.

Her words weren't meant as idle praise, either. It was Keeno's research which served as the foundation from which she could start disassembling every other piece of tier magic she had the chance to record into her memory, and from there, to begin reconstructing the spells into a more practically usable form, with extraneous elements and limitations removed.

Teleportation magic without the visual effects or cooldown restrictions between uses, for instance, had been close to the forefront of her own experimentation, which resulted in something coincidentally similar to special non-spell teleportation like that of a World-Class Item, though Tanya herself had no way of knowing this, since no such item was available in Nazarick. It was still nowhere near the level of perfected dimensional magic, after all, so she hardly saw it as something to brag about.

Although, her need for a researcher only extended to translating the source magic. Everything else would be down to practical experimentation, something nobody but herself was capable of doing – so there was no further need for outside assistance, only time and practice.

"… Well, fine. I'll go along with your reasoning. So you came to show off transformation magic? I don't recall you bringing up any designs for it before now, though." (Keeno)

"Of course not, rather than transformation, it's an illusion. And it's not really magic, it's a formula… sorcery, I guess you could call it? An overlaid composite decoy, if you care. Seems fine for a disguise, if you couldn't see through it." (Tanya)

"I suppose it does, but are you even doing such a thing? Or rather… doesn't that appearance itself essentially disqualify it as a disguise?" (Keeno)

Tanya made use of an ordinary decoy, much the same as she had been for years, improved slightly with higher precision to fix the image's coordinates in space. The form itself was nearly indistinguishable from a real person, aside from lacking detail in its facial expressions. It naturally couldn't be touched, but visually, it should appear entirely human, compared side-by-side.

The problem came from the actual appearance she chose to use.

It was a composite model made by putting together traits from several other people to create an entirely new nonperson. Just as she had created 'Colonel Gregorio von Turner' by tossing together a dozen or so passing officers into a nondescript senior officer to sit in a chair and issue orders to test potential recruits, so too was the appearance she had overlaid over herself.

However, rather than picking candidates from the officers she worked with, her appearance was patched together from the women whose appearance she had ready access to: the females of Nazarick. She began by mixing facial features from Albedo and Shalltear, adding on hair from them and a few of the maids, toning the body using Aura as a base – plus just a bit of Mare for balance – and so on.

Being a personal disguise, she had to roughly match it to her own frame, lest her movement cause the image to separate from her own skeletal structure, or from the clothing she was actually wearing, though looser clothing was far more workable in this regard, compared to full body armor.

It was only natural, given that unlike the random, rough military men who would only take the time to care for their appearance in the hours they got leave to sneak off to the red-light district, the examples she was using were the masterpieces of Ainz Ooal Gown, modeled over hundreds of hours to the highest degree of obsession.

So, the end result of Tanya's experimentation was a doll in a white dress. Put side-to-side with Albedo, ninety-nine out of one hundred people would still consider the latter to be more attractive, but just that single pick against a world-class beauty was a testament to just how much this appearance would stick in an average passerby's memory.

Animating facial expressions was usually more trouble than it was worth, aside from when she was actively engaging in conversation. Her dress as well was convenient, as its abnormal origin meant it wasn't really armor as far as her equipment was concerned, and could be worn directly over actual armor without interfering with the status the armor would provide. It might look slightly baggy, but this just gave her illusions a greater margin of error.

Upon seeing that appearance of hers, Ainz muttered something about a Flatfoot, though she had no idea what or who that was supposed to be, and chose to leave it alone. More importantly, he didn't show much interest in the dress, presumably assuming it to come from the vault of forgotten item skins like all the others, which was rather convenient for her, given how difficult it would be to explain its origin without unraveling all the various half-truths she had told up until now.

"A disguise carries a number of purposes. There's no possible way we could travel under the flag of the Sorcerous Kingdom without drawing attention. Simply consider that we do not wish people to believe that both Momon-dono and myself have left the city simultaneously." (Tanya)

If the purpose of a disguise was to avoid attention, then certainly, this appearance may even be worse suited than a demon's natural form. Were the illusion ever to be seen through, explaining it would prove even more difficult.

However, this was after all an expedition by the Sorcerous Kingdom, and its purpose was, among others, to spread the name of that Sorcerous Kingdom across the continent. They had no intention at all of traveling incognito, but rather openly and boldly, fully intent on pressuring countries into submission even before formal diplomatic relations could be established.

Keeno frowned under her mask. In light of the words they had just exchanged, it would hardly make sense to tell her about a secret like that, the idea that the Sorcerer King would be concerned enough about security to disguise the fact that his own agent would be absent from the city. Surely they would understand the risk of this information leaking, she reasoned.

The Sorcerer King commanded numerous monsters with enough power to trample several armies and then some. His own magical might could destroy an unimaginable evil like Jaldabaoth; his intellect plan a dozen steps and predict the actions of both the clever archfiend and those idiots who would attempt to use him; his strength more than a match for the greatest warrior in the Empire's history.

Though Keeno couldn't accurately measure the depth of her power, Tanya had repeatedly stated that she was incomparably weaker than her master. Was there really a need for him to keep the demon around for protection? Unlikely. With Momon, even more so: His role was not had never been to aid or protect the Sorcerer King, so his leaving was by no means a sign that security had weakened. If anything, many believed him to be the only hope of ever defeating the undead king.

What purpose was there to hiding that fact from their enemies? Unless, of course, the concern had never been about personal security, but rather the state of the city.

From the moment Momon had heroically rose up in defense of the people of E-Rantel on the day the city was to be annexed, he became the undisputed protector of the city. They trusted in his protection, and believed in the agreement he had made on that day. To watch over the city. To stop them from attempting a hopeless revolt.

Over a year had passed since then, and it was once again spring, and the citizens of the city were arguably living better than they had previously as a city belonging to the Kingdom. Management of the city had been left to the Prime Minster – or rather, Guardian Overseer Albedo, as they called her – was unquestionably superior to the retired Mayor Panasolei.

True to their word, they had invested countless hours and uncountable resources into the city. Regardless, cynics could be found everywhere and skeptics were not so easily convinced of an undead's good intentions. A good few people still believed that everything up until now was merely a ploy to fatten them up to devour them at a later date.

By all accounts, even this had fallen within Ainz Ooal Gown's expectations. In his words, even the most ideal of circumstances would take two years before the people could be pacified and live without relying on Momon.

And since then, nearly everything had fallen into place to, perhaps even exceeding the most generous of his predictions.

However, Momon was surely an everlasting obstacle to the Sorcerer King. There was no way he wouldn't be. Where else would the king of a country accept his sworn enemy being the target of universal admiration while he himself was feared by all?

Except, Momon could not simply be killed, even if he was an enemy of the state. Were they to do so, every effort they had spent on keeping the peace would immediately go up in smoke.

So, what was the Sorcerous Kingdom to do?

Simple. Momon merely needed to be replaced as the protector of the city. The one set to fill this role was the abnormal demon called Tanya, Keeno reasoned.

She was already nearly as renowned as the 'Dark Hero' of E-Rantel, the story of Jadabaoth's resummoning above the capital and rumors of what happened that night spread throughout both countries almost unnaturally quickly. Despite her being a subject of the same Sorcerer King, surprisingly few saw her with hostility, possibly due to her tender appearance, she somehow seemed more human to the people than the undead king. Add to this the apparent cooperative relationships between Tanya, Momon, and the members of Blue Rose, the demon had unexpectedly become somebody trusted by the people.

Rumor has it there even existed a certain underground organization, founded by a number of obsessed former soldiers returned from the war against the Theocracy who had served under her with a strange form of dedication, but for better or worse, the person in question remained unaware of their existence.

As long as she remained in the city, it may even be possible to move Momon out for a couple months without repercussions, though the advantage of leaving behind a usable piece like her to be able to pull away an uncontrollable force such as Momon was questionable at best.

But, were they able to convince the people that she was still in the city by disguising her as a new adventurer prior to leaving, freeing up both of them at once may well be possible. Leaking the truth of the matter would only hurt the people of the city, not the Sorcerer King, so there would no point to her doing so.

-Or so Keeno reasoned. The truth of the matter may be entirely different. Her realization caused her frown to deepen once again. She had been a fool to even entertain the possibility that she might ever be able to kill the Sorcerer King.

"… It looks like you realized something but I probably shouldn't ask what…" (Tanya)

Tanya quietly muttered under her breath after watching Keeno shifting in place for a few seconds.

Having decided that there wasn't any point to allowing her to continue down whichever rabbit hole she was currently digging into, Tanya stuck a hand sideways into her spatial inventory, and pulled out a small metal tag on a chain, which she lightly lobbed at Keeno.

The plate seemed to flash multiple colors even in the dark room, alternating red, green, and blue as it spun through the air.

Plucking the chain out of the air, Keeno looked at the curious piece of metal. Seen head-on, it was a pitch-black void. Tilting it left, the plate turned a dark green. Up or down, and it appeared the blue of a night sky. Right, and it became a deep crimson.

"… An adventurer's tag?" (Keeno)

She squeezed the thin plate as if to snap it, and it did bend, ever so slightly, before springing back to being perfectly straight immediately after she loosened her grip, giving up. Though she might not have the strength to crack adamantite using just her fingers without magical assistance, any lesser metals would have broken already.

The brief experiment was enough to immediately disqualify every possible metal she could think of.

"… The hell is this made of?" (Keeno)

"'Nironium', I think it was? Do you take me for a metallurgist? It's some useless metal the dwarves were finally figuring out how to use, or something, so they made a few tags for the first production run. The inscription on it will light up if you heat it up with 5th tier magic, to authenticate it." (Tanya)

After a couple seconds of fishing, Tanya pulled out a second tag. Holding it in her hand, she pushed some magic through to create a small flare. Immediately, the metal began to glow, revealing a number of engraved runes in brilliant white, some text and an icon, a simplified variant of the emblem of Ainz Ooal Gown, shrunk down to a single centimeter, drawn in minute detail on one side of the plate.

"You came up with a new adventurer rank for yourselves?" (Keeno)

"Apparently so. No sense in using human standards if it ends up marking a category too diverse to have any meaning. Hence, a new highest… though there are only three assigned, and not all of those are real people. Well, your standard rankings probably don't have any meaning so far south, either, so it's all just self-satisfaction in the end." (Tanya)

Realistically speaking, there wouldn't be much point to maintaining a disguise after separating from the surrounding countries.

She could understand the reasoning that it would be best to hide the more distinct and abnormal items which wouldn't normally appear in this world, such as her regular armor and weapons. The lands far to the south were an unknown region, with the most recent information about the countries in the region being over a century old.

Going by the pattern of centennial appearances of Players in this world, there were still several unaccounted for, who may well live in that part of the continent. Though most players used human avatars and so should have since died of natural causes, assuming that would necessarily be the case carried risks.

Hiding her equipment was a natural response to alleviate some of that risk, as carrying around a rifle or wearing legendary-class armor would be like walking around with a beacon and a nametag.

Admittedly she was set to go out wearing a tag made out of a YGGDRASIL-exclusive metal, but that was part of the deception as well: Level 100 Players wouldn't normally think of treating a level 45 metal as anything but trash. To wear it as if it were important would imply some connection to YGGDRASIL, without the threat that one high-level Player might feel from another. Ideally, it might even draw their curiosity, leading them to let their guard down and reveal themselves.

Her disguise might similarly be unnecessary. Demiurge had indeed suggested that she transform her appearance and make a show of leaving alongside Momon, which they had been taking care of for most of yesterday.

It was best to separate her actions into that of two characters, he had explained, though he didn't give much more detail as to his plans after that, and neither did Tanya feel the need to move past a need-to-know basis for the information which no longer had anything to do with her.

"… And just a few days after the mess the Adventurer's Guild caught us up in… what convenient timing you have there." (Keeno)

Tanya shrugged at the implication.

"… Not my job, I'm just passing out the tags… Well, forget about it. Come to the castle in the morning, at 0800 hours, I'll explain it all then. Doing it again and again is a waste of time." (Tanya)

"Fine. We've had enough of wasting our time grinding against a wall in that place. I'll be holding you to that." (Keeno)

"In the morning, then. Tell your party. I'll find 'Darkness' and drag them over as well. Ah, and save some time and come armed." (Tanya)

With that agreement made, Tanya nodded and left, disappeared without a trace.

Part 3

The next morning.

Lakyus led the five into E-Rantel's castle. Unexpectedly, the hallways were virtually deserted as they wandered around. Though the city never had nearly as many knights or maidservants in its castle as the Royal Capital, any city should have at least a fair few guards and civil servants.

The Re-Estize Kingdom was far from a meritocracy, often with copious amounts of corruption as well. Even before accounting for the concerns one might have for continuing to employ bureaucrats from a hostile kingdom, the overwhelming majority had already been weeded out and disqualified from succeeding the role.

Until such a time when the Sorcerous Kingdom's severe shortage of capable manpower could be resolved, the positions would have to continue to be filled with Elder Liches and the like, even if doing so was a gross waste of their abilities.

Undead of course had neither the need for servants to bring them food and refreshments nor to retire to their bedchambers for the night, so for the most part, foot-traffic in the corridors was a tenth of what it used to be, limited mostly to just the occasional Skeleton Warrior running around with a bundle of papers needed in another region.

However, even without knowledge of all that, seeing the transformation of the great castle was a perfect representation of E-Rantel itself. The castle was gradually becoming something ideal not for humans, but fit for undead and monsters to live and use.

Walking through those darkened hallways left an eerie impression on Blue Rose. It was quiet and solemn, but ever unnerving, as if the walls themselves had eyes following them as they made their way through to the very same conference room which had once been used by the Kingdom to plan their own strategy against the very same Sorcerous Kingdom which now made use of it as a common conference room, on the rare occasion there was a need for it.

Lakyus grabbed the handle and pulled open the heavy door, which slipped open smoothly and soundlessly.

Inside, the room was surprisingly barren of decoration, but because of that, all attention was drawn to the gigantic banner set in crimson, constructed out of a beautiful cloth and inlaid with gold, the flag of the Sorcerous Kingdom hanging down from the ceiling at one end of the room.

Similar flags hang over the walls, replacing a number of portraits which had once hung in their place. By material value alone, their worth may exceed the artwork which previously filled the room, but there existed no fools stupid enough to try stealing and trampling on the monarch these icons represented.

From the banner, her gaze sunk lower to the long rectangular table made of black ebony and onyx which consumed all light falling upon it.

And, at its head, the Dark Hero, Momon, sitting at the head of the table as if it were his own throne.

By all appearances, his majestic form clad in dark adamantite armor wasn't even slightly out of place at the pitch-black table, underneath the royal banner as if he were sitting upon his very own throne.

He stood up from his seat slowly, such that the magic caster seated by his side, Nabe, could shoot out of her own seat and be standing before him.

Momon looked over at them, and lightly nodded to acknowledge their arrival.

"Good Morning. Although work has been keeping us busy, it is a pleasure to meet you again, everybody from Blue Rose." (Momon)

"No, of course, for us as well. Despite our time in this city, we were unable to find time to meet with you again, Momon-dono, and Nabe-dono of 'Darkness'." (Lakyus)

Lakyus bowed back. Though they had spent a number of weeks in the city, there had never been a chance where both of them were free. Momon and Nabe could on occasion be found patrolling the city, sometimes alongside the Sorcerer King, but these were sporadic and lacked a regular schedule. Except for those times, he was generally impossible to reach without scheduling time far ahead of schedule, outside town due to his own workload as an adventurer.

Both returned to their seats after exchanging greetings, after which each of the members of Blue Rose found their own seats in line. Lakyus sat next to Nabe, with Gagaran by her side. Keeno rushed ahead to take the opposite seat by Momon's side, followed by Tina and Tia relaxing into the next two adjacent chairs.

"Our apologies for making you wait." (Lakyus)

"No, you're right on time, we simply happened to arrive earlier. Besides…" (Momon)

"… This is unacceptable. Regardless of the circumstances, to make Momon-saaan wait…" (Nabe)

"It's fine, Nabe. There's still a minute until the scheduled time. Without knowing when each of us would be arriving, it's hardly as though we could begin early." (Momon)

Being punctual was one of the standards necessary for a member of society, but for some reason it was always any meeting's organizer who seemed to arrive last. At very least, if she wasn't like his own bosses, who would normally join ten minutes late but still blame anybody not already waiting since five minutes before the scheduled time, all would be fine.

"… Besides…" (Momon)

He picked up a small golden pocketwatch, a magic tool of dwarven make, watching the seconds in the minute ticking away.

The second hand clicked over marking the hour, and at that exact time, she appeared in front of them as if she had been there from the start.

"… See?" (Momon)

Tanya was, after all, punctual to a fault. Her arrival on the hour then wasn't a surprise to him or Nabe, nor to Keeno who had been irritated by her abrupt appearances before to the point of giving up, but still shocked the other members present, whose instincts unexpectedly failed to give them any warning of the demon's presence.

Without minding their reaction, she glanced over and nodded, before immediately jumping to business.

"… Then, since all participating members are present, I will begin the pre-operation debriefing." (Tanya)

She threw down a large roll of parchment which unrolled itself smoothly onto the table. Filling the width of the table across and twice that length out, it was a large poster of a map, covering the surrounding countries at one end, but extending far further southwards so that the known countries were covering only a third of the paper.

On the opposite end, a number of lakes, mountains and forests were identified but unlabeled, plus a few cities without names. Finally, of the four-meter map, fully half the center was uniformly shaded and unlabeled, extending out from the southern border of the Slane Theocracy, from coast to coast.

This was the impassable southern desert which occupied the vast center of the continent.

Sections of the great desert could be individually identified, such as the expansive Dolar Desert to the far southeast, and while it wasn't without known landmarks, a complete map of its entirety simply did not exist.

"… Just where did the Sorcerous Kingdom dig up something like this…" (Keeno)

Keeno was the first to notice the meaning of this. Having been forced to cross the immense desert once before, she knew full well just how difficult it was to find a map which stretched from one border to the other.

Even a basic coastal map was nigh impossible to come up with, as spectacularly powerful sea monsters occupied that region of the shore. Tribes and cities may well exist around the few oases of the desert, but even they could sketch out the immediate surroundings at best.

So uninhabitable were the endless wastes of the desert, it was said that no living being could survive the journey from one end to the other. Indeed, it was both a perilous and tedious journey even for an undead with limitless stamina and no stomach for food or water.

From colossal scorpions and giant skeletal vultures, to the legendary sand dragons which supposedly lived buried deep beneath the dunes, not even a magic caster capable of flight could travel more than a few kilometers before being spotted and preyed upon by some beast.

It was a domain restricted to the truly powerful, the Eight Greed Kings who had once conquered its entire expanse, yet had long since lost all ownership following their demise, leaving isolated cities to either starve until annihilation, or collapse into tribal villages with no contact outside their own.

"It's just a crude map of the terrain put together from high-altitude images, stitched together with maps from each of the surrounding nations." (Tanya)

Though the maps available in the Kingdom were low-quality, a few borrowed from the Empire, combined with ones recovered from the Holy Kingdom and seized from the Theocracy, all together formed a quality picture of the northern half of the continent, even a few hundred kilometers into the desert itself.

Everything past that however had to be filled in, and essentially depicted nothing but the terrain itself. It was far from detailed to launch an expedition into the depths of the desert for the purposes of making contact with some of the desert-dwelling demihuman species, or exploring the lost, scattered ruins of the ancient civilization which had long since perished.

Fortunately, they were not planning on staying in the desert for any extended period of time. Her objectives for this mission would not require that knowledge, only an accurate measurement of the distance to be crossed.

Tanya traced the southern edge of the map, tapping the end of the desert where dunes began to turn into plains. Glancing over at Keeno, she asked,

"Unfortunately images don't give much information about the local nations or the people living in the area. You wouldn't happen to have a map of your own to add on, would you?" (Tanya)

"No… the me of that time had no thoughts of bringing anything like a map." (Keeno)

"… Well, figured. Then, the first step after crossing will be to pick out the nearest country and extort one from them. Even after a few centuries, I'm sure they can at least point somebody in the direction of an ancient country of undead." (Tanya)

Provided it hadn't already been destroyed.

The last words were left unspoken, but there was no guarantee that the core reason for her going hadn't long since vanished. Much could change in two hundred years, after all.

"-Excuse me, but could I confirm something?" (Lakyus)

Lakyus stood up and interjected.

"What is it?" (Tanya)

"You speak of it as a settled matter, but how are you expecting to be able to cross the desert? Leaving aside the two of you, for Gagaran or Momon-dono, trekking through the great desert in heavy armor would be unreasonable." (Lakyus)

"Ah, that? There is no need to worry. To begin with, there is no need for us to set foot within the desert." (Tanya)

"… Do you intend to fly and carry us across the whole way on floating boards, or something?" (Momon)

Momon stepped in to check, but Tanya tilted her head questioningly.

"Of course not, that would take forever. It's much easier to just save time and teleport the entire distance with a single spell." (Tanya)

"""Wait a moment!"""

Three people simultaneously shot out of their seats. Momon, Keeno, and even the ever-calm Nabe jumped up at her declaration. For a moment they looked to each other as if to confirm their thoughts, before both women's eyes settled on Momon to proceed.

Noticing this, he himself paused as if to clear his throat before asking,

"… Ahem… though you say you would use teleportation magic, could a trip of this distance really be done? As I understand, even advanced teleportation magic lacks the range required to travel so far." (Momon)

As he said, teleportation magic was far from limitless. To travel the distance between E-Rantel and the capital of the Re-Estize Kingdom with ordinary 5th tier [Teleporation] would take ten jumps, minimum, even if the caster possessed skills to extend the range. Not even the more advanced 7th tier [Greater Teleportation] could do it, requiring two or three steps, with a delay in between proportional to the number of people being brought along by the caster. It would perhaps be possible with [Gate], the highest-tier of teleportation magic, but that was a spell which was supposedly a state secret of the Sorcerous Kingdom, not something to be used frivolously.

The distance Tanya was currently proposing to travel was five times that of the distance between the two cities. Furthermore, to take a party this large through a desert would mean dozens of trips back and forth, with prolonged delay in between, during which she would inevitably lose track of one group or the other. In the event they passed through a sandstorm or encountered monsters along the way, the chances of losing their direction jumped exponentially.

And yet, she made her assertion with absolute confidence.

"… You're half-right, Momon-dono. However, to be more precise, teleportation magic is, by nature, limited by the distance to a selected destination. Not, as you say, by the distance to be traveled." (Tanya)

"Is there a practical difference?" (Momon)

What she said was technically true even in YGGDRASIL, though it was just a pragmatic solution to an issue exclusive to a game, an interesting factoid more than a useful mechanic. To have a player's teleportation cancel mid-cast simply because one of their allies nudged them an extra centimeter away from the destination would cause no end of frustration, so for the sake of the game experience, the developers designed teleportation magic in that manner.

"But of course." (Tanya)

Raising one hand, a number of complex formulas filled the air.

"Teleportation magic is surprisingly simple, once you take out the useless flashy parts." (Tanya)

With a swipe of two fingers, sections of the projection vanished.

"By overlaying identical-looking parts common to [Teleportation], [Greater Teleportation], and even lower-level teleportation like [Dimensional Move], you can pick out the core formula responsible for actual teleportation…" (Tanya)

Her explanation continued, the formulas projected into the air evolving like a slideshow.

"… Those three can also be used to differentiate between individual and group teleportation…" (Tanya)

Another block of the tree-like magic was highlighted.

"… Contrast this with undirected magic like [Blink] or [Chaos Teleport], and you can decode how to select a destination, and how the selection is range-limited…" (Tanya)

More parts were removed, leaving only a few disconnected sections of the spell.

"… And, substitute your own arbitrary selection while putting it together." (Tanya)

With a quick shrug, she finished.

"See, there you have it, a spell for unrestricted teleportation. It's not quite that easy in reality, and it's honestly questionable whether this still qualifies as tier magic, but anybody can do this much with a bit of effort, really." (Tanya)

"Don't be ridiculous!" (Nabe)

Nabe slammed her fist against the table, jumping up in a rage.

"What is it, Nabe-dono? Surely this is a case where the results will speak for themselves?" (Tanya)

Depending on how those words were interpreted, Tanya may well be insulting Ainz by announcing that she had beaten him to the milestone of being able to customize magic beyond YGGDRASIL's spell modifiers.

Yet, there was nothing that the adventurer Nabe could say about this. She too understood this, and after a quick peek at Momon, she sat back, still glaring at Tanya.

"If you're in doubt, we could leave immediately. That is why we're all fully equipped." (Tanya)

Tanya offered to the group. They were, unsurprisingly, reluctant to say anything in reply.

After a few seconds of silence, Lakyus spoke up with an excuse, carefully noncommittal.

"… Though we did come prepared, departing withing the next few days would be impossible, as our party member Tina still needs time to recover from her injuries." (Lakyus)

"I was wondering why she was walking around with an open wound…" (Tanya)

Lightly raising one hand towards the girl, she quickly cast some magic of her own.

Tina's chest briefly glowed gold, the internal injuries hidden under her bandages vanishing silently.

"… Unbelievable…" (Tina)

"There's no way… Divine magic, cast by a demon?" (Lakyus)

Five jaws dropped to the floor.

Of course, if you thought about it normally, the idea of demons or undead having anything to do with healing or the holy element in general would seem nonsensical. It was simply human common sense that such a thing was absurd.

Tanya thought for a bit, then started a story of her own.

"… A certain cleric is a devout believer of your kingdom's four gods. One day, he hits his head on a rock and loses all memory of the name of his god. As a joke, his friend convinces him that the cleric was a life-long believer of the Evil God of Rotten Potatoes. Now, what happens to this cleric's divine magic?" (Tanya)

"Is it philosophy now? Why?" (Keeno)

"Nothing so subjective. This is a testable, scientific claim. A tested claim. What happened to such a cleric's divine magic, do you think? Nothing. His magic works as it always had, in the divine name of the Evil God of Rotten Potatoes. So, have we proven the existence and divinity of the Evil God of Rotten Potatoes? Or simply that divine magic has nothing to do with so-called gods?" (Tanya)

She smiled as she asked this of the increasingly pale-faced Lakyus.

"Is it so strange that a demon, or undead, or a plant could cast divine magic? By my analysis, the only extra requirement for divine magic over arcane magic, as you describe it, is the will and expectation that the magic will work. Evidently, anybody who claims otherwise is an idiot or a fraud, likely both. Don't you think so?" (Tanya)

"… What do you hope to accomplish by revealing all this?" (Keeno)

"Accomplish, you say? It almost sounds like you're accusing me of something. I am merely seeking the true nature of magic, much like you." (Tanya)

"And, if spreading this knowledge were to lead the Theocracy to splinter?" (Keeno)

"Then it is simply a fortunate coincidence. The world will learn of this in due time, I figured you two might be interested in learning of it first, as a researcher, and a priest." (Tanya)

There was no need for her to deny it, as it would soon be no secret either way. In just a few weeks, the Baharuth Empire would officially make the announcement, with Deathless Priests accompanying the heralds in every major city. The Emperor was more than happy to jump on with the idea, since it finally gave him an excuse to push forward with disbanding the churches in his country which were spying for the Theocracy, all while brandishing the name of the Sorcerous Kingdom as a shield against any criticism.

Though as for how Demiurge might get involved in making sure that information carries its full impact straight into the Theocracy, that was beyond her. Even without this, he surely had something planned out, all she was doing was adding more fuel to the fire on top of everything else.

"… That's enough. I understand what you're suggesting, but you've said too much. Let us return to the main topic." (Momon)

Momon stepped in to interrupt the argument. Though she might claim to speak common facts, what she was stating was nonetheless beyond what was to be common knowledge, seeping into the territory of secrecy. Even still, he himself wasn't sure of how much she had been allowed to reveal, and what part might be her overstepping. He carefully tried to steer the conversation back on track.

"… My apologies, Momon-dono. Well, since you insist, we can prepare to travel immediately. Or, is there still something?" (Tanya)

"I don't mind. So long as the Sorcerer King is held to his word, I would prefer to leave and be done with this as quickly as possible. Hamsuke is already being taken care of, we have already settled all other matters. There is no need to waste any more time." (Momon)

"Very good. And to the five of you? We were supposed to go on an adventure to your princess's home country, are you ready?" (Tanya)

"Fine, I'm ready any time… though speaking of identities, I will return to being Evileye, for the time being. I doubt anybody remains who remembers my name or appearance, but best to be prudent." (Keeno)

"That's right, there are species in this world with far longer lifespans than those of humans… well, I'll be doing the same, else we'd get attacked every time we approach a city gate." (Tanya)

She reapplied the disguise and switched appearances in the blink of an eye.

Slowly, she balled her hand into a small fist, then opened it. Since her outfit included long gloves, socks, and even a collar made of the mysterious indestructible white silk, there wasn't much visible skin to recolor into something less pale and more human-looking.

They had previously confirmed that spells and skills for detecting or seeing through illusions wouldn't help break hers. It wasn't the product of a tier magic spell, after all, just light and optics. A mage's decoy wasn't something which could be distinguished from ordinary light using tier magic. In fact, even a World-Class Item shouldn't be able to dispel it, since an effect from one targeted at her should be negated. If such a method existed, it would have to be a Talent, or something entirely unknown to them.

And, just yesterday she had confirmed that even an acquaintance would be adequately fooled by her appearance.

"The rest of you are probably fine as you are, unless you want to dress up or something." (Tanya)

Though they had no knowledge of what sort of races might be inhabiting the area, she considered it unlikely that undead or demons would be welcomed in any human-populated city, with the exception of cases such as the current Kingdom or Empire, where the Sorcerous Kingdom would force them to do so. But even in those countries, her walking through the streets would be enough for every other house to shut their doors and hide.

"She looks like Nabe-san… or is it the Guardian Overseer Albedo-sama, only smaller?" (Tia)

Black hair was rare in the area, so there were only so many other people her image could be based off of. For an outsider to see her, it wouldn't be unlikely for somebody to assume that Momon and Nabe really were affiliated with the Sorcerous Kingdom.

"Hey… Just to check, didn't you used to have a tail or something?" (Gagaran)

"Ah…" (Tia)

"Now that you mention it…" (Tina)

"… I'd completely forgotten about it… was there a spell for shapeshifting like that?" (Momon)

Momon brought one hand to his chin, thinking of what spells could be used for that. Most methods for transformation were instead based on class skills, such as Demiurge's 'Shapeshifter' and 'Chaos' jobs, or Doppelgangers like Pandora's Actor. Was there magic which could achieve the same result in this new world?

"No, nothing so complicated. Instead of wasting mana on permanent invisibility, it's faster and easier to just cut it off and be done." (Tanya)

"… Hah?" (Momon)

Tanya tilted her head in confusion.

"I mean, isn't it obvious? Even recasting invisibility magic continuously for just half an hour already consumes more magic than just healing it back off once." (Tanya)

As if to prove her point, she cast some more healing magic, glowing briefly with green light, which coalesced back into a bladed tail.

"… See? Better this way for a disguise." (Tanya)

And, reaching underneath to the base of her own back, she cut across with some more magic, letting the bloody end fall to the floor, where it quickly began to erode into black dust.

"… No, that… doesn't it hurt?" (Momon)

"Pain may be a useful sense for humans, but when the vital parts of your body no longer match up with the nerves, it just becomes a hindrance in combat, don't you think so? … Well, we've gotten off-topic again." (Tanya)

She sighed again.

"… We've wasted enough time for these diversions, there will be plenty of time to mess around while traveling. Food and water have been provisioned for you. We will provide precious metals and gemstones to use in case the local currency isn't used. Unless you have anything else to say, I will begin the teleportation process immediately." (Tanya)

"… Aren't you rushing too much?" (Keeno)

"The world waits for nobody. Without a concrete definition of exactly how much time we have, to finish what we set out to do, let us not waste any more time than we have to." (Tanya)

Tanya drew up enough formulas to fill half the room. For a spell which took as much precision as this, it would be more reliable to leave them visible than to hide them while casting. Though not quite as complex as Super-tier magic, this was her attempt at fully executing teleportation on her own, instead of just triggering some tier magic to do it for her.

"With this distance, I'll bring two people along at a time, to keep it stable. Any volunteers?" (Tanya)

"Then, we'll scout ahead." (Tia)

The twin assassins stood up, nodded to each other and walked around the table to Tanya, who nodded back.

"… Calculating spatial coordinates to destination, heading 184.5 degrees, distance 18,267,716, adjust curvature minus 3,743,668, elevation shift plus 346. Prepare for distortion. Transport in T-minus 3… 2… 1…" (Tanya)

And then the room returned to silence with the three of them vanishing into thin air.

"… No matter how many times you see it, it's strange." (Momon)

"That teleportation, it's not tier magic anymore. I've seen it just once before, one of the Platinum Dragon Lord's skills." (Keeno)

"… Hoh? That's something I'd like to learn about. What sort of skill is it?" (Momon)

"I'm sorry, Momon-sama, I'm not sure about the details… Back then, he could appear and disappear without warning just like that, but he never explained it in more detail. If I had to guess, the granny might know more, but it's hard to say." (Keeno)

"I see… well, that's fine…" (Momon)

Great as it would be to get some information out of somebody who had experienced those skills first-hand, not even she seemed to have much information about the Dragon Lords or their abilities.

"… If possible, I'd like a chance to meet with…" (Momon)

"-Excuse me…" (Tanya)

Tanya reappeared in the same spot she had left from a minute after, interrupting the discussion between Momon and Keeno. As soon as they noticed her, Keeno paused what she was saying and sat back down.

"… The first trip was a bit off-target, so I left a beacon. I'll need to recalibrate the destination, don't mind me and continue." (Tanya)

Since she had forcibly replaced the target designation from [Greater Teleportation] with her own spatial coordinates, there was no correction from the system to anything she were to put in. With the distance being so great, failing to account for topographical differences or the weather to even a tenth of a percent of difference would throw the endpoint off by several kilometers.

In that sense, it was fortunate that they weren't thrown deep underground – though she was dropped out in the middle of the sky and forced to catch the twins as soon as they came out.

"… Ahem, Keeno-san, about what we were discussing…" (Momon)

"Could it wait until another time?" (Keeno)

"Ah, right, okay." (Momon)

The room descended back into an awkward silence, with nobody wanting to say too much.

Evidently, there were still things she would be willing to reveal only to him, not to the Sorcerous Kingdom, but that was one of the reasons he was here.

Momon's thoughts drifted to his days at work, sitting through teleconferences, listening to his coworkers complaining about their bosses, before rhythmically silencing themselves the moment said boss connected. And, even that boss would usually start complaining about their own director until they too finally joined and the meeting could start, twenty minutes later than scheduled.

In the end, the meeting would just end with the highest director who actually bothered to attend reading out some unrelated nonsense about how they should all be working harder and dictate some outdated instructions about a project nobody there was working on.

Rather than letting the silence continued to drag on, he thought to change the subject and ask something he had been meaning to bring up ever since he first saw the disguise.

"… Ahem… Tanya-dono, if you will be disguising yourself as an adventurer, is it alright for you to use the same name? Shouldn't you also use a pseudonym, like we- like Evileye-san?" (Momon)

"There's no other way, is there?" (Keeno)

"No, that won't be a problem, I have already taken care of it." (Tanya)

If there was one obvious flaw to the disguise, it was that her name remained unchanged. Experiments had demonstrated how demons were bound to their name, and Demiurge had confirmed the idea. Exact consequences varied, but at the very least, a summoned demon would be recalled, while one already manifested in the world and bound to the world would cripple their astral body, or soul, in attempting to do so.

Excepting cases where they somehow came into possession of two names, it was an absolute restriction. Tanya's own memory failed her on that, or rather, that set of memories had somehow been deleted from her being. She should have had another name, his name, but it had vanished from her mind.

Of course, as far as she was concerned, rules always had loopholes, and finding those had been a talent of hers even before becoming a demon supposedly specialized in the subject. A demon's name was, theoretically, that by which they were known at the moment they came into existence. Were one to have two prior to conception, retaining both was possible.

For instance, she had already confirmed that regardless of whether she included the 'von' in her name or gave her original full title as 'Battalion Commander Major Tanya Von Degurechaff of the Imperial 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion', she did not feel any repercussions, despite the name no longer being accurate to her.

Though she hadn't actually performed any experiments where she would expect failure, the rules for what qualified as an acceptable name were evidently fairly fluid.

This logic led to a theory, which she decided to test herself, at risk of stunning herself into several weeks' recuperation and against Demiurge's advice and warnings. She had, after all, been named once and Named again afterwards… or so she had reasoned.

Tanya pulled off the tag and tossed it onto the table.

"I forgot to mention it before. If you really need to, it's fine to refer to me as 'Hakugin' (White Silver). I've already had it registered as that in the official registration." (Tanya)

There wasn't any harm to revealing this, given how much of an oddity she must already be in the eyes of Blue Rose. It was just another minor irregularity.

Ainz had previously mentioned that he himself had never heard of the law before Demiurge mentioned it in passing. Certainly, it had never existed within YGGDRASIL, but neither was it exclusive to this new world, since Demiurge understood it instinctively.

Then, what would happen if Ulbert were still in this world? Would he automatically gain knowledge of that law in the way Ainz understood how to sense his own magic, or would he be protected from it just as any Player was within YGGDRASIL? There was no way to tell now, but it should at least be reasonable to assume there existed other exceptions than Tanya's own moniker.

To begin with, the very idea of performing experiments on summoned demons or angels was something that would never occur to normal people. The likes of Evileye who would have both the means and hobby of attempting such a test would inevitably be incredibly rare, and even somebody with specialized knowledge couldn't necessarily say whether the same rules applied to common low-ranked demons and an archfiend worthy of the name 'Demon Emperor'.

As such, neither Nabe nor Momon were particularly perturbed by hearing this, the former nodding along with disinterest, the latter accepting it without much thought. Or rather, his complaints were of an entirely different nature.

"It's 'white' and 'silver', but you made your eyes and hair, belt, knife, and scabbard all completely black… I can see the white, but where's the silver, is it false advertising? Does the design conflict too much?" (Momon)

"Silver rusts black. Isn't it fine, then?" (Tanya)

"… The name fits the person, then, 'Rusted Silver'. Understood." (Nabe)

"An interesting observation, 'Beautiful Princess' Nabe-dono, the names people do think up… From whom did you happen to hear that?" (Tanya)

"Obviously, an inferior lifeform (First Lieutenant Warren Grantz) mentioned it under the condition of anonymity." (Nabe)

"I see, an anonymous inferior lifeform (First Lieutenant Warren Grantz). I'll be sure to remember that. Thank you." (Tanya)

"Glad to be of assistance." (Nabe)

The two exchanged an out-of-place polite greeting, disproportionately so for the woman famous for her scornful gazes and cruel remarks.

"… Although, that's an issue for the distant future. Let's get going already, we're running out of time." (Tanya)

Without waiting for confirmation, she grabbed two others and disappeared with them. Some time later, she came back again, but with only three people left in the room besides herself, there wasn't much left in the way of conversation.

After a minute of re-confirming her calculations, she took the last Blue Rose still present and vanished. Any pending questions were deferred until some other time.

When she next returned, only Momon and Nabe – Ainz and Narberal remained in the meeting room.

"Then, lastly…" (Tanya)

"… Ainz-sama, won't you please reconsider? The risk of traveling so far from Nazarick is incomparable to E-Rantel or the Holy Kingdom. How is your army to perish in your service if they are too far away to sacrifice themselves on your behalf? Is this not precisely the role Pandora's Actor-sama exists to fill?" (Narberal)

"Narberal… there is still much to do here, I would hate to away the actors Demiurge's plans require. Pandora's Actor still has many roles to fill, there is nothing in the immediate future which would demand my direct attention." (Ainz)

"What task could possibly be as important as protecting the Supreme One!? When you went to conquer the Dwarven Kingdom, it was with Aura-sama and Shalltear-sama, as well as the Hanzos and soldiers accompanying you. Without our yet knowing who we will have to exterminate, won't you at least bring along that much?" (Narberal)

From the sound of it, the two had been on the subject for the entire time Tanya had been away.

Or rather, they had clearly been on it many times before, and this was just the latest attempt.

Tanya leaned back against a wall and let the argument continue. Though Ainz was likely wishing to keep as few members in the party as possible to be able to relax and take a break for a while, she was personally of a similar opinion to Narberal – though having more guards may not strictly be necessary, more force was always welcome, when it came to reconnaissance in force.

"Isn't it fine? I'm sure Demiurge-sama would be more than happy to free some of them up if you only asked." (Tanya)

"Hm?" (Ainz)

Ainz paused at her unexpected betrayal.

"That's right, if only the rest of the Pleiades, surely…" (Narberal)

"It wouldn't be hard to justify, just say I brought along some of Jaldabaoth's maids for myself as adjutants." (Tanya)

Ainz slowly shook his head.

"… I'm afraid we cannot do that. My reasons for creating Momon were deep and profound, but he is not all-powerful. The same character which saved us the effort of crushing E-Rantel and destroying the Kingdom could not do the same for other countries which remain." (Ainz)

"As expected of the Supreme One. However-" (Narberal)

"How does this translate to bringing along the Pleiades? There are several reasons, but… right, the relationship between the Sorcerous Kingdom and you, the adventurer, is vital. There is an important distinction between merely doing work for the Sorcerer King, and being able to call upon his maids." (Ainz)

"I see… would you please be so kind as to reveal to us, why then we already allowed the secret to be revealed to those other women?" (Narberal)

"No, that's unlikely. Since Momon is keeping the identity a secret, they will as well. His trust gives credibility to the claim. Probably." (Tanya)

"Ah." (Narberal)

"… It's impossible to be certain, but broadly speaking, you are correct… Besides that… well, it is not something immediately important. Continue to think about for the time being. If you still have not figured it out when next you return, ask Demiurge for the answer. He will have figured it out, I am sure." (Ainz)

"I am in awe of your profound wisdom, Ainz-sama." (Narberal)

"… I'll be sure to do so at the first opportunity." (Tanya)

Narberal answered with a deep bow, while Tanya did so only reluctantly.

"Ahem… so, there you have it. Inviting more guardians, or the Pleiades, or even finding time to meet with stealth operatives would create needless suspicion, it would be far too short-sighted." (Ainz)

"I understand. My sincerest apologies for wasting your time with such a foolish question." (Narberal)

"Umu. Well, with that settled, let us not make them wait any longer." (Ainz)

"Then, by your leave, I will transfer us immediately." (Tanya)

With just those last words, the three impostor adventurers vanished as well, finally leaving the former audience room vacant of its master and subjects.

Part 4

Albedo laid sprawled on her back, black wings spread out listlessly across the enormous bed.

She let out a prolonged sign as she slowly rolled over, sinking her head into the pillows.

Though her master lacked skin, metabolism, or any number of biological functions which might cause a living being to leave behind a scent, when she breathed in deeply, she felt that she could still smell when he had last laid upon the same bed.

Even as she heard the door into the bedroom slide open, she didn't get up, only glancing over to see who was intruding on her, before quickly sinking back into the soft mattress.

"… What is it, Demiurge?" (Albedo)

Her half-muffled voice called out from the pillow.

"Albedo, although I don't mind covering for you for a day, all of Nazarick will be troubled if their Guardian Overseer were to suddenly seclude herself or run off somewhere." (Demiurge)

"… Would they really, now? Didn't Momonga-sama leave me behind because I was of no use?" (Albedo)

Demiurge frowned back.

"… I would dare say Tabula Smaragdina-sama didn't create you to be so easily depressed. Isn't the fact that Ainz-sama went so far as to engrave his own touch onto your being itself proof of his affection?" (Demiurge)

Albedo rolled back over and sat onto the side of the bed, which was littered with black feathers from her day on it. These beautiful jet-black feathers could be priceless treasures in the outside world, but here they weren't even an afterthought for the two Guardians.

"… I know that. So why would he leave us behind?" (Albedo)

"Surely you jest. No matter how distraught you may be, there would never be a need for you of all people to ask me something so blatantly obvious." (Demiurge)

"If he were here, Ainz-sama would tell us that it's to create a character for that girl you picked up to act as another arbiter of law for conquered cities… my intuition as his wife tells me that. Of course, that's only a mental exercise to keep the two of us from growing complacent." (Albedo)

"Our meager intelligence only amounts to so much, that is why he teaches us as he does." (Demiurge)

"Obviously. Another governor would go far in aiding Nazarick, but that is only a surface motivation. Besides that, I'm sure they really will be opening trade and diplomatic relations, though that too is only an afterthought, nothing which Ainz-sama would have to step out to handle personally." (Albedo)

"That's right. Although they are certain to accomplish a great many extraordinary things, his true motive would never be so short-sighted." (Demiurge)

"I know, it's no secret. With how many times he has tried to teach us to be independent, any fool would see it. It's just… why would he, if not to one day abandon us when we can no longer satisfy him?" (Albedo)

Demiurge quietly shrugged and shook his head while smiling.

"Please, you should get some rest. Have you forgotten to consider the reason Ainz-sama was expressing so much interest in the cultural practices of humans? Why he performs tests while removing individual Guardians and members of Nazarick alongside himself? We know for a fact that it isn't as though he would do something like skip out on work, so put it together, for what reason might he expect to be away from his own Great Underground Tomb with another for an extended period of time?" (Demiurge)

Albedo's golden eyes lit up in realization even before he finished, her delight growing with every word that followed.

"… -A honeymoon." (Albedo)

And Demiurge met her gaze and smile.

"… Or related matters. Just think… When first he went out to Carne Village, it was alongside yourself, Albedo, the one time you were free of work, for he knew you would soon be busy. Next it was E-Rantel with Narberal, the Dwarven Kingdom with Aura and Shalltear, the Holy Kingdom with CZ… and now the far south, with Tanya as well… do you believe it was a coincidence that each and every time, he brought along another of his female servants or Guardians?" (Demiurge)

"Demiurge, I wish to sincerely apologize for my foolishness. And, thank you, for reminding me of the obvious. Each and every choice he makes is brought forth with limitless layers of foresight, and shapes the future of Nazarick and this world to his will." (Albedo)

"… And it is our duty as his Guardians to discover and implement his will from the cursory fragments he deigns to reveal to us." (Demiurge)

The two had met a perfect mutual understanding. There was no further room for mistakes or hesitation in their future.

"… All of Nazarick belongs to you, as the entire world will all be yours, Ainz-sama." (Albedo)

"Then we must make use of the months he has promised us. The gears, he has already set in motion, the seeds planted, now all we have left to do is to reap the harvest in his name." (Demiruge)

"Yes. The Republic is already promised to be his prey, but before his return, the Empire, Kingdom, Theocracy, Holy Kingdom, Draconic Kingdom, and the demi-human countries… all of these, at very least, must definitively be brought under the veil of the Sorcerous Kingdom." (Albedo)

"… Then so it shall be." (Demiurge)

Discord for random discussion, complaining, and pointing out errors: WZr7tET