Title: Live and Learn
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Lord Ainz and Narberal (in their Momon and Nabe guises).
Setting: After the thirteenth episode of the anime.
Summary: Ainz explains why his followers can serve him best by living.
Disclaimer: They belong to Kugane Maruyama. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt word "Apology" at Fan Flashworks. My first foray into writing an "Overlord" fic.
It was rather embarrassing to Lord Ainz Ooal Gown when his servants groveled for no good reason.
"My inadequacy to serve you is inexcusable," Narberal Gamma asserted, as she knelt aggrievedly at the feet of her undead master. "Someone capable of such failure as myself has no place among your followers. Please allow me to atone for my worthlessness with my wretched life."
Lord Ainz heaved a lungless sigh.
The day had started so smoothly. Having no pressing matters to attend to, Ainz took the whim to venture into E-Rantel, and see if there were any available quests to help enlarge his legend as the dark warrior Momon. With Narberal at his side as his adventuring partner Nabe, he soon made the acquaintance of a pathetic—and very frantic—young nobleman. This fellow was desperate to hire a warrior to retrieve a sword lost in an ill-conceived battle with a band of goblins. (According to him, this sword had no special monetary value, but it was apparently passed down from generations of his ancestors who used it for much more glorious exploits. Indeed, he was more upset at its loss than at the deaths of two equally upstart friends who had joined him in the excursion. Ainz suspected that when he yammered about his father killing him if he failed to get the sword back, he meant it quite literally.)
Normally, Ainz would have little sympathy for a human who could be bested by such trivial opponents as goblins. However, what the spoiled heir lacked in personal character and abilities, he compensated for in his coffers. He offered a ridiculously large bounty for whoever might save his skin by returning the sword… and truthfully, the treasury of Nazarick had suffered no small depletion in the price paid to resurrect Shalltear. Besides, it would never hurt to ensure that the goblin race feared Momon enough to give him a wide berth. Ainz wished for no distractions from such lowly and annoying creatures when he was engaged in more important pursuits.
So he accepted the quest. He and Narberal set out for the woodland where that young noble and his comrades had run afoul of the goblins; but along the way, they faced an unexpected threat. With no warning whatsoever, a rift in the sky opened, and from this spilled a swarm of winged, sharp-taloned, shrieking creatures—harpies, by the looks of them—who attempted to launch an attack on the two travelers.
Of course, dispensing with them was hardly any greater effort than swatting flies. There was nothing left of them now but the bloody piles of rags, flesh, and feathers that dotted the ground. As a nice bonus, among those bodies, Ainz discovered the magical item that appeared to have created the space-folding rift they traveled through… and he was now extremely interested in the question of who had so equipped them. From what he observed, the barely-sentient harpies would have lacked the sophistication to plot such a surprise attack themselves.
As for Narberal, she fought with valiance and her customary devastating power. What she really blamed herself for was having not detected the threat before it was unleashed. If Lord Ainz himself was unable to sense the rift before the moment it appeared, there was certainly no way the battle maid could have; but as usual, and like all of Nazarick's Guardians, she considered it a mortal sin to be anything less than omniscient about dangers to her master.
"There is nothing to atone for, Narberal," Ainz told her, trying to make his deep and sepulchral voice as gentle as he could. "When we were attacked, you did nothing but serve me to the best of your skills."
Narberal flinched, her gaze still downcast. "But not to realize you were walking into danger—"
"You are not all-knowing, as even I am not—and I forgive you completely for that." After a brief hesitation, Ainz stretched out his gauntleted hand, and lifted the chin of his servant. She started at the touch, staring back at him in astonished wonder.
"Rise, Narberal," he commanded her gracefully, "and let's be on our way. We still have a quest to complete."
Hastily she stood, but her eyes shifted away from him once again. She still looked thoroughly confused—a fact he tried not to feel exasperated by.
"Your mercy is more than I can comprehend," she murmured.
"It's very simple." Ainz turned and began to walk, resuming the course they had been on when the harpies rudely interrupted. "What value would your death possibly have to me?"
At his side and half a step behind, he was aware of Narberal ducking her head. "My removal would make a place for someone more skilled and worthy to serve you."
"And how do you suppose one might become more skilled and worthy—if not by continuing to live?"
Narberal's breath caught. She nearly halted, only to hurry on; no doubt compelled by her sense of duty to keep up with him.
"I'm not sure I understand, my Lord."
Once more, Ainz hesitated—for a brief moment feeling more like the baffled and uncertain Momonga than the all-powerful Overlord of the Great Tomb of Nazarick. In this world of fantasies made real that he was still exploring, he wasn't quite sure what capacity the now-living NPCs had to adapt their thoughts and actions based on new experiences and knowledge. Externally, they could react to complex commands they were never given before, rather than heeding only the strict programming of a game; that alone proved a startling change in their apprehension, but it was just the beginning of how alive they had become.
This, perhaps, was the greatest of the mysteries that lay before Ainz to be unraveled. Now that his servants were flesh and blood, how much further could their minds progress internally? Were their capabilities still set in a predetermined mold, unable to develop beyond the new limits they had mysteriously been granted… or could they actually learn to grow?
Judging by what he had witnessed already, in Narberal Gamma and all the rest of his devoted Guardians…
"Listen to me." Ainz paused in his steps and turned, looking down intently at his companion through the eye slits of his helmet. "If I take the life of any who follow me, just because they cannot yet do something, then I would forever deprive them of the chance to learn how to do it. I would be casting away not only the skills and strengths they possess in the present, but all greater abilities they might gain to better serve me in the future. That would be a terrible waste—and waste is something I deplore. Do you understand now, Narberal? Death would only render you useless, but by living to acquire further experience and knowledge, you will attain even greater value to me."
Perhaps it said something in itself that comprehension slowly came over Narberal's face, like the break of dawn.
"I think I see now, my Lord. …I've never had such wisdom explained to me so clearly before! Truly, the greatness of your leadership is beyond compare."
Ainz resisted a mild urge to skullpalm. Grasping such basic common sense might not have been much, but at least it was a start… and when he considered it, the potential for his Guardians to evolve through time and changing circumstances gave him a small thrill. Maybe his own altered psyche would not be the only one to give him cause for curiosity and wonder.
In any case, he was immensely glad and grateful to have the creations of his guildmates at his side; to have the chance to see what they might become as the future unfolded, and guide them to conduct their miraculous new lives in a manner that would make their creators proud. If his old comrades never saw the legacy he meant to build in their name, he was comforted by the idea that he could share it with those who were—in a sense—their offspring.
As a human, he had never given any thought to parenthood. It wasn't as if he ever would have experienced it then, anyway, in a world where he was unnoticed and alone.
Yet here, with those who were designed to love and need their Overlord… Those he himself had loved enough to remain with in the end that was a new beginning, when even their own makers did not…
Ainz thought he might be discovering some small glimpse of what being a father felt like.
"Come, Narberal," he said briskly, with the faintest trace of warmth in his resonant tones. "Let's finish with this business quickly. I'm eager to return home… to Nazarick."
2016 Jordanna Morgan