I in no way shape or form own Fate/Stay Night or Overlord ( オーバーロード). They belong to their respective owner. Fate/Stay night is property of Type-Moon, and Overlord ( オーバーロード) belongs to Kugane Maruyama. And I in no shape or form make a profit of writing and publishing this.
Hurray! An update, and this one didn't take half a year to get out! Progress!
Anyways, welcome! We're finally in the World Champion Tournament arc that I had thought of and planned all the way back when I first started it. I can't express just how excited I am to finally flex some of the ideas I've got stewing in my noggin' over the year. The outline and plans for how this arc has undergone several revisions and edits over the years and in typical me fashion, the expected number of chapters for this arc went up.
Also, I'd forgotten to write this before but wow. Over 5k favs and follows, with the story nearly reaching 6k follows! And over 2.2k reviews! You guys have been killing it! We would just like to say thank you and express our gratitude for the support and interest in the story and making this treat to do. While our update schedule can use some more work please know that we're not intending to drop this anytime soon.
With my piece said, please enjoy the chapter! Author's note can be found further at the end if anyone wants to read more on my notes and thoughts. And we're continuing this Omake train rolling strong!
Beta'd: Dante Evans
Word Count: 33,519
Chapter 10: The 9th World Champion Tournament I
October 15, 2136. World: Helheim. Location: Poisonous Swamp. Recommended level: 80-85
Amidst the outcropping of the poisonous swamp stood a Player. One dressed rather woefully unprepared when compared to the harsh terrain he'd found himself in. Clothed in a simple, frilly white and silver top with a corset-like leather midsection and soft white pants. A teal cape hung from his shoulder with pouches and other accessories aligning his attire. On one of his hand was a gauntlet with a contraption of some kind, a slinger. Curious of them all was an aviator helmet with goggles that possessed magnification scopes for one of the lenses.
Hendrickson – Lvl: 100
The clanking of footsteps alerted him, turning to the side to find a Player waiting there.
"So, we're ready or what?"
A feminine voice asked aloud, tinged with a certain roughness and impatience. A heavy contrast as the Player's avatar was covered head to toe in bulky silver and white heavy armor, armed with an equally massive looking greatsword resting on her shoulder.
Kaura – Lvl: 100
Hendrickson glanced at his partner, then to those right behind them. There were seven Players present, Hendrickson and Kaura included, with the other five being a magic caster, a healer, a paladin, a rogue, and lastly an archer to round out the party. With eight additional mercenary NPCs, each wielding two great tower shields, to bolster their number. In total, their party numbered fifteen. Relatively small all things considered for the mission they were about to undergo but then again, that was the point.
He didn't answer immediately, waiting a few more seconds before receiving numerous incoming [Message]'s, all conformations. Nodding to himself, he turned back to the others.
"Everything's set. We're moving out."
Affirmatives were given as spells, magic crystals, and scrolls were used; a plethora of defensive barriers and cloaking spells camouflaged the group. Suitably prepared and with all protective measures taken the party of Players and NPC marched forward unabated. In silence they traversed the dangerous terrain, showing little fear even as they passed through the thick swamp, bypassing the various mobs and monsters, most noticeably the Tuvegs.
Their destination? None other than The Great Tomb of Nazarick, headquarters to the infamous Ainz Ooal Gown.
With a game as intricate and expansive as YGGDRASIL was, combined with the strictly hands-off approach the developers employed when it came to how the game was run on a day by day basis, it wasn't surprising that the Players eventually developed their own meta systems and economy within the virtual world similar to the real world.
This hands-off approach to everything, while a source of the games challenge and intrigue, had led many players to feel discontent with the game. One way or another.
And there'll always be those that wish to profit from said discontent.
Just as there were numerous guilds work in the public eye, there are also those that work under the table so to speak.
They were known as Underground Guilds, groups of specialized individuals who dealt with the unsavory work that other people didn't wish to participate in. The Seeker guilds were among those designated as such. While their typical function of serving as mercenary scouts was far from unpleasant, it was their other services that saw them stigmatized. Infiltration, theft, sabotage and even collaborating with Assassins and PKers. As long as the payment was worth it, they'd take almost any job.
Information was worth its weight in yen and gold in YGGDRASIL, especially reliable intel. Making them a very profitable venture that came with an equally risky endeavor. For often these Seekers step into the unknown and court death at any turn, just to scrounge whatever they could. It could be almost called a daredevil profession.
Hendrickson belonged to one such organization, known as the All-Scrying Eye. They were contracted to ascertain and learn as much as they could about the Great Tomb of Nazarick. Deemed among one of the unassailable guild bases in all of YGGDRASIL, befitting of the 6th most powerful guild in the game.
Rumors went that not even the 1st Floor of their guild base has been properly mapped out yet, despite numerous raids and attempts being made on Nazarick in the past. With every venture failing to make it to the 2nd Floor.
Hence their relatively small numbers. They weren't there to assault the base or attack the guild itself, no. They were there to poke and prod, to learn as much as they could about positioning, floor layout, enemy placements, traps, potential boss NPCs, and so forth. The Seekers were to glean as much detail as they could, at any cost. Often, this meant that their demise was assured, but that was no deterrent.
For guilds such as them, death was merely an inconvenience rather than a hindrance as it was compared to other Players. Leveling up was easy to grind out, and the one item drop system upon death could be circumvented simply by having within their inventory a rare, but ultimately expendable, item to use as safety nets. The payment dulled out by those that wish to employ their services more than compensate for it in the end.
There was also a fat bonus in it for them if they managed to somehow find a route to reach the 2nd Floor.
Soon, the dense poisonous fog of the marshes receded, leaving a gloomy mist that choked the air. Within a few seconds, they'd finally reached their destination. The outer wall that separated the poisonous swamp and the graveyard clear in their sight.
Hendrickson raised his hand, signaling the group to stop.
Glancing up, he saw the name tag on his HUD. They were at the border edge, a couple of meters forward and they'll officially be in the guild base's territory.
A window popped up with a clear image and view of his party, followed by five more around him. Within seconds the others flashed to life, showing other parties.
Hendrickson's party wasn't alone, there were five others. They had split up their total forces into six smaller, more manageable groups to tackle Nazarick from different directions.
"Status, is everyone in position?" Hendrickson, the first party leader, checked in.
"We're in position and waiting for your go." A second, more gravelly voice answered. The leader of the second party.
"Geez, took you guys long enough. Was afraid something might've happened to ya." A squeaking voice joked, the third-party leader.
"Here... Mind if we get this over with already?" The fourth party leader droned, his voice sluggish.
The fifth and sixth party leaders turned in and said little else, deferring to Hendrickson's command.
With a few hot key presses, his HUD was reorganized with the six screens appearing and rotating around Hendrickson. Each screen was filled with the names and status bar of every Player and NPCs of the respective party. Ninety in total – forty-two Players and forty-eight NPCs.
This was possible thanks to his high-tier support job class, [Overseer], allowing him to sync up with not only his party but others as well. One specialized in coordination and communication.
While using [Message] was the tried and true method for communication within YGGDRASIL, it was not without its counter. [Message] was technically classified as a tier two spell despite being a feature, and as a result, was subjected to counters such as anti-scrying and divination. With the right spells or skills, [Message]s could be intercepted, outright blocked, or even hijacked and fabricated.
In the heat of battle, how well a party could maintain their coordination and cohesion could mean the difference in way of victory or a total wipe. It all came down to management. With the [Overseer] class, he had real-time vision and relay on not only his party but everyone's, their HP, MP, status, and so forth. Along with an instant line of communication to any of them.
The job class was intensive, requiring the user to be highly adept and coordinative, skilled at multitasking many variables and oversights. But for Hendrickson, it was nothing new.
His eyes roamed over the names, performing one final check-up before beginning.
"Everyone remembers the plan?" He asked, receiving confirmations from the parties.
"Why are we doing this so late at night again? ~Yawn~ Some of us have to work in a few hours." The fourth party leader yawned; his drowsy words clear for all to hear.
"We received a tip that there wouldn't be potential interference from the guild at night. Weren't you listening?" The second party leader repeated mattered a factly, giving his fellow party leader a deadpan. He was among the ones to initially volunteer for the job and yet here he was complaining.
"I thought it meant around nine or ten at night, or hell even eleven. It's practically tomorrow already!"
Indeed, a glance at their menu and the digital clock showed it to be 12:38 am, very late into the night. Hence his grouchy demeanor.
"What's the matter? The wittle baby needs his nappy." The third-party leader chimed in, his voice playful and mocking. Earning a low growl from the fourth party leader.
"Watch it brat, unlike some people we're working adults with an 80+ hour work schedule."
"Cut the chatter." Hendrickson's stern voice silenced the matter, the other party leaders giving him their undivided attention.
"We've been paid generously for the job, that means we stick to it. The faster we move this along, the faster we can get this done."
The two other party leaders grumbled but voiced little else.
"Still, you'd think that a high-ranking guild like Ainz Ooal Gown wouldn't be quite this defenseless. Had we tried something like this with either Trinity or the 2ch Alliance, we'd be assaulted regardless by dozens of Players well before we'll even have spotted their base. How the hell they got a working schedule to make sure their bases are guarded 24/7 is anyone's guess." The fifth party leader idly commented.
"It's not surprising. Compared to the rest of the top ten, their numbers are lacking." The sixth party leader replied, sparking sparse chatter from the rest.
Over the years, from speculations and past encounters against the members of Ainz Ooal Gown by those on the YGGDRASIL's forums, it was estimated that there were more than forty but less than fifty members within the guild. An outlier when compared to the rest of the top ten. The other nine guilds all possessed member count in at least the triple digits, if not more. Speaking highly to the quality and dedication of the Players within the Heteromorphic guild.
However, that low Player count was a double edge sword. While their exclusivity prevented outside Players from joining with the intent to spy and sabotage, as well as keeping them uniform, in return Ainz Ooal Gown couldn't run a tight ship should things such as differing playtime or conflicting schedules crop up. Granting a window of opportunity that others could exploit.
After all, every Player has to log out eventually.
The Seekers chose to strike so late into the night when any normal Player would be reasonably offline and or near sleep or exhaustion. Little to no Player interference meant fewer resistances and that goes a long way in making their job easier in securing their goal. The collection of any strategic information relevant to their employers.
"Everyone, activate cams."
Following his order Hendrickson hit a button on his menu, a small bright red dot appearing off in the corner of his HUD. Showing that the recording was set. One by one all the members turned up green.
As his mouth opened to finally give the go-ahead on the operation, his eyes glances to the screens just as the names, status bars, and even video feed of the entire third party flickered and scrambled before producing nothing but static. Both Players and NPCs alike.
Hendrickson blinked and stared mutely at his screen for a solid second, waiting.
'That's never happened before...'
No more than a second later, his ears caught the distant rumbling and sounds of explosions far in the distance. Coming exactly from where the third party were positioned.
It took a fraction of a second for the information and realization clicked in his head and he wasted no time giving the order.
Without another word, the rest of the parties launched themselves into action. Passing through the dilapidated walls, they entered hostile territory.
It wouldn't take long before they encountered resistances.
Scores of undead littered the inner compound, their mindless shambling form sensing and turning towards the intruders. A miasma of negative energy polluting the air. Despite their vast numbers, there was little in the way of stopping the party's momentum as they cut a swathe through the horde of mobs.
Most to all the undead present were low-tier fodder, with the occasional mid-tier undead scattered throughout. Their levels barely reach level 50. To the party of maxed out Players and mercenary NPCs, it was child's play as they made quick work of them and continued their path to the central mausoleum with minimal trouble.
The party was organized with their frontliners at the forefront, their archer and rogue as the rear guard with the mages and supporters with him in the center. The NPC tanks were assigned at the front, side and rear for maximum protection.
They continued forth as Hendrickson kept one eye on his screen, keeping track of everyone's progress and status. He tried contacting and hailing the third party but any attempts to reach them via [Message], skills, or otherwise proved fruitless.
As they closed the distance towards the central structure, he could hear the sound of battling ringing from the other corners of the field.
"[Command Call]!" He connected to the others, their feed instantly appearing besides those from the third party.
"We're almost at the building, ETA one minute." The second party leader briefed, followed by the fifth and sixth party leader. They would arrive at the same time as Hendrickson's team would.
"Meeting some stiff resistance here!" The fourth party leader shouted.
Looking at them, Hendrickson saw on the video feeds of the various members that he and his party were indeed having some trouble. Not only were the number of undead greater on their end, but they also had to deal with what looked like explosive projectiles raining down on them.
"It's going to be a while and...wait... What's that?" He paused, looking into the distance. "I think I see someone or two... Shit, we're not alone! We—"
It was only by virtue of the video feed that he noticed light bursting forth from below and not a second later Hendrickson was met with static screens, just like what had happened with the third party. A split second before that, on one of the footage of the Player he'd caught something. A flash of piercing red.
"Continue with the plan. Double time!" He gave the order. The remaining parties increased their pace even if it meant charging recklessly forward. They needed to get inside and quickly.
"I thought the tip said that there wouldn't be anyone online at this time to defend the base." The Overseer heard one of his guildmates grunted aloud, accusingly.
"Guess the intel misjudged it. That, or we got unlucky." He replied coolly, putting it behind him. Their presence was revealed, complaining about it won't change a thing.
"I don't mind. Just means I don't have to waste my night away fighting NPCs. Give me a good fight against a member of Ainz Ooal Gown any day!" Kaura let out an exciting laugh from the front.
Hendrickson rolled his eyes at her eagerness. What a battle maniac. They still had a job to do, no matter the hiccups.
Their stratagem was rather simplistic, revolving around the tactic of the six parties launching simultaneous attacks, using the element of surprise and speed in order to cover as much ground as they could once they reached the 1st floor. In spite of the information the tip provided, the strategy covered their bases on the off chance they would encounter Player resistance. The defender would be forced to pick, diverting attention and attrition to either one or two of the parties, but never all, allowing the others to do their duties while the targeted party did whatever they could to stall it out for the rest of them. All the while Hendrickson coordinated and managed the groups to optimized every advantage they could get.
Unlike the rest, Hendrickson's entire kit was purely support-based, with levels and job classes focused on the specialization of a commander-type and enchanter support. What he lacked in any offensive capability he more than made up for it in terms of pure utility.
Thanks to his hybrid build of [Grand Enchanter], [Coordinator], and [General Commander] – any buffs or enchantment used by him on his party also extended to the others linked up with him.
This allowed him to have complete oversight and coordination of the groups, maximizing their efficiency to get the job done right.
Their plan of attack was far from a revolutionary plan but it a tried and true strategy they've employed hundreds of times in the past to varying degrees of success.
Until tonight that was.
Hendrickson didn't want to admit it, but he was a bit spooked. For a veteran in his occupation, the phrase "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry" was a rather common one.
Typically he wouldn't have even batted an eye. He'd faced all manner of challenges in the past, this first time his surveillance or communication were interfered with or countered, so it wasn't anything new or worth fret over.
Yet, this would be the first time he'd remember ever been warded off so absolutely.
Typically, he would've received a warning should any spells or skills attempt to either hack or interfere with his channels thanks to the numerous passive protection skills in addition to anti-counter spells.
Yet, whatever it was that was obstructing him bypassed his numerous safeguards like it was nothing. None of his innate counter-measures, abilities, or skills could break through whatever it was that keeping him in the dark, no even cash items were working. He tried no less than ten different methods but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't re-establish contact with the others.
With lines of communication disrupted and almost half of their entire forces gone dark, it cut their effectiveness down almost halfway. Ramping up the difficulty of the job even further.
A part of him wanted to call off the mission, cut their losses, regroup, and rethink their approach even if it meant leaving Ainz Ooal Gown on heightened alert for their next attempt. After all, if there was something capable of all but rendering practically half his build's utility inept then one could only hazard a guess as to what else they'll encounter within the tomb.
However, he forced the impulse down. Hendrickson's Guildmaster would have his ass and head on a platter if they came back empty-handed even with an explanation. The guild always took half the payment upfront and the second half of the fee once the commission was done. Returning with little to show for it would only reflect badly on their reputation. And for guilds such as them, that wasn't an alternative.
Hendrickson shook his head, grimacing all the while. Whatever the case was, it was too late now. They've faced worse odd before, it wouldn't be any difference now. All that they could do was continue with the mission, improvise when needed and hope for the best.
It didn't take long before Hendrickson's party reached the steps of the great mausoleum. In that time the Overseer had used a plethora of spells and skills, buffing all of his allies. He kept a watchful eye on his remaining MP and skills, extra careful not to splurge it all at once.
A part of him hoped that his aid also extended to the two party's all but lost to him, if only for the sake of keeping them alive a little bit longer to allow them to buy more time for Hendrickson and the rest. However, he wouldn't hold his breath if they were negated as well.
The second and fifth parties were already inside Nazarick by the time Hendrickson's party climbed to the top of the steps and descended into the interior with the sixth party right behind them.
They quickly triggered one of the many teleportation traps that riddled the area with the purpose of displacing any intruders across the 1st Floor. In a flash, they were relocated, appearing randomly within the 1st Floor – The Catacombs. A large, multi-spanning subterranean burial chamber. The air was dark and musky, an extension of the graveyard from the surface.
Thanks to Hendrickson's spell, [Candlelight], it created a hovering orb of light that helped illuminate their path as they traverse through the pitch darkness.
Forward they charged, nary a hesitation in their steps as Hendrickson charted their path and led the party down the treacherous underground. Masses of undead awaited them at every turn as they delved deeper into the Floor.
"We're moving to the right." He called out, leading his party down a path he'd never seen before while also giving orders to the others.
For the most part, all was seemingly well as they fought and adventured forth through uncharted territory like a well-oiled machine. With the group recording and capturing anything and everything they saw.
Through the feeds, he kept careful watch over the others. Like Hendrickson's group, they faced similar obstacles, save for one of the parties engaging with what looked like the boss of the Floor. Before he could offer a word the party was consumed by light and then static just like the other two previously.
The Overseer clicked his tongue, barking out another set of orders to what remained of their forces.
The first party exited the cavern system and as they matched across a narrow walkway, the ground beneath them glowed yet again and in a flash they were teleported away.
Appearing elsewhere, the party was on guard.
Hendrickson's ear twitched, catching the sound of something. Loud rumbling, and it was coming from above them.
He looked up. There, massive chunks of the ceiling and sharpened stalagmite loosened and descended upon them. Threatening to flatten the party.
"Defensive measures!" Hendrickson called out, the mage of the group erecting a barrier while he commanded and organized the mercenary NPCs to form up around the Players, shields up and at the ready.
The Players hunkered in and waited, the world shook around them as stone and rubble slammed onto them and the ground. After a few more seconds it stopped, deemed safe the party poured forth, unharmed from the trap.
Hendrickson took a moment to scour their new surroundings. He brought his goggles down, scopes magnifying with the activation night vision and infrared vision to scout out the surrounding.
Unlike the twisting and winding rocky cave system they found themselves in before, the party found elsewhere. Within in a dead field, though it would be more accurate to call it a plain with coarse, upturned dirt littering the region that stretched onwards indefinitely. Or at least, that was what Hendrickson assumed as past a dozen meters the mist was too dense, obscuring even his aid.
The party leader also noted that this area wasn't one he knew, having reviewed all available information of the tomb before hand. That factoid was both good and bad news. Good news was, they uncovered a previously undiscovered location of the 1st Floor. Bad news was, they would have no idea what they shall encounter.
"Where to?" Kaura asked, eyes surveying the area. There were no mobs in sight at the moment but that didn't mean they were safe just yet.
"Where else? Forward."
Once more they proceeded onwards and for nearly a minute, they encountered nothing across the barren plot of land. The sound of silence echoing far and wide. Which only heightened their cautiousness.
Then, they heard it. Something rattling in the wind, all around them.
"[Boost magic: Sonar Call]!" Hendrickson used a skill, a sonic wave pulsated outwards.
The skill in question was a detection skill, simple and useful for detecting mobs or Players via sound and echolocation. On his HUD, there were outlines and points with vibration marks emanating from within the fog of war. Indicating that they were mobs all around them, hidden by the mist and they were closing in fast.
"Four at our eight O'clock, three at three O'clock, and five at twelve O'clock!" He called out, delegating targets.
He heard the archer and mage doing their job but kept his gaze centered and forward while the frontliners braced for impact.
From the mist something jumped out, speeding towards them. It took a second before Hendrickson's eye acclimated and realized that it was a spinning wheel of some kind.
Kaura let loose a roar, swinging her sword with the activation of a skill and slicing two of them in half. The paladin held his guard as one of the wheels spun and raked against his shield, sparks flying. With a parry, he swatted it back allowing the rest a good look at it.
It was an undead, that alone was easily discerned thanks to the skeletal bones and skull, entrapped by a giant circular wheel. Running along the edge of the circumference of the wheel were rusted spikes.
Undead Wheels Lvl – 60
The paladin thrust his sword forward, light bursting forth with his skill, and pierced the mob, killing it as it broke into pieces.
The remaining two bounced off the mercenary NPCs shields, their charge was unsuccessful against their bulwark.
Instead of attacking again, they sped around and raced back into the misty fog. An action mimicked by the surviving mobs that the rest of the party weren't able to finish off from their flank. Darkness shrouded their form, but the Players could still hear them. The clattering of bones, the kicking of dirt, and the whirling of wheels circling them.
Occasionally a few would dart forward to attack only to be either repelled or killed with those surviving retreating into the fog. The same process repeated as the trekked forward.
A part of Hendrickson wondered if that was all this area had to offer beside the repetitive encounter, a hint of disappointment filling him at the rather lackluster measures and resistance before them.
The Seeker would soon eat his words as the party barely made it much further along before light poured from beneath them once more.
The party braced themselves for yet another forceful teleportation only to be met with something else entirely. A spell circle that he'd never seen before formed and expanded far and fast as a pulse of energy washed over them. Encompassing the Players and swept across the surrounding and beyond.
Hendrickson's eyes sought his menu, only for his eyes to nearly bulge out at what he saw. Static, that was all that his screens produced. He could no longer see the names and status bars of the remaining party members, not even his own.
He was completely blind.
The Overseer had finally uncovered the source of the disturbance.
"Get us out of here!" Hendrickson gave the order.
The mage nodded, preparing his spell.
"[Boost Maximize Magic: Greater Teleportation]!"
A spell circle appeared beneath them, shimmering, only to then crack into motes of light as the ground pulsated. The same transparent spell circle from before overlapping the teleportation spell circle, rejecting it.
Voices rose from the group, seeking him out. His mind raced, synapses firing – calling upon his all past experience and knowledge. His eyes scoured the darkened surrounding once, taking it all in.
Perhaps he had spoken too soon. An idea to the true nature of the trap they've sprung settled in.
With central communication and support cut off from him, Hendrickson could only imagine the disarray the other parties were left in. Though he trusted each party would complete their assigned duty, the Overseer's party included, the feeling of isolation raked at him something fierce.
The feeling didn't settle with him, but he pushed it to the side. Hendrickson was their party leader; they were looking to him for assurance and support.
Back with the trap, he noted that the wave of energy expanded far and wide, well beyond their sight. The area of effect was all undoubtedly large, perhaps even all-encompassing.
Unlike other forms of counter interference, this was tied to location then on person. As such, Hendrickson elucidated that if they left the area of effect then they'll be free. The party had two option then, continued forward or pull back. A 50-50 gamble and from what they seen already they needed to move quickly.
"Form up! We're continuing forward, double time!"
Heeding his order, the group tightened their formation and quickened their pace forward.
They would encounter further undead along their path alongside the Undead Wheel but most of them were high mid-level, nothing they couldn't handle. For the most part it was smooth sailing. The party worked as a single unit to cover as much ground as they could, cutting down the waves of undead pestering them and covering one another's flanks.
There was little opposition that could've served as a major threat, similar to that on the surface with low and mid-tier undead filling the encounters. Allowing them to navigate through the unknown stretches of subterranean land almost unhindered. For a while, it appeared all was going well.
That lull would be broken as from out of the corner of his eye, the party leader spotted a flash of something.
"Kaura-san, one o'clock!" He shouted as the flash grew brighter and closer. A crimson streak cutting through the air towards them.
The crimson streak movement was erratic, flying with sharp impossible turns that defies the laws of physics. Making it impossible to predict its trajectory as it flew towards the party at blinding speed. Everyone scattered, scrambling away while Kaura reacted immediately to thanks his warning. Her hand grabbed a hold of one of their NPCs and threw the tank in its line of fire as she dived to the side and rolled.
Taking the attack, the mercenary NPC was sent flying backwards and into the air. What looked like a blood-red spear piercing through its heavily armored body, holding it aloft, pinning it helplessly to the air by the way of some burning purple energy.
"[Gáe Bolg Alternative]!"
A second and more powerful glow erupted from beyond the veil, shooting from out of their sight, a sanguine beam piercing through the ether like a rising comet. The lance of ardent energy struck true, striking the NPC center mass as bands of red energy exploded forth and washed over the surrounding, bathing the dusky land in hues of saturated scarlet. The attack consumed the mercenary NPC in a burst of violent energy that shook the air and ground beneath them, and left nothing remaining.
Hendrickson couldn't help but gawk. They had specifically chosen NPCs with high defensive stats to be used solely as their tanks and meat shield. To all but one shot a Level 100 NPC just like that...
Hendrickson was given no time to ponder more on this as the sound of running footsteps invaded the air. The group tensed, rushing to regroup and form up in preparation while trying to beat back the undead mobs surrounding them that took advantage of their stupor. His eyes peered forward, watching and from the fog, a shadowy silhouette shimmered.
Faster than he could blink the figure dashed forward, all but a blur, a flash of crimson launching forward. Aiming through the gaps of the mercenary NPCs defending him and right at his head.
"[Breaker's Fortitude]!" The heavy knight brought down her sword, intercepting the attack.
Hendrickson staggered wildly backward, blinking uncontrollably. A hand clutched his chest, his heart hammering his ribcage. It was fast, far faster than he had anticipated. Were it not for Kaura's quick reaction, he would've been speared.
The paladin was quick to follow up, lashing out with a sword skill only for the spear wielder to rotate the long shaft, catching and blocking the attack. The figure twisted its form, legs touching and then kicking off the spear in time to dodge another skill. Spinning through the air before gracefully landing a few meters away.
Given a moment of reprieve, Hendrickson and the party looked upon their new assailant.
The first party leader assumed that their attacker was a Player, just like themselves, however standing in front of them was no Player.
It was an NPC, a beautiful one at that. The NPC was clothed in a black and semi-transparent full-body outfit that clung to her form and highlighted her curvaceous body. Pale golden metallic shoulder pads rested on her shoulders, attached to a small cloak that draped freely from them. Long and shimmering dark violet hair flowed down her back like a waterfall, concealed partially by a black and jeweled veil at the crown of her head. A ruby necklace, taking the form of a tear hung from her neck. Perhaps her most striking characteristic besides her immense otherworldly beauty was her ruby-red eyes, bright and focused, complimented by her deadly vermillion spear that danced on her fingertips with graceful finesse.
Lancer – Lvl: 100
The group was left little time to admire the NPC's beauty further as she launched her once more into the fray.
Shaking away his stupor he quickly issued out orders, reorganizing the group to deal with this new, more powerful threat.
He, along with the party's mage and healer remained safely in the backline, defended by two of the NPCs while Hendrickson assigned the others and remaining NPCs to take up position around them to defend and ward off the mobs of the undead. This was one of their patented strategies, forming a perimeter and preventing unneeded interference. That left Kaura and the paladin supported by one of the mercenary NPC to deal with Lancer. This would allow them to rotate attacks and aggro between the different attackers.
Kaura charged towards Lancer with the NPC tank bringing up her rear. The paladin kept several steps behind her, ready to react and assist depending on the flow of the fight. Only instead of clashing, the violent-haired NPC weaved past the first two.
Hendrickson's eyes further widened as she slipped past the paladin's guard. All but ignoring the attackers in favor of dashing towards the backline to the surprise of all.
Hendrickson commanded one of the NPCs to meet her, hoping to stall Lancer's advances but that accomplished little as Lancer evaded the tank's shield bash with ease. Slamming her spear forward she vaulted over the attack and NPC towards the backline with an acrobatic flair.
Hendrickson was quick to react, pointing his slinger to the ground and firing a pellet that burst into a flashbang smokescreen that enveloped them. The party leader grabbed hold of their healer and pulled back while their magic caster went his own way, avoiding her downward thrust. At the same time, he commanded the other NPC to attack, striking with its heavy tower shield while she was still off her feet.
Though obscured, Lancer was hardly hindered as she twirled on her spear like a pole expertly, using the momentum to whip around and lash out with a vicious kick. Her slim heels slammed against the tank's shield, staggering the NPC and using the shield as a springboard to launch herself forward in pursuit. It would be the backpedaling mage that would be her unfortunate first target.
"[Triplet Magic: Destructive Discs]!"
Three spinning energy discs shot forth, destructive saws that looked capable of ripping a man to pieces with ease flew towards Lancer. Only for them to fizzle out just as they reached her.
"What the—!" He exclaimed, shocked at the sight of his 8th tier spell being neutralized as if it were nothing.
His surprise would be put on hold as the blood-red spear shot forth, drawing first blood as Lancer struck the mage dead center, taking a chunk of HP. A second, identical spear appeared in her hand as she readied a follow-up attack.
"[Shadow Swallow], [Blindsides Cutter]!" Bursting from smoke from behind, the rogue blinked forward and launched his attack at her unprotected backside.
Halting, Lancer reversed her grip on the second spear and with dexterous precision intercepted the sneak attack at the last second. Digging her heels onto the earth, she twisted her body and using both polearm weapons, smacked the two Players away while also throwing her spears towards their respective targets in a single fluid motion.
The mage brought up a shield just in time, the barbed spear managing to partially pierce through it but nothing more. The rogue used a skill and batted the offending weapon midair.
"[Hail Fire] plus [Rapid Bolts]!" Disarmed and with his guildmates no longer in friendly fire range, the archer seized the opportunity. Firing an arrow into the air it burst as a shower of destructive arrows rained down on her. At the same time, he began circle strafing Lancer, firing a dozen or so more empowered arrows in unison with his first skill.
"[Wisdom of Dún Scáith: Protection from Arrows]!"
Lancer produced yet another Gáe Bolg Alternative in her hands. Spreading her feet she took a stance and then unleashed a fierce flurry of thrusts, to the point where it appeared as if her spear itself was bending and curving. Creating a domed space around her filled with nothing but her swings as she deflected or parry every incoming projectiles successfully.
Swatting the last arrow like one would a pesky fly, it exploded behind her as the NPC kept her sight trained on the party. Her impassive scarlet gaze overshadowing them all, mirroring the effortlessness of her display of prowess.
"I'm sorry but are we fighting an NPC or some kind of god damn terminator?! What the hell was that bullshit?!" The healer exclaimed incredulously at what they all witnessed.
A sentiment that was shared with the rest of the party. However, they were given little time to vent as Lancer charged headlong anew, fully intending to take their lives.
Her powerful performance, though brief, told them more than enough of Lancer that they quickly their strategy was revised. Employing a more cautious and defensive approach against the terrifyingly skilled NPC.
And so the battle between Lancer and the Seekers rages on.
Ever since the fight began, Hendrickson never once let his eyes off of Lancer. Watchful eyes tracked and scrutinized her every action. Committing them to memory and desperately trying to find a pattern to her attacks and move sets. However, from what little he could glean; it wasn't looking too good.
Her spearmanship was beyond equal, easily handling herself even against the likes of Kaura and the others despite being outnumbered and surrounded. No matter if it was close or long range. Their mercenary NPCs were sluggish and cumbersome, unable to keep up with Lancer's nimbleness and speed, leaving them lagging compared to the Players.
Another thing that made fighting her difficult was the inability to hold her down. When it came to standard PvE practices and engagement regarding aggro and hate management, all of the rules were seemingly thrown out the window. Crowd control and kiting proved temporary and ultimately ineffective against her.
Lancer was highly focused on striking at those within the backlines, prioritizing either the party's mage, healer, or himself as if she knew that they were the more important and weakest link of the group.
It didn't feel as if they were fighting a boss NPC, but rather a Player – an extremely skilled one at that.
By the seven-minute mark her HP was still in the green. In that time for comparison, she'd slain another one of their mercenary NPC while managing to damage the Players persistently without fail. Chipping away at their defenses and HP.
Hendrickson watched as one of their remaining tanks staggered back after blocking an attack meant for their archer. Lancer dodged to the side to avoid a spell in retaliation.
A few more Undead Wheels sped forward but were easily repelled as Lancer jumped a few paces back, using the mist like a veil. Just far enough at a distance where her form was shrouded, save for her two peering argent eyes that watched them as she paced around the battlefield. The measure cadence of her heels clacking with every step, a constant reminder.
Right, that was another thing.
Just as they were observing her, so too did Hendrickson felt that Lancer was doing the same to them. Like a lioness prowling after a gazelle. Waiting for the perfect opportunity to sink her teeth in and go for the kill.
Lancer was far from mindless, everything she did held a methodical purpose to it, from her measured gait to her deadly tempo. She was in no rush and it showed.
Standard PvE tactics weren't going to work on her, thus a change of plans was in order.
"Switch to attack delta!" Hendrickson gave the order. He got to work buffing his team with what spells and skills he had left.
Lancer charged, Kaura met her headfirst as the rogue circled around and launched an attack from her flank. Without breaking her stride, she repelled an attack from Kaura while synchronously attacking the rogue.
Sent reeling, the lilac themed NPC targeted the rogue but Hendrickson used his slinger and fire another pellet. This one exploded into a yellow smoke, arcs of electricity crackling from within the gas. Lancer's body clench up for a second, paralyzed. Allowing for the rogue to use his skill to land a good hit on her while Kaura withdrew.
The two engage in a brief duel as the Player fought to keep up with her, using evasive skills and attacks to keep her aggro. Hendrickson positioned the tanks around, helping their rogue while the frontliners spread apart, encircling them and got into position.
Breaking his guard, Lancer thrust her barbed spear only to have the rogue use a skill, his form turning to smoke before she could skewer him to avoid taking damage. Instead of using it to retreat, he threw himself forward timing for when he would be solid again, grabbing onto the NPC and sending the two tumbling.
Exactly as planned.
"[Extend Boost Magic: Toiled Earth]!"
A magic circle appeared beneath Lancer and from the earth rose sharp pillars, snapping onto her similar to a Venus flytrap, holding her in place. With the rogue using another evasive skill just before she was restrained, the Player rolled safely away. With the boss's movement impaired, the frontliners rushed forward.
"[ Laguz - ᛚ ]!"
Before they could reach her the air around Lancer flickered and lit up, what only could be described as a ring of runic symbols circled her. A shimmering pulse emanating, the spell that once held her captive disintegrated to the surprise of all.
Kicking off, she charged the paladin, bypassing his guard. The two met before the holy warrior had a chance to unleash his powerful skill let alone react.
Lancer thrust her spear forward. Her weapon was a crimson blur as it penetrated his armor, burying itself into his digital flash and exiting out the Player's back. Taking a fair amount of his HP.
That didn't stop the paladin as he forgoed his shield, his previous shield hand shot forth and grabbed onto her spear arm with a firm grasp to prevent her from pulling back and away. His sword arm continued its descent but Lancer stopped it as her other arm caught his wrist right before he could strike her, halting his momentum completely.
The paladin gritted his teeth, a stalemate ensuing as he tried to fight against the deceptively lithe looking NPC and her ludicrous strength and grip. If anything, he was the one losing.
'Just how strong is she?!' He mentally cried, being forced back but digging in his heel.
However, he knew his role and he intended to fulfill it.
"[Ruinous Cleaver]!" Kaura roared, bringing her heavy greatsword to bear from behind while the paladin kept Lancer locked in place.
Before the attack could connect, Lancer kicked off from the ground, using the paladin as an anchoring point as she all but performed a handstand on top of him with acrobatic dexterity. The last-second maneuver caught both Players off guard, with Kaura unable to halt or redirect her attack mid-swing, hurting him instead.
At the same time, the mage and archer also let loose their attacks in combination. The caster used [Call Greater Thunder] with the triplet and maximize metamagic alongside the archer's skill [Flurry of Arrows] and [Sharp Shot] that unleashed a burst of high-speed empowered arrows at her. She may have maneuvered out of Kaura's way but in such a precarious position, it would be impossible for her to avoid the two simultaneous attacks.
Or at least, that was what they thought.
Flashes of reds emanated from space above her legs as numerous copies of Gáe Bolg Alternative manifested. With adept grace she kicked them upwards, intercepting the spell. Each spear managed to catch the descending thunder like lightning rods.
Simultaneously, even when hovering from her current position her gaze remained impeccable, maintaining a clear line of sight on the battlefield, in this case, on the archer and his incoming projectiles.
"[ Haglaz - ᚺ ]!"
Like before runic symbols filled the air bearing the letter ᚺ, flashed before condensing into pure orbs of light. They then shot forth, bullet of pure magical energy with beams trailing them. Reminiscent of a certain twin-tailed magus's Finn Shot, which was a more powerful version of the Gandr Shot.
With flawless accuracy, Lancer's counterstrike intercepted the archer's flurry of arrows. Her attack proved far greater, puncturing through his attacks and barreling towards him. The Player barely managed to avoid the barrage, his HP dropping as a result.
Continuing with nary a pause and using gravity and momentum, Lancer pulled forward and landed with her back to the paladin. Who was forced to release his hold on her lest he ended up twisting both his arms around. A mistake that would be his last.
"[Shadow Death Pierce]!"
Another spear graced her hand the moment she landed, the barbed spear lashing out in a reverse stab without her so much as turning, piercing him through the back of his skull before he had a chance to recover.
Twisting on her heel Lancer spun in place, yanking her spear out only to plunge it forward into the back of the paladin, dropping his HP to zero. At the same time, the spear exited out the front as the Player's body shattered, intercepting Kaura's attack.
Spear and heavy greatsword met with a loud steel screech as both attacks canceled each other out with Kaura skidding back from the force of the attack.
All of this happened within the span of no more than fifteen seconds.
Were it possible, Hendrickson would've broken out into a small sweat, mouth left agape by the display he just bore witness to.
NPCs were made out of code; they weren't capable of performing more complex and nuanced movements or action like a Player could, like a human could. There always was a set rhythm to it, a clear systematic pattern and formula for what they could or couldn't do.
That was what separated NPCs, no matter if they were gigantic dragons or humanoid foes, and Players. They followed an algorithm, humans do not.
But the way Lancer fought, moved, and reacted, at first Hendrickson compared it to fighting against a Player, another human being. After everything he'd seen he was forced to reexamine his previous conclusion. It was almost inhuman just how kinetic and fluid she fought and behaved. Surpassing what he once thought possible in game. Even some of the best Players he knew would be hard-pressed to even replicate half of Lancer performed.
Hendrickson gulped, reevaluating the situation yet again. It was made all too clear that Lancer far surpassed them in terms of skill and strength, and despite the numerical advantage, the NPC was able to contend with them with relative ease. What damage they managed to inflict also revealed that the NPC had very high stats as well, correlating with her difficulty. In addition to the fact that 8th tier spells and below were all but useless against her. Combined with the fact that she was capable of using her own brand of magic, one that was unfamiliar to them, it was bad news heap on top of one another.
They weren't dealing with any ordinary guild based NPC nor even a standard boss. Lancer's display of power and feats easily put her on par with that of a raid boss. Which only made it more curious as it was publicly known that the boss of the 1st Floor was an NPC by the name Shalltear Bloodfallen, so where did Lancer fit into all this?
Minute trembles ran down his hand as his fingers curled into a fist, bringing it under control.
Yet, for all his nervousness belied an underlying layer of excitement. His lips twitch into a challenging grin.
As a Seeker, they court death on the regular. They were among the few within the game's player base to throw themselves into challenging and impossible situations and battles to learn what they could. Where others sought to avoid dying unnecessary, they were the opposite. In some ways, part of being a Seeker was seeking out that challenge, a desire to discover, face the unknown and whatever it entailed.
They were in it for the rewards and monetary gains, for sure, but that didn't mean they couldn't enjoy themselves while doing so.
A passion driven by daredevil thrills and curiosity.
Lancer was far stronger than anything he or anyone else could've anticipated. But that only made it all the more exciting and interesting to undercover what else the boss NPC had in store. To test their limits against hers.
It was highly doubtful with their current forces and strength that they'll stand a chance at winning, but wasn't any reason to throw in the towel just yet.
He looked to the others and while their true face was concealed by their digital avatar, he could feel it, their ironclad resolve.
Lancer would be one of the greatest challenges they've fought to this day. But like all those in the past, they'll rise to the occasion no matter the difficulty. They weren't going to go down without a fight.
"Switch to plan gamma! What it takes, keep her grounded!" Hendrickson ordered, the party roaring affirmatives. The time for caution was over, they needed to be bold.
With renewed vigor, the party launched themselves wholly at Lancer who met them in combat. A full scale assault.
For a bit, the situation reversed as the party swapped to an entirely offensive strategy. All effort was pushed towards matching and surpassing the NPC as the Players attacked relentlessly with skills and spells while Hendrickson directed the mercenary tank NPCs to draw and hinder her attention. The healer worked overtime trying to keep the Players topped up on HP.
"HAHAHA! And here I thought tonight would've been boring!" Kaura burst out laughing, fighting to her heart's content as she dueled Lancer with the archer and mage providing supporting fire. Constantly keeping the level 100 NPC on her toes and giving her little time to move in.
"[Breaker Slash]!" Kaura's skill struck Lancer, who defended by bringing up her spear.
The force of which was enough to send her skidding a few meters back, just where the Overseer intended as two of the tanks charged, slamming their great shields into her from both sides. Effectively locking Lancer in place.
"Don't gotta tell me twice!" The mage remarked, crushing a small hourglass in his hand before a vast array of spell circles surrounded him.
Light poured forth, bathing the gloomy field with luminescence. Lancer fought to free herself and was seconds away, however the cash item allowed the mage to be faster. His Super Tier spell was primed and ready for use.
"[Super Tier Magic: Gate of Santi—"
One second, the air thrummed with energy, ready to be unleashed and in the next second it was gone. A short pause rang out across the battlefield. Followed by dull, heavy sound. Turning, the party were struck shocked. One moment, the party's mage was ready to unleash his Super Tier Magic, the next, his head was lopped off seemingly out of nowhere. None more shocked than the mage himself who was experiencing an unnerving sense of vertigo, seeing his decapitated body before shattering. Wondering a singular question.
Only the archer saw what had transpired, and it was only by virtue of luck that he was looking in the mage's direction as it happened.
A cloaked figure shimmered into existence out of nowhere, twirling over mage from behind. The archer caught a flash of purple, a zig-zag blade stabbing the mage first, followed by the instantaneous cancelation of the Super Tier Magic.
The archer didn't even have time to open his mouth to warm his teammate for what came next.
Without losing any momentum a glint of steel flashed forth as the cloaked assailants spun like a whirligig, blades lashing out as the assassin took the magic caster's head with a single sneak attack while dazed. Only to then disappear into thin air, not even a fraction of a second later, as if it was some illusion. Leaving only the mage's dropped item as evidence of the assassin's presence and action.
It may have been his ears playing tricks on him, but he heard the soft tint of giggles following the kill.
"We got a high stealth assassin!" The archer screamed, firing arrows in the general location of where he last saw the assailant. A feeble attempt to catch the attacker.
Hendrickson bit down on his tongue as Lancer freed herself, a series of precise thrusts took the lives of the two mercenary NPCs. Leaving only five Players remaining and four tanks left.
Fighting against Lancer on her own was a struggle already, adding in another maxed level opponent that none of them were able to detect into the mix only worsened their odds.
For the umpteenth, he was forced to reevaluate their current situation.
They weren't afraid of dying, but there was a difference between dying pointlessly and dying with results. They were still on the job after all and while they've got plenty of footage, the matter with Lancer left much to be desired. Not to mention that he had no idea how well the other parties were doing at the moment. For all Hendrickson knew his group might've been the only one remaining.
"Form up, we're retreating!" He ordered, sending one of the tanks towards Lancer to stall while they gathered and retreated.
They needed to withdraw, try and put as much distance between them and the NPCs while trying to find some measure of a respite to plan their next steps going forward.
His remaining party members didn't need to be told twice, complying quickly and already running, following his lead. All but one.
"K-kaura-san?!" The Overseer exclaimed, seeing their last vanguard turn on her heel back towards Lancer instead as the two reengaged.
'Oh you've got to be...! Of all the times, she'd just had to pick now to indulge!' Hendrickson chastised, gritting his teeth.
"[Heightened Awareness], [Battle Instinct], [Warrior Focus], and [Intuition]!"
Thanks to her heavy armor she was able to weather Lancer's jabs while retaliating with heavy hits of her own. Their bout was less of a duel and more of a slug match as they exchanged blow for blow. The armored Player ignored the cries from her party member, her complete focus on the fight.
After a brief moment, she received a flash notification on her HUD,
Those skills weren't meant for just Lancer, no, they were meant for her would-be assassin. Kaura purposely placed herself out there as bait to lure the invisible assailant to attack her.
Whatever the assassin was using to cloak themselves, it was high tier, her first guess being the equivalent of [Perfect Unknowable] or perhaps something greater. The skills she used wouldn't be able to reveal the NPC in their entirety, but it would give her a small heads-up and that was enough for her.
Acting on instinct, she grasped the hilt with both hands and slammed her sword downwards following the activation of a skill.
"[Force of Wrath]!"
A powerful burst of force detonated in a bubble around Kaura, staggering Lancer back and revealing the cloaked figure mid-attack behind her as the assassin de-stealth followed by a soft cry.
Kaura couldn't help but grin viciously. Assassins, always so predictable. Their targets were always the same and that made it easy to counter if one knows an attack was coming.
"[Hyper Circular]!" Another skill was used as she whirled around, her heavy greatsword in tow as the attack connected with the assassin mid-fall. Sending the NPC flying back with her attack.
It didn't get back up immediately, nor did it return to stealth.
Kaura hardly heard Hendrickson in time as she rushed forward. An opportunity had presented itself and she was fully intent on taking it.
"[Greater Force], [Power Draw], [Overload], [Devastating End]!"
Appearing over the downed NPC, for a split second the Player's eyes meet those under the hood. Their sights locked as she brought down her sword with all her strength.
"W-what the hell?" The heavily armored Player muttered.
One second, she was about to cleave in the small and cloaked NPC, and the next, the NPC was gone, her heavy greatsword splitting nothing but the ground. It was only then that she realized something else as well.
A single streetlamp dimly illuminating the surrounding. A dense fog encompassing the space around her. A shroud of mist dampening her light of sight. She also noticed that she was taking a small bit of continuous damage, poison was what her HUD was telling her.
Before she could wonder any further a soft, childish chuckle rang out. Followed by what sounded like a faint humming sound. The Player swirled, trying to pinpoint the noise to little success as it echoed from all around her.
London bridge ~ is falling down ~ falling down ~ falling down ~
Kaura frowned. The Player couldn't understand the words being spoken. She knew it was in English but the words themselves eluded her. The cadence in which was being spoken led her to believe it to a song or lullaby.
The swordswoman caught something, from the far corner of her eyes. There, she spotted the sight of two faint glowing pale orbs against a darkened background. Kaura squinted, barely making out the silhouette in the mist. Only for a wide curved smile to split across its shadowed face.
Faster than Kaura could react, it moved, rushing towards her at blinding speed. Its form blanketed by the darkened mist like a shroud, two wicked streaks of crimson trailing the entity. Her assailant struck, landing a surprisingly devastating blow across her armored body and shoulder, disappearing just as quickly as the NPC darted back into the fog.
London bridge ~ is falling down ~ falling down ~ falling down ~
Recoiling, the swordswoman whipped around and saw another attack coming but this time she was quick to retaliate.
"[Wild Guillotine]!" Activating her skill, she swung her heavy greatsword downwards. She had timed it perfectly but her eyes widened into dinner plates when in a show of celerity, the NPC twisted and turned midair, avoiding the attack completely. Never once losing its momentum.
Kaura's HP dropped down into the mid yellow as the assassin spun and sliced through her other shoulder and neck like a deadly top. The mysterious being once again diving and disappearing behind her as Kaura reeled back.
London bridge ~ is falling down ~ falling down ~ falling down ~
Again the words echoed, the soft-spoken voice of that of a child ringing out. Growing amused and louder than before. An act slowly but surely unsettling the Player.
"[Warrior Spirit], [Heightened Aura], [Frenzy Shockwave]!" Using her skills, her body glowed to empower her next attack. With both hands she swung circularly, her sword releasing a shockwave all around her in an attempt to catch out the nimble NPC.
Her eyes scoured, catching nothing. Nothing but the same foggy surrounding cluing her in that her attack was ineffective.
Another burst of giggles reverberated, as if mocking her efforts, causing her to gnash her teeth.
"Damn it! Come out and face me, you fucking coward!" She roared; frustration mounting while her nerves fried to the point she was completely unsettled.
London bridge ~ is falling down ~ falling down ~ falling down ~
She gasped, eyes widening. Unlike before where it was scattered and faint, she could hear the words spoken clearly and perfectly. Because it was spoken right next to her ears.
Her head swiveled, catching the sight of the dark cloaked figure hugging her from behind. Her sword arm and body were a second slower to react.
"[Maria the Ripper: The Holy Mother of Dismemberment]!"
Kaura didn't even have a chance to open her mouth before streaks of crimsons burst forth from her chest.
Looking down, she saw, jutting from her chest were the sharpened and jagged ends of six knives. Her HP bar dropped rapidly and showed no signs of stopping.
My ~ Fair ~ Lady ~
Staggering, she finally was able to see her killer in full just before shattering.
Beneath the dark cloak was the face of a child, adolescent and mischievous looking. However, seeing the NPCs in full only sent a shudder down her spine. Her pale green-yellow eyes illuminated starkly against the misty surrounding, making them glow. Eyes like a cat, slit and predatory, further accentuated by the menacing yet endearing smile as if she was the cat that caught the canary. Reflecting nothing but an innocent and callous disregard.
Assassin Lvl – 100
Back with the others, they had left Kaura to her fate. Hendrickson kept watch as they ran, as one of their strongest players was suddenly engulfed in mist at the last second, away from prying eyes. When it dissipated, only the small and cloaked NPC remained, vanishing immediately into thin air as if it was never there in the first place. A dropped item as a memento of what had happened to the female Player.
Hendrickson bit down the urge to curse aloud. His eyes traveled back to what remained of the party and to the front, already running and desperately trying to hold off a losing battle against Lancer as she gave chase. One of the tanks died courtesy of the special attack from Lancer from their first encounter with her. The party leader commanded what remained of the mercenary NPCs to the role of rearguard, hoping to stall however much he could.
"Pick up the pace!" The commander ordered.
The group sprinted without pause as if demons were nipping at their heels. The dreary surroundings blended together as they sought to escape their relentless pursuers. Sacrificing two more of the mercenary NPCs and what remaining skills and MP he and the party had on hand to fend off Lancer's persistent thrusts and Assassin's surprise attacks.
They eventually reached some kind of cliffside as the land retracted, a wooden and derelict rope bridge connecting where they stood with another section further ahead. The healer was the first to reach it, trying to run across it only for the planks to give away beneath him before any of them had a chance to stop the Player.
His shock and horrified screams reverberated through the underground as he fell. None of the party members was in a particular hurry to rescue him, deeming him a lost cause.
Taking out a spell scroll, Hendrickson used it. Thankfully, it didn't appear to be blocked or hindered as it were with the likes of teleportation spells as [Mass Fly] took effect.
Their paltry party floated across the darkened chasm filled with the cries for help of their healer followed by silence quickly after and the sound of shattering glass.
Glancing back, Lancer and Assassin raced over the precarious bridge; more specifically on top of the rope suspension. Preserving their balance as the bridge swayed precariously and looked ready to snap at any second.
As they flew, Hendrickson spotted something faint and transparent in the distance that only grew closer and before long they passed it. It was the outer layer of the trap or barrier they had triggered from way before; they were finally outside of its affected range.
With another spell scroll, the party disappeared in a flash, just in time as Lancer's spear sailed through the air.
The party reappeared elsewhere, earning a momentary reprieve. Still, they didn't stop moving. Existing a short pathway Hendrickson heard footsteps up ahead. Reaching an open area Hendrickson turned and found a gun raised to his face.
"Hendrickson-san." It was none other than the fifth party leader who immediately lowered his gun upon seeing friendly faces.
The Overseer nodded in return, eyes traveling and grimacing upon seeing his guildmate's party or rather, what was left of them. He also recognized a few scattered faces that were originally in the third and sixth party as well, cluing him on what happened to the others.
In total they numbered less than twenty, both Players and NPCs combined.
The fifth party leader looked to Hendrickson's own diminished party and tired state, a frowning emoticon sharing the Player's sentiment.
"Guessing it was bad for you as it was for us, huh?"
"Bad is an understatement. Safe to say we got our teeth kicked in and then some."
"Preaching to the choir here. But we—Duck!" Before he could have a chance to finish his words the Player lunged forward, grabbing Hendrickson with him as they hit the ground alongside the man's party.
Hendrickson's party reacted a second late, especially the rogue.
"Huh?" The rogue let out.
The sound of a click was heard followed by a burst of wind and clacking. A brilliant streak of electric neon green flashed forward, cutting the air faster than any of them could blink. Accompanied by a powerful gust of swiping wind.
"[Wandering Tales of Shana-oh: Dan-no-Ura - Eight-Boat Leap]!"
The rogue's head was sent flying, shattering no more than a second later. As the Player's body broke down, the attacker was revealed to them. The figure's backside faced them while making a small show of sheathing the katana with an audible click before turning to face the remnant of the invading force.
It was another NPC, taking the appearance of a young, slim woman that looked like a samurai. She was dressed in a segmented kimono that covered one half of her upper body with deep, rich magenta-colored robe sleeves for one of her arms and a high collar around her neck. At her waist was the sectioned off flowing hakama, decorated with beautiful designs and shining with a menagerie of brilliant colors. It wrapped around her waist, topped off by a miniature samurai helm and tassel as if holding it together. Her other arm was far from naked as it was fitted with a gauntlet and a samurai armor pauldron made of sleek, separated sheets protecting her shoulders and downwards. Finally, in her hand was her sheathed katana.
Much of her appeal invoked a wandering warrior aesthetic and image, complemented by her peerless long lush raven black hair cascading downwards, all but reaching her feet with a long, thick ponytail with a golden and feathered hairpiece to keep it neat. A silver headband wrapped around the top of her head with other accessories and captivating dark blue eyes that scoured all within her gaze.
Rider Lvl – 100
The sound of her geta clacking shook the group from their stupor as she charged fearlessly towards the Players. The group scrambled to recover and form some cohesion as a few attacks shot towards the speeding NPC.
If Hendrickson thought Lancer was quick, then Rider was fast. To where it seemed as if afterimages were trailing after her.
Rider weaved through the attacks thrown her way, her form a veritable blur. Her katana sang as the wandering samurai slashed her way through the group with speed beyond compare. Blitzing through the recovering party and avoiding any damage. A few of the Players hesitated for fear of friendly fire.
Again, Hendrickson instantly noticed the oddity in her actions. She didn't go in the kill, instead, attacking only as a by-product as if she had a greater objective to fulfill.
She appeared within the center of them, a hand slamming onto the ground.
"[Wandering Tales of Shana-oh: Eye of Shiva - Detecting the Six Secret Teachings]!"
The ground beneath them wobbled and the landscape shifted as if they were relocated by means of a teleportation spell.
The invading party found themselves to be elsewhere, some kind of mid-grounded open field with tall, steep terrain surrounding them. The suddenness of it all allowed a momentary lapse in judgement, allowing Rider to race away from the Players as they continued their attacks to little success.
Retreating towards the edge, she raced up the slope of the cliff up as easily as if it were flat ground. The rocky terrain hindered her not even in the slightest. Rider jumped and landed next to what looked to be another NPC at the cliff's edge.
Hendrickson brought down his goggles, zooming in to make out a figure dressed as what he could assume as a medic of sorts.
A clap rang out across the land, light pouring forth from beneath the NPC. Swirling and amassing before a pillar poured forth from the dome, illuminating the once darkened catacombs in soothing light. Soon, a shape emerged and manifested into a figure of a nurse wielding a greatsword of all things.
That managed to kick start back up their brain as spells and skills flew towards them and the construct. All the good that did.
"[Nightingale Pledge: I Will Abstain From Whatever Is Deleterious And Mischievous!]!"
The sword descended, bathing the world in an aurora of blinding beautiful light followed by a massive reverb. Many of the Players had to shield their eyes as the light enveloped them.
Blinking away the bright spots, Hendrickson's eye almost shot out of his eye sockets upon seeing debuffs being stacked on one by one and applied through his HUD. Almost a third of them he didn't even realize was even a thing or let alone existed in YGGDRASIL until now, seeing it for himself.
The group refocused their attention back on the cliffside where the two NPCs stood. Just as his mouth opened to give the next set of orders, something boomed in the air followed by a spiral trail.
The last thing Hendrickson or anyone else saw was the glint of white shooting through the darkened sky. A veritable shooting star as it reached the center of their position before any one of them could react. Blinding white light consumed their world in an explosive conflagration and then came darkness. The next thing they knew, they respawned elsewhere.
In the far-off distance, at the edge of the 1st Floor was a castle. A fortress that served as the strategic chokepoint and bridge that connected the 1st Floor with that of the 2nd Floor.
Upon the highest tower stood Shirou, his black bow in hand as he watched the powerful detonation of Calabdolg II. A booming mushroom cloud could be seen in the distance from all across the Floor.
A screen appeared, a message relaying that all forces and invaders were repelled and that they won the "raid" if one would even properly call it that. Dismissing the obvious message, a flash of blue light from the corner of his eyes alerted him of the presence of his Servants, appearing behind him next to Caster.
Caster Lvl – 100
Caster, her outfit was predominantly blue with black draping sleeves with golden accents and white trims, coming towards the center to form a large bow along with her shrine maiden attire that draped easily over her body. Granting a generous view of the valley of her breast and naked shoulders. Two brown-colored foxy ears sprouted from her head, attentive upon the sea of lush cherry pink hair that was braided into two long ponytails in the back. Alongside a golden lotus-shaped headpiece with chiming golden bells that rested on her crown. Her eyes were two golden orbs, shining with mischievousness and levity, complimenting Caster's whimsical smile alongside her nine fluffy tails swaying idly at their own rhythm behind her. Last but certainly not least was the intricate mirror floating beside her.
Following the teleportation of his Servants, the sound of flapping wings grew as descending from the sky was Shalltear, flanked by her Vampire Brides. The Floor Guardian joined him and his Servants.
"Nice work out there everyone." Shirou commended aloud, turning to face his allies.
Yet, as the light show that announced the return of his Servants dimmed, he noticed something. Only Lancer and Berserker stood before him, the former with a stoic annoyance clear in her eyes while the latter remained impassive as ever. Rider, he had ordered to the surface to act as overwatch in the case of another attack.
That left one Servant unaccounted for.
Before he could question the lack of an Assassin he'd distinctly remembered partnering with Lancer, however, he received his answer in the form of a lithe figure jumping and hanging from his neck, the weight on his back minute, yet demanding attention.
"Mommy, they didn't stand a chance!" The little assassin cheered, drawing a soft smile from the magus.
No longer hidden by the black cloak, as it only manifested when she was in combat, Assassin's smile was on full display with a soft jingling from the number of sheaths for her knives or dagger located at the small part of her back. Despite the knowledge of who that the young girl clinging to him was Shirou adjusted himself to provide her with a proper piggyback.
The white-haired child giggled as she got comfortable.
"Husband~" A light voice called out as Caster leaned on his side.
A playful exhale left his lips as he already knew what Caster wanted, earning another soft chuckle from him as his other hand reached out to give the nine-tailed fox a head pat. The Servant of the spells cooing, purring at his touch.
Unlike the others, Shalltear didn't openly respond but then again that was hardly something new. Assassin and Caster were preoccupied to care. Berserker merely gave a nod. As for Lancer, The Queen of the Land of Shadows only scoffed under her breath, before turning her gaze from her fellow spirit to the outstretched land.
"They were nothing special. I was hoping to have more worthwhile opponents. Sending the little one was unnecessary, Apprentice."
"I don't doubt your skill or abilities, Lancer. But we're a team, and we help each other out whether it's needed or not." Lancer said nothing more, dipping her head and acknowledging his words.
Shirou's eyes wandered, glancing to Shalltear just behind Lancer. He felt something from the Floor Guardian. Despite her smiling expression remaining unchanged, he could feel her frowning almost. Whether that was because of a trick of light within the darkened world or just his imagination, he couldn't say for certain. Whatever the reason, his other free hand reached out and patted her on the head affectionately.
"Can't forget about you. You did an amazing job, Shalltear." He praised, not wanting to leave her out.
Looking away, his gaze turned back towards the darkened underground that was known as the 1st Floor, eyes quiet and contemplative.
Despite the numbers of the invaders and only one of him, the presence of his Servants more than easily tipped the scales in their favor. Seeing them in action this night only reaffirmed what he already knew. Individually they were a force to be reckoned with, and their strength only multiplied when working in tandem with one another.
"Preparation is key" – a sentiment that rings true no matter if it was the Moonlite World or YGGDRASIL.
Shirou was made aware of the invader's presence well before they entered Nazarick's territory, sensors within the swamp alerted him of the encroaching parties. Granting him a window of time to suitably buff his Servants and lead with the first attack before they could. Allowing him to set up the board well in advance to greet the invaders.
His Servants possessed skills and spells, no different from that of other NPCs or Players alike. Unique and powerful ones indeed.
Such as Nightingale's [Human Comprehension] – a fitting skill if ever for one to add to their repertoire. Alongside [Angel's Cry], Rider's [Tengu Art of War] and [Six Secret Arts of War: Thunder and Gale], with several protective and offensive strengthening runes courtesy of Lancer's [Primeval Rune], and further enhanced by Caster's numerous other spells, and enchantments.
Shirou also made a mental note to head back out with Caster to reinstall new Bounded Fields to replace those triggered this night. In addition to laying a few more down as precaution.
In addition, there were also his command seals. Fifteen in total. Shirou had used six of them to further augment their strength with the remaining nine kept as reserved in cases of emergency.
The magus didn't have to worry about being frugal with his command seals as he would regain one back every eight hours.
If there was one thing that YGGDRASIL did right, it was that there were no technical limits to the number of buffs and enchantments one can place on a Player or NPC. A mechanic he abused wholeheartedly before sending them out; fully empowered to the point of overkill with the litany of buffs, spells, and skills aiding them.
Divide and conquer, a rather common stratagem, but one that was quite situational and could easily be a hindrance than it was a boon.
With the invaders congregated into parties, it was child's play to separate them. Nazarick held a plethora of traps, most common of them were teleportation traps that would relocate any invading forces to specific points of contact across the 1st Floor.
While he and Caster took care of the first two parties on the surface, he dispatched and directed his Servants alongside Shalltear wherever they were needed to engage the enemy parties. Once Shirou was finished on the surface, he came to the 1st Floor and from there, it was simply a matter of systematically picking the parties off and allowing his Servants to collapse on their respective target one by one until all the invaders were dead and gone.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick was no stranger to raids. Over the years they've repelled countless number of attacks on their guild base. Clans, organizations, and guilds with far greater numbers and strength than the ones seen on this night have tried their hand only to fail every time. Following the same trend as their predecessor, none have ever successfully made it past the 1st Floor.
But then again, the magus knew that their attempt this night wasn't with victory in mind.
After all, when preparing to go to war one doesn't send the flag bearers first, no, that role belongs to the scouts.
In the past several months, Nazarick has been subjected to numerous small raids and fleeting attacks. He was first confused but their design became clear once he took a step back. These mini incursions made on Nazarick weren't with strict victory in mind but rather an objection. They were probing Nazarick's defenses, scouting the tomb's perimeter, trying to ascertain as much as they could.
The frequency at which they were occurring were troubling, hinting at something much more, something big.
Another guild raid, perhaps even a full-fledged guild war on Nazarick. With the intent of bringing Nazarick low for good? With his friend's diminishing playtime, what better time to strike when they were far from their strongest?
Shirou's eyes tightened at the thought.
Due to Nazarick repelling all invaders that have been thrown its way, it has gained a reputation for being perceived as invisible and impenetrable. A challenge and one many would actively seek out.
Many sought to raid and take up the challenge in a bid for glory or sport, others would do it as a bid of revenge against Ainz Ooal Gown as a whole.
Whatever the case may be, it didn't matter to Shirou. All those seeking Nazarick out will be met with the same fate as those before them, with overwhelming force and defeat.
If any fool believes they'll be allowed the mercy of wandering through his home with the intent of desecrating it, they have another thing coming for them.
So long as he draws breath, he'll never let Nazarick fall to her enemies. Be they hundreds of Players or even in the thousands. And any that would dare try will fall to his blades, one way or another.
Shirou closed his eyes and let out a steady breath, calming himself. Getting worked up would do him no good, especially so late at night.
For the moment he successfully repelled the enemy, he should take comfort in that much.
His eyes drooped slightly as the adrenaline from all the fighting wore away. Replaced with a drowsiness that was whispering to him to go to bed and get some well deserved rest. The raid came just before he could turn in for the night, so he was reasonably tired and more than ready to get some shut-eye for the night.
However, he couldn't quite rest easy just yet. There was no telling if they would try a follow-up attempt, capitalizing on the perceived moment of victory, and striking again when he believed that would be all.
It would hardly be the first time and there was little doubt in the faker's mind that it'll stop now.
Suppressing an exhaustive yawn, Shirou mobilized his Servants once more onto the field.
"Apologies Shalltear, but I'll be requiring your vigilance more tonight. At least, until we know for certain there will be no further attacks." He said, calling on her one last time.
"I'll leave the 1st Floor to your care as always."
Using the ring of Ainz Ooal Gown, he teleported away. His Servants followed a second after.
Alone, Shalltear and her brides remained where they were. After a few more seconds they took to the air, ready to perform their sworn duty should the need arise once again.
The Floor Guardian's face stretched into a wide smile as she always held before, but if one were to look closer, they would see it stretching from ear to ear. A hint of pink dominating her cheeks. Her body swaying vaguely as if merry, flying to a jaunty hum only she was privy to.
"What a beautiful moon." Shirou thought, staring at the moon serenely.
The night sky was calm this day, nary a cloud in sight. Allowing a beautiful starry midnight sky to welcome all under its blanket. The brilliant white glow of the moon shined softly on the horizon and upon the sleeping garden. The flickering glow of fireflies dancing in the night, wisps of light scattered across the backyard.
There he remained, quiet and content, alone on the veranda of the Emiya residence.
"Shirou?" A voice called out, reigning him from his peace.
He craned his head back, catching a figure walking forth from the shadow of the house. The light of the full moon helping to illuminate all under its gaze.
It was Kiritsugu. He was clothed in a comfortable yukata, exactly how he always remembered his adopted father. His aged face sought him out as he walked forward, a mixture of curiosity and parental worry.
"What are you doing awake? It's quite late." He questioned.
"I can say the same for you. Isn't it past for your bedtime as well?" Shirou returned with a lazy grin.
"Cheeky brat, is that any way to speak to your old man?" Kiritsugu snorted under his breath, a waning smile overcoming his weary features.
A hand reached out, ruffling up the young man's hair affectionately. A small grunt left the aged Magus Killer's lips as he leaned against one of the wooden support beams. Joining his son in the time-honored family tradition of night gazing.
There the two contently remained, watching the night sky with only the teeming insects of the night to soothe their lullaby. Time stretched, seconds, minutes, hours. Shirou had no idea how much time had passed and a part of him wished it could continue forever. Eventually, the silence would be broken by none other than himself.
"Kiritsugu, do you have things you've regretted?"
The elderly Emiya didn't answer, the silence continuing and for a moment Shirou wondered if he'd heard him.
"Of course. I suppose that's the curse and privilege of growing old, to be able to look back and wonder what I could've done instead, what could've been done better." He answered, shooting Shirou a quick and all-knowing glance.
"Father, Shirley, Natalia, Iri, Maiya, Saber, sweet little Illya..."
Shirou listened as his adopted father listed every name, some he knew, and others were strangers, each one heavy with emotion. His face aging with pained regret with every name.
Shirou said nothing, only listened as Kiritsugu spoke his name among the list and continued.
"In life and in death, what matters is not dying regretting what you could have done better or differently to ease a guilty conscience. It is accepting all that came before us, good and bad, and making peace with it."
He smiled sadly as he leaned back, eyes transfixed on the beautiful moon above.
"A hero of justice..." Kiritsugu began. "Saving the world, defeating evil, helping and protecting the innocent. A shining beacon, an inspiration for all. Are there any sweeter words than those? The selfless self-sacrifice, an attribute that is held on top a pedestal – admired and deified, yet it is both a virtue and a Hamartia; a fatal flaw.
There are so many stories where some brave hero decides to risk it all and give their life to save the day. And because of their sacrifice the good guys win, the bad guys are defeated, the survivors all cheer, and everyone lives happily ever after.
But the hero? The hero never gets to see that happy ending. They'll never know if their sacrifice actually made a difference or not. They'll never know if the day was really saved. In the end, all they can do is make peace with their fate, regrets or no. They have to have faith that everything will work out in the end."
Silence was all that met him as he finished, Kiritsugu's gaze turned and settled on his son at the end. And Shirou, he only had one thing to say to sum it all up.
"Ain't that a bitch?"
Kiritsugu snickered at his son's monotone response before tittering. A titter that evolved into a full blown laughter, raspy and low as if he hadn't laughed in a long, long time. Yet, to Shirou it sounded euphonious – it'd been a long time since he could remember hearing his father being remotely mirthful in any way.
He didn't realize just how much he missed hearing it.
"When did you get so snippy?" He managed in between laughs. "Whatever happened to that sweet little boy that always knew his manners?"
"He grew up." Shirou answered plainly, lips twitching into a slight smile.
"Evidently! Seems I ought to have some words with Taiga over your new vocabulary."
Kiritsugu's laughter only continued, drawing him in. Shirou's voice joined his, sharing and basking moment. Father and son laughing the night away. A peal of shared laughter that rang out until there was only one voice was left and then none.
Shirou looked and saw, he was gone. His expression stretching forlornly. He had wished his father had stayed a bit longer. Long enough so that he could say goodbye at least. Though Kiritsugu was no longer with him, his words still echoed true within him.
With drooping eyes, he felt his eyelids grow heavy. Allowing the night to come and take him.
In the faint distance, within the sea darkness a light flicker.
Calling out to him.
Shirou raised his arm to it, only for to fall short.
His eyes closed shut and then, he awoke.
October 16, 2136. World: Helheim. Location: The Great Tomb of Nazarick – 8th Floor: The Cherry Blossom Sanctuary: Emiya Estate
Shirou groaned as consciousness returned to him, stiffness flaring across his body as he moved. Eyes fluttered open, his vision focusing upon waking up. Not much had changed from his dream, with the magus sitting on the same spot on the veranda overlooking the garden only instead of nighttime it was bright and sunny, as it always was within The Cherry Blossom Sanctuary.
The magus bounced to his feet, stretching and working out the lingering stiffness and kinks. He quickly sat back down, back pressed comfortably against the wooden beam.
'I should probably stop sleeping like this...' He idly mused.
A soft chortle came over him as a particular thought popped into his head.
His friend had made note of his peculiar habit of sleeping just about anywhere besides an actual bed. From sleeping on the floor with rocks for pillows such as the case on the 1st to 3rd Floor or in a small tent next to the wide pristine underground lake in 4th Floor to camping out in the sprawling Amazonian forest on the 6th Floor, under a tree or on a nice hammock. He could still remember their incredulousness when they found him sleeping in igloo on the 5th Floor, or that one time where he slept on a stone table within the center of a ruined monastery next to an active volcano on the 7th Floor.
When asked why he did this, Shirou's answer was simply: "I like to spice it up a bit."
With the 8th Floor and the Emiya Estate being where he primarily resides more often than naught.
In life, he'd gotten so used to sleeping anywhere and on everything besides an actual bed that sleeping on one felt off at times. It was like he was sleeping on a marshmallow, like he would sink to the floor at almost any moment. His personal room on the 9th Floor at times felt too decadent, too comfortable, too fake compared to the recreation of the Emiya estate.
The irony wasn't lost on the Fake Player.
He cast an easy gaze over the beautiful garden, a sea of ever beautiful blooming sakura trees. The gentle breeze and wash of sakura petals drifting freely through the air. An atmosphere that was the picture of serenity and one that never fails to leave him at peace.
Swept in by the tranquil ambience, it took him a few seconds before he sensed the other presences with him. A look back and around showed Caster and Rider were sitting in seiza position, hands tucked on their knees and waiting to the side. Assassin was sitting on the porch next to him, her small legs playfully kicking back and forth. Berserker and Lancer weren't present but that didn't alarm him.
He had kept Lancer on watch duty before turning it in for the night. As for Berserker, she has a habit of roaming aimlessly unless instructed otherwise.
Shirou once jokingly considered the idea of building an infirmary or a nurse's office, if only so when he needed her it wouldn't be hard to find her.
As Shirou's eyes found Assassin, who was merrily sitting along, he found himself wondering something. He originally stationed her with Lancer, yet here she was.
"Shouldn't you be with Lancer, Assassin?" He asked.
"Jackie goes where Mommy goes!" Assassin slid over, hugging him.
Shirou huffed expectedly, accepting the answer.
For a Servant that bore the name of one of humanity's greatest and mysterious cut-throat killers, she truly acted how she looks. Not that Shirou was opposed to it.
"Good morning, everyone... No, wait..." A quick check from his menu showed it was the afternoon. "Never mind, good afternoon it is. Hope you guys enjoyed your sleep as well as I did... That is, if you all actually can sleep that is. I'm still waiting for an answer for that by the way." He ponderously asked aloud.
None of the three offered a response, so he continued.
"Also, don't tell me you all stayed like that for who knows how long? I've said many times before that you don't need to be at my side all the time. I can't imagine it's all that interesting watching over me while I sleep and laze around."
"It's the duty of the servant to be at her lord's side." Rider was the first to speak, calm and dignified. Hand over her heart and looking to him loyally.
"A wife's duty is at her husband's side." Caster followed up, happy and assured. Her nine fluffy tails swaying jauntily.
Following that, she produced a small tray with cups of tea, warm and ready. He accepted one with a thank you, earning a loving squeal from the therianthrope as Caster cuddled up beside Shirou. He cracked a small smile. It never failed to evoke a sense of amusement and incredulity at seeing Caster's casual display of high-tier Item Creation used more often than naught on the more mundane of application, such as producing beverages and cooking. Or, more accurately as it was called in her flavor text, 'Wife Magic'.
Drinking his tea, he ignored the list buffs provided with practiced ease, focusing on the fleeting warmth of the drink spreading, easing both body and mind.
Eyes occasionally flickered towards them, observing and reminiscing.
While NPC customization was nearly limitless, YGGDRASIL unfortunately, did not support voice line or dialogue for guild-based NPCs. However, that wasn't the case with the likes of the Servants.
Shirou could still remember his shock and surprise following Berserker's initial introductions, alongside the other four. Something no other Player created NPCs has been shown capable of.
Not only were all five Servant NPCs capable of speech, a feature once thought impossible, further inspection revealed them capable of independent action, movement - in addition to the fact that they could travel with him outside of Nazarick, reactions, and idle animation. Putting them leaps and bounds ahead compared to their guild-based counterparts.
It took him a full week, testing their limit to truly see what they were capable of.
If he didn't know any better, he would claimed that they were alive. Mirroring Shirou's state of existence within YGGDRASIL. However, closer observations proved contrary to the idea.
For starters, while his Servants were fully capable of reacting when spoken to, they lacked a certain nuance when it came to proper speech. Often speaking and replying in a singular and simple manner that was indicative of their character. There was a stiffness to it, similar to reading out a line on a sheet of paper that correlated with what he said.
This fact even extended to some of their actions and reactions at times, where it felt preprogrammed in accordance with their history and character. One such example of this was Berserker's habit of wandering wherever, in search of patients to help and heal as she calls it. Despite the gesture being extraneous.
Further more, while they could respond, the action follow a condition: only if Shirou spoke first. He has yet to see them have the capacity to start a conversation of their own. His Servants were always reactive, never quite proactive. With an addendum where there were even times when they don't respond at all: whether it be because they chose not to or because they don't have a voice line or dialogue tree to whatever it was he was saying at the moment, he couldn't confirm 100%. But generally, they will respond when spoken to.
The absolute exception to this rule was when he was around others, his guildmates, others Players in general. Shirou earned more than a few odd and questioning looks and glances from his friends whenever he first tried showing them off.
No matter how persistent he was or what method he tried to catch them in the act, every test to show them off ended in failure. They only spoke and acted up in his presence and his alone. Anytime else, they were indistinguishable from the other NPCs that inhabited Nazarick.
His persistent endeavors to prove their anonymity once culminated in an intervention between him and his friends. It took more than a few conversations with those in the inner circles to dispel the misunderstanding and assuage them that no, he'd not taken leave of his senses. Or, more concernedly, the loneliness was really starting to get to him, and that he was losing his mind and believing the NPCs can talk and act as a coping mechanism.
Tabula went on a particular tangent that day regarding the matter of virtual reality and the human psyche. Of how the human mind, while exceedingly complex, was just as easily fragile. Games with VR integration typically had limitations, this was to prevent the line between reality and the virtual world from blurring. Allowing an individual to readily distinguish the real world from the virtual one without any major side effects. However, Shirou lived solely in the digital world and thus had no anchoring point. He then speculated that due to living in YGGDRASIL for so long that the magus's mind was deteriorating and that he was going loony. Further riling them up, all the while Shirou continued trying to convince them overwise to little avail.
Of which spurred a whole other can of worms as the group panicked, all the while throwing in their own crazy conjectures. One thing led to another and it spiraled so far out of hand that they somehow came to a wild conclusion that Shirou was entering a Rampancy state and that there existed a backup file that held an exact copy of Shirou's psyche that could be used to cure it. Leading to the guild spearheading a mission to find this nonexistent solution.
Thankfully, he managed to talk them out of it and that, no he wasn't going insane or anything, and that he wasn't losing his sense of self or anything wild.
He was perfectly cognitive and perfectly sane…
Correction, as sane as he typically was. He was a magus after all.
Withdrawing the memory, Shirou chuckled softly. It warmed his digital heart to see his friends get worked up for his sake, but honestly, the magus wondered where some of his friends got their hair-brained ideas from.
Then again, reality was often time stranger than fiction.
Shirou's life was irrefutable proof of that.
Back to his Servants, it was these little inconsistencies regarding them that put into question if they were truly Servants taken from the Throne of Heroes. Whether their existence parallels the Fake Player himself. Using a digital medium, albeit limited in comparison to him. Or, if they were an intricate facsimile of the Servants they were based on. With a higher functionality and a clearly more advanced VI – virtual intelligent processing thanks to being a World Class item. Semi-sentient but far from whole.
Whatever the case may be, the introduction of the Servants only spurred his already nebulous life down another unexpected road.
At first, he wasn't quite sure what to make of or feel about them. After the initial surprise and awe wore off came the question of what their presence meant. But as the months passed, Shirou grew accustomed to them.
There was a sense of familiarity with their presence – more than just Master and Servant, despite the decades long since passed from the Holy Grail War. The matter of whether they were real or not eluded him, but in the end that didn't really matter to him. For they would help keep him company for when the loneliness and silence became a touch unbearable.
At least with his Servants he'll have some companions he could actually converse with besides himself in the far-flung future. A rather morose consideration he came to not too long along after their introduction.
It made the uncertainty a bit more sufferable.
And what an interesting entourage of companions he had going.
Berserker, none other than Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. There was a certain irony that the one who bore the name of Nightingale, known throughout history as a practitioner of healing and a staunch pacifist would belong to the Servant class known for their rage and destruction. Especially taking into account her overly eccentric zeal to the call of duty.
Next, there was Rider, or as history remembered her as Minamoto no Yoshitsune. The famed Japanese military commander of the late Heian period. And yet another case of Throne of Heroes and history conflicting when it came to her true identity.
Tamamo-no-Mae, the mythical kitsune of legends, held the Caster class. A yokai on par with a high Divine Spirit, famous for her cruelty and power alike. And, while the latter remained true, the former seemed absurd from what he'd gathered. Instead of being a monster, she was just a woman who's only desire was to be a wide and to have a husband to call her own and love. A role she took like a fish to water for him.
Then there was Lancer, the sole member of the Knight Class at his disposal and none other than the legendary Scáthach; the immortal God-slaying witch. A Queen in her own right and the Witch of Dún Scáith. Legend credited her as a renowned slayer of gods, beasts, and men. Teacher to Ireland very own child of light, Cú Chulainn, the very hero that took his life the first time around.
Last and certainly not least, Assassin.
At the thought of the Servant of the stealth, his eyes wandered to her. At first glance, one would hardly guess that such a disarming looking little girl would be a Servant. The young girl whose white hair reminded him of better times was perhaps the most twisted of his Servants. More of a Wraith than a proper Servant, she existed as an Assassin composed of hundreds of unwanted children in London, who perished early in life. Yet, Jack the Ripper was their name.
What a cruel joke.
Shirou must've muttered words aloud absentmindedly, for Assassin craned her head up as if sensing his inner thoughts.
"Mommy." She said, promptly hugging him again.
Hearing her say this, Shirou's smile only grew melancholic.
His hand reached out, rubbing the head of little Jackie affectionately, who responded by leaning into the touch much like a cat with its owner's loving strokes.
"Mommy", Assassin calls him. He remembered being a bit off put off being called that of all things by her the first time around. A quick investigation helped him understand why.
Much like with other NPCs with flavor text that were used to detail information and backstory about them, his Servants were no exception. As their "owner" he had full access to this, detailing their entire history and conception into the Throne of Heroes. Allowing him to learn more about each Servant and helped Shirou to foster an understanding with them as individuals better. Especially Assassin and Caster with regards to their tragic past. And coincidentally, the ones that clung to him often.
All things told, he didn't mind it and allow them to indulge in their peculiarity. It took a bit of getting used to, yes, but at the end of the day they were content and that was good enough for him. He has endured far worse than simple naming convention.
Moreover, if there was one thing he was grateful for regarding the fact that they couldn't speak in the presence of other Players, it was that he didn't have to explain about those two in particular.
Hearing, for an intensive purpose, a little girl calling him 'Mommy' and an alluring vulpine woman calling him 'Husband.' in an overly affectionate manner. Well, that would certainly raise more than a few inquisitive eyebrows his way. That was a conversation he had no intention of getting into. For no matter how he would try to defend or explain himself, he'll lose regardless.
Shirou could all too easily imagine the snickering and wisecrack questioning made at his expense from his friends, in particular with the likes of Warrior Takemikazuchi and Ulbert if it were to come to light.
The last thing he needed was to give his friends more ammunition to use against him.
"Still, hard to believe that the infamous Jack the Ripper would be a little girl... Then again, no one expected King Arthur to be a woman either... Or Minamoto no Yoshitsune for that matter..." Shirou muttered in a quiet voice, smiling offhandedly at the particular line of thought.
One would think by this point he would've gotten desensitized to all the curved balls thrown at him in his life. Yet, the Throne of Heroes always managed a surprise or two.
Then again, what was life without a few surprises to add some color to it?
With nothing more, Shirou fell into a comfortable lull.
And for a moment, all was right with the world.
This is what he longed for. The moments of peace that made the struggles he endured worth it. They were a rare commodity but nonetheless treasured.
So why then...
Why could he not enjoy it in its entirety?
No matter how he shifted himself, searching for a more relaxed pose, the restlessness would not fade.
Because, despite his wish for the contrary, he knew the reality of the situation that surrounded his guild. They were a boat, encircled by sharks and piranhas alike, hoping to take a bit for themselves.
The events of the previous night flashed before him. His eyes opened, defiance and resolution gleaming within his silver and golden eyes.
Shirou had fought against a myriad of beings, individuals, and monsters far stronger than he. But this time around, his opponent was perhaps the most difficult for how does one defeat a foe that they do not even know?
The magus couldn't simply venture worth to meet them on the field of battle, nor could he stalk or hunt them down himself. They were enigmatic, scattered across the nine realms, biding their time in the shadows.
He couldn't come to them. For better or for worse, all he could do was wait until they finally unveil themselves.
But so be it. They'll be ready.
He'll be ready...
"Nazarick has never been the most popular guild. Hated among the Humanoid Player community and even envied by several of the Heteromorphs, that animosity was bound to boil over. Yet, couldn't it happen earlier? If almost a full hundred individuals were, but a scouting force, how large is their army? Yet, even at this moment, it could be growing bigger, but I'm unable to go on the offense. When the time comes to defend this place my friends call home, can I count on you, Scáthach: the Queen of Shadows? How about you, Jack the Ripper? Ushiwakamaru, will you be my Vassal? Tamamo-no-Mae, will you burn those who stand against me? Florence Nightingale, will you guard me against Death itself? You may have answered my summons, but this circumstance is far from the norm, so... Forgive this selfish request of mine, but I'll be counting on all of you when the time comes again. Help me, be my shield and sword, to fend off those who wish to plunder the home of Ainz Oown Goal!"
He so declared, springing to his feet, a powerful flourish with his hand gesturing to his faithful Servants before him. His declaration echoed across the field. A spur of the moment. It was also here that he acknowledged Lancer's and Berserker's presence, who were previously away but somehow made it here without him knowing. Almost as if his Servants knew beforehand and required their presence to make his speech work.
Several seconds of meditative silence passed, Shirou facing them with his arm still outstretched in a powerful declaration while his Servants locked eyes with him.
It wouldn't be long before he could feel the heat rising from his cheeks, the air turning awkward as secondhand embarrassment flooded his entire body following his spontaneous speech as the realization struck him.
Either the loneliness was really getting to him that he would espouse something as hammy as what he had just proclaimed. Or, Momonga and Ulbert's role-playing and chunni behavior were most definitely starting to rub off on him.
Honestly, he wasn't quite sure which was worse.
Somewhere out there, Momonga/Satoru Suzuki sneezed. He looked around, rubbing under his nose at the odd feeling. Curious, he wondered if someone was talking about him. Ulbert/Youta on the other hand felt his eyebrow twitched, annoyance filling him at the sense of his name being besmirch somehow, somewhere. Along with the powerful urge to give someone the middle finger.
None of the Servants chose to dignify a response, something he was thankful for.
"I'll...take that as a yes then..." He coughed in a fist, striving to retain some measure of his steadfast composure.
Again, the Servants said nothing. Though this time Shirou wished they had. If only to dispel the near suffocating silence. For they stared at him, calmly, as if all but judging him.
His embarrassment only grew from there with every passing second.
He then offered a quick and silent prayer to Root or whoever was listening for a distraction or anything to get rid of the suffocating silence he found himself in.
"Told ya he'd be here Touch Me."
It was here that Shirou's ear twitched, hearing the distant call of a voice along with the patter of footsteps making their way towards him. A few seconds later, Warrior Takemikazuchi and Touch Me appeared, turning the corner.
"T-Touch me-san, T-Takemikazuchi-san. It's good to see you two!" The faker offered; voice squeaky slightly as he fought to get it under control.
'Please don't tell me they heard that...' He hoped, remembering just how loud he was.
Touch Me and Warrior Takemikazuchi greeted respectively, the silver paladin with a nod and the armored samurai with a two-finger salute.
"Is there anything I can help you two with?" Shirou hurriedly asked.
"We were simply wondering where you were, old friend. And..."
"Also, were you talking to yourself again Emiya-san? Pretty sure I heard you talking loudly about something. Is it that time of the month again?" Warrior Takemikazuchi interjected, cutting Touch Me off, his voice dripping with amusement.
Shirou opened his mouth but the Nephilim didn't bother waiting for an answer, instead, turning to his friend.
"I think ol' Emiya-san might be relapsing. I think this calls for another intervention, Touch Me. Quick, call the others!"
"No, no, none of that!" Shirou interrupted, rushing over to stop him. "Just because I was speaking a little bit loudly doesn't mean I'm going crazy."
"Aha! So you do admit that you were talking to yourself." Warrior Takemikazuchi crowed, grinning in triumph at Shirou's 'admission'.
"I... You...ugh!" Shirou struggled, knowing full well anything he said could and would be used against him.
"There, there. It's ok." The Heteromorphic Player walked over, placing a comforting hand over his shoulder, patting him. "The first step to every problem is acknowledging you have a problem."
"Takemikazuchi-san..." The projection user deadpanned but he continued regardless.
"Don't worry, we're here for you, Emiya-san. You can talk about it with us about anything. Ain't that right, Touch Me?"
"Touch Me-san, please tell him to stop."
Touch Me had his arms crossed, helm facing away as if in great thought.
"Hmm, I don't know, he might be onto something." He said, keeping the duo in sight out of the corner of his eyes. Though obscured by his helm, the faker could all too easily see his friend's smirk.
Shirou's shoulder slumped upon hearing his last hope taking Warrior Takemikazuchi's side.
"Not you too..." He lamented. "Guys, I'm telling you I'm fine."
"Hmmm..." Warrior Takemikazuchi leaned in, scrutinizing him for any signs of deceit. He then turned to Touch Me. "I believe him, but I'd say we better get a second opinion. What'd ya think, Touch Me?"
Shirou let out an audible noise, already knowing what's going to happen.
"Here's Mr. Wiggle!" A loud and exaggerated cutesy voice rang out, courtesy of Warrior Takemikazuchi. On one of his hands was a small, cute hand puppet of some kind of hamster.
"Hello~ How are you doing today, Emiya-san?" Mr. Wiggle happily greeted, the hand puppet appearing practically in his face.
Shirou suppressed a suffering sigh. Mr. Wiggle was an item that those in the inner circle bought in response to that one time in the past, regarding an incident where he messed up after he had promised to keep his friend's up to date with everything. Mr. Wiggle was brought out whenever he was being difficult or "relapsing" as they say. More often than naught at his expense.
He knew better than to resist for it'll only embolden to try even harder until he cracks.
"Hello, Mr. Wiggles. I'm doing fine."
"Wonderful~! So, I hear you might be relapsing again, is that true?"
"No, I'm not. I'm perfectly fine, Mr. Wiggles."
"Yes, really, really. I am fine."
Shirou mustered a small glare towards the two Heteromorphic Players who were clearly enjoying the situation more than they should, snickering under their breath and trying to contain their laughter.
"Hmmm~~" Mr. Wiggles shifted animatedly side to side as if thinking over his words in great detail.
"Super pinky promise?"
"Yes, super pinky promise."
"Super, mega, ultra, powerful, cool, awesome, deluxe, omega, alpha star, pinky promise?"
"Takemikazuchi-san, I swear to the gods I'll... Yes! I super, mega, ultra, powerful, cool, awesome, deluxe, omega, alpha star, pinky promise!"
"Yay~!" Mr. Wiggles threw his tiny hand into the air, cheering happily and accompanied by small colorful fireworks and special effects.
Swallowing his exasperation, Shirou held out his pinky and wrapped it over the puppet's miniature arm and they shook, finally putting the matter to a close. Bot before Mr. Wiggles left him with this one last piece of advice.
"Bye ~ Bye ~ And remember, licking doorknobs is illegal on other planets!"
With those completely out-of-context last words, Mr. Wiggles kissed him on the nose with a loud and exaggerated 'mwah' sound before disappearing, returning back into Warrior Takemikazuchi's inventory.
The two Players couldn't contain it anymore and not even a second later, broke down into hysterical laughter. The two all but doubling over, with Touch Me clutching his stomach with his belly laughs while Warrior Takemikazuchi was hunched over, slamming his fist onto his knees trying to control his wheezing.
"Ugh!" Shirou let out an unrestrained groan, burying his head into his hands as he sat down as he listened to them laugh. "I hate you guys so much."
"Love you too." Warrior Takemikazuchi managed, giving him a playful slap on the shoulder.
If that wasn't bad enough, Shirou swore he could feel his Servant, mute as they were, deriving some amusement from his misery. Laughing alongside his guildmates even if it wasn't out loud.
He grunted, turning away but despite it all, a small smile found itself on his lips.
Shirou waited patiently, allowing their laughter to run its course. Once the last dreg died down and they caught their breath did he continue from where Touch Me last left off.
"You were saying Touch Me-san, before you were so rudely interrupted?" Shirou threw the samurai a pointed look.
"Right, right." He cleared his throat. "We were just wondering where you were. It's nearly time for the meeting and you weren't answering your [Message]'s."
A quick look at his menu indeed showed several incoming [Message]'s that timed out due to him not answering them.
"S-sorry, lost track of time for a bit. Guess I was enjoying my nap earlier more than I thought." He played off.
"Oh? Hear that Touch Me, Emiya-san would rather spend his time sleeping around with little harem than to hang out with us." Warrior Takemikazuchi jostled with a snicker, earning a light knock from Touch Me's elbow and an eye roll from Shirou as a tired smile stretched on the magus's face.
"I feel so sorry for Bukubukuchagama-san, having so many fierce competitions."
"You make it sound as if I'm some kind of deviant, Takemikazuchi-san."
"I mean, I'm not the man that used his World Class items to make four beautiful NPCs and a little kid that follows him around wherever he goes. A little kid that's dressed extremely skimpily might I add. And here I thought ol' Peroroncino-san was the group's resident perv. You think you know someone..." Warrior Takemikazuchi tsked, shaking his head disappointedly like a parent that uncovered their child's hidden strange or embarrassing predilection.
"Oh for the love of—! How many times do I have to explain that it wasn't on purpose!" Shirou countered, face flushing with exasperation.
"Sure, totally, whatever you say Emiya-san." The samurai drawled sarcastically, totally believing him, with an all too familiar smirk on his lips.
The silver-haired Player let out a huff, the smile he held far from diminished.
"I notice you've been rather lethargic and prone to sleep a couple of times before. Are you doing alright, Emiya-san? Are you getting enough sleep at night? If not, you should. Sleeping is not only important for unwinding but studies shown to be helpful in combating mental fatigue." Came Touch Me's concerned questioning, stepping forward and inspecting him like a fretful parent looking after their child.
"Chill Touch Me. You know how it is with old people. They like to spend their days sleeping around. Ain't nothing new." Warrior Takemikazuchi joked, a hand on his shoulder and pulling him back.
"How rude. Is that any way for you to speak to your elders? You whippersnappers have no respect these days." Shirou returned with playful indignation, shaking his head ruefully.
This earned an amused snort from the Bujin. Who the heck even heard, let alone use the word, whippersnappers now and days? It only served to prove the samurai's point.
"I'm just calling it how I see it, old man. What are you going to do, wave your walking stick at me?"
In the face of Warrior Takemikazuchi dare Shirou did nothing at first, only to then project a long wooden stick and bonk it against his friend's horned head. Followed by a cartoonish sound effect before breaking into motes of light. A short pause rang out as the trio stared at one another before all the three cackled, sharing another bout of laughter.
The sound of merry laughter could be heard, carried by the soothing winds, echoing across the field and sanctuary following the pleasant reprieve that it brought them.
"I'm doing ok, Touch Me-san. Honest. As for my sleep schedule, well, you'll understand when we meet up with everyone else." He answered the World Champion's previous question, rising to his feet and patting his shoulder.
"Alright." Touch Me accepted after a moment.
Warrior Takemikazuchi slung around, wrapping his arms around them affectionately from the back, bringing them in with his massive frame.
"Now that's out of the way. Let's get a move on you guys. We all know how anal Moe-san gets when it comes to being punctual! I swear even after all these years, ol' shorty still got that stick firmly up his as—"
"Takemikazuchi-san!" Touch Me shouted, scandalized.
"What? We all thought about it at least once. Back me up here, Emiya-san."
"See, he agrees."
Warrior Takemikazuchi earned a bump against his chest plate from Shirou and a disappointed head shake from Touch Me.
"You're incorrigible." Touch Me mourned.
"Yeah, what's new?" Warrior Takemikazuchi snarked, the three chortling as they walked away.
Minutes later the trio found themselves within the 9th Floor, the Round Table room, joined by the guild members that could make it on this day. In total there were only seventeen members present.
Sparse chatter filtered through the air within the Conference Room and though on the surface all appeared normal, Shirou could all too easily sense the quiet melancholy that hung over them all. The previous guild meeting had twenty in attendance, and the one before that had nineteen members. The number of Players in attendance for these routine meetings fluctuated often but in the passing weeks and months, their numbers were steadily dwindling.
A fact that could no longer be denied.
Exactly as he foretold.
Still, each guild member did their part, pushing past the depressing fact and carrying on regardless of their circumstance. Which made every meeting that each guild member could attend all the more grateful and meaningful. A sentiment carried by every one of them.
"Alright, now that everyone's here I guess we'll begin." Said Touch Me, taking the role of spokesman as they began.
"Shouldn't we wait a bit more for Momonga-san?" Spoke Coup de Grâce glancing around for their undead leader. "Strange. He's never been this late to a meeting before."
"I'm afraid Momonga-san isn't going to make it today. He told me he had a project that his workplace dumped on him, so he's been offline for the remainder of this week." Answered Shirou in his best friend's stead.
"Oh..." Coup de Grâce softly let out.
The magus could only offer a condolent smile. He understood his friend's despondency. After all, among all of them, their Guildmaster could always be counted on for being online on the regular. Not counting Shirou of course. Coup de Grâce had missed out on the last few meetings and now with this, it marked the fourth week since the two last saw one another.
"S-sorry, continue Touch Me-san."
Touch Me shook his head. "It's alright, Coup de Grâce-san. No need for an apology for something like this. Don't worry, there's always next time." He encouraged.
With nothing more, the meeting kicked off as normal. Each guild member was given a turn to give news, announcements, or any updates that they wished to share while others chipped in occasionally, idle banter flying between friends. It wasn't long before it was Shirou's turn and as always, he would be the one breaking the interesting news.
"Damn, you had quite the night, eh Emiya-san?" Warrior Takemikazuchi whistled. "If only I was there with ya. That would've been a blast!"
"But they didn't make it to the 2nd Floor, correct?" Punitto Moe spoke up, turning to the lone Humanoid Player.
"They did not. One of the parties almost got close, however, I managed to reroute them."
"But the fact that one almost got close to reaching it is enough. This is the first time any invading group has ever managed to get this close to making it past the 1st Floor." The Death Vine insisted.
"Does it really matter? I mean, they failed like all the others." Ankoro Mocchi Mochi stated rather lackadaisically, shrugging. She had been out of the loop for a few months now, appearing on and off at random times. As such, she didn't see what was wrong. To her, everything was as they always were.
Some Players tried their hand at attacking Nazarick, the invaders failed on the 1st Floor alone, and Nazarick remained standing. All was normal.
"Don't tell me you're getting worked up because of Nazarick's reputation, Punitto Moe-san." She said.
"I believe what Punitto Moe-san is trying to get at is that it's not so much the perceived invincibility of Nazarick that's important here but rather the fact that this is the first time a group of Players almost made it to the 2nd Floor when we've repelled raids with far greater numbers than this one." Answered Bellriver, elaborating on his friend's concern as two of his arms crossed over his wide chest.
"The frequency at which these attempts are being made, they have a pattern to them. This "raid" marks the sixth one yet."
"Seven actually." Shirou corrected.
"Right, seven. Thank you." Bellriver nodded.
"Seven raids and we're only halfway through the month. It's only going to increase at this rate. Last month saw around ten attempts on Nazarick. And the month before that one, another nine attempted their hand at tackling Nazarick. They failed, yes, but they all possessed the same modus operandi; small and speedy parties seeking to traverse the 1st Floor rather than to fight it out. Honestly, I'm surprised that no one has managed luck out and reached the 2nd Floor yet after all these years. However, our luck won't last forever. Nazarick, while strong, is not invincible. Contrary to what people may complain and whine about on the Forums. A sizable force could potentially reach the latter Floors depending on their size and strength. And the thing is, it's not impossible to see that happening in the potential future."
Following Bellriver's rather grim assertion, the conference room gave way to discussion regarding the potential threat possessed to not only Nazarick but all of Ainz Ooal Gown.
"There are three questions we must ask." Shirou held up three fingers, drawing everyone's attention. "Motive, means, and opportunity. These three components comprise every action. We identify them, we can narrow down our suspects."
"Well, we ain't gotta bust our brain on the motive part. We've been attacked for gods know how many reasons. There's no limit to who we haven't slighted or angered over the years as Ainz Ooal Gown. A better question would be who we haven't piss off after all these years." Said Warrior Takemikazuchi, leaning back in his chair.
"I agree. The motive in this situation is insignificant as the question poised should be who is willing to go about this in such a manner? Regarding what Emiya-san said about means, we can see a clear method. Seeker and information guilds cost an arm and a leg to hire for their services, doubly so if their target is one of the top ten guilds in all of YGGDRASIL. These proxy raids on Nazarick reek of meticulous planning with the funds and knowhow to keep the operation discrete even after all this time. That leaves several concerning alternatives. I would surmise that either one or two of the other top ten guilds are working together, or a group comprised of high to medium-ranked guilds just below the top ten have partnered up. My bet? The absolutely worst-case and likely scenario: an alliance comprised of both guilds within the top ten and below. As for the numbers? We can only guess." Punitto Moe proposed, laying out the possibilities in a grave voice. Earning a few concerned glances from the guild members.
"There's no end to the number of guilds, rivals, organizations, or Players that'll jump at the opportunity to see us defeated and broken. If so, this'll only be the prelude to what's to come. Considering we've repelled raids in the hundreds before, I'm inclined to believe Punitto Moe-san's hypothesis. However, all of this only speaks volumes to the masterminds that are orchestrating this." Touch Me provided, finger interlocking and contemplative.
"With something as elaborate and presumably grand in size as sieging Nazarick, we should've learned or heard something by now. Anything that would indicate a hint at such an operation. A call to arms, a rallying cry, a recruitment campaign, something, anything. Instead, there's only been silence, not even so much as a peep. These incursions will only continue. We can only speculate what's to come next…"
Many grimaced, following along with the World Champion's line of thought.
The fact that they've heard little to nothing, not even from their regular detractors on the YGGDRASIL forums, showed that whoever was running the operation was running a very tight ship. They weren't going to take any chances with any leaks, no matter how small or insignificant it was. Speaking volume of their undoubtedly meticulous and professional handling of the operation. Far greater than any they've fought or encountered in the past.
They intend to keep themselves hidden until the time was ripe to plunge the dagger into Ainz Ooal Gown's back.
"Well, I say bring it! I've been itching for a good fight. A guild war sounds right up my alley!" Warrior Takemikazuchi rallied, slamming his forearm against the table and leaning in.
"Please don't say that, Warrior Takemikazuchi-san. You'll end up jinxing us!" Nubo pleaded.
"Now we arrive at perhaps the most fundamental question, opportunity. When will they strike us?" Said Shirou, holding up a singular finger.
The mood quickly grew hushed and sullen. It wasn't difficult for everyone to come to their own thoughts and conclusions regarding the matter. Especially with the guild's current predicament.
At their peak, Ainz Ooal Gown was a force to be reckoned with and earned their mark in the digital world. However, those days were quietly behind them.
With life moving on and over the course of several months, Player attendance and log in from the guild have been waning. The fact of the matter was, Ainz Ooal Gown wasn't as active as they were in the past.
The more astute Players and factions would take notice of their reduced presence within the overworld. It wouldn't be hard to conjure up a conjecture or two regarding why that might be. Especially since Ainz Ooal Gown's relatively small member count wasn't exactly a secret.
After all, what better time than to make a move against the guild when they were operating at only a fraction of their full strength?
"These scouting raids have been going on for quite some time now. For all we know, whoever is behind this might be ready to launch the real thing soon. Or if not, then they're going to bide their time, launching more and more expeditionary forces and parties at us to further learn as much as they can all the while waiting for our numbers to drop while bolstering their numbers. Who knows how long they're willing to play the long con for, weeks, months, years even? With our current situation, just how many of us will be still online on the regular to meet them if they do decide to attack us? We have the advantage that the 2nd Floor and below have never been breached and will be unknown to the intruders, but it's foolish to put all our hopes in believing it'll be enough to stop them in the case of the invading force being far greater than we could possibly imagine. That's not to mention who are all backing this campaign, their total Player numbers and their individual skill level, item count and advantage, or even the potential usage of World Class items. Furthermore..."
Punitto Moe words quickly devolved into rambling mumbles as his mind raced, going over all the potential logistics of it all. One of his vines tapped incessantly against the table as he jabbered on. The guild's chief strategist's anxiousness was on full display and it carried over to the others as well. Hanging over the air forebodingly, the mood of the room dipping further.
None dared raise their voice in solid objection.
His fear was understandable and one they all shared deep within. For while every single member was proud and confident of Nazarick and what it represented, none could deny the danger poised against it.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick, while one of the largest guild bases in all of YGGDRASIL, wasn't without its flaws. Much of Nazarick was designed to cater to their love and interest, what the guild thought would be "cool".
A combination of fun and functionality.
They made it work, most certainly, but when compared to other guild bases of the same tier and size as Nazarick, there were areas where they fell short.
"I think you might be a little too paranoid there, Punitto Moe-san. You're selling us way too short." Luc*Fer expressed.
"For starters, each one of the Floors within Nazarick are massive in size and scale, easily spanning kilometers in distance. A labyrinth in their own rights. It is any wonder why anyone's barely been able to get past the 1st Floor? Floors one through eight are filled to the brim with well place traps, a stockpile of NPCs, and even the Floor Guardians to boot. Even if they can somehow make it past the first three Floors, which was designed to bleed any invading forces, there's still the 4th, 6th, and of course the 8th Floor. With the first two being well fortified and easily defendable – they're kill boxes for anyone stupid enough that dares to try. Then there's the 8th Floor, enough said there. Where we stored all of our trump cards with Victim, Rubedo and all the other overpowered NPCs, including the dead zone trap that we placed just before the entrance to the 9th Floor. And if by some miracle they managed to get past that, there's still the 9th and 10th Floor to consider as well as the numerous contingency plans. Need I go on?"
The fallen angel listed, his tone almost patronizing.
"That's not to mention our contributions as Players. And we can't of course forget about our stockpile of weapons, items, and consumables we've horded. Just waiting to be used from the Treasury. In addition to the numerous World Class items safeguarded in our vault. When it comes down to it, we won't lose so easily. If all else fails, we can also throw Emiya-san at them and let him do all the work. It seems to be working out fine for us already."
He passed, chuckling at his joke in an attempt to rouse from good cheer. Only for the meager laughter to die a swift death upon seeing the stone, grim faces of his guildmates and no one laughing.
"You're not wrong." Punitto Moe agreed to an extent.
Luci*Fer had opened his mouth to say something only for it to click immediately shut at the Death Vine's tone. He didn't scream or raise his voice, but the sheer seriousness in his tone was enough to make the normally sarcastic fallen aerosphere shut his mouth and listen.
"We would be the greatest of fools to accept that we're untouchable. Ask the Imperial Inquisition if they thought themselves truly invincible and remember where they are now." Punitto Moe curtly replied, drawing upon a past experience.
Nothing in YGGDRASIL held an absolute certainty. From Player classes and builds to certain skills and spells, and lastly to items and even World Class items. None would deny that the game balance was horribly skewed at times with blatant min-max and overpowered builds that were clearly better than others. But if there was one thing that the shitty devs did right, it was balancing the game where there was a counter to everything. Allowing Players the freedom to experiment with unique builds and ideas, and to prevent power creep and certain playstyles from dominating and ruining the game's meta.
Not one thing in YGGDRASIL was considered truly full proof. Everything was viable and in that light, everything had a countermeasure; it was merely a matter of locating and exploiting it.
Guild bases were no exception. No matter how well fortified or grand in scale they may be.
Ainz Ooal Gown had plenty of experience launching attacks and raids on enemy bases and besieging cities during past guild wars, raids, and other similar events. However, one of their greatest campaign to date for the Heteromorphic guild was when they went against the original ranked 6th guild – The Imperial Inquisition.
Their guild base was comparable to the total size of Nazarick, consisting of an enormous walled fortress castle with a city within the fortress that might as well have been its own tiny country, a golden utopian metropolis with a grandiose sky castle within the center serving as their main headquarters. The guild's base was named "The Golden Throne of Solus" and at the time it earned the prestigious title of "The Unassailable" for repelling every single attempt made against it since year one of YGGDRASIL release. A feat that not even the other guilds that ranked above them could boast about.
A title they held unchallenged for years and could've held onto until the end of their days, had they not gotten greedy and stepped on too many toes. Angering many factions and guilds in their quest for power and fame.
For whenever things would get too dicey for the Imperial Inquisition, they would retreat and hunker down in their guild base. Wait out the storm knowing that they were untouchable. Every single time.
This continued for years, and so they became too confident, too content, too boastful.
Animosity for them eventually boiled over to a fever pitch and a call to arms was issued out by the 4th ranked guild at the time with numerous third parties and high ranking guilds answering the call. Ainz Ooal Gown was among the many that joined in, who were ranked 7th at the time, alongside a guild by the name of The Conclave of Ra, the 8th ranked guild.
Nothing brings warring rivals and unlikely allies together than a common, hated enemy.
Together, they formed an alliance, and working in unison, initiated a Guild War with the Imperial Inquisition and laid siege to their capital to topple their unassailable reputation and end their regime.
The magus could still remember the war effort as clearly as if it was yesterday. Every inch of ground of that base was seemingly designed with the explicit purpose of halting and repelling any invaders that dared come their way. Chokepoints, dead ends, countless booby traps, and false paths, strategic NPC placement, elevated high grounds that overlook wide open areas, tactical vantage points, key weapon placement, and so many more. The Golden Throne of Solus was a death trap in all but name.
The Imperial Inquisition had just roughly 400 Players under their banner, with the home-field advantage, numerous powerful NPCs, all the items at their disposal, their frankly overpowered Guild Weapon, and so on. Despite all their technical advantage, experience, defenses, and preparation, the alliance was the one that won that day.
For they possess one thing that the guild didn't, and that was the numbers advantage.
Skill, item, terrain, wit, strategy, all were determining factors that could decide either victory or defeat when it comes to PvP and Player skirmishes. But in a full-fledged guild war, all these factors were exasperated, and in the end, it was thanks to the alliance vastly outnumbering the guild not just in terms of sheer Player numbers but also capability.
Why? Because they had more skilled Players to rain skills and spells upon their stronghold, far more than what the guild could dish out. They had more mercenary NPCs they could've used as fodder to test out their defenses and break the stalemates. They had more cash items and could outspend them. They even had more World Class items – The Imperial Inquisition had only three and used them all during the raid, while the coalition used a total of five.
Quantity and quality. If two opposing forces held roughly equal levels in terms of sheer quality, then it only stands to reason that the former would be a deciding factor.
In war, numbers alone didn't determine who wins or lose but it certainly does help tip the balance in one's favor. For the old adage remains true; there was strength in numbers. No matter the battlefield.
They won in the end, after nearly four full hours of brutal fighting. A grueling battle of attrition to reach that hard-fought victory. With more than three-fourths of their forces falling to The Imperial Inquisition before grasping victory within their hands.
They won, but the alliance wasn't satisfied with just a mere victory.
No, they wanted more and went a step beyond as the alliance capture not just the base and their respawn point but every single respawn point within the immediate area and continent. When the members of the guild would respawn, they would be set upon, PKing the guild members instantly, again, and again, and again. Until their level reached zero and their Player character was auto deleted entirely, forcing every last one of them to start completely over from scratch. By the end of the day, The Imperial Inquisition, one of the oldest and most powerful guilds since the launch of YGGDRASIL, was reduced to nothing but dust in the wind.
A majority of the Players from the guild quit the game outright after that, unable to handle harassment.
Some would have called their action cruel and vicious, Shirou was certainly among that camp, but the rest didn't care.
It wasn't only about beating them; it was about sending a message.
The smoldering scorched crater and ruin that was once home to the prestigious guild base served as a reminder to all, strong or weak, that nothing in YGGDRASIL was ever a guarantee.
Now, it seemed it was Ainz Ooal Gown's turn at the chopping block.
And it couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.
"We should start considering a fallout plan in the case of Nazarick falling. Set up backup safehouses and storages. Start transferring some of the more important items first. The sooner, the better." Said Punitto Moe, devising a fallback plan.
The discussion rose in volume, the conference room ringing with the noises from each Player speaking and arguing all at once. Despite the initial protest, there was no denying the underlying apprehension they all felt.
While it was all still speculative, none could deny the fact of the matter. Taking all the evidence as a whole, it pointed towards one foreboding conclusion.
A storm was brewing, and it was only growing larger.
Whomever it was that was behind this machination, they intend to end all of Ainz Ooal Gown in one fell swoop.
The mood of the conference room plummeted as the notion of an inevitable defeat awaited them infested their thoughts. Festering like a malignant disease with every passing murmur and hushed exchange between the guild members. Carrying a defeatist attitude that only lingered, spiraling further down by the minute into a more forgone conclusion.
Not even the normally optimistic Touch Me could offer any particular solace, remaining pensively silent. While Warrior Takemikazuchi held a grim determination to him. The two warriors shared a glance and nodded.
Raising their voices and rallying for a last stand. If they did meet their match, then they'll go down swinging.
They all but accepted their potential defeat as unavoidable. Taking the worst-case scenario as an all but certainty. All but one that remained steadfast.
"It won't." A voice interjected.
All eyes swiveled to Shirou.
"Nazarick won't fall." He repeated, as if stating a fact.
"It won't fall easily; is what I believe what you mean, Emiya-san." The Death Vine replied. "And as it pains it for me to admit, Nazarick is far from infallible. We need to look at this realistically and start planning ahead of time." He stressed, lips twitching into the barest form of a frown.
"I don't disagree, Punitto Moe-san. No guild base no matter how elaborate or intricate is invincible. But I say again, Nazarick won't fall. I'll make sure of it." Shirou vowed.
"Emiya-san..." Punitto Moe drawled in an all too familiar vexed voice, behind his avatar his brows twitched with a hint of annoyance at the stubbornness being displayed by his friend.
"I don't know what's gotten into you, Emiya-san, but please stop it. I understand you might be upset at such a thought, but we need to be smart about this. We need to prepare for when Nazarick falls."
"Don't you mean, if, Moe-san?"
"Ugh! Not this again..."
"I don't disagree with your idea of having contingency plans, Moe-san. I know you're our key strategist but that doesn't mean you should be outright pessimistic about our chances."
"It's not pessimism if you're being realistic, which I am! And speaking on that, it's not like you to be this stubbornly naïve, Emiya-san! It's as you said, I'm the guild's strategist. It's my job to consider the alternatives and I'm saying, there's a chance Nazarick will fall and we need to accept that fact!"
The others kept quiet as Punitto Moe and Shirou argued back and forth, with the argument slowly heating up as the guild's chief of strategy grew more and more incensed at the Hand of the guild's calm continued insistence. Touch Me and a few others tried intervening to little avail as the two Players were locked in a war of words.
"If we believe we don't stand a chance, then we've already lost. We know their forces would no doubt be strong in order to invade Nazarick, but we can't say for certain if the enemy can successfully raid Nazarick or not."
"Exactly, we don't know! Who are they? What are their exact number, forces, and capability, skill level, item advantage, or even World Class items? We're completely in the dark here! There are too many factors to consider here and we've got little to work with. Even if we shore up our defenses and prepare beforehand the best we can, there's no guarantee that it'll be enough! If there's even a 1% chance of failure, we must take that as an absolute certainty! For all we know, they might already have the numbers and power necessary to actually raid Nazarick and see it burned to the ground. They're just not choosing to act on it yet!"
"Maybe, but believing we've already lost before the fighting has even begun does us nothing. We can plan and postulate all we want, but what matters is when the time comes, we'll beat them back and protect Nazarick. Just as we've always done before." The Fake Player declared.
"That is nothing more than foolish idealistic naiveté! Have you listened to a single word I've said?!" The Death Vine argued back, his voice rising.
"I have and I do understand, Moe-san. More than you know." Shirou answered in a soft and understanding voice. "However, that doesn't mean I'll accept it so easily. I won't. In the end, all we need to do is to stop them. Prevent them from reaching the inner Floors and keep them away from the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown. We do that, we win."
"Easier said than done. But again, may I reiterate that we still have no idea if we can stop them or not!? You keep on saying we'll beat them back but that's it! How can you confidently say that we'll win when we don't have a single fucking idea who or what we're going up against?! Answer me that!" Punitto Moe all but shouted, frustration boiling over, a grassy fist slamming against the table. The others felt it rattle slightly. The number zero flashing briefly.
A taunt dead silence choked the room. Many looked back and forth between the two following the Death Vine's explosive argument and more than a few fidgeted awkwardly in their seats. Arguments and heated discussions were fairly common for even a tight-knitted guild such as Ainz Ooal Gown. However, the quarrel between the two of them went beyond heated and into polarizing.
Two opposing views clashed in full display with many present worried that the disagreement might spark and escalate into something far more worrisome and destructive. The last thing the guild needed was a rift.
Much of the discourse lies in Shirou's and Punitto Moe's mindset conflicting.
Much of Punitto Moe's professionalism ascribed to Sun Tzu's maxim of "the battle is concluded before it even started,". The Death Vine has always been a very meticulous Player, always cautious and calculating. Preferring research, facts, and logic over much else. At times, he comes off as headstrong and a stickler to strategy and tactics whenever they go out PKing or adventuring.
Untold successes were be attributed thanks him, however, he wasn't without his faults. His Achilles' heel lies in the very adage he upholds. He was cautious by nature, overly so at times. If the situation and information, either theoretical or actual, were either unfavorable or completely against them, he would often fall into a slippery slope, quickly passing judgment then and there and accepting it as a foregone result.
Ironic, how someone like Punitto Moe, an individual who prides himself as scrupulous and conventional had a history of impulsive and hasty decision making for outcomes he was later proven to be wrong about.
On the flip side, there was Shirou with his ever gallant "it is not over until it's over" motto. A noble sentiment on paper, but rarely was reality ever fair or kind. However, that never stopped him from fighting to the bitter end with his all no matter the hurdles in the way. They've beaten the odds before, but they've lost plenty of times as well.
Both weren't wrong in their stances, but neither were they wholly in the right.
However, the general consensus amongst them sided with Punitto Moe. They knew Shirou could be stubborn as a mule at times, but this was a definite first. Hearing Ainz Ooal Gown's chief of war all but parroting the same answer with little evidence to support his claim. It did little to soothe their worries.
It was almost as if he was in utter denial of the idea of Ainz Ooal Gown and Nazarick falling. Which prompted some concern from his guildmates.
All eyes waited on the lone Humanoid Player, silently awaiting his response. Some even held out hope that he'd provide a miracle solution to this dilemma.
"You're right. I don't." Shirou admitted calmly and easily. Something that took much of the wind out of Punitto Moe's sail, catching him and the rest off guard by his admission.
"In a guild war and raid, there are only two paths. Victory or defeat. Either we win, and Nazarick and Ainz Ooal Gown as a whole remain. Or, we lose and everything we've built up will crumble away forever. Between those two, can we really call it a choice?"
Shirou's gaze turned, sweeping and meeting every one of them. None offered a reply, with a few unable to meet his gaze, almost ashamed of themselves for being caught up in the moment and accepting their potential defeat all but lying down.
His fingers came together, squeezing at the thought. The silver-haired Player gaze soon turned and found itself transfixed to the floating staff. The Guild Weapon of The Great Tomb of Nazarick, the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown.
The rest of his guildmates followed suit, their gaze landing on the golden staff and for a moment all was quiet.
Guild wars and raids on guild bases, while often grand in scope and spectacle, followed a rather simple procedure. It comes down to a singular objective from both sides. The attackers seek to invade the base and destroy the Guild Weapon, the defender meanwhile will defend and stop them. Victory or defeat was determined by whether or not the Guild Weapon was destroyed or not. Everything in between was merely a formality to reach said objective.
The countless raids and attacks they've repelled over the years; they were with the same goal– reach Nazarick's lower depth and destroy the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown. And much like with everything else in YGGDRASIL, a defeat meant a harsh punishment. Destruction of the Guild Weapon would result in the effective and immediate disbanding of the guild, and the dissolution of The Great Tomb of Nazarick.
This unrealized attempt on Nazarick would be no different from those in the past. Only this time, their enemy no doubt intends to finish the job once and for all.
Ainz Ooal Gown, The Great Tomb of Nazarick, these names held different meanings to different people. To some, a source of awe and purpose, to others a source of contempt and challenge.
But to Shirou, they were family and home.
To allow both of them to die on his watch…
The thought of that happening, it was utterly inexcusable in Shirou's mind.
"You say we can't win, Moe-san, but I say that we can't afford to lose."
Ainz Ooal Gown was more than just a name, a title. It was a banner, a belief. They were, but ordinary men and women but together, they carved out their destiny. Cementing their names in the annals of history within this digital domain.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick was so many things. A reminder, a testament to Ainz Ooal Gown's first true endeavor and accomplishments. A monument to all their achievements, their glory, and dreams.
But to them, to Shirou, it was simply home.
They dedicated everything into Nazarick.
Hours of lives that they'll never get back, tens of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of yen from their livelihood, untold grinding, and innumerable blood, toil, sweat, and tears. Their very beings.
They, who were unsatisfied with the real world, carved out a place by them for them. With nothing but their own hands and mind, they turn their aspirations and imagination into a reality. They made the impossible possible.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick was home to Ainz Ooal Gown, a fact, just as how the sky was vast, or the ocean was blue.
The Great Tomb of Nazarick was shrine to all of Ainz Ooal Gown, of all that came before and what would come after. A masterpiece to all their halcyon days, forever standing the test of time, even after all the members move on and when only he'll remain.
A notion that was slowly becoming a reality, sooner rather than later.
Already, two members have stopped playing YGGDRASIL outright, expressing their deepest regret that they simply didn't have the time to play anymore. They would be the first of many.
Deep within the Treasury lies a hallway, a chamber known as the Innermost Sanctum. With the prospect of the guild members retiring for good, Momonga came up with the idea of building a special sanctum – a mausoleum. It was a novel idea and one that he pitched in to make with his friend.
Within the mausoleum, they housed the relinquished items and equipment of the members that have quitted. To be stored and kept safe, with great golden stone statues known as Avatara equipped with those items in their Player avatar's likeness as an honor to the members of Ainz Ooal Gown that have moved on.
Ready to be pulled out and returned to them should they ever decide to come back – however unlikely that was.
Only two Avatara decorated the mausoleum hallway, a number that'll rise in the coming months and years.
To add further insult to injury, when a Guild Weapon was destroyed not only does the guild automatically disband and their guild base all but deleted, they would be given a title that would hang over their head for all to see.
'[Symbol of Failure]'
It would be emblazoned above every single guild member's avatar for all to bear witness and judge. A badge of shame.
The process to get rid of the [Symbol of Failure] was relatively easy and forgiving by YGGDRASIL standard. The guild members must remake and rejoin the guild under the same name for it to go away. Every single previous member.
The biggest caveat was that, if even one singular member doesn't rejoin or quit outright, then the [Symbol of Failure] will remain forever.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, Nazarick's defense would be penetrated, their innermost sanctum trampled on and their Guild Weapon seized and destroyed. Ainz Ooal Gown would be terminated, their members scattered across the four winds. Their home but ruination.
While the dissolvement of both Ainz Ooal Gown and Nazarick would be beyond soul-crushing for every single one of them, it wasn't, strictly speaking, the end of the world. It would be, and in the extremist and loose's term of the word, an acceptable loss. After all, at the end of the day, it was a game – a game that consumed their free time and gave but a game nevertheless. Everyone had lives outside of YGGDRASIL with greater responsibilities. They can recover, bounce back, and move forward given enough time. And while some will have no doubt moved on from the game, it wouldn't be strictly impossible to gather everyone back together through the emergency messaging system they had set up. With a guild as tight-knitted as them it was more so a matter of organization and scheduling than anything else.
But none of that mattered to Shirou, for even if they did get back together, the magus wasn't sure if he could stomach the shame or look any one of his cherished friends in the eye for allowing it to transpire in the first place.
Yes, their name could be reforge but what of The Great Tomb of Nazarick? What of the countless bundles of lives, the NPCs that they dedicated their poured their heart into that also call Nazarick home? They would be lost forever.
The [Symbol of Failure] would be naught but salt upon an everlasting grievous wound, for it served as an irrefutable fact that Shirou failed to protect Nazarick in the first place. He would fail them.
No matter the justification or odds against him.
When all was said and done, it would only be he that'll remain when all of Ainz Ooal Gown move on. His final duty to them, his friends, a silent vigil over Nazarick. The dutiful sentinel, he will be the one to see how it will all ends when the sun finally sets upon this digital world.
Should total defeat ever come to pass, then the final moments of both Ainz Ooal Gown and Nazarick will not be of glory and remembrance, but instead, of failure and despair.
Their legacy would be forever sullied, left only to only memories remaining, fragmented and distant. Nothing more than a bygone era.
He couldn't – he wouldn't – allow such a fate to come to pass.
Shirou had failed innumerable times over his long, long life. Defeat was a taste he'd known since he was born. The lone survivor, who failed at saving those who pleaded and cursed him in equal amounts. Back then, it had tasted like ashes, making every breath a reminder of his guilt. Yet, what followed was worse.
He found purpose in Kiritsugu, but it was a monkey paw, driving him to his destruction.
He found love in Rin. That arrogant, yet reliable woman, who'd pulled him from his delusion, and made it clear that he deserved to be happy.
And... he found a dream in Saber. His better half, forced apart by fate and Alaya alike. Forever destined to search for her endlessly, as she waited for eternity.
He had it all and he'd failed them all, countless number of people, friends, loved ones, his duty and ideals, even himself.
Shirou will not add Ainz Ooal Gown and Nazarick to that long list.
An unbridled fury flooded him, one very uncharacteristic for someone of Shirou's rapport and an emotion that one could count on two hands alone the number of times he has truly felt such a way, simmering underneath the surface. One that threatened to engulf him if he were a lesser man, at the thought of those who'd ruin his and his cherished friend's sanctuary for their Machiavellian pleasure and selfishness. It emboldened him, yet it was a prelude for the pain that awaited him, should he fail. He faintly wondered if contacting Alaya was a lesser cruelty... before dismissing the thought. His guildmates would hardly forgive him if he went deeper down that rabbit hole.
No matter the challenge and obstacle, he'll protect Nazarick until his dying breath.
No duty too difficult, no sacrifice too great.
The rest of Ainz Ooal Gown blinked, a few turning their heads as if looking for something. All was quiet but then they heard something, something that took them out of their pensive stupor. Many wondered if it was just their ears playing tricks on them or was it simply the white noise of the background but for the briefest of moments, they heard a sound.
Before anyone could wonder further where such a sound came from, Shirou's voice grabbed their attention once more.
"I don't care what the odds are. I don't care how many Players conspire against us, be they hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands. Hell, they could have all the World Class items in the game, it won't change a thing. I'll be damned if I allow even a single Player to get into arm's reach of the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown. They want to end us so badly? They'll have to pry the Guild Weapon out my cold dead fucking hands."
Touch Me, Shirou and Momonga. These three were undoubtedly the best speakers among the guild. When it came to speeches and meetings alike, they were able to wrangle the attention of the rest of them with relative ease. Instilling in them a passion, a drive to strive for the best. Yet, as he spoke, they couldn't help, but be drawn to his words. That passion, that strength...
It wasn't logical, it wasn't realistic. They knew it and they knew he knew it as well.
Shirou was strong, no one could deny that fact, but it was impossible for one Player, for one man to make a difference, to fight against reality. That was simply how YGGDRASIL operated. Taken separately, his declaration was nothing more than a boastful hyperbole.
He'd be cashing in a check that his body most likely wouldn't be able to pay.
Yet, behind it all there wasn't a shred of doubt in their mind that their friend would fight tooth and nail, and beyond when the time comes. For in the face of insurmountable odds he'll remain like a mighty oak tree, enduring all that came before it.
For that was the kind of person he was.
That he'd tear the world asunder even at the cost of his own self before a single tragedy could befall them, it was heartening and they reveled in the comfort that thought gave them.
The guild members in attendance felt something pulse within them. Their backs straightened out as they regarded the one known far and wide as the Player Killer.
In a moment of weakness, Ainz Ooal Gown faltered, allowed themselves to be swept up by their uncertainty and allowed fear to rule their mind.
There was shame, yes, but a spark was ignited within them. Burning away the doubt and despair, leaving behind an ardent flame. A renewed passion.
And from a single spark, a fire grew.
"Oi, oi, what's with all this "I" business? Don't tell me you're already counting us out, Mr. Hero?!" Warrior Takemikazuchi joked, the first among them to speak up. "Don't think we're going to let you have all the fun now. Come hell or high water, we'll beat back every one of their sorry asses so hard that it'll be for the history book! Whoever they are, they'll regret ever messing with Ainz Ooal Gown! Ain't that right, Touch Me!?"
A grinning emoticon appeared overhead as the great samurai turned to his friend.
"Indeed!" Touch Me boisterously exclaimed, rising from his seat. Standing tall and proud.
"Ainz Ooal Gown has faced countless trials before. We've fought against impossible odds and have come out on top! This one shall be no different and while it may be our biggest challenge yet, it will not be our last! I believe I speak for all here, those of us present and those unfortunately away – but may they remain forever in our spirits and hearts. Like hell, we're going to allow it to end here! We will make them bleed for every centimeter of ground they take! We shall scatter their armies to the four winds! We shall make them regret challenging us and show the worlds why we're known as the best around! My friends! Here me now, we shall not fall! Ainz Ooal Gown, The Great Tomb of Nazarick, they have never known defeat and never shall!"
Touch Me rallied in their Guildmaster's absence, regaining his confidence, and delivered one of his patent speeches that rivaled Momonga's own. A lone silver fist raised to the air, defiant and resolute, calling upon all of them.
"I ask of you, my comrades, will this be the end of us?!"
"Are we going to beat them back and show everyone why we're the best around?!"
"Why? Because who are we?!"
"Ainz Ooal Gown!"
"AINZ OOAL GOWN!"
"AINZ OOAL GOWN!"
Their cheers rose, a cacophony of voices as they all chanted together as one.
Shirou's declaration and Touch Me's speech revitalized them, their innate infectious hopefulness spread, invigorating them all. Helping to remind them what exactly they were fighting for. And exactly why they couldn't afford to lose.
A passionate fire blossomed, burning bright and full. However, the greater the light shines the deeper the shadow stretches, for there was a still lingering question regarding the whole ordeal.
"Umm, apologies... Not to undermine your speech and Emiya's, but how exactly are we going to go about it?" Voiced Nubo, blushing at the immediate attention of all his friends on him. "I mean... we have a plan, right? Y-you do have a plan, right?"
Everyone then turned right back to stare at Shirou, waiting to hear his response.
To their surprise, Shirou offered only a shrug. A few deflating and blinking at the rather lackadaisical action that contrasted with his earlier unfaltering confidence.
"For better or for worse, all we can do is prepare and wait. Was kind of planning on winging it or doing what's needed when the time comes. I mean, so long as we can accomplish the task of preventing the destruction of the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown at their hands, it's our victory. We don't need to win per say; we just need to prevent them from winning." He stated, more of an intent than a fully thought out game plan.
"I was hoping to discuss with Punitto Moe-san and the others regarding a fully thought out defense strategy for us when the time comes..."
The silver-haired Player fully admitted, his stalwart persona cracking slightly and giving away to a hint of wry embarrassment. They could easily imagine the sheepish grin on the faker's face his hand reached back to rub his neck. The mood dropped down a notch but despite his less than confident response, a few grinned and chuckled with him.
In spite of the moment of weakness shown, it only served to endear him to them further. For it was a reminder.
For all his strength, skills, and incredible feats, Shirou was still human. He couldn't do everything but then again, but he wouldn't have to for they would be there for him.
"Well, you heard the boss man, get to thinking Mr. Strategist. Chop, chop." Said Warrior Takemikazuchi, clapping his hands haughtily as if expecting his friend to engineer some grand plan out of nowhere.
"Oh sure, pile all the work onto me. I really feel the love here guys." Punitto Moe huffed, leaning his head on his hand as a deadpanned emoticon popped over his head.
"Hey, did everyone suddenly forget about me? What am I chopped liver?" Bellriver came in, the multi-mouth Heteromorph looking back and forth.
"Oh, of course. Can't forget about my assistance."
"Assistance?!" The Gibbering Mouther fired back incredulously. "Excuse you? If anything, I was the main strategist – the first, before you joined Nines Own Goal! Lest you forget. You're only the main strategist because I decided to be generous and let you have the spotlight, with all your scheming and plotting."
"First of all, scheming and plotting are the same things so you're just being redundant. Secondly, are you sure you didn't just take a back seat because I'm clearly a better strategist than you?" The Death Vine postured smugly.
"Those are some fighting words if I do say so myself!"
"You want to go?!"
"1 v 1 bro!"
Back and forth the two strategists traded barbs and quips, both trying to get a leg up on the other. Despite the thin veil of barbed words being exchanged, everyone knew they were having fun with some of the guild members even taking sides and contributing with words of encouragement.
"Why not make a competition?" Luci*Fer proposed. "The two of you will make a battle plan and when the time comes, we'll see which one is better. Just remember, if we lose that's on whoever made the plan. And everyone will probably hate and blame you forever. So no pressure or anything." Said the fallen aerosphere casually.
Despite the high stakes, many snickered and laughed at the joke. From there more voices joined in on the fun, the room drifted into playful banter between friends, bringing some much-needed levity and uplifting the mood greatly.
Things may look rough for Ainz Ooal Gown but as the saying goes: things may get worse before it gets better, but it will.
No matter their foe, they'll face the challenge as they've always had. Together.
Before the conversations could be discussed in full, the double doors of the room opened with a loud bang, a few of the members jumping in their seats at the suddenness.
There stood Peroroncino.
He ran towards the table, more specifically towards where Shirou sat only for the birdman to stumble and roll, collapsing before him. Shirou and Warrior Takemikazuchi, who were the closest to him, jumped to their feet the moment the golden avian tripped and rushed to his aid.
"Whoa, easy, easy. We got you." Warrior Takemikazuchi helped him up, a supportive hand to keep him steady.
Peroroncino's attention was focused solely on Shirou, heavy pants leaving his mouth as he struggled between breathing and trying to speak up at the same time. The only sound coming out of him were breathless gasps.
"Breathe Pero, breathe." Shirou advised. "I'm not going anywhere. Again, deep breaths, collect your words then talk."
The feathered archer bobbed his head, taking in large raspy breaths to fill his lung with air. After a good thirty seconds, his breathing leveled out and he could finally speak.
"I'm here. What's wrong?"
"T-the World Champion T-tournament!"
Shirou blinked. What did that have to do with anything?
"Okay? What about it?"
"I-it's the class card you've talked about wanting to find, the knight one!"
Shirou froze. His world staggered to a grinding, split-second halt. His mouth moved on its own, breathing out a singular word.
"R-right, that's what it was called!" Peroroncino nodded, remembering the proper name. "I learned that one of the grand prizes for winning the Tournament is the Saber Class Card!"
"How sure are you of this?" Shirou inquired of his junior, his voice hush, serious and hopeful.
"W-wouldn't have rushed here unless I was certain, senpai." Peroroncino promised just as serious. "Even double-checked with my sources."
"H-how? And where... Where did you hear of this?"
"Mind sharing with the rest of the class what's going on?" Luci*Fer voiced up. The rest of Ainz Ooal Gown congregated behind them, just missing what Peroroncino had told him.
It took less than a few minutes for Peroroncino to explain what he knew, catching everyone up to speed. Soon the conference room was abuzz with the sound of conversation and speculations over the news. The matter of the raid on Nazarick was placed temporarily on hold.
"It would make sense why they would host such a prize like that, considering it's a World Class item and if Emiya-san's NPCs are anything to go by it'll be a pretty prize indeed. The World Champion Tournament is beyond epic in scale, it would serve as further incentive for the participants." Speculated Punitto Moe, his floral hand stroking his chin.
The World Championship Tournament, one of the biggest and most acclaimed events in all of YGGDRASIL. A tournament sanctioned and sponsored by the developers themselves. These special tournaments were held only once a year and were hosted in one of the nine playable realms: Asgard, Álfheim, Vanaheim, Niðavellir, Midgard, Jötunheim, Niflheim, Helheim, and Múspellsheim.
In total, there could and would only be nine World Champions at any given time within all of YGGDRASIL. No more.
Due to the nature of the World Champion tournament and what it represented, it served as a secondary measure where only the most skilled and powerful Players from across the nine corners of the realms, the best of the best, would gather to compete and to see who was worthy, who deserved the title of the strongest.
The winner of the tournament were bestowed the covetous [World Champion] class in addition to special pieces of equipment befitting their new class. The [World Champion] was a beyond unique job class that has been described as an official 'hax' by the greater player base due to simply how overpowered the [World Champion] class provides in terms of stats, and granting the champions with exclusive abilities and skills that no other job class could hope to replicate.
It was why oftentimes Players would compare themselves to a World Champion as a benchmark and measure their strength. For all eight existing World Champions were easily recognized in the top 10 best Players in all of YGGDRASIL, with Touch Me as the Álfheim World Champion known and acknowledged by all as the third best Player across the entire game.
"Touch Me-san, what are the proceedings for the tournament? How do we enter?" Shirou quickly inquired.
All eyes turned to the guild's resident World Champion as he idly crossed his arms over his chest. It had been some years since his last entry, but the organization of the tournament was still clear in his mind.
"The tournament is usually set around December time, within the middle or near the end of the month. They usually make an announcement at the beginning of the month. So we have plenty of time to—"
"Actually..." Peroroncino spoke up, the tone in his voice giving away to hesitance and concern. "I heard from good sources that they're changing up the date and methods. Apparently, they're going to make an official statement sometime today!"
"They are?" Touch Me uttered in surprise, standing up straighter. "Why?"
The golden sniper could offer nothing but a helpless shrug.
"That doesn't make sense. Usually, the shitty devs would make an extravaganza out of this, starting with beginning tournaments as preliminaries and you need to place in the top 5 at the very least to even have a chance to register for the official thing. For all intents and purposes, this is the last time a World Champion Tournament will be held in all YGGDRASIL! To just jump right into it..."
Warrior Takemikazuchi trailed off, his voice morose and contemplative, sharing his rival's confusion. He had entered the tournament on two separate occasions, and while he hasn't entered any more, he'd kept up with the latest news for each one of them over the years. For eight years there was hardly any deviation in how they operated, and yet, it was only now that the developers decided to shake things up?
The Nephilim couldn't see the logic or purpose in such a decision. And he wasn't alone in that sentiment.
No advertisement, no promotion, nothing. It made no business or practical sense announcing such a thing out of nowhere. It was almost as if it was being rushed, but the reason for why it might be so, they could only speculate.
However, the logistics of it didn't matter to the faker for he was focused on one fact alone.
"So that means the participants will be chosen entirely by the developers then?" Shirou grimaced, the others following suit.
"Any idea when we'll be getting that official statement?" Asked Coup de Grâce.
No sooner than when those words were spoken, Shirou heard something. The sound of a notification. He tuned out the world around him as he saw he received a [Message]. A direct message at that, titled 'The 9th World Champion Tournament' with the sender being a GM and signed off by none other than Zelretch.
Shirou accessed the [Message] with speeds that would make Rider class Servants blush with envy.
Opening it, dichromatic eyes scanned the content of the [Message]. In summary, he has been selected and invited to be one of the many competitors for the upcoming 9th World Champion Tournament. The rest of the content were other basic formalities that he skimmed through.
The projection user latched onto the main text, reading it twice more and then a third time.
His shoulder sagged as he let out a breath he didn't realize he held. The message left him relieved, but also guarded. The suddenness of it all, it reeked of interference. Zelretch had a hand in this and not just because it had his name on it. The question was, what was the purpose behind the suddenness of it all then?
This would mark the first time Shirou had last seen or interacted with Zelretch since the sorcerer first transferred the him into the digital domain all those years ago.
The magus could only guess what the Wizard Marshall had planned.
Still, the presence of the invitation and guarantee spot at the tournament managed to settle his frazzled nerves. A sigh of relief left him, yet he kept his eyes trained on the message with his invitation as if in fear that looking away would allow it to disappear forever.
A brief thought occurred to him and he wondered
Had he not been chosen as a competitor, what would've he done then? No doubt something insane and reckless.
Shirou shivered as an idea crossed his mind. More than likely he would have traveled to the location of the tournament and barged in, either demanding or striking a deal, anything for even the slimmest of chances at the Saber Class Card. Even if it meant fighting every single Player in the tournament. Heck, it didn't matter if he had to fight every single Player in the world there as well.
Consequences be damned.
He wasn't going to allow the opportunity to slip through his grasp.
As he kept the message of the invite in his periphery, he noticed something else. He received two messages. The second one was sent directly from Zelretch himself. Titled simply "Let's talk."
"You too, huh?"
Looking up, Warrior Takemikazuchi revealed to the rest of the guild that he too received the same message and invitation as Shirou. Followed by many giving short congratulations to the two, celebrating early at the news.
"Phew." Peroroncino let out, wiping his forehead of nonexistent sweat. "Well, that's one problem taken care of. Now you finally got the chance to get that card you've always wanted! Ain't that great?!"
"Yeah..." He answered in a far more subdued tone.
"Something wrong, Emiya-senpai?"
"Ease up, Peroroncino-san." Said Nubo. " It's understandable that he might be a bit worried about the odds and competition. He and Warrior Takemikazuchi-san will have their hands full for the tournament to come."
"Is it though?" Luci*Fer couldn't help but ask. "We all know that those two can contend with good old Touch Me-san here." He jabbed his thumb to the guild's resident World Champion. "I'd say this tournament is in the bag! With the two of them, the chances of victory and winning the grand prize just went up no matter which of them wins in the end."
"Perhaps, but nothing is set in stone." Touch Me made known, all eyes deferring to the silver paladin. "And you shouldn't underestimate the tournament, Luci*Fer-san. Aye, both Emiya-san and Warrior Takemikazuchi-san are strong and skilled, that I can attest, but there are still many Players out there that are as strong and capable, perhaps even greater. Nothing is guaranteed. However..."
The knight of justice paused, a smiling emoticon appearing over him.
"I have confidence that whatever comes your guy's way, you'll be able to face it head-on and surpass it, no matter the opposition." He said, ending on a more positive and confident note.
"So, where and when is the date of the tournament, Emiya-senpai?" His kouhai came to his side, giving voice to the question the rest of Ainz Ooal Gown were curious to know.
Shirou and Warrior Takemikazuchi shared a glance, already knowing the answer before revealing it to them.
The 9th World Champion tournament will take place in a few days, the realm for which the final tournament will be hosted – none other than the cradle of humanity itself.
Omake: The Legendary Headpat Skill.
Everything was normal on this day. Bored, Shirou decided to do some inventory management, leading to him fiddling with his menu and eventually coming to his status screen.
It would be here that he noticed something. An alternative tab that wasn't there before, touching it he was taken to another screen.
Surprisingly, it was a skill list but perhaps what was curious most of all was that there was only two skill presents. Skills that were never once there before.
[Active Skill: High Jump: Once activated, perform a high jump.
- If performed in front of a female, possess a 40% chance to charm.]
Shirou's eyebrow furrowed at the first one. What did a high jump have to do with anything? Also, charm?
[Active Skill: Headpat: A legendary skill, known through the generations, able to soothe the hearts and mind of all those that bear even a tiny affection to the user. Activated by giving out headpat.
- Every headpat grants buffs and bonus stats to the receiver of the headpat.
- Possess a 1% chance to charm: If user possess Harem Protagonist EX then charm percentage is 100%]
He read the second skill, read it again, and then a third time before the words finally registered in his mind.
Shirou looked down at his hands.
So normal. So simple and yet, so much power...
His fingers flexed as an idea struck him.
Today was the day. The day of the invasion of Nazarick and to finally tear down Ainz Ooal Gown. A force of 1,500, comprised of 1,200 Players and 300 NPCs congregated at the end of the swamp. Ahead of them was Nazarick.
With such an overwhelming numbers and forces, they should easily be able to flood the ground and make their way to the entrance with ease.
There was only one small problem with that...
"Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"
"Depends, are you seeing what looks like to be 5 NPCs standing there covered in a raging golden light like a Super Saiyan?"
"Oh good. Thought I was going crazy for a second there..."
Standing at the beginning of the cemetery, facing their massive army were none other than Shirou's Servants. Only instead of their normal base self, each one of them was covered in an aurora of energy pouring out of them.
None greater than Assassin as little Jacky was all but shaking in barely restrained energy, spasming out slightly and outputting the largest corona of energy and golden light.
"Really thought I was hallucinating there or something. I smoked some of that good stuff just before login on."
"...Are you seriously high right now?" The Player turned to his second in command incredulously.
"Yup~" His second in command replied nonchalantly, popping the p at the end.
Grimacing, he shook his head. Despite their presence, the alliance still vastly outnumber them. They might some powerful secret weapon of Ainz Ooal Gown but with their overwhelming forces they'll be win no doubt about that.
Before he could give the order, he heard rumblings. Seconds later, pouring out from the unknown and nowhere were hordes of Mobs of all shapes, sizes, and creatures. From dragons to elemental spirits to angels and demons, there was an absolute menagerie of beings from all corner of the nine realms.
All level 100 and higher, with even numerous bosses thrown into the mix.
Also, he noted coincidentally that every single one of them appear to be female for whatever reason.
'This is fine, this is fine...' The leader of the alliance repeated.
Ainz Ooal Gown may have somehow acquired an army comprised of high-level mobs from across the entire overworld and high-end bosses, but it was still doable.
They still had the superior numbers, skill, the equipment, items, and even World Class items.
It would no doubt be a difficult fight, but they can do it...
A monstrous bellow ripped through the air, a chill like never before felt crawled up and down their spines. All the invaders turning only to gawk in abject horror as the space in front of them all but bent, twisting and writhing before ripping apart as They appeared.
If their beyond monstrous size and form wasn't enough to give he and the rest of the alliance a heart attack, the names of these bosses was the final nail in the coffin for them.
All of them level 500.
Five World Enemies.
"Oh, we are so fucked...!"
The leader mutely nodded along with his second in command's assertion.
With a roar from Ainz Ooal Gown's side, the 'war' began.
Deep within the inner sanctum of the Tomb of Nazarick, within the Throne Room, the member of Ainz Ooal Gown all watched with their jaws on the floor at the absolute devastation they were witnessing.
Calling it a fight was putting it generously, it was a massacre. Wholesale.
"You know..." Touch Me began. "When I heard about it, I was a bit skeptical but now..." A loud scream and several pleas for mercy rang out from the video feed.
"I take it all back."
"How..." All eyes turned to Tabula, and while his avatar remained inscrutable as always, they could all fear the despair wafting off of him.
"Something wrong, Tabula-san?" Bukubukuchagama asked.
"H-how...?" He repeated, somehow far more broken and on the verge of breaking down.
"I mean, Emiya-senpai explained it to us and even gave us a demonstration. So..."
"Not that!" He snapped.
"Cthulhu, Yog Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Ïa Shub-Niggurath, Azathoth. They are all beings beyond mortal mind, beyond mortal comprehension. Concepts given form, an existent that sits outside of what we consider life. Beings of incorporeal weight that are both ideas and alive. So why... Since when are they even remotely female?!" Tabula shouted, all but demanding some kind of explanation to the phenonium he was seeing.
"That's your biggest question? Not the fact that the wannabe hero somehow managed to get FIVE WORLD ENEMIES on our side?!" Ulbert exclaimed.
"Because it's an insult! They are architect and staples of the horror and Lovecraftian genre! And they're all but turned into some kind fetishistic joke!" Cried the occult otaku.
"I mean, it's kind of all always been that way. Since, like, the internet was a thing? Rule 34 my dude. You would not believe the amount of fanart and works based solely on them." Peroroncino offered an answer, though it was far from helpful.
"Wait. How do you know that?" Warrior Takemikazuchi asked, already fearing the answer.
"Three words: Eldritch. Dommy. Mommy."
The eldritch heteromorph let out an incomprehensible screech, webbed fingers reaching to tear out his non-existent hair in frustration.
The rest of the guild wisely chose to ignore it, focusing instead on the man of the hour himself.
Shirou, he'd been staring at his hands, all but motionless ever since the beginning.
Finally, he only had this to say.
"I am god..." He muttered, as if awaking to a revelation.
The rest of the guild - sans Tabula who was on the floor crying - looked to one another.
"Well, that doesn't sound foreboding at all..." Momonga mumbled.
With his power, Shirou did not stop there, eventually using the power of Headpat and finally embracing his true power and calling as a Harem Protagonist and commanding a great and powerful army.
With little to challenge his strength, he set about accomplishing the once dream of Ainz Ooal Gown, of conquering one of the nine worlds in the game in their name. After the conquest of Helheim he moved onwards, conquering the other eight realms.
And so, Shirou ruled over all of YGGDRASIL as he always was meant to be.
The Harem King.
Omake: You've got a friend in me – A cute idea that came to me when Dante and I were talking and Kingprotea and Gargantua were brought up and the fact that they're almost height and size. Then my mind just went off from there. I ship it.
"Would you like to be my friend?" Kingprotea asked the construct.
Gargantua looked at its fellow titan, head titled slightly to show its confusion.
Gargantua did not quite understand. True, they may be both NPCs, but it was merely a Floor Guardian while Kingprotea was a Servant and under the direct command of Lord Emiya. One of the greatest and most respect among the Supreme Beings, second only to their leader and king, Lord Momonga. Secondly, it was unsure of what exactly "a friend" entails.
Sensing his puzzlement and question, Kingprotea continued.
"Because of my size, I can't move around much or follow Lord Emiya like my sisters." Her smile dipped when she thought about the other Sakura Fives and the freedom they had to traverse and walk around wherever they wish.
It wasn't the first time she lamented the fact that she came in one size and could only grow instead of shrink. Hence why she was in the 4th Floor, for it was the only place that could accommodate her.
Sensing the sadness off of her, Gargantua voice rumbled. Acknowledging the Servant's request for companionship.
She perked up.
"Yes, friend." She chimed happily, her mood improving.
Gargantua wasn't sure why, but it felt it liked seeing Kingprotea happy over her being sad.
"...FRIEND..." It repeated.
"Yes, friend." Kingprotea reassured the towering titan.
"...FRIEND..." It said again, a tint of emotion in its voice. A hint of happiness.
This exchange repeated and continued on for several more minutes. In the end, both were content with the situation.
Within the 4th Floor, many of the NPCs and mobs wandering congregated around the lakeside. Their gaze focused above them, to the two titans that dominated the floor.
What were the two towering NPCs doing that was garnering all of their attention?
Why, playing patty cake of course.
"Patty cake ~ patty cake ~ bake me a cake ~" Kingprotea sang, clapping her hand and playing to the rhythm.
"PATTY...CAKE...PATTY...CAKE...BAKE...ME...CAKE..." Gargantua followed along, mimicking the Servants movement and action.
"Bake me a cake ~ as fast as you can ~ !"
At the end, both of them clapped their hands together before shooting their hands forward to clap the other's. A loud boom echoed out from the action.
Kingprotea was fine, but Gargantua swayed slightly before regaining his balance.
"Yay! I win again!" The Alter Ego cheered cutely, clapping her hands together at her victory, happy as she could be.
Score, 137 wins to her, 0 to the Floor Guardian.
"...YEAY...!" Gargantua also cheered, its arm in the air.
It didn't wholly understand the rules and purpose of the game, but it had plenty of spirits.
Besides, Kingprotea was happy and having fun, and for Gargantua that was good enough.
"Let's play again!"
Gargantua nodded and readily complied. And so the two gigantic NPCs played patty cakes the night away. In the end, the massive golem never did managed to earn a win but that was all right. It was just content playing with its friend.
It as the day of the raid on Nazarick and the invaders had just penetrated the 4th Floor. The entire underground was in chaos, spells, skills, attacks of all natures flying and exploding everywhere.
Gargantua towered above them all, with a bellow it swung its arms. Displacing chunks of rubble and earth upon the hordes of Players invading the floor.
The Floor Guardian staggered as hundreds of spells slammed into it. The golem shook it off, even as it's large HP bar dropped down into the red.
It would not falter.
It would not stop.
Duty until death.
Gargantua's crimson orbs gaze out upon the battlefield, where it witnessed it all.
The numerous NPCs and mobs of the 4th Floor, Gargantua's allies and subordinates, charging the invaders with reckless abandonment. War cries filling the air, all crying out in the name of the Supreme Beings.
It wasn't just them as they were joined by presence of the Supreme Beings themselves, fighting alongside it and against the overwhelming numbers. Their presence alone emboldened them to fight to their last breath and beyond.
"Master!" The distressed cry of Kingprotea rang out, drawing Gargantua's sudden attention.
Just before, a combination of spells were fired upon Shirou who was unable to escape in time. His pained cry echoing across the battlefield.
Kingprotea rushed forward upon seeing this, to rescue him only for a combination of Super Tier Magic spells to slam into her, her body falling to the ground with a pained cry.
The Floor Guardian witnessed this and time froze for but a split second.
Something swirled within it. Something foreign. An impossibility; emotion. Specifically one kind.
A furious white-hot rage exploded within it.
How dare they...
HOW DARE THEY!
How dare these pathetic, insignificant, fragile worms dare to sully the great and hallowed halls of The Great Tomb of Nazarick, home to the Supreme Beings, with their filthy presence.
How are they come, having the audacity to raise their hand against the great and powerful Supreme Beings themselves.
But greatest of it all, how dare they hurt Kingprotea.
HURT ITS FRIEND!
An iron bellow ripped through the air, a roar cacophony of a voice that sounded like a hundred rumbling avalanche down a mountain.
The Players all paused, hands shooting to their ears to cover it at the sound. Not just those from the 4th Floor, but the others above them as well. The roar even reached the surface, with many Players above wondering what the hell was that. The world itself trembling under the force of roar.
Recovering, they looked and a part of them wished they hadn't.
Gargantua was covered in a raging golden aura, glowing with incandescent power and rage. Two burning crimson orbs flaring, focused on the enemies in front of it. Its name and status bars were jumbled, nothing but incoherent characters and letters. As if there was a glitch.
The invaders were taken aback by what they saw. None were more so shocked then Ainz Ooal Gown themselves, shocked at the super powered state of their Floor Guardian.
"Umm, correct me if I'm wrong but Gargantua never had something like that. Right...?" Peroroncino wondered, a shaking talon pointed at the Floor Guardian.
"...No. It shouldn't..." Tabula answered in equal disbelief, unable to take his eyes away.
"HOLY SHIT! DID THAT THING JUST GO SUPER SAIYAN!?" A voiced exclaimed.
Faster than it had any right to be, Gargantua blitz forward. The invading forces barely had any time to react or defend themselves as the massive NPC rushed down their line. Body and earth kicked up under its force as the Floor Guardian smashed through them, leaving nothing but destruction and confusion in its wake.
Gargantua didn't stop there as it burst through onto the 3rd Floor, the edges and floor cracking at his entrance. It continued forward, arms outstretched with the purpose of hitting and catching as many of the Players as its could.
An unstoppable juggernaut of destruction and rage.
Many of the invaders managed to recover and launch skills, spells and attack against the rampaging golem but it did little to halt its momentum. If anything, it only empowered it. Gargantua smashed through it all as it traversed the Floor, making it way upwards. From the 3rd to the 2nd to the 1st and then the surface. Every attempt to attack or stop it failing, leaving only a Gargantua size hole in his path and ruin.
Players and mercenary NPCs crashed against its titanic form, squashed by either being run down, being smacked away and dying as they slammed the ground and wall at unparalleled speed, or by falling rubble crushing them by the destroyed Floors.
Its fury knowing no bounds.
Despite its berserker state, it knew. Having been attack by hundred upon hundreds of attacks, it would not survive for long even with its empowered state. However, it was right where it wanted and needed to be. The Supreme Beings withdrew to the 4th Floor, so that meant the 3rd Floor and up held only the invaders.
Gargantua did not have worry about hurting any allies or the Supreme Beings.
At the surface, it pulled its massive arm in, its figure hunched as it concentrated all it's lifeforce and energy into a singular point within its colossal body.
One of the Guildmaster of the invading alliance saw this, eyes bulging out as flashes of light beamed out of it. The semblance of an idea of what it was going to do hitting him.
"MOVE! THAT'S THING GOING TO EXPLODE!"
His warning would come too late.
"GLORY TO THE SUPREME BEINGS, GLORY TO NAZARICK!" Gargantua bellowed, not that any of the Players were able to understand.
White blinding light burst worth across its hard exterior and body and in the next second, the entire surface was engulfed in a powerful explosion, one that extended in the skies and below.
Those still stuck in the Floors, still recovering from Gargantua rampage, had little time to react as an explosive force consumed and razed the first three floors. Bringing fiery death and destruction to all that managed to survive its initial charge.
For Gargantua, it was met with darkness the moment it exploded. Were it possible it would have held a smile of contentment. It had done its duty, protecting the Floor and the Supreme Beings. Taking as many of the invaders as it could before succumbing. Perhaps greatest of them all, it had protected its friend, Kingprotea.
Now it, it rested. Knowing that the rest of his allies and its master shall finish off the foolish invaders once and for all.
A life well spent, and a duty well done.
For a moment it knew nothing and the next thing it knew it was back in the 4th Floor. Gargantua looked around, everything was normal, almost as if the raid and fighting never happened at all.
It turned just in time for Kingprotea to appear, hugging from the side.
"You're ok!" The Alter-Ego tearfully but happily cried out.
"...FRIEND..." Gargantua hugged her back.
The Floor Guardian would later learn that thanks to its action and sacrifice the rest of the Supreme Beings were able to mop up the last of the pathetic invaders with ease. Securing their victory. And in their infinite mercy, they have revived all those that fell in the battle, Gargantua included.
Gargantua stood taller, proud by the information she shared with it. Though the golem wasn't present to hear the praise from his glorious masters personally, hearing it from Kingprotea was more than enough for it.
And so, the two lived happily ever after as the bestest of friends.
Character Sheet Stat Screen:
Lancer – Lvl: 100 (True Name: Scáthach)
The Immortal Slaying Witch
Job: NPC Servant of Emiya
Resident: The Great Tomb of Nazarick; can travel with summoner.
Alignment: Neutral Good. Sense of Justice: 250.
Race: Heroic Spirit
Racial Level: No Race Levels.
[Spear Master]: 10 Lvl
[Expert]: 10 Lvl
[Slayer]: 10 Lvl
[Lancer]: 5 Lvl
[Rune Master]: 5 Lvl
[Sage Wisdom]: 5 Lvl
[Hero]: 5 Lvl
[Magus Killer]: 5 Lvl
[Other]: 45 Lvl
Phy ATK: 85
Phy DEF: 80
Mag ATK: 60
Mag Def: 90
Total Stats: 752+
Hopefully this chapter wasn't too much of a bore due to the chapter being dominated with exposition and narrative writing. I'm setting up the board so to speak, just not for what's to come later in the arc but what'll come afterwards as well if what I have planned isn't clear already. Hopefully I don't take too long to get the next chapter written and finished for you all.
And now we finally see the roster fulfilled. I knew from the very beginning, way back when I solidified my intentions for the class cards and their role that no matter whom I choose, there were always be some that are sad that their favorite wasn't chosen. But I believe it's a solid line up none the less.
I was a bit surprised that some were confused regarding Nightingale's selection, since considering her lore and personality would've been kind of a no brainer being paired with Shirou. Lancer, this will probably be a topic of discussion but I feel her selection makes the most sense out of all the Lancer Servants. Plus, her as the Queen of the Shadow Land fits with the aesthetic of Nazarick. The same goes with Caster as a powerful non-human and then there's Assassin. I've got some ideas and plans for Jackie and Tamamo. Don't you worry about that. Finally, there's Rider. With the recent release and completion of the Heaven's Feel movies, Rider/Medusa finally got the love and attention she deserved and so she's riding high from the popularity. I debated with myself of the idea of switching her out but in the end, I kept Ushi. Coming down to personal preference and selective choice ideas and future plot points for her.
Aside from that, I can't think of much else to say as unlike the other chapters, there isn't much points of contention in the chapter to explain myself in full detail with. Especially since this is a prelude for what I've got in stored. I believe I got it down as good as I could've.
The next chapter, things will be kicking off and I'm ecstatic to get the ball rolling for the new set of chapters for this TOURNAMENT ARC! And to the one reviewer, while yes indeed this is in fact a Gigguk reference. After all, when speaking about one of the greatest anime trope in history how else can we get across our excitement if not by proclaiming in our loudest voice we can?!
With that said, please, do leave review or comment what you may or might not like about the chapter and let us know! We may not always answer on a timely manner, but every piece of support and voice helps and keeps us motivated to churn these chapters out.
Next Chapter: The 9th World Champion Tournament II