Chapter 5—Settling In For The Long Haul
Yes. I am alive. I got laid off, real life sucked for a while. It doesn't really matter much, so let's just all pretend I was on a lovely vacation for several months instead of fearing for my own financial security in a shifting job market. Sorry for not keeping you all posted, I just didn't have the motivation to write for a while and I didn't want to post until I had the chapter done. I'm sorry, I'll try not to let this happen again.
To those of you who read my profile and noticed the one-month bit, I have added a date beneath it that lists the last time I checked in. As long as that date continues to remain close to the calendar date, assume that I'm alive and just not feeling like posting for some reason.
I hope everyone else has had a lovely Christmas, New Year, and every other holiday I seem to have missed.
I woke slowly, feeling my girls pressed up against me. They were sleeping soundly, something I didn't want to disturb after the workout they had received the previous night. I carefully slid out from between them, carefully maneuvering over Archer to step onto the cold floor. Noa sleepily reached out to pull Archer close, returning to dreamland soon after.
Normally I would be more than happy to spend the morning with as much naked cuddles as their endurance would allow, but now that Nazerick was slowly gearing up to move into long-term waiting, I had a few things that needed to be addressed.
To begin with…
"[Message]." I directed the Spell towards a Golem Core designed to re-cast the Spell and echo my words to all of the Servants in Nazarick. "All Guardians capable of movement, report to the Floor 10 Throne Room. Yes, this includes the denizens of Floor 8. Harold, you stay put."
I lowered my hand, ending the Message. I left my girls sleeping soundly, leaving the room as silently as possible. I slipped quietly down the stairs to the Treasury, unlocking one particular door and stepping inside. I was greeted with the sight of wall-to-ceiling shelves stocked with box after box of Mirrored copies of the Mirror of Kalandra.
The reason I had wanted so many of these was threefold.
First, they were still World Items, even if they were just Mirrored copies. Thus, they passively protected against all other World Items. No Shalltear brainwashing for me, thanks. Second, in the case that one of the Servants did defect or lose the Item, it would cause minimal damage. Among the Twenty, the Mirror was one that was based entirely off of utility. If you wanted to dual-wield but only had one perfectly rolled Item, the Mirror was definitely the one for you, but otherwise you were out of luck.
And third… well. I'll get to that one in a bit.
I took several boxes of Mirrors and tossed them into my Inventory, trying to do a mental count of how many Floor Guardians I had to prepare for. Then, just for good measure, I tossed in another box.
Albedo had [Ginnungagap] to protect her from outside foes, Aura had [Bellerophon's Mount], and both of my Maidens had something to keep them safe. Harold had at least six World Items equipped at all times, more for storage than anything. But the rest of them? Nothing. And considering not all of them had the Undead protection against Mind Control Spells, some of the World Items specializing in AoE Mind Control could cripple Nazarick's defenses without it.
Should I take a more specific World Item for some of the more specialized Guardians?
No… I don't think I should do too much with them, even if I have more than enough. Maybe an upper limit of three Items out at a time, excepting the Mirrors of course. Aura's was one, so one or two more.
I left the room with the Mirrors, instead walking over to my Storage. It was where I kept my most powerful Items, since a Player's personal Storage couldn't be accessed by anyone not wearing a matching wedding ring. I rifled through a few different options before narrowing it down to a few.
Shalltear would get [Cloak of Defiance], and [Perseverance] would be given to Sebas.
Honestly speaking, I couldn't think of any Servants who I would completely trust with the more valuable of my World Items. But Shalltear definitely needed something to keep her from rampaging, and Sebas might one day find himself in a position where having the belt would save his life. So I reluctantly placed the Items into my Inventory, closing the Storage chest behind me.
"[Teleport: Throne Room]." I mumbled, more out of habit than anything.
In a flash of light, I found myself standing beside the [Throne of Kings] in the Throne Room.
All of the Floor Guardians were waiting, bowing on one knee. I raised an eyebrow at their quick arrival but said nothing. "Thank you for coming." My powerful voice echoed through the room, a deep bass rumble. "I have called you all here because I have realized something. A glaring flaw in Nazarick's security. While we all know all about the workings of YGGDRASIL, we have yet to discover whether or not this New World has similar phenomena. In particular…" I extended a hand, the [Talons of Power] shimmering briefly into view. "I speak of the World Items. We know not what powers this world's Items have, of their effects, and most importantly, whether or not they can bypass the Undead's immunity to Mind Control."
Demiurge straightened, glasses flashing. "Ancient-sama… do you mean to imply that one of us might turn against you?"
I laughed, a loud bark of amusement. "No. I would never imply that. All I'm saying is that you may be vulnerable in ways that you were not before. And because of this possibility…" I reached into my Inventory, pulling out the boxes and setting them on the Throne. "I have prepared these. I will keep a full box in the Center Room of Floor 9, and I want each and every one of you to have one on you at all times."
"What are they, Ancient-sama?" Aura asked, trying to catch a glimpse.
I chuckled. "They are World Items."
A second of complete silence punctuated my words.
"M-my lord, please, there's no need for you to—" Aura blurted.
"Indeed, to arm us all with such magnificent treasures—" Demiurge added.
I raised a hand, cutting them off. "Silence. I will not budge on this matter. Do not be concerned about the risks of carrying them, they are copies of the original, which I have locked away in a secure location. They are known as [The Mirror of Kalandra]. They are one-use Items that I have kept safe since a time when YGGDRASIL was young. Any one of them would qualify as a member of the Twenty if word ever got out about their existence, but I knew they would be too precious for information to fall into enemy hands. However, it's not because of their combat ability, but rather their strategic value that caused me to hide them away."
I reached into the box, pulling out a single Mirror. "[The Mirror of Kalandra] has only one function, but it does it without limit. One time per Mirror, you can create a copy of a single Item no matter the rarity or power. With it you can even copy World Items, were you to have one available to copy. I am not worried about what might happen if one were to fall into enemy hands, as they would only be able to learn what it did before they could never again use it."
"Any Servant who is sent into the outside world, I would like you to take two Mirrors rather than just one. The first will be your protection, and the second will be a means of copying any Item in the New World that you believe to be of significant value. Am I understood?"
"""Yes, Ancient One-sama."""
"Excellent. Now. Sebas, Shalltear, come forward."
Both Servants rose, striding to the front of the group. I reached in once more, pulling out the two World Items I had stored there. "Since both of you will likely be going out into the New World with some regularity, I would like you to have an extra layer of protection. Should you be taken control of and used against us, Nazarick would be at a great loss. Thus, I would like to prevent that from ever happening."
I held out my right hand, which held a worn black cloak. "Shalltear, to you I give the [Cloak of Defiance], a World Item that allows one to remain lucid even when under the effects of a mind-altering buff. It has the special effect of granting a boosted version of Mind Over Matter, a passive Skill that, when used through the Cloak, allows up to forty percent of your Mana to be taken before your Life."
The Vampire curtseyed, reaching up to take the Cloak. She slipped it on over her dress, and it shimmered from view.
"Sebas, to you I give [Perserverance]." I held out an ornate belt, red on one side and studded gold on the other. "This belt is a World Item that any Monk-based build would kill for. It grants an incredible bonus to unarmed fighting, as well as a bonus defensive score that increases the lower one's Life gets. Should you ever be backed into a corner, it will undoubtedly save your life."
Sebas bowed low, reaching to take the belt. He smoothly threaded it through his suit pants and pulled it tight. It turned a dull brown, blending in to his attire.
I nodded once in satisfaction. "Excellent. The rest of you are dismissed, come pick up a Mirror before you leave. Sebas, Shalltear, come with me, please."
I turned and began to walk away, slipping through a hidden exit behind the Throne. The two Servants I had addressed followed in my footsteps, saying not a word. We continued to walk for a time, passing many alcoves that housed suits of armor. Finally we came to a stop within a large room that was mainly empty save for a few statues. Huge stained glass windows were the source of light in the room, detailing several important events in Nazarick's history.
"Sebas, Shalltear, do you know what I am?" I asked softly, looking up at the windows.
I could tell the two were likely exchanging looks behind my back.
"You are a Supreme Being." Shalltear stated matter-of-factly.
I tilted my head in acknowledgement. "Yes, but what else?"
"You are the Ancient One, the oldest being of all." Sebas rumbled.
I nodded again, smiling faintly. "Indeed I am. But do you know what I enjoy doing with the time I have?"
"I enjoy creation. I am a Craftsman above all, have been and always will be. But I am also a warrior, and because of that I understand the destruction that can be wrought using the weapons I forge." I extended a hand, as if to reach out and touch one of the glass panes. "While the others all dedicated themselves to glory and fame, I focused on the World Threats. The beings that endangered the world I fought to protect. The Items you now carry each embody a lesson something in YGGDRASIL taught me."
I turned to face them once more. "The others gained their Items by chance. They picked them up and stowed them away, never seeking to understand them. But as a Craftsman, I cannot simply hand over two of the Items capable of changing the World itself without first making you understand the lessons they taught. Think of it as a tradition among the old, passing down wisdom to the youth."
Both Servants bowed low. "We would be honored to learn from you, Ancient One-sama." Shalltear said respectfully.
I chuckled. "Ah, come now. I'm far too old to stand on formality. I will be showing you how to truly use those Items at a later date, but for now I shall offer a few words on what they taught me."
I stepped closer, lowering my voice to speak to them directly. "Sebas. The belt you now wear belonged to Daresso, the Sword King. He had iron reflexes and used the blade as an extension of his very being. [Perserverance] is an Item that requires great skill to learn to use properly, but if you do so, you will find the rewards you reap will guide you throughout your life. For you see, that belt was forged off a single phrase. Some blows must be evaded. Some blows must be endured. The trick is to tell them apart."
I stepped over to where Shalltear waited, smiling broadly. "Shalltear. The Cloak around your shoulders is a symbol. It could only be found after one explored the Infinite Depths to their fullest, killing every last horror that called the place home. The Cloak is not the most beautiful thing in the world, I will admit. But it is a sign of what it takes to change one's own destiny. One must be willing to get up every time they are knocked down, rise from every fall. When the throat roars, as eyes weep, when the hand grips hard with trembling fingers, when belly twists, yet legs stand strong, that is the work of the Defiant Heart."
I moved back, finally allowing my stony façade to slip. "I do not lend you two these Items, I give them away. They are yours to keep. So long as you believe yourself capable of protecting them, I give you full permission to carry them into battle. They are Items made for subtlety, to hide one's true strength from the enemy."
"Sebas, that belt will register as an ordinary strip of leather to any Spell cast on it. This will allow you to use it without fear of discovery. Shalltear, that Cloak will remain invisible until it is activated. When that occurs, it will hide any armor you have underneath, making it appear as if you are wearing a simple cloak rather than a full suit. If you both use these properties to your advantage, the battlefield will be simple to control. Am I understood?"
""Yes, Ancient One-sama.""
"Good." I stretched, exhaling. "If you ever have any questions about the Items, or need something made for you, please come to me. I am a Craftsman before I am a Supreme Being, after all, and I delight in my trade. Come by my home any time."
I waved, turning and slipping away into the shadows before activating my Guild Ring.
Hopefully I had done a good enough job pulling off the role, I had certainly been practicing for long enough.
As soon as the ancient Dragon left the room, both Servants relaxed slightly. Shalltear placed a hand on her chest, exhaling in relief. "Ah, that was so intense…"
"Indeed." Sebas agreed, straightening. "I had heard of the Ancient One's skill at Item Creation, but I was not aware that he took it so seriously."
Shalltear nodded, reaching down to pinch the invisible sleeve of her new World Item. "I heard numerous Supreme Beings complain about the number of World Items he had amassed, but to think that he gathered them all by facing incredible odds… it's no wonder he has so many."
Sebas glanced down at the innocuous belt around his waist. "I believe the Sword King was a foe that my creator, Touch Me-sama, once tried to defeat. He was quite put out when he failed to do so alone and had to enlist the help of Momonga-sama. To have a memento of a foe that my creator respected so greatly is something I would treasure even were it not a World Item."
"Hmm." Shalltear tapped her chin. "Come to think of it, didn't Aura receive a similar Item from him? Right about the time when she changed her outfit and started decorating her room with pictures of Ancient One-sama."
Sebas nodded. "Indeed. Do you think that she was given a lesson as we were?"
"Worth asking, at least." The Vampire sighed. "Though I do wish she would show a bit of restraint. She can quite literally speak of him for days if you let her."
Sebas raised his eyebrows. "Is that a bad thing?"
"Not on its own, no, but when she starts showing you her collection of dolls…" She shook her head. "Never mind. Let's try to catch her before she leaves, maybe then we can avoid seeing her room."
Sebas decided not to ask. Finely-honed battle instincts told him that this was not a danger he wished to experience. "Let us be off, then."
Shalltear turned, striding out of the room. Sebas followed, keeping pace with her oddly hurried gait. She stopped short as soon as she arrived in the Throne Room, cursing quietly. "She's gone."
Sebas raised an eyebrow. "Is that an issue? You do know Teleportation Magic, yes?"
"Yes, I do." The Vampire looked… disturbed. "I do hope she at least puts away the fanart she drew…"
"Oh, nothing. [Gate]."
A large black portal swirled into existence, which the Vampire stepped through. Sebas followed, brow furrowed in confusion.
I stared at my World Map, tiny icons glimmering innocently. One for the city of Re-Estize, not yet a kingdom, one for the Baharuth Empire, just beginning its acquisition of land, one for the Roble Holy Lands, and one for the Slane Theocracy.
Much to my dismay, they were already a fully-developed kingdom with their religious doctrine just as disturbingly toxic as in the novels. There was nothing I could do there, and if anything they were an even bigger problem now than in the future.
They had placed diplomats in each of the developing kingdoms, slowly introducing them to Demihuman slavery and human superiority. The ideas were still new and the Shabti who reported about them were doing their best to take down the slave rings, but the problem remained. So long as there were people advocating for the slavery of 'lesser races', there would be a market for Demihuman trafficking.
The source of all my problems came from the Slane Theocracy, and now that my World Map was complete, I no longer had any excuse to delay judgement.
I exhaled, closing the map and turning away. Ethical dilemmas could wait until I puzzled them out. I needed a distraction for now, though.
Might as well check in on a few things.
I raised my Guild Ring. The world around me shivered, and I found myself in the main room of the Treasury. Innocence shimmered into view a few moments later, waving cheerfully. "Ah, hello Ancient-sama!" She chirped. "What brings you here?"
I hesitated for a moment. "Tell me… do you know where Albedo is?"
Innocence's wings drooped slightly. "…Yes." She said, voice uncharacteristically somber. "She went to take Pandora to the Waiting Room." She glanced to the side. "Pandora… she didn't want to wait out here, but she was afraid to go in alone… so Albedo-nee said she'd follow her to the door."
"She wasn't going to go at first." Innocence continued. "She didn't want to abandon Nazarick just because she felt grief. But when Pandora… she was too young. She didn't understand what was going on, not really. And Albedo couldn't just let her suffer."
"I see…" I trailed off. "I'll have to talk to her later, then. Have her contact me when she's available to speak. Is anyone covering Pandora's duties yet?"
"Sebas and I have been covering them. She doesn't do much unless there's a siege, so we haven't had too much of an issue." She hesitated. "…My lord, if you will, can you please let me keep covering her duties? It wouldn't feel right to let someone take Pandora-chan's place."
"That should be fine." I smiled faintly. "If it helps you cope, then I'll allow it."
Innocence bowed slightly. "Thank you, Ancient One-sama. It means a lot to me." She smiled back at me. "Also, it lets me check in on Shalltear-nee every now and then. She's been doing fine so far, but I still worry about her."
"All right then." I paused. "Tell me, did you hear my announcement this morning?"
"Yes, I did." She reached into her gown, pulling out a Mirror. "Did you mean for me to have one as well? I wasn't sure."
"Yes. Keep it." I reached into my Inventory, then handed her another Mirror. "Do you know where my personal Treasury is?"
She nodded hesitantly. "U-um, it's where Nigredo-chan lives, right?"
"That's the place." I agreed. "In there are the World Items I deemed too dangerous even for my fellow Guildmates to know of. But as of right now, you're acting as both the Guild Treasurer of Nazarick. You need a World Item of your own. Momonga keeps yours in his Inventory, so you need to learn to use a different one until he gets back. So. Tomorrow the entrance to the Treasury will be in the twenty-second gate. Top-left of the Floor, under a great big snowdrift. Take that Mirror and make a copy of a weapon."
"W-which weapon?" She asked.
I smiled sadly. "Lovely World Item… it's called [Hymn for the Missing]. Looks rather like a harp. I'll explain what it does if you ever need to use it. I'm afraid you've already learned the lesson needed to hold it, though."
"Then, thank you Ancient-sama." She bowed once more. "I'll stop by tomorrow morning."
"Excellent." I nodded to myself, turning away. "I'll see you soon."
I needed to stick to the plan. The plan I had made all the way back when I was in the orphanage, opening YGGDRASIL for the first time. Plotting out my own future like the plotline of an anime. But as unfortunate as it was, I wasn't an edgy protagonist who could burn the world while still remaining convinced that they were the ones in the right. The downside of being human is that you need to live with every action you've ever taken, and I was about to take a very large step in a very dark direction.
In these circumstances... who else could I even talk to?
I found my answer rather quickly when I set my mind to it.
"I'm sure you know why I made you." I murmured, closing my eyes.
The Shabti across from me sighed. "You made me because you wanted to talk with someone who understood."
"More or less." I paused. "This isn't a game anymore."
"No. It isn't."
"It's easy to act like a bloody psychopath in a game." I snorted. "Hell, it's fun. I was a mass murderer with victims who revived mere moments later. Then I get here, with more plans than common sense, thinking that it'd be the same…" I trailed off. "I do believe that life is sacred, you know. That innocents should be preserved at all costs. I could never kill for pleasure like I did in the game…"
"You had a plan for that, too." My Shabti's voice was cold. Clinical. "You learned the Spell you needed, just in case."
"[Mind of Undeath]." I agreed. "The moment I cast it, all of this… annoying conscience bit, will all go away. No guilt, no morals, no limits. I could nuke the planet with a smile."
"You could." The Shabti agreed. "But you wouldn't."
I laughed quietly. "I suppose you would know, wouldn't you?"
The Shabti shrugged. "You needed someone to talk to, and you needed confirmation that [Mind of Undeath] was a state of mind you still recognized as your own. This was the simplest solution."
I nodded. "And what do you think? You cast the Spell, you have a perfectly logical view on the situation. You know everything I do, and you know the current state of events. What's your opinion on the matter?"
The Shabti fell silent for a time. "The Slane Theocracy needs to go." He eventually said. "It has a religion, and that religion is lethal to our cause. It has all the worst parts of racism mixed with all the worst parts of zealotry. They occupy a location of strategic power that allows them to stand as an absolute authority over other countries."
"They should go." I agreed. "But does it have to be me?"
"It is expected." He said simply. "You are a being of immense power who once pulled off something similar in full view of every NPC in Nazarick. Our conversations with Rubedo told us that our fictionalized past also used [Mind of Undeath] whenever we needed to carry out a massacre."
"And we're supposed to do what we're expected to?" I asked incredulously. "That's the main reason why I dodged a leadership role in the first place. Getting railroaded into a course of action I hate is something I'd prefer to avoid."
He shook his head. "You expect it of yourself. I wouldn't speak of others in an argument about morals, there would be no point."
"Yes." I snorted. "I expect myself to nuke another civilization. Right."
"You're talking to me, aren't you?"
…Bastard has a point.
"But I don't really want to." I persisted. "Isn't there any other option?"
"No." A flat response. "None. Even if you were to appear before them as a prophet of their gods, they would never change their beliefs. The leaders of the kingdom are the only ones who do not believe, and that makes it impossible to use religion as their weak point. Furthermore, they would begin to use their World Items if they are provoked. A long, drawn-out war would merely drain time and resources. Even were you to win and capture the city peacefully, it would take up far too much manpower to keep the city under control."
"Momonga managed it in the novels."
"Momonga never invaded the Theocracy, merely a few other kingdoms. And he did spend the manpower to keep them under control. He just passed responsibility down to Demiurge to handle the finer details. Momon the Adventurer, no? Ruling through a false hope of rescue?" He shrugged, leaning back. "Not exactly our style, though, is it? We're more likely to burn it all down and rebuild from the ashes."
I didn't argue with that. If I chose to do this, I would leave zero chance of survival and even less chance of retaliation. "We would be killing thousands of children."
"Children grow up to seek revenge, fancy themselves heroes."
I blinked, a thought sparking. "Not if we wiped their memories."
He raised an eyebrow. "Is it really worth that much effort? You'd rather cast numerous Spells to pull out the innocent few, wipe their memories, then return them?"
"Is that even a question?" I smiled faintly. "Look at it this way. You want the Theocracy destroyed, I want to save the innocents. This way we both get what we want. Plus, we can use them to start anew."
"We're the same person, and we want the same things." The Shabti pointed out.
I sighed. "Well yes, but we can't both argue for the same side. It's simpler this way."
He nodded once. "Very well. In that case, what would happen if a single one of them regained their memories?"
I burst out laughing. "A-are you fucking kidding? I plan to use a Tenth-Tier Spell to wipe them, which is boosted to beyond Super-Tier by my staff. If they remember the name of their species they'll be lucky. I plan to wipe the humans and their Demihuman slaves. Wipe them, hit them with a Healing Spell, and return them to the remains of their kingdom. They'll be lost and confused, yes, but if we return them after we've already started rebuilding, they'll flock to the new kingdom like moths to a flame."
The Shabti smiled. "We have a plan, then."
"A plan, a justification, and a means to carry it out." I agreed. "Talking with myself seems to be incredibly helpful."
"How will you determine the innocent from the guilty? You can't possibly judge every being within range."
I shrugged. "Make a new Item, probably. A Golem Core that's designed to judge people based off my criteria. It will scan their innermost thoughts, their Karma Value, their plans for the future. I don't care if the whole kingdom rots as long as not a single good person dies."
"But if you're wiping their memories anyway, why stop at the innocent? Wipe their Karma Values, their personalities, heal them all, and stick them somewhere else." My Shabti challenged. "Everyone is innocent with no past and no future. That's the reason you wish to spare the children, no?"
I shook my head. "Even without memories, personality remains. Muscle memory is a series of chemicals in the brain, and habit is a well-worn path. A rapist with no memories and a positive Karma Value will still find himself slipping back into old ways. Taking advantage of drunk women at first, perhaps, just to rediscover how it feels. A serial killer will stand around in broad daylight, watching the world around them for the weakest of the pack. Some habits just… remain."
"And how do you know this?"
I smiled faintly. "Shabti are highly susceptible to Spells from their creator, and I have an entire Tomb full of the worst beings known to this world. Do the math."
He blinked. "I don't remember those experiments."
"No, you don't." I agreed. "I wipe my own memory after every experiment. If my creations knew what I could do to them, they might turn against me." I shook my head. "That's beside the point. From a purely logical sense, if we were to take all of them, they would be too difficult to govern while we attempt to rebuild a kingdom."
"We're going in circles." The copy tilted his head. "Bouncing ideas off a brick wall. You're still hesitant to do it."
"Of course I'm bloody hesitant!" I gestured towards the map. "I'm seriously considering mass genocide! This isn't a game, some manufactured past. These are real people dying here, real people with lives and families."
"Real people with real problems." The clone agreed. "Real problems require real solutions. You don't have the means to properly restart their culture while also culling the evil from their midst. You need their position to further your plans. Their leaders preach death and xenophobia in order to further their own goals. They must die."
"Yes." I agreed quietly, sinking back in my chair. "And we have to be the one to do it."
"Because there is no one else."
"Because if I don't do it with my own hands, I'm terrified someone else will get it wrong."
"Because." He smiled wryly. "If you don't do this yourself, you're afraid you never will. That you'll always pass along the order to kill while convincing yourself you conscience is clean."
"Because I need to hold the gun in my hand in order to know what it means to kill a man."
The Shabti nodded once. "Then what are you waiting for?" It smiled, slowly crumbling away to dust. Leaving me, once more, alone.
I sighed, burying my face in my hands. "Fucking hell…" I rubbed my eyes, leaned back, and stared up at the ceiling. "This'll never get any easier." I mumbled to myself. "So I might as well get it over with. [Mind of Undeath]."
And like that, everything was crystal clear.
The Golem Core was simple. The 'judgement' was rather like the sword in the stone—it was based almost entirely off the values of its creator. Noa didn't ask what I needed her to store a [Mass Cure Wounds] into a crystal for, she just yawned and did it. I added the crystal to the Core, selected the area on my World Map, and let the programming run its' course.
I had it set to systematically scan through the inhabitants of the Slane Theocracy for 'good' people, mark them, then pull them out into a holding area—a space much like the Waiting Room. Once they were in the area and they were fully locked in suspended animation, it would activate the Spell Crystal to heal them back to the best they could be. It would then deactivate, keeping them there until I gave the signal. Once I cast the Spell to wipe their memories, I would signal it from where I wanted them teleported.
It was a program. A program that dealt with people rather than integers. Human beings were reduced to mere numbers, saved to be reformatted for their new lives.
The program would take time, of course. A few minutes, perhaps. Not too long. Just enough time to run a couple thousand [Teleportation] Spells.
Enough time to gather the materials needed for part two of the plan.
I left the Core to do its work, raising my Guild Ring and closing my eyes. I opened them again to see a large tree, with two surprised Dark Elves in the middle of a conversation.
It was time to put on a little show for the troops. Toss around a nice speech. I needed Aura's cooperation for this to work properly, and I didn't want either of my girls to be present. Albeit for very different reasons. I didn't want Noa getting any ideas on how to deal with enemies from me, and I didn't want Archer to Trace my new staff. That would need to be explained, and I would need to dramatize my actions for the benefit of the audience my actions would surely attract.
"Aura." I turned. "Follow me. I have need of your skills."
"O-okay." Aura didn't say another word, likely sensing the somber atmosphere. I waved a hand, activating an effortless transition back to the ground level of the Tomb.
"Aura." I addressed her once more, keeping my voice perfectly flat. "Listen to me. What we do today is not right. It is not just. But it is necessary. I do not revel in death, but I find it useful in removing those who would threaten the peace. I have stayed my hand for too long, but no longer." I turned to face her, deadly serious. "Today, I will not show mercy. I will not grant pardon. This is a preemptive strike to an enemy who must never be allowed to threaten us."
Aura nodded silently. "My lord, why… why are your Maidens not here to help you instead? I'm sure there's nothing I can do that they can't."
I shook my head. "I will not allow my beloved to see this act. It is mass murder, plain and simple. And while I know they will love me all the same, I do not wish for them to lose sleep over my sins."
'Yeeeaahh… Archer's done worse than this on her off days, and Noa would probably do something like this for fun. The only sleep lost for them is when I wake them up from the nap they're taking right now.'
"I don't really understand, but I will carry out your will." Aura bowed low. "What are we going to do?"
I chuckled, turning back. "You will have no part in this either, my dear. If possible I would have done this alone, if only to spare others the guilt of my actions. You are merely here to help me atone after all is said and done."
She looked confused but said nothing more.
Ah, well. I had at least played the part. "No matter what you see or hear, Aura, make sure that nothing interrupts me until I am finished." I ordered, stepping forward and dramatically planting my staff into the ground below.
I mentally brought up the World Map, selecting the Slane Theocracy. The glowing icon turned red as I activated Targeting, the Sage's Skill to ignore vast distances reducing the cost of casting such a long-ranged Spell to nothing. Golden light wove itself around me, the cash item I had bought so long ago to turn my Super-Tier Spells a different color seeming to function even without the Item itself present.
The wind picked up, roaring around me in an incredible display. Louder and louder it roared, safely hiding my words from anyone listening.
"I'm sorry, Momonga." I said to no one in particular. "Except, I'm not, really. I'm doing this because I feel like it, not because of Nazarick. I doubt you'll care much about it, really."
The Super-Tier Spell around me continued to charge, whirling slowly in a full circle around the focal point.
"After all… by the time you get here, they'll just be ancient history to you."
As one of the two existing Players who broke the Level Cap, not to mention one who had used said Levels to take several Job Classes granting unique Super-Tier Spells, I can be considered a bit of a wild card when it comes to casting. Not only can I cast my Super-Tier Spells an absurd number of times a day, but I have exactly a hundred and thirty Spells to choose from. But I wasn't going exotic right now, no, I was sticking with one of the most common Super-Tier Spells available. Except, I was planning to juice it up a tad bit.
"Class Skill: [Eternity Condemnation]. Class Skill: [Sentinel's Watch]." I began layering on Skills, using the time it took to cast in order to boost the Spell as much as possible. "Class Skill: [Mass Grave]. Class Skill: [Cherish the Fallen]. Class Skill: [Pardon the Dying]. Class Skill: [Soothe the Anguished]."
With each addition, the chances of surviving this Spell diminished. Sure it was extreme overkill, but if I was going to fire a superweapon into the heart of enemy territory, I wanted to make damn well sure I didn't have to fire it again. Besides, when else was I going to use all the Skills granted to me by the Rare Job Classes I netted for finishing the game?
"Racial Skill: [Ancient One's Mercy]." I continued quietly. "Racial Skill: [Funeral Dirge]. Racial Skill: [Final Farewell]."
Dong… dong… dong… dong…
The faint gonging noise was the signal made by the charged Spell. The wind died down, leaving my voice audible once more. The air itself felt pressurized, as if this were the eyes of some tremendous storm. I opened my hands palm-up and took a deep breath to release the Spell. "You who are born of earth… I release you to your mother's embrace. [EXTEND MAXIMIZE MAGIC: GAIA RECLAIM]!"
My ears popped from the change in pressure as the Spell fired, the air losing all its tension in a split second. Wind whipped about, and the ground shook below us. I lowered my arms, exhaling. Apparently the strain of casting Super-Tier Magic was more taxing than I had originally thought. Pity. It makes mass genocide so simple it seems like a shame to have its use limited by my own form.
"M-my lord." Aura stammered. I turned, noting that her cheeks were a brilliant red. "That was… a magnificent Spell. I am not worthy…"
I waved her off tiredly. "Not now, Aura. We have work to do, still. Come, stand here. It's time we see what my Spell has wrought."
A pulse of mana later, and we teleported away.
We reappeared in the midst of an enormous forest. A very odd forest, to be perfectly honest. In places, the wood was so dense and the trees so tightly twined together that they seemed impassible, yet despite how tall and immovable they seemed, the ruins they grew aroind didn't look old at all. If anything, they looked brand new.
"My lord… what happened here?" Aura asked quietly, looking down the overgrown street. Hundreds of trees had sprouted all over the stretch of cobblestone, destroying the road with an incredibly dense network of roots and branches.
"Gaia Reclaim is a very powerful Spell, though one that normally doesn't do all that much damage." I began, leaning back against the trunk of an oak tree. "But it has one main effect. Any Player or mob killed by it becomes some sort of plant. It's incredibly useful when one of your teammates is a Druid of some sort."
She blinked, comprehension dawning. "…Or a Nature Spirit." She said.
"Indeed." I tapped the bark of the tree, nodding. "Normally Gaia Reclaim is tiny in diameter and low in damage output, which makes it inefficient to use save for on already dying enemies. But I'm not exactly like other casters."
I really wasn't.
As one with the Job Class of Ultimate Raid Boss, my abilities scaled in both size and power according to how many enemies I was facing. And in this case… well. I had probably taken out well over a million people with that one attack, judging by the EXP my ring had gained. When I stacked on the additional Skills making evasion, defense, and resistances useless against it, I erased all hope of even a single soul surviving.
In a few seconds, every living creature in the borders of where my Skill considered 'the Slane Theocracy' to be had been transformed irreversibly into some manner of living plant.
"That's… incredible." Aura whispered in shock, reaching out to touch a tree. "The power… all this with one Spell…"
I nodded tiredly. "We're not done yet, I'm afraid." I stood up straight, pushing off from the oak tree. "I believe that when one chops down one tree, they should plant another in its place. This land was once a thriving civilization full of life and prosperity, so to simply destroy it would leave a bad taste in my mouth. No." I leaned in, tapping Aura lightly on the forehead. "It's time you stepped in."
"M-me, my lord?" She stammered. "I-I, I don't understand. What could I possibly do to help?"
I sighed. "Do you remember what I taught you before we left our old world?"
The girl shuddered, an odd expression crossing her face. "Yes, my lord." She practically whimpered, face turning a brilliant red.
…Okay, I am not going to ask.
"You should know several Spells designed to Summon live creatures to you, then." I continued, ignoring the Dark Elf's oddly erotic expression.
"I know several, my lord. Will [Mass Summon Creature] work?"
I nodded. Summon Creature was a Spell designed to Summon a live animal that matched the area's wildlife, so Mass Summon version of it likely did the same on a larger scale.
"Yes, I believe that will be sufficient. It'll be like this. [Repeat Area]."
Repeat Area was a simple Fifth-Tier Spell that made the next Spell cast have the exact same area of effect as the previous one. It was extremely useful, if a bit mana intensive.
I nodded towards her, and she took a deep breath. "[Mass Summon Creature]!"
There was an odd tug in the world around us, then various forest animals began to shimmer into existence. Snakes, bears, deer, elk, moose, even a few birds. I smiled at the sight, nodding once. "Good. My Spell shouldn't have affected insects, so we needn't replenish their population as well."
Aura nodded, glancing around. "I think my brother would love this place." She said wistfully.
I chuckled, nodding. "Well, he's about to love it a whole lot more. Are you ready for the last step?"
She cocked her head. "The… last step?"
"Like I said, I like to replace the life I take. All the life." Around me, the golden light of a Super-Tier Spell began to weave together once more. "[Repeat Area]." I chanted for the final time. Repeated casting of the Spell ramped up its cost significantly, but that wasn't an issue.
"[Half Area]." I added, realizing that it might be bad if this hit the entire outer ring of the forest as well as the inner area. The diameter of my Spell shrank by half, extending out in a perfect circle from my position at the center.
This Super-Tier Spell didn't take nearly as long as the last, but it wasn't as powerful either. I raised my hands, rattling it off. "[Cast Higher Magic: True Polymorph]!"
A pulse of raw power rippled outward, making each tree glow as it touched it. I lowered my arms, sighing. "All right, that should be it."
"Um, pardon me, my lord, but what was that?" Aura asked tentatively.
I smirked. "Well, I used a Super-Tier Spell called [Cast Higher Magic]. It allows one to cast a lower-Tiered Spell at a Super Tier level. In this case, True Polymorph, a Tenth-Tier Spell. It lets you turn a creature into a different creature, an object into a creature, or a creature into an object. I chose the second of the options, and since the intended creature is of the same size and under Level 75, it worked flawlessly. All of the trees within the radius of the Spell are now a creature known as a Hamadryad."
Aura's mouth fell open. "You… you just brought them all to life?"
I shook my head. "With Spells that change something permanently, there's a wait time of a number of hours that reduces based off the Tier of the Spell. Since it was Super-Tier, it'll take pretty much the rest of the day for them to transform completely."
Significantly less with [The Sage's Last Stand] boosting the Tier twice more, but I didn't need to mention that.
The Spell was something of a trolling tool to most Players, since turning a different Player into an object was a good way to lock them out of the game for a few hours until the Spell's effects wore off and they were allowed to respawn.
It didn't work twice on the same object, though, and it didn't work on creatures with a high Magical Defense, so catching other Players off guard with it was pretty much the extent of its usefulness in-game.
It was still extremely funny to see their reactions, which totally made learning the Spell worth it even before the World shift.
"Let's head back." I decided, turning away. "I'm having breakfast with my girls soon, and I'm sure you'll want to rest after casting a Spell that large."
She nodded, inexplicably blushing. "Th-thank you, my lord. For letting me join you in this."
I raised an eyebrow. "…Not a problem. You were a great help. Go ahead and take the day off." I reached out, clapping her on the shoulder. "Have a nice day, Aura. [Greater Teleportation]."
The Dark Elf vanished in a shimmer of light. I stayed put, having one last objective while here. I raised a hand, placing it against the wood of a nearby tree. The funny thing about being in the middle of the forest is that all of the roots are intertwined in some way, making it incredibly easy to cast a single Spell and get results without having to track down a specific plant.
"[Boosted Magic: Speak With Dead]." I cast quietly, closing my eyes. "Give me a high-ranking official within range."
Normally the Fourth-Tier Spell needed to have a corpse and a specific idea of who you're talking to, but when you boost it to Sixth-Tier, it allows for far more wiggle room. It helped that all the souls were still lingering about, meaning that the Spell could just scan over their minds to figure out who to pull.
The sounds of the jungle around me became muted, dulled. I didn't worry about any animals attacking me, their instincts told them to get the hell away any time they got close. Instead I allowed the Spell to whisk me away, turning the world perfectly blank and silent. Then, before me, a single ghost materialized. I smiled to myself. '[Silent Maximize Magic: Charm Person].'
The ghost solidified, becoming an elderly man in official-looking robes. I put on a smile, spreading my arms wide. "Greetings." I boomed, layering my voice with power. "I am a messenger of the gods, come to reward your faith."
The trapped soul's eyes widened, and he fell to his knees. "M-my lord… thank you for hearing my cries, for in the darkness I could not see a light."
I ignored his words, instead making a show of reaching into my own hand to pull an object from my Inventory. "I have for you an artifact of great power. Take it."
With trembling fingers, he reached up to take the crystal from my extended hand.
"Remember, now, all you have done for us." I smiled kindly at him. "Remember of the treasures you guarded, the vaults you kept, the tunnels you fortified against invaders. Remember now, all you have given for us. This, is your reward. Wake, now, from your dreams, and receive what you deserve."
I cut the Spell.
"Dumbass." I said in amusement, leaning down to pick up the fallen Golem Core.
The Core was set to cast the Spell [Detect Thoughts] to steal the soul's unguarded memories, then use [Find the Path] to, well, map them out for me. The instant the second of the Golem Core's Spells activated, the glowing lines triggered my World Map passive Skill. I pulled up the minimap, smiling to myself.
Worked like a charm. Now to explore some ruins.
"Hello beautiful." I breathed, staring into the hidden treasury. It was thankfully plant-free, seeing as no one had been present when my Spell hit.
The room was surprisingly small at first glance, but it was the perfect size to store a few dusty old artifacts under the maximum possible amount of protection. The entire box was probably some large layered array of solid metal and raw Magic. Any idiot trying to tunnel or teleport in would be in for a bad time indeed. Yet, at the same time, the room was quite nice to look at. All white marble and golden lanterns, all perpetually glowing in an Alchemical flame.
My gaze wandered the room, my smile growing. There was [Downfall of Castle and Country], hanging innocently off a dress dummy. Next to it was a golden set of armor, and next to that a shimmering robe. More Items than I could count littered the room, all set in ornate stands to show them off.
I chuckled, pulling out another Golem Core. This one cast a different Spell, one of a much higher Tier. [Mass Steal]. I sent a jolt of mana into it, and the Spell activated. Every Item in the room vanished, disappearing into my Inventory. Even the shelves and stands were pulled, leaving the room a barren marble box.
I turned around, walked up a few steps, and raised my Guild Ring. "[Greater Teleportation]."
I flickered away, my Guild Ring allowing direct access to the Tomb without need for a two-step verification process.
Time for phase two.
The room around me was blank and white. Normally I would be instantly trapped in the range of [Mental Slow], but [Mind of Undeath] let me completely no-sell the mental condition. Unlike the Waiting Room, this room hadn't been designed to hold the Undead.
I once again struck the ground with the staff, the glow of Super-Tier Magic humming to life around me.
The speed at which I could crank these out was really, truly, Overlordly broken.
"[Cast Higher Magic: Control Amnesia]!" The Spell activated, I waited precisely six seconds, then another web of golden power wove around me. "[Judgement of Osiris]!"
The first Spell was obviously to nuke their previous life out of existence. The second was designed to manipulate their Karma Values reducing negative ones and increasing positive ones. As of this moment, they all had a Value of +1000 Karma—with the normal maximum being a mere +500.
They were now the best possible beings with whom to start anew.
I smiled to myself, stowing my staff and turning away. Close to a thousand people saved, an entire forest of tree-people planted, and enough plans to last me for weeks. Not bad for less than a half-hour's work.
I knew I was skimming over details I would normally care about. Like the faces of the people I was changing, or how many there were of each Race. But right then and there, I couldn't find it in me to give a damn.
I would introduce them to their new home in the morning. Was it cruel to take away everything they were and replace it with utter blankness? Probably. But it was less cruel than just letting them all die. I'm not the Old Testament God to simply consign a whole kingdom to ruin just because they pissed me off, I keep the ones who haven't committed any sins.
Or, well, something like that. I really need to figure out a Spell to turn people into pillars of salt. That would be pretty cool.
"Ko, both Albedo and Demiurge are waiting for you in the dining room." Archer reported as I stepped back into the mansion. "Albedo says you called for her, and Demiurge wishes to speak with you about something."
I nodded, plucking a twig from my hair and pocketing it. It was going to be a joke for Noa, but it wouldn't quite fit with my image.
I strode into the kitchen, putting on a smile. "Albedo." I greeted. "Demiurge. Glad you could make it." Both guardians began to rise, but I waved them off. "No, no. Save the bowing for Momonga, I'm just a seat-warmer. In private, you have my permission to skip the pleasantries."
""Yes, my lord.""
"Good." I sat down at the head of the table. "Albedo, I know why you are here, but what of you, Demiurge?"
"My business can wait until Albedo's is finished, my lord." He said with a half-bow.
I nodded, turning to Albedo. My voice softened. "How are you doing?"
She smiled faintly. "Better. I was worried about Pandora-chan, but she's somewhere safe now. When she comes out, Momonga-sama will be back." She paused. "Do you truly have no idea when he will arrive?"
I shook my head. "The only reason we survived at all is that Noa was old enough to support the New World once the old one burned. The Between doesn't have a concept of time, so Momonga could just as easily arrive tomorrow as in a thousand years. My best guess is at around two hundred years, but that calculation is based off a loose idea of how the Time Tunnel functions within the Between. Hypothetically the model I used should work considering both the Old and New worlds have a shared sense of Time, but in the exact center things get blurry."
"My lord, I'm afraid I don't understand." Albedo confessed.
I sighed, reaching into my Inventory. I pulled out a Coin Funnel, an item put in the game as a Guild Decoration during a charity event. I set it on the table, pulling out a handful of gold coins. "This is the time tunnel." I told her, then held up the coins. "These are the Players. When the First Tree burned, we were all dropped into a loosely constructed space where the algorithm the Developers wrote for time became incredibly loose. Then we got pulled into the New World's sphere of influence, and started moving towards it."
I dropped the coins, watching them bounce and roll across the funnel. Some landed near the edge, others near the center. When they stabilized, they began the slow whirl to the center of the funnel.
"Depending on how far we drifted during the time when the time tunnel was more or less indistinct, we landed different distances away from the New World's pull." I narrated. "Some Players arrived before us, others will arrive after us. From here, I can only guess when they'll land based off what little I know of the loosened algorithm."
All in all, a fairly impressive demonstration that explained next to nothing.
"I see!" Albedo brightened.
"So based on your current understanding of the in-between space of the First Tree and the Second Tree, Momonga landed some distance away from us and is taking a longer time to be pulled into the New World's relativistic time flow, even if he physically exists in the same spot he left." Demiurge mused, adjusting his glasses. "I hadn't thought of it like that."
I decided to just go with it. "Yes. I only have a very vague recollection of our passage through this time bend, since to us it was nearly instant. It took me a while to figure out this much, and I can all but guarantee that I'll be off by a bit. Noa uses a more intuitive method than Yggdrasil, and her grasp of time is slightly different. To us it's the same, but it's enough to knock my calculations off by a few years on either side."
"Then that will have to be enough." Albedo bowed slightly. "Thank you, my lord."
I nodded, smiling.
'To be honest, I have no idea what I just said.' I thought in relief.
My smile froze as the implications of that simple thought hit.
I didn't know what I just said, or understand even half of it. I thought I was just bullshitting, opening my mouth and letting my imagination do its job. But my imagination is limited to things I know, it can't just pull new facts from nowhere. If my explanation was a genuine one, than that could mean only one thing.
I didn't understand anything I just said… but my body did.
I had written my own flavor text. Written bare bones of a story, just to get the story straight. Something to prepare myself for the New World. I hadn't been changed at all—other than my newfound knowledge on my Skills, I was the same asshole as back on Earth. But, from a purely technical standpoint, I was essentially piloting an NPC designed to hold my mind.
If Rubedo could create an entire backstory based off a line of text, then what about a character that I had designed to perfectly house my ideal self? Paragraphs of text on my past would become memory, stored within some tiny corner of my body's brain. Even if I never accessed it, it had to exist somewhere. All that text wouldn't have just vanished.
Was it possible that, all this time, when I was blindly pulling stories out of my ass… I was actually just giving voice to my subconscious recollection of my own body's memories?
I struggled to even wrap my mind around the concept.
So, as always, I decided to shove the situation to the back of my mind to consider when I wasn't in the middle of a conversation. As interesting as it was to ponder, the time for pondering wasn't when I had two subordinates waiting on my words.
"Is there anything else you needed, Albedo?" I asked, doing my best to act like I hadn't just had a mind-shattering revelation.
"Only a question relating to my position's duties, my lord."
"I am bound to serve Nazarick in all things, and I love my job. However, I cannot both guard the Throne Room and you. May I create a new position to serve as your guard?"
My brows rose. I let the silence hang for a moment before speaking. "Albedo… you do realize that I could level this planet within a matter of moments, yes?"
She nodded. "But of course, my lord. I was there the day you annihilated Asgard in little under ten seconds' time. Amongst all of the Supreme Beings, you are the most feared and the most respected."
"Then why the hell would I need a guard?"
"Ceremony, my lord."
My eyebrows rose. "And… Archer is incapable of guarding us both?"
"Archer's duty is to protect Noa's Tree. While her Spirit form can return if killed, if the Tree dies, the World will burn once again." Albedo stated. "In the event of a true emergency, she will be beside the Tree, while you are at the front lines. She can hardly guard you from there."
"…Fair enough." I agreed grudgingly. I had made Noa and Archer's abilities compliment each other for that very reason. "And what form of ceremony would require me to have a guard?"
"Guard is more of an official title, my lord. A way to justify the use of military assets." Albedo smiled. "You are indeed capable of transformation between your Dragon and human forms, but in war you would not sacrifice your impenetrable scales merely to enter a castle. Your personal guard would have the authority to speak on your behalf, while you remain perfectly safe. Guarding you without needing to protect you."
I fell silent, considering.
Albedo wasn't just some random toon. She wasn't a side character for me to announce my grand plans to. I made damn sure she was well-versed in strategy and the art of war, filling her character file with actual texts on all sorts of military maneuvers. War had a different sort of politics, one I never bothered to learn.
Again. Albedo is my head of security for a reason. If she says something, it's because she thinks it's valuable information for me to have.
"In practice, what would such a guard need to do?" I asked, frowning. "I don't intend to pull a Floor Guardian for a purely ceremonial position. We can implement such measures in times of war."
"They would serve as your personal servant, cleaning—"
"Nope." I held up a hand. "Archer is in charge of housework. I tried once to get an actual maid, and she nearly castrated me."
Demiurge's lips twitched. "She takes her duties very seriously, then."
Albedo scowled at him.
…I was missing something, here, but I didn't care enough to learn what it was.
"As I was saying, they will be in charge of cleaning your scales and ensuring that no harm comes to you while you are bedding your mates." Albedo said delicately.
Bedding my mates, yes, but cleaning my…?
Shit, that never occurred to me. Just jumping into a lake might get rid of the surface dirt, but as grime accumulates, I'll start looking less like a noble Dragon than a swamp monster.
"While I am certain you can clean yourself," Albedo hurried to add, taking my silence as offense, "I am certain that some spots are more difficult to get. Your species is mentioned to bury themselves with a material too soft to scratch your scales but just hard enough to keep them clean. You likely use an artifact of some sort to do the job, but I'm certain a capable pair of hands can do it better."
I chuckled to myself.
Gold. Yes, that actually made sense. Sure, gold was shiny, but why would a Dragon care? Simple. Hygiene. Gold is soft and pliable, but still able to scrape the grime off. Sitting in a giant pile of gold coins while sleeping is like taking a trip through a rock tumbler. Sure, other metals might do, but lead would stain the scales and tin would wear away too quickly.
Smaug was shown to be greedy and vain, but who knew that the two were one and the same?
More problems I had never considered before, I supposed. I'm multi-kilometer lizard that never sheds its skin, only its scales. So how do I stay presentable? Sure, I could make something designed to always keep me clean, but now that I'm a Dragon, I might as well enjoy the full experience.
"All right." I said at last. "Sure. The idea has merit. I'll leave it to you to choose which Servant to assign to the task. They will be given their own room in the mansion to do as they please with, fed along with my family, and provided all that they need."
"Thank you, my lord." Albedo rose, then bowed once more. "That is all, Ancient One-sama. By your leave, I will begin making the arrangements."
I nodded. "Speak to one of my Maidens, they can take you to the Throne Room via a shortcut."
She nodded, quietly leaving the room. I waited a few moments, then turned to Demiurge. "Thank you for your patience."
"Not at all, my lord. It is I who showed up unannounced to a meeting between yourself and the Head of Security." Demiurge said. "And, as it stands, my question is a relatively trivial one meant only for me to better understand your plans."
I nodded. "Ask away."
He nodded. "Tell me, why did you elect to decimate the Slane Theocracy so early in our campaign?"
My smile fell, and I sighed.
'Whelp, there goes that bit of subtlety. I had hoped to delay this conversation. Time to roll for bullshit.'
"Demiurge…" I began. "I think you'll find that, while Momonga is magnificent at making long-lasting plans, he fails to make them truly organic. He may occasionally send out a tendril to explore a possibility, but many of his plans are fragile things that could be unseated should anything go terribly awry at a given time. He is experienced enough to recover and turn the failure into yet another opportunity, but the flaw remains."
Demiurge frowned. "My lord…"
I waved him off. "I mean no insult to my friend, but neither am I unaware of his shortcomings. In fact, it is because I am aware of them that I can take steps to make sure that they are not used against him."
Demiurge nodded, glasses flashing. "A magnificent strategy, my lord. And what, may I ask, is the purpose of the new forest you so carefully created?"
"In a word, monsters." I repeated, leaning back in my chair. "There were many other factors, of course, one of which being the reason I handed out Mirrors. I had reason to suspect that the Six Gods that the Slane Theocracy worshipped were either Players or beings capable of creating Player Items. I struck first before they could become aware of us, only to find this." I reached into my Inventory, pulling out [Downfall of Castle and Country].
"My lord… is that…?"
"A World Item, yes. Something that would have utterly ruined any one of our plans were it allowed to be used."
"Incredible… so you knew that something of this sort existed, and you struck to prevent such an event from occurring?"
"In part, yes." I carefully folded the Item, setting it in front of me on the table. "But I would have wiped out the Slane Theocracy regardless, for two main reasons. First and foremost, their doctrine preaches that anything non-human is utterly detestable and inferior to humanity."
"Absurd." Demiurge scoffed.
I smiled faintly. "Indeed, but therein lies the issue. The problem with religion is that it's incredibly difficult to remove from a population. In one of the first humans' religious doctrines, the Hebrew God demanded that they kill every living creature residing in the land they were invading. Man, woman, child, even livestock."
I held up a hand, forestalling a response. "I know it sounds a bit extreme, but he had good reason. The people disobeyed that order, took their enemies' women as wives and stuffed their bellies with their foes' livestock. In time, the religion of their wives became the religion of their children, causing their people to slowly forsake the God that had given them the land to begin with. It's a brutal tale, yes, but it can teach one important lesson."
"You believed that by letting them live they might one day return to their ways." The strategist stated.
I nodded. "The trouble with religion is that, to be a believer, you must believe the doctrine of the religion. A doctrine intolerant of us and our agenda. No matter what we gave them, no matter how hard we tried to appease their bloodlust, they would one day rise against us simply because we're not human."
"Very good, my lord. I understand completely. And your second reason?"
"Their location. Thus far their doctrine has caused them to wipe out all the monsters invading the land, protecting their neighboring kingdoms from attack. If the Slane Theocracy were ever to collapse naturally, the Re-Estize Kingdom, the Baharuth Empire, and the Roble Holy Kingdom would fall to monsters soon after. By taking over that position, we can use it as a negotiation tool if the situation ever arises."
"Monsters…" Demiurge murmured, beginning to catch on. "The monsters would have to travel through the forest in order to arrive on the other side. A very dense, entirely unexplored forest."
"Indeed." I agreed, chuckling. "And, if my plan works out, they'll have no desire to continue on to the rest of the human kingdoms. After all, the monster kingdom I'm founding will be much more attractive to them. It'll have an entire ecosystem unique to their location alone, the monsters doing the heavy lifting while the few humans work on efficiency and improvement of tools. Within a couple of generations, the humans will have crossbred with the monsters and created a society universally accepting of all creatures so long as they keep the peace."
"That sounds incredible, my lord."
"Thanks." I patted the World Item in front of me. "Honestly, I just came up with the plan because I'm a lazy bastard and having an entire society that does work for me sounded appealing. Why should I bother with cross-species research and magical technology when I can set up the proper conditions and have genuine results within five years?"
"Truly, your genius knows no bounds." Demiurge beamed. "I had begin to consider such things, but to already have a long-term plan in place…"
I snorted. "I wouldn't go that far. I'm still not sure whether the Hamadryads will be attractive enough to the humans for them to consider crossbreeding. YGGDRASIL never had any non-character versions, which makes it impossible to know what they'll look like. If they look green or are sprouting leaves, the humans might hesitate before copulating with them. But if they look as or more beautiful than humans, like Noa is, then the process will end up being significantly faster."
"Indeed. Thank you for sharing all of this with me, my lord. I appreciate this small window into your complex thought processes."
'What complex thought processes? The easier I make things, the more free time I have to cuddle with my girls. Simple as that.'
"On the contrary, Demiurge, consider this a lesson." I said smoothly. "There are times when long, well-thought out plans with numerous steps are the way to go. But then, there are also times when the most effective option is merely to scorch the earth and build again." I said instead, picking up the World Item. "I'm sure you've heard by now how I like to teach lessons before I hand these out… well, now you've had yours."
Demiurge bowed as I stood, holding out the Item. "My lord, please, I am not worthy—"
"Oh, don't be like that." I dismissed. "I can't exactly use this, not nearly as well as you can. This is [Downfall of Castle and Country], a World Item that the Slane Theocracy only scratched the surface of. In the hands of a normal human, it allows the use of the unique Spell [Dominate Mind] and allows the user's mind-control abilities to subjugate the mind of any creature, even those that possess Racial immunity to mind-control. But [Dominate Mind] is a single-target Spell, you see, and the World Items effects reach out to the user's Skills as well…"
Demiurge's glasses flashed. "My lord… are you saying that this Item would allow me to use my Commands without restriction?"
"Precisely." I grinned. "More specifically, since this is a World Item, it would allow you to have absolute control over as many beings as your Command Mantra allows, but only so long as they did not possess a different World Item."
"My lord, my Command Mantra allows me to Command any being under Level 40…"
"Well then. That restriction no longer applies, does it?"
Demiurge returned my grin, unfolding the World Item. In his hands, it shifted from a qipao to a changshan, the male version of the same garb. He carefully wound it around himself, the end result making him look like a rather bizarre priest with the outfit's high collar and one-piece weave.
I gave him a thumbs-up. "Impressive. Should you ever need to go out into the world, that would be an excellent yet entirely functional disguise."
"Thank you, my lord." Demiurge bowed low. "My gratitude truly cannot be expressed with mere words."
"Be at ease. You're the only one in Nazarick who can access its full potential, so it's only right that you be the one to hold it. Merely continue your good work, and I'm sure the Item will serve you well. Just remember." I gave him a stern look. "That is one World Item which must never fall into the hands of our foes. The damage it could cause to us is utterly unimaginable. Thus, if you ever believe yourself in a situation in which your options are death or surrender, I hereby order you to destroy that Item with your full power. Copies can be made, but you cannot give it up. Do you understand me?"
Demiurge nodded seriously. "Of course. I would gladly protect this Item with my life, but if it comes down to it, I will burn it with the Flames of Gehenna."
"Good man." I reached out to clap him on my shoulder. "Now… I shouldn't keep my Maidens waiting for much longer. Good luck dealing with Rubedo."
I stepped away and disappeared.
"Hey, Archer." I murmured into her hair, stroking her back. She was laying comfortably on my chest, her head resting in the crook of my neck. "How's your day been going?"
"Fine." She snuggled closer, pulling the sheets over us. "Better now that you're back."
"And you, Noa?"
She didn't respond, merely tightening her hold around my midsection. I took that as 'I missed you' rather than 'I'm angry at you'. I smiled, reaching out to run my fingers through her hair. "Sorry I left you two behind."
"It's fine." Archer mumbled. "We can exist without you, you know."
I blinked. "Was that the doorbell?"
"Nooo…" Noa mumbled. "I just got comfy."
I sighed. "It might be important."
"Then they would Message you." Archer countered, frowning. "They can wait until later. I want snuggles and romance now, you can answer the door at dinnertime."
I rolled my eyes, smiling faintly. "I'll tell you what. If you get up and let me answer the door, I'll take my shirt off for the rest of snuggle time."
Both girls blinked.
"Okay." Noa relinquished her hold, pulling away. "Deal."
Archer frowned at her. "Traitor."
"Muscles." Noa countered. "Ridged muscles that we can feel as much as we want."
"We can already do that."
"Point taken." Archer sighed, sliding off of me.
I smiled, leaning over to give them both a kiss. "Be back in a bit." I slipped out of bed, moving towards the door.
"Shirt." Noa's voice stopped me.
I blinked. "Pardon?"
"Take off your shirt." She repeated.
I deadpanned at her. "You want me to answer the door shirtless… why, exactly?"
"It's funny." She yawned, sliding out of bed. Surprisingly, she was actually wearing something decent. "And I want to see their reactions."
'Translation: she wants to send a message.' I shook my head in bemusement. "You could just ask them to Message ahead before coming next time."
"Not as fun." She stopped in front of me, reaching up to begin untying the [Nemean Lion's Pelt].
Archer sighed, reluctantly leaving the bed as well. She was dressed in a thin black nightdress, showing off impressive amounts of skin. "I'll go throw something in the oven, then, I suppose. It'll be ready in a few hours when we get up again."
"Not going to stop her?" I asked drily.
She shrugged, smirking. "I don't know… maybe I like the idea of seeing you walk shirtless through the house."
I rolled my eyes. "Fine. In that case, why stop there?" I reached into my Inventory, pulling out a leather biker jacket that made her eyes widen in recognition.
"Not that one."
I paused, lowering the jacket. "…Okay, any particular reason for that?"
"That jacket's special." She said firmly. "Put it back."
"…Alrighty then." I did so, hiding a smile.
Noa wrapped herself around my arm, yawning. "Let's go."
I nodded, strolling down the stairs. Archer followed behind, splitting off to walk towards the kitchen. I didn't have too much of an issue with the compromise I had struck, considering every NPC that came to mind would either have eyes only for Momonga or be used to my antics. Or be male, I suppose.
I stopped in front of the door, turning the handle just as they began to knock once more. "I hear you, I hear you." I said, bemused. "What is it?"
The dark-skinned Elf froze, eyes widening. Noa's grip tightened around my arm, even if her expression remained vacant.
Aura was dressed in her usual outfit, though a few militaristic touches had been added since I last saw her. She was still a head shorter than Noa and positively tiny compared to Archer, but she still had her own charm. I caught sight of a suitcase behind her and mentally raised an eyebrow.
Her mouth opened. Her mouth closed. A thin line of blood began to drip from her nostril. "U-um." She squeaked. "Hi."
From somewhere behind me, I heard Archer drop something. I tuned it out. "Hello, Aura. What brings you here this late at night?"
"Shirt." She blurted. "I mean, no shirt. I mean, you're not wearing a shirt."
"I somehow doubt that's why you're here." I deadpanned.
Her cheeks turned a deep red. "Oh. Um. Forget I said that. I'm here to guard your body. I mean, I'm your bodyguard. I mean—" She blinked. "Yeah. Bodyguard. Of you, not your body."
I took pity on the poor girl, letting her gather her wits. Noa silently observed, face blank as ever. Aura coughed, then tried again. "U-um, so, before Lady Albedo had me reassigned to be your bodyguard."
Well, okay then. Albedo certainly worked fast. Did she even give the girl an explanation of what her job would be?
…Well, I mean, I could ask, or I could give her a pop quiz.
"Am I incapable of protecting myself?" I asked tilting my head. "Because I'm fairly sure that I've survived literal war zones for longer than she's been alive. Why would I need a bodyguard?"
"Because. Um." She blinked, then deliberately stared at the ground. "Because Archer's in charge of guarding Noa… and you've been heading out a lot on your own?"
So she at least got the rundown before being sent in, even if it took her a moment to recall the details.
If only I had found the time to do the same with Noa, considering the look she was giving me. I met her eyes and did my best to send a silent message. She was a smart girl, she would figure it out.
We both knew I could oneshot monsters stronger than anything this world had to offer. We knew that. Albedo knew that. Aura knew that. Sure, Archer was assigned to protect Noa, but that was mainly to give her something to do. Any protection detail attached to me would be purely for show, considering I had no intentions of hibernating anytime soon and even in my sleep my Instincts can warn me of threats several kilometers away.
So she had to be here for a different purpose.
Noa nodded slowly, turning back to Aura. Even if she didn't know exactly why she was here, she would wait to ask. She gave the girl a small smile, eyes narrowing, and I winced.
That smile did not say 'welcoming'. It said that Aura looked hot as hell and was extremely easy to fluster—in other words, the perfect target for teasing.
"Come on in." Noa turned, tugging me along. "Archer-nee is in the kitchen."
"Not anymore." Archer's voice floated over, getting louder as she came into view. "What smells like… vanilla…" She trailed off as her gaze landed on Aura. "Oh my." Slowly, a feral smile crossed her face. "Oh, yes, come on in." Her tail twitched back and forth, gently brushing the ground.
"Down girl." I whispered, making her tail droop. Then, louder, "Archer. Glad you heard us, saves a bit of time. Did you make enough for four?"
She nodded, still looking Aura up and down. "Had a feeling I'd need to. Not sure how much she'll eat, though, so chances are we'll have leftovers. Bodyguard, she said?"
"Y-yes." Aura nodded once. "Personal guard. Lady Albedo's orders."
Archer glanced at me. I nodded once. I would fill them in later. "Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt. I'm sure she had a reason for her choice. We have plenty of spare bedrooms upstairs, we can get you all settled in before dinner."
Aura nodded, reaching out of view to pick up a black suitcase. "Thank you, ma'am."
"Don't ma'am me." Archer smiled. "You know what my name is. Dinner's in the oven, it should be ready in an hour or two. If you get hungry before then, there's plenty in the pantry. Just open the door next to the refrigerator while thinking of what you want and it should give it to you. Get comfortable before dinner, and after I can give you the house tour."
I raised an amused eyebrow. "You'll give her the house tour? Do you honestly know half of what the paintings are named?"
She coughed. "A-ah, I could Analyze them?"
"And the doors? What about those?"
She looked away. "…Okay, we'll give you the house tour."
Noa nodded, still latched on to my arm. "Everyone goes." She said, voice soft and toneless. "It's your home now, too."
Aura nodded shyly, smiling. "Thank you all. It means a lot to me."
"Just be careful." Archer called, already heading towards the stairs. "Ko has been known to be highly attractive to pure maidens, whether the dunce realizes it or not."
Aura hesitantly followed behind her, a second bag in tow. "O-okay."
"You'd be dense too if you spent most of your life on the battlefield." I grumbled dramatically.
I heard her curse and stumble from the second floor. Noa smirked faintly. "Evil."
"Chaotic good, technically." I said, grinning. "But honestly, I'm just in it for a good time."
"We should probably follow."
"Probably, yeah." I stepped forward, striking a regal pose. "Shall we depart, milady?"
Her lips curved into a tiny smile. "Yes."
We walked up the stairs, stopping short at the sight of a frustrated Archer with her arms crossed. Despite her irritation, I couldn't help but observe how her crossed arms emphasized her impressive bust—which, as it seemed by the clearly visible nipples, she had apparently not bothered to cover with a bra.
I noticed. Noa noticed. Aura noticed. Archer apparently didn't.
"So… when were you planning on telling me some of the rooms lead into the Void?"
I blinked, glancing at the open door. "Ah… some do that. That's what happens when they lose contact with what's supposed to be on the other side."
"Then shouldn't it lead into the wall?"
I shook my head. "All the rooms are kept in separately-stored pocket dimensions that exist just adjacent to the reality in which this mansion is stored. In the event of a siege, the doors disconnect. Blank walls are for people who don't have enemies." I paused. "…Also, that was supposed to be the supply closet. We may be out of toilet paper until I fix the link."
Noa raised a hand. "If I were to throw something into the Void—"
""No."" Archer and I said in unison. Archer frowned, taking over. "Yes, it would be fun for a few seconds, but then the things that live in the Void would decide to 'investigate'."
I sighed, giving Aura an apologetic look. "Sorry about the delay. Noa?"
She released my arm, yawning and wandering over to our room. "I'll be waiting."
Aura's cheeks turned bright red. I pretended not to notice, striding down the hall. Every door along the hallway looked slightly different, with the knob and hinges made of a slightly different substance. Our door was exquisitely carved with golden inlays of Dragons and Maidens, while the door I led Aura to was a solid slab of oak.
"This is our forest room." I told her, opening the door and mentally crossing my fingers. To my relief, the Item functioned perfectly, opening to reveal a room with genuine grass and a ceiling with glimmering stars on top. The bed was tangled in the branches of a large oak, which swayed in an artificial wind. "It's not much, but it should work just fine."
Archer blinked, staring. "…Ko?" She said calmly. "Do every one of these doors lead to something scientifically impossible?"
I shrugged. "Most of them, yeah. Had to fill the place with something. Sometimes I just open the doors to remind myself what's inside, helps me pass the time." I pointed down the hall, towards a door of burnished gold. "That one leads to Erebor, the fallen Dwarven Kingdom. Lots of gold and jewels in there, great for bathing in. Next one over has a world entirely made of water. Check them out sometime if you ever get curious, what's mine is yours."
"A-amazing…" Aura whispered.
Archer rubbed her eyes. "Ko, why did you even bother making all these?"
I shrugged. "Got bored one day. Made 'em all. Still looking for the room that's full of small fluffy animals, figure Noa would love the place."
"And the room full of gold and jewels?" Archer raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?"
I smirked. Even if I had only learned the information today, I was still well within my rights to lord it over my mate. "Archer, I'm a Dragon the size of a small country. What do you expect me to do, bathe myself like a fucking cat? Fill the pond with soap? Tear off all the dirty scales?"
Archer's mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. "You're saying that the reason Dragons bathe in gold… is because it's like a giant rock polisher?"
"Well, that and it gives my scales a lovely gold dusting." I said drily. "And if ever I want to run a stealth mission, I just need to take a lead bath. Boom, instantly black. Stealth incarnate."
"I am not asking about that one." Archer said shortly, taking me by the hand and beginning to tug me away. "Aura, feel free to settle in. We'll be in the next room over if you need anything."
"All the rooms are fully soundproofed, so don't worry about disturbing us." I added brightly, smiling. "See you in a bit!"
Her quiet squeak boded well for the days of teasing to come.
Yeah, so my muse kind of just packed its bags and moved to a different fandom for a while. I was ruled by plot bunnies, writing less to achieve something than just to get the creativity out of my system. It was crunch time, and people with low productivity were in danger. I didn't have seniority anymore, I left the company I worked at last time I went dark for several months. Then I was job hunting because, well, capitalism.
Well, whatever. I'm back now. I had the storyboard done months ago, I even wanted to post this chapter for Christmas. I just couldn't find it in me to finish the last few paragraphs and didn't think it would turn out well if I forced it. I'm glad I didn't. Originally I wrote Albedo in the room with Pandora, writing her out of the plot entirely. When I came back to this story with motivation restored, however, I found myself making her a significant part of this chapter.
In other news, as of this very moment this story is #1 in three of the five sorting categories of the Overlord fandom. Favorites, follows, and update date. The last one is temporary, but the others are not. We made it, people! (Woo-hoo!)
On another note, do people think I should cross-post this fic on other sites? I'm a bit of a normie in that I've stuck to only FFnet until this point, but if other sites are getting views, I might post this story there as well.
Either way. To all my friends across the globe, I wish you a wonderful day or a lovely evening, depending on where you are. I should have the next chap within another week, now that my muse is no longer on strike.
This is Mister Grin, signing off. Until next time!