“...I see. If we do them a favor… but will we be accepted, as demihumans? The Sorcerous Kingdom is a nation of humans, is it not?”
“No, it is not. The Sorcerous Kingdom is a nation ruled by one of the undead.”
Both the prince and the Zern surrounding him exclaimed as one.
“Are you telling us to go to such a dangerous place!?”
Every race harbored a strong hatred of the undead. Even Neia had been that way before she had come to understand the Sorcerer King. As she realized that the people before her were just like how she had been not too long ago, she was deeply moved.
“A moment please. The Sorcerous Kingdom might be ruled by one of the undead, but its great ruler is an open-minded and noble king, and I have personally witnessed humans coexisting peacefully with demihumans within the country.”
“You’re actually calling the undead great, I can’t believe humans are so--”
“--Be quiet. Neia-dono, I apologize if my subjects have given offense. However, is the Sorcerer King truly as great as you say he is?”
Neia held her chest high and replied thus to the prince’s question.
“... We cannot read the expressions of human beings. But I understand that someone as brave as you -- who has delved deep behind enemy lines in order to effect a daring rescue -- must be saying so with unshakable confidence.Then I shall not believe in the undead Sorcerer King. I shall believe in you, who believes in the Sorcerer King! Please relay that to him.”
“Ohhhh!” the Zerns cried out in joy.
“It seems we have reached a decision. In that case, I pray you will flee to the Sorcerous Kingdom with all due haste, my prince. Unfortunately, there is some very bad news, namely that one of Jaldabaoth’s trusted demons will be coming soon. I thought it would be a few more days before he arrived… but it will be bad if we are found. Alright, let’s go.”
As a species, the Zern were largely composed of females, with very few males. Pretty much only the king and the prince fell into the latter category. If a tribe’s males were wiped out -- although there were cases where females could change sex -- the tribe would be set on the path to extinction.
Therefore, the prince needed to flee to an absolutely safe place -- the Sorcerous Kingdom, which was why they had had the preceding discussion.
“Jaldabaoth’s trusted demon? He’s coming?”
There was a word the Zerns had said which she could not ignore.
“Mmm. Have you not seen him? He has three trusted demons by his side, and one of them is coming here.”
“...We need to defeat him here.”
As he heard CZ’s words, the prince -- who had been left on the ground -- suddenly sprang up.
“Are you insane!? You two must be quite strong to have been able to rescue me, but even then, you’ll never be able to defeat him!”
The label of “strong” only applied to CZ, but Neia could not find a chance to cut in and thus she could not clear things up.
“...They say he teleports between many cities… Him coming here is a rare opportunity. If you miss it, you won’t get another.”
“That is true…”
“Calm down and think about it. If we can kill one of Jaldabaoth’s aides, his chain of command will fall into chaos, and it will be harder for them to find us, who are not heading for the hills but for the Sorcerous Kingdom… then, is it possible to defeat him?”
“...Don’t know. But this is the only chance.”
“Then let’s take it. We’ll take a chance on the strength that let the two of you kill the Vah Un!” the Prince said. He had been quite shocked when he saw the demihuman’s corpse on the way back. “Listen well, all of you. From now on, we will help the two of them defeat the wicked Jaldabaoth’s minion!”
“There are two humans, and six of us. Until recently, the eight of us were mutual enemies, but now we are comrades in arms. Such is the stuff of which heroic sagas sing.”
Eh? Surprised, Neia rechecked the number of Zern present, and after seeing that she had not been mistaken, she hurriedly spoke up.
“Wait, please wait. You don’t need to get involved in this, my prince. After all, we came here to protect you!”
In addition, what could this prince do in combat? However kindly one wanted to interpret his intentions, he was still a gigantic maggot that crawled on the ground. Honestly, it would be less troublesome if he simply followed them like a VIP.
“I see, so to you, your mission is over since you have helped me escape. I see, I see. However, with my help, it should be easier to defeat Jaldabaoth’s henchman. No, I should say that without me, it will be very hard for you to defeat him, even if you are the heroes who defeated the Vah Un.”
CZ was the one who had defeated the Vah Un. Neia had nothing to do with it. Even so, the prince still counted her as a hero, which made her very embarrassed.
“So, do you mean that we can do it if we borrow the strength of the Zerns?”
The prince made a strange noise.
“No, no, great heroes. It’s not like that. I can cast spiritual spells of the fourth tier.”
“The fourth tier?”
Neia was surprised. The fourth tier of magic was a realm that only geniuses could barely reach after much hard work. In the Holy Kingdom, the only people who could cast such spells were the high priestess Kelart Custodio and the Holy Queen Calca Bessarez.
Neia glanced to the side, thinking CZ would be as surprised as herself, but CZ’s face was as blank as ever. That was a difficulty rating 150 maid demon for you -- such things did not even faze her..
“A...ah...are all the Zern as powerful as you?”
The prince made another strange sound, and thrashed like a caught fish.
“I am special.:
“Precisely. That’s why he is the prince.”
After hearing the Zern’s proud voice, Neia mused, I see, and recalled the contents of the classes she had once taken.
That’s right. The royalty of some species are so much more powerful than the commoners that they seem like a different species entirely...
“That said, I do have weaknesses… namely, I am very slow.”
Well that’s true too, Neia thought. That much was obvious at a glance.
“If someone approaches me, I’ll be killed without the chance to fight back. Therefore, may I trouble you to carry me? I can cast spells in response to signals.”
“I see. I understand what you wish. However, could the Zern -- that is to say, your royal guards -- not carry you as well?”
“Unlike our prince, we specialize in melee combat. And I believe the two of you fight at range?”
“That is true… hm. It would be better if CZ-san or I carried him… no, let’s leave that aside for now. It would be bad if we carried the prince over and he ended up dying.”
“...Neia. Carrying the prince is significant… That’s why he suggested going with us.”
“Fufufu. Indeed, it is. I say, do you know anything about him? That withered-tree demon who decorates himself with heads?”
“...There are several demons like that. SIlk Hats, Crowns, Circlets and Corollas.”
CZ counted the four types off on her fingers.
“...I believe that henchman demon must be one of them. But… if we encounter a Silk Hat, we ought to flee. Even I could not win against one.”
“So you knew!?”
Neia was surprised, and then that feeling was replaced by anger. When they had prepared for the mission, CZ had said that she did not know much about the henchman demons.
Was that not lying?
This was because if she was trying to keep information on Jaldabaoth’s army from the Holy Kingdom, it would mean that CZ had never been under the Sorcerer King’s control from the start. It also meant that CZ’s existence did not prove anything about the Sorcerer King’s safety,
“...I trusted you! And in the end you were lying to me from the start!”
Caught up in her emotions, Neia seized CZ by the shoulders. She used a lot of force, but the maid demon did not seem hurt. It was not because CZ had no emotions, but because that amount of strength was nothing to her.
The unbearable regret and resentment made Neia want to cry. She had thought that she had forged a bond with CZ, but in the end she had turned out to be nothing more than a laughingstock. Neia could not help mocking herself.
CZ’s face was as blank as ever. However, there was a subtle change there which only Neia could read.
It was distress, contemplation, or perhaps -- remorse.
CZ squeezed those words out after a long silence. It hardly qualified as an apology -- in fact, it only served to stoke the flames of her anger. But right now, CZ seemed strangely helpless, and seeing her like this helped Neia regain a bit of her composure.
Carefully, like she was doing something she had never tried before, CZ quietly continued.
“...If you knew how strong the henchman demon was, you and the others might have been afraid and not carried out the operation. But for the sake of Ainz-sama’s victory… we must win this battle. That was why I lied.”
Every word she said had been carefully considered before being put together into a heartfelt, agonized statement. But those words also contained a genuine and immovable faith.
Neia did not know how to see through her lies. Not to mention she was a demon -- no, even if she were not a demon, Neia would not be able to tell if a blank-faced girl like her was speaking the truth.
However, even if she were feeding information to Jaldabaoth as a spy, or trying to bring down the Holy Kingdom from the inside, CZ’s actions until now did not match up to those motivations. She ought to have acted more sensibly.
And more than anything else, Neia wanted to believe CZ. Part of that was because her existence was a signpost to the Sorcerer King, but also because the mysterious connection she had to CZ was irreplaceable to Neia.
“...Alright. I believe you. But please, don’t look down on me any more. I would gladly walk through oceans of fire and climb mountains of blades for His Majesty.”
CZ looked visibly relieved. As expected, she could not have been a spy. As for why, that was because she was clearly not suited for it. As she thought that, a natural, unforced smile came back to Neia’s face.
“Alright, alright, can we get back to the previous topic? If you know so much about them, can you tell us about that demon’s abilities?”
“These demons all possess the same abilities, but they are not very strong in their base forms. However, the problem arises when these demons are able to obtain the heads of intelligent creatures… particularly those of magic casters.”
According to CZ, demons of that type could equip themselves with the heads of magic casters and use the powers of the heads’ owners. Silk Hats could use four heads at once, Crowns could use three, Circlets could use two, and Corollas could use one. Their threat level rose exponentially if they managed to obtain the heads of exceptional magic casters.
“No matter how good a head a Corolla equips, it can only use up to third-tier spells. Silk Hats, on the other hand, can use up to tenth-tier spells--”
Both the prince and Neia interrupted CZ.
Neia and the prince exchanged looks. While Neia could not read the prince’s face, Neia was certain that he was thinking the same thing as her.
“Umu… er, did you say tenth-tier? Are fifth-tier spells not the highest tier of magic?”
It was as the prince said. Neia had heard that this was the limit of magic. The reason why she felt that the Sorcerer King could use sixth-tier spells also stemmed from that.
In response to the prince’s question, CZ shook her head as if to say “Haa, what will I do with you.”
“...The tenth-tier is the highest tier of magic. The spell that Jaldabaoth used to call down meteors from the sky also belongs to that tier.”
“How, how did he beat -- eh? Eh? No way! Don’t tell me, His Majesty, who stood with Jaldabaoth…”
As the shocking truth hit Neia, the prince was also shuddering in shock.
“The tenth tier? No. It can’t be, right? The tenth tier… Could it be true… And to think, I was so proud of myself and my fourth-tier…”
No, the fourth tier was already very powerful. He would have been justified in being arrogant. There were precious few magic casters who could reach that level.
“CZ… I’d like to check something, but… can His Majesty use spells of the tenth-tier... too?”
“...But of course.”
Why are you still saying this, CZ’s tone seemed to imply. She sounded like she was rolling her eyes. It might have been the first time that Neia had so clearly discerned CZ’s feelings.
The prince, who was also a magic caster, was twitching from the tremendous shock.
“Hah? Hah? So the king of the land to which we are fleeing -- the Sorcerer King -- is such a powerful undead being? Does mastery of the tenth tier mean he is over twice as powerful as me?”
“...Haaa.” CZ sighed deeply. “His Majesty.”
“...Call him His Majesty.”
“Ah, yes, yes. His Majesty is truly powerful…”
When one thought calmly about it, CZ had actually been quite brusque with the prince of an entire tribe, but since CZ was speaking about matters of fact, Neia tacitly acknowledged her actions as she expressed her agreement.”
“Indeed, Prince-sama. His Majesty is incredibly powerful!”
“...Prince. If you could find someone that powerful, he would be in your debt!”
“You, you’re absolutely right! Then we shall give your earlier proposal -- to search for His Majesty in the hills -- our fullest support!”
Neia clenched her fists in excitement.
“Thank you very much, Prince-sama. -- Now then, CZ, could you continue what you were saying just now?”
“...About how powerful Ainz-sama is?”
“We were talking about that henchman of Jaldabaoth. Ah, I’d like to hear about the Sorcerer King as well -- could you tell me more after we return safely?”
“...Hm. Multi-head demons with multiple equipped heads can use them all at once and cast multiple spells at a time, but there are several conditions. First, each head can only use two spells at once. In addition, there is a limit on how many tiers of spells which can be cast at once. For instance, Silk Hats can cast a maximum of 15 tiers of spells at once--”
“--15 tiers! Do spells go up to a maximum of 15 tiers!?”
“...They don’t go that high. The tiers of the spells added together can be up to 15.”
The prince writhed in relief at CZ’s answer.
The fact that Neia could surmise a bit of how the prince felt through his actions began to frighten her.
“...Moving on. The important thing is how many heads that demon can equip at once.”
“Two. One is a demihuman head, and the other is the head of a human like yourselves.”
Neia had a bad feeling about this. Jaldabaoth had been holding a human body back then. Had its upper half not been missing?”
“What was that human head like, prince-sama?”
“Unfortunately, I cannot tell apart individuals of species other than my own. Ah, I do know about the other head. It belonged to the queen of the Pandecks, known as the Grand Mother.”
Neia wanted to ask more about the Pandecks and the Grand Mother, but Neia had more pressing things she needed to learn.
“I’d like to ask about the human. What color was her hair?”
“By hair do you mean the fur on the head? It was light black.”
“Black? So it doesn’t belong to someone from the Holy Kingdom?”
Neia’s heart was somewhat at ease. For a moment, she had wondered if the head belonged to the Holy Queen. Now that her guess had been proven wrong, she felt a sense of profound relief. At the same time, Neia noted that this might be a hint to another riddle.
She had heard that humans from the south generally had black hair. So that’s it, Neia thought. Had Jaldabaoth come from there, she wondered.
To the Holy Kingdom, the south was not a land ruled by humans. Less than half the population was human, and many of those had the blood of other species, and that number was steadily increasing. According to what Neia knew, only the Holy Kingdom, the Empire and the Kingdom were ruled by human royalty. The City-State Alliance and the Theocracy did not have royal families.
So that was why no news about Jaldabaoth had reached these human-dominated countries.
“...Incidentally, multi-head demons cannot use the abilities of heads which do not belong to magic casters. They do not gain the abilities of warriors by equipping a warrior’s head. That is because there are other demons with those abilities.”
“In that case, the demihuman’s head… Prince-sama. Can you tell us a bit about that Grand Mother?”
“Alright. That is why I want to fight with you. The Pandecks are a species that feed on moss, and they look like us.
In other words, they looked like maggots.
Neia felt a twinge of revulsion at the thought of a demon that adorned itself with the head of maggots.
“...Was the Grand Mother also a spiritual magic caster?”
“Indeed. I use the Yin principle of the Five Elements, but the Grand Mother was the opposite; she used the Yang principle of the Five Elements. Yin and Yang are two extremes, and spells of one can resist or hamper spells of the other.”
“...I see,” CZ nodded. “Letting him come with us would improve our chances.”
“Mm. I am glad that you understand. Personally, I am very unhappy that a demon is using the head of the Grand Mother. Indeed. She was my first love, after all.”
“What are you saying! How could you fall for a female of another species!”
“Ahhh! That was a childish crush! It’s different now!”
While it sounded like a saccharine-sweet topic, all she felt about a maggot’s first love was utter disgust.
“In, in that case, assuming our enemy is a Circlet who can equip two heads at once, how many total spell tiers can it cast at one time?”
“...A maximum of six tiers. Incidentally, Crowns can cast a maximum of ten tiers.”
“Then if I use fourth-tier spells, it will only be able to cast spells of the second tier. Of course, that is simply nullifying that bastard, so we need to put more effort into it…”
“...Next is that human head. We know too little about it. Neia?”
“I’m sorry. I regret to say I do not know the black-haired person. Still, I’m quite surprised. I thought that you would just wade right into the fight, since you’re CZ.”
“...Ainz-sama said collecting information is very important.”
“Ahh, as expected of His Majesty. What an excellent notion!”
As Neia said this, CZ reached a hand out to her, and Neia immediately grabbed it and shook.
“...Good girl. If you were cuter, I’d put a sticker on you. Maybe a furry one.”
“...A sticker? Ah, you put one on me already, so I don’t need another. Please paste it on someone else you like.”
“...Mm. You’re the first person to dislike my stickers.”
Neia exclaimed in surprise as CZ said that she was her first. After that, she immediately realized that perhaps she -- as a demon -- had not had many dealings with humans. No, it was possible that others might have despised her in their hearts but had not dared to voice it, due to their fear of her as a demon. While she wanted to poke fun at her for it, Neia could not do anything like spoil the fun of someone who was loyal to the same supreme being as her. Thus, Neia simply let it pass with a bitter smile.
“...Indeed, humans do not have fur like we Zerns. That is why they live in houses like these. Why not dig holes like we do?”
“Prince, we’re straying off-topic. We don’t have much time -- we need to deal with this before the humans attack this city.”
“...Mm. In conclusion, the prince will be going too.”
Nobody spoke up against it. Or rather, Neia had been the only one to voice her opposition to it.
“Regarding our tactics, we will handle the frontline, but what should we do if there are guards who block us? Allowing a spellcasting opponent to move freely is very dangerous.”
“...I’ll engage it in close quarters combat.”
Nobody asked if she could do it. She was one of the team which could defeat the guardian Vah Un -- although that was all CZ’s work -- or so everyone said. Nobody doubted CZ’s abilities.
“Alright. Then let’s move. Before approaching the henchman, place us in the barrels and move us in. If you tell them you’re bringing food to the henchman demon on his orders, you’ll be able to get close to him.”
By “us”, the prince was referring to himself, Neia and CZ. As long as the three of them remained undetected, they could continue maintaining their deception -- the Zern betrayal had not been detected. This was a tactic that could only be put into effect now.
Once again, CZ and Neia hid inside the barrels they had used to enter the city.
“CZ-san. We’re really lucky.”
CZ poked her head out of the barrel.
“...Why is that?”
“Look. Everything’s going well for us. Thanks to the Zern’s betrayal, we managed to save the prince, and even Jaldabaoth’s henchman is here. If we defeat him, we’ll have achieved a great accomplishment. That way, nobody will be able to speak ill of us any more. We’ll also be able to easily assemble a rescue party to find His Majesty.”
“It was all coincidence.”
Neia was defeated by CZ’s somewhat harsh tone.
“Eh? Ah, is, is that wrong? We’re lucky because it was a coincidence… well, we were this successful because His Majesty made you his woman, so I guess in that sense, it’s not really a coincidence.”
“Ah, maybe woman wasn’t the right word, huh?”
“...I don’t mind. Neia.”
“...I like you very much. You’re not cute, but I don’t mind giving you another sticker.”
It hurt a little to be called “not cute” over and over again, and as she thought this, Neia said, “never mind” and ducked back into her barrel.
While Neia, CZ and the prince were being moved in their barrels, the Zerns were stopped by other demihumans several times, but none of the barrels were opened and searched. In this way, the three of them reached the vicinity of the henchman demon’s office.
The three of them emerged from the barrels.
They had peeked outside from within the barrels, but security had not grown tight. It would seem the prince’s rescue had not yet been exposed.
Neia slung the prince onto her back, and while she secured him with a rope, one of the Zern went ahead to seek an audience with the henchman demon. This was a form of reconnaissance.
Once everyone had finished their preparations to barge in, the Zern returned.
“He’s alone, no guards.”
Now that Jaldabaoth had been hurt so badly, was he -- as one of only three henchman demons -- not going to strengthen his defences? Or had he relaxed now that the Sorcerer King was dead?
As all kinds of questions swirled around in her head, the only thing that mattered was the prince’s summation.
“That means it’s the perfect opportunity to kill him. Let’s go.”
In accordance with the prince’s words, they all moved into action.
Once one of the Zerns opened the door, Neia -- who stood at the head of the group -- could clearly see what was inside the room.
The expansive office had a ceiling that was a full five meters tall, and it was very spacious. Due to its many superior furnishings, it gave off the impression of a stereotypical luxury suite.
There was a hideous monster in front of a black, solid-looking table, and it spoke.
He seemed to be saying something to them. However, they were not here to talk.
The prince immediately cast a spell from Neia’s back.
“[Yin - Five Elements - Grand Fireball].”
A feeble-looking flame flew past Neia like it had been thrown into the room. She had heard along the way here that it was a fourth-tier attack spell that was named for its attack power. It was typically the first thing into a room because it would explode upon making contact with anything. However --
“[Yang - Five Elements - Grand Fireball].”
The flame vanished halfway, like it had been snuffed out by the wind.
“I knew it…” the prince muttered hatefully.
He did not cast again. That spell had been an experiment. While he had planned to press the attack if it had not been negated, unfortunately that had not been the case. Even if he did not intend to waste mana, he ought to cast spells in accordance with their attacks.
“...Is that the Zern prince on the human’s back? It doesn’t look like the humans captured him and brought him here… Kuhahaha. It’s treason, then? Interesting.”
The great demon looked like it had come from a nightmare as it slowly got to its feet, like a mockery of a human being.
It was completely naked, so its arms -- that reached down to its knees -- and its legs and its skin-and-bones body were completely exposed.
Its body resembled withered wood, so slender and fragile that even Neia felt that she could break it.
That withered-wood body did not have a head. There was nothing but a straight line extending from shoulder to shoulder. No, there was a slender -- thinner than a woman’s wrist -- branch protruding from its neck region. There were two fruits on it. Those must have been the so-called heads of this great demon.
Neia could not help squeaking like that. Such was her shock that it was the only sound she could make at first.
Like CZ said, this was the special characteristics of circlets -- two heads.
One of them belonged to a monstrous-looking maggot. It looked very much like the prince, and given the impression of what she had heard, it was probably the Grand Mother. The problem was the other head.
It belonged to a woman, her eyes rolled up into her head and her mouth gaping open like a fish. Her complexion was bad, but the head did not look like it had rotted or was otherwise damaged, and her blonde hair was even gleaming. She could see bright red flesh at the plane where the head had been severed from the body, and it looked moist enough to bleed. While the fact that the head looked like it had been freshly-removed was quite mysterious, that was how she could immediately tell who it belonged to.
While she had only seen her from afar, there was no way she could have mistaken her for anyone else. She was the highest-ranking priest of the Holy Kingdom.
Confusion and doubt swirled within Neia.
What was going on? Had the Zern lied? Did they think Neia and CZ would consider fleeing if they knew it was Kelart?”
“I see, I see, I see. Oh Zern, does this mean you no longer care what happens to your king and the people in that land. I’ll give you a last chance. If you seize these people, I can let you off with a mild punishment, you know?”
Those fruits -- like grotesque heads -- did not move. Neither did those white eyeballs. They seemed like nothing more than decorations. In that case, where had that voice come from?
The prince paid no heed to Neia’s question and castigated the great demon.
His Zern underlings immediately moved into position to attack at any time.
“Hmph! What else is there to say at this point? Who’d believe you after you killed the king!?”
“The king? Is that so…”
Neia heard what seemed to be surprise in that voice. Reading that was difficult because this demon did not have a head of its own and its expression did not change. After all, it was difficult to read one’s opponent’s face to see if one’s attack had been effective. In that respect, Zerns were also troublesome opponents for humans.
“My duty is this place, that is outside of my jurisdiction… I see, so it was killed? That was because your king was too much of a fool.”
“My, my my. Dear traitors, don’t tell me you came merely to speak? You came here because you thought you could defeat me, no? In that case -- what is your trump card? That human?”
A finger tipped with a claw that should have been over 60 centimeters long extended from its hand and pointed at Neia.”
“As if I’d tell you!”
The great demon calmly responded to the prince’s outburst:
“You don’t have to. Shadow Demon.”
The great demon’s shadow stretched out in a sliding motion.
It swelled up, going from a flat plane to three-dimensional. It looked like the commonly spoken image of a demon, but dyed completely black. And there were two of them.
That was probably why it did not have demihuman guards.
“Kill all the Zern other than the prince. I will seize the prince… Human, if you betray them, I can spare the people in the camps who are valuable to you, up to the number of fingers on two hands.
The great demon made the same proposal CZ had expected it to.
As Neia filled with respect for CZ’s knowing eye, she decided to answer its question in order to make it careless.
After she carefully ventured her reply, she could hear joy in the demon’s voice.
“What are you saying!? Are you betraying us!?”
The prince shouted from Neia’s back, and so the great demon’s attention was completely focused on Neia.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up. I’m talking to her… I will keep my promise. Tell me how many people you want to protect and help. If the fingers on two hands are not enough, we can continue discussions--”
The defenseless demon -- who seemed to have forgotten the meaning of caution, was full of openings.
The ace up their sleeve (CZ) would not miss that. She leapt out of the shadow of the door and raised her spell gun.
The muzzle spat fire, and the great demon grabbed its shoulder and stumbled back.
CZ had been waiting alone outside the room for the right timing to launch this surprise attack, and it was signalled the start of the hostilities.
The negotiations which had been intended to manipulate their opponent into carelessness were now over. The Zern royal guards sprang at the Shadow Demons. CZ rushed into the room with fearsome speed, slipping past the the frontliners of both sides with lightning-fast footwork, and closed in on the great demon.
“What! The Sorcerer--”
“...No need to explain.”
CZ hacked with her dagger, and the great demon parried with its claws.
While she knew that there was little time once the battle started, Neia vented her unhappiness on the prince behind her.
“What do you mean, black hair! Isn’t her hair blonde!?”
“Blonde? How is that blonde! It’s light black, isn’t it?”
He did not sound like he was lying. Could it be -- Zerns perceived colors differently from human beings?
Neia had once heard that certain species with darkvision could not tell colors apart, only black and white. There were also some who could not discern colors without light.
The light in the larder was probably so those species could see what color their food was.
“I”ll tell you later! [Yin - Five Elements - Lightning Claw]!”
“Tch! [Yang - Five Elements - Lightning Claw]!”
A stroke of electricity hurtled through the air like the swipe of a beast’s talons, but it fizzled out halfway through.
While there were spells like [Five Elements - Soften Steel] which decreased defensive strength and spells like [Five Elements - Harden Steel] which increased attack power, as well as summoning spells like [Five Elements - Call The Lightning Lord], the opposition might not negate those and instead cast a high-tier spell on them.
In order to avoid that, the prince simply cast attack spells, which the enemy could not ignore. In addition, he focused on using electricity-element spells, which the enemy should not have been able to resist, and then he used a special ability called Wood Element strengthening. While the demon’s elementalism should have been able to protect against it, the prince’s strengthened spell could not be fully negated, and so it began to take minor damage.
While the original Grand Mother could have used strengthening techniques just like the prince had, she was now nothing more than an accessory for the great demon. The demon did not possess strengthening techniques of his own and was thus put on the back foot by the power of the prince’s spellcasting.
Since CZ was taking the role of frontliner, Neia had to do her job as the rear guard. She could not simply serve as transportation for the prince in the face of such a mighty foe. She loosed an arrow from the Ultimate Shootingstar Super which she held.
While her shot against the main body was highly accurate, the great demon easily batted it away with his hand.
“Out of my way. [Shock Wave].”
Kelart’s face -- her lips moved, and she cast a second-tier attack spell at CZ. While CZ’s body lifted off the ground from an impact that was invisible to the human eye, she did not seem to have taken any damage which could have hampered her movements. Neia had expected nothing less of a difficulty rating 150 maid demon.
“[Yin - Five Elements - Lightning Claw]”
“[Yang - Five Elements - Lightning Claw]”
They cast the same spells at each other again, and a feeble current of electricity surged past the demon’s body.
That counterattack was a spell that would worsen any wounds. Naturally, it was targeted at CZ, who was being attacked by the demon’s claws.
All she could see was CZ’s back. However, her dexterity did not seem to have decreased.
Sweat ran down Neia’s back.
She was the only one who could heal. Therefore, she was naturally the healer. However, while she could tell how badly she was hurt, she lacked the combat experience to tell how severe others’ wounds were. In particular, people like CZ who were not particularly expressive might exceed their limits and collapse before she realized something was wrong with them. Therefore, she had to be more mindful of CZ and the prince. It was just like doing one thing with her right hand while doing another with her left, and she was so busy that she began to get confused.
Still, she had to do this.
The prince kept casting attack spells, while CZ took minor damage as she swung at the demon with her knife. Both of them were perfectly completing their tasks, and she could not simply give up and say that she was the only one who could not do this.
Neia judged that CZ had been badly hurt, so she activated the item the Sorcerer King had lent her and cast a third-tier healing spell on CZ.
Neia’s instincts told her that the attention of the faceless demon was on her.
The great demon’s words implied that it knew the identity of the healer -- who ought to be destroyed first. In fact, the great demon still had enough strength to cast an attack spell on Neia after negating the prince’s spell.
An invisible pulse of force rushed at her like a warhammer swung at full power.
She could hear sickening cracks from inside her body, and she writhed in agony from the pain which coursed through her.
It hurt more than the spell the Vah Un had used on her. She could not believe CZ had taken an attack like this with such nonchalance. She now knew why Kelart Custodio had been hailed as a genius. It was because of that powerful hit.
Even though she grit her teeth, Neia could not prevent a choked cry of pain from escaping her.
“Are you alright!?”
“I, I’m fine!”
Neia answered the prince, who was worried for her.
“I’ll call all the Zern--”
“--No. I’ll protect Neia.”
CZ spread her arms, standing like she was shielding Neia.
The great demon was huge, and he made CZ look tiny. Therefore, he must be able to see Neia without any impediment. However, Neia was very happy inside.
The demon cried out in a hoarse voice. It would seem CZ had done something to him, which had had an effect.
Did she use a special ability? Or maybe a spell?
She was not sure what exactly had happened, but Neia sensed the great demon’s murderous intent weakening. Of course, she was probably imagining things. After all, there was no reason why this great demon should want to kill her any less right now.”
If there was another attack like the last one, another spell as powerful as the last one, she ought to be able to bear it. No, she wanted to bear it.
She had recovered the mana she had lost during the battle with the Vah Un, but the number of times she could use [Heavy Recover] was still unknown, so it was best to save up uses as much as possible. However, if she wanted to tread the line of requiring healing, it would also mean that if she messed up, she would go beyond her limits. It was very difficult to determine the right time to heal.
“And she’s wielding the bow that Ainz-sama lent her!”
Her voice sounded very loud for CZ. She was probably raising her volume to better praise the Sorcerer King. This was a life and death battle, but she could not bring herself to mention it. After all, this was an action taken by CZ, the strongest person on their side, and one who was surrounded in an aura of veterancy. She might have a plan in mind.
“What!? You mean, by the Sorcerer King!?”
There was surprise in the henchman demon’s voice.That was the Sorcerer King for you. He must have heard from Jaldabaoth that he was an opponent to be wary of.
“Yes! It’s a Runecraft™ bow!”
Having heard something she could not overlook, Neia warned CZ.
“CZ! Don’t tell him about us!”
“What! So it was a weapon made with the ancient, lost art of Runecraft™! A weapon like that might even be able to kill me!”
Why was he explaining that in such detail? As Neia thought that, she immediately felt ashamed. Right now, she was fighting with an incredibly powerful adversary with her life on the line. A weakling like herself did not have the luxury of contemplating such matters.
“So it was Runecraft™! Amazing!”
The henchman demon kept on speaking in a very guarded tone. Perhaps it was doing so to distract Neia. In fact.
The prince’s surprised voice came from behind her. That was why Neia had to speak.
“No! This is not such a weapon!”
As Neia shouted, she sensed CZ and the henchman demon freeze for an instant. That must have been it. When two opponents were evenly matched, all they could do was stare at each other without being able to make a move. That must have been it.
Neia shouted without regard for anything else, and the henchman demon grunted under his breath.
“Is that so… then next, I’ll… [Blindness].”
The spell that came out of nowhere blackened Neia’s vision. He must have done so to render the healer powerless.
The item Neia had borrowed only allowed her to use [Heavy Recover], and not spells that could heal her blindness.
A priest or a divine magic caster could have cured that easily. Unfortunately, there was nobody like that here.
She did not know how long the darkness would last, but if she wanted to heal CZ, she would have to get within touching range of her.
“I can’t see!” It was very important to tell her comrades what had happened to her. “CZ! If you’re hurt, you need to tell me!”
“Sorry, I don’t know spells that can heal this condition of yours!”
“Don’t worry about it!”
After responding to the apology from behind her, Neia pulled her bowstring taut. She ought to be able to hit her target from memory alone. This was the fruit of the experience she had gained from fighting the Vah Un and many large-sized adversaries. The bowstring twanged.
She heard the henchman demon wail in pain.
“You did it! It tried to dodge, but it had the opposite effect! Nicely done!”
After hearing the prince’s explanation, Neia realised how lucky she had been and prayed to the Sorcerer King.
“...Keep shooting like this.”
Although the sound of the Zerns fighting the Shadow Demons around her made it very hard to tell what was going on, Neia focused on CZ’s wounds and the henchman demon’s location and kept shooting at the latter.
Perhaps it was because he had been hurt and realised that he would lose if he did not defeat CZ first, but the henchman demon focused all its attacks on CZ. In addition, it kept casting [Blindness] spells on her, trying to disable her like it had Neia, but she resisted all of them, so they had no effect.
In that case, all she had to do was keep pressing it.
Just as the prince’s mana was about to run out, victory came to them like a matter of course. The prince’s cries of joy were even a little annoying.
The Zerns fighting around them had taken losses, but they had emerged victorious.
However -- the spell on Neia had not yet expired. She still could not see anything. Still, it was not a permanent spell. In all likelihood, it would wear off after some time had passed, and the only reason why it had lasted this long was because Kelart Custodio was very powerful.
While she could not see anything, she could sense the presence of the Zerns approaching her.
“My prince! I’m glad you’re alright.”
“Ahh… please consume Grand Mother-dono’s remains with all due respect.”
So you’re eating it, Neia thought.
And with all due respect. Since they had said as much, all she could do was accept it as a unique tradition of their species.
“Neia. What should we do with the human’s head? Shall we eat it too?”
“No, please don’t. We humans don’t have such burial practices. We will return it to the city with all due respect.”
“I see… human burials are quite strange. No, surely you must think the same of ours as well. This is probably what they call a culture clash. Also, I am deeply grateful to you. If it was only us, we could never have--”
“--Wait. There’s no time to keep talking. Let’s move.”
She could hear a disturbance in the distance. It would seem the Liberation Army had finally made contact with the Demihuman Alliance. Either that, or soldiers had heard the sound of the battle just now and come here to see what was going on. Whichever one it was, they could not stay here for long.
“That’s right, CZ-san. Then, please help the Liberation Army attack Kalinsha as we arranged.”
“Umu, I understand. You lot!”
“Yes! We shall move right away. Will you and the humans be entering the barrels, my prince? We will carry you outside the city.”
While she could not tell because she could not see, she could sense CZ hesitating. The reason for that was obvious -- she hated the barrels. Neia felt the same way.
“...We’ll help too.”
“Mm. Once I recover from my blindness, I’ll help too.”
The prince was thrashing on her back like a caught fish. He was jumping for joy. Neia was a little depressed by how well she had adapted to the situation.
“If our allies are setting out, then let us go as well. Of course, my mana has ben depleted so I cannot cast any big spells, so I shall cast strengthening spells on you instead.”
“Be silent. Do you intend me to be a male who sends his allies to their deaths.”
“...That ought to be enough. Let’s go.”
CZ urged them on. She seemed eager to get away from the barrel.
“Then I shall send you to where our colleagues are gathered. Please get in.”