For twelve years, the virtual world of Yggdrasil has served as the playground and battlefield for the skeletal lord Momonga and his guild of fellow monsters, Ainz Ooal Gown. But the guild's glory days are over, and the game is shutting down permanently. When Momonga logs in one last time just to be there when the servers go dark, something happens-and suddenly, fantasy is reality. A rogues' gallery of fanatically devoted NPCs is ready to obey his every order, but the world Momonga now inhabits is not the one he remembers. The game may be over, but the epic tale of Ainz Ooal Gown is only beginning...
In the year 2138, there exists something called a “DMMO-RPG.”
This stands for “Dive Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.” While connected via an intracranial nanocomputer network called a “neuro-nano interface,” which combines the best of cyber- and nanotechnology, players experience physical sensations as if they were really inhabiting an imaginary world.
In other words, you play as if you’re actually in the world of the game.
And among all the various DMMO-RPGs that had been developed, one stood above the rest.
It had been released twelve years earlier, in 2126, by a Japanese developer who had been waiting for just the right moment.
Compared to other DMMO-RPGs at the time, Yggdrasil gave players an incredible amount of freedom.
For example, consider the class system, a fundamental element of character customization. Counting the advanced classes as well as the base ones, there were well over two thousand. Since each class had only 15 levels, players could have seven or more classes by the time they hit the overall level cap of 100. As long as they met the basic requirements, they could dabble as they pleased. Though it would be inefficient, a player could acquire one hundred classes at level 1 if they wanted to. In other words, the system was such that, unless they were deliberately created that way, no two characters would ever be the same.
Then, by using the creator’s tool kit—sold separately—players could edit the appearance of their weapons and armor, as well as the advanced settings of their in-game residences.
The environment awaiting players who ventured into this world was enormous. In fact, there were nine worlds: Asgard, Alfheim, Vanaheim, Nidavellir, Midgard, Jotunheim, Niflheim, Helheim, and Muspelheim.
A vast world, a staggering number of classes, and graphics that could be tweaked to one’s heart’s content—it was precisely the amount of customization that poured nitroglycerin onto the Japanese creative spirit and led to the game’s explosive popularity. It got to the point where in Japan the word DMMO-RPG was practically synonymous with Yggdrasil.
But that was all in the past now…
In the center of the room, a gigantic circular table shone with an obsidian gleam. Around it were forty-one magnificent seats.
Most of them, however, were empty.
Once, all the seats had been filled, but now only two figures remained.
One wore an extravagant raven-black academic robe with purple and gold trim. The collar was perhaps a bit overembellished, but strangely, it suited the wearer.
The bare head of the figure in question had neither skin nor flesh—just bone. Reddish-black flames burned in his gaping eye sockets, and something like a black halo shone behind him.
The other one wasn’t human, either. More of an amorphous black blob, almost like coal tar. His constantly shifting surface meant that he had no fixed shape.
The former was an elder lich—an undead being that was what remained of a caster who had pursued magic ability to its extreme—and the most elite type: an overlord. The latter was an elder black ooze, which was a slime race that had some of the most powerful acid abilities in the game.
Both races occasionally appeared as monsters in the most difficult dungeons. The various types of overlords used the highest-level evil magic while the elder black ooze had the ability to corrode weapons and armor, so both were famously hated.
But these two weren’t monsters.
They were players.
The races players could choose from in Yggdrasil were split into three main categories: basic humanoid races (humans, dwarves, elves, and so on); subhuman races, who weren’t pretty but performed better than humanoids (goblins, orcs, ogres, etc.); and grotesques, who had monster powers and got more ability points than other races but were penalized in other ways. Including all the elite races, there was a total of seven hundred at the users’ disposal.
Naturally, overlords and elder black oozes were two of the elite grotesque races that players could become.
The overlord spoke without moving his mouth. Even for what had once been the pinnacle of DMMO-RPGs, it had still been impossible to animate expressions to align with conversation.
“It’s been a really long time, HeroHero. Even though it’s the last day Yggdrasil’s servers are open, I didn’t think you would actually come.”
“For real—long time no see, Momonga,” another adult male voice answered, but compared to the first, it sounded pretty lifeless.
“It’s been since you changed jobs IRL, so…how long ago was that? Two years?”
“Mm, yeah, about that. Geez, it’s been that long.…Damn. My sense of time is messed up from working so much overtime.”
“Sounds rough. Are you doing okay?”
“My health? It’s pretty much in tatters. Not doctor-visit level, but pretty close. Ugh. I really wanna just run away from it all. But I gotta eat, so I’m working my ass off and getting whipped like a slave.”
“Yikes…” The overlord Momonga leaned back to exaggerate his wince—this conversation was kind of killing the mood.
“It’s seriously awful.”
Momonga was already put off, but HeroHero’s follow-up sounded exactly as awful as he said things were.
Their gripes about their jobs in reality gathered steam: how their subordinates had no communication skills, how the spec documents were liable to change from one day to the next, how their bosses would grill them if they didn’t meet their quotas, how they could barely ever go home because there was too much work, their abnormal weight gain caused by the crazy hours they kept, the increasing number of pills they took.
At some point, it was like a dam broke inside HeroHero, and Momonga shifted to a listening role as the complaints flooded out.
Talking about one’s real life in a fantasy world was frowned on by many. “Please keep your reality out of my daydream” was certainly an understandable sentiment, but these two didn’t feel that way.
There were two requirements that all the members of their guild, Ainz Ooal Gown, had to meet. One was that members had to be working adults, and the other was that they had to play grotesques.
Since that’s the type of guild it was, real-life work woes were a common topic of discussion, which was fine with the members. The conversation these two were having was an everyday occurrence in Ainz Ooal Gown.
Enough time had passed that Hero Hero’s muddy flood of grievances had calmed to a clear stream. “Sorry, I don’t mean to just whine. But I can’t really talk about this stuff IRL, you know?” A part of him that must have been his head wiggled.
Momonga took it as a bow of apology and said, “Don’t worry about it, HeroHero. You accepted my invitation to come tonight even though you’re exhausted, so listening to some complaints is the least I can do—I’ll take as many as you’ve got.”
HeroHero seemed a bit livelier than before and gave a weak chuckle. “Really, though, thank you, Momonga. I’m glad I was able to log in today and see you after so long.”
“It makes me glad to hear you say that!”
“But I should probably get going soon…” Hero Hero’s tentacles began moving in midair. He’d opened his menu. “Yeah, it’s getting late. Sorry, Momonga…”
Momonga paused for a breath so as not to betray his emotions. “Ah, that’s too bad. Time really does fly when you’re having fun…”
“I really wanted to stay till the end, but I’m just too tired…”
“Yeah, I can imagine. Log out and rest up.”
“I’m really sorry… Momonga—err, no—Guild Master, what are your plans?”
“I’ll think I’ll hang around until the forced log out when the servers shut down. There’s still some time left, so there’s a chance someone else might show up.”
“I see… Honestly, I was surprised this place still even existed!”
Times like this, Momonga was truly grateful that their expressions were fixed. Otherwise, his grimace would have been immediately apparent. In any case, his emotions would have been evident in his voice, so he had to keep his mouth shut to suppress them.
Hearing something like that from a guildmate after having worked so hard to maintain their base precisely because it was a place they had all built together elicited feelings in Momonga too mixed to explain. But those feelings vanished when he heard what HeroHero said next.
“As the guild master, you kept it going so we could come back anytime, didn’t you? I really appreciate that.”
“Well, we all built it together, you know? Making sure members can come back anytime is the guild master’s job!”
“I think having you as our guild master was what made this game so fun for us. I hope to see you again…in Yggdrasil II!”
“I haven’t heard any rumors about a sequel…but yeah, I hope so, too.”
“If it happens, let’s definitely play together! Anyhow, I’m falling asleep here, so I’m gonna log off. I’m glad I got to see you at the end like this. It’s been great playing with you.”
“…” Momonga choked up for just a moment. Then he managed his final good-bye. “I’m glad I got to see you, too. Nice playing with you.”
Ba-ding! A smiley emoticon appeared over HeroHero’s head. In Yggdrasil, expressions didn’t change, so players used emoticons when they wanted to convey emotions.
Momonga opened his menu and picked the same emoticon.
HeroHero got the last word in. “See you again somewhere.”
With that, the last of the three other guild members who had made the farewell gathering disappeared.
Silence returned to the room, a silence so deep it was hard to imagine anyone had been there. No echoes, no vestiges of anyone’s presence.
Looking at the chair where HeroHero had been sitting until a moment before, Momonga murmured the words he’d suppressed. “I know you’re tired, but it’s the last day—the servers are shutting down. Won’t you stay until the end?”
Of course, there was no reply. HeroHero was already back in the real world.
Momonga heaved a sigh from the bottom of his heart.
There was no way he could have said that.
It had been evident from their short conversation and the tone of HeroHero’s voice how extremely tired he’d been. A guy that exhausted had read the e-mail Momonga had sent and came out for the last day. That was more than enough to be thankful for. Any further requests would have overstepped the bounds of nostalgia and just made Momonga into a nuisance.
Momonga stared at HeroHero’s empty chair and then shifted his gaze. There were thirty-nine other chairs. The places where his guildmates used to sit. He looked around at all of them before coming back to HeroHero’s seat.
“‘See you again somewhere’…?”
See you again sometime.
See you later.
He’d heard those words many times. But they almost never came true. Nobody ever returned to Yggdrasil.
“Where and when exactly are we going to meet, huh?” Momonga’s shoulders shuddered violently, and the true feelings that had been building up all this time suddenly gushed out. “Don’t fuck with me!” he roared, pounding the table with both fists.
The game’s system registered his motion as an attack and began computing countless parameters, such as his unarmed attack strength and the table’s defense stats. The result appeared above the place where his hands had struck: “0.”
“This is the Great Tomb of Nazarick! We built it together! How can you all abandon it so easily?” After the intense anger came loneliness. “No…I know that’s not right. I know it wasn’t easy at all. They were just forced to choose between reality and a daydream. It’s not something they could help. No one betrayed us at all. It was a hard decision for everybody…,” Momonga muttered to himself as he stood up. In the direction he faced, a staff hung on the wall.
It was based on the god Hermes’s staff, caduceus, and consisted of seven intertwined snakes. Each writhing snake held a different-colored jewel in its mouth. The grip was made of a transparent crystalline material that gave off a pale glow. Anyone who saw it would know it was a top-tier item—it was a Guild Weapon, so named because each guild could have only one. This staff was the symbol of Ainz Ooal Gown.
It was meant to be wielded by the guild master, so why was it on display here?
Precisely because it was the symbol of the guild.
If the Guild Weapon were destroyed, it would mean the collapse of the guild. So, in most cases, a Guild Weapon was stored in a safe place, its mighty powers untested. Even the weapon of a top guild like Ainz Ooal Gown was no exception.
That was why even though the staff was made for Momonga, he had never once held it.
He reached his hand out and then stopped himself. Did he really want to taint the glorious memory of all they had built together now, at this moment before the servers shut down?
He recalled the days when the guild members had gone questing together to craft the Guild Weapon. They had split into teams and competed to see who could collect the most resources, argued about what the design should be, summarized the opinions each member brought to the table, and built it up piece by piece.
Those were the glory days of Ainz Ooal Gown.
There were people who were tired from work but forced themselves to show up anyway. There were people who slacked on their family obligations and got into huge fights with their wives. There were people who laughed and said they took a sick day.
Sometimes they’d wasted the whole day just chatting. They’d get so excited about the silliest things. They’d plan quests and hunt for treasure like there was no tomorrow. Once they mounted a sneak attack on a castle that was an enemy guild’s base and stormed right in. Once they were nearly annihilated by one of the strongest secret monsters in the game, known as World Enemies. They’d discovered some previously undiscovered resources. They’d positioned all kinds of monsters in their base to take care of any intruders.
But now there was no one left.
Out of forty-one players, thirty-seven had quit. The other three had remained members in name, but Momonga couldn’t remember the last time they had come before today.
Momonga opened the menu to access official data and looked at the guild ranking. Now there were slightly fewer than eight hundred guilds. Once they had been ranked ninth, but they had fallen to twenty-ninth. This is our rank on the last day, huh? The lowest they’d ever been was forty-eighth.
That they had only slipped that far was not thanks to Momonga’s efforts, but to the items left by former guildmates—what remained of the guild’s former glory.
It was a wreck now, but it had had its heyday.
And the fruit of that period was their Guild Weapon, the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown.
Momonga didn’t want to tarnish the memories harbored there, but a rebellious feeling also smoldered within him.
Ainz Ooal Gown valued majority rule. Although Momonga’s title was guild master, the duties he performed were mostly routine, often communications-type tasks.
Maybe that’s why now that no one was left, he thought for the first time that he’d like to try claiming a guild master’s rights.
“Well, I can’t do it looking like this,” he muttered and went into the menu. He would equip himself in a manner befitting the master of a top guild.
The gear in Yggdrasil was classified by how much data it contained. The more data, the better the item. Players started off with low-tier gear, then medium-tier, upper-tier, superior-tier, legacy, relic, legend, and finally god-tier, the highest possible.
Nine rings, each with their own power, adorned Momonga’s ten finger bones. His necklace, gauntlets, boots, cape, cloak, and circlet were all god-tier. From a monetary point of view, each item was an astonishingly rare and valuable treasure. The splendid robe mentioned previously hung from his shoulders.
A reddish-black aura shimmered up from beneath his feet, giving him an ominous, evil appearance. But he wasn’t using a skill—the robe data had room, so he had just plugged in an “ominous aura” effect. It wasn’t like anything would happen if someone touched it.
Out of the corner of his eye, Momonga saw various numbers pop up to indicate his stat increases. Having fully equipped himself, he nodded in satisfaction. Now he looked like a guild master. Then, he reached out and grasped the Staff of Ainz Ooal Gown.
The moment it was in his hands it began radiating a shimmering, dark red aura. Anguished human faces would occasionally form, warp, and dissipate, seemingly so real one could almost hear their tortured cries.
“…Maybe we went a little overboard.”
Finally, on the last day the servers were running, this elite staff was in the hands of its rightful owner. While confirming the icons indicating his dramatic stat boosts, he still felt lonely.
“Well, symbol of the guild, shall we see what you can do? Or should I say ‘symbol of my guild.’”