Written by: AtheistBasementDragon
Edited by: The Usual Gang of Drunken Perverted Idiots
...The Holy Roble Kingdom...Hoburns...
Neia Baraja wasn't tired. Or so she told herself. She sighed heavily and began to speak, softly under her breath. "I'm lying to myself again. But... it's a productive lie at least, if I can fake it enough, my energy will come back... somewhat, if not much... and I can sleep when I'm dead... well... unless I become undead, like his majesty." At her own spoken reflection, she drifted off into thoughts of admiration. She missed him quite a bit, more so than she did any of the seniors she had worked with before they essentially stopped being seniors. King Caspond had put her in charge of rebuilding the capital, and so she reported directly to him and interacted directly with the Sorcerer King's representatives for aid distribution.
She laughed when she thought of the shock on the noble's faces when her name was spoken, and she was appointed to the task.
"Majesty... shouldn't it be nobles who rebuild...?" One of them had said, too stunned to even consider a crafty response as someone one step removed from the common soldier... a mere squire, was given the overwhelming task.
Caspond shook his head, "In other circumstances, I would say yes. However, I gave three chances at reconstruction for the nation to the nobility, and each time we were beset by waste, mismanagement, and outright theft! If we wish to have the Sorcerer King support us for the fourth time..." he paused and let the statement hang there, putting emphasis on the word 'fourth', and then continued, “after he has already generously forgiven the last three failures, then we must ensure it has some chance of progress and success. To do this, we must appoint someone he trusts to the head of reconstruction. Neia Baraja is the perfect choice for that role, she acted as the Sorcerer King's personal squire, she was with him in battle, she was by his side almost every day except for the period of time when he was missing, and it was she who spread his fame among the people. If she appeals to him for anything, it is more likely to be granted than if a request came from anyone else. Plus... do you really want to deal directly with the undead king or his monsters?" He said powerfully and ended bluntly.
Some of the nobles had already been nodding along as he relayed the bond of combat and service, and 'Dopple-Caspond' knew quite well that those were the nobles who had actually served in combat along with their soldiers, he made mental notes to remember their names... and when he mentioned the prospect of dealing with the undead directly, other nobles joined in the head nodding... he made doubly sure to note their names, they were the ones who had not fought, or who were more fearful and cowardly.
"Had the previous four nobles of the previous three reconstruction efforts not failed to produce more than the world's largest shanty town when I extended them the resources that the Sorcerer King provided, I might be more tolerant now. However, that is what happened, and if we're to seek foreign support, I will not have the next effort offer an invitation to a foreign power to occupy us to recoup their investment. Neia will be put in command of this project, and she will have the full support of the nobility, or the nobility can explain their failure to produce results to the undead king who personally slew a demon emperor!" He snarled out and slammed his fist on the throne as his voice rose in anger, and the nobility grew silent at his rebuke. No more objections were offered.
Neia remembered the King's eloquence in winning them over and thought to herself... 'He might not be his majesty, Ainz Ooal Gown, but he's nobody's fool.' And so, the task had become hers, and she set to it with vigor. She made sure she wore the Grand King Busar's green turtle-shelled armor and continued to practice with and carry the white rune-decorated bow Ainz had given to her. She did so daily, publicly at the behest of her followers who wanted her to show off her strength to the people before each day began. Few people were able to handle such a heavy draw, so when she did it easily and repeatedly it shamed the weak into becoming strong while also earning the respect of those who already had strength of their own. Her tireless displays of effort in every task she was set to, became an inspiration to be emulated and a standard was set that nobody wanted to be seen as falling short of.
The target she aimed at was demolished in the center with her final shot, into which she had intentionally placed a small amount of magic power for good measure... it was a talent she'd developed over time since the Sorcerer King had granted her a necklace that she'd used to heal herself once before... now she felt sure she had enough within herself to heal several times, or to put extra power into her limbs or into her shots. Though she was nowhere near the strength of Adamantite adventurers... or their peers like Remedios, she felt sure she could at least resist for a short time, and could fight on par with others that, in the past, could have finished her easily. Combined with her archery and her powerful equipment, she made a visible force to be reckoned with.
What Neia did not fully appreciate was that aside from her magic improvement and her overall skills, she had become an incredibly gifted orator and she had developed a powerful presence and the ability to draw attention, respect, or fear to her from individuals great and small. She did know that her fearsome eyes had ceased to be a burden and had instead become a boon. Though she still hid them until her gaze would yield the greatest effect. From this, her 'Cult of Ainz' had blossomed and spread rapidly among the workers rebuilding the capital.
She walked away from her utterly demolished target to the waiting group of men and women, there were maybe a hundred of them and the number was growing. They were what amounted to her lieutenants, they would carry her orders for material disbursement, labor priorities, food distribution and so on for the day, and she would go about the business of handling supervisory tasks.
"Thank you for coming," she said to them all, easily loud enough for all to hear as she stepped up a series of stones on a broken wall and looked out over them. "As you know, we've received another cache of supplies from the Sorcerer King," she paused as a cheer went up at the mention of their savior, "but now we must put those supplies to good use!" She said loudly, "The aqueducts must be repaired so that the city has intact water again, this will reduce the number of people gone for extended periods in order to gather water from the rivers, and it will reduce the overcrowding at the few wells that remain intact. We are past the worst of the winter months, but that does not mean we should skip shelters, so we will randomly draw lots for the block to be rebuilt. Small teams will assist with that, but after the midday meal, if you have people finished with their tasks, set them to others, furthermore, we must remain in communication so that supplies for building can be cycled as needed. Do I have any questions or concerns?"
One of them raised their hand, a rough looking man with a very scraggly beard and shabby clothes, but also having powerful looking hands, the sort hardened from much manual labor, and the muscles of his arms and torso appeared to back up the story told by his meaty fists... from where she stood, he was clearly never a captive of the demihumans. "Yes," she said, "state your name and your issue?"
"I'm Gascon, a blacksmith and I've also been helping with food and building distribution... I've been seeing supply discrepancies between what is supposed to be delivered on paper, and what is actually delivered in fact. To put it bluntly... we're being shorted. The last three shipments have had less weight of food, fewer ingots, and lower amounts of building stone and other tools. Is the Sorcerer King losing faith in us? Is he cutting our aid?"
Neia removed her visor, and her gaze chilled the crowd. "I can say with absolute certainty that His Majesty would never stoop to so petty a tactic, but even if I did not know that, I was personally present at the shipment point and saw the inventory tally done. Everything he said was given to us, was in fact delivered. I don't know what has happened, but I WILL be finding out." Her skill at arms might not have been adamantite, but her voice was harder than steel.
"After working hours over dinner, I will be delivering another message to the people, invite all you wish, and I will tell you all of the lessons of strength I learned from the Sorcerer King. Tomorrow is a sacred day, so work will be minimal, and we will celebrate it properly."
"What makes it sacred?" Someone asked from the crowd.
"It is the anniversary of the founding of the Sorcerous Kingdom... if they did not exist, we would not be here, so it is proper that we celebrate their founding." She said with pride and enthusiasm.
"How will we celebrate it?" Someone else asked.
"We will show our justice by showing our strength. We fought to free our nation, and we did so with the help of the strongest god of them all, his strength was justice, and his justice was strength, so that we are never threatened again, and never a burden again, we too must grow strong, and celebrate strength and justice of our own making." She said loudly, so loud that others away from the crowd heard, and silently decided for themselves to visit one of the talks of Neia Baraja.
"Dismissed!" She shouted, and the crowd dispersed.
Neia had not been joking about getting to the bottom of the inventory discrepancy, and she swiftly went to the supply dump to inspect the materials, the guard let her by without question, there was nobody who did not know her now.
She began by personally counting the ingots... and came up missing five percent of the iron, gold, silver, and other metals... then she counted the building stone, again she came up missing a number of pallets of blocks... then she checked the food... and found that not only was the measuring cup used to fill sacks smaller than the one she had ordered to be used... the sacks provided by the nobles were smaller than what she had ordered be brought to distribute, and the prepacked sacks that had been sent, which were the proper size, had obviously been opened and were partially empty. All the resources she knew had been fully tallied... were now fewer or lighter than they should have been.
That settled it... someone was stealing, embezzling from the supplies for their own benefit. She glared at the supplies, as if waiting for them to speak for themselves and say that she was wrong... but they sat, silent and accusing.
She went outside to where the guard stood, and she looked at him through her visor, "Who has been coming here?" He looked back, confused. "You are a regular guard of this post, yes?" She asked, and he nodded. "Who has been coming here?" She removed her visor as she spoke and glared at him. "The supplies are light, materials are missing, they did not wander off on their own unless bricks and grain sacks and pallets of wood can grow legs!" She said with anger and scathing sarcasm filling her voice. "So, I ask you again... who... has been... coming here? Either I have an answer now, or you'll be answering to King Caspond and the Sorcerer King later..." He started to shake as soon as he saw her eyes, but when she mentioned the Sorcerer King, he reacted suddenly and tried to bring his halberd to bear against her, striving to cleave her from the joining of shoulder to neck, down to the center of her torso in his sudden panic.
However, before the clinking of his metal armor had finished sounding, and before his halberd had come halfway to where it would send the life fleeing from her body, she had already begun to move. She drew an arrow from her quiver, not to shoot, no she grabbed it as one might the handle of a dagger and thrust it home into his neck. The halberd dropped from nerveless fingers over which he had no more control, his body shook and trembled as if to shake off the useless flesh from his liberated soul, and then he fell to his knees before Neia Baraja as if to plead for a mercy that the corrupt did not deserve, and would not receive. Then backwards he fell and moved no more.
As he was dropping to the ground and spilling his blood, she spoke in a voice filled with contempt and loathing. "The dogs of the nobles who sit in pampered homes and never face real battle... should never try to fight against those for whom death dealing has been a way of life. Foolish man..." She spat on his face just before his eyes closed and the last vestiges of living vanished from his form. She had a grim certainty that while he might have been stealing, he was only a lackey.
Neia was no stranger to death, she had killed people before, humans, bandits chiefly, the occasional murderer gone into the woods to avoid justice. They got an arrow between the shoulder blades for their trouble, yet never before had she counted it as part of her character to take life, simply a necessity that had to be done on occasion. Yet as she looked down, breathing hard from the fading rush of energy that danger gave to her, and looked at the corpse, she considered that the invasion of Jaldabaoth had left its mark on her.
A part of her had died in the year of war and the subsequent years of privation that followed the hollow victory. She remained hopeful for the future, but the dulled edge of the childish squire who set out to follow in the footsteps of her mother, had been gradually honed to that of a fine razor. One sharpened not against a stone, but against the constant drops of blood that rained over her in times past, shaping her former self to who she had now become. A hardened veteran of unfailing will.
She shook herself out of her reverie and called for someone to come over to her, and a moment later a person passed around the corner in response to her voice and paled when they saw the deadly looking Neia standing over the body of the sentry. "Go and fetch another guard, this one was…unworthy." She said grimly. The man stood in silence.
"Do you live or work around here?" She asked.
The man nodded numbly.
"Do you know who this one man was, or who he worked for?" She asked.
The person nodded, "I know him, he's Negab, he works for Lord Handor..."
"Go get a guard who works for a different noble, this man has been stealing." She glared at the corpse while still speaking to the passerby. "He won't steal anymore, but Lord Handor will have to answer for his man."
The stunned fellow ran off as Neia began to search the belongings of the dead man, and in the pocket, she found a list of items and amounts... she was quite certain that these were things that were meant to be stolen later.
She sighed, "I've got a real problem on my hands now..." She said to herself, almost missing the days when her problems were solved by shooting something with an arrow.