2 – Thanatos Gambit
The most dangerous place in Asifant was the Lost Woods. A subsection of the Ancient Forest, home of the High Elves and Greater Fae, the Lost Woods served as the resting spot of beasts and creatures long forgotten by the world. Disastrous beings existed within the Lost Woods, either sealed by the past Braves of Goddess Serena or sleeping peacefully in self-imposed solitude. Regardless, the beings in the Lost Woods were dangerous beyond measure.
It was widely known that those who wandered into the Lost Woods were doomed to never be seen again. It was, in essence, why the name the Lost Woods came about. It was a dangerous no-man’s land that stood on the northern border of the Ancient Forest serving as a natural barricade. No one alive would be foolish enough to willingly venture within.
But there were a few unfortunate souls who were forced to do so.
Aria Sylvania, the youngest princess of Alvheim, ran across the dimly lit forest ground. Her chest heaved from exertion beneath a tattered green tunic, moving up and down in a way that would distract most men while her golden hair trailed behind her. Within the dark forest, it served as the only flash of brilliance whenever it caught the sun’s rays.
Ordinarily, Aria welcomed such a fact. In the dimly lit Ancient Forest, such brilliance was considered both a blessing and a sign of the Goddess’s Light. But at that moment, it was nothing more than a curse.
“There she is! That golden flash up ahead!”
A man’s voice called out from behind Aria. It was soon followed by the sound of horses and wagons.
Aria bit her lips and refused to look back. Doing so would cause her to see the imperial soldiers closely gaining on her. Doing so would cause her to see the battered and abused forms of her family and kin. Doing so would cause her to falter and suffer the same fate.
“Give up, Elf! We’ve rounded up the rest of your kind! Even if you keep running, no reinforcements will come to help you!”
The same man’s voice echoed from behind her. He was the commander of the soldiers, a powerful human warrior. Equipped in full black platemail and bearing an enchanted blade that defied nature’s magic, that man had easily cut down Aria’s father and the twelve guardians before Aria’s eyes.
Aria forced away her tears as she recalled the scene and kept running, calling on the wind spirits as she did to grant her speed.
“It’s useless! Nulinvoyd, disrupt nature’s harmony!”
The commander’s voice cut through the silent forest. At the same time, an ominous purple light flashed and Aria felt the wind spirits leave her side.
“No…!” She stumbled, barely catching herself before it was too late. Doing that, she was able to keep running. However, without the aid of the wind spirits, it would only be a matter of time before they caught her. And if they did, she would suffer the same fate as the others.
She had seen what those men did to her family and kin.
She didn’t want that. Death would be preferable, but those men would not allow it. So the only recourse for her was to run.
The Lost Woods were before her, only a few paces away. The distortion in the air and the soft gray mist surrounding the trees up ahead served as the dividing border between it and the Ancient Forest.
Aria took a final glance backwards. Her elder sisters and her friends were in the wagon, surrounded by men in armor. Standing at the fore upon on a war horse was that man, the invincible commander. His face was still hidden beneath his armor, but she could imagine the triumphant look on his face.
In but a few moments, it would be Aria’s end. One way or another.
Staring at the boundary of the Lost Woods and her certain death, peaceful bliss in comparison to the cruel fate she would have if she was caught, Aria smiled and reached out her hand.
And then she felt a piercing pain in her left arm.
Before Aria could recognize what was happening, she was pulled backwards through the air. Her eyes widened as she stared at the distancing boundary.
It was there.
It was right there.
But, just before solace was in her grasps, it was wrenched away from her.
Aria’s body crashed to the ground and she lost all of the air in her lungs. She gasped and clutched at her chest, trying to breathe. But before she could, a figure leaned over her. One dressed in platemail and clutching a sword shining with ominous purple light.
“I told you it was useless, Elf.” The commander shook his head and then grabbed Aria’s hair.
She tried to scream, but she still couldn’t breathe. Instead, a pained gasp fell from her lips, sounding like a squeal.
“…There it is. That sound is exactly what I wanted to hear from you. Ah… to think that we could experience such things with the fabled elves themselves. And all we had to do was convince the populace that you were all minions of the Demon Lord. Amusing, isn’t it, how easily faith and loyalty can be forgotten with fear?”
Aria didn’t respond. Instead, she reached out with her right hand, trying to free herself from the man’s grasp. However, seeing her resistance made him pull even harder on her hair.
She gasped, unable to do anything else. The rough treatment caused her vision to dim, but before she had the bliss of blacking out, the man slapped her.
“No, Elf,” he said. “That would be far too easy. And while the nobles might want a broken toy, my men would like you to struggle at least a bit. You’ve made it this far already, so try to do so until the very end, alright?”
The man laughed. “Oh you’ll be ‘saved’ soon enough, Elf. Don’t worry. It’ll be a bit rough at first, but we’ll let you taste heaven soon enough.” Saying that, the man reached towards Aria’s shirt-
“…I had considered the possibility that I would come across a clichéd event, but for it to be something as disgusting as this… tch. And now I can’t even forget that it happened.”
-and then froze as someone called out.
I sighed and shook my head.
A beautiful elf, pinned on the ground beneath an armored soldier. A cart filled to the brim with even more elves, each with blank eyes and battered bodies. And to complete the scene, it was occurring in the depths of the forest, far from human civilization where none could come to the aid of the elves.
The man pinning down the elf stood up and turned to face me. When he did he said, “Aren’t you one of the Braves that the Emperor summoned? What are you doing here?”
I didn’t respond. Instead, I scanned my surroundings.
One, two… six men. Each were equipped with thick platemail and armed with a long sword. Furthermore, their toned bodies and calm postures showed that neither were for show.
The man in front of me shook his head. While his face was hidden by a full helmet, I could imagine the irritation on his face. “Not answering, huh? Well… don’t blame me for roughing you up a bit then. As a great hero, I’m sure you can take it, right?”
Finished with his words, the man drew his blade. Like the others, it was a long sword. However, unlike the others, that man’s blade shone with an ominous purple light.
I carefully observed the flow of energy around the blade and then sighed. “…It’s impossible after all.”
The man lunged forward and swung his blade.
I ignored it, instead focusing on the elf still laying on the forest floor. While she was in rough shape, she was still well enough to see me. Her eyes, a dark green like the very forest surrounding them, were wide with shock and then realization.
Good. It would have been a waste if she hadn’t realized it.
Cold steel cleaved into my body. At the same time, a surge of energy erupted, disrupting the weak flow of mana I possessed.
“Huh?” The man froze in front of me, confused. “Why the hell are you so weak?”
I didn’t answer. Instead, I staggered back and forced my body to remain upright as I watched the elf escape.
It was unsightly. Her steps faltered and she was barely covering any ground. At that rate, she would be captured in no time again.
…But I could do nothing else. Not yet.
“O-oi! You- Dammit! The Emperor’s going to kill me for this…!”
My vision faded as I heard the man’s panicked words and I felt it, the creeping chill of death that marked my end. But, just before my consciousness vanished completely, a flurry of messages appeared in my field of view.
Chaos energy memorized. Chaos affinity LVL 1 obtained.
Fatal blow memorized. Physical damage resistance LVL 1 obtained.
Imperial Swordsmanship (incomplete) memorized. Imperial Slash LVL 1 obtained.
Dying for the sake of the elvish princess, the titles, ‘Martyr’ and ‘Aria’s Savior’ have been unlocked.
…Just as planned.
HP: 100 (+100)
MP: 20 (+20)
Absolute Memory LVL ?? – A unique unranked skill granted to Nowun by Goddess Serena using the infinite human potential gifted by Earth’s Creator. Grants the concept of ‘Absolute Memory’ to the user.
Information Concealment LVL ?? – A unique unranked skill recognized by Goddess Serena due to the user’s ability to withhold and conceal information even from her. Grants the concept of ‘Information Concealment’.
Chaos Affinity LVL 1 – A skill granting the affinity of Chaos, the magical element that disrupts all others.
Physical Damage Resistance LVL 1 – A skill granting resistance towards physical attacks.
Imperial Slash LVL 1 – A subset of the martial skill “Imperial Swordsmanship”, which is the greatest swordsmanship available to the current era of humans. Using physical strength (or an appropriate substitute), lash out with the force to sever steel.
The Nameless – Obtained by giving a pseudonym to Goddess Serena and refusing to present one’s true name. Due to this, the original name is discarded and one’s true nature becomes indistinct.
Otherworlder – Obtained by all those transported by Goddess Serena to Asifant. Grants language translation and basic knowledge of the world.
Karmic Anomaly – The title granted to one whose karma cannot be discerned. Effects are unknown.
Martyr – The title granted to one who sacrificed their life for the sake of another. Doubles HP and MP.
Aria’s Savior – The title of the one who saved the elven princess Aria Sylvania from suffering a fate worse than death. She will never forget your kindness.