Aria awoke to the sound of a crackling fire and the scent of roasting meat. It took her a moment to realize that she was awake, but when she did, she immediately jumped to her feet. Her eyes frantically scanned the surroundings and she reached for the bow on her back. However, there was nothing there. She blinked, and then remembered that she had lost it while running for her life.
“So you’re finally awake.”
A masculine voice snapped her focus ahead. There was a man sitting in front of her by a fire.
For a moment, her thoughts flashed back to the ones that had captured her family and chased her throughout the Ancient Forest, but then she realized that the man in front of her couldn’t belong to their group. For one, he was too slim. Although he appeared human, unlike those cruel warriors, his body was thin like that of a scholar or mage. For another, his facial features and hair didn’t match men who hailed from the Empire. Black hair and dark eyes could only be seen among those who hailed from the Sun Kingdom in the East.
“Relax,” he said. “Although I can’t guarantee your safety, I can at least assure you that I won’t harm you.” Saying those words, the man handed her a plate of roasted meat and a cup of water. “Here. You’ll probably want something to eat after what you’ve gone through.”
Aria hesitated, but after feeling the rumbling in her stomach and smelling the delicious aroma drifting towards her, she accepted it.
The moment she did, the man turned his attention back to the fire. There, a boar was being roasted over the fire on a spit. A few pieces had been sliced off, but there was still enough left for her to recognize it. When she did, Aria’s eyes grew wide. “Black Steel Boar?”
The man nodded. “That’s right. Did you want something else?”
“No. It’s just…” Wasn’t killing a Black Steel Boar difficult to do? Even her father’s guards only managed to do so by working together. For that man to be able to do so by himself…
Aria decided to stop thinking about that. For the moment, all that mattered was that she was safe and that the man had saved him. She turned her attention back to the food handed to her and began to eat.
Whether it was because of the stressful situation she had encountered or because of the knowledge of the luxuriousness of the meat she was eating, Aria felt queasy. However, she didn’t let it show and quietly ate her food.
After a while, she finished. However, she noticed that the man was still cooking and hadn’t eaten a single piece of meat. “Um… aren’t going to eat as well?”
The man shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”
After that, he didn’t say another word.
Time passed with nothing more than the crackling of the fire. Since that was the case, Aria stared at the man in front of her.
He was young. Although it had been hard to tell at first, the man couldn’t have been much older than her, if at all. Furthermore, he was dressed oddly. His shirt was fairly ordinary, one made of a dark cloth, but his pants and shoes were strange, made of a material that Aria couldn’t identify. All that she could tell was that they appeared fairly durable, yet remained comfortable. That and they were a dark gray.
Aria flushed and quickly averted her gaze. “I didn’t mean to stare.”
The man shook his head. “Not that. Are you still hungry?”
“Oh. Um… I’m fine. Thank you for the luxurious meal.”
A curt nod was all the man gave in acknowledgment before he returned to tending the fire.
Again, it was silent. The man seemed comfortable with it, but Aria found herself shifting in place. But just before she opened her mouth to say something to break the silence, the man spoke.
“…No one?” Aria tilted her head. What did the man mean by saying no one? Did he mean that there was no one around?
“Not that. My name is Nowun. You can call me a… traveler of sorts.”
“Ah.” Aria flushed at the misunderstanding. “I’m Aria.”
“Aria…” Nowun nodded and said, “It’s late and you’ve been through a lot. Rest. Tomorrow, we can talk about what you’re going to do next.” After saying that, Nowun pulled out a handful of gray furs and offered them. “Use these for bedding. I’ll tend to the fire and keep a look out.”
Aria took the furs. When she did, she froze. Although they appeared ordinary at first, when she held them, she remembered a story she had heard about creatures with similar pelts roaming the Ancient Forest.
“…These wouldn’t happen to be the furs of Fenrir Wolves, would they?”
That was right. The man- Nowun had saved her and fed her. Although she still didn’t know why, the fact that he did was still true. And besides, he was the one who answered her plea when the Goddess had not. Thus, it wouldn’t do to keep pestering him like she was.
Deciding that, Aria carefully arranged the furs and laid down to sleep. The entire time, Nowun did not avert his gaze from the fire. Whether it was out of consideration for her circumstances or if it was his personality, Aria didn’t know. However, that didn’t change her feelings.
“…Thank you for saving me.”
Nowun paused for a brief moment and then said, “Sleep.”
Aria smiled and closed her eyes.
I waited until Aria’s breathing steadied before turning around to look at her. For someone that had gone through a stressful situation, she was awfully talkative and carefree. While it was better than being completely on guard, it was still a bit strange.
“’Thank you for saving me’, huh?”
I muttered the words that she had spoken just before she fell asleep. It was true that I did, but that was something done on a whim. Surely it wasn’t enough to drop her guard like that. The only reason I could think on why she might act in such a way was my title.
Glancing back at it, I noticed that the description had changed.
“…She owes me her life?”
It was concerning. It seemed like troublesome events kept occurring one after another. Going by the usual flow of narrative, this would probably end up with her swearing eternal loyalty or something tomorrow.
I shook my head and stared back at the fire. More specifically, I stared at my faithful companion who was having a baptism of flames.
Name: Faithful Companion (Stick)
Summary: A stick you picked up and used a lot in the past. Even though it can’t remember you doing so, the stick has become accustomed to your mana and now has obtained a portion of your powers. The best weapon, capable of cutting through the Wrathful Sin Dragon’s scales. Having bathed in the blood of a sinful human, a Black Steel Boar, and a pack of Fenrir Wolves, it has gained new capabilities after being tempered with flames.
“Interesting.” I pulled out my faithful companion (stick) and stared at it. Although I couldn’t see any differences in its appearance, I noticed that it felt a lot sturdier than it did in the past. Maybe now I would be able to cut down that Wrathful Sin Dragon?
I considered that for a moment and decided against it at this time. The Goddess would have already noticed my strength and affinity towards chaos and darkness. At the moment, she would be thinking that I had an inherent disposition towards both while still believing that I wasn’t using my power of memory.
At least, that should be the case if Information Concealment was working properly. It was a bit concerning that I couldn’t receive confirmation, but it was all I could hope for.
In any case, trying to kill the Wrathful Sin Dragon now would tip my hand. I had something in mind for that later, but for the moment, it would be good to see how events played out.
Placing my faithful companion (stick) back in its rightful place at my side, I turned towards Aria and frowned.
“What am I going to do about you?”
She was an elf. Not only that, but an elf princess. And furthermore, she was young. While she would be an adult by human standards, by the standards of the long-lived elves, she was barely a toddler.
On her own, it would only be a matter of time before she was captured and forced to suffer a terrible fate like the other elves I had seen in the wagon. However, I couldn’t very well take her along and protect her the entire way.
When Aria woke up, she noticed that Nowun was nowhere to be seen. He had vanished without a trace, almost as if yesterday was just a dream. And she would have thought that to be the case, were it not for the pelts that she was still sleeping on and the cooked Black Steel Boar laying nearby.
She called out his name, hoping for a response. However, there wasn’t one.
Anxiety gnawed in her chest as well as guilt. Could it be that she was too much of a burden for him to deal with? Or did she irritate him with her questions the other night, causing him to leave her behind?
It was true that she was weak, but she could learn! Her father said that she had a talent for wind magic that hadn’t been seen in many generations. So if she had the chance, she could be of use. But… it seemed that she wouldn’t have that chance.
Aria clutched her knees to her chest and lowered her head. “Why should I be surprised? Mister Nowun must have saved me on a whim. Since he could kill a Black Steel Boar by himself, he should be extremely powerful. Someone like me who can’t even call the spirits properly-“
“You worry too much.”
Aria raised her head and smiled. “Mister Nowun! You didn’t leave me behind!”
“Though I’m selfish, I’m not cruel enough to leave someone helpless behind on their own.”
Aria felt a sharp pang in her chest at being called helpless but couldn’t disagree with him.
“In any case,” Nowun said. “Take a look at these and tell me if they’ll fit.” Without another word, he tossed a bag at Aria’s feet.
She grabbed it and took a look inside. When she did, her eyes widened and she quickly closed it. “Mister Nowun, I can’t- These garments are far too precious!”
Nowun sighed and muttered something under his breath. It was soft, enough that Aria couldn’t hear it, but she could tell that he was exasperated.
“I made them for you so stop worrying. Now hurry up and tell me if they’ll fit so I don’t have to waste any more time.”
Aria hesitated, but seeing the stern look in Nowun’s eyes, she nodded. With a deep breath, Aria opened the bag again and carefully pulled out what was inside.
It was a full set of dark clothing. While plain in appearance, nothing more than a simple shirt, pants, and boots, they were anything but. Although Aria was untrained in appraising magical items, she could easily feel the surge of power coursing through each piece as she held them.
“So? Are they the right size?”
Nowun’s voice brought Aria out of her reverie. “Ah, yes.” Taking another look at the clothes, she saw that, although they were a bit big, they would fit her well enough. “It should fit.”
Nowun sighed. “I didn’t ask if they would fit, but if they were the right size.”
Aria flushed. “I-I mean… they’re a bit big, but I should grow into them! I’m still not fully grown yet, so…”
“A bit big, huh?” Nowun frowned and scanned Aria head to toe.
Her flushed cheeks grew even redder and she averted her gaze.
I had overestimated her size. It couldn’t be helped since it was dark last night and I didn’t get a good chance to look at her while we were running away. “…Hm. I guess you’re right. They are a bit big, but at least it will last a while longer that way.”
Like she said, she still had room to grow. If anything, it was fortunate that I got anywhere near close considering that I had never made any type of clothing before. Granted, what I gave her was literally woven threads of Chaos and Darkness so making it was easier…
“U-Um, Mister Nowun?” Aria’s voice drew me out of my thoughts. “Why are you giving these to me?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You’re weak and I can’t be bothered to protect you.”
Aria winced. With her beautiful face, it was a pitiful expression. I was sure that if it was anyone else that saw it, they would immediately apologize and comfort her. However, it was me, so I simply kept talking.
“It would take a while for me to explain, so just put them on and check your status. Tell me when you’re done.”
After saying that, I turned around.
I heard Aria fidgeting from behind me, as if she was uncertain, but after a few moments I heard the sound of rustling clothes, indicating that she had gotten over it and decided to change.
“I’m finished, Mister Nowun.”
I turned back to face her. Although unintended, the dark clothing suited Aria extremely well. Since her hair and skin were light, it contrasted well with the dark clothing. Also unexpected was the fact that her shirt hung a bit loose over her chest, allowing a brief glimpse at the valley beneath. But more importantly, her pointed ears were nowhere to be seen.
“I see that it worked.”
“Check your status.”
Aria frowned but did as I told. When she did, her eyes grew wide. “This is…?”
I wasn’t surprised. If I was her, I would have the same reaction considering what I handed her.
Name: Chaotic Darkness Attire
Summary: A set of clothing woven by an expert of Chaos and Darkness and restricted to Aria Sylvania. Through intricate interweaving of mana to serve as the material, the wearer gains the skills Physical Damage Resistance LVL 3, Mana Resistance LVL 3, Illusory Appearance LVL 3, Auto-Defense Chaos-Dark LVL 5.
While not perfect, it offered a lot of protection. I had the idea after wondering how to keep Aria safe without having to personally protect her yesterday night. To compare with the equipment the men were wearing…
Name: Chaotic Imperial Plate Mail
Summary: A set of plate mail bestowed upon imperial soldiers, enchanted for the purpose of defeating the Alvheim warriors. Bestows Magical Attack Damage Reduction LVL 4.
The level of skill their equipment bestowed was higher, but that particular skill was essentially a weaker version of the one I had. Magical Attack Damage Reduction only reduced damage inflicted by spells whereas Mana Resistance reduced the effects of any phenomenon involving mana. That included things like mind control, curses, divine retribution, etc.
As for how I knew that… well, the Wrathful Sin Dragon was an extremely powerful individual.
In any case, what I gave Aria was objectively superior and the culmination of my current knowledge of mana and skills. While it wouldn’t stop something on the caliber of that damnable dragon, it was more than enough for people like the soldiers the other day.
Aria stared at me and then bowed. “Mister Nowun, I owe you-“
“Stop it.” I cut her off before she could say anything else. “I saved you on a whim and gave you those on a whim.”
Aria raised her body and then looked at me. She seemed as if she wanted to protest, but I didn’t let her. The reason was the decision I made yesterday.
“I’ll be honest. I want nothing to do with you.”
I kept speaking. “You’re weak, you’re young, and you’re extraordinarily beautiful. Each is a problem on its own, but could be compensated for in one way or another. However, you possess all three. Not only that, but you’re an elf. While I might be strong, being with you is a recipe for disaster.”
That was the truth. I might be strong, but I wasn’t strong enough yet to deal with the attention that traveling with her would attract. Not only would I have to deal with the Empire, but I would have to deal with all sorts of obnoxious upstarts wanting to flirt with her. Considering that I didn’t look particularly powerful, it would end up triggering far too many flags for my liking.
…I was lying a bit there since Information Concealment could probably prevent that, but prolonged usage of the skill would draw the Goddess’s attention since it concealed my actions from everything, including her gaze.
“B-But Mister Nowun-“
Her expression was pitiful, like that of an abandoned puppy. A beautiful young woman with an appearance that couldn’t be faulted and only praised was making such an expression.
If it was known I was leaving someone like that behind, especially since she held unending gratitude, I would have been the public enemy of every man on Earth. But this world wasn’t Earth and I had no need for someone who was so weak.
“The boar should serve as enough rations and the pond is clean. Good luck.”
With that said, I activated Information Concealment and left Aria behind.
I was too weak to protect her or myself. That was the truth.