7 – Out-Gambitted
“…What happened to this place?”
The deep forest that had surrounded the Lost Woods was nowhere to be seen. In its place, there was only ruined wastelands.
It didn’t make sense. I don’t think I fought the dragon for that long… only a couple of years at most. And even if I did, wouldn’t the Ancient Forest be even denser, not completely ruined like it was now?
I frowned and started walking towards the center of the former forest. Although most of it had been razed to the ground, there was still one tree that remained. …Well, I said that it remained, but that was only half true. The only reason it was still around probably had to do with how large it was. Before, with the dense trees, it was impossible to see. But now that they had all been done away with, the giant tree stood out like a sore thumb.
I kicked off the ground, using my new strength to quickly cross the land. Although the giant tree must have been miles away from the Lost Woods, I reached it in an instant. When I did, I frowned.
Although most of the area had been destroyed, enough remained for me to see what it once was. An empty stall here. A countertop there. The place was once a city. Could it be Aria’s home, Alvheim? I hadn’t explored the Ancient Forest yet, so I couldn’t be sure. Mostly because I didn’t have the ability to venture very far before it was time to save Aria. But the next time would be different.
But that was then, and this was now.
Since slaying the Wrathful Sin Dragon, my mana pool and sensitivity had increased exponentially. Because of that, it was impossible for me to not notice the chaotic mana swirling around in the area.
The place had the air of a final encounter. If this was a game, it would be the last area just before meeting the Demon Lord.
I walked forward. As I did, the husk of the giant tree came into view. Although I had believed it to be a simple tree at first, looking closer, I could see signs of inhabitants. Parts of the tree had been reshaped to form what must have been houses. Others parts looked like they could have been plazas or market places. There was no mistaking it: I was in Alvheim.
But what had happened to it? Surely the elves didn’t get wiped out? Aria had been on the run and there had been elves held captive in the wagons, but it should have been impossible to destroy a place that held thousands of years worth of protections and strength.
Stepping onto a root of the giant tree, I saw signs of someone else arriving before me. Footsteps scattered the ash from the razed forest. Not only that, but the shape of them belonged to someone in full plate armor. An adventurer, perhaps, seeking treasure?
I hurried my footsteps. Information Concealment erased the steps I took as well as any noise, so I didn’t need to worry and dashed across the tree’s husk, following the footsteps.
They led me to an opening in the root led deep into the earth. While it must have been unsettling to some, I didn’t have the time to think that. I didn’t know why, but something in me was telling me to move, telling me that if I didn’t go forward I would regret it.
Finally, I arrived.
It was an empty chamber. Roots swirled around an opening in mid-air, as if they once encased a sphere of some kind. However, whatever was once there had vanished and the roots grasped at a void. But more than that, there was something else about the scene that drew my eye. Or rather, someone.
An elf dressed in dark attire. Familiar dark attire. She was slumped over against the roots, blood dripping out from her chest.
Unconsciously, I stopped Information Concealment. “…Aria?”
There wasn’t a response so I went closer. It was only after a few steps that she began to move. When I reached arm’s length, she coughed and turned my way. “Nowun…? Is that… you?”
Her voice was weak. I frowned and used analysis to confirm her status.
Name: Aria Sylvania
Summary: The elf princess who abandoned her people in their time of need. In repentence, she returned to Alvheim to protect the world tree. A decade has passed since your last encounter. However, you were too late. The Brave has dealt her a fatal wound with the cursed blade Gram.
When I saw what was written there, I froze. If she was 28, then that meant that-
“It’s been… ten years, hasn’t it? I’m glad… that I could see you like this. Even just… one last time.”
I quickly shook my head. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of me in the future.”
A mistake. I had thought that it would be enough to just give her those clothes, but it clearly wasn’t. But then again, I didn’t expect that humans would be so cruel or thorough in this world. …No, the status said that it was the Brave who did it, so I should say that it was as expected.
Aria laughed, although it came out soft and pitiful. “I’m sorry that… I couldn’t be of help… Next time, for sure, I’ll repay you. For this life, and… the… first…“
Although her eyes were still open, she didn’t respond.
I knelt down and checked her pulse. Nothing. To confirm it, I tried to view her status again. But unlike before, there were only two lines.
Name: Aria’s Corpse
Summary: You were too late.
I sighed and closed her eyes. “…I’m sorry.”
It was unexpected. For that much time to have passed while I was fighting the dragon… for someone to be able to kill her. No, for someone to want to kill her… was it naivety or carelessness that I allowed it to happen?
I held the title of Aria’s Savior. Yet, I had selfishly gone off on my own and allowed her to be killed. But more than that… it seemed like she remembered a bit at the end.
…I didn’t have enough information. Not only that, but the strength on humanity’s side was higher than expected. While I was right about deciding to focus on my strength, if there was a force strong enough to invade the depths of the Ancient Forest and wipe out the stronghold of the elves, my strength alone wouldn’t be enough.
I needed allies. And the only one I had in this world was lying dead at my feet.
…It was temporary. Although everyone else was trapped by the flow of time, I was an exception. So I shouldn’t feel bad about it. This was a necessary step to ensure the safety of my time and the success of future plans.
But staring at Aria’s corpse… I couldn’t help but feel a pit in my stomach.
“…This time for sure.”
I possessed everything I needed now in this world. A weapon that could slay even the most powerful dragon. A body that surpassed the limits. And mana that could oppress even dragons.
I sighed and closed my eyes. After that, I was just about to remember and send my consciousness back to the past when a voice called out to me.
“I thought there might be something left in here.”
It was young. When I looked up to see who it was, I saw a young teen. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old. As for the appearance, the only thing I could say was ‘typical hero’.
Except that he wasn’t.
“Are you the real Demon Lord? They told me you might be hanging around here after I killed her.”
The teen nodded, a smile on his face. “That’s right. The priest and the king. The Goddess said that a scary guy was skulking about.”
Mana probe detected. It has failed due to the effects of the Nameless. Sensation memorized. Analysis LVL 2 -> Analysis LVL 5.
“Gragh!” The teen clutched at his eyes. “How did you block my analysis?”
“…Tch. How annoying.”
Nothing left remained for me in this time. However, if that guy was the Brave that Goddess summoned, I could get some useful things out of him.
“Y-you!” The Brave scowled and ran forward. “Take this! Lightning Slash!”
His sword erupted in sparks and then swirled with Chaos mana.
I stared at it but didn’t do anything.
The blade struck my chest. Since I only had a shirt on, it easily cut through the cloth and reached my skin. However, beyond that, nothing happened. No scratch, not even a line.
“…I was hoping to get Lightning Resistance or something like that, but I guess you’re just too weak for me to even bother remembering.”
I casually reached over and grasped the Brave’s sword.
His eyes widened and he jumped back. He tried pulling his sword with him, but my grip was steadfast. Seeing that, he let go. “Haha… you’re tougher than I thought. I didn’t want to use this… but you leave me no choice.”
Saying those cliched words, the Brave reached behind his back and clutched at thin air.
Curious, I watched.
The mana in the area surged. No, not just the area. It was as if the world itself was responding to his call. Even my own mana responded for a moment before my resistance kicked in and wrenched it back to my control.
“Rise, Sword of Mana! Help me cut down my foe!”
It happened in an instant.
One moment, the Brave was standing with his hand outstretched.
In the next, a sword had pierced my chest.
My eyes widened. “What-?”
The Brave smiled. “Die and become my EXP! Existence Slash!”
White light erupted and the last thing I could recall was a flurry of messages in my vision.
An attack on your existence has been detected. Karmic Anomaly has prevented it.
An attack across time has been detected. Nameless prevents the attack.
An attempt to alter your Fate has been detected. Karmic Anomaly denies its effects.
An attempt to eradicate your memory has been detected. Absolute Memory nullifies the effects.
An overwhelming conceptual attack prevents memorization. Absolute Memory triggers.
A portion of the attack has been memorized.
Your skills have increased. Your attributes have increased.
For withstanding an attack on existence itself, you have obtained the title ‘Illimitable’.
HP: 1,300,000 (+1,300,000)
MP: 800,000 (+800,000)
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. Grants the concept of ‘Information Concealment’.
Chaos Affinity LVL 7 – A skill granting the affinity of Chaos, the magical element that disrupts all others.
Physical Damage Resistance LVL 7 – A skill granting resistance towards physical attacks.
Imperial Slash LVL 7 – 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.
Indomitable Will LVL 7 – A skill granting resistance towards mental status effects.
Darkness Affinity LVL 7 – A skill granting the affinity of Darkness, the magical element embodying shadows, void, and negativity.
Mana Resistance LVL 7 – A skill granting resistance towards phenomenon involving mana.
Analysis LVL 5 – A skill gained through the skilled usage and interpretation of mana fluctuations. Allows gaining of information through reading the world’s record. More is shown with greater expertise.
Grant Skill LVL 2 – A skill born through the familiarity of what makes up the essence of a skill. It allows the user to grant a skill they are familiar with to a targeted individual.
Curse of ****** LVL 2 – A skill embodying the wrath of ******, the fallen divine dragon. Attacks cannot be defended against and inflicts the status ‘Soul Corrosion’.
Dragon’s Grasp LVL 2 – A skill embodying the saying that one cannot escape once inside a dragon’s grasp. However, you are an exception to the rule as you are ‘no one’. It becomes possible to dominate beings by directly restricting their soul. A greater effect is shown with higher levels.
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 and unable to grasp.
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 or altered. Further 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 and gave her solace at her end. No matter the time, no matter the place, she will never forget your kindness.
Legend – The title of one who defeats ancient beings of catastrophy. Grants unrivaled strength and speed.
Illimitable – The title of one has faced an absolute end but escaped from its jaws. Cannot be affected or targeted with conceptual attacks.