14 – Demon Lord Route – I
Alvheim was burning. All around, screams filled the air. Imperial soldiers in black platemail marched across the streets, capturing any elf that caught their fancy.
It was cruel.
It was despicable.
It was… something that Aria remembered.
They were in the throne room. Aria, her father, and her eldest sister had gathered for the first time since she was a baby. It was to be a talk about her future, specifically about what she would be studying. A peaceful scene, shattered by the sudden invasion of imperial soldiers.
“Hmph. So this is all that the elves amount to without their magic. Pathetic.” The commander of the soldiers kicked away an elven guard that he cut down. In his hand, a long sword shone with an ominous violet light. That blade was the bane of mana, disrupting any and every spell that the elves could use to fight back.
“Titania! Take Aria away from here!” The king had shouted those words and ran forward, drawing the dual royal blades, Ygg and Drasil.
The commander’s sword flared violet and he charged toward the king.
Aria was frozen, unable to act. Someone grabbed Aria and pulled her into their arms.
For a moment, Aria’s mind went to a man with black hair and dark eyes. But just as quickly, that image disappeared. The one holding her wasn’t that person. Instead, it was…
The eldest elf princess, Titania. Aria’s oldest sister and a calm beauty with honey-colored hair.
She ran without looking back, clutching Aria against her chest. “You have to escape! If no one else, you have to!”
A desperate plea. Her calm eldest sister’s voice broke with fear and anguish. Around them, Aria could see and hear familiar voices calling out in pain, anger, and-
“Don’t let them escape!”
A harsh male voice echoed from behind.
Aria saw who it was. The commander of the imperial soldiers, the cruelest and most vile human among the group. His black platemail was dyed a darker color by crimson and his sword dripped blood with every step.
Aria’s father and his guards had failed to stop them.
Titania ran, and Aria saw her kind slain or captured. But it wasn’t too late. Not yet. There were still a few guards resisting. As Titania ran through the winding Alvheim halls, an elf warrior called out to them.
“Commander!” An elf warrior drew a blade in either hand and ran to intercept the soldiers. “I will buy time! Just run!”
Titania grit her teeth and nodded. “Don’t you dare die, Mitri!”
The elf warrior laughed and then turned to face the surging imperial soldiers.
It was a familiar scene. Aria had gone through this before. Had she? She couldn’t remember, but it felt like she had. The contradiction caused a headache in her head.
Titania carried Aria in her arms, running as fast as she could without the use of magic. Because the eldest princess had honed her body throughout the years, that was faster than most. Yet, it still wasn’t fast enough to escape the imperial soldiers.
“Stop right there, elf!”
A platoon of soldiers burst out from around the corner. Behind them, although the elf warrior bought time, he could not fight off a dozen soldiers by himself, leaving a few to chase after Titania and Aria.
They were surrounded.
Titania placed Aria on the ground and grit her teeth. The eldest princess’s eyes flitted about in a panic before settling on the window nearby.
Aria knew what would happen next.
“Ari. No matter what happens from this point on, no matter what you see or what you hear, you keep running. You must! Do you understand me!?”
Titania screamed at her in desperation. With that, she gathered what little mana she could and burst an opening through that window, giving Aria a way out.
From that point on, Aria would run for her life, closing her eyes and ears to the tragedies happening around her. She wouldn’t know how long she ran, or how far. Only that in the end, she would reach the boundary of the Ancient Forest and the Lost Woods.
It was a tragedy, one that Aria knew all too well. One engraved on her very soul, a regret she could not undo.
Titania’s pure green eyes widened. “Ari? No, you have to-“
Aria stepped forward. “I won’t let this happen again.”
…Aria was useless. Weak. How many times had it been that others had been harmed for her sake? How many times had it been that she had failed due to her lack of strength?
A splitting headache.
It never changed. Each time. Every time. The same weakness, the same ending, the same solitude and regret. The only change came from his presence, the one that was so weak the first time she saw him, the one that saved her the second time she saw him, the one who became unimaginably strong the last time she saw him.
He gave Aria power, but it was always too late to change anything.
She remembered him, but it was always after he had been killed, leaving her alone again.
And the one time where they met on equal ground, it had been too late.
A splitting headache. Aria felt the world around her cracking, her vision blurring.
Interesting. To think that his power and titles could interact like this… should I say that you’re fortunate or misfortunate, my Darling of the Wind?
A female voice echoed in Aria’s mind. It was one she had never heard before, and yet heard a thousand times.
Aria ignored it.
Her sister was standing nearby. The imperial soldiers were advancing. The mana in the air was distorted by chaos, making it near impossible to use any magic.
But near impossible did not mean it was impossible.
Your will resonates with that of the Nameless and the Karmic Anomaly. A portion of your past memory and abilities have been restored.
Darling of the Wind has regressed into Dark Wind of Change
Recovered skills: Dark Tempest Attribute LVL ??, Dark Wind LVL 4, Fallen Spirit Arts LVL 3
With those announcements, Aria felt a familiar strength return to her. At the same time, the headache cleared. “Ah. I remember.”
Titania grabbed Aria’s shoulders. “What are you saying, Ari!? Go! If you don’t leave now-“
The imperial commander’s voice called out. At once, roars echoed through the halls as dozens of imperial soldiers charged.
Titania grit her teeth and prepared to throw Aria out the window. But then-
-A dragon burst through the wall. And standing on that dragon, giving off an aura even more domineering, there was a figure wreathed in chaotic darkness.
Casting a gaze throughout the hall, that figure said, “…Foolish humans. Since when did I permit you to lay your hands on the elves?”
His cold voice, dripping with malice, echoed across Alvheim.
I stood atop Saphira’s skull and glared at the soldiers assembled before me. Although it had been a while, I remembered the way she had used her oppressive aura against me in our first fight and mimicked it against the soldiers. That, coupled with Saphira’s own malevolent aura now that I allowed her to return to being the Wrathful Sin Dragon, prevented anyone from moving.
Well, almost everyone. Standing next to Titania, Aria tilted her head and gave me a strange look. It seemed that Saphira wasn’t the only one who remembered things this time around.
“You! Who are you, and what are you doing interfering with the Emperor’s Decree?!”
The person who shouted was, unsurprisingly, the mob commander I killed off in the past. Again, he was holding that shoddy sword, believing that it was all-powerful. Well, considering that chaos was a natural bane to most magic, it wasn’t illogical. Just… unfortunate that it made him overconfident.
“Me?” I laughed. “I’m the Demon Lord you humans so desperately sought. As for you. Kneel.”
Dragon’s Grasp activated and the commander was forced to the ground.
“Kuh-! This… why… won’t it break…?”
He gripped his shoddy sword and flared his mana. Chaos swirled from the blade. If he was being oppressed by anyone else, it might have had an effect. Unfortunately, it was me.
I hopped off of Saphira.
At that time, Titania recovered her wits. With her pure green eyes wide, she pointed at Saphira with trembling hands. “Th-the Wrathful Sin Dragon?! H-how?! And you!” Titania turned towards me and said, “You… h-have you tamed it?”
I stopped and looked at her.
Honey-colored hair and pure green eyes. A beauty that didn’t lose out to Aria’s, but was sharp and cold in comparison to the younger elf’s innocent and warm charm.
She was the same, and yet different. This time, although there was fear in her eyes from my presence, there was none of that jaded malice I once saw within those green orbs.
“That’s right.” I patted Saphira’s head with my hand and said, “This is my loyal servant and pet. You may call it… Fear.”
I thought you said you were going to sit back and watch?!
When you’re going full chuuni like this, you expect me to sit back and just take the cringe? Yeah, no thanks.
Ignoring the nosy goddess, I turned towards the commander and the imperial soldiers behind him.
The commander’s eyes grew wide and he shouted, “Run you idiots!”
But it was too late.
Dragon breath filled the hallway, vaporizing the commander and his soldiers. At the same time, it left the surroundings, Aria, and Titania untouched, the result of coordination between me and Saphira.
Titania collapsed on the ground, her legs giving out beneath her.
I glanced at her and then turned back towards Saphira. “Go clean up the soldiers outside. Don’t let a single one escape.”
With a roar in response, Saphira pulled her head out from the hole in the wall and flew into the air.
That settled one objective. The next… I turned towards Aria.
Titania was sitting on the ground beside her, eyes wide with fear. When she noticed who I was looking at, she quickly scrambled to her feet and stood in front of Aria, arms spread wide. “I-I don’t care how strong you are! You won’t lay a hand on Ari!”
…Time travel was a strange thing. To think, the woman who killed her sister in cold blood in the future would be so compassionate and selfless in the present. It was… an odd feeling to know that they were one and the same, separated only by a few day’s worth of experiences.
“It’s fine, Tani.”
Aria placed a hand on Titania’s shoulder and stepped past her.
“Ari?! No, stay back! Didn’t you hear him? He’s the Demon Lord! Not only that, but he’s tamed the Wrathful Sin Dragon! Someone like that-“
“Is our best ally now that the humans have betrayed us. Isn’t that right, Mister Demon Lord?” Aria smiled, a bright expression with a hint of mischief in her eyes.
Aria nodded. “I do.”
“…I’m sorry. It seems like I keep doing a bad job of keeping you safe.”
Aria shook her head. “Don’t be. Because of you, I became strong. And while I wasn’t strong enough… you gave me a second chance.”
“Well, this time will be different.” I reached out my hand. “The elves teaming up with the Demon Lord. Nature’s guardians combined with one who subverts it, as well as the fallen dragon that even the Braves could only seal. What do you say, Aria? Will you let this unreliable self try to protect you again?”
Aria laughed and grabbed my hand. “Only if you don’t go and die on me again, oh Mister Demon Lord.”
Titania stared at us, her green eyes flitting back and forth. “…I think I’m missing some critical information here, Ari.”
“Ah, Tani. This person is- Papa!”
I blinked. “Er-“
Titania flushed a deep crimson. “Ari!” She narrowed her eyes and glared at me. “You-! How dare you deceive my innocent little sister?!”
Aria shook her head. “Not that, Tani! Papa! We can still save him if we hurry! Come on!” Without another word, Aria sprinted away.
“Ari! Ah, you reckless girl!” Without another word, Titania chased off after her younger sister.
I sighed and followed.
Before I forgot, I reached out into the air and clenched. With that act, the chaos mana that was spread in the air by the imperial soldiers dispersed.
“Now to follow those two girls and save the king of Alvheim. And then convince him to team up with a Demon Lord. And then fight off an army of Braves. And then deal with the real Demon Lord…”
One step at a time.