19 – [ Memory Gambit – I ]
I opened my eyes.
A familiar dark forest canopy, covered in gray mist. The Lost Woods. Except, this time, I was standing. Not only that, but I was a fair distance away from where I usually woke up.
Glancing at my body, I saw that it was transparent. Considering it was that way to my eyes, I was a non-existent ghost to everything else. That was the result of my little experiment testing my hypothesis on Information Concealment earlier.
The goddess’s gaze and presence was nowhere to be seen or felt. But that was obvious. She should still be observing the ‘me’ that was playing out the role of a Demon Lord.
Remembering that, I grimaced. He- or rather, I, was not going to be happy.
It took all of my abilities to return here with a body without replacing the ‘me’ in this timeline. As a result, the ‘me’ in the future would be substantially weakened… and without him knowing.
Well, it couldn’t be helped.
This was a risk I had to take, a plan I had to set in motion. And to start-
“There I am.”
Lying on the forest ground a few feet away was a person. A young man with black hair, a dark long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and sneakers. His face was lacking any distinguishing features. Me.
“Now… how are we different?” I muttered.
It was something that I had been wondering about. No, it was something that I had to account for, something I realized after the goddess’s insistent actions.
I didn’t use Analyze. Instead, I reached out with my mana and relied on my Absolute Memory. And when I did-
“…So that’s it.”
The ‘me’ in this timeline… or rather, the me at the origin of every timeline, had only a few powers in his body. First was Absolute Memory, obtained from the orb of infinite human potential. Second was Information Concealment, something that was really a shadow cast from Absolute Memory’s power. A sort of side-branch due to controlling my own ‘memory’ in the world itself. As for the last-
“I was right to be cautious in the beginning, but after that… Tch, I got too arrogant.”
If I wasn’t standing right there facing my past self, I would have never realized it. The status screen, skills, and the titles… rather than a blessing, they were more of a restriction.
“No,” I muttered. “To most it would actually benefit them. But for me…”
My power was Absolute Memory. With it, I could memorize everything I experienced, barring vast differences in power. Because of that, I hadn’t realized it. Those skills, that status, those titles… they were brands. A way to etch divine power onto the soul, granting it strength while giving her influence.
My past self opened his eyes. At the same time, the Wrathful Sin Dragon roared.
He jumped to his feet and glanced around before activating Information Concealment. Immediately, he faded from view and the Wrathful Sin Dragon’s roars stopped.
It was the same. Like a distant memory, the same events played out. And soon, it would be the same result. It must be the same result.
…But only in ‘my’ memories.
My past self left no traces behind as he left the Lost Woods, but I didn’t need any to follow him. Recalling my own memories, I followed behind him, step for step, pace for pace.
And then it happened.
“…I had considered the possibility that I would come across a cliched event, but for it to be something as disgusting as this…”
The start of it all.
Just past the boundary of the Lost Woods, a young man stepped up to save a young elf maiden. It was a whimsical act, a random act of kindness.
Standing behind my past self, I saw everything unfold just as I remembered it.
The commander’s arrogant words.
My calm response.
I knew how this story would end, so I took a step back, not wanting to get splashed with blood.
And then Aria looked at me.
I froze. That… should have been impossible. Yet, her eyes were wide with shock, and then realization.
The memory played out. The commander swung his sword at my past self, easily cutting through my torso. My past self staggered, his eyes closing for a fraction of a second.
Back then, I hadn’t realized it. But now, standing there as an observer, I saw it. Though I was too far to hear her, I could see Aria’s lips move, muttering an inaudible name.
Before I could react, Aria forced herself to her feet and ran towards the Lost Woods.
My past self was dying fast. Blood poured from his gaping chest and his body leaned backwards, lacking the strength to remain upright.
At the same time, the soldiers chased after Aria.
Like I thought in the past, it was unsightly. Her left arm was dripping with blood. Her golden hair was dirtied with dirt and brush. Not only that, but her face was starting to bruise from where the commander struck her. It also looked like she had trouble breathing, maybe suffering from a cracked rib or two when she was pulled through the air.
She wouldn’t make it.
The commander looked panicked, his eyes flitting between my past self’s body and Aria.
I was still invisible. Information Concealment was working its magic, and even the Goddess wouldn’t be able to see me.
Aria tripped, collapsing mere inches before the border of the Lost Woods and the Ancient Forest.
The commander stared at my past self and abruptly turned on his heel back towards his soldiers. “You idiots! What are you doing, taking so long to stop a wounded elf?!”
Aria reached out, trying to pull herself those last few inches. But she was too weak. She lowered her head to the ground, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I told you, Elf! It’s pointless!”
The soldiers formed a perimeter, not that it was needed, and barred Aria’s path. At the same time, the commander was approaching Aria’s collapsed form, leering at it and her damaged clothing.
And I acted.
Shadows burst from the ground and I tossed my past self into a fold of space. At the same time, I drew my faithful companion (stick) and stepped forward.
Chaos threw nature’s mana into disorder.
The commander sensed it first. He drew his sword and spun to face me… but he saw nothing. “What?”
The other soldiers mimicked their commander. However, when facing empty air, they froze.
I stepped forward again, but nothing changed. After all, ‘no one’ was there.
But the soldiers must have noticed. One of them took a step back, his armor clattering in fear. “C-Commander! You said that the ghosts in the Lost Woods were a fairy tale!”
“Dammit Briggs,” the commander said. “Not now!”
Screams filled the air, blood splattered the ground, and then it was silent.
I turned my attention to Aria and muttered, “You troublesome elf. When will I be rid of you?”