21 – Slice of Life
“Could you stop pulling my arm? At this rate, increased recovery or not, my wounds are going to reopen.”
Titania’s ears reddened and she said, “Then walk faster.”
“If this is how you treat people, it’s no wonder why Aria wanted you to leave her alone.”
The red on Titania’s ears spread to the rest of her face, but she didn’t say anything in response. Instead, she increased her walking speed.
I shook my head and reluctantly did the same.
Since Titania had resolved herself to being my minder, she took me to the base of Yggdrasil so that we could explore Alvheim from the ground up. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to deal with the demeaning act of being led around by the hand like a toddler.
If it wasn’t for the fact that it sped up the recovery process of the World Tree Dew so that my could sooner memorize its effects, I would have already gone back in time. Still, the pros of following Titania outweighed the cons of minor embarrassment and awkwardness, so I didn’t reject her actions. Instead, I just wanted it to proceed without trouble.
“As you can see, this is the base of Yggdrasil and the main entrance into Alvheim proper,” Titania said, gesturing in front of her with her right hand. “Both those intending to journey through the Ancient Forest to explore the outside world and to hunt monsters in the forest depths pass through here.”
“…Isn’t that obvious?”
“You-“ Titania narrowed her eyes for a moment, but then she smoothed her expression. “Hmph. As a guide, is it not better for me to be through rather than assume you have knowledge about our city?”
I gave Titania a halfhearted answer while I examined the World Tree.
Yggdrasil’s trunk was massive. Someone trying to look up at its top would only hurt their neck and someone trying to walk around its circumference would be at it for well over a day. While it wasn’t as large as the one known in Norse mythology, Yggdrasil was still awe-inspiring in size with a cross-section that would be large enough to house an entire city, and one that did. And the entrance to that city was before me.
Seeing it, I said, “So why is the main entrance so plain?”
For a main entrance to a mythical city, it was nothing more than a giant hollow. There wasn’t even a door, barrier, or anything guarding it. If it was always like that, I wondered how Alvheim didn’t get besieged earlier.
“How arrogant. Unlike humans, we live in harmony with nature and accept what is given to us. While we may ask the spirits and Yggdrasil for guidance, we would not dare change what it has provided.”
“Are you elves not afraid of monsters charging into the depths of Alvheim through this entrance?”
A small army could charge through the main entrance. That was how wide it was. If a small army of orcs or goblins found it, a large scale tragedy would be occurring in no time.
Titania sighed. “Did you forget already? We live within Yggdrasil’s providence. Mere monsters do not dare approach the World Tree, let alone invade it. Humans are a different story, however… but then, that is what the mana barrier is for.”
“…The same mana barrier that was torn apart by the imperial soldiers?”
Titania huffed and walked inside the entrance.
I followed her, taking a look around as I did.
Like I said, the main entrance was simply a giant hollow, like that of a regular tree but expanded about a hundred or so times in size. However, it wasn’t completely natural. Now that I was inside, I could see torches lining the walls to provide light. They weren’t flame torches, but rather made of a strange crystal that radiated light. Almost like light-bulbs, actually.
“I thought you elves didn’t dare change what was provided?”
Titania followed my gaze and then said, “Of course we do not. Those are spirit stones, and the fixtures were created by prayers made to Yggdrasil.”
It was hard to believe, but considering that an entire house had been grown for me, Aria, and Saphira… I suppose I could accept that.
Titania led me towards the right side of the hollow where there was a stairway and rails organically growing from the wall. “As we care for Yggdrasil, so to does it care for us. When we require something, be it light or these stairs to connect various levels, it provides it, even going so far as to modify its own body.”
I nodded and kept observing.
It was strange to see, considering the prevalence of man-made constructs and dwellings on Earth… or just in general. That was the difference from the presence of mana, it would appear. Where concrete, stone, and steel would have been laid, there in Alvheim… or rather, within Yggdrasil, it was replaced by living wood.
A symbiotic relationship. Harmony… something that humans inherently lacked.
We continued climbing the stairs… and then I noticed a problem.
I stared at the over a thousand steps looming before me and said, “Do you elves really walk up all these steps?”
She laughed. “Of course not.”
“…Then why are we?”
“Proper circulation is necessary for proper recovery. What better way to achieve that then ascending stairways?”
“Yes, Lord Nazin?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Stop wasting my time.”
While I was willing to bear with Titania’s presence until my body memorized the effects of the World Tree Dew, if that meant that I had to perform such meaningless actions then I would rather go off and kill myself fighting something. At least then I would get something out of it after my body memorized the lethal blow.
…Except that I hadn’t obtained anything from battling the Braves.
Damn that Goddess. I still had to get to the root of that issue.
“Very well. I propose you hold on tight then.”
“Hold on tight? Why would I-“
“Oh spirits of the wind, lend me your strength and serve as my wings. Flight!”
“…Right. Wind magic. That makes sense.“
Before long, we were flying through the air towards wherever Titania wanted to show me next.
Staring at Titania’s back, I frowned.
It was still strange to see her acting this way. A protective older sister, a straight-laced but caring beauty… it was a stark contrast to the spiteful frigid woman I met first. This Titania not only cared for Aria, but she was going out of her way to take care of me, a person she should by all rights despise, simply due to my important to Aria. Awkward, stiff, and a bit arrogant she might be in doing so, but she cared.
The Titania I remembered did not, even going so far as to infiltrate the Imperial Palace just to assassinate me and Aria. Likely as the Demon Lord’s pawn, judging from the Anti-Magic weapon she used.
Titania tilted her head towards me. “Did you say something?”
“Yes.” I made a show of looking around. “Is there a reason why we haven’t met any other elves?”
“Of course. We have yet to enter the main plaza.”
“…Do you elves even use up all of the space Yggdrasil provides?”
Titania’s answer was to increase our flight speed.
After a few minutes, we passed through the opening at the top of the stairway. When we did, the dim light from the torches was replaced by sunlight, filtering in through the leaves above.
Titania adjusted the wind to land gracefully on the ground… for herself.
I had to slow myself using my own piddling mana reserves.
“Here we are, the main plaza of Alvheim.” Titania stepped forward and gestured with her right hand. “This is the primary residential area for Alvheim’s citizens, as well as the center for trading.”
So Titania was going to ignore the fact that I could have crashed into the ground just then.
I shook my head and readjusted my dark aura to compensate for my decreased mana. Women… they were indeed unfathomable beings. If only they could be as reliable as my faithful companion, my life would be much simpler.
The main plaza was similar to one I would have expected in a regular kingdom. It was actually similar to Ars Nova where a portion of it was dedicated to market stalls and trading.
From where we stood, the entire right side was opened to the air, revealing a sea of green as it overlooked the tops of the trees in the Ancient Forest. To our left was something similar to a small suburban neighborhood with houses lined up neatly side by side.
The market stalls I mentioned were directly before us on a winding path leading higher in Yggdrasil. However, unlike the bustling of Ars Nova, the place had a lazy atmosphere. The few elves running the stalls were either reading or sleeping, relaxing in the shade and soft sunlight.
“What do you think?” Titania turned to look at me. “Is it not much more cultured than those human cities?”
“I don’t know about cultured… but it is more relaxed.”
Titania pouted and responded by turning around and pulling me after her.
“What?” Titania said.
I didn’t think that telling Titania she pouted just like Aria did was a good idea, so instead I said, “Do you elves even have a currency to trade with?”
“Of course not. Unlike humans, we trade directly instead of using some artificial construct with no inherent value. Come, I’ll show you.”
Before I could say a word against it, Titania was already leading me to the closest market stall.
“Good morning, Aunt Maria!”
“Hm?” The elf seated at a comfortable chair behind the stall raised their head. Like her name suggested, the elf was female. And, like all the other elves, she was beautiful, possessing long violet hair.
Not quite as beautiful as the ones I’d somehow gotten involved with, but beautiful nonetheless.
The elf woman looked at Titania and said, “Well, well. I never expected the cold first princess to cozy up to a man after all these years but I suppose a Demon Lord would be the only one you would chase after…” Maria’s gaze shifted towards Titania’s left hand and said, “Should we be expecting an addition to the royal family anytime soon?”
Titania froze and slowly turned her head towards me. “Lord Nazin-“
I laughed. “I’m afraid he’s going to have to wait a bit longer, Miss Maria. The eldest princess is simply showing me around Alvheim so that I can prepare for when the imperial soldiers and their Braves return.”
Maria frowned and leaned back into her chair. “How disappointing. And here I thought that the frigid princess had finally found a match.” She turned towards Titania and said, “You’re not getting any younger, Tani dear. It’s not too bad quite yet, but two more years and we’ll be calling you-“
Titania coughed and then said, “Lord Nazin was interested in seeing your work, Aunt Maria.”
The violet-haired elf stared at Titania for a bit longer before shifting her gaze towards me. “Well, if our Benefactor wants to take a look, he can go ahead. Pick something nice, dear. Maybe something made of sapphire?”
I ignored the blatant slice of life drama happening nearby and took a proper look at what Maria was offering, finally free of distractions.
“Accessories?” I muttered.
They were similar to what I made for Aria and Saphira. Only, the craftsmanship and appearance was magnitudes above what I could make.
Jewelry lined the table that Maria used to show her wares. Silver earrings with emerald threads that radiated wind magic. A golden broach inlaid with a ruby that enhanced vitality. A mithril ring etched with countless runes and bearing a sapphire imbued with recovery magic.
Each of them were things that adventurers in the outside would bankrupt themselves to possess, but there in front of me they were laid out like trinkets.
Then again, to a long-lived race like the elves, they probably were trinkets.
No wonder that emperor wanted to take over Alvheim and the elves. With equipment like these arming his soldiers, he could reduce the casualties they would suffer by a good amount.
My gaze wandered towards a silver pendant. However, while it looked silver, that was only true of its chain. The pendant itself wasn’t metal. Not only that, but there was an odd blue gemstone on its surface that radiated an oddly familiar power.
“Oh?” Maria noticed what I was looking at and said, “You have a good eye, Benefactor.” She picked it up and said, “That’s my finest work, made with the best materials I could get my hands on back in the day. It was supposed to be for a certain someone’s wedding, but it’s just been sitting there gathering dust for the past three centuries now.”
“…And no one’s traded for it?”
“Nothing’s caught my eye, dear.”
I nodded. “I suppose it would be hard to trade for something made with a dragon scale and a fragment of a dragon core, especially with all those enchantments.”
Increased mana recovery, abnormal status immunity, slash damage immunity… all sorts of ridiculous effects were listed when I used Analyze.
Maria laughed. “Oh, dear. You have no idea.”
Just seeing the pendant alone made being forced to follow Titania around and listen to her backhanded comments worth it.
The sensation of recovering from deadly wounds through a miraculous medicine has been memorized. Regenerate LVL 1 obtained.
Through accumulated experiences and your unique physique, Regenerate’s level has increased to level 5.
And hearing that announcement was even better.
Now to return to the past and avoid this entire situation altogether-
-or to trigger an event flag.
Maria turned her head and muttered, “Oh dear.”
An elf ran down from the trail up ahead. He was fully armed, two swords sheathed at his side, and wearing a mithril chest-plate. Like all elves, he didn’t suffer any in the looks department. With spiky brown hair and clear blue eyes, paired with his rugged yet pop-idolish face, he would have been a shoe-in for most attractive male of 20XX back on Earth.
Titania turned towards the approaching elf and said, “Mitri. What are you doing here?”
The elf male, Mitri, drew his swords and shouted. “Unhand my Commander, Demon Lord! I won’t let you bewitch her as well!”
“Bewitch?” Titania shook her head. “What are you saying, Mitri?”
“Enough!” Mitri jumped into the air and raised his swords. “Spirits of Earth and Wind, heed my call! Become my blade-“
“-and slay my foe! Earth-Wind Slash!”
I sighed and raised my left hand. “Every single time,” I muttered. “I swear, the goddess loves her cliches too much.”
Mitri rocketed through the air, his swords surging with green and orange mana, and slashed. An ‘X’ of green and orange flew towards me, filled with killing intent.
It was a powerful attack, but worthless against me.
I clenched my left hand.
The ‘X’ was crushed and Mitri froze in mid-air, Dragon’s Grasp sealing his movements.
“…I swear, what is with hot-blooded warriors and jump attacks? They’re predictable, inefficient, and risky.”
Titania let go of my hand and marched towards the frozen elf knight. “You, you…!” Her voice trailed off and she raised her left hand, clenching it in a fist. “You idiot!”
Titania swung a left hook at the elf knight’s face.
At the moment of impact, I released Dragon’s Grasp.
Whether due to the stored momentum, the fact that Mitri was still in the air, or the sheer force in Titania’s angry blow, the elf knight was sent flying off the edge.
That done, Titania let out a long sigh and turned back towards me. “…I apologize for my subordinate and his unsightly behavior, Lord Nazin.” She bowed her head. “If there is anything I can do to make up for this, do not hesitate to state them.”
“She’s telling you to take her, dear! Don’t be shy!”
Titania flushed and spun towards the market stall. “Auntie!”
It was laughable. The entire chain of events from the time I woke up was like a slice of life comedy. Spending the day with a cold beauty who tried hard to hide her caring side, meeting an auntie who tried to set us up, being confronted by someone who had a crush on that beauty, and then ending with the beauty being too embarrassed to express her feelings.
It wasn’t just laughable, it was absurd.
Titania turned towards me again, but didn’t meet my eye. Instead, she turned her head to the side and fidgeted with her ribbon. “D-Don’t get any strange ideas! I just want to pay you back.” Titania glanced at me an then looked away again. “Mitri was being an idiot and everything so I wanted to apologize,” she mumbled.
“In that case, Titania. Why don’t you just take me back to the-“
A sudden searing pain across my chest.
I froze and patted my chest with my left hand.
It came back crimson.
“…Lord Nazin?” Titania looked towards me and then her eyes widened. “Your wounds!”
I lowered my gaze. Blood poured from a deep slash wound on my chest, staining Yggdrasil beneath me.
Titania ran forward and reached out towards me.
I staggered back and forced my body to remain upright as I watched the elf approach.
“Nazin!” Titania called my name, her usually cold and sarcastic voice laced with concern.
Static drowned out her voice. At the same time, I could feel all the strength leaving my body.
I clutched at my chest, trying to close the wound with the little mana I could muster. But I couldn’t.
And then I realized why.
It wasn’t from the previous battle with the Braves, or from the elf knight.