25 – Demon Lord Route – Counterpoint
The smell of vanilla and something else sweet. That was the first thing I noticed when I entered the room that Titania had fled to.
The house that Yggdrasil had provided us was furnished, but in a way that was relatively spartan. While elegant in a minimalist way with pure wooden finishing and soft cotton-like threads and cushioning, the house lacked a ‘homely’ feeling that should be expected of a place where people lived.
But the room I walked into was different.
The layout of the room was similar to the one in which I woke up. A bed lined the wall in the corner of the room to the left of the entrance, directly beneath the room’s window. Across from the bed, to the right to the entrance, there was a rectangular table and a pair of chairs.
The main difference between the room layouts were the large wardrobe directly in front of the door. But while those were the only main differences, there were plenty of minor differences that added up.
A stuffed wolf sat at the head of the bed in the room. Its gray fur was matted and slightly scuffed, torn a bit here and there but lovingly stitched back together. Next to it, there was a pillow embroidered with bright yellow sunflowers, a design mirrored by the blanket covering the bed.
As for the wardrobe, while it was shut, I could see the edges of over a dozen dresses peeking out from beneath the doors, as if there were so many it couldn’t shut properly.
I quietly shut the door behind me. Whether because of Information Concealment or because it was just well-made, the door closed without a single sound.
When I did, the scent of vanilla and that strangely sweet smell became stronger.
I frowned and glanced around the room. When I did, I caught sight of a wreath of white and yellow flowers hung on the right wall. The white flowers I recognized as vanilla, but the yellow flowers I didn’t.
Curious, I decided to analyze the wreath.
Name: Wreath of Vanilla and Yellow Freesia
Summary: A wreath made of vanilla and yellow freesia flowers. The maker lovingly entwined the flowers together and blessed them with mana, preventing them from dying.
Interesting… but I didn’t know the language of flowers so the deeper meaning was lost to me. It seemed like my skill either thought it was obvious or didn’t want to pry either. Still, the gesture wasn’t lost on me.
I shifted my gaze to the only one who could have brought that wreath in the room, as well as the one responsible for decorating everything else.
Titania sat at the table, her back turned to the door. On the tabletop before her stood two piles of papers, a towering one on her left and a smaller one on her right. In her left hand, she held a quill with an inkwell nearby to dip it.
“You’re working rather hard, aren’t you?”
Titania flinched and bumped into her inkwell.
I grabbed it before it could fall using Dragon’s Grasp.
Titania sighed and then turned around to glare at me. “You could at least knock before entering.”
I eased the inkwell and the ink back inside of it. After that, I walked around the table and took a seat opposite of Titania. “Knock? I live here. Why would I do that?”
“You-“ Titania shook her head. “Never mind.” She glanced at her papers for a moment and then shifted them to the side. “I assume that you need something?”
“What makes you think that? Maybe I just wanted to say hi?”
Titania sighed. “With you, Lord Nazin, I highly doubt that mere greetings would warrant a visit. Did you want me to clean the dishes? Are you still hungry?”
I frowned. “…What am I, a kid?”
Titania raised an eyebrow and said, “Considering that in the past two days you have spent the total of one lying in bed like a sick child, yes.”
“…It’s not like I asked you to take care of me. But that’s not why I came here. I have something important to ask you.”
Titania paused and then rested her elbows on the table. “What is it?”
“That guy called you Commander, right? Are you responsible for Alvheim’s combat potential?”
Titania frowned. “…I suppose you could put it like that. But why do you ask?” She narrowed her eyes. “Do not tell me that you are planning an expedition.”
“No, but it’ll be important for me to understand all of it if we want Alvheim and Yggdrasil to remain safe in the coming week.”
Titania’s frown deepened. “Is it that serious?”
I nodded. “It is.”
Titania remained silent for a few moments and said, “Why ask me this? Would it not be better to ask my father?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I trust you more than that ol-“ I coughed. “Than Aultry.”
Titania flushed, but said, “Very well. Since you trust me, I will do my best to answer your questions. What specifically did you want to know about?”
I paused to think. “First of all… what’s the territory like?”
I had a vague understanding of the world’s geography from my ‘Otherworlder’ title, but still lacked in concreted details.
“Territory?” Titania tilted her head and stared at me. “…Are you really a human?”
“Fine, fine. Give me a moment.” She reached into her pile of papers and dug around. Eventually, she grabbed one from the pile and placed it in front of me. “Here we go. A recent map of Asifant from one who recently returned from their pilgrimage.”
A map… that was useful. I grabbed it and took a closer look.
Countless names, boundaries, and points of interest were written out, but in summary the continent could be divided into five major sections: the Northern Empire in the north, the Demon Realm in the south, the Western Mountains in the west, the Sun Kingdom in the east, and the Ancient Forest in the center.
From what I knew, most of the humans lived in the Northern Empire, the result of Emperor Elio uniting it under his rule. The Sun Kingdom had the next largest population, though it included Anima, humanoids with animal features, among their number. The Demon Realm obviously had demons. As for the Western Mountains… considering that my title didn’t bring anything up, it seemed unimportant. But even so, that left three potential enemies.
“Surrounded on all sides, huh?” I muttered.
Titania nodded. “It would seem like it, yes. But in truth the only ones we need to fear would be the Empire.” Her nose wrinkled in disgust. “At least the demons would not resort to such… repulsive acts.”
They wouldn’t… but that didn’t mean they weren’t a problem.
“What about the Sun Kingdom?”
“Hm? Ah, they have closed off their borders for years now. Even had they not, the children of the Sun hold honor in as high esteem as us elves do Yggdrasil.”
I rubbed my chin and frowned. “Is that so?”
That sounded similar to how China used to be in the past as well. It made me curious, especially with that hero’s reaction to me in Ars Nova, but I shelved the thought for the moment. Instead, I focused on the map.
“The north and south then. The north has the Lost Woods so the imperial army will have to take a detour, but the south… Are the barriers and bewildering arrays on the outskirts of Alvheim the only protections you have?”
“Of course not.” Titania crossed her arms and said, “What do you take us for? There is an outpost on the southern side of the Ancient Forest where our greatest hunters hold a vigil against the demons. In addition, the Fae live near there and would be the first to inform us of any activity.”
It sounded secure, but I couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t enough. An outpost could be easily overrun or captured without a trace. The Fae were fickle and might flee at a moment’s notice into their homeland between the cracks of the world.
“What about your combat power? What forces can Alvheim dispatch if push comes to shove?”
Titania frowned and placed a finger on her chin. “That… I believe around a hundred? If we are including the Royal Guards and those responsible solely for guarding Yggdrasil… approximately two hundred.”
“That’s not enough.”
“Pardon me?” Titania narrowed her eyes. “Are you telling me that two hundred of the most elite warriors, men and women that have trained for centuries is insufficient in your eyes?”
“Are they as strong as me?”
Titania froze. “W-Well…”
“Yes or no.”
“…No. They are not. B-But-“
“Damn. So that’s how it’s going to play out then.” I stared at the map and sighed. “Knowing her, the most ‘exciting’ part is just about to start.”
“I… do not understand?” Titania stared at me and frowned. “Her? Exciting?”
I shook my head. “Yesterday… No, it would be two days ago. I fought the Empire’s Braves here.” I circled a region north of Alvheim.
Titania’s eye widened. “Is that why you were grievously injured?”
“Yes. They were unexpectedly tough… and while I managed to kill most of them, the few that survived were strong.”
Strong enough to make me wonder why they weren’t the real heroes instead of that delusional fool in Ars Nova, actually.
Titania bit her lip.
But I wasn’t finished. “And from what I know, the Demon Lord is making moves to get rid of the elves as well. While the demons wouldn’t have moved if the Empire had succeeded, with my appearance destroying that plan, we can count on them attacking soon.”
“That…” Titania glanced at the map and muttered, “I see. Our forces would indeed be insufficient. But Lord Nazin, are you not overestimating the enemy forces?”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“While it may not appear so to you,” Titania said. “The Ancient Forest is home to many dangerous creatures. The Fenrir Wolves possess claws and talons that pierce through any defense. The Lethe Spiders can bind even the most skilled magician in their illusions. And there is even the Darklight Python that can strike unannounced. While us elves can avoid them due to the aid of nature’s spirits guiding us, the same is not true for the other races.”
I paused and mulled over her words and then shook my head. “No. If they were ordinary soldiers, that might be true. But this is the imperial army, the same one run by Emperor Elio, the prodigy that could fight off the Demon Lord by himself.”
“…The ruler of the humans is that powerful?”
I blinked and stared at Titania. “Didn’t you know? You handed me the map, didn’t you?”
Titania flushed. “W-Well, it has been a while since I have left Alvheim, so pardon me for being out of date.”
“A while…? It can’t have been that long, right? I think I remember Aria mentioning that you told her how great crepes were…”
Titania coughed. “A-anyway,” she said. “If the Emperor is so powerful, why is he going about the war in such a roundabout manner?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe he doesn’t want to have collateral damage? Or maybe he’s testing the waters for something bigger-“
I suddenly remembered what the Emperor was researching. Chaos magic, darkness… and didn’t those demons say they would get vengeance for their princess or something?
I sighed and rubbed my temples. “It looks like I’m going to have to meet with your father after all.”
“Ah.” Titania stood up and began tidying her papers. “Give me a moment then. I will be just-“
“You take your time. I remember the way.” I closed my eyes and then focused on the spatial coordinates of the hallway in front of the inner sanctum.
“Eh? Lord Nazin-“
Titania’s voice cut out, replaced by the cold chill of non-existence. Soon, that chill vanished as well, replaced with the familiar warmth of reemerging at my target.
I opened my eyes.
An elaborate set of double doors, woven through with ivy and branches, stood before me. The doorway to the inner sanctum of Alvheim, where the king presided over his people and Yggdrasil itself.
But that wasn’t all.
Someone stood there, not far in front of me. A girl.
She stood as tall as I did, our eyes the same level. But unlike my dark brown eyes, hers were a dark violet, the color of amethysts shrouded by night.
Milky white skin like the pale moon. Lovely pink lips set in a soft frown. Her hair, short and raven colored, framed a delicate face that looked like it was carved by a master artisan trying to depict a goddess.
A simple black dress covered her lithe body, its threads light enough to reveal the shape beneath it but dark enough to hide the important parts.
I took in all of that information within a single glance. Barely any time at all. But that single glance seemed to stretch on forever.
I knew her.
I didn’t remember her, but I knew her.
My heart throbbed and I reached out. Her name was on the edge of my tongue. “You-“
She shook her head and said, “You’re not him.”
Confused, I blinked. And when I did, she was gone.
I blinked again and spun around. “…Was I imagining things?”
No one was there. I didn’t detect any mana fluctuations either.
“It must be the stress.”
I shook my head and then stepped towards the doors.
They loomed before me, tall and austere. I got the feeling that most people would be intimidated by looking at them… but I wasn’t most people.
I kicked the door open and said, “Aultry. I have something to discuss.”
The king of Alvheim sat on his throne. A book lay on the ground nearby, its pages bent and ruffled from landing at an awkward angle. Aultry stared at the book for a moment. When that moment passed, he turned towards me and said between gritted teeth, “Lord Nazin. To what do I owe this… pleasure?”
ERROR: Due to anomalous events, certain skills and titles have been lost. Status for the individual “Nowun” updated.
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. Cannot be disrupted by the lack of mana. Allows spatial leap.
Information Concealment LVL ?? – A unique unranked skill recognized by Goddess Serena due to the user’s ability to withhold and conceal information. [This applies even to one’s own self.]
Chaos Affinity LVL 7 – A skill granting the affinity of Chaos, the magical element that disrupts all others. At this level, it becomes possible to disrupt most magical phenomenon.
Physical Damage Resistance LVL 7 – A skill granting resistance towards physical attacks. At this level, an attack capable of reducing a mountain to rubble is reduced to a tap.
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. At this level, it has almost become a swordsmanship in itself.
Darkness Affinity LVL 7 – A skill granting the affinity of Darkness, the magical element embodying shadows, void, and negativity. At this level, uses are limited primarily by imagination and mana.
Mana Resistance LVL 7 – A skill granting resistance towards phenomenon involving mana. At this level, a magical attack capable of wiping out a mountain is reduced to a slight shock.
Analysis LVL 7 – 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. At this level, Name, Level, Age, Race, Combat Potential, most skills, and a brief biography is shown.
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. The level determines the level of the skill that can be granted.
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. At this level, it is possible to restrain dragons and beings with equivalent power. The target is limited to one.
Anti-Magic LVL 1 – A skill that allows the usage of an energy serving as the antithesis of mana. Greater levels allow for greater amounts. At this level, allows the creation of a handful of Anti-Magic.
Regenerate LVL 5 – A skill that allows regeneration from damage through the use of mana. On this level, even lost limbs can be restored, let alone vital organs.
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 strives to save the elven princess Aria Sylvania from her fate. Your goodwill and efforts will never be forgotten, having been burned into her memory. She will always return to your side, no matter the time, no matter the place.
Legend – The title of one who defeats ancient beings of catastrophe. Grants unrivaled strength and speed.
Demon Lord Nazin – Your name, your title, the role you have decided to embrace. A Demon Lord that protects others with his domineering strength, repaying kindness with kindness and malice with malice. You will never fall into darkness.