26 – Demon Lord Route – Downbeat
I took a sip from my tea cup. Bitter, without even a hint of sweetness.
Across from me, Aultry took a sip from his own. From the way his eyes wrinkled in delight, it obviously wasn’t as bitter as mine.
After my abrupt entrance, we’d decided to hold the conversation in a more relaxing place. Aultry suggested it, mostly because of the stress my visit was giving him, and I agreed to it.
Considering his attitude towards me, and how outrageous asking to visit the heart of Yggdrasil was, any help in lowering his resistance was welcome.
We were seated at a table on a deck not far from the inner sanctum. Apparently it was where Aultry liked to unwind between dealing with ruling.
A maid had delivered tea for the two of us, leaving a kettle on the table, and then let us be.
Aultry set down his cup and said, “So how is my baby girl, Lord Nazin? I hope that you’re treating her well.”
I stared at Aultry and frowned. “Did you elves suddenly gain another protector? It seems that everyone around these parts has suddenly grown a backbone and decided they can stand up against a Demon Lord.”
Aultry shrugged and waved his hand. “Maybe you just haven’t seemed very intimidating, ‘Lord Nazin’. After all, you look very much like an ordinary human right now.”
“An ordinary-“ My eyes widened and I reached for my face. Halfway there I realized what I was doing and stopped.
“…You sly fox.”
“Thank you. But in all seriousness, where is my daughter? I don’t detect her anywhere in Alvheim and haven’t for the past five days.”
“She’s fine. I just sent her off to undergo training-“
Aultry stood up. “You sent her off to train? By herself? My Ari?”
I raised an eyebrow.
Aultry coughed and sat back down. “…Pardon me, but isn’t that excessive?”
“Well, Aultry, considering how I haven’t seemed very intimidating lately, do you think I’d still be capable of protecting her and Alvheim at the same time?”
Aultry narrowed his eyes. “I handed my daughter to you because I believed she would be safe, not for you to force her through trials!”
I took a sip from my tea cup. Still bitter, but I was getting used to it.
I set my tea cup down and said, “She’ll be fine. She’s with my servant. If anything, you should be concerned about people that meet her instead of the other way around.”
Aultry grumbled and said, “Fine. In that case, I suppose I can accept it. But still, you are truly a Demon Lord, aren’t you? Though you have such a lackluster appearance, your actions at least are fitting. Even daring to set your hands on my eldest daughter as well-“
“Hold on.” I raised my hand. “I have no intentions towards Titania.”
Aultry scoffed. “As if I would believe that. Practically all of Alvheim has heard about how she took you for a walk around the other day. You! And her, who hasn’t even so much as looked as any of the suitors I’ve suggested in the past three hundred years!”
I frowned. “It’s not my fault that she’s somehow become fond of me.”
“There!” Aultry pointed at me. “That right there! A Demon Lord through and through! At least Cross had the decency to politely reject the elves that made passes at him, but you! You’re just sitting there and pulling my honeybun along!”
My mana flared.
Aultry flinched and then lowered his hand. He took a deep breath and sighed. “…My apologies, Lord Nazin.”
“…Again, you and your people are being quite rude recently. I’m beginning to think that it might be better to just leave.”
“No! Stay, please.” Aultry grimaced. “You’re our only ally at this time.”
I thought about making him sweat a bit, but eventually said, “It’s good that you know that.”
Aultry sighed and took a sip from his tea cup to calm down.
I decided to do the same.
After a while, Aultry said, “I suppose Tani has always been a bit… unorthodox. Her falling for you is unexpected, especially the relationship between you and Ari, but I suppose the heart wants what it wants.”
“…Sure. Now the reason why I wanted to talk with you is-“
Aultry gestured with his tea cup and said, “Do you know that she swore herself off of love when she was younger? She thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary. Something about the sword and magic being all she needed.”
“…That’s interesting to hear but-“
“I thought it would change after Ari was born, but then Lunaria died and she became even colder! She stopped giving me hugs, calling me papa… she even started using formal language all the time!” Aultry took a long drink from his tea and then turned towards me with red eyes. “Isn’t that ridiculous?”
“…What’s ridiculous is the way you’re acting, to be honest. You’re a king, and I’m the Demon Lord who saved your kingdom. And daughter. And other daughter. And… probably all your children probably.”
Aultry paused. “You’re right. I shouldn’t be talking to you like this… but you’re the only hope I have left for getting a grandson.”
I froze. “Hold on. Repeat that again?”
Aultry tilted his head. “You are my main hope of getting a grandson? An heir to the throne?”
“There. That right there. What gives you the impression that I’m going to give you an heir?” I shook my head. “No, the more important question is… why does that even matter?”
Aultry leaned back in his chair and held his teacup. “I’m not getting younger and the throne of Alvheim can only be passed onto males with the royal bloodline. Since I don’t have a son, the next best would be a grandson. And since you’ve taken my baby girl and somehow ensnared the heart of my precious honeybun, it’s only a matter of time, isn’t it?” He narrowed his eyes. “…Or are you saying that my daughters aren’t good enough for you?”
A headache started to build up.
I pinched the bridge of my nose with my left hand and said, “Don’t you have other daughters? Why me all of a sudden?”
Aultry’s expression darkened. “I do, but their mothers are different than Titania and Aria’s.”
The elven king lowered his tea cup and stared into it. “…Unlike you humans, we elves find it hard to conceive a child. Once every few decades can be considered blessed, but once a century is more common.”
“…Did Aria’s mother not do it for you?”
Aultry glared at me. “What would you know? Titania and Aria’s mother… my Queen, Lunaria. I loved her with all my heart and hoped we could have a son to inherit the throne. But no. Even with Yggdrasil’s blessings, after Titania’s birth there was nothing else.”
I slowly nodded. It was interesting and all to hear about Aria’s family… but more important things were at hand. “Right. That’s all understandable, but I didn’t come here to talk about your family history-“
“For a long time, Lunaria thought the problem lay with her.” Aultry continued talking, completely ignoring me.
I sighed and decided to sit back and relax.
“I reluctantly accepted concubines into the family in an attempt to produce an heir. But again, only daughters. Not only that, but they even go on to spurn male advances and seek the ‘fairer sex’. Some unfathomable logic about the natural state of affairs being females pursuing females due to how Yggdrasil gave rise to Elf and Fae alike.”
I poured myself some more tea from the kettle and said, “Right.”
“Fortunately, the birth of my darling Ari showed that it wasn’t a problem with Lunaria. Rather, the problem likely lay with myself… Even so, we would have continued to try, but then Lunaria died during labor. Because of that, the only hope I have of passing down this throne and retiring would be the son of either my honeybun or my baby girl. Thus… you.” Aultry stared at me. “You, who has taken both of my precious daughters from me. While I can’t do anything about their decisions… if you so much as harm a single hair on either of them, Demon Lord or not, I won’t forgive you.”
I took a sip from my tea cup. I tasted nothing but bitterness, but considering my mood, it was welcome.
Just how did a talk about reinforcing Yggdrasil and Alvheim’s defenses turn into what was essentially the future father-in-law chewing out his future son-in-law?
At that time, Aultry coughed. He quickly covered it with his right hand, but he didn’t do so in time to prevent the few specks of crimson from escaping. “Apologies. All of this stress recently must be getting to me.”
I decided to let him have his excuse and nodded. “It’s fine.”
Aultry took a sip from his tea cup but frowned on finding it empty. He poured himself some more from the kettle and said, “I believe we’ve gotten off track. What was it you wanted to discuss?”
Finally. But even though we arrived at the crux of the conversation… I hesitated.
Aultry laughed. “Come now. Don’t tell me that the chaotic Demon Lord Nazin is afraid of me now.” He shook his head and took a sip from his tea cup.
“I need access to the heart of Yggdrasil.”
Aultry coughed and quickly set down his cup. Wiping his mouth, he stared at me and said, “You what?”
“The heart of Yggdrasil. I need access to it so that I can lay defenses down to protect all of Alvheim.”
“Just how in the world- no, I suppose one as powerful as you could sense it. Even so…” Aultry looked towards me and narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think that I’ll let a self-proclaimed Demon Lord with chaotic mana near the heart of the world’s Order?”
“I think that if you don’t, Yggdrasil will fall within the next few days after both the Braves and the Archfiends invade Alvheim.”
Aultry waved his hand. “So what? You’re here, are you not? Or are you telling me that they’re too powerful for our dear Benefactor?”
“Of course not. Barring the human emperor and the other Demon Lord, it would take a creature of catastrophe to threaten me. But the same isn’t true for Yggdrasil.”
Aultry smiled. “You underestimate us. While we were caught off guard by the imperial soldier’s chaos magic, since you’ve arrived and reinforced our barriers, we’ve come up with plenty of countermeasures against it.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“What?” Aultry said. “Did you think that your actions went unnoticed? I possess access to all of Yggdrasil, and her roots extend quite a ways throughout the Ancient Forest.”
“Be that as it may be, I doubt that it can defend against Anti-magic.”
Aultry froze. “Anti-magic? You mean spell nullification?”
“Did I say spell nullification?”
Aultry rubbed his face and said, “Curses. Was that why you came back so injured the other day?”
“…Not exactly, but for the sake of the argument, yes.”
Aultry sighed. “The humans have gone too far. First dabbling in Chaos and now developing an energy diametrically opposed to magic… do they not fear retribution from the Goddess?”
I forced my expression to remain neutral. That Goddess… far from retribution, she would be sitting back with a bowl of popcorn to watch the fireworks.
Aultry stood up. “Very well. I assume you have countermeasures then if you’re asking this?”
I stood up as well, and then nodded. “Of course.”
“Then… follow me.” Aultry turned towards Yggdrail and waved his hand. The moment he did, the tree’s surface shifted and rippled, turning into a dark chasm. “I will lead the way. But know that the moment I sense anything out of the ordinary, you will be facing the wrath of not only myself, but Yggdrasil and all of its guardians.” He turned back to look at me. “Understood?”
“You don’t need to tell me twice.”
Aultry nodded and walked into the chasm.
I followed close behind him.
“On a side-note,” Aultry said. “Have you and my Titania done it yet? I mean you must have, what with her finally being so bright and cheerful after all these years, right? If you need any tips on ways to increase fertility or want to spice things up…”
What I was willing to put up with to protect Alvheim… Aria had better appreciate my efforts when she got back.
In the depths of the Ancient Forest, a young elf with golden hair and a dark violet dress raised her head.
An elegant beauty with long silky black hair and red eyes frowned. “What is it, girl? Another of your flashbacks?”
Aria shook her head. “No. I just felt like Nowun was thinking about me.”
Saphira scoffed. “As if my Master cares about a girl like yourself.”
Aria rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, old hag.”
“What? It’s true, isn’t it? And I’m sure that Nowun prefers pure maidens anyway, unlike a certain ancient has-been over here.”
Saphira raised her right hand, crackling with crimson lightning. “It seems that you require discipline.”
Aria raised her right hand as well, a black tornado slowly swirling within it. “Anytime, hag.”
The two beauties charged at each other, wind howling and lightning screeching, vying for the position of the one to stand at a certain person’s side.
Meanwhile, still doing paperwork where Nowun left her, Titania remained blissfully unaware of the storm that was about to come her way.