Sunlight filtered in through the nearby window and illuminated Aria’s slumbering form. Her golden hair was as radiant as ever while her eyelashes fluttered, shifting in her sleep.
I stared at her from my seat beside the bed, lost in thought.
It had been a while since Xinxin had left.
I didn’t know exactly how long since I hadn’t been keeping track, but it was enough for the sun to slowly creep into the sky, casting away the last of dawn’s crimson and violet hues.
The room was quiet, disturbed only by the sound of Aria’s steady breathing. Another reminder that she was truly alive. That she was more than just a memory left behind in the past.
“You haven’t changed much, huh?” I muttered those words and then shook my head.
She was the same.
While I wasn’t sure how much she could recall, I was certain of one thing at least.
The Aria laying there on the bed wasn’t the one that stood at my remnant’s side in that other timeline. Neither was she the one that had fallen in the future at the hands of that Brave with the cheat-like powers.
She was the same Aria that I first met when I arrived in this world. That young and naïve girl in the first time whose life I exchanged with my own, who I helped flee to the Lost Forest when I went back in time… and who I plundered everything from in my madness.
Her presence in this timeline was a byproduct of the connection forged by that Goddess.
I had managed to bring her back with the fact of being “Aria’s Savior”, as well as everything that I took from her. My Absolute Memory had recorded her very being and the karmic ties, both good and bad, were enough for the act to be accepted without much hassle by the world.
There was the minor issue of the Goddess noticing the attempt while it was in process, but it seemed that she quickly lost interest considering the lack of interference. That, or she was planning something after Xinxin stopped her from peeking in. But that wasn’t too important at the moment. Instead…
I stared at Aria’s sleeping form and then muttered, “Why is your soul incomplete?”
Souls were naturally resilient and pure. To damage it required a level of power and expertise that went beyond the natural order. That was even more true in the current state of the world where that Goddess had gone out of her way to reinforce ‘Order’ by planting the World Tree.
In short, for a soul to not be whole would require someone like myself or the Goddess tampering with it.
But that was exactly the case for Aria’s soul.
While it was true that I was restoring her soul from memory, with my power and the… thoroughness that I went through in creating that record, it was impossible for portions to be missing out of my own ineptitude. And yet… it couldn’t be denied that there were things missing in Aria’s soul.
A pure golden hue. That was the color of Aria’s soul. While a faint emerald light pulsed beneath that golden lustre, it was secondary in nature.
From my experiments in Xinxin’s homeland, I was well-versed in the nature and makeup of souls, both from modifying my own and others.
The pure color showed that Aria was a naïve person. Or better stated, untainted. She wasn’t the sort to have underlying motives. In addition to that, the fact that her soul was gold meant that she had vast potential for growth.
If this was a gacha game, Aria would probably be a unit of the highest rarity, the sort that would be game breaking once leveled up. At least, that was my opinion of it.
The emerald light was the sign of her affinity towards wind magic. Nothing special there. But other than those two features, something else stood out about her soul that was completely foreign.
My soul had been shattered and splintered. In hindsight, it had been a bit of a rash decision considering that meant it was only being held together by my Absolute Memory like a cracked window was using scotch tape.
In short, it was on the verge of falling apart with some pieces already missing due to the preventative efforts being done too late.
I’d mostly managed to fix that issue back at the Xia Dynasty, and Xinxin’s efforts and sacrifice had gone even further in melding my patchwork soul back into a serviceable shape.
But Aria’s soul was different.
My soul was like a crystal ball that had shattered with pieces missing from it breaking. In other words, it started as a whole and became multiple pieces due to damage.
In contrast… Aria’s soul was like an almost finished puzzle. It began as countless pieces and formed a whole only when they were attached together. They were still all part of the same design, same whole, but it was one that emerged piecewise rather than as a finished product.
And the more I focused on Aria, the more I realized that key pieces were missing.
Continuing with the puzzle analogy, Aria’s soul was currently in a state where the borders were complete and over half of the center was assembled. Because of that, it was mostly obvious what was on the puzzle.
I could see that she was a kind young woman with great potential and an affinity for wind magic. I could even see that she held a great deal of affection for me due to the fact that her soul had readily accepted my manipulation. Even so…
A mostly complete puzzle didn’t show the whole picture. While a good guess could be made to what the puzzle was about, especially if you had the original boxart to work with, when you were putting the pieces together blindly, it was possible that the entire image could be completely different from what you thought it was when those last pieces were lined up.
And that was what bothered me.
Aria’s soul was hollow. The outside of it was complete and seamless, but the interior was completely lacking. It was almost like she was just a container for something else. One conveniently shaped in the form of a beautiful and naïve young elf.
I was sure it wasn’t my fault. At the same time, I didn’t detect any signs of tampering by the Goddess.
Aria’s soul was just… incomplete. At the same time, it seemed to be a natural state of being rather than tampering. Like whatever process that formed souls started forming hers from the outside and came to a stop before it could fill out the rest.
I frowned, wracking my mind at the implications of it.
The Goddess had emphasized Aria’s role in the fate of the world. At the same time, she was the only one of her kind to escape the wrath of the Empire… albeit with my intervention.
I narrowed my eyes, sorting through the bits of information I could access from my Absolute Memory.
In the future, Aria managed to survive up until the point that I reached her. In the timeline with my remnant, she was able to get up to par with Saphira in a matter of days. And yet when we went to the capital, she was just a meek young woman… No, a young elven girl.
If this was a light novel or an anime, she would clearly be the main love interest. The beautiful female lead that devoted herself to the MC and became strong enough to stand at his side… or something like that. But life wasn’t so convenient. Furthermore, I ended up meeting her by chance.
The Goddess initially planned to drop me off like a typical Isekai protagonist.
It wasn’t until I explicitly stated that I wanted to go to the most dangerous place that she sent me to the Lost Woods.
That much was clear. For the average person, after all, the Lost Woods was a dead end. Even a person with cheat-like abilities from the beginning would have a hard time handling Saphira when she was still the Wrathful Sin Dragon. And that didn’t even consider the other catastrophes that were quietly slumbering.
I was the exception, and even then I barely survived the trip out the first time.
The rest of the events were still clear in my memory.
I came across the cliched scene of the elves being captured, Aria running away, and then stepped in to save her.
But that couldn’t have been the original plan. Like the Goddess said, she already had things in store.
My arrival was only to add an element of chaos. To rock the boat from the usual pattern and cause ripples in her web of fated events.
As to what that pattern was… A Demon Lord. Heroes… or rather ‘Braves’. The Empire, war…
The characters and roles for the Goddess’s play were already established when I had arrived. Then, going along that line of thought, Aria would have been…
A knock echoed in the distance. Shortly after, a cold female voice called out. “Are you awake?”
I froze, cutting off my train of thoughts, and glanced at the door.
It was Titania. While she stood outside the door and didn’t say anything else, there was no mistaking the cold voice that had called out. Not only that, but there wouldn’t be anyone else who would have dared to knock on the Heaven-Seizer’s door at the current time.
But that was a problem. Unlike the Titania in that other timeline, this one was the jaded and fallen princess that tried to kill Aria the first time I met her. No, considering the current circumstances, it was more accurate to say that she had actually succeeded in killing Aria in this timeline.
Countless emotions were tangled up in the relationship between Titania and Aria. While it was true that Titania seemed to want Aria’s revival and also started to make steps towards her original self, meeting Aria again so soon…
I didn’t think that it’d be a good idea to let Titania see Aria at the moment. But at the same time, I couldn’t just leave her standing out there…
Silence, broken only by the sounds of Aria’s faint breaths and birds chirping in the distance.
After a while of contemplation, I got out of my chair and headed over towards the door.