"So we're going to meet Mister Krozma, huh?"
"That's right. Not sure how the meeting's going to go, but hopefully he's reasonable. We could use the help."
Warm sunlight, filtering in through Yggdrasil's leaves. Patches of the clear blue sky dotted amidst the green canopy. And a fresh breeze, causing those leaves to sway.
Nazin and Aria walked along a path within that peaceful scene, headed through Alvheim's residential district. Apparently, Titania had an office somewhere past it all where she was working at the moment. And since she was going to be the one vouching for Nazin's identity when they headed to the Demon Realm, he was currently heading over to see her so that they could prepare to leave at the earliest opportunity.
Of course, since he didn't know exactly where that place was and since Aria did, he was using her as an escort. And... also to avoid the stares. Although that didn't seem to be helping much.
Aria glanced at Nazin and said, "What's the matter, Mister Demon Lord? Bothered by the attention?"
"Can't say I'm not." Nazin averted his gaze from a young girl eyeing him from behind a tree and said, "It's still weird. Aren't I supposed to be the dreadful Demon Lord?"
Aria laughed and laced her hands behind her back. "You? A dreadful Demon Lord?"
"What? Can I not be?"
"Well... I guess you can be scary when you want to be. But it's going to take a lot to get anybody here to be afraid of you now. Did you forget how you received Yggdrasil's blessing and repelled the Imperial forces?"
"...True. It's still odd though."
The 'Heroes' summoned by the Kingdom to defeat that Demon Lord being the actual villains trying to capture and exploit the elves. A fake Demon Lord coming to the rescue of the elves. And now teaming up with the true Demon Lord to stop the 'Heroes' from destroying everything.
Serena really did like her clichés. It was a story that Nazin might have enjoyed, had he not been the one actually stuck in the middle of it.
Nazin shook his head and then glanced at Aria. "By the way, where's Saphira? And what brings you all the way out here? Weren't you two planning to do some more training today?"
"We were," Aria said. "But Saphira went off to talk with Auntie Maria about something and told me to get lost."
Auntie Maria... If Nazin remembered right, she was the violet-haired craftswoman with those powerful accessories. What was Saphira doing with her?
"Anyway," Aria said. "This is the first time we're out walking together like this, isn't it?" She smiled and said, "It's really like a date."
Nazin gave her a soft smile in return and said, "It is. Though, I could go without the staring."
"You'll just have to get used to that, Mister Demon Lord. After all, to Alvheim... to us, you're a hero."
"A hero, huh?"
Nazin muttered and thought back to that other guy. The 'real' version of him. Recalling his solitude and soaring killing intent made him shudder.
"Hm?" Aria tilted her head. "What's wrong?"
Nazin shook his head. "Nothing. It's... nothing."
If that guy really showed up and wanted to take everything back... If he was willing to destroy everything in his path to get stronger... If he thought he could win that easily, he would be mistaken.
Nazin might be weaker than him. He might not have fought as much, might not have gained as much strength. But... unlike that guy, he had things he wanted to protect.
"Like I said. It's nothing. Just..." Nazin looked at Aria and said, "I promise. No matter what happens, I'll protect you. All of you. Even if the world's falling down, I'll find a way to hold it so that you're safe."
Aria blushed. Even so, she didn't avert her gaze. Instead, she smiled and said, "I'll do my best too. After all, even if you're the strongest hero we've got, a hero can't fight against evil on his own, right?"
That was right.
He wasn't alone any more.
Just as much as he wanted to protect them, they wanted to protect him.
Nazin smiled. But feeling a bit embarrassed, he brushed it over by saying, "You'd better keep training then. I can't trust you to have my back if you aren't even strong enough to stop a sword."
"Hey!" Aria pouted and said, "You can't judge me by your standards, you freak of nature!"
"Well, considering you're the one who wants to fight alongside said 'freak of nature'..."
A thought suddenly came to mind.
Hearing Aria talk about wanting to fight alongside Nazin made him remember her powers. Specifically, he remembered how her powers seemed to have changed, influenced by his own to match that of her future self. And as for that future self...
"Hey. Did your memories ever sort themselves out?"
Aria paused. "...Not really. I remember you saving me and then meeting again in the future before I died, but not much else."
"That's all, huh?"
Aria frowned. "I wish I could remember more, Nazin, but I can't. The most I can remember is that some really powerful people show up in a few years and demolish the Northern Emperor. Other than that..." She shook her head.
Powerful people show up in a few years? That would definitely explain the guy he fought with that ridiculous 'existence slash'. But then that also raised a question.
Serena warned him about the Emperor and the humans. She also said that she wasn't the one who caused everything, at least not directly.
In that case... Was there something important happening soon that would lead to that future?
This time he had saved Aria and gotten rid of most of the Braves, but from how Serena made it out to be, those guys were just cannon fodder. Dangerous to the average person, but not the main focus.
Then... what was going on?
"I'm sorry," Aria said.
Nazin shook his head. "It's fine. We just have to be on our guard then."
Right. That was all he could do.
Like how he couldn't be certain if 'that guy' would come back to try and retrieve his powers.
Like how he couldn't be certain if the Emperor was as powerful as Serena made him out to be.
Nazin just had to be careful and prepare. Not just himself, but those around him. After that... Well, in the end there was always Absolute Memory to rely on.
Aria smiled and then reached out, lacing her left hand with Nazin's right.
He coughed and averted his gaze.
She laughed. "Come on. As much as I'd love to keep going like this, Mister Demon Lord has a job to do, right? Let's go see Tani so you can get ready." With that said, she started running.
He stumbled a bit, caught off guard at her actions. But then he smiled, touched by the warmth she showed him.
All around, people stared. Some laughed, some stared on with knowing smiles.
Nazin ignored them all and just focused on the beautiful young woman in front of him and her bright smile.
Inadvertently, he thought about his other self and that cold and callous heart. The one that threw away such a bright smile for his own ambitions.
'I won't be like you.'
Then and there, Nazin quietly swore an oath.
Even if they had the same beginnings, even if he was nothing more than the 'useless memories' that he cast off, Nazin wouldn't give anything up.
Not now. Not ever.