Titania took a few wobbly steps and turned around to look at the forest. As she did, she shook her head and said, "You really did not hold back at all, did you, Lord Nazin?"
"Again, it's just Nazin." The self-proclaimed Demon Lord brushed off stray wooden fragments from his black cloak and said, "And of course not. I'm not afraid of some fairies."
Not only that, but the situation had been too strange.
Nazin wondered for a moment if it Serena's doing. After all, she was fond of flags and cliched developments.
In that misty forest, paired with the strange atmosphere, it was easy to see how someone could mistakenly attack an ally.
Nazin had managed to avoid doing so, but the thought that he could have hurt someone he loved... Ah.
When looking at it like that, it likely wasn't Serena.
Although she could be callous and cruel at times, from what Nazin had experienced with her, she wasn't one to inflict needless drama and tragedy. She also didn't like unexpected developments.
Then... was this what she was talking about? How she set the stage, but events were unfolding on their own, outside of her control?
Or... was it possible that someone else was at play, like Nazin's 'true' self?
Titania sighed. "Well, I suppose it is what it is. Although it will be a bit troublesome dealing with the Fae later, other matters are more pressing."
"Right." Nazin nodded and pushed his concerns about what happened in the forest to the side.
Whatever the case, it was over with now and wouldn't be happening again on the way back.
That decided, Nazin took a look around at their surroundings.
After charging through the forest, the group had broken out into an open grassland.
Seeing that, Nazin blinked, wondering for a moment if they'd gone in the wrong direction.
It was a peaceful grassy area, with occasional copses of pine trees here and there. A few rabbits were darting about, and there were a few field mice as well hiding in the grass.
"This... is the Demon Realm?"
Saphira stepped forward, brushing off her black dress. "Do not be fooled by appearances, Master. Regardless of its peaceful look, this is indeed the Demon Realm."
"Hm..." Nazin stared off into the distance, reevaluating what he saw with that new information.
Like initial appearances, it was peaceful.
However, now that Saphira mentioned that, Nazin could see the differences.
The air was heavier than usual. If Alvheim's air was as pure as it could get, then this air was like that of a polluted city, thick and cloying.
But that was only in comparison. To Nazin who had lived in a polluted city the entire time before arriving in this world, it felt a bit like returning home.
"Urgh." Titania winced and coughed. "It seems that the air here is as unfavorable as ever."
Nazin turned to look at her. "Are you alright, Tani?"
Titania coughed again and then waved her hand. "I will be fine. It just takes a bit of getting used to this dense mana."
Ah. So that was what he felt. Now that Titania pointed it out, Nazin saw what she meant.
The 'pollution' in the air was actually dark mana, tinged with a bit of chaos. Unlike what those Imperial troops used though, this seemed to be natural.
If Nazin had to compare it to something on Earth, it would be similar to how both geysers and car exhaust fumes could emit sulphur. Naturally diluted versus concentrated toxins as a result of man-made technology.
Aria hummed, taking a look around. "I don't feel any different... Is it that bad, Sis?"
Titania paused and then gave Aria a strange look. "You should be feeling it the most out of us two due to your nature... How are you fine?"
Aria shrugged. "I've changed a lot since meeting Nazin and training with Saphira. Maybe that had something to do with it?"
Nazin nodded. "That's right... Your abilities did change a bit from what they used to be."
Aria's original Wind Attribute had changed to Dark Tempest Attribute. Considering that, it made sense why Aria wasn't affected.
Out of curiosity, Nazin glanced at Saphira.
The restored divine dragon stared back, tilting her head. "If you are concerned about me, Master, you may rest assured. After all, I have experienced a darkness and chaos much purer than this."
Ah. Right. He did... kind of kill her with essentially the epitome of both. And since her existence was essentially tied to his own now, she would naturally have a level of tolerance, if not immunity, to darkness and chaos.
Titania coughed again, frowning. "Hm... Was it this bad before? If I had known, I would have taken another pilgrimage to become accustomed to the outside air."
Nazin shook his head. "Here."
Titania was the only one without any tolerance or affinity towards the changed mana. Because of that, her body seemed to be rejecting it a bit, like how someone who lived in the mountains and came down to an urban city might find the air disagreeable.
It was essentially harmless, but seeing her like that bothered Nazin so he sorted out the mana for her.
Light's Order pushed back the tinges of chaos and darkness and then clung to Titania like a blanket.
"Is that better?"
Titania's eyes widened and she flushed a bit before nodding. "It is. Thank you Lo- Thank you, Nazin."
Aria sighed. "Again with the flirting... Should Saphira and I take another trip so that you two can get the honeymoon phase over with?"
"A-Ari! I-It's not like that..." Titania muttered.
Nazin sighed and turned back to survey the surroundings.
Far in the distance, there was what looked to be a fortified castle town. Obsidian bricks and black steel framed the outside of it. Then, on the outskirts there were four towers that jutted up into the sky, crackling with different colors: blue, red, green, and yellow.
"I'm guessing that's our destination?"
Titania cleared her throat and then glanced over. When she did, she said, "That should be it. The Demon Realm Kingdom, Almadel."
"Alright." Nazin glanced at the sky and said, "We made good pace, but sunset's not far off." He gazed back at the fortified castle town and said, "Since we're so close, it'd probably be a bad idea to charge in... Mm. We might have to spend the night outside."
It was unfortunate. Since the whole point of the trip was to get the Demon Lord on their side, it wouldn't be good to alert everything by charging in with all their powers blazing.
While Nazin didn't think there would be a problem in terms of being in danger, the goal was peaceful negotiations.
Besides, unlike the Fae that tried to play tricks in the forest, the Demon Lord had yet to do anything against them.
"Come on." Nazin gestured towards his girls and then started walking forward.
Suddenly, there was a shift in the air. A swirling of the ambient darkness and chaos mana.
Nazin paused, staring at the phenomenon. At the same time, he rested his hand on his right side, reaching for his Faithful Companion- Huh?
It was gone. The familiar stick that should have been there at his side was missing.
Nazin hesitated for a brief moment, wondering when he lost it. But after that moment, he reached instead for the sword on his left side and drew it.
A fierce wind blew, causing a dark maelstrom. When it died down, the open fields were blanketed in a horde of shadowy creatures.
Seeing that, Nazin muttered, "I suppose this place isn't the Demon Realm for nothing."
Titania's eyes widened and she took a step back, immediately drawing her swords. "Shades? And so many?"
Nazin kept an eye on the monsters but tilted his head back towards Titania. "Are they dangerous?"
Titania nodded. "Shades are creatures of pure darkness that can inflict instant death by directly attacking the soul. This is... Even for you, I feel that this is dangerous."
"Heh. That's it?"
A direct attack on the soul. Creatures of pure darkness... If it was anyone else, that might be a concern.
But for Nazin, that wasn't a problem. He held his sword out in front of him and smiled. "Let's find out just how dangerous these things are."
The middle of the grasslands a few miles out from Almadel.
Nazin tended to a fire and glanced at his companions.
Titania let out a long sigh. "Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous."
Aria gathered up a small pile of glittering magic stones and said, "You're going to get wrinkles at this rate if you keep worrying about every little thing Nazin does, Sis."
Saphira nodded. "Indeed. Master is prone to incredible feats. Continuing to be impressed, while respectable, would not be good for your mental state."
Nazin sighed. "It's not that impressive."
The three girls shared a look and then stared at Nazin.
He coughed and turned away.
Night had fallen. Normally, that would be dangerous considering that the Demon Realm was a land of darkness and chaos.
However, it seemed that most things had decided to keep away after Nazin wiped out the shades.
The flames crackled, letting out a soft orange light to keep away the night. Aria was sitting next to Titania, partially to help manage the darkness around her and partially to avoid Saphira. As for the dragon, she was quietly seated off to Nazin's right side.
Seeing that, Nazin let out a wry smile.
It would have been nice if they all got along perfectly, but it seemed that there were some things power and strength couldn't manage.
Still, considering that there weren't any arguments going on at the moment and they were peacefully sitting together, Nazin was grateful.
A soft breeze blew across the grasslands, causing a few stray sparks to fly.
Nazin frowned and put them out. As he did, he noticed Aria staring at him with a smile on her face. "See something interesting?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm just a bit happy."
Titania tilted her head. "Why's that, Ari?"
Aria leaned back and stretched. "The fact that we're all here together... It's nice. Not quite like the adventure I was expecting considering how easily Nazin handles everything, but sitting around a fire and huddled up with everyone... It's nice."
Nazin let out a faint smile. "It is. All we're missing are some chocolate bars, marshmallows, and graham crackers to make s'mores."
"Hm?" Titania tilted her head and said, "S'mores?"
"Ah, that's..." Nazin trailed off.
He had forgotten.
While he had been enjoying his life with the three in Alvheim and pretty much knew all of their life stories, Nazin had yet to tell them about himself. In particular, the fact that he was really from another world and sent here by the goddess.
Aria and Saphira probably inferred a bit from what they'd experienced, but Titania was completely in the dark.
For a moment, Nazin had a faint doubt.
Did he... have to tell them?
The fact that Nazin originally came from another world- No, the fact that he wasn't actually his own person...
Titania shook her head and said, "I'm sorry, Nazin. I had no intention to bring up painful memories."
It was a misunderstanding. She was mistaking Nazin's silence for painful reminiscence. And he should correct her for that. But instead, he said, "It's fine. They were just some treats from back home that I hadn't eaten in a while."
Titania was quiet after that, lost in thought.
In her stead, Saphira looked over to Nazin and said, "I had forgotten with all of these events, Master... but where is your home?"
Aria glanced over as well, interested in the response.
It was one thing after the other, it seemed.
"My home... Well, it's impossible to return to, so does it matter?"
Even if Nazin managed to gain incredible power, enough to bypass Serena's authority and step beyond the world, he couldn't ever go back home.
It was a simple reason.
For Nazin... he no longer had a home on Earth to return to.
Who he was in the past. What his family was like. Why he died alone without anyone nearby... All of that was gone.
Nazin smiled and said, "If anything, Alvheim's my home now. After all, I have you three, don't I?"
Aria nodded. "That's obvious, isn't it? You couldn't get rid of us if you wanted to. And after all you've done... Well, you've got to take some responsibility, right?"
"Of course. I'll be with you guys forever."
A comfortable silence filled the air. But eventually, Titania's quiet voice whispered. "Forever?"
"Hm?" Nazin glanced over. "Something wrong, Tani?"
"No. It's just..." She stared at Nazin and said, "You... Nazin. Are you truly human?"
"What? Did you start doubting me because you saw my power firsthand? Maybe something along the lines of 'such an incredible person could never be a mere human'?"
It was a joke, something to lighten the mood. But Titania's expression didn't change. Instead, it dimmed.
Nazin frowned. "...Is there a problem with me being a human?"
Aria nodded and turned towards her sister. "That's right, Tani. Don't tell me you're having second thoughts now of all times?"
"It isn't that, Ari. It's..." She turned to look at Nazin and said, "If you are truly human... Doesn't that mean you'll leave us one day?"
The air chilled.
Nazin didn't reply, struck by the sudden question.
Titania pulled her legs up to her chest and murmured, "Miss Saphira is a dragon, so time does not have a hold on her. As for Ari and myself, we are children of Yggdrasil. While not undying, our lives are long. Enough to see kingdoms rise and fall."
"...You're worried that you'll outlive me."
Aria shook her head. "What are you worrying about that for, Tani? Nazin's Yggdrasil's champion! She wouldn't let him die like that, would she?"
"I am aware of that, Ari. But..." Titania turned to Nazin and said, "Is that for certain?"
The lifespan of an elf and a human. The passage of time.
Suddenly presented with that question, Nazin was unable to answer.
Theoretically, due to [Absolute Memory], his status as Yggdrasil's Champion, his skills, and his titles, Nazin should be able to live just as long as any of the three. No, he should be guaranteed to live as long. Instead...
"I forgot." Nazin muttered.
Titania tilted her head. "Nazin?"
"I... will probably live longer than all of you combined." He gave a bitter laugh and shook his head. "That's right. As I am now..."
He had already experienced it.
An uncountable time spent attempting to kill Saphira when she was still the Wrathful Sin Dragon, automatically being sent back in time when he died...
Would that happen again?
Nazin glanced up at the three.
Aria. Saphira. Titania.
By a miracle, the three were with him right now. And by another, the former two could remember the past timelines, enough for their emotions and affections to carry over.
Would that always be the case?
[Absolute Memory] was a power that was inherently meant to affect himself. It also allowed him to maintain a sense of self amidst everything else, like how he could separate himself from 'that person' that became a merciless killer.
But that was both a blessing and a curse.
What if the time came for them to part and he was left alone? What if his death came and he was sent to the distant past, before they even met?
To begin again from zero. Thinking about it like that, Nazin...
Saphira sighed. "This discussion is pointless. Whether or not Master will live as long as us or whether he will live beyond us, is not the most important matter the fact that we fill our lives with joyful memories?"
Titania let out a sigh and then smiled. "Miss Saphira is as wise as always." She turned to Nazin and said, "My apologies, Nazin. I-"
"It's fine." Nazin sighed and said, "It's something to think about... But for now, let's just do as Saphira said and enjoy-"
A surge of darkness and imposing mana.
Nazin jumped to his feet and turned to look at the source of it.
Crimson eyes seething with pure hatred stared back.