Saphira was the first to notice Nazin's reaction. Without any prompting, she immediately followed suit and prepared for combat, summoning white lightning to her hands.
Titania noticed second and looked over. "What's wrong-"
"Get down!" Nazin quickly stepped in front of Titania and drew his sword.
A torrent of dark shadows swept forward, snuffing out the campfire and then reaching to envelop Nazin and the others.
Nazin narrowed his eyes and slashed, channeling his powers through his blade.
Light and dark clashed, splitting apart like a stream. But the shadows didn't stop. As if alive, they bent around and struck again. However, instead of trying to attack Nazin or Titania, they flowed towards Aria and Saphira.
"Hmph." Saphira flicked her wrist, causing the shadowy tendrils to break.
Aria frowned and did the same as Saphira, causing the shadows heading towards her to scatter, blown away by a dark wind.
Nazin frowned, carefully observing the surroundings.
With the campfire extinguished, darkness had fallen again. Although the moon was out, at the moment it was hidden behind the night clouds, leaving the grassy fields covered in darkness.
But that didn't matter to Nazin. Instead of worrying about that, he focused on the person responsible for the attack.
A man with long flowing black hair and crimson eyes, standing atop the castle fortifications in the distance.
Objectively, he was handsome. The man had sharp features that would have made him a shoe-in for modeling in any magazine on Earth. Not only that, but he was wearing a regal violet cloak over obsidian plate mail, giving off the air of a king departing for the battlefield.
Nazin quickly noted the distance between them.
The group had set up camp in the middle of the wilderness outside of the capital.
It was a fair distance aways, dozens of kilometers from Nazin's estimate.
Even so, that man had attacked from such a distance.
The control over the darkness wasn't as absolute as Nazin's. After all, if it was then it wouldn't have been dispersed by Aria and Saphira.
However, the fact that he could manipulate it at such a distance showed a level of skill that was dangerous.
Nazin moved close to Titania and said, "Stay close, Tani."
She nodded. "I understand, Nazin. But..." Titania stared at the person in the distance, frowning.
"Hmph. Daring to attack us from such a distance and even interrupting my Master..." Saphira stepped forward, lightning crackling around her body. "It seems that a lesson must be taught."
Aria stepped forward as well, dark wind swirling around her. "For once, I agree with you. That was definitely too rude to let pass."
Did the man recognize them as a threat? Instead of trying another attack, he jumped off the wall and began making his way forward.
"Well, it seems that he is no coward at the least." Saphira glanced at Aria. "Shall we?"
Aria nodded back. "Just this once."
White lightning crackled before mixing with a dark tempest.
Nazin decided to leave the opening move to them and use the time to observe their unknown opponent as well as guard Titania.
Aria glanced at Saphira. "On three?"
Saphira nodded. "As you say."
A staggering beam of pure energy. The night was blown away by the light of Aria and Saphira's attack. At the same time, the man's image was lit up.
Titania's eyes widened and she shouted. "Wait! Ari, Miss Saphira-"
An explosion rocketed the surroundings and for a few moments it seemed like day had returned, the light from the two's attack illuminating everything in sight.
And then it vanished, snuffed out by darkness. No, to say it vanished was a lie. The attack was still there, but...
"No way." Aria muttered.
The man with long black hair continued walking forward. His left hand was upraised, holding a glowing white orb encased in violet light.
Seeing that, Nazin's eyes widened.
It was an application of darkness and chaos mana that hadn't come to mind. Utilizing the natural disorder and then the absence of light, forming a void that drew everything inside of it. Not a black hole, but rather...
The man tossed the orb in the air.
Saphira scowled and charged forward. "Daring to make light of me...!"
Another explosion. But this one was silent, spreading out without a sound. A violet ripple that distorted space quickly shot towards the group with the man serving as the epicenter.
The moment it reached Saphira, she was forced to kneel on the ground. Even though the terrain should have been soft, it cracked, splintering from the sheer force of the attack.
"Kuh!" Saphira strained against the force, but it prevented her from moving, the air visibly distorting as she fought against it.
Aria was next in line. However, since she wasn't as strong as Saphira she was knocked over. "Gah... this... guy...!"
She struggled as well, but unlike Saphira, all that Aria could do was raise her head.
And then the wave approached Nazin and Titania.
As it did, he instinctively realized it. While Saphira and Aria could survive the attack, Titania wouldn't.
Then to repel it...
[The sensation of immense physical pressure has been memorized.] [Gravity Magic LVL 1 obtained.] [Resonance with Darkness Affinity and Chaos Affinity has elevated the skill.] [Gravity Magic has become Gravity Manipulation.]
Darkness and chaos blended together to become something new. At the same time...
[Gravity Manipluation resonates with Light's Order.] [Absolute Memory reacts to the resonance.] [Gravity Manipulation has become Space Dominance]
Light and order resolved the dark chaos.
Nazin stepped forward, causing a ripple of his own to spread out.
Gray light spread out to meet the violet wave. Sparks flew as the two energies melded, and then both vanished, cancelling each other out.
Seeing that, Nazin raised his guard.
Without waiting for the man to react, he quickly moved next to Aria and Saphira, dragging them back.
The moment that was done, Nazin stepped forward, fully intending on cutting down the person that tried to hurt the ones he loved.
"Wait!" Titania's voice cut through the dark.
Across the distance, the other man did as well.
Titania stepped forward, moving to Nazin's side, and said, "We mean no harm, Mister Cross!"
Nazin blinked. "Mister Cross? Then..." He turned to the man and said, "That guy's the Demon Lord?"
Titania nodded and said, "He is." She frowned and said, "But he is not one to usually step out like this? Did something happen?"
Saphira stood up and spat on the ground. "Demon Lord or not, that person has some nerve. Forcing me to kneel to a person other than my Master...!"
Aria rolled over and got to her feet as well. Brushing herself off, she said, "Oh shut up, you old hag. None of us care about your little roleplay."
Saphira flushed. "P-Pardon!? I will have you know that I-"
Before she could finish talking another voice called out, cutting through the night.
"...Out of respect for your father, I will hear you out, Titania." A calm and masculine voice. No, collected. That was a better way to describe it.
Even though that man, Demon Lord Krozma... or Mister Cross, as Titania called him. Even though his eyes glimmered with hatred, he restrained himself enough to be civil.
That was dangerous. At the same time...
Nazin had to begrudgingly respect that.
The man instantly closed the gap, stopping at a distance a few paces away from the group.
Nazin put himself in front of the others, carefully observing the 'True' Demon Lord.
And as he was examining the Demon Lord, so too was the Demon Lord examining him.
Using [Analyze] was unnecessary. Even without that information, Nazin could tell that the person in front of him was leagues stronger than anybody else he had face. While not to the existential terror of 'that person', the Demon Lord had a similar 'depth' to him, the resolve to sacrifice countless lives if it was necessary.
Krozma glanced at Aria and Saphira before settling his gaze on Titania. "Whatever the case, I hope that you have a good reason for traveling with beings so tainted with unnatural darkness and chaos."
"Unnatural, you say?" Nazin frowned.
Krozma shifted his gaze to Nazin. "Hm. So you don't realize it yourself... Of course, that's to be expected of a human."
Saphira bristled. "You-!"
"That's fine, Saphira." Nazin glanced at her and shook his head.
Saphira glared at Krozma but then lowered her head. "As you wish, Master."
Hearing that caused Krozma to raise an eyebrow.
Before anything else could happen, Nazin glanced at Titania.
Seeing that, Titania stepped up and explained the situation.
Throughout it, Krozma listened with an impassive expression. But when it was over, a wry smile crossed his face as he glanced at Nazin. "So the humans created a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Titania nodded. "That is the situation, Mister Cross."
"Hm..." The Demon Lord looked pensieve. "It's true. I did indeed plan on invading the Empire. I also considered meeting with your father to seek wisdom... but I decided against it." His crimson eyes glimmered and said, "This is a personal affair. At least, it was. But to hear that the humans not only targeted my family but Alvheim as well... This situation is more complicated than it appeared."
"Then," Titania said. "Can we expect your cooperation?"
"There's no need." His expression darkened and his crimson eyes glimmered with malice. "I will take care of the Emperor and his forces on my own. You can tell your father that."
Darkness surged around the Demon Lord, a black aura filled with pure malice.
Titania took a step back. "M-Mister Cross?"
The Demon Lord glanced over at Nazin. "...I know not your true identity. However, since you managed to tame that Icy Witch, I will acknowledge you as a person worthy of my trust. In the event that I fail-"
Krozma blinked and then narrowed his eyes. "What?"
Nazin shook his head and said, "If you're planning to go throw your life away, I'm going to have to stop you here."
It was odd. No, not odd. Cliched.
Nazin could already anticipate the events that would unfold from that point on. And if that Demon Lord guy actually went through with his plan, Nazin had a feeling everything would be lost.
"You... are going to stop me?"
"I am." Nazin nodded. "Going like this, you're just rushing to your own death. No, you're playing into Fate's hands."
Krozma was quiet and then he started speaking. "...I understand that. But..." His eyes glimmered and he said, "But so what? My beloved daughter was killed during her rite of passage. My brilliant son was brutally murdered protecting her. And then my two most trusted companions, ones that I saw as my own brother and sister vanished when setting out to question the Empire of their involvement." Malice enveloped the Demon Lord and he glared at Nazin. "And you're telling me to stand down? To just ignore all of that?!"
An explosion of chaotic darkness.
Nazin quelled it and said, "I am."
Krozma stared at Nazin. "...Hmph. In the end, you humans are all alike." He shook his head and said, "For the Greater Good. For the sake of the world. Always sacrificing others for some abstract ideal. Always inflicting meaningless bloodshed and violence."
"W-Wait, Mister Cross," Titania said. "We can still-"
"I'm fed up with it." Krozma muttered and stared at the night sky. "At this point... even if this world will be engulfed in darkness. Even if it means everything is destroyed..." He lowered his gaze and then held out his left hand. With it, something emerged.
When Nazin saw it, his vision went blank.
It was an orb. Simple and pitch black, it was visible even within the dark night.
But that wasn't what drew Nazin's eyes.
Chaos. Darkness. It was an object that not only radiated both, but seemed to embody them.
Maybe it was because of Nazin's affinity that he could recognize it even without knowing what it was.
Like how Yggdrasil's heart carried the Sword of Mana, embodying the world's source of Light and Order... that orb was the source of the world's Darkness and Chaos.
"...So be it!" Krozma clenched his hand, shattering the orb.
At least, he tried.
The moment that Krozma moved, Nazin held out his left hand as well, mirroring Krozma's action. [Dragon's Grasp] activated and prevented Krozma from crushing the orb.
"You...!" Krozma glared at Nazin and then held out his right hand. Violet light rippled and then a pitch black sword emerged.
"Like I said, I'm not going to let you throw your life away. And I'm definitely not going to let you drown this world in darkness."
"Tch!" Krozma kicked off against the ground and slashed his sword at Nazin's neck.
"Master!" Saphira stepped into block Krozma, but Nazin pushed her aside.
"I'll handle this."
White light flared as Nazin drew his sword, clashing against Krozma.
The true Demon Lord narrowed his eyes. "That light... So you are the 'hero' that the Goddess sent down to save the world?"
"Tani said it, didn't she? I'm a Demon Lord, not a hero."
"Then why are you stopping me?" Krozma stepped forward, putting force into his blade.
"I told you." Nazin stepped forward, putting force into his sword. "I won't let you throw your life away like this. Nor will I let the world fall into darkness."
"And why not?! Are you some fool who thinks that he can save everyone in the world? Or maybe you're one who believes that everyone deserves a second chance? Either way..." Darkness spread from the orb, lacing around Nazin's sword.
Nazin realized what was happening and tried to pull his blade back. But before he could, Krozma attacked.
"You are too naive." The creeping darkness quickly accelerated, piercing Nazin's heart.
Whose voice was that?
Nazin couldn't tell.
It was dark. A primordial void and chaos where nothing existed. No, that was a lie. There was something there.
A woman. Beautiful beyond description, just like a certain Goddess that Nazin knew.
But that woman was different. Similar, but different.
If Serena was playful, like an annoying younger sister who loved to play pranks, the one there was a wicked witch that was enjoyed the sadistic pleasure of bringing people to ruin.
The woman tilted her head. "How convenient. A vessel? No, an 'avatar'..."
Before Nazin could respond, white light spread out, causing the woman to fade.
Cruel laughter echoed... And then Nazin was back in reality.
Krozma was standing a few paces away, his cloak and armor seared and smoking. At the same time, the orb in his left hand was gone.
Nazin blinked and then realized that he was holding the orb. Darkness stretched out, trying to corrupt him, but a warm light emerged from his heart to cancel it.
There were a lot of questions. Who that woman was, what she meant by those words... but for now, he had something else to do.
Nazin looked at Krozma.
Krozma glared back.
"...I've had enough of this cliched plot." Putting the dark orb aside for now, Nazin stared at Krozma and said, "Now... Let's talk. I'm breaking us out of this bad end, whether the world wants me to or not."