In the world of Asifant, the most dangerous place was the Lost Woods. A subsection of the Ancient Forest that was home to the Elves and the Fae, the Lost Woods served as the final resting place of calamitous beings. Some remained there due to self-imposed solitude, fearing the destruction they would inflict upon the world. Others were there only after being sealed away by the past Braves of Goddess Serena. Regardless, the Lost Woods were dangerous beyond measure as any of the beings slumbering within could send the world into turmoil, each a catastrophe worse than any Demon Lord.
Those who entered the Lost Woods would never be seen again. This fact was known to all in Asifant, and the origin behind the name of the woods. As such, situated at the border of the Ancient Forest and the Northern Empire, the Lost Woods were a dangerous no-man’s land that no one alive would dare willingly enter. Yet, occasionally, there were a few unfortunate souls who were forced to do so.
Aria Sylvania, the youngest princess of Alvheim, ran across the dimly lit forest ground. Branches broke beneath her leather boots and dried leaves crackled with every step she took. Aria’s chest heaved from her ragged breath, straining beneath a tattered green tunic.
Run. She had to keep running. Without looking back, without caring where she was going, as long as Aria could escape from her pursuers, she would accept any fate.
Aria’s golden hair billowed behind her as she ran. In the dark forest, it shone, clearly illuminated whenever it caught the few rays of light that filtered through the dense forest canopy.
Ordinarily, Aria welcomed that. Such brilliance was considered a blessing and a sign of the Goddess’s favor. Yet, at that moment, it became a curse.
“There she is! That golden flash up ahead!”
A man’s voice called out from behind Aria. The sounds of horse-hooves and wagon wheels soon followed.
Aria bit her lips and refused to look back. Doing so would cause her to see the imperial soldiers slowly gaining on her. Doing so would cause her to see the battered and abused forms of her family and kin.
Doing so would cause her to falter and suffer the same fate.
“Give up, Elf! We’ve rounded up the rest of your kind! Even if you keep running, no reinforcements will come to help you!”
That man’s voice called out again.
Aria didn’t need to turn around to know who it was.
The commander of the imperial soldiers. A powerful human warrior equipped in full black plate mail and an accursed blade that disrupted nature’s mana. With that sword, the commander had easily cut down Aria’s father and his twelve guardians.
Aria brushed her tears away and kept running.
The sounds of horse-hooves and wagon wheels drew closer.
Aria called upon the wind spirits to lend her speed. “Oh wind-“
“It’s useless!” the commander barked. “Nulinvoyd, disrupt nature’s harmony!”
Ominous purple light flashed, spreading throughout the forest. With it, the air grew stale, the earth grew weak, and nature itself became unsettled.
Aria stumbled, barely catching herself. “No…” Without the aid of the wind spirits, it would only be a matter of time before they caught her. And if they did, she would suffer the same fate as the others.
She had seen what those men did to her family and kin.
Aria didn’t want that. Death was preferable to that. But the imperial soldiers wouldn’t allow it.
So run. Aria had to run. That was her only choice.
The distortion in the air and the soft gray mist surrounding the nearby trees showed that the border of the Ancient Forest and the Lost Woods drew near. Only a few more paces and Aria would have crossed the threshold.
Aria finally looked back.
A war horse pulled a wagon across the forest grounds. Within the wagon, Aria could see the battered forms of her eldest sister and other familiar faces. Lifeless eyes, exposed bodies… six imperial soldiers in black plate mail stood around the elves in the wagon, preventing any hope of escape or salvation.
In front of that wagon, a single man rode upon another war horse. Like the other soldiers, he wore plate mail armor. But unlike the soldiers, the man’s armor exuded authority, etched with golden trimming and the emblem of the Northern Empire: a roaring lion.
Because of the man’s armor, Aria couldn’t see his face. However, she had no doubt that a triumphant grin hid beneath the man’s helmet.
Aria turned her attention back to in front of her.
The threshold of the Lost Woods and her certain death, peaceful bliss in comparison to the cruel fate waiting if the imperial soldiers captured her, approached.
Aria smiled and reached out her left hand.
Blood sprayed through the air and then a piercing pain erupted in Aria’s left arm. A steel bolt attached to a chain pierced through Aria’s outstretched limb.
It was there.
It was right there.
But before Aria could cross the threshold to the Lost Woods, something pulled the chain back, and Aria along with it.
Aria flew through the air and then crashed. Her lungs collapsed, the air completely knocked out of them.
Aria gasped and clutched at her chest, trying to breathe.
A figure loomed nearby, one dressed in decorated black plate mail and holding a sword shining with ominous purple light.
The imperial commander shook his head and said, “I told you it was useless, Elf.” He leaned over and wrenched a handful of Aria’s hair.
Aria tried to scream, but she still couldn’t breathe. Instead, a pained gasp fell from her lips, sounding like a squeal.
“…There it is. That sound is exactly what I wanted to hear from you.” The imperial commander knelt and moved his head closer towards Aria. “To think that we could experience such things with the fabled elves themselves… And all we had to do was convince the populace that you were all minions of the Demon Lord. Amusing, isn’t it, how easily faith and loyalty can be forgotten with fear?”
Aria reached out with her right hand. She wrapped it around the commander’s wrist and pulled, trying to free herself.
The commander tugged Aria’s hair.
She gasped, unable to do anything else. The sudden pain, in addition to her lack of oxygen and her other wounds, caused her vision to fade.
Aria embraced it. At that point, even oblivion would be bliss.
The commander slapped her. “No, Elf. That would be far too easy.”
The sudden pain pulled Aria back into consciousness.
She spluttered and gasped, finally able to draw a breath.
“While the nobles might want a broken toy,” the commander said. “My men would like you to at least put up a token resistance. You’ve made it this far already, so try to do so until the very end, alright?”
The commander laughed and let go of Aria’s hair.
Aria’s head fell back to the ground, hitting it with a thud. But she remained conscious.
“Oh you’ll be ‘saved’ soon enough, Elf. It’ll be a bit rough at first, but soon you’ll forget about everything else but the bliss inside your body.”
The commander reached towards Aria’s shirt-
“I’d considered the possibility that I would come across a cliched event, but for it to be something as disgusting as this… Tch. And now I can’t even forget that it happened.”
-and froze as someone called out.
An armored soldier pinned a beautiful elf to the ground. Off to the side, armed soldiers guarded a wagon filled with even more elves, each with blank eyes and battered bodies. Since it happened in the depths of a forest far from human civilization, it would have been a perfect crime.
And then I arrived.
The soldier pinning down the elf stood up and turned towards me. “Aren’t you one of the Braves that the Emperor summoned? What are you doing here?”
I ignored him and contemplated the situation.
Six soldiers, seven including the one before me, each equipped with thick plate mail and armed with swords. Judging from their toned bodies, neither were for show.
The soldier in front of me shook his head. While the full helmet hid his face, I could imagine irritated expression on it. “Not answering, huh?” The soldier raised his sword and said, “Don’t blame me for roughing you up a bit then. As a Brave, I’m sure you can take it, right?”
Ominous purple light radiated from the man’s sword and something intangible changed in the surroundings.
“…It’s impossible after all,” I muttered.
The soldier stepped forward and swung his blade.
I ignored it.
The elf rolled over. Her eyes, a dark green like the leaves of the forest surrounding us, widened in shock and then realization.
Good. It would have been a waste if she didn’t realize.
Cold steel cleaved into my body. At the same time, a surge of chaotic energy poured into me through the wound.
“Huh?” The man froze and muttered, “Why the hell are you so weak?”
I staggered back and forced my body to remain upright, my eyes on the elf.
She pushed herself to her feet and limped towards the Lost Woods. Her steps faltered, and she barely covered any ground. With her pace, all it would take was the soldier in front of me to turn around to grab her.
But it couldn’t be helped. Like this, I couldn’t do anything.
“O-oi! You- Dammit! The Emperor’s going to kill me for this!”
My vision faded as I heard the man’s panicked words. Then, the chill of death that marked my end crept across my body. But, before my consciousness completely vanished, a flurry of messages appeared in my field of view.
Chaos energy memorized. Chaos Affinity LVL 1 obtained.
Fatal blow memorized. Physical Damage Resistance LVL 1 obtained.
Imperial Swordsmanship (incomplete) memorized. Imperial Slash LVL 1 obtained.
By dying for the youngest elven princess, the titles ‘Martyr’ and ‘Aria’s Savior’ have been obtained.
…Just as planned.
HP: 100 (+100)
MP: 20 (+20)
Absolute Memory LVL ?? – A unique unranked skill granted to Nowun by the Goddess Serena through the infinite human potential gifted by Earth’s Creator. Grants the concept of ‘Absolute Memory’ to the user.
Information Concealment LVL ?? – A unique unranked skill subconsciously recognized by Goddess Serena due to the user’s ability to withhold and conceal information even from her all-seeing eye. Grants the concept of ‘Information Concealment’ and the ability to hide from even transcendent beings.
Chaos Affinity LVL 1 – A skill granting the affinity of Chaos, the magical element that disrupts all others.
Physical Damage Resistance LVL 1 – A generalized skill granting resistance towards physical damage of all kinds.
Imperial Slash LVL 1 – A subset of the martial skill “Imperial Swordsmanship” that is currently the greatest human swordsmanship in Asifant. Using physical strength (or an appropriate substitute) lash out with the force to sever steel.
The Nameless – Obtained by giving a pseudonym to the Goddess Serena and refusing to present one’s true name. Due to this, the original name is discarded and one’s true nature becomes indistinct.
Otherworlder – Obtained by all those transported by Goddess Serena to Asifant. Grants language translation and basic knowledge of the world.
Karmic Anomaly – The title granted to one whose karma cannot be discerned. Effects are unknown.
Martyr – The title granted to one who sacrificed their life for the sake of another. Doubles HP and MP.
Aria’s Savior – The title of the one who saved the youngest elven princess Aria Sylvania from suffering a fate worse than death. She will never forget your kindness.