Titania stared at me, her dark green eyes furrowed in thought.
I leaned back against my chair and stared back. “Hm… You and Xinxin both keep staring at me. Is my face that interesting?”
The elf shook her head, causing her honey-colored hair to shift. “My apologies. It is just…” She frowned, trailing off.
I shrugged and then took a look around.
After recognizing me, Titania invited me to a restaurant since she was on her way to eat. With nothing better to do for the moment, I decided to accept.
It would also help answer some questions. Xinxin never did tell me exactly what timeline we were in… if she knew at all.
The restaurant Titania brought me to was pretty fancy. It was the sort that wouldn’t be out of place in a Chinese martial arts film. A pagoda with multiple stories and even a walkout roof with tables set out by a balcony. From the atmosphere of the levels we passed on the way up, it reminded me of that Jade Bamboo place back in Xinxin’s clan, but not quite as mystical.
Apparently, Titania was a fairly important person in the sect since she managed to get us a place on the top balcony even without me showing my jade slip.
The table itself was a rich dark red wood that reminded me of mahogany, with matching chairs that had soft cushions woven from what looked like silk. Some silverware and plates were already prepared, placed upon a crimson napkin. Spoons, knives, forks, and some chopsticks that looked like they were made from ivory with porcelain plates set off to the side.
The fact that I couldn’t tell for sure bothered me though, reminding me just how much of a hassle it was to not have Analyze available to use.
As expected, there were no other people around on our floor. It was just a private get together between me and Titania. Probably with romantic undertones to the outside observer.
Not like that would ever happen though.
I shifted my gaze back to Titania.
She was the same as I last saw her. No, maybe a bit cleaned up. Her long honey-colored hair was tied in a neat ponytail and her dark green eyes that looked like ominous dark jade were a bit lighter. As if some weight had been lifted from her shoulders. At least, she seemed a bit more lively.
However, she was still a harsh beauty. Though her eyes were a bit livelier, they were still sharp. Beautiful, but like shattered glass instead of gems. Paired with the black robe that hugged her body and the dragon emblazoned on it in a rich dark violet, she seemed like an unapproachable female cultivator than a simple princess.
As I stared at her, Titania frowned and then said, “You are different.”
“I could say the same to you.”
She was still broken. Titania had undergone things that would have… and did destroy other women. But she was sitting there in front of me. The experiences she had only sharpened her.
I could sense it. I could also sense that she was only barely holding back from directing that sharpness at me.
Eventually, Titania nodded. “Yes… Much has happened since we last met.” She narrowed her eyes. “And I had no idea that you had a disciple.”
I shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
At the time we met, I didn’t. Or rather, the me of that time didn’t. Then again, since Xinxin’s world seemed to be set back further in time, I technically did?
…This was why time travel was a pain.
Titania didn’t look convinced, but she decided to change the subject. “What were you doing walking around by yourself? After the effort Master Xinxin took to bring you back, I would have thought you would be at her side.”
“Master Xinxin?” I blinked and then frowned.
Since when did that girl find the time to get a disciple of her own?
“Ah. That…” Titania’s expression dimmed and then she reluctantly tugged the top of her robe down a bit. Doing so revealed pale white skin, a bit of her cleavage… and a black collar wrapped tightly around her neck.
I remembered enough about isekai and fantasy novels to know what that meant. “So… you went and got captured again.”
Titania crossed her arms. “You could have put it more lightly than that.”
“It’s the truth, isn’t it? Though…” I frowned. “How did you get captured? I thought that you all would have been fine after you were healed up.”
Titania’s expression darkened. “…There was an ambush. Not long after we left you, Imperial Soldiers reappeared. While they no longer had Chaos magic… We were outnumbered.”
“Ah.” I nodded. “Looks like karma came to get you then after trying to kill your sister.”
Titania narrowed her eyes, sending me a sharp glare.
After seeing that I wasn’t fazed, Titania sighed. “…It is no wonder why Master Xinxin is so cold and ruthless if you are her Sifu.”
“Cold?” I frowned. “Ruthless? That disciple of mine?”
…I couldn’t see it. That bubbly and puppy-eyed girl… No. That beautiful young woman.
Her? Cold and ruthless?
“…I don’t buy it.”
Titania blinked and then slowly shook her head. “Well, I suppose it is none of my concern if you cannot see it…”
At that time, a waitress came over. A young girl with long black hair and soft eyes, wearing a crimson dress. She carried a tray with some dumplings a small roasted pig, and rice. Off to the side of those dishes, she also had a porcelain teapot with matching cups.
She placed it on the table and then bowed. “Your food, Madam Titania.”
Titania glanced at the waitress and gave her a curt nod. “You’re dismissed.”
She bowed again and then left, but not before giving me a strange look, her eyes flitting back to Titania for a moment.
When the waitress was gone, I stared at Titania and said, “She looked surprised to see me. Not many suitors, I take it?”
Titania laughed, though it was cold. “Many have tried. All I have found wanting. Moreover… Those bothersome men tend to wilt when I mention Master Xinxin’s name.”
“Hm.” I served myself a bit of the dumplings and pork. “Just how did Xinxin become your Master anyway? A beautiful elf like you would have fetched a fortune in the Northern Empire, so how did you end up all the way over here in the Sun Kingdom? What, did you murder some nobles and get considered too unruly to handle there?”
Titania was quiet for a moment before saying, “Your insight is quite keen. But yes. I… had made a deal with our captors. That I would do whatever it took so long as my sister elves were safe. While we could fight, it would mean at least some of us would die. If there was a way to save them… I knew that avoiding a fate of slavery was impossible, but I had hoped they could at least only be placed as maids or servants.”
I scoffed. “And here I thought Aria had been naïve. Looks like that trait runs in the family.”
Titania glared at me. “It was that or suffer the same fate as before. At least this time I had to try.”
“But of course they broke the promise, killed or broke the minds of all your pals, and then came back to tell you after subjecting you to various humiliating things hoping to break the last bit of resistance. Right?”
Titania’s silence answered my question.
I sighed. “…Man. If that person is taking inspiration from Earth, she’s been delving into a lot of eroge, hasn’t she…?”
The development was exactly what I’d expect out of an H-game. Noble elf princess makes a deal to save her companions. They try to break her and then drop the bomb on her about how they went back on their deal.
The problem in this case was that Titania was apparently made of sterner stuff than they thought.
It was actually pretty respectable.
I shook my head and said, “That doesn’t answer how you got here though.”
Titania poured herself a cup of tea. “Is it not obvious? None in the Empire could contain me.” A faint hint of pride crossed her eyes and she said, “While I was captured once, the only reason was due to the disruption those soldiers created from Chaos magic. But they could not do that in their own territory.”
That made sense. Titania was pretty strong from what I could remember of her stats. Level 100, A ranked combat potential, and a unique ability pioneering a whole new swordsmanship for elves.
“After that, my captors tossed me to some foreign slave merchants who were interested in an ‘exotic product’ for their underground tournament in the Sun Kingdom.” She gave me a wry smile and said, “What better draw then a captured princess from a foreign land and a foreign race?”
“And Xinxin plays into this how? I don’t see my disciple wandering around randomly to explore the underworld… and I highly doubt that One Tin guy would have let her off by herself even if she wanted to.”
Titania shook her head. “I cannot speak for Master Xinxin’s reasoning to join the tournament. However, I can say that she seemed interested more in the prize money than myself.”
Titania nodded. “One million Tian.”
I didn’t know how much a million Tian was, but it seemed like a lot. And considering Xinxin’s strength, it must have been easy. Though… “Out of curiosity, what were the rules for the tournament?” I lifted up my tea cup to take another sip.
Titania put a hand on her chin to think and then said, “If I recall correctly… Each participant entered the tournament by betting everything they owned, up to and including their life and body. The arena was under a demonic curse that forced the loser to accept whatever fate the victor decided upon them, be it death, slavery, or anything else.”
“…Say that again?”
Titania frowned. “Which part?”
“The last part. Something about a demonic curse?”
“Ah.” Titania nodded. “The loser in the tournament would be bound to give everything of themselves and in their possessions to the victor. From what that masked man mentioned when praising himself in front of me, it was a powerful artifact he found from another world that affected the soul itself to enforce the contract.”
I set my cup down. “That foolish girl.”
Betting her entire life- No, betting her everything on a fight just for some money and an elf? It wasn’t like she would have done it for Titania, since Xinxin didn’t know who the eldest elf princess, Aria, or Saphira was.
“That foolish, stupid, idiotic, naïve girl. What was she thinking? Did she even consider what would happen if she lost? When she’s that beautiful?”
I warned her already. That her beauty would be dangerous. That men, women, and countless others would give anything to have her at their whim. That she would meet a fate worse than death if she got caught or met the wrong person. Yet she willingly walked into such a situation of her own accord?
“It looks like I’ll need to teach her another lesson…”
Another training session was in order to drive the fact that she shouldn’t be so reckless into her head.
While I was fuming, in the corner of my eyes, I saw Titania smile.
I glared at her and said, “What’s so funny?”
She shook her head. “Nothing much. I just find the thought of Master Xinxin being scolded somewhat amusing after all she has done.”
“Hmph. If you say so.”
I downed my cup of tea and poured myself another before starting in on my food. I needed to do something else to stop being annoyed.
That girl… she really would be the death of me at this rate. Here I was thinking it would be bad for me to be at her side, but if she was going to run headlong into suicidal situations, it would probably be safer even considering the chance I went berserk.
Come to think of it, she had always been like that, hadn’t she? Even when we met, she was so eager to die. And she had died, countless times until I managed to force her to live.
My expression dimmed.
It looked like I needed to stick around for a while this time. My disciple was too stupid to realize the value of her own life… And I suppose I did need to repay her for what I did to her. The strength I had flowing through my body now was because of what she gave me.
Time passed by in silence as the two of us ate.
True to her background as a princess, Titania ate with elegant table manners.
I didn’t bother and just ate however I liked.
After a while, Titania set down her silverware and glanced at me.
I glanced back.
Her atmosphere had changed. As if the previous talk was just formality, she stared at me with sharp eyes and said, “Tell me. You… Why are you alive when Aria is dead?”
A flash of a memory. Blood, scattered across the forest clearing. Desire to take every power I could. Wrath, and taking it out on her who didn’t resist.
I shrugged. “What can I say? She was weak.”
“Weak? Is that all you have to say?”
I narrowed my eyes. “And why would that matter to you. Didn’t you hate her enough to try to kill her?”
Titania stood up, an icy gale gathering around her. Before she could do anything though, her collar flashed, sparking with violet lightning. She winced and then sat down, taking deep breaths to calm herself.
I took a sip from my tea.
After a few moments, she narrowed her eyes and said, “Master Xinxin said that you can resurrect my sister. Resurrect Ari.”
It was probably possible. Using my Absolute Memory, I could recreate images of the ones I met in the past. Their powers, their bodies, their memories… but it wouldn’t be them. Not entirely.
“But why would I? You were the one who killed her. You and whoever that other person was.”
Titania glared at me, but then her glare softened, replaced by confusion. “The other person?”
I nodded. “That’s right. That bastard with Anti-Magic that cut straight through my defenses.”
I was still annoyed by that. Everything was going well up until that point. If I only stuck around a bit more…
Titania tilted her head. “Did… Do you not remember what happened? No, did Master Xinxin not tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“…She was the one who killed you. She was also the one who gave you the talisman and tricked the guards to believe you stole it.”
I froze. “…No. My dear disciple did not tell me such a thing.”
I suddenly felt a bit worried. The knowledge that she did that… concerned me. It sounded more and more like Xinxin wasn’t in a proper frame of mind. She seemed to be obsessing over me, even enough to go back in time to kill the first person I saved. And then me, right after.
…Why did she kill me? Because I wasn’t yet her Sifu?
I frowned. That… was troubling. It seemed like Titania’s casual remark about her not being so innocent was true.
And in that case…
Titania nodded. “Yes. Master Xinxin was the one who brought us all there, saying that we had to kill you.” She paused. “And since you are alive… Are you an immortal as well? One that can return after death through reincarnation?”
I smiled but said nothing.
“Enough about me, Titania.” I took a sip from my tea and said, “Tell me about yourself. We never did get properly acquainted.”
And since I had the chance now, I might as well start gathering my forces. After all, going about it alone last time failed.
“Myself?” Titania frowned. “Why does that matter?”
“It does well to understand your allies and your foes. Besides, I’m curious to learn more about Aria’s older sister.”
Titania flinched at the words ‘older sister’. Still, the pain in her eyes faded a bit and she shook her head. “There is nothing to tell. At least, nothing that matters any more.”
With that, she became quiet and continued eating.
I shrugged and then got up to leave.
Titania frowned. “Finished already?”
I nodded. “If you aren’t going to talk, there’s no point in me staying, right?”
“That…” Titania shook her head. “I…”
“Besides.” I narrowed my eyes. “It seems like I have to have a chat with my disciple now.”
There were things she was hiding from me. While I still felt guilty about what I did to her… I wasn’t one who was willing to just be left in the dark.
I started to walk off… and then I stopped, realizing I had a problem.
“…Do you know where Xinxin might be?”
Titania smiled. “If you wish to know where my Master is… then keep me company.”
“…Yeah, I’ll pass.”
I waved and then walked out.
Along the way, I bumped into a guy with gray hair and red eyes.
He glanced at me and frowned. “You?”
“You’re in my way.”
He flinched and moved.
I headed down the stairs and walked out.
Since Titania wouldn’t lead me, I might as well do some exploring. And maybe deal with some riffraff while I was at it. Being this weak was bothering me.