Remnants of a Thousand-Year Flame

—Chapter 6: Legacies from the Past Millennium [I]—

DISCLAIMER: I do not take credit for Danmachi and Bleach and its characters.


Ren Ashbell always liked the privilege to be in his lonesome.

It was tranquil.

It was silent.

It was free from disturbance.

All present was him and none other more, hence the meaning.

Well, not almost every time, but with that said, it wasn't like Ren doesn't enjoy any company. Humans are inherently social beings. Even he has the urge to at least talk to somebody for a while, whether it may be trivial or not.

There's also this old saying stating that somebody would go crazy if they don't talk to anybody for a certain amount of time.

It would take several months or years for it to show signs. Even a few weeks depending on the individual.

So, was it a matter of circumstances perhaps?

Most likely.

Whether it is an exaggeration or not, Ren found himself believing that up to some degree. With that said, however, Ren also found this as something that does not apply to all. Some people can manage to live without the need of socializing that much like those hermits for example. Some practiced their mental strength and self-discipline to a whole other level to be able to manage this feat.

Hence, it is a matter of circumstances.

And that brings him to where he was right now.

It has been a while since he received a quest from the SYSTEM. Not that he doesn't like it, but it was unsettling. At the very least, the SYSTEM would have given him some mundane quests in particular.

But that didn't happen.

And that is the problem. The SYSTEM barely gives any quests unless it is preparing something big for him to accomplish next. The SYSTEM tends to give him an ample amount of time to rest to recuperate from the fatigue and injuries that he sustained from previous battles. Surprisingly so, the SYSTEM doesn't intend to batter him up to pieces and drive him to death helplessly. It has some consideration, as much as Ren would like to deny it.

Sitting over one of the branches of a humongous tree, he wondered whether it was already time for him to leave. Well, to call it just "humongous" would probably make any elf possibly nearby him to attempt on murdering him. Not that they would succeed except for a few individuals.

Why?

To call the Sacred Tree of Elves— the World Tree Yggdrasil— to be just "humongous" would be an insult, or so some of those prickly elves would think. Ren Ashbell wondered how they overthink and turn that simple comment to be like a big problem. The tree was simply that big towering over any fortresses or castles that he saw in his life. Any individual would rather think of that as their first impression when they lay their sights on the tree.

Currently located at the Alf's Royal Forest where he was brought (dragged) by Albert and his companions to get special medication and visit one of the most beautiful yet secluded sanctuaries of the lower world, and Ren being Ren, he couldn't possibly miss and savor the opportunity given to him.

In the first place, if someone in particular is curious as to how they ended up here, then it would be because of Celdia who was one of the companions of Albert and somebody who holds a significant position in Elven society as a whole.

Very significant to emphasize.

After all, Celdia, that High Elf with two personality sides being that of a regal beauty with immense wisdom and a neurotic woman when it comes to particular topics such as her age, was the current reigning Queen of Elves.

...

Sometimes, Ren wonders if he could call himself lucky to meet individuals like these on his journey. It was too good to be true in fact. Meeting Albert, the supposed Hero of this era dictated both by the SYSTEM and the masses of the lower world was a blessing enough (as much as Ren would like to deny it), having connections with royalty like Celdia and that Amazon Empress and Dwarf King was just simply beyond his expectations. If you would count tribe leaders or chiefs like that Dark Elf, Werewolf, and Pallum, wouldn't Ren be totally out of place in Albert's party?

The answer was obvious.

Getting back on the previous topic as to why he is here in the Sacred Tree's branches exactly is the fact that the Sacred Tree exudes properties that increase recovery of both the body and mind. It is even said that it could cure or at least give temporary remedy to diseases and dispel curses if you are exposed to it for quite some time. These are probably the reasons why the Elves here in the Royal Alf Forest never get illnesses nor any incredulous complications in the body unless something unusual happens like curses for example.

How convenient.

Just as Ren was about to arrange his next thoughts, somebody called him out.

"Human!"

How rude. Calling someone by his or her race shows problems as for who was speaking already, not that Ren minds it, but rude nonetheless. However, it may be just the fact that the one calling him out doesn't know his name.

"..."

But that was most unlikely. After all, he recognized this voice and he surely remembers naming himself to that person.

"Hey! Are you listening?"

Ren can hear the voice loud and clear.

"..."

"You..." the owner of the voice growled as its tone lowered. There was a lace of sadness veiled under it. "Hey, are you asleep again now?"

Ren sensed irritation and sadness towards the owner of the voice. Hm. Maybe he has played long enough. He could practically imagine this elf sulking next and that would be troublesome.

Heaven only knows what his fate would be if he ended up making the High Elf Queen's favorite student who she instructed on taking care of him sulk.

Ren wouldn't take the risk.

"...Don't make a fuss. I'm listening, alright?" Ren said still not bothering on opening his eyes. "Let me rest a little longer though, would you?"

"Rest? You've been resting for too long already!" the elf countered as she held her temple. Sighing, she nudged Ren on the shoulder attempting to sober him up from his sleep. "Rather than resting, it would be more like lazing around! You've been doing nothing else but sleep and roll around in this area even though the Queen said it was prohibited! It's already been TEN days since your complete recovery!"

Ten days.

Yes, Ren Ashbell has been resting for a total of ten days. Ren was injured resulting in him losing his eyes in the process after completing his latest quest which is a monster king subjugation type. Ren always loathed this type of quest. It was time-consuming. Resource draining. And extremely life-threatening compared to its normal type. There's also this ominous note by the SYSTEM as well stating that losing a limb or two in this type of quest was to be expected.

Monster King subjugation type.

As the name states, it's a quest that tackles eliminating a "monster king" which varies in many different ways. The quest would always make the type of monster you are going to subjugate anonymous up until you first encounter it. The SYSTEM only drops a few bits of information and clues regarding what Ren would be dealing with.

In combat, Ren knew three important things to remember to get a decisive win.

First is information. Information may come in different ways. Learning how to utilize information in combat at its finest would always give you an edge in every single battle you fight. Formulating this information into plans, strategies, and tricks correctly would heighten your chances of winning significantly.

Second is the power to enact your plans. Even if you have sufficient information and knowledge at your disposal yet lack the necessary power to enact it, then it would be useless in the end.

And last but not least, an escape plan. To survive is to win. It is just simple as that. What value is there in winning if you lose your life in the process?

'I still need to take a day or two at the very least to rest. Not that they would understand nor let it slide any further for that's what I have been telling them for the past several days.' Ren thought as he let out a sigh.

It was then it happened.

Ren who was currently immersed in his thoughts suddenly tilted his head to the side instinctively avoiding a punch from the only person present besides him.

Really, how rude.

"Lost in your world again, human?" her shoulders drooped down just as her ears did. "At least remember what we are speaking of earlier."

Earlier? Oh, if he remembers correctly...

"It is about... bonds with other people, wasn't it?" Ren finally opened his eyes, squinting slightly as he suppressed a groan.

It was still sore.

The right eye to be specific.

'As I thought, ten days weren't enough to get used to it.' Ren internally grumbled. 'Hm. I wonder when I could use this...'

It was hard to even stare at something for a long time.

Adjusting to his new "eye" granted to him by the SYSTEM as the reward certainly takes time after he lost his previous ones after fighting that blasted giant serpent.

"Yes!" An elf exclaimed as she opened her arms wide. Her mood shifted in a complete 180. Ren wondered if this elf had some kind of multiple personality disorder or something. A quirk same to her Queen. "If you clearly remember what I was saying earlier, bonds are something that we should always cherish from the very bottom of our hearts!"

To be completely frank, Ren found this elf weird. Both in a good and bad way. He always wondered why this elf even bothered to talk and be his company at times like these. She could've just observed him from afar and only come to him when there are important matters to be addressed.

Ren wondered if this elf was mentally ill or something. He wasn't a clerk or specialist in that regard, so Ren wouldn't just make his assumptions as facts.

"So, what about it?" Ren said as he stretched his arms. In the end, Ren decided to humor her with his own set of ideas, as unsavory as it may be. "They could also be weaknesses for all you know. That is not something I could afford to have."

Yet.

Ren's goal...was vague. Even he can't distinguish whether it was still the same path he is trying to follow ever since his brother's death. Live a fulfilling life, was it? Was he doing great in that regard?

The answer to that is obvious.

No.

The SYSTEM, the monsters, and the lurking catastrophes of the world are yet to be seen. Ren never thought he would have a fulfilling life with those around him. Being a slave to some unknown entity called the SYSTEM, the prophecy signaling the end of this era, the awakening of catastrophes—calamities that would shake the foundations of the world.

'Yeah, maybe in my dreams, I could live a fulfilling life without any care for anything in the world...' With mirth, Ren internally thought.

"Bonds. The technical term for relationships being established by yourself with another person. If you look at it in another way, it could be considered a weakness. A link that may exploit your vulnerable side depending on the situation that may arise."

Distraction. Hostage. Blackmail. Doubt. Hesitation. Attachment.

These are only a few of the numerous reasons ranging from a mixed array of situations and emotions combined to why Ren deemed relationships with others as a weakness. Thinking about others instead of only focusing on matters related to oneself could be seen as a form of distraction. It would impede oneself to make more logical and pragmatic decisions without concern for others.

'Besides, if they can't keep up or if they are too weak... they always leave me in the end.'

Yes. It wasn't like Ren always thought of relationships to be some kind of burden at first.

It was his rough experience in life that thought him how precious relationships are and how fragile and brittle they could be. The only people Ren genuinely had a proper relationship with were his late family.

And they were all gone.

The bandits that took him and helped him up despite their unsavory methods of living could be considered as a distant type of relationship bordering between grudge and gratefulness.

And once again, they were all gone.

There are also those who Ren had worked with before joining Albert's party. Taking in the profession of those who practically killed his second family would always leave a bitter taste in Ren's mouth. He has a choice back then whether he would choose to be an Adventurer or Mercenary.

Ren simply chose the latter due to personal reasons that he would rather not disclose to anybody.

Besides, Ren never thought himself to be fit to be an Adventurer.

And speaking of his former comrades in his time of being a mercenary, they either didn't make it out alive or just left.

It always ends the same.

"...what the heck is wrong with you? Why so negative?" the elf deadpanned at him while Ren slightly showed an expression of shock hearing an elf curse crudely for the first time. "I honestly think you need some counseling, human."

Ren was slightly annoyed at the pitying and concerned look directed at him.

"Hmph. Every individual has the right to express their thoughts and opinions. It is better to respect other people's opinions and be open-minded, isn't that what you said a few days ago to me, Elisha?"

Elisha Lyon.

The Queen's Saber. Disciple of the Elf Queen. Jade Beauty. Justice Bringer.

That was the name of this elf. Long blonde hair tied in a ponytail style and vibrant blue eyes reminiscent of that of sapphires. Her beauty could be ranked on the upper strata in mortal standards, which is expected from none other than the High Elf Queen's associate. It was rumored that she was personally picked up by the reigning Elf queen several years back as soon as she laid eyes on her and recognized the potential she has. Her identity was kept as secret as much as possible be it due to political or personal reasons, hence, her numerous aliases or titles sung by the Elven bards or storytellers throughout the lower world.

That is how heavy her existence, her identity was in this era.

Ren meeting and knowing her personally would probably make some of the Elven folk murder him out of jealousy. Just thinking that some human brat knew one of the secrets that the Alf Royal Forest was enough to make Ren fear for his life albeit slightly. Ren wondered why Celdia introduced Elisha to him, and he still couldn't figure that out up to this day.

"...I hate how you talk smart like that," Elisha stated with a tone of annoyance this time.

"Your compliment is appreciated." Ren snorted ignoring the stare he was receiving from the elf.

"Still, why do you view it in such a way," Elisha asked, genuinely curious. "I mean, I would understand if you have a bitter past about the topic. But that's not enough for you to consider it as something that bad."

"Forging genuine bonds with other people isn't as easy as it sounds." Ren simply replied not even bothering to conceal the scowl he was showing. "And these bonds... once broken or used against you... it can't be easily restored nor replaced by anybody else."

Ren gave her a look practically stating that he didn't want to delve into the topic any longer. Elisha who noticed the somewhat pained look of Ren felt guilt.

"Precisely. That's why we need to cherish and value it as much as we could, right?" Elisha agreed, showing an understanding look after turning to him. "I, uh, sorry. I didn't mean to let you remember bad memories."

Ren held his urge to let out a laugh. As far as he have known Elisha, she wasn't the type to be this meek even when apologizing to others. Did something happen perhaps?

"It's alright."

Scratching her head, the elf awkwardly laughed. "I am pretty weird for an elf right? Being chitty chatty like this, bothering you with conversations, and so." Elisha then slightly bowed and faced him while fidgeting her hair. "Once again, I apologize. My queen also requested me to check you out from time to time. And if possible, strike up a conversation with you to expand my knowledge in communicating with others. I seem to be having a problem in that regard."

"I see." Ren simply nodded. "That's..."

'Lack of social interactions huh? Even somebody renowned like her have those kinds of problems. And seeing her fidget about it looks amusingly adorable for some reason.' was the words left unsaid by Ren.

Suddenly, Elisha felt a vein pop up on her head. She felt that she was being mocked for some reason. No, not mocked, more like being played fun at? It was not malicious, but it still bothered her.

Elisha's ears perked up.

Of course, there's only one possible culprit for that.

"Hmph! I don't want to hear from you who is just being a brat who is experiencing a midlife crisis in his teenage years and is now trying to be cool by having such cynical outlooks in life." Elisha ranted as she shook her head feigning a pitiful look in return at Ren who nearly choked at her words.

"W-what?"

"Am I wrong?"

No joke, he nearly did choke at her verbal attack. It may have been a statement out of teasing or a burst of emotion of giving him some payback for his thoughts since Ren didn't feel any amount of malice veiled or hidden underneath her words.

But still, that didn't change the fact that it made Ren choke himself out of embarrassment.

The reason is that she may have been correct to a certain degree with her statement. As much as Ren would hate to admit it, he was experiencing some kind of late midlife crisis in his teenage years just like what she said or something. Though his mind and body were tempered enough with years of experience in survival in this harsh world, there was this little part of him that he can't deny that wants to be kind of childish. A rebellious phase of an adolescent boy, or so he concluded resulting in some of his views or decisions in life being affected by it.

Thus, Elisha Lyon's words had some merit on it.

Not that he would admit it openly.

"..."

"Your silence affirms it."

It was at this point that saying anything more about the matter would be unnecessary for it will only embarrass him in the end.

"...no comment." Ren turned his head away.

Elisha then slowly moved and held his head moving it in her direction. Their eyes then locked on each other, one held an emotion of amusement while the other held emotions of embarrassment.

"..."

"..."

The two locked gazes with each other in silence... only to be broken when the elf began to laugh out loud as she released the teen from her clutches.

"Oh, my? Someone's embarrassed~ How adorable!"

"You—!"

This was just a part of a simple yet cherished friendship between a human and an elf. A boy who is willing to learn and catch up to the things he missed in pursuit of his goals, and an elf who simply wants to forge something genuine with other people.

It was just as simple as that.

Or maybe, it would be the fact that Ren saw the semblance of his late brother in the image of this elf. Ren could practically see the chemistry that would take place if she had met her brother with him. They are just that compatible. Mannerisms, actions, and even the fact of administering proper order and fairness to all.

'You two would have got along magnificently if you had met her, brother.'

Thinking so, Ren smiled as he tried to remove the melancholic expression trying to form on his face.


(X-x-X-x-X)


[ Year 900 ]

Unknown Location

The first thing that Ren saw was the ashes that is being carried by the wind around him. The reason why these ashes haven't been stuck on him as soon as he looked at his arm on the sides was still a mystery.

"I am back..." Ren plainly stated. His voice was clear and sound unlike what he had expected. He expected it would be hoarse out of exhaustion, but that wasn't the case.

Certainly, though, that's a good sign, right?

"Ugh..."

He then tried to get up, but to no avail, it seems that his body was weak at the moment. Ren simply hummed as he expected this kind of situation to pop up anyway. For all he knows, this body was a new one provided by the SYSTEM.

'After all, my previous one surely wouldn't have survived even a single part of it from the flames of that Dragon.' Ren silently thought as he stretched up his body.

But to no avail, it seems that he needs more time to get back up.

Thinning his lips as he frowned at the memory, he then called out. "System."

[ SYSTEM NOTICE! ]

Host: Ren Ashbell

— Status (Locked)

— Quests (Locked)

— Inventory (Locked)

( Note: Features like "Status", "Quests", and "Inventory" would be unlocked once the Host receives Falna from a God )

A translucent screen then sparked up in front of him. Compared to a few minutes before, the translucent screen was significantly blurry and dim at the current moment. This might be one of the aftermaths of the so-called damage done to it and the shutdown.

At least, the SYSTEM was still responding. However, interacting or directly having a conversation with it just like before is now gone. It's now merely a husk of what it has been due to the removal of its major functions.

Of the overall function displays, only three remained. Still, if you look at it, the status, quests, and inventory could already be considered helpful enough, these three after all are major functions as well. Ren could only lament the fact that the shop and map didn't make it to be retained. These two combined are the ones Ren used the most in his adventures considering the usefulness of it.

Status is a function that just basically lets Ren see his gauge as an individual who is blessed by the SYSTEM in the form of numbers and letters which also consists of the lists of skills and magic he possesses. The fact that this feature is now a must due to it being the key to regaining most of his strength back and accessing his inventory was something that irked him somehow.

Quest is a function as its name sounds like, that gives him quests and a list of them. Practically, his reminder note for his pending tasks. The reward and penalty features were now rendered as well, making this function lose its purpose...or so Ren would've thought if everything is good and well.

But 'good and well' aren't words that meshed well with the individual named Ren Ashbell.

Inventory was a function that Ren was glad to have remained the most. Think of it as a small pocket dimension that can store up to a mansion's worth of items. There are restrictions to it however like the fact that living things can't be put in it. There is also the size and capacity limit placed on it, which in his opinion, was surely limited to a certain degree concerning the adjustments made. Ren was sure that he would've lost some items or materials within it, but losing some is better than having none at all.

He can store up to around a dozen items before, now, Ren wasn't sure what the new limit is. He would just know once he gets a Falna.

"Calm down, me. Tsk. Rutting those matters aside for now..." Ren said in an attempt to calm himself which was nothing near to being successful. Regardless, he continued. "Now where am I?"

Ren checked first his surroundings by merely moving his neck. Expanding his Reikaku — also known as Spiritual Sense, he could feel that mana which is technically the equivalent of Reiatsu — Spiritual Power, in the lower world's terms, was pretty ambient in the area, too much if he were to give his honest opinion. If he would have to guess, he was within a forest that might be formerly dwelled by fairies, lesser Spirits, or maybe Spirits themselves. That is something far from happening, but his point remains that it is possible. The temperature is optimal at best. Not too high nor too low, just neutral. It was windy, however. While glancing down, he saw that the ground was charred and it expanded several meters away. The nearby trees seemed to be burned away, but surprisingly, there was no forest fire whatsoever.

Strange, but not strange enough compared to the ones he had once before.

"It seems that I am not in the place where I last died." Ren plainly said as he recounted his memories from Dragon Valley which remained vivid even after 900 years. There was this feeling inside him wondering what state that valley ended up in when his battle against the Dragon ended.

Ren unconsciously clenched his fists.

All it takes now was to find a God to unleash his status. After that, he would try to locate that beast and gauge its capacity after hundreds of years had passed. Surely, the Dragon wouldn't remain stagnant for all the years that came and passed by. It was called the King of Monsters for a reason. Possessing unsurmountable strength and intelligence that befits its title for being a King, he doubted that the Dragon would just stay idle.

It surely has gone stronger, tougher, and smarter. Ren could practically remember its voice filled with arrogance and dread ringing in his ears. It was still out there, free and still roaming the lower world. The fact that the lower realm still hasn't faced its end for the past hundreds of years with that calamity being alive still baffles him in a good and bad manner.

The fact that he can still kill it and finish what Albert started, and liberate the lower world from its terrors was something in his favor. But the fact that it remained hidden and hadn't shown up at all based on the information the SYSTEM gave him, that only spells for a brewing disaster for him.

Why was it hiding? Was the Dragon recovering from the wounds he inflicted long ago? Perhaps trying to amass strength in its rest? Maybe it has a different agenda altogether?

All of those could've been done within 900 years. To say that 900 years was a lot of time couldn't be anything more than true. Yet, the Dragon still hasn't shown up even once within that time frame.

There was a factor that is out of place. A missing piece within a puzzle. A hidden piece that Ren doesn't have any clue off.

Ren couldn't figure it out at the moment, but he surely would once he checks the quest function later when he receives a Falna. After all, the quests within it would give him an inkling or clue as to what is going on. That's the nature of that feature, everything is interconnected.

But that is just mere wishful thinking.

The quests don't have a guarantee on it anyways. That's why it is better to take matters directly into his hands rather than just solely relying on the SYSTEM.

Roam the lower world and set out his search—no, his hunt for that beast.

"But if there is one thing I am sure of..."

If Ren Ashbell had gone stronger, then the Dragon would also be the same.

Now back to the point, onto finding a God should be easy? They are practically scattered everywhere in the lower world, and to point a hotspot for where most of the Gods dwell right now would be Orario.

"Hah! As if it was just that easy." Ren gave out a dry laugh. Yes, surely it wouldn't be that easy to find a God or Goddess. They are practically everywhere. But finding the correct god for Ren would require much more effort in his opinion.

Considering his luck? Ren would surely land on the wrong God or Goddess in one way or another.

One of the several pieces of information that the SYSTEM gave him regarding the Falna—the blessing of a God, is that it is also said that it allows them to recount a glimpse of the mortals they bestow it upon.

In short, all his secrets would be revealed. His past, the SYSTEM, the Dragon. The fact that the SYSTEM lost its penalty function made him feel relief. Ren surmised that he could divulge its existence, which of course he didn't even dare to try back then, but that case was different from the present one.

But the threat of it remains. Loopholes aren't much of a thing in the SYSTEM after all based on Ren's experience with it. Nevertheless, the SYSTEM is also known to be always truthful in its statements.

Ren's paranoia was just on that level. You can't blame him in that regard.

In the end, Ren simply stood there for several minutes in contemplation. What his following moves would be. Assessing and reviewing the information that the SYSTEM had given him before. And so on.

Just as he was about to conclude his thoughts, Ren then blinked and halted his thoughts as he somewhat felt something was out of place.

Again.

'Why do I feel like I am missing something important?'

Ren held up his chin in thought. 'The breeze sure is chilly.' he thought before looking at his body which he didn't even bother doing before. "Ah."

Now he noticed what was amiss. It's kind of stupid, to be honest, of all things, this is the one that he didn't manage to check on.

"It seems that my Shihakushō is an exception in my return huh?"

Yes, he was stark naked.

Furthermore, his body was still in a state of exhaustion as it would seem.

Ren tried to weave one by using a trick he learned from the old man. A shihakushō could be created via means of reiryoku — or Spiritual power as one would rephrase it. This was a trick that he learned from the Old Man seeing how useful it would be at times of need just like now.

The shihakushō after all was a special garment given to Soul Reapers — Shinigamis —in order to differentiate them from other souls. It also serves as an armor that is flexible in any given situation. Moreover, he has a distinctive one if he has to say. The Old Man was a follower of tradition and order as per se, however, Ren's case was an exception. The Old Man permitted him to add his adjustments stating that he wasn't the first one to do so. When Ren asked him who it was, the Old Man merely gave him a sigh and didn't even bother to answer him back.

Well, he did get his answer when a few centuries passed after he asked that question.

Normally, a shihakushō couldn't be weaved out of thin air, but as stated, there would be exceptions.

However, as he tried to weave one, as nonsensical as it was to try since he can feel the lack of energy in his body at the moment, obviously failed.

...

"What a ridiculous joke this is."

Ridiculous indeed. Heaving a sigh, he tried to move his body upwards once more only to fail again. Seriously, what a conundrum he was in.


X-x-X-x-X


[ Year 900 ]

Ryuumilua Forest—Village Hall Chambers

Ryuumilua Forest.

It is a small forest located near the borders of Rakia. It is a forest inhabited by the Elven folk. The population number of the village only numbered merely in the three hundred. As stated, this forest is smaller than your usual ones, but despite that, it is filled with plenty of blessings given by mother nature.

Fertile land to grow crops. It has bountiful bodies of water in the form of rivers, lakes, and springs spread all around. There are an ample amount of food sources in the form of wild animals, crops, and many more to provide for the village in satisfaction. It is also a land that is said to be a former territory of a Spirit in ancient times.

And so on, and so forth.

To say that this forest was nearly perfect could be nothing more than true. Nevertheless, there are always consequences despite the near-perfectness this forest possesses.

Because it is a nearly perfect location, it is bound to attract attention. Elves are a naturally secluded race by well-known standards, that's the reason why some elves are ignorant as to how the outside of their world—their forests, work.

Of its natural resources, this forest and its inhabitants are often visited by outsiders. Bandits, thieves, and invaders came in groups for their interests. But for what it's worth, they were repelled by its natural inhabitants.

The Elves of the Ryuumilua Forest are no pushovers. Over time, they trained themselves to be well-versed hunters and warriors so that they could repel and extinguish these outside threats to their homes. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call their home an outpost located on the borders of countries and monster territories. They harnessed warriors generation by generation, that's how dedicated they were in their duty to protect their forest, their home.

That should be similar to what is about to happen at this time as well. Yes, that's how it was supposed to be, but this time is vastly different.

The one that was about to approach was on a larger, fiercer, and more dangerous scale compared to the previous ones they had in the past. The one invasion that is slowly dawning upon them is those from Rakia.

Rakia Empire is a militaristic, or to be more specific, war-centric nation even before the descent of the God Ares who bolstered their ranks and ambitions even further. Rakia has expanded over the years, conquering lands and territories as they like. To sum it up, Rakia has been the central power nation on the west side of the continent.

To say that the current state of affairs within the forest was peaceful at the moment couldn't be anything more than a lie. The reason behind the tense atmosphere in the forest was the fact that they were their homes will be the next ones to be conquered by those scums in Rakia.

Of course, the residents of the village have their militia, but compared to the vast numbers that the Rakian army has added with those accursed Crozzo Magic Swords?

They stood no chance. Not at all.

Against the might of those accursed blades that were crafted by Crozzo blacksmiths that have Spirit blood flowing in their veins, giving those blades destructive capacity that could rival the magics of second-tier, even up to first-tier adventurers, the elven residents of Ryuumilua Forest couldn't help but feel dread.

Crozzo Magic Swords are believed to harness prowess that could turn a sea on fire, crumble hills and even mountains to the ground, manipulate weather, and so on and so forth. Of course, some of these feats are plain exaggerations made by those from Rakia to glorify their might making them seem like a threat unrivaled by none.

After all, there is no smoke without fire, right?

It is proven that the destructive capacity of these blades was renowned throughout the lands. They were an important element in the successful conquests of Rakia in the past few years. These weapons added with a large number of men Rakia could spare would spell nothing but a disaster for whomever their opponents would be.

Rakia would be nearly unstoppable if left as an inconvenient concern.

But there were exceptions to this case.

Orario was an example.

While Rakia might possess an enormous amount of men and weapons to utilize, Rakia still failed to conquer Orario all this time. One after another, they failed.

There is one sole reason for that.

Adventurers.

Rakia's army size and weapon might be an advantage, but Orario possesses its Adventurers. They say that in war when it comes to Quality vs Quantity, Quality would always determine the crucial point in gaining the advantage.

Most importantly, Orario houses adventurers with level 6s and even a level 7 which is the record for the highest level ever known in history! Most of all, these adventurers belong to the top Familias namely Zeus and Hera Familias. Meanwhile Rakia, even with the number advantage, only was composed of mere level 1s and a handful of level 2s.

The sheer difference in levels dictates the obvious winner of the battle.

Orario would wipe the floor against Rakia.

Rakia already tried to invade Orario several times, and every single one of them failed. That's how strong Orario, the Labyrinth City in the center of the lower world, is against the might Rakia has.

But getting back to the point, Ryuumilua Forest doesn't possess such liberties at all. Sure, they could file for a quest which they already did to ask for reinforcement in repelling the Rakian forces, but it would be too late since the Rakian army is moving at high speeds towards them, it is estimated that they would come a few more hours or so. In the first place, they don't even have a guarantee that the adventurers in Orario would send them help. They were too far and isolated from the nearest human settlement.

They also filed some letters of request to the Royal Alf Forest, and at the moment, they have not yet received any response from them.

The same could be said for the nearest elven forests. They either couldn't spare any forces, or they haven't received their letter of request as well.

And this brings them to this situation right now where within the village located at the center of Ryuumilua Forest, several Elves were gathered and we're discussing what should be their next course of action.

Within a round table, a dozen of seats were placed around it, and every single one was filled.

After several minutes of discussion, the group fell into silence.

If there are similarities that could be tied together for each present in the room then that would be hopelessness and anguish as to what's about to happen.

They lost hope the moment their scouts reported that Rakia would arrive today if they continue their march undisturbed. In the first place, the fact that the news of Rakia appearing so near to their home to continue their conquest towards them this late already spelled their doom.

Reinforcements would serve but naught considering how fast Rakia is approaching.

It was then they reached a consensus, they would remain in this forest, no matter what outcome it may be after Rakia arrives.

Nobody else seemed to voice their opinions about the matter. As if a silent agreement has been made, they were now preparing to leave the room and make an announcement.

That is until a young elf voiced out her turmoil that she was trying to suppress for a very long time during this meeting out of respect for her elders. She was one of the oddities present in the meeting for she was relatively young, so young to be exact, to be included in this important meeting.

"Elders?! It is we either abandon the forest or enter a futile fight against those invaders!" The young elf slammed her fist on the table. "Why are you all trying to be stubborn about this? Isn't the obvious choice in this situation to flee? As long as we can live to see another day, we can always go back and reclaim our home! Again, why are you all acting so stubborn about this!"

With flowing blond hair tied in a ponytail that swayed each time she moves. Deep green eyes resembling that of the forest leaves reflect complicated emotions from within. She had delicate features that scream beauty from the outside, that is for sure. However, that does not excuse the fact that she was also a hardened warrior, unblessed by the Deusdea, that had a fair share of battles even with her young age.

Her demeanor was far from calm obviously, and her face was encroached with the look of exhaustion. Her body was trembling after hearing the decisions that the elders had made.

The young elf was an elected representative of the youth camp within the village. Despite her age being 20, which is comparable to that of a teen in human or mortal terms, to the long-life race called Elves, this age could be said to be that of a mere child.

Nonetheless, within this meeting, age is something that could be prettily disregarded as long as you have the knowledge and skills to back it up. The young elf proved herself worthy to join them, and out of respect, they answered her with the bitter truth.

"It's pride, girl." Somebody answered in a calm and resigned voice. "Pride."

It was the young elf's grandfather, one of three the main figureheads of this council.

"We, the ones who had dwelled here in this forest for over centuries refuse to leave our home even if we know its impending doom."

"But grandfather...!" The young elf exclaimed as she looked at him with moist eyes. "This just doesn't make any sense..."

"I'm sorry, girl. Most of you just want the best result for everybody including ours." The old elf said warmly to the young elf. It then shifted to a much more neutral and hardened tone right after. "But our decision is final, girl. We won't blame you all if you flee alongside your associates. That's the most logical decision for the better of the majority. You all have bright futures, and we, the old generations will be your foothold, the ones that will try to keep those scums in bay until you all evacuate."

"But—!"

"Your grandfather is correct, young one." Another old elf supported him back as she folded her arms. "We know that these Rakia savages won't just end up conquering lands. They will also take anything valuable in this forest, and those are you, the fruits of our generation."

"Hah!" One then let out a dry laugh as his bloodshot eyes remained staring at the window. "Youthful and pretty elves, no matter the gender, would surely be taken advantage of. That's why girl, follow our orders and pack your things up. We won't let those pieces of trash get a hold of you!"

"Language!" one chided as she held her temple in annoyance at the crass words of her fellow elder.

The one directed by the word merely scoffed. "Bah! What are we, children?"

"We have one right here!"

"Tsk..."

"Ahem." One coughed and tried to say his opinion on the matter to dissuade a brewing tension unnoticed. "His gruesome point aside, our rich lands and resources are something that they would also take interest in. Besides, Rakia already thought of our home to be one of their valuable targets ever since before."

It only happened that Rakia is in its peak state and started to invade territories one after another.

In short, this age was simply just unlucky.

"The only thing that stopped them from doing so was the wrath that the sentient beings in our forest, the lesser Spirits, and faeries would place upon them." Another added, his voice somewhat hoarse as he held his temple. "But recently, the lesser Spirits began to disappear at some point until there's none left, the faeries as well, but the blessings they gave to maintain our forest bountifully and filled with natural riches remain."

"If I remember correctly, they started disappearing around a century ago, and in the last decade, none were left."

"And those accursed blades..." Now, her grandfather grits his teeth. "...are made possible because those Crozzo's ancestors having managed to have Spirit blood flow in their veins as thanks for their ancestor saving a Spirit..."

And because of their greed, they are now abusing it.

Divine punishment would surely befall them.

But that would not save the Ryuumilua Forest in their current predicament.

The grandfather sighed in pity and turned to the young elf. "You're exhausted."

"..." she merely nodded.

"You can rest and prepare. The evacuation announcement would be in public a few moments after this."

"...we should've announced that yesterday or so..." An elder held her chin as she exhaled a weary sigh. "In the end, it seems that holding up to that hope of somebody trying to help us is not going to happen..."

"Right, that hope we are expecting seems to be bleaker than it already is." An elder merely scoffed as he held his head. "Mistakes. Bad decisions. Having these are fatal to everyone in times of need... and we nailed it, quite frankly."

"...we must be getting too old for this."

"Hah! Don't start blaming your age, you are practically only 170, young one!" one corrected.

"Technically, all of us are old coots...and 170 ain't young at all."

"In human standards that is. We are elves, remember? And the second youngest to us would be 300, right?"

The young elf gritted her teeth in helplessness as the parade of jokes and humorous lines were thrown in the meeting. All they could do now was enjoy this short time of respite before the time of their end comes. Soon, those invaders, those humans who did nothing but ravage and destroy their homes in the name of conquest would arrive here and take everything that they could.

Greedy, preposterous, and merciless humans.

The young elf couldn't help but think in silent rage and helplessness.

"Understood... farewell, elders."

And so, she blitzed out of the room without looking back.

She tried to forget everything that transpired in that meeting. This should be just some kind of bad dream. She wonders when she will wake up from it, but deep inside she knew. The young elf was just tricking herself, making delusions about the cruel reality that her home will face. And so, the young elf ran with her emotions in turmoil. She was seen by her fellow elves blitz her way out of the hall, then to the village gates. Some of her peers tried to call out to her in concern, but all of them went deaf on her ears.

The young elf thought that the elders were being stupid. Pride? What use is pride for when you just end up in a futile death?

"Damn it... damn it all!" the young elf cursed to herself as she held her emotions deep within.

Pride won't feed you!

Pride won't save you!

Pride won't grant you miracles!

"Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" The young elf then dropped on her knees unable to hold back her tears any further. "Why can't they just understand!"

No, rather the question should be is that why she refuses to understand their point? They gave their stance, and it was logical just like her own. They want the best outcome to happen even in exchange for their lives. Every second they could buy in the impending invasion by those Rakian scums would be crucial to buy some time for the common folk to flee.

Ryuumilua Forest was isolated to some degree compared to other elven forests. They could be even called to be an outpost forest by the elves considering their geographical location near that of human nations. The nearest elven forests would be miles away.

It was hard for her to accept that some of them will sacrifice themselves to buy even for a few minutes or even seconds even though that won't make that much of a difference in the end!

They could just flee with them as well!

In the end, she knew that she couldn't hate them entirely for what they did.

...

The young elf didn't notice the time she spent running away. She just let her foot take her wherever she wanted to ignoring everything that got in her way.

As soon as she regained a slight bit of her composure, the young elf noticed that she ran quite a distance away from where their village. She knew she was still in Ryuumilua Forest. She knew where she was exactly after doing a little navigation and climbing up to a tall tree to have a better scope of the area.

The sun was still up, obscured by clouds. The wonder of whether it would rain today passed on her mind before shaking her head.

The village members have probably evacuated by now and are traveling to the nearest elven forests.

That means that she was the only one left except for those senile elders who were adamant about staying behind.

"...now that I remember..."

The memory of this place was vivid to her. There was a small spring located here if she was correct. So she scanned the area for a while, and a few seconds later, her eyes pinpointed the landmark of the nearby spring.

"...maybe a bath would help me calm down." The elf mumbled before sighing. "Ha... what am I doing really? I should've just held it in and waited for the evacuation to happen and join in!" she screamed in frustration.

Erratic emotions dull the mind's rationale and logic.

Such an accurate statement.

Shaking her head, now she was left with her life practically in danger at any moment's notice. How foolish. Every second is crucial considering how fast Rakia's army is marching towards them. This was no time on wasting such moments relaxing!

It took all her patience and discipline just to stop her urge on pulling her hair in anger.

It was then it happened.

"S-Smoke? No, fire?!"

The young elf's eyes widened at the sight. The location she was in right now was considerably far from the village, so nobody would've guessed that a forest fire was happening in that small area.

'Rakia has their scouts here this early?!' she grimly thought as her hands clenched that to fists.

Yes, the most optimal and logical choice in her situation is to go back to the village and report this incident to the elders. Who knows if this wasn't just a mere forest fire but already a ploy of infiltrators from Rakia?

'I have to check it out...' is what she thought at that moment.

She needs to confirm it with absolute clarity even though it was stupid to do so. She has experience in combat and reconnaissance, but that wouldn't be enough to guarantee her that she will be returning unscathed, or at worst, dead.

And then, just as she was about to take her next step.

—ZNNGGGGG!

A sound resembling that of a ring was heard. A chime of dread that brought chills down her spine. That noise halted her tracks as she felt her instincts scream at her whole being.

Run!

Hide!

DANGER!

The young elf followed her instincts without a second doubt. Something was going to happen. It was dangerous enough to make her instincts go wild on just making her hide or flee from the area.

And so she did.

"Breath of nature, grant me protection—!"

She started her chant. A magic that she could utilize despite the lack of Falna or blessing from the Deusdea. It was an inherent magic that is learned within her family.

She cast a barrier that coated her body as she continued to run as far as possible. Utilizing her capabilities to their utmost degree, she pushed her limits with the only thought of surviving for what was about to come.

The chime then ceased, but her worries only grew as she felt it was time. Abandoning any thought of running away anymore, she hid in the nearest solid structure that could cover her body

And the next thing she saw and heard was an explosion.


(X-x-X-x-X)


"...what happened?" The young elf groaned as she felt her whole body writhing in pain. "Ugh. I'm... still alive."

Obviously.

The young elf scrunched her brows as she tried to regain her bearings. It felt so hot in this place. It was scorching despite the lack of flames present.

'How much time had passed?' she wondered in worry.

She looked up to the sky. Judging by the color of the sky itself, it was nearing nightfall. Vermillion colors that are prominent spread through the vast horizons. Clouds like haze blend in the skies.

Yet, the young elf found herself in a trance as she tried to regain her bearings.

She tried to recall what happened before she was in this pitiful state.

An explosion.

The sea of flames stemming from the said explosion had engulfed a large sector of the forest leaving nothing but scattered ashes in the wind.

The flame's unique characteristic is that of an ethereal violet in color. It was mesmerizing just as it was dangerous. That is the feeling that the young elf got the moment her eyes laid on that mystical scenery before passing out.

Just like a moth attracted to a flame.

Right now, however, the young elf even wondered how she had survived.

The young elf immediately tried to clutch the object hanging on her neck.

"...My family heirloom..." The young elf then shed tears of both gratitude and sadness. "...thank you for protecting me... and I'm sorry I can't pass you down further..."

Wiping off the tears in her eyes. There is no time to waste. She needs to get back to the village! Who knows if that explosion came from those accursed Crozzo Magic Swords!

"Ugh..."

The young elf felt the direness of the situation. She could even barely stand, nor even walk properly in her current state. Picking up a tree branch to support her to walk wasn't even available because as far as she could see, all that surrounds her were nothing but charred plains and ashes.

She didn't know how long had she been walking. Minutes? Probably. She had Ben carefully trekking the renewed terrain surrounding her after she had arrived in the area where the flames of that explosion haven't reached, and the young elf could feel her senses dulling as each second passed.

'Ah... This is the worst...'

Such was the thought of the young elf as she continued to walk forward. Where was she? The terrain changed so much due to the explosion, or maybe it was just her dull senses playing with her. She needs to get a better view from above, and the most obvious choice for that is to climb up in an elevated area...

CRACK!

...or so was the plan until the ground she was stepping on rattled and fell apart.

"Ah...?"

She started falling.

How?

Were her senses fooling her again? Did she arrive on a cliff all this time? She doesn't remember being in one after all! Nor did she even remember a cliff being present in this area.

'So is this how everything is going to end?'

As if time slowed for her, the young elf's memories flowed naturally in her mind.

The feeling of regret and remorse took over her body. In the end, all the young elf did was close her eyes. If dying in such a poor way was her destiny, she wouldn't be able to bare seeing her last moments with her eyes.

As if torturing her, she could feel that she was still in the air, prolonging her life futilely. The frustration of even a silent and quick death wasn't even granted to her.

Was it karma?

What did she do to deserve this?

As far as the young elf could remember, even though she had done things worthy of this kind of end like taking the lives of other mortals which was a necessity back then because it was a situation where it is kill or be killed, there was this inner part of her screaming, shouting in the world that it was unfair!

But she was in the last seconds of her life.

At the next moment, as if answering her pleas, a cool sensation brushed over her whole body. The sound of her body impacting not the ground, but that of water's. It would've made her shout in pain if she could even do so. This proves that her sense of touch still seems to be intact. But what's the point of it anyways?

It was then she felt somebody pull her up. She then felt warmth.

Like she was being held in somebody's arms.

...strange.

"Ah...?"

With her remaining energy, the young elf — Alena Lyon, opened her eyes to discern the person who caught her as she held herself from blacking out at

"Elisha?"

At this point, Alena felt her mind losing consciousness. At the last moment, however, she remembered a man with flowing ashen-silver hair with his dull purple eyes looking at her as he spoke of an unfamiliar name.

That was the first meeting of Alena Lyon with her savior, who would be known later as the Drifting Reaper in the lower realm.


Author's Note: This update is late, ain't it?

April has been a pretty hectic month for me which cut my time writing this chap down, hence the late update.

Now onto the chapter. Maybe some are wondering if the things that are features in this chap like the other OCs. There's also Ryuumilua Forest being situated near the borders of Rakia, Ryuu's ancestor basically being Celdia's disciple back in the time.

To be completely frank, only few people utilize the plot of the era of Albert dating back from 1000 years before the main story or even like before the Fall of Zeus and Hera Familias. This is literally a gold mine for inserting any fanfiction elements that one could imagine because the Omori only gave scarce details about the stuff that happened in that time. It gives one the liberty to twist and shift the events that could possibly take place to fit to a fanfiction story. At least, that's what my own opinion is.

Also, this is my first 10k word chap! What an achievement, at least for me that is! Well, errors I bet would be present here and there though... checking the whole chap again and again for errors would be... exhausting. Too exhausting, I say.

1.) Ryuumilua Forest's exact location wasn't really mentioned in the novels. I double checked in the wiki as well and it only gives the fact that it is the forest where Ryuu came from. However, if I am incorrect, feel free to criticize and comment it out.

2.) Just like Ryuumilua Forest, there is too scarce info known about Celdia as well including the internal workings in the Royal Alf Forest back 1000 years ago.

In this regard, I would honestly admit that I haven't read Sword Oratoria Vol.14 at the moment cuz there are no proper translations yet. I think this volume would give some depth as for how things work in the Royal Alf Forest because it directly features Riveria's past before he joined Loki Familia.

3.) There's also this fact of the Sacred Tree spreading out these healing properties which makes all the elven folk in the Royal Alf Forest never get sick unless if there are special circumstances. This was just an ASSUMPTION that I made. I mean, the Sacred Tree ain't just there for design and landmark only, I believe it does something special, and most of us do as well.

I think that's it for the chapter guys, see ya next time! Ciao ~