Levia: "Do not fear! I will protect you all!"Megrez: "…don't get too cocky when the enemy isn't even here…"
Now, it is nothing but a fleeting memory.
It was long before Megrez was crowned as the Wisdom King—a time when we were but naive adventurers, bursting with passion. It was a time when elven adventurers were a rare sight, for their kind still enjoyed the seclusion of Midgard's forests. Those who abandoned the shade of the elven canopies were the oddballs and outcasts of the race.
But Megrez ignored the hushed stereotypes placed upon him. Perhaps, he was content with setting foot on new soils and exploring the different facets of Midgard. With every city came new faces to greet and old acquaintances to bid farewell. And perhaps, if he wandered long enough, he would come across another person of the same wavelength.
That was Ruphas.
And every day spent with her was pure bliss.
"—so I thought a wider perspective would do the elven race a lot of good. If only they would open their eyes to the outside world."
Amidst a grimy tavern, Megrez told his dream to those gathered around a table. By no means was it a classy pub, and its alcohol was no better. But she was what made it special.
Ruphas sat, legs crossed, eyes sparkling with excitement. His dearest friend grinned from ear to ear, releasing one hearty laugh after another. It was at these times that everyone was within arms reach, unshackled by their own differences.
"That's why, someday, I'll make a country where elves can walk hand in hand with the other races. It'll be a bustling metropolitan, and I'll prove that it's possible!"
"Hoho! I see we have some big dreamers here!"
"Hahaha! Isn't that right! Men need dreams! And if you're gonna dream, you go big or go home!"
The smithing and sword kings' goofy smiles were contagious, and soon enough, everyone was laughing along. Ruphas herself grinned, standing up with a mug of beer in hand.
"Naive, Megez! While you found your country, I'll rule the world! I'll build a paradise where no one has to fear the demon race!"
This time around, the group roared with laughter. Ruphas' expression flushed red with embarrassment and opened her mouth to speak.
"Wha—what's so funny!? I'm dead serious! I'll show you all someday!"
"Gahahaha! Even dreams need limits! The day you rule the world is the day I slurp pasta through my nose!"
"I'll hold you to that, Alioth! You'll see! Once I rule the world, I'll make sure you keep that promise! He-hey! Not you too, Megrez!"
Those were blissful days, full of banter, quarrels, and reconciliations. However, such merry times would soon come to an end, for these youngsters had the potential to realize their dreams. And once they did, they would slowly lose themselves.
Where did we go wrong? Where… when did we stray from the right path?
Ruphas, my old friend… perhaps you knew the answer?
After Aries' retreat, I was promptly invited to the noble district. Hundreds of soldiers lined the bridges that led to the heart of the nation. Each stood with stonelike serenity, and were in no hurry to leave despite the obvious peril of the situation.
Although heartless, it was a rational decision. While Gants and company bought time, the main force prepared to receive the enemy. Indeed, the imperial castle is the lifeline of the nation, something to be guarded at all costs.
However, such rationality would cost the lives of warriors prepared to die for their country—warriors who would die believing that reinforcements would come… Then again, perhaps it is not my place to judge.
As you can imagine, the noble district was a sight for sore eyes. The developing nation was already beautiful, but the central island brought extravagance to a new level. Stately mansions stood at every corner, giving the island an undeniable air of class. Even the people dressed lavishly and carried themselves with the dignified poise of nobility, as if completely unfazed by their collapsing borders.
I, too, wore a dress under my overcoat. Perhaps, in time, I would transmute some more casual attire.
The castle was a sight to behold as well. The royal abode resembled France's Château de Chambord, albeit a little larger than the original. What's more, the combination of blue and white only added to the castle's grandeur.
As we drew closer to Suvell's centerpiece, the castle guards shot puzzled glances in my direction, but didn't move a muscle as I followed Megrez through the castle gates.
"Oh! If it isn't Lord Megrez! I was so worried!"
"I was troubled when you left the castle alone… Well, what's important is that you're safe."
Upon entering the castle, the elven hero was greeted by a pair of portly men clothed in gaudy attire. They looked like orcs dressed in clothes—awkward and out of place. I had to remind myself that obesity was often a symbol of wealth, not telltale signs of corrupt nobles.
"However, I must remind my lord to show more restraint. After all, my lord and Levia are irreplaceable assets to this nation."
"My thoughts exactly. You are many times more important than the lives of the Trade District."
They were corrupt nobles. Although sickeningly sweet words spilled from their lips, not a single tinge of emotion stood behind them. The only motivation behind their flattery was the selfish concern for their own lives. In other words, "our protection takes priority over that of the common folk."
"I am just so relieved you're alive."
"Absolutely. This nation still needs you. Ha, ha, ha."
Barely sparing the babbling pigs a glance, Megrez continued on his way. Dina and I followed closely behind, exiting the castle from the rear entrance. There, an estate stood separate from the grand monument behind us. I guess that's how he liked it—away from the squabble of nobles.
"Hilarious, isn't it? Those are the kind of men who run the country. Selfish, death-fearing bastards, who only know to suck up to their superiors."
"…So this is what you wanted to show me."
"Yeah. I wanted to show you my failures."
Upon entering the estate, a butler offered to take my overcoat, which I politely declined. He sighed dejectedly, handed Megrez a pair of crutches, then pushed the discarded wheelchair out of view. Once the elf had settled in, we made our way to the guest room.
"It's fine now, isn't it? I'm the only one watching so… would you show me your face?"
"Ah, very well."
At Megrez's request, I undid the buttons of my overcoat. Slowly, I slipped the garment off, revealing a pair of fully unfurled wings. Words cannot express the sense of release as I extended limbs once restricted by my mantle. To be honest, it was cramped, that overcoat. It's nice to stretch my wings every once in a while.
"So it was you… Ruphas."
"Yeah. It's been a while, my old friend."
I guess that's one thing off my chest. Now to see if whether he is a "player" like me. After all, in times of need, it's great to have a shoulder to lean on.
But deep down, I already knew. A player would never look at me with eyes like those. What I saw was not joy, delight, or even nostalgia. No, it was fear and regret—as if he was silently apologizing. It was the kind of shameful gaze a child would cast a parent, after shattering a plate against the ground.
A player would have no reason to fear me, no reason to regret. That betrayal was staged, an act, and no hard feelings passed between the two sides. Only a resident of this world could feel such emotion towards a roleplayed performance.
But I see now… that you, too, are a resident of this world, Megrez.
"…So you, too, look at me with those eyes."
So in the end, I am still alone. What… a letdown.
"…So you, too, look at me with those eyes."
Ruphas' words carried a forlorn quality to them—a quality that made Megrez avert his gaze. It frightened him, that his deepest emotions could be revealed at a single glance.
"You, are not the Megrez I knew."
"…People change, Ruphas. The tides turn with time, and I have become weak… both physically and mentally."
Back then, it was different. 200 years ago, they were different. They were hot-blooded adventurers who explored places others could only dream of. Each had dreams to follow, ambitions to achieve, and ideals to realize.
But it was different now. Now, they were tied down by the harsh obligations of reality. What once housed passionate ambitions was replaced with the empty husk of regret and resignation.
"Say, Ruphas, why did you choose now to return? Was it to laugh at how far we've fallen?"
"To be honest, it was a complete coincidence. In a faulty attempt to summon a hero, I was called back to this world. That was all."
It was from this exchange that Megrez realized how much he dreaded Ruphas' condemning words. However, in some dark corner of his heart, he secretly hoped to be reprimanded.
Two hundred years ago, he opposed and overthrew Ruphas' rule. He used to think it was the right thing to do. However, he was quickly proven wrong, as the overlord's downfall brought the crumble of humanity, and a new era of demonkind.
Even the nation that he dreamed of amounted to a state headed by corrupt officials—nobles who wouldn't lift a finger for the lives of the common folk. As such, it became difficult to tell who was in the right. Now, if he had the choice, Megrez would much rather live under Ruphas' rule than watch his dreams distort into hideous husks of their former selves.
Ultimately, they commited a pointless betrayal, achieving naught but setting mankind on the road to extinction. Who were they to call themselves heroes? Who was he—the pile of regret that he was—to call himself a sovereign of wisdom?
"I've seen your nation's libraries."
"There are quite a number of volumes that harshly criticize the seven heroes. It is hardly a healthy topic during the critical state that your nation is facing. You're the one… collecting them, aren't you?"
Megrez was at a loss for words. But at times, silence is an answer. Here, it was a quiet confirmation.
"I see that you, too, have suffered through a lot. You begin to seek slander in place of praise, and scorn in place of reverence."
"The constant cycle of envy and esteem has become suffocating, has it not? Even as your knees buckle under the crushing weight of self-doubt, your revered position forbids you from venting your frustrations. Your precious honor… has become a double edged sword, no?"
Again, Megrez's lips failed to form words. Each of her words struck with pinpoint precision, leaving him nothing to say in return. It was an odd exchange. While the victor toiled in fear and regret, the vanquished stood with the same dignity she had two centuries ago.
"Although the Megrez I knew is long gone, you burden yourself with his hardships. What is the point? Take pride in your victory. Hold your head high in knowing that you have conquered the unconquerable—defeated the undefeatable. And yet, you shrink in shame, regretting a footnote in history you cannot change… And what will become of me? If even my conqueror drowns in his own self-pity?"
Satisfied with her lines, Ruphas donned her overcoat once again. Jet black wings and her gorgeous appearance returned under the guise of her garments. Unease settled into Megrez's heart as Ruphas' expression retreated into the privacy of her hood. Was she disgusted? Disappointed? Or perhaps, did she sneer from the concealment of her hood?
"There is nothing to be ashamed of. Do not concern yourself with historians who criticize men of the past. They are hypocrites—nobodies who have never shouldered the burden of humanity, yet think that they could have done a better job. Instead, continue doing what you think is right… At least, that is what the Megrez I knew would have done."
Ruphas' words strayed far from Megrez's expectations. However, from the steady resolution of her voice, one thing was painfully obvious: This woman didn't regret a single one of her actions. Not the war, not the betrayal, not even the defeat. She may even take pride in inciting revolution. The woman he admired hadn't changed in the slightest.
"…Are you… comforting me? Thank you for that."
"No need. You were making quite the pitiful expression, so I thought I'd give you some advice."
With that, Ruphas turned to leave the room. Most likely, she would never return to this wretched place. She had places to go, things to be done. And if that was the case, this was no time to be overwhelmed by emotion. Megrez steeled himself.
"I'll accompany you to the exit. It's the least I can do."
Leaning heavily on his cane, Megrez hobbled to Ruphas' side. It was times like these that reminded him of simpler times. A time when they were just adventurers—nothing more and nothing less.
"…There's someone pulling the strings behind Aries' actions."
"Although Aries is leading the invasion, someone is using his emotions to their own advantage. You probably don't need me to tell you this, but… be careful."
"I'd like to remind you who you're talking to, but it's been a while since I saw you. I'll keep that in mind, old pal."
It was like nothing had changed. However, Megrez knew it to be nothing but an illusion. He had changed, and there was nothing he could do but watch as the crones weaved their fates apart. So as Ruphas waved a hand in farewell, Megrez could only watch as her back grew smaller in the horizon.
They were two friends pulled apart by the wear of time. Megrez was no longer the companion that Ruphas came to know, but a traitor who continued to drown in meaningless regret. It was as if an unbreachable chasm had opened up between two long lost friends.
Ruphas: "It's pasta. Eat up. (through your nose)"Alioth: "………"
【Something I should explain】
The sum of a player's class levels equates to the level cap. In other words, the sum of Ruphas' class levels at level 1000 is 1000. While it was possible for Ruphas to raise a class level to 200, it would reduce the number of classes available to her.
Aries' initial size was that of a normal sheep, but due to Ruphas' constant buffing, Aries grew to his monstrous 100 meter length.
Pigs wearing clothes → Orcs?