"So, this is the time, huh?"
We gathered in front of the giant tree that reached up to the sky, Yggdrasil. We were already prepared for this, with me being the destined hero to vanquish Nidhogg, according to the prophecy, alongside my chosen companions. Now that we were already prepared, it would be the right time to confront the ancient worm and save the world.
"Look up there," Princess Liara pointed to the sky, where dark clouds seemed to be gathering around Yggdrasil. Due to the tree being too tall, of course it would be covered by clouds. It's just that those dark clouds seemed unnatural. As a Dark Knight, or appropriately a Dark Lord, I could feel malicious feelings from those clouds. "Nidhogg's malice seems to affect the surroundings. If left even longer, then the world will be affected by it soon," Princess Liara said grimly.
"Cloudy with a chance of apocalypse…" Claire quipped. "Not the kind of thing our local weather forecaster would report anytime soon."
Ennis glanced at the blond Rune Fencer, or Sage Knight before she sighed. Normally, she might chastise her for her comment and her rather blasé attitude towards the gravity of the situation, but it looked like she understood that Claire was just trying to reassure herself by making a quip. "You can say that again, Claire." And apparently, she decided to go along as well, probably to calm herself down.
"So, we're going underground?" Kamui asked as she looked at Princess Liara.
Our princess nodded. "Yes. Right now, Nidhogg is currently gnawing at the root of Yggdrasil. If it were to be left alone, the tree will eventually collapse, and considering that the tree is the pillar of the world, the world will collapse as well."
"Our world collapsing?" Miya shuddered. "I can't imagine how it feels like to have our world collapsing."
"It is not like the world itself will collapse like a house without foundations," our resident mage, Vivio explained. "Yggdrasil is like a cord that connect this world with the concept of existence. Once the cord is severed, the world will lose its concept of existence."
"So, in other words, the world will stop existing," Kamui said.
"How comforting…" I said. "So, this Nidhogg is like a giant rat that keeps chewing on the cord, huh?"
"A giant, otherworldly looking rat," Miya added. "I don't think a giant mousetrap will work on this one."
"You won't need the prophecy if we can defeat Nidhogg with a giant mousetrap, Miya," Ennis sighed. Then, she looked at Princess Liara. "I think we're ready now, Princess. Please give us the blessings."
"Right, I shall begin the blessing ritual," Princess Liara said as she held out her staff.
"Wait," I said. "Before we begin, can I say something?" I asked.
"Yuuto?" Princess Liara looked at me as she lowered her staff. "Of course," she said, smiling.
"Thanks," I said before I looked at all my teammates. "So, well… this is it, huh?" I began. "Before we go, I'd like to thank you all for everything. I… I still can't believe this kind of thing is happening to me. I mean, I was a normal kid before, but right now, I'm a hero. And…" I smiled. "It's all thanks to you all."
Kamui gave me a motherly smile. "You always have the heart of a hero within you, Yuuto. It's just that you are given a chance to have it shown to others." She approached me and placed her hand on my shoulder. "Whether you are a chosen hero of our world or a normal boy, the heart within you remains true…" she moved her hand to touch my chest, right on my heart.
"Thanks," I said. "And thanks to all of you, I have become stronger. It… it feels great to not feel weak again. It is refreshing. And… this is something that I cannot fully repay."
"You earn it, my Lord," Claire said. "The strength that you have cultivated, the powers that you have received, everything is yours." She went over to me before she held out her hand. "I am glad to know you, Yuuto." Then, her expression hardened. "Were I to meet my old self, the one who tried to kill you, I might have killed her myself." Then, her expression softened again. "You also earn my eternal loyalty. Whatever happens, I will be by your side until the very end."
"And I'm also glad to earn your friendship, Claire." I took her hand, shaking it. "And to all of you as well. I am glad to be friends with all of you. Let's hope we will remain friends after everything is over."
Miya pounced towards me and latched herself on my back as she wrapped her arms around my neck. After nuzzling me, she spoke, "Of course we'll always be friends, silly! And we'll always be the bestest of friends, Yuuto!" She grinned cheekily. "You get that?"
"Miya…" Normally, the breasts that were pressed against my back could be distracting, but after hearing what she said, I couldn't help but feel touched. "Yeah. I'm glad you said that, Miya."
Then Vivio approached me. "I'd like to see this until the end too. Everything will turn out alright." She smiled as well. "You saved me, Yuuto. Thanks to you, I can finally feel alive again."
"W-well, it's a natural thing to do…" I said, scratching the back of my head.
"And of course, after everything is over, I shall try my best to make you impregnate me, Yuuto," Vivio said, as usual. At least she still had the decency to blush while saying that, even though her facial expression remained unchanged. "I have studied a few positions that I can apply in case if you agree to fill my womb with your precious seeds."
Ennis groaned. "Vivio, what did I say about trying to ask my boyfriend to impregnate you?"
Vivio looked at my Elf girlfriend innocently. "You said 'not under my watch'. So, it is okay if you are not looking, is it not?"
If one looked closely, electricity sparks could be seen as both Ennis and Vivio were exchanging glares. This didn't look good, so I decided to change the topic.
"S-so, putting that aside, can we start now?" I said nervously as I looked at Princess Liara. Vivio and Ennis stopped shooting lightning with their eyes to each other as they put their attentions to our princess.
"Right, everyone please be close to me," Princess Liara said. "I shall begin the blessing now."
So, we gathered in front of Princess Liara as she held out her staff. Then, the staff glowed.
"Before we begin, allow me to ask…" Princess Liara said. "Are you willing to place your lives on the line for the sake of the world?"
"I will do it a thousand times over…" Miya said confidently.
"This world… this beautiful world… it is something that is worth living for, and worth dying for…" Kamui said as she closed her eyes. The glow on Princess Liara's staff became brighter.
"For the sake of everyone… for all precious living beings…" Claire said. "If my life can be the payment for their safety, then so be it."
"Death can be comforting, but cessation of existence is not. I am willing to choose death over the destruction of reality…" Vivio declared.
Ennis went closer to me and held my hand. We looked into each other's eyes before we nodded. And then we spoke in unison, "For the sake of our future, we are willing to put our present at stake!"
Princess Liara nodded and smiled.
"Then… let all be blessed…" Princess Liara said. "You are now given access into the World Tree. Welcome to Yggdrasil."
Chapter 43: Into Yggdrasil
After being blessed, we teleported into Yggdrasil and we found ourselves in a large hall. Even though the hall was empty, I could feel malicious presence within the area. I knew that it was Nidhogg, or Ludd. Either way, both of them would be going down.
"I-it's… cold here…" Miya said, rubbing her arms in an attempt to warm herself up.
"Nidhogg's elemental powers are mostly ice-based," Princess Liara informed us. "Which makes it more dangerous."
Kamui was sniffing the air. "Its foul stench is wafting everywhere. I never thought there is a creature so evil, its scent is affected by its monstrosity."
"Even so, we will fight it…" Claire said.
We nodded in agreement before we proceeded to go forward. I walked alongside Ennis, and we were holding hands.
We glanced at each other and smiled. There was a meaningful glint in Ennis' innocent blue eyes, and I instantly remembered that time when she exposed everything of her to me. If I had to be honest, it was quite a strange experience, but it wasn't unpleasant. In fact, I greatly enjoyed it, and from what I could see back then, Ennis was enjoying our moment together as well.
Well, I wouldn't mention everything in detail. There are some things that a man has to keep all to himself, after all, including about whatever happened in the bedroom during the vacation. I wouldn't want Miya pestering both of us, asking us about how it was like and what positions we used when we did that. That's just plain embarrassing.
"Hey…" Miya said. "Guys, I'm detecting something."
As if on cue, dozens of monsters appeared before us. Most of them were golem-like, but they were armed and definitely dangerous-looking. We unsheathed our weapons, bracing ourselves.
"Vivio, Boost!" I shouted at Vivio.
"On it!" Vivio replied before she cast a mass Boost spell on everyone. By casting Boost, our strength, durability, speed and defense were increased significantly. "Healing in fifteen seconds!"
"Got it!" Ennis shouted. "Everyone, fight!"
We charged forward to attack the monstrous golems. There was a draconic-looking statue-like monster lunging towards me, armed with a mace. It swung its mace onto me, and I blocked it with Karma.
"Taaah!" I pushed the mace aside before I delivered my chained attacks, weakening its defense before I stabbed it right into its chest. "Shadow Arc!" And the monster exploded from within.
"Lambent Arc!" Behind me, Ennis released a light arc towards a few golem soldiers, bisecting them. Not far from us, Kamui grabbed a horned golem by its horn before she hurled it towards the others. Then she destroyed them by shooting lighting at them.
As for Miya, she dodged the attacks from the monsters, while at the same time, tagging them with sticky bombs. Then she leaped away before the monsters exploded. Claire charged her sword, Tezcatlipoca before she froze almost a dozen of those monsters with a Blizzard spell.
"You can do it, Princess…" Vivio said to Princess Liara before she placed her hand on her shoulder in encouragement.
"R-right," Princess Liara said. Then she winced when Vivio poured magic into her body, increasing her power. "Holy!"
The moment she said the word 'Holy', a sphere of light was formed, which then grew in size before it banished a majority of those monsters. Seeing that a holy spell managed to banish the monsters, we were amazed.
"Wow…" Even Princess Liara was astonished by her own powers. "I never thought I can do it." Then, she held her staff with both hands before she shouted, "Rise, Dark Form!"
Her body then was wreathed in purple miasma before her white dress turned black. Her staff turned into a scythe, like the one that was used by [the Reaper] once. Due to the scythe's size and weight, she almost stumbled down to the ground.
"Alright, here goes…" Even with menacing, reverberating voice, the princess still managed to sound adorable. "Death to all!"
With a swing of her scythe, all the remaining monsters exploded into purple miasma.
It looked like we seemed to be having a rather overpowered member in our party. And considering that we would be facing Nidhogg and Ludd soon, it ought to be a boon for everyone involved.
"I-I did it!" Princess Liara said before she lost her balance thanks to her oversized scythe. "Eep!"
"Uh… how can someone channel the powers of an anthropomorphic personification of a concept while being cute doing it?" Claire wondered aloud as she looked at our princess being helped to stand up on her feet by our ever-reliable Kamui. Her dress reverted back to the normal white while her scythe turned back into a staff.
"I was also wondering about the same thing too, Claire…" I said as I observed the monsters that we had slain. Miya went around, collecting loots from the kills. "So, all these monsters… do you think they're Nidhogg's minions?"
"Nidhogg is a primeval creature, and it only has basic instincts…" Vivio said as she approached us. "It has no concept of 'minions' in its mind. It only wants to eat, and the root of Yggdrasil seems delicious."
"So… that only means one thing…" Claire said as she tapped her chin. "Ludd…"
"That bastard…" I growled. I wanted to kill him and cut him into pieces. No matter what excuses he had thanks to him being reincarnated endlessly to the point of insanity, I couldn't bring myself to forgive him for betraying us.
"Alright, we're done here!" Miya said. She seemed to have finished collecting loots. "Now, let's get going!"
We encountered more monsters along the way. They were stronger than the monsters that we usually fought, but we were stronger, so we managed to destroy them all without problem. After our tenth encounter, we finally arrived in front of a giant door.
"Beyond the door is the path that will lead to the root of Yggdrasil…" Princess Liara said. "There, we will find Nidhogg, and we will be able to fight it."
"Alright," I nodded. "Do you want to rest?" I asked others.
"Well, a few minutes of rest sounds refreshing…" Ennis said.
We nodded. "Okay, now let's rest for a bi-"
Princess Liara stopped, her eyes widened. We were alarmed by this, and then, much to our terror, there was a white blade piercing through her torso, stabbing right through her chest.
And standing behind her was Ludd, grinning darkly. His hand was on the hilt of Samsara, the sword that he used to stab the princess from behind.
"Well, now, now… you people shouldn't waste even a second," Ludd said, twisting the sword, and Princess Liara coughed up blood. "Right now, my friend Nidhogg is chewing on the root of Yggdrasil. Are you going to let it finish its lunch now?"
I could feel my rage building up. Ludd pulled out his sword, and Princess Liara fell limply onto the floor. Her body twitched as a pool of blood started to form under her.
My vision turned red.
I wanted to kill him.
I lost my reasoning.
I had become a monster.
I blinked a few times when I felt a tug on my sleeve. I looked at the one who was tugging on my sleeve, and much to my surprise, it was Princess Liara. She seemed concerned, and so were the others, who were surrounding me. We were in front of the door leading to the root of Yggdrasil.
"What's wrong?" Princess Liara asked. "You were… screaming."
"Huh? W-wait, w-what happened?" I asked. I was confused. A while ago, I saw Ludd stabbing Princess Liara. But there she was, fine and uninjured. "An illusion?"
"Illusion?" Ennis went closer to me.
"Yes…" I nodded. "I saw an illusion of Ludd killing the princess. And I thought I went berserk and became a monster…"
"An illusion…" Claire mused. "Could that be Ludd?"
"Most likely…" Princess Liara said. "He's probably trying to distract you." She then held my hand. "A-and… I'm sorry. It's probably hard for you, seeing something like that…"
"I-it was horrible…" I admitted. The image of the princess having her heart stabbed before being left on the floor, bleeding out to her death was permanently seared inside my head, and there was no way for me to remove such image. I got up and spoke, "There's no time to waste… let's go."
Reluctantly, the others followed as we entered the door. The path was narrower than before, but it was large enough to fit the monsters for us to fight.
"Yuuto, do you feel fine?" Ennis asked.
"Yeah," I lied.
Ennis frowned. "Don't lie to me. I could see how disturbed you were when you were under the illusion. Don't tell me you're doing fine after that."
I sighed. There's no point in lying to her, then. "Alright, you win. If Ludd wanted to distract me, he succeeded." I let out a frustrated sigh. "Even though we already swore that we're willing to die for this, the thought about someone's dying on me… can be distracting." I smiled blandly. "I guess I'm not as much as a hero after all…"
Ennis frowned. "That's not true." She gave me a concerned look. Then, there was a dog-like statue monster pouncing towards her, and without even looking behind, she swung Noblesse, crushing it with a swift strike. "Well, let's change formation first. Kamui, take over."
"Roger," Kamui said as she walked ahead. Miya and Claire walked by our sides, while Vivio walked behind us. I was in the middle, alongside Ennis and Princess Liara, and the reason behind this formation was so that three of us wouldn't have to fight as we walked. It was a little dangerous, considering that because of the reduced firepower by removing both Ennis and I from the active role of fighting.
"I see that you are still bothered by the illusion conjured by Ludd, Yuuto…" Princess Liara said, noticing my uneasiness. "I suppose I need to conjure an anti-illusion barrier around us to block any attempt of illusion." She lifted her staff, conjuring a magical sphere around us that protect us from illusions as we walked down the corridor.
"Thanks, Princess," Ennis said to the princess. "Now, listen to me, Yuuto. Of course there's possible for us dying here, but we will work as best as we can to prevent casualty, okay?" She held my hand tenderly. "We have gone through so much. Don't start wavering now, you hear me?"
Ennis was right. We had gone through so much, it was hard to keep track on everything that we had gone through. I smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Ennis. I'm glad to have you here…"
Ennis blushed. "D-don't get any wrong idea, d-dummy! I-I don't like seeing my boyfriend getting depressed just because Ludd put an illusion on you, o-okay?"
Well, she wouldn't be Ennis without that tsundere attitude. My smile grew bigger. "Haha, I'll keep that in mind, then."
So, I felt much better than before, which made it easier for me to fight. We used the normal formation again as we proceeded deeper. The corridor became darker and everything became uneven. It felt like walking through a maze.
"We're getting closer," Princess Liara said. "Vivio, cast teleport. Put your hand on my back so you can pinpoint the coordinate."
"On it," Vivio nodded as she placed her hand on the princess' back. "Teleport."
With that, we teleported into the place where Nidhogg was munching on the root of the World Tree. We ended up in a large cavern, and we could see Yggdrasil's root. Much to our expectation, the root was big, probably even bigger than the tree itself. And there was Nidhogg, munching on the root.
"Alright, there it is…" I said. The moment I looked at the ancient worm, I could see that the surroundings seemed to be affected by its presence. I unsheathed my sword, Karma, while the others prepared their weapons. "Let's proceed as planned, shall we?"
The others nodded before Vivio stepped forward.
Several magic circles appeared in the air before those circles fired out magical bombardments towards the giant worm up there at the root. The attacks managed to rattle it, as expected from Vivio.
Kamui released her lightning spell at Nidhogg, inflicting a significant damage on it.
Both Ennis and I charged our swords up before we used the energy of our charged up swords to propel us up.
We leaped towards Nidhogg.
"Stagnate…" While in midair, I chanted the second verse of my devastating spell before I swung my sword. "Obliviate!"
With that, I released my powered-up Shadow Arc, which consisted of concentrated darkness. The attack managed to blow off a chunk of Nidhogg's flesh.
As for Ennis, her body glowed. "Light up…" She also held her sword with both hands before she held it up. "Detonator!"
Using her body as a projectile, she collided against Nidhogg, destroying more of the worm's flesh. With her stuck in Nidhogg, I performed short teleportation to retrieve her before we returned back to the floor.
"Well, it's working…" Claire said after we were on the floor again. "Rise, Tezcatlipoca!" She raised her sword before countless illusions of the blade appeared around her. "Vorpal Blade!"
Well, those blades might look like illusions, but when they flew towards Nidhogg, I could see them dealing significant damages.
"Alright, it's my turn now!" Miya said cheekily as she pulled out tube-like objects from her top. Part of me wondered if she kept those between her breasts, and such thought almost distracted me. The keyword here was 'almost', because we still had a giant worm to kill. "These are my boomsticks!" She threw them all onto the floor, breaking them. All the broken tubes turned into high-powered cannons that were developed by Lynn, and all of them were lined up near Miya. "Anti-fortress siege weapons, Silver Roses! Fire!"
Using her voice command, the cannons shot at Nidhogg above, blowing off more chunks of Nidhogg's flesh. It seemed that Lynn had been working extra hard building these cannons.
Even so, it worried me as we looked at Nidhogg. Its wounds started to regenerate after its flesh was blown off by our attacks.
"Well, it can't be that fearsome without having some kind of regeneration ability," I muttered. "Is there any way to bring that thing down?"
"I can summon Goliath for you," Vivio offered.
I considered it. Due to its size, Goliath would be a perfect match against Nidhogg to bring it down so that we could attack it much easier. But on the other hand, we couldn't afford using a giant, rampaging behemoth without ever risking on destroying Yggdrasil's root. But I decided that it was an acceptable risk to take, considering that Vivio might have some ways to keep the behemoth reined.
"Alright, summon Goliath, Vivio."
Vivio nodded after hearing my command. "Very well. Come forth, Goliath!" She held out her staff, which then glowed before a giant figure started materializing before us. When the figure was fully materialized, it roared, causing the cavern where we were currently in to shake. Ennis seemed to have a concerned look on her face as she anxiously gazed upon the summoned behemoth, worrying that instead of helping them to defeat Nidhogg, it might end up destroying the cavern, taking along Yggdrasil as well.
The giant, Goliath approached Nidhogg and used its arms to pull it down, yanking it from the root of Yggdrasil. With a mighty roar, Goliath threw Nidhogg to the ground, and the worm's gigantic body fell down. And we managed to get a closer look on Nidhogg's body, and like before, it still looked creepy, with countless mouths around its body.
Due to the fact that its lunch was interrupted, Nidhogg let out a noise. It was probably annoyed and it looked like it wanted to return to munching the root. It shifted its body, causing the entire cavern to shake before it fired energy beams from its mouths to us.
"Barrier!" Vivio conjured a barrier to block the attacks. After the initial attacks, the barrier collapsed, and we immediately counterattacked by simultaneously attacking the monster with our spells.
"Hell's Conflagration!" I summoned hellfire from the ground, burning Nidhogg's gigantic body. Due to the fact that the hellfire couldn't be extinguished by ordinary means, the ancient worm was unable to put it out despite its attempt to extinguish it. But, because it was rolling in its attempt to extinguish the fire, the hellfire spread, and I had to control the intensity of the fire.
"Be mindful of your teammates, dunce!" Ennis chastised me.
In the meantime, Kamui and Claire continued to attack the monster with their spells, as Miya used her siege cannons to damage the monster. Both Vivio and Princess Liara assisted them by using reinforcement spells. Bit by bit, we managed to weaken the monster, and it seemed that we were almost victorious.
"Alright, we're gonna finish this!" I said, brandishing Karma. I charged my sword, and so did Ennis. Seeing that Nidhogg was seriously damaged, it would be a matter of time before its death. After this, we would deal with Ludd and kick his sorry ass.
But when my sword was fully charged, I sensed something wrong.
I could feel my vision distorted. I felt lightheaded.
Was it another illusion?
I tried to shake off this strange feeling so that I could focus on Nidhogg. But this nagging feeling didn't want to leave me, and I was distracted.
"So you think you're going to win, huh?"
My eyes widened when I heard that voice. There's no mistaking it. I turned around to see the owner of that smug-sounding voice.
I could feel my blood boiling as I saw Ludd, standing over Vivio, who was on the ground. Her eyes were closed, and there was a long gash across her torso as a pool of blood started to form under her. Ludd was grinning audaciously as he used Vivio's cloak to wipe her blood off of his sword. He was choking Princess Liara with his free hand, and she was trying hard to gasp for air.
"Yup, me alright…" Ludd said. And it seemed that the others also noticed him, and unlike before, this one felt more real. This wasn't an illusion. It was real.
Vivio was on the ground. I couldn't tell whether she was alive or not. But I was unable to think straight as Ludd lifted Princess Liara's small body with his one hand, hoisted her up as he pointed his sword at her chest.
"N-no… no… NO!"
I could hear Ennis' panicked cry as Ludd brought up his sword to Princess Liara's chest. As for me, I was too angry to say anything.
"And it's time to sleep, my sweet princess…"
And with a push, Ludd stabbed Princess Liara on her chest, right through her heart. The sword protruded from her back.
"Princess!" Claire cried.
Gleefully, Ludd twisted the blade, and Princess Liara coughed up blood. Then he pulled the sword up before he dropped Princess Liara's limp body onto the ground.
"Long live the princess…" Ludd said before he brought up his sword to his face, licking the blood.
"Y-you… YOU BASTARD!" I screamed, and my entire world turned crimson.
TO BE CONTINUED