Chapter 187

In dense greenery, small insects buzzed around. The wind gently blew through and lifted up the soil from the ground. Just judging by this description, people would imagine a peaceful forest that comforted people’s hearts. However, the forest that Zich and his companions were in fit the description above, but it was not peaceful or cozy at all—at least to Lyla.

“Ack!” Lyla tripped over another tree root poking out of the forest soil. Her body heaved forward.

“Whoops!”

However, she didn’t make a fool out of herself by falling down on the ground. Zich caught her with ease since he was walking in front of her. 

“Thanks.”

“No problem, my lady.”

Zich said a cheesy line and winked at her once. After teasing her a bit, Zich helped Lyla stand upright. Lyla let out a sigh; it was not the first time this happened. Other than the tree roots sprawled out all over the ground, there were way too many traps in this forest. There was a hole covered with leaves, slippery mud, and a stream filled with mossy rocks. Lyla looked around her surroundings. All she could see was dense vegetation and huge trees. She was not able to even clearly see what was ahead. In this forest, plants that were beneficial to humans by providing food and lumber were now thoroughly antagonizing humans.

They were currently in the Adrowon Forest. It was the result of Zich’s decision to travel to Leona’s home. Since it was to find out more information about the strange tree under Violuwin’s ruin, Lyla also didn’t object to Zich’s decision; rather, she wholeheartedly supported it. Hans and Snoc always followed Zich’s decisions, so they quietly nodded at the news. Leona also welcomed the idea of bringing her friends to her house. 

On the first day, Lyla was very curious about the forest. Even though she had knowledge about large forests like this, she had never experienced going there first hand. However, this curiosity did not last long. By the second day, she was completely sick of this humongous forest. The tree roots on the ground clung to her ankles, the bushes that were as tall as humans constantly hit against her arms and face, and the uneven terrain quickly ate up her stamina.

Thanks to Zich’s tough training, Lyla’s stamina was far greater than a normal magician’s, but ultimately, she was still a magician. The continuous journey through the forest completely wore her out. However, she was the only one that was tired. As swordsmen, Zich and Hans had tremendous stamina, and their breathing did not even falter as they quickly moved through the rough terrain. Instead, Zich had enough leisure to help Lyla every time she almost fell down. As an elf, Leona was completely used to moving in a forest, so it was pointless to even explain how she was faring. 

Out of everyone, Snoc was most similar to Lyla, but he also received extremely tough training from Zich. Even though his experience with Zich’s training was shorter than Hans’, he wasn’t out of breath like Lyla. 

“Kyah!”

This time, Lyla slipped on an area that had become muddy with water. However, Zich caught her before she fell, so her clothes remained relatively clean.

“Wow, you’re really clumsy.”

Lyla glared at Zich, and Zich quickly moved away from her as if he was running away. Zich was as playful as ever, but Lyla was filled with complicated emotions.

‘So far, Zich is the same as always.’

Yet no matter how much she thought about it, she could not forget the face Zich made at Violuwin.

‘Did I see it wrong?’ She shook her head. ‘No, there’s no way I saw something like that wrong.’

Since Lyla was worried that Zich might go back to his Demon Lord ways, she was always spying on him. For that reason, she was certain in what she saw. However, she repressed the worry rising up in her mind.

‘His Demon Lord face just came out for a brief moment. Since we met Glen Zenard, his feelings as a Demon Lord might have just come out.’

Even now, Zich was acting like his usual self as well. 

‘Since Glen Zenard is not here right now, he won’t suddenly turn into a Demon Lord.’

However, Lyla was horrified that she saw a glimpse of his former Demon Lord self. Even though she didn’t remember everything, Lyla clearly felt intense pressure from recalling Zich Moore’s name.

‘Ah, damn it! Why did something like that happen now!’

Lyla was already conflicted about her identity; she didn’t have the leisure to think about a bomb like Zich Moore.

“Lyla, are you alright?” Before she realized it, Leona was next to her. Leona, who had been walking far ahead of everyone else, seemed to have come back out of concern for Lyla.

“Honestly, it's a bit tiring. Are we close yet?”

“We’re almost there. If we walk a little further, we’ll be able to see a village.”

While hoping that “little further” really meant “little further,” Lyla nodded her head. Fortunately, Leona’s idea of a “little further” fit ordinary standards, as they did not have to walk much further until a village came into view.

“Who are you!”

On top of a large tree branch, five elves appeared. Even though the branches were thick, the branches were rough and round; the elves easily balanced on top of the branches and pointed their arrows at Zich and the rest of the group. However, no one was nervous even though arrows were pointed at them. They were way too strong to fear a threat like this. In contrast, the wariness in the elves’ eyes increased. This was understandable, as very few humans came up to this part of the forest. However, an individual that would dissipate all their worries and caution instantly appeared into view.

Leona said, “Lower your arrows.”

The elves who noticed her just now opened their eyes wide. They didn’t expect that one of their kind would be among a group of humans. However, one of the elves was shocked by a different matter.

“Princess!”

This was also enough to shock Zich and his companions.

*   *   *

Zich and his companions were guided to the nearest village. The village had hundreds of elves living there, and the whole village was built on top of trees. The trees were thicker than the outstretched arms of ten people connected together, and the houses built on top of them were large and spacious. It was completely different from the treehouses that humans built.

Surprisingly, there weren’t many trees in the village. In places that didn’t have houses, there was a giant indentation as if the trees had been uprooted completely. The village seemed like it was also trying to expand in size as the trees around the edges of the village were cut down. Snoc saw the trees cut down and murmured, “Don’t elves love the forest?”

“Elves are probably different from the images humans have of them,” Lyla said this and continued, “Even though they do treat the forest as a special being, it’s probably to the extent where it is advantageous for them. The forest is closely intertwined with an elf’s life. In other words, the reason why they treasure the forest and take care of it is so that they can continue their livelihood. For that reason, it’s common for them to change the forest to meet their needs to a certain degree.”

“Oh, I see.” 

The elves were curious about the new outsiders, and they came out of the houses one by one. Their eyes didn’t hold much goodwill, but their eyes weren’t entirely hostile either. They were in a state of severe caution. Zich turned his head around and scanned his surroundings. A couple of elves he met flinched their eyes at the sight of him. 

‘Even though it’s normal for them to be cautious of new humans, this is more extreme than normal.’

Elves who had no interaction with humans might react this way, but Leona said that her tribes had rare but consistent interactions with humans.

‘Was it because of the guys who stole the Lake’s Tear?’

But even for that, this amount of vigilance was strange. If word got out that they received such direct losses from a human, the elves’ eyes would be full of hostility rather than caution. 

The elf leading them stopped in front of a tree.

“Please stay in this house while you are here.”

Like all the other elves’ houses, the house that the elf led Zich and his companions to was a house on top of a tall tree. As a guesthouse, this house was a bit of a distance away from the other houses, but the facilities were enough. The house was spacious, so each person could have their own room. Lyla thanked the elf that guided them.

“Thank you.”

“No, it was nothing. Instead, I should apologize that I can only offer this much for the Princess’ companions.”

“It’s fine. My companions are nice,” Leona bragged, and the elf that guided them slightly smiled. However, he soon fixed his smile and said with a serious voice, “I deeply apologize, but please refrain from going outside.”

“Huh? Why?” Leona asked in surprise, but Lyla stopped her.

“We understand. Would you be able to tell us how long we have to stay here?”

It seemed as if Lyla also noticed the strange atmosphere surrounding the village. The elf guide seemed to feel relieved that Lyla seemed to understand.

“Someone will come during dinner time and explain the situation more thoroughly. Then, goodbye.”

The elf guide said his farewells and left the house. Leona still didn’t know what was happening and was bewildered by the elf’s words. Zich tapped her and said, “Don’t look so confused. It looks like something happened in the village.”

“Something happened in the village?”

“Yeah. The elves’ vigilance is way above normal.”

Leona tried to recall her tribe members’ reactions. Since she was so overjoyed with bringing back the Lake’s Tear and introducing Zich and the rest of the team to her elf friends, she wasn’t able to properly gauge the reaction of her tribe. Now that she thought about it, they did seem strange.

“I’m gonna go out for a bit!”

Zich stopped Leona before she could get out.

“What are you going to do outside?”

“I have to go and find out what happened! I’m the princess of this forest!”

“You shouldn’t.” Zich shook his head. “If you try to investigate right now, you’ll only aggravate the other elves’ anxiety and worry. It’s better for you to just wait patiently until someone comes during dinner.”

“Uh-um.”

Even though Leona wanted to immediately go out and bombard people with questions, she eventually nodded. So far, everything turned out pretty successful whenever she listened to Zich’s words.

“Okay.”

“Then let’s relax by ourselves and see each other during dinnertime.” 

“I’m going to sleep.”

Lyla had suffered the most since they entered the forest, so she quickly chose a room for herself and went in. Leona looked at the house’s front door once and then picked a room for herself.

“You guys go ahead as well,” Zich said to Hans and Snoc who were left. However, the two of them seemed like they desperately wanted to say something.

“Are you guys surprised that Leona is a princess?”

Snoc said, “S-sir, o-of course, I’m surprised!”

Hans also quietly nodded. It was shocking to find out that the elf that they traveled with the whole time was an elf princess.

“There’s no reason to be surprised. An elf king is different from a human king. Even though the king does lead his subjects, he’s basically just the representative of the tribe. He probably receives a bit more special treatment than the other elves, but it’s not like the human kings who have a great amount of power. Likewise, the treatment that Leona gets as a princess is different from what princesses in the human kingdom get.”

If a princess from a human kingdom came to visit a village, they wouldn’t express such a simple reaction as the elves did in this village when they first saw Leona. However, Hans and Snoc didn’t seem like they could understand it properly. It was understandable as the world they lived in was completely different from how the elves lived.

“You don’t have to understand it. Just think of it as—I guess it’s just the way it is—and leave it at that. Treat Leona like how you’ve been treating her so far.”

After picking out a room for himself, Zich disappeared into his room. Hans and Snoc looked at each other as they were now the only ones left. How could they just think of it as, ‘It’s just the way it is and leave it at that?’ In all honesty, they had no other choice than to follow this advice. While they were still in a state of shock, they tried to forcefully etch Zich’s words into their minds and went into the rooms they chose for themselves.

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