"It is tougher than I thought."
He didn't know how many times he had checked the map during the last four days of the journey. It was difficult to find the right path. Grid was still unable to find his destination. However, it wasn't because he was lost. Grid had a good sense of direction. It hadn't been a fluke that he discovered the North End Cave and Pagma's Rare Book.
"Um..." Grid's gaze fell on the map again and again.
Kraugel said that the Boundary Forest was right there at the point where the Beldon Volcanic Zone and the Lilton Desert overlapped. That's right. The Boundary Forest was a place not marked on the map, so it was no wonder that it was hard to find.
"Go east from the Beldon Volcanic area, west from the Lilton Desert..." Grid's eyes narrowed. It was irritating since the schedule was different from what he had planned.
The silent Mercedes finally asked carefully, "Is Kraugel a credible person?"
"Huh? Why are you asking all of a sudden?"
"I can't believe that there is a forest here."
This was a volcanic area where lava flowed, a desert where not a single blade of grass could be found. Yet there was a forest at the center? How could vegetation grow in this hot temperature? Grid replied to Mercedes' reasonable doubt, "You can trust him."
Of course, this world wasn't nice enough to have unconditional beliefs just because a person was a friend. Still, Grid didn't doubt Kraugel.
"He is a friend with high pride. It isn't in his nature to lie."
"He is a... Sword Saint?"
"Yes. He has been famous in the empire for several months already."
The empire showed a lukewarm attitude toward Pagma's Descendant, but they had a great response to a Sword Saint. Some people argued that the Sword Saint should be acquired while others insisted that the Sword Saint should be eliminated. The emperor's choice was...
"Try and win him over."
"I see. Well, it is natural for Kraugel to be coveted by the emperor."
Grid had heard rumors, but to think that Kraugel was given such special treatment...? Grid's pride wasn't hurt even when he realized this fact. Was it because he acknowledged that a Sword Saint was a better class than Pagma's Descendant? No. It was because Grid had a great pride that wouldn't be swept away by the evaluation of other people. So what if he was given a low evaluation? The truth was different.
"Kraugel rejected the emperor's offer?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Weren't you quite angry?"
Grid was well aware of Mercedes' personality from the first time they met. She had an excessive loyalty and felt unconditional resentment toward those who went against the will of her master. From the position of an enemy, it was a terrible personality, but it was great now that they were allies.
"You can relax your emotions and fight when you meet later. One or two years later, you will be so strong that victory will be guaranteed."
'Please don't incite an unnecessary fight.'
Grid had already experienced several times that a confrontation between the strong and the strong was a great help to each other. As such, seeing that Mercedes could go one step further, Grid wanted to set up a confrontation with Sword Saint Kraugel for her.
'It will be a great help for Kraugel as well.'
Duguen! Duguen! Grid's heart beat faster as he imagined a confrontation with the further developed Kraugel. His obsession with Kraugel was a reaction to the regret he had felt in the 3rd National Competition. Why did he feel sorry as the winner? It was because he had won before he revealed his true power. Truth be told, Grid felt empty after the finale match with Kraugel. It was different from the exhilaration he felt during the 2nd National Competition.
'It is an undeniable fact.'
He had reserved his strength and won against Kraugel. However, who could he tell this truth to? No one would believe him if he said it.
'There is no need to speak in the first place.' It would just be seen as a useless pretense.
The grinning Grid stopped walking. He was at the end of the lava zone, which was also at the end of the desert. Then an unexpected phenomenon occurred.
[The World Tree's Necklace is responding!]
Grid pulled the necklace out of his inventory.
[World Tree's Necklace]
* 20% increase in strength and agility in elven territory.
* 150% increase in mana regeneration in elven territory.
* 1.2 times increase in movement speed in elven territory.
Before she became a legend, Povia was a loner who wasn't recognized by humans or elves.
This necklace was given to her by the world tree, her only friend.
A necklace made from tree bark being weaved together—it was one of the rewards he had gotten from Death Knight Povia on the Behen Archipelago. This response meant...
Gulp! Grid made a guess and wore the necklace. Then...
[Strength and agility will increase by 20%.]
[Mana regeneration rate will increase by 150%.]
[Movement speed has increased by 1.2 times.]
Grid realized two facts. Firstly, he was already in the Boundary Forest. However, it was impossible to perceive it because of the wards. Secondly, the Boundary Forest was the forest of the world tree. It was the territory of the elves!
"Now if I can release the wards...!"
...But how? Kraugel had only shown him the location of the Boundary Forest, not how to enter it.
Did he want to provoke Grid? Or was it a test? That was impossible. Kraugel had given him the location of the Boundary Forest out of pure kindness. He wouldn't hide something from the information he had given willingly.
Could the wards around the forest be stronger than when Kraugel visited here? It was a reasonable hypothesis when he recalled the rumor that elves hated humans.
"I'm certain. The elves must have been disturbed by Kraugel's movements in here and strengthened the wards."
Grid was confident of this. His difficulty was on how to release the ward.
"The general information on how to release a ward..."
It was to grasp the principle of the ward or release it with magic. These two methods were widely used. Grid hadn't learned the magic associated with releasing wards, so he had to solve it with the former method. It meant he had to use his head, and that was terrible.
"F... Um..." Grid was about to curse only to close his mouth with an awkward expression. He couldn't curse in front of a person who had just become his subordinate.
"Kuoong." He became more frustrated because he couldn't swear. Grid was struggling when Mercedes asked him, "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"I want to release the ward here but I don't know how to do it..."
Mercedes' thin eyebrows rose. The fact that her master didn't expect anything of her touched her pride.
"I will just smash it," she spoke in a cold voice.
Smashing the ward...? Grid didn't understand and made a strange expression.
"If my physical strength is three times stronger than the person who made the ward, I can just destroy it with force. Shall I test it out? Let's see who is better."
Mercedes pulled out her swords while energy blades bent around her. She swung them once at the air, creating an opening. It was as if Grid was looking at Kraugel's Space Sword. The sky, the desert, the volcanoes, and the earth split in half. Then the desert area and volcanic area disappeared like they were mirages. After that, a huge forest appeared in the place where the volcanic area and desert had been located. The scale of the forest was too large to determine. It was like a country in itself.
"...Amazing." Grid was marveling at Mercedes' swordsmanship, not the size of the forest. The elves' magic had created a perfect ward. Grid realized that the heat of the volcano and the desert was a lie and asked, "Is this the elemental magic that I have only heard about?"
"I think so. They seem to have borrowed the power of the fire elemental to make the volcanic zone and the power of the earth elemental to make the desert. They were different from simple hallucinations."
"Elementals... Have you ever met them before?"
"Ah." Grid belatedly noticed that the sun flowing through the green leaves shone on Mercedes' face. Yes, Mercedes was also shaken.
They had discovered the territories of the elves who had been separated from humanity for hundreds of years. How could anyone be calm before this amazing discovery? Grid watched Mercedes' cute appearance as she looked around the forest and felt warm.
'I didn't receive the first discovery reward, so someone else came here before me.'
It wasn't Kraugel. Kraugel didn't even know that this was the territory of the elves.
"Kraugel couldn't enter the forest? Or did he simply lag behind others? If it is the latter, the world was very wide."
It was amazing that there were people ahead of Kraugel. Who could it be? Grid's eyes shone as he pulled out the portable furnace and started to place firewood inside it. On one side, he prepared an anvil, a hammer, and a huge bucket for quenching.
"..." Mercedes felt it was absurd as she watched Grid turn the forest into a smithy. "Your Majesty. This is an ideal opportunity to meet the elves. Isn't it right to look for the elves first?"
Some people misunderstood the elves as a species from fantasies. Thus, they were unfamiliar with elves. The elves were targets of great interest. Even Mercedes wanted to meet an elf right away. However, Grid had no interest in this.
"I can meet an elf every day."
He could meet an elf on a daily basis? Mercedes didn't understand what Grid was saying.
"Moreover, it is a high elf. He is Sage Sticks. You didn't know that he was in the Overgeared Kingdom? Doesn't the empire know anything?"
"...Ah." Mercedes couldn't be unaware of this. In fact, she had forgotten due to an incident from a few days ago. Five days ago was the day that Grid had arrived in Reinhardt.
"Grid!" Sticks had run to find Grid. "Increase the number of teachers at the academy! I have to teach 12 classes a day alone, 12! I don't have any time to rest!"
"I understand. Tell Administrator Rabbit."
"No, he is the problem! He says that he can't increase the number of teachers due to a lack of finances! He is an unscrupulous human who is abusing me to save money!" Sticks cried out, feeling it was unjust. He seemed like such an ordinary person that Mercedes had forgotten… She had completely forgotten the fact that Sticks was a high elf and sage.
"...I understand." Mercedes was reminded of the memories she had instinctively sealed. She nodded as if she understood. "Then you have no reason to look for the elves."
"Right? In any case, they will just be men."
"Ah, there was something like that. In any case, let's begin in earnest." Grid rolled up his sleeves and handed Mercedes some Media Mountain honey which he bought with a lot of money. Then he held a hammer. "I will do the hammering while you eat honey."
This was the first important mission she had received since she started serving Grid, but why did she feel that it was somewhat lacking?
"Yes..." Mercedes responded weakly and pulled out her swords. Simultaneously, an arrow flying through the air was split apart.
"What is this rudeness?" Mercedes looked sharply in front of her. The appearance of elves with angry expressions entered her field of view. The white-haired elf named Beniyaru shouted, "We hate you...! Humans deserve to be extinct!"
Talking about extinction all of a sudden? Was creating a fire in the middle of the forest that big of a sin? Grid sweated as he belatedly realized, '...It is a sin,'
However, he didn't know it yet… The reason why the elves hated humans wasn't because of Grid and Mercedes.