Chapter 205: [Bonus chapter] Love, Past and Present 2
Aldrich watched Valera take a moment to collect herself. Her lips twisted into a faint frown, baring a sliver of her sharp fangs. She clutched at her arm, her black ngernails pressing in dangerously hard, just shy of breaking the skin.
Valera did not like remembering her past.
This, Aldrich knew.
In Elden World, there was a surprisingly extensive amount of interaction with
NPCs that allowed one to develop strong relationships with them.
How strong one's relationship was with a NPC allowed not only for more u things like romance paths to open up, but practical things like access to specic
NPC questlines that usually had unique locations, items, bosses, and the like.
When Aldrich played, he had maxed out his relationship meter with Valera, though no paths actually led to a direct romance because of how much eort it took her to open up.
Valera was a cold, stoic, and prickly character when rst summoned that just did her job to protect her summoner. She replied with one word answers to most questions and did not like being questioned about her past.
Actually getting her to open up and form a bond with her took most of the entire game because of how troubled her past was.
This left too little time to get into a proper romance with her, but before battling the Howling Dark - the nal boss - she did promise to stay with the player character forever. That was essentially a declaration of love.
The idea was that after the game, there was an implied happily ever after where the player reunited with Valera.
This was why Valera was so attached to Aldrich upon being summoned. She had the highest level of relationship built with Aldrich - the player - already.
But that was just the game. It was a whole dierent thing to deal with it in real life. It felt almost wrong. She had all these genuine memories with him, but to him, it had all just been nothing more than a game.
This was the biggest reason why Aldrich could not give her a good answer. Her feelings for him were genuine, but how would she react when she realized that to him, it had never truly been 'real?"
That, and Aldrich already had no idea what to do in situations like this. He hovered his arm over Valera's back, wondering if this would comfort her.
Valera noticed Aldrich's awkward eort. She looked at his hand with a quizzical expression. "If you're uncomfortable-," began Aldrich as he withdrew his hand. "No." Valera grabbed Aldrich's hand tightly and held it like a precious jewel.
She smiled at him.
Her hand felt strangely warm in spite of how cold she should have been as an undead. He felt prickles of warmth owing through his body: the warmth of emotion that he had long forgotten and then buried further under his undead transformation.
The warmth of being loved. "This helps. Holding your hand like this - it truly does. More than anything," said Valera. She closed her eyes again, remembering more. "When I completed my training in the Midnight Order, I was to be the sworn shield of a lady.
Nalia. A daughter of a matriarch in one of the Nokol clans."
Aldrich nodded. The Nokol were a race of demihumans that had bat-like traits.
Because they were nocturnal, they were part of the Midnight Alliance of most night faring races including vampires. "She was spoiled. Dicult to work with. She complained about this and that little thing, and there were many times when I wanted to smack some sense into her." Valera shook her head and then smiled sadly. "But she was a kind girl, she was.
When her mother was assassinated by rivals, she was cast out, forced to run as an exile. Everybody abandoned her aside from myself, perhaps because I saw some of myself in her. Another princess exiled due to a world that rejected them, how could I not pity her?
And also because I wanted to keep my vow to protect my chosen.
Always, I have wanted to protect someone worthy to me. Ever since my father's death, when I could not protect him - that was my dream. So I stuck with her.
The years after were long and dicult. She had to learn how to survive without the pampering touch of attendants that would dress her in warm neries and make sure food was upon her plate every day.
But I taught her, and together, we survived. She grew so very attached to me. I was her mentor. Her shield to support herself on when times were tough. Her shoulder to lean on when she needed to cry.
And in spite of myself, I found myself appreciating her. She was like a dear little sister to me. And for her happiness, I would have given everything.
But that night, that awful, awful night-," Valera trembled in anger, her expression twisting darkly. "We can stop here, if you want," said Aldrich. He knew this part of her past, and he knew it would be painful for her. "I just wanted to hear why you have these feelings for me, but if it involves moving through your past-" "Not at all." Valera shook her head and took in a deep breath. "This is important. This cursed past of mine. To show you why my feelings burn so bright for you." She nodded to herself, calming down. "One night, when I was away from camp to nd a cure for a sickness she had contracted on the road, she was slaughtered by rival clans that still sought her out, wanting to eliminate any trace of her royal blood to make sure she never laid claim to the throne.
Slaughter is too light a word. She had been tortured to within an inch of her life, healed, then tortured again. Nails torn back, wings ripped apart, eyes gouged out, body deled, skin ayed - over and over again.
I cannot imagine the amount of pain she must have felt. How much she must have yearned for me, for my shield, for my strength.
And that-seeing her corpse-that made me understand: I was a failure. My shield had never once protected anyone it was vowed to.
The world around me had cast me out because I was an abomination. A monster.
My entire life, I had dedicated myself to protecting, for deep down, I did not wish to be called a monster.
But if it was a monster they wanted, it was a monster that I would give them.
I killed every single being responsible for my lady's death. I started with the assassins they hired and any aliated with them.
Humans, elves, dwarves, young or old, it did not matter. I killed them.
Then I attacked the Nokol royal clans. I killed countless of their winged soldiers. I snapped the necks of dozens of their royalty. I was feared. I was reviled. I became known as the 'Exile', the disgraced princess turned wandering monster of vengeance.
To gain the power to destroy the royal clans, I sacriced my soul to the Nether.
In exchange for this power, upon my death, I would enter into the Nether for all eternity. I would no longer enter the cycle of reincarnation. Instead, my soul would be chained to serve summoners of the dark for all eternity.
The path of vengeance was sweet. I reveled in it, in the bloody carnage that I wrought with my own sts. But that is the thing with vengeance. It must always end.
Either you reach the end of that path with no more left to kill, or you are killed while walking its brutal roads.
For me, it was the latter. Despite the power and levels I received from the
Nether, it was not enough.
Eventually, the entire Midnight Alliance, not just the Nokols, saw me as a force of nature - a monster for adventurers to put down. I did kill any that got in my way, after all, and that included vampires as well.
The Alliance enlisted the aid of a mighty hero, and he slew me.
Since then, my soul rested in the Nether.
Whenever a dark summoner wished for my shield, I had to serve them. That went on for centuries.
I did not care. It was my just punishment for failing to protect everyone I wanted to protect - that was what I thought.
I gave up on ever protecting someone close to me. To serve someone worthy.
Because I was a failure."
Valera squeezed Aldrich's hand gently. "Then you came along. You called me to your service. At rst, I felt nothing. Just another mage of the dark arts desiring a shield to protect his frail body until the corrupting inuence of the dark arts eventually rotted your brain and rendered you insane. Just another victim to the
But you overcame the Nether. You stayed with me. 2
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You believed in me. You tried to understand me. You accepted who I was. You accepted what I had become.
I was not a monster to you, I was a valued companion. I was truly your shield.
I...I liked that so much. It was the rst time I had felt warmth in my heart for centuries. It was not just that you believed in me, but I could also believe in you with all my heart.
You had grand visions. You wanted to save the world. Deep down, in your heart, you were one I could admire and devote myself to.
I felt like nally, I had found someone worthy.
And that was when I made a promise to myself: I would never, ever, ever let you go. I would never fail in my duties as a Guardian Knight ever again. I would wield my shield proudly for you til the end of time - til beyond the ends of time."
Valera nodded to Aldrich. The hints of tears welled up in the sides of her eyes from remembering and voicing her feelings. "And that-that is why I have these feelings for you.
That...is why I love you."
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