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    “…What did you say?”

    Irian muttered in a hoarse voice, as if his words were caught in his throat.

    To him, I retorted just as he had lashed out at me.

    “You said you were the El Sentinel of this village. Surely, to rise to that position, it would have taken not only considerable abilities but also centuries of trust from the villagers. So let me ask you this. Over the course of those hundreds of years, how many times have you ventured outside the forest? Of course, for the pure purpose of interaction, not with the intent of engaging in combat with enemies. Or even for trivial reasons like taking a stroll.”

    Irian’s expression soured at that question.

    After a moment of contemplation, Irian spoke with a bitter look.

    “…Not even once.”

    “Of course not.”

    Although I had expected it, hearing the actual answer made me smile wryly.

    “There wouldn’t be. We’re always eager to chant about the First Era, the First Era, the First Era, but we’ve never once put it into practice. Not even once. Do you know what that means? It means we elves have never once thought about interacting with the beastmen, and never once tried to harmonize with other races. Why?”

    Harmony.

    The virtue that elves value most.

    But I thought there was something twisted about it.

    The virtue pursued by the elves of this world was simply endless conformity to others, without ever taking the initiative to find a compromise or common ground between themselves and others.

    Harmony is supposed to be a bidirectional act where if one side adjusts to the other, the other side should equally adjust to them. But the elves’ harmony was endlessly unidirectional.

    If the other party is friendly, they respond in kind; if the other party is hostile, they respond hostilely as well.

    As a result, modern elves have become distant from all races, and that state has become entrenched, achieving the current ‘harmony’.

    “What kind of harmony is this? It’s bullshit.”

    I unwittingly cursed.

    This isn’t harmony, it’s compliance.

    And a very twisted form of it at that.

    “Is this truly the harmony that elves speak of? What on earth made us elves call this isolation ‘harmony’? Since when did this mistaken habit take root in our way of thinking?”

    My fists clenched involuntarily.

    Because of this damned mindset, elves become hostile with other races—no, with the entire continent.

    As a result, elves are the first to be eliminated in the Race War, proving that this way of thinking is nothing short of a cancerous mentality for elves.

    “I don’t want that. If we truly care about our race, we need to break free from this suffocating isolation and pursue genuine harmony. If this isolation is truly the forest’s teaching, then fine. As you said, I may have forgotten my identity.”

    This is my sincere heart that I’ve harbored all this time.

    While playing the game and living my life reincarnated as an elf, I’ve contemplated countless times about the elven race.

    Is the way of life of the race I’m living as truly righteous?

    Was their early elimination in the Race War event purely due to being overpowered by the strength of other races?

    I pondered what was wrong each time, and as a result, I was able to find an answer that only I could reach.

    Something was wrong with the elves.

    The forest’s teachings speak of the First Era and preach harmony with the world.

    The beauty of that era when all races came together in unity.

    Harmony with the world.

    Where can you see such a thing in the elves now?

    Why is there such isolation ingrained in their lives as they invoke the forest’s oath, sing of harmony with the forest, and teach the spirit of the forest?

    That’s why I became a heretic.

    I expressed dissatisfaction with their way of life and often stirred up the village with unimaginable ideas.

    Of course, those methods weren’t always right, which is why I was called a heretic, but in any case, I couldn’t agree with their ways.

    “Many scolded me, saying my way of thinking was wrong, and whispered that I was a heretic. Why are you defending them, they asked. They sneered, saying I could only have such flowery thoughts because I hadn’t fought against them in battle.”

    I sneered back at them in return.

    Battles with the beastmen?

    I’ve fought them to the point of trembling with rage.

    I engaged in life-or-death struggles with them and survived by taking their lives.

    I’m not advocating for them.

    I’m not an idiot who ridicules my fellow people as foolish and idolizes myself.

    I simply didn’t like it.

    That’s the background. That’s why I accepted Cerisne and his party.

    If I don’t like it, I should change it myself.

    — If the elves won’t take the initiative, I will.

    First, let’s try to improve relations with the beastmen.

    Even if they’re a race on the brink of extinction, regardless of that, if I can show that I can become friends with them first, perhaps others will change their minds too.

    The reason I could have such thoughts may be because I’m purely a being who possesses memories of a past life as a ‘human’ while simultaneously being an ‘elf’.

    I have no intention of denying that.

    But it’s not necessarily wrong of me, is it?

    I’m simply an elf with a flexible mindset.

    That’s right.

    It’s nothing more than a ‘flexible mindset’.

    “Irian. I’m going to become friends with them. Next are the orcs. And after that, the werewolves. For now, I’ll focus on befriending the races near this forest. By doing so, I’ll demonstrate that the harmony elves speak of isn’t simply ‘harmony for the sake of the forest’! I’ll show that you’re wrong! That the harmony we must achieve is not unidirectional harmony or harmony for the sake of isolation!”

    Harmony is not compliance.

    I wanted to tell them that.

    “…This is, well… Indeed…”

    Irian’s eyes, having heard everything I said, held a strange fervor.

    “…The orcs tried to kill you all. Just two days ago, you nearly died by their hands. Even so, are you saying you’ll become friends with them?”

    “And I killed them too. Although their invasion came first, looking at the result, before they became my enemies, I became theirs as well. If they just set aside their ambition to invade the World Tree, we could all become friends.”

    That process won’t be easy.

    It wasn’t an empty promise that the World Tree would become a prized target for them too.

    Although there are a few irrational beings like the dark elves and some human kingdoms who display a strange desire for the World Tree, the races actually located near this forest don’t covet the World Tree to that extent.

    They’ve simply settled here because being close to it provides benefits, and now, due to a long history of accumulated grudges between each other that no one may remember who started, that resentment makes everyone hostile.

    “We may have to make concessions too. In order to achieve true harmony with them.”

    “What the… Are you saying we should allow those barbaric races into the World Tree?”

    This time, infuriated by my words beyond the realm of argument, Irian spoke in an angry voice.

    “The First Era. True harmony. The elves who chant about it are actually so stubbornly possessive of the World Tree as if it’s their property and refuse to share the mission of protecting the continent with anyone. Irian. Is the World Tree our possession?”

    “Eldmir! The World Tree is not an object!”

    Irian shouted in an enraged voice, but I spoke even more calmly.

    “That’s why I’m bringing this up. You’re right, the World Tree is not an object. Therefore, it’s even less something that should receive our overprotection alone, and if we maintain this system, someday when the World Tree’s true enemies arrive, we’ll all perish. We won’t be able to protect it without someone’s help.”

    The elves’ isolation to protect the World Tree has instead become poison.

    They made enemies of the entire continent, and as a result, they ended up perishing without receiving anyone’s aid.

    “How long do you think we can continue guarding this forest with our strength alone? Can we keep enduring it? Think about it. What will we do when the dark elves, who will someday reveal their evil schemes and launch a full-scale invasion of the World Tree, strike? If the orcs, endlessly angered by the confrontation with us, come charging in droves, invoking the blessing of Ka Haran? If we withstand that, what’s next? And after that? How long can we keep protecting it with our power alone?”

    “…That is…”

    Irian wore an expression as if he had never considered it before.

    That’s why he was at a loss for words, unable to say anything.

    But that’s the norm.

    Who could have predicted the Race War?

    Who could have foreseen that the ancient evil dragon of mythology would suddenly resurrect?

    Who…

    No one could have anticipated that the elves would perish.

    That’s why only I can say this.

    “Irian. We need to break free from this suffocating isolation. I’m not saying I’m absolutely right. I’m saying we should look for a way, and at least the answer I’ve found is those children.”

    “…In any case, they’re a race on the brink of extinction. Even if we bestow favor upon them, it won’t help our race…”

    At those words, I unwittingly burst out in anger.

    “Damn it, Irian! Did you even listen properly to what I said? I’m helping those children to break the elves’ isolation and out of a pure desire to help them! When did I ever say I would turn them into dogs to use other races to protect the World Tree? Achieving harmony with them doesn’t mean making them our soldiers! It means coexisting with them!”

    “I apologize. I misspoke once again.”

    “Don’t misinterpret my words. That way of thinking is poison to elves. I was simply telling you about another path where we can protect the World Tree together by achieving harmony with them through concessions and compromise. Even if coexistence isn’t possible, we could at least establish a non-aggression pact.”

    In the first place, there’s no guarantee that we can even arrange an opportunity to talk with them.

    Just as elves consider them enemies, they also view elves as enemies, so hoping for coexistence from the outset is an overly optimistic outlook.

    I let out a deep sigh.

    In any case, I didn’t expect Irian to fully understand my words.

    I’ve said before that the ideology of this era is excessively primitive.

    That was by no means an exaggerated expression.

    Their ideology lacks enlightenment, and they are beings with an infantile level of thought, merely repeating what they say, hear, write, and learn.

    “Irian. I hope you can understand what I’m saying. Sincerely.”

    “…Honestly, I couldn’t fully comprehend it all. That must be because I still lack education.”

    “No. I have no intention of blaming you. …There’s a reason I was called a heretic, after all.”

    As I smiled bitterly in self-deprecation, Irian shook his head.

    “No. Hearing your outcry just now, I realized. Your ideology is… noble. It’s nothing short of a truth that only those who worry about the future of us elves and look back can reach. I respect you for how your thoughts could extend that far.”

    His eyes told me that he was sincere.

    They held the same strange fervor as before.

    It was a gaze filled with a force akin to aspiration.

    “You’re right. What you say is correct. I was nothing more than a foolish being blinded by my personal grudges, failing to grasp the true teachings of El Lydarell. It’s you. Only you have been enlightened to the true meaning of El Lydarell’s teachings, the forest’s teachings, and acted upon them.”

    He abruptly stood up from his seat and exclaimed in an excited voice.

    “When I first met you, did I say you were a role model for all elves? Those words weren’t wrong! You were the saviors of truth who would show the way forward to all elves!”

    “Uh… Isn’t that a bit of an exaggeration?”

    “Absolutely not!”

    He slammed both hands on the table with a bang.

    The sound was loud enough to echo throughout the room that I wanted to ask if his palms were okay.

    Suddenly, Irian had transformed into a tremendously burdensome individual.

    His eyes were filled with an emotion akin to reverence.

    “Eldmir! I want to hold a festival in your honor. Furthermore, I want to spread your words to all the elves in this village, and even to the elves of ‘El Rel’!”

    ‘El Rel’ refers to the village located in the center of the forest.

    In other words, it signifies the village that directly guards the World Tree.

    “No, don’t exaggerate and sit down. I appreciate the sentiment, but I hope that process will be gradual. Rushing it could backfire.”

    If ideologies change too rapidly, it may instead lead to a phenomenon where people reject and refuse to accept that ideological shift.

    Well, it’s not like I’m truly a philosopher or something to be certain of such things, but I’m just considering the possibility.

    “Hmm. Well… I’m grateful that you think so highly of me. Truly. You’re the first one to empathize with my ideology to this extent.”

    To be honest, it was unexpected.

    I fully believed Irian would fail to understand my ideology like Istain and the other elves in the village and simply call me a heretic.

    But to have him support and empathize with my thoughts to this degree, I can only express that I’m bewildered yet pleased.

    As I awkwardly smiled and scratched my cheek, a low voice spoke from beside me.

    “You’ve never even spoken to this extent before, so how could anyone empathize with you?”

    “…”

    “…”

    “…”

    Ah, crap.

    My mother is sulking again.

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