A Transient Farewell
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
I found myself at the bar the day after I gave Gojim the metaphorical finger. Naturally, picking a fight with him had gotten me disqualified from the tournament and kicked out of the arena. Speaking of the tourney, they’re probably off doing the finals or whatever right now, huh? Rip my shot at first place.
There wasn’t much I could say in my defence. I deserved getting the boot, and probably much more. Picking a fight with one of the country’s most important people, and in public at that, wasn’t exactly what I would call my best idea. Thinking about things more rationally, I came to realize that killing him in the presence of so many was far from practical. His presence apparently nullified my ability to cast spells, which meant the battle would have been long, drawn-out, and much closer than I would have wanted it to be. His guards had basically been guaranteed to step in before I could finish him. Wait, what if I used Sovereign Pressure and just KO’d them all like I did in the prelims? It’s a skill, so it functions differently from spells and whatnot, so it might not have gotten cancelled. Errr, wait, no, I’m stupid. Who am I kidding? All it really does is bash my mana into everyone else’s. It basically works the exact same way a spell does. Yeah, it’d probably get nullified too. God damn it!
Man, I can’t help but think that I could’ve roughed him up a bit more if I played my cards differently. Oh well, no use crying over spilt milk. It’s not like I know exactly how strong he is either since I can’t analyze him and whatnot. Yeah, fuck it. I’mma just stop thinking about it.
Cutting off my inner monologue, I turned my focus back towards the old butler-cum-swordsman sitting across from me. We were at the bar that Nell and I had visited and in the midst of a brief meeting. Though we were the only two talking, my two companions, Enne and Leila, were both also present.
“Wherever did the hero wind up?” asked the old man.
“Don’t worry, she’s safe. I ended up having to do a bit of fighting and didn’t want her caught up in it, so I had her head over to my place.” I said. “Sorry if that messes with your plans or whatever.”
“Please don’t worry about it. Her safety is much more important than whatever plans we had,” he said with a firm nod. “Does that mean you live nearby?”
“Uhhh, not really? It’s actually pretty far, but I can assure you that it’s about as safe as safe gets.”
“I presume that means you made use of a spell or item that manipulates spacetime?”
“Yeah, pretty much. Something like that.”
We were safe to discuss whatever we wished without resorting to speaking in hushed tones, and not because the bar was loud enough to ensure that we wouldn’t be overheard. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. The place was more or less empty and devoid of other customers.
“Whatever the case, you’ve done me a truly unforgettable favour. Thank you.” The butler furrowed his brows as his expression twisted into one filled with regret. “You were forced to step in because I was unable to help her when she needed it most.”
“Hey, relax. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It wasn’t really your fault. Just a case of bad timing.” My lips twisted into a bit of a wry grin.
The only way I could really describe everything that had occurred was to call it a series of unfortunate events. Apparently, the butler and I were tasked with the exact same duty. That is, both of us had entered the tournament to prove our strengths. In his case, he had to demonstrate that humans were deserved recognition, that they too could be true warriors worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with demonkind’s finest. He was going to function as their race’s face while Nell ran around behind the scenes recruiting allies. Unfortunately, splitting up their party had led to trouble on both ends. He had been stuck in a match against me whilst Nell found herself fighting for her life.
As someone that was not exactly completely involved in everything that was going on behind the scenes, I hadn’t known all that much as to exactly what Nell was involved in. That said, a certain black-clothed agent had been more than willing to tell me all that I needed to know. According to him, it had all been nothing short of a coincidence.
He had simply been preparing to dismantle the wingbearers. They were too powerful to be left to their own devices. As all their advances and offers had all resulted in failure, the fiends had judged that the wingbearers were unlikely to join them. Their prudence led them to decide that they should crush the tribe before it could become one of their enemies’ allies.
His plan was perfect. He had found a man on the inside, and through him, spread the fiends’ influence. The two of them managed to create an entire faction willing to fight for fiendish ideals. The stage was set. So they attacked. If all went according to plan, the wingbearers would have fallen overnight and been reborn as a group willing to listen to the fiends’ every whim. But their scheme was torn apart. By Nell. Her presence had been a bolt from the blue. They hadn’t accounted for her. Not her might, nor the fact that she would resist them until the moment she drew her last breath. The hero had not only singlehandedly prevented him from following through on his genocide, but also nearly destroyed his unit.
Total failure was on the horizon. The only saving grace was the fact that the assault did ultimately diminish the wingbearers’ power as a faction. Still, the operation had not been worth the cost. They lost far too many, especially given that I had effectively wiped out all that remained. Moreover, the remaining wingbearers now found themselves amongst those that antagonized the fiends. They were under the king’s umbrella now. He had promised them their safety in exchange for their cooperation. And they had gratefully complied. I mean, I didn’t really bother doing anything more than just shooting them a glance or two, but their stats seemed pretty high. I’m sure Mr. Black Hearted Demon King over there’ll be able to put them to good us—er, cooperate with them. Yeah, that.
“So what’re your plans looking like? You know, with how things have changed and whatnot,” I asked.
“I will be remaining in the demon realm and act alongside the two of our companions that you have yet to meet. Mekina and Ronia will be returning to their homelands in order to report on the status quo. I believe that they may very well have already left, as they asked me to thank you for them in the case that we met.”
Wow. There were a whole six of them? Wasn’t really expecting that.
“They did? Well uh, in that case, give ‘em my regards, I guess.”
“I will do exactly that,” said the old butler. His kind, cheerful tone vanished not too long after the words left his mouth. He replaced his smile with an expression as serious as serious could be. “Again, Yuki, I must thank you for what you have done. You have done nothing but give us unconditional assistance. Please, please let me know if there is anything that I can do for you. I am past my prime and unable to accomplish as much as I would have been able to in my youth, but I am willing to dedicate my all to repaying you for your kindness. Your wish is my command, good sir.”
“Dude, chill,” I said. “Look man, I only did what I felt like doing. It was all for me. You really don’t owe me jack.”
“Your intent changes nothing,” said the old man. “In the end, you still took my place and protected those that I was duty-bound but unable to. My debt to you is a fact, and it is one I cannot allow myself not to repay.”
I had the feeling that he wasn’t about to drop the subject regardless of what I said or did. There didn’t really seem to be any point in fighting the old mule in a battle of obstinance, so I decided to think through my options. After a brief pause, I slowly opened my mouth and voiced the best suggestion that had come to mind.
“Well, how about this, old-timer? Once you’re done with all this mission stuff, and whatnot, how about you teach me how to use a sword?”
“A sword, you say?”
“Yeah. I can’t really figure out why, but me and swords just don’t really mesh well. I’ve got plenty of dex, but I just can’t figure it out. I’m planning on heading home for now, so it’ll obviously have to wait. But since you and Nell are working together, I figure we’ll probably see each other again eventually.”
“Hmmm…” the old man pondered for a moment. “The numbers that go with one’s status values are just a rough estimate. They are not necessarily accurate. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and status values often fail to account for them. Very well, I would be glad to teach you swordplay should the chance ever arise.”
“Thanks man, appreciate it. I’ve been wanting to get better at handling her, you see, so not knowing how to use a sword’s been a bit of a pain in the ass for quite some time now.” I gave the girl in my lap a pat on the head as I spoke.
She didn’t offer much of a response, and not because of her taciturn nature. Enne was simply too busy shoveling meat into her mouth to speak. As far as I was concerned, her actions were justified. The food here is pretty damn good, after all.
“I’ve already seen the process myself, and yet, I still find it difficult to believe that she is your weapon’s incarnation. How truly bizarre…” he muttered.
After a brief pause, the sword girl caught onto the fact that she was being stared at, so she stuck her fork through a chunk of meat and pushed it towards the old butler. “You can have a piece. But only one.”
Her actions prompted him to chuckle in a way that only kind old men could. “Thank you little lady, but please don’t mind me and enjoy your meal.”
“Mind your manners, Enne. Holding up a piece of meat like that is rude,” said Leila.
The sheep girl’s scolding led Enne to bring the fork back from its extended position and pop it into her mouth. All while the butler watched over her with a gentle smile.
The last stop we made that day was the demon king’s throne room. I found myself standing in front of him with both my companions in tow.
“Yeah, so uh, my bad. I kinda got myself disqualified without telling you what I was going to do.”
“That’s okay!” he said with a smile. “There’s no need to worry. You’ve already gone above and beyond anyway. We got much more done than we were expecting to.”
While his tone sounded cheerful and boyish, I could tell that there was much more than just that to it. In fact, I almost felt as if I had caught a glimpse of the sinister, scheming nature that lay beneath his happy-go-lucky mask. I could already tell that he had done many a thing behind the scenes. And that was why I couldn’t help but force a bit of a smile.
While I had no idea as to exactly what the demon realm’s king had accomplished, I was at least cultured enough to imagine it. My suspicions seemed to lead towards one of three possibilities: crushing enemy strongholds, planting double agents in positions of power, and creating internal conflicts. Or maybe even all three. Who knows?
According to the king, all anyone needed to do to be recognized as a fiend was to declare that they were one. As such, infiltration was easy. Or at least that’s what the king’s been saying, but he seems pretty smart when it comes to plotting shit behind people’s backs, so I kinda doubt I can just take his word for it.
Whatever the case, the king’s subordinates had managed a series of achievements while the enemy was too focused on me to stop them. They were still at an undeniable disadvantage given their lack of numbers, but the king was happy nonetheless, as he had apparently sown the seeds for the future.
“Oh right, why didn’t you warn me about the old human dude I had to fight? He was tough as nails.”
“He was? I thought you won pretty easily. He didn’t even scratch you.”
Yeah, I mean, nothing I can say to that, but it’s about the sentiment! Seriously! Like, if he’s not strong, then who is? He was definitely the toughest guy there by a long shot.
“To be honest, I didn’t think he would be that strong,” said Phynar. “It seems that humans really aren’t to be underestimated after all.”
“Yeah, I really could’ve used a warning, goddammit. He caught me hella off guard.”
“I’m sorry,” said the demon king with a heartfelt laugh. “Right, are you sure you didn’t need to be seen off?”
“I can pretty much get home instantly, so yeah, I’m good. Sorry about half-assing everything, especially seeing how you paid me in full anyway.”
“I’m just paying you what I think you’re worth. You’ve already gone the extra mile, after all. All I really wanted, this time around, was for you to enter the tournament. Besides, you will be returning, won’t you?”
“Yeah, I’m not exactly satisfied with leaving things how they are right now either.”
Carrot Top wasn’t someone I could simply leave be. He was an enemy of mine, through and through, and I had every intention of stabbing him in the face. That said, I had already been away from the dungeon for a rather extended period of time. I was feeling kinda worried, so I decided to head back for a bit before settling things once and for all.
“I take it you’ll be willing to help me out again when the time comes?” asked Phynar. “I’m sure you’d be plenty interested after seeing how much I’m paying, right?”
“Oh, so that’s why I’m getting paid so much. You and your goddamn schemes.”
“I would rather you call it ingenuity.”
The two of us grinned at each other.
“Well, Yuki, girls, I hope to see you again,” said Phynar.
“Yeah, see ya,” I said. “And you too, Haloria. Thanks for showing us around and stuff.”
“Thank you very much for your hospitality. Be well, Haloria,” said Leila.
“Bye,” said Enne.
“I’m very glad to have been of service!” said Haloria. For some odd reason, she was starting to tear up. “Farewell, everyone.”
With smiles on our faces, Leila, Enne, and I departed from the demon king’s castle.