A Talk for Two
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
As we were within the dungeon’s confines, tracking down the runaway hero was a simple task. All I had to do was pop open my map and follow the friendly marker. As I reached her, I realized that she had yet to recover from Lefi’s sudden outburst. She was looking out a window with her hands covering her still red face.
“H-hey.” I stumbled over my words as I called out to her.
“H-hey.” Likewise, she replied with a stutter. Her face flushed an even deeper shade of red as she pulled her eyes away from the grassy plains that lay beyond the windowsill.
An awkward moment of silence followed our greetings. We were both too nervous and flustered to start the conversation. After a few moments of hesitation, I remembered that I had just the thing to break the ice.
“Oh right, I just remembered I have something for you.” I reached into my inventory and produced a large chunk of metal. “You probably shouldn’t be dropping this.”
“Is that Durandal!?” She gasped. “Thank you so much!”
The sword had a rather interesting set of stats. Analyzing it led to the following result.
Self Repair VIII
Defender of Order
The Unbreakable Blade
Greater Magical Prowess Boost
Greater Physical Attack Boost
Greater Boost to the Efficacy of Healing Effects
A blade meant only to be used by a hero that stands by order and its defence. Durandal will never break under any circumstances and forever continue to protect those that require its aid. This weapon provides a fifty percent boost to all stats if wielded by a hero.
I handed her the holy sword and the Yuki-brand leather sheath I had crafted for it. Though the scabbard was, technically speaking, made to order, it was by no means anything fancy. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was just another bland looking case made of the simplest of leathers. I had only made it because it didn’t really quite feel right to leave the blade hanging around naked.
My overall impression of the weapon was that it was needlessly durable. Its stats were higher than Enne’s in spite of the extent she had grown in the past month. But that doesn’t mean jack. Her effects are better, so she’s totally way better. Hah! Take that, you shitty holy sword! Your special effects suck! Plus, Enne’s still growing. Unlike basically every other weapon out there, she’s actually going to keep getting stronger. She’s got way more potential than a dinky little sacred blade or two.
Another detail I had noticed was that not even the hero’s sword had a species. Enne was literally the only weapon I had ever seen with the label. Hah, you hear that, Durandal? Enne’s special! You ain’t got shit on her, bitch!
Nell’s breathed a sigh of relief and finally did away with the vast majority of her embarrassment as she retrieved her weapon.
“Thank goodness. I was really worried it was going to fall into enemy hands,” she said. “Was it hard to find?”
“Nah, not really. It caught my eye right away because of the way it shimmered under the sunlight. How’d you lose it anyway?”
“I lost it when they captured me,” she said. “But I was lucky. The person holding me wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, so I managed to trick him and shake him off. One of his allies kicked it away before I could start swinging it around again.”
“I’m surprised you managed to escape without your weapon.”
“I had a spare.” A shy smile appeared on her face as she drew the dagger mounted behind her waist.
It was the offhand I had given her back when I had paid the capital a visit in hopes of offing myself a prince. Huh… Looks like giving it to her turned out to be the right choice after all.
“Thank you, Yuki. You’re the only reason I was able to keep fighting. You saved me twice that day.”
“I mean, once, sure. But twice? Nah. I didn’t do jack the first time. You might’ve used a weapon I gave you, but in the end, you saved yourself.”
“That’s not true at all.” She replied to my shrug with a shake of her head. “You’re the only reason I’m still breathing. I should have died back there.”
The only response I offered was a silent frown, so she kept talking. Her voice took on a more solemn tone as she gave voice to her thoughts.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. I wasn’t trying to get myself killed. It’s just that there were too many of them. I was already at my limit, and there was no way I was going to be able to deal with all of them,” she said. “To be honest, I was scared. Really scared. I was so terrified I wanted to cry. I wanted to turn around, run away, and just forget about everything. But I couldn’t. I know I’m not strong enough to be worthy of the title, but I’m a hero, Yuki. I can’t just run. It’s only right for me to keep pushing myself to the very end. That was why I thought it was right for me to die. But I didn’t.”
She turned her gaze up towards me, her lips curved into a small but meaningful smile.
“You saved me right as I was about to give up. Right as I was about to die,” she laughed awkwardly, “I couldn’t help but think that you were like a knight in shining armour. Like you were my Prince Charming, there to save the day just in the nick of time.”
“Seriously…? Me? Prince Charming? A knight in shining armour? That’s gotta be a joke. I’m pretty sure that’s the least accurate way you could possibly describe me.”
Nell seemed to have expected me to react the exact way I had, as she momentarily gave me a knowing, affectionate gaze. But rather than giving voice to the emotions she had buried within her chest, she chose to brush them off by heaving an exaggerated sigh, putting her hands on her hips, and scolding me as a mother would a child.
“I know, right? You’re vulgar, you have no sense of delicacy, you’re kind of dumb, you’re selfish, you have weird interests, and you have no sense of delicacy! The image I had of the perfect man has been completely corrupted, and it’s all your fault! I’m not even sure what a real Prince Charming is supposed be anymore!”
Wait. She totally mentioned the whole delicacy part twice. Well then. I didn’t know it was bothering her thaaaaat much.
“Geez, Yuki, you really need to learn to be more dignified! You can’t go around acting like an idiot if you’re going to call yourself a demon lord!”
“S-sure thing, coach. Won’t let it happen again.” The sudden harsh tone she took led me to wince and back down. Wow. I’m pathetic. This is probably a new low, even for me.
“Good.” The playful giggle she voiced was followed by a pause. A short pause, but a pause nonetheless. The look on her face made it clear that she wanted to say something, but she brushed it off instead of revealing it. “That’s all I wanted to say. Don’t worry about what everyone else said. That’s all, I promise!”
“Nell, I…” My voice trailed off as I struggled to find the right words.
“It’s okay! I’m okay. I mean, it’s true that I like you, but that’s only natural. You saved my life. I couldn’t help but start to see you in a better light. But it’s not like what Lefi said. She misunderstood.”
Though she had put up a facade, I saw right through her. Nell was hiding her true thoughts and desires. All because she didn’t want to make me feel bad about having to turn her down. Because she didn’t want me to realize that I was making her suffer. She tried her very best to keep smiling even though she was on the edge of breaking down into tears.
“You don’t need to worry about what Lefi and Illuna were going on about. All I want is for everything to go back to normal and you to act the same way as usual.”
Rather than trying to convince me, it sounded more like she was trying to convince herself.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” I crash-landed a hand on top of her head and ruffled her hair.
“Alright, alright, enough of that already. At this point, you’re pretty much just rambling, so cut it out. I’m not about to let a kid worry her heart out about making me feel bad. I am a functional adult, after all.”
“A kid!? What’s that supposed to mean!? You’re way more of a kid than I am!”
She whacked my hand away as she puffed up her cheeks and glared at me.
“Yeah, I guess you could argue that I’m pretty childish,” I cackled. “But that’s just how we demon lords are. We do whatever the hell we want. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Ughhhh, not this again! I can’t believe you! I was trying to have a serious conversation! Why did you have to go and pick a fight!?” she complained. “And stop trying using your title to worm your way out of everything! I know you’re attached to it, but it isn’t an excuse for anything!”
Oh, looks like I wasn’t the only one aware of that after all. Whaddya know?
“You say that, but it’s totally true. Demon Lords don’t give two fucks about anything or anyone. Being one means that I’ve got the right to do things my way, consequences be damned. Besides, I could throw those same words right back at you. Hell, they’re even more applicable to you than they are to me. Stop trying to use your title as an excuse to get yourself killed!”
“…Well, I’m not dead yet, am I?”
I responded to her angry grumble with a shake of the head.
“Look, being able to stand up to your enemies, and being able to fight to the very end certainly is something admirable. Most people back out in the face of death. And I get it, you got through it and lived. But what if you didn’t? What if you lost? It would’ve meant you died for your friends or whatever, sure, but that doesn’t mean jack shit. Look at the people around you right now and take a page outta their books. You see how free they are? How basically everyone does whatever the hell they want? Be more like them. Because that’s the secret to enjoying life.”
“They certainly do seem to be doing just that,” giggled the hero.
Lefi was a prime example of someone that listened only to their whims, but she wasn’t the only one. Everyone that lived within the dungeon’s confines was living life the way they wanted. The school of thought had even rubbed off onto the children, who relished in the pure, unadulterated chaos that resulted from our day to day activities.
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re way too uptight. You’re not letting yourself grow into your role. You’re not letting yourself slowly become a hero. It seems a lot more like you’re just desperately forcing yourself to act the part. Because your role as a hero shouldn’t take away from your life as an individual. You don’t have to be a copy-paste of whatever the stereotype is. You don’t have to let some silly old title dictate your every action. It shouldn’t stop you from being true to yourself.”
“…” Silence followed. Her lips trembled and her eyes started to tear up, but she didn’t—couldn’t—say a word.
“Now stop being so stubborn and tell me the truth. What do you really want?”
Again, her lips trembled as she struggled to pick between her duty and herself. But not for long. I knew I had already pushed hard enough. The walls she had put up around her heart had already toppled over.
“I… I just…” Slowly but surely, she began to speak. “I just want to be with you…”
“Yeah, well nothing’s stopping you, so consider that wish granted,” I said. “Everyone around here seems to like you, myself included. You’re welcome to hang around as long as you want.”
The statement wasn’t exactly the truth, but it was close enough. The only individual still wary of Nell was Lyuu. Well, on the bright side, little Miss Useless happens to be a bit of a simpleton, so I’m sure she’ll warm up to her sooner or later. Plus, nothing wrong with a little white lie or two.
“So uh, about what Lefi was going on about.” I awkwardly scratched the back of my head as I spoke. “That came as far outta left field for me as it did for you. So uhhh, yeah, sorry.”
“I should be the one saying sorry.” Nell sadly lowered her gaze. “I’m sure it must be a bother…”
“N-not at all. I’m happy you feel that way. Real happy. I’m a simple man with needs, after all.”
“Really. You know, when I saw you all messed up and barely breathing, I ended up getting so mad I felt like a bull that’d seen red. And that was when I realized that I actually like you a lot more than I thought I did. You mean as much to me as the people I live with.”
I paused for a moment to glance at the ring on my left hand.
“But I’m married already, and I’m not planning on having any other wives. One’s enough to keep my hands full already. That said, Lefi was all like ‘Show me that you are capable of handling a woman who has fallen madly in love with you in a manner worthy of praise. Show me that you are a man,’ and whatnot. So I guess I gotta man up and deal with it one way or another.”
“That certainly does seem like something Lefi would say.”
The way she giggled caused a blush to creep up on my face, but I swallowed my embarrassment and kept talking.
“So yeah, long story short, feel free to live here.”
“Here? In this castle?”
“Yep. I’ve already told your buddies that you suffered a couple pretty terrible injuries, and that I’ll be taking care of you while you recuperate. Feel free to think of this as a well-deserved vacation, you know, a bit of sick leave to make up for all the hard work you’ve been putting in lately. That one city, er, Alfyro or whatever, is basically just a step away. If you really feel the need to tell everyone you’re okay, we can just head over and have you send them a letter or two.”
“But nothing. You’ve already done way more than enough, at least for now. No one’s going to get mad at you just ‘cause you realized you needed a bit of a break. Besides, I’d uhm… love to have you over. It sounds like it’d be fun.” I felt like I was going to start blushing, so I averted my gaze as I awkwardly elaborated.
I was being about as far from smooth as I could, and I knew it. The only thing in recent memory the current situation resembled was the moment I proposed to Lefi. And although that was a much more embarrassing ordeal, I had been able to tough through it pretty easily. But that had only been because I was on the verge of death. The adrenaline pumping through my veins had blown all of my usual inhibitions out of the water.
“So yeah, let’s just not think about all the stuff Lefi was going on about for now. Because like you said, it totally came outta the blue. I’d prefer to get to know you first before even considering it. That’s kinda why I’m saying you’re free to stick around.”
I didn’t need a mirror to know that the look on my face was about as pathetic as looks could possibly get. Nell, however, seemed to find it rather endearing; she smiled as she watched me struggle with my sense of shame.
“So does this mean we’re going to be starting as friends instead of jumping straight into a relationship?”
“Y-yeah, pretty much. I know that it’s kind of a bad deal for you.” I winced in a self-deprecating manner. “But, as pathetic and indecisive as that makes me sound, it’s pretty much the only compromise I’m willing to make.”
“It’s okay. I don’t think it makes you look even the slightest bit pathetic or indecisive.”
“Y-you think so?”
“Mhm. I understand”—she said as she began smiling ear to ear—“I know you’re doing your best not to hurt either of us, and that you’ve put a lot of thought into it before you made up your mind. That’s why I’m going to take you up on that offer, Yuki. I’ll live here in this castle and stay right by your side.”
“Glad to have you,” I smiled back at her before adopting an elegant neutral expression like the kind one would see on a butler. “I welcome you, Hero, to the Demon Lord’s Castle. My staff and I will ensure that you are provided only the finest accommodations.”
“This certainly does seem like a good escape from work. I am terribly exhausted, after all,” she said, playing along.
“Exhausted? How terrible,” I said. “Worry not, Hero. I know that our many fine luxuries will provide you an escape from the chore that is your everyday life. As this castle’s lord, I will do my utmost to ensure that we satisfy your every need.”
Mwahahahaha! GG Hero, you’re done for! My castle has everything, a hot spring, a nice Japanese inn, great scenery, and even cute girls. It’s literally anything a man could ever ask for! You hear that, people? This demon lord’s castle is now open to the public. We promise the best service you could ever get. Call now and book your room today!
“My every need? Then I hope you don’t mind if I go right ahead and get comfy.”
She wrapped her arms around my waist and leaned into my chest. I panicked as I was suddenly subjected to the warmth of her body and the softness of her touch.
“Errrr, what. I. What. W-what are you doing!?”
“You’re so warm…” She ignored all my floundering and nuzzled even closer.
She was a tiny, dainty little thing. One whose frame was far too small to support the heavy burden that lay upon her shoulders. Knowing her endeavour was what prompted me to remain silent as I gently plopped a hand on her head and ran my fingers through her hair.