The Hero’s Return — Part 1
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
I was situated on the throne with my feet kicked up and my arms behind my head. I had just returned from hunting. The raid I’d conducted with Lefi had addressed my immediate financial concerns, but I still didn’t have quite enough DP for me to feel at ease, so I’d turned the blood sport into one of my day to day chores. And now that I was done, I could finally kick back.
My mind began to drift off as I relaxed, as it often did once I got home. I was looking forward to dinner. I knew that the girls would live up to my expectations and deliver something far beyond just edible.
The moment I started fantasizing about all the good eats I was sure soon to enjoy was the moment I felt someone lightly tap me on the shoulder.
“Hey, Yuki?” It was the hero.
“Whaddya want?” I grunted as I sat back up.
“I want to go back to the kingdom for a bit,” she said. “I know we already went once to send that letter, but I still think I should probably head back to the capital and speak to everyone in person.”
“Huh…” I took a moment to consider the amount of time she’d spent amongst the dungeon’s residents. “Oh wow, I almost didn’t realize you’ve already been here for over a month.”
And here I was thinking that I’d only just tempted this young, impressionable hero over to the dark side.
There was a fairly strong argument to be made for the point Nell had brought up. The two of us had indeed visited the city with the old, rapidly balding governor in order to send a letter and tell everyone that Nell was still alive and kicking. But that, in and of itself, wasn’t anywhere near good enough to confirm that she was really doing as well as she said she was.
I saw no issue with letting her visit. But that didn’t mean I was going to let her go. She was mine now. I had no intention of handing her over to the kingdom even if they insisted that she stay. I knew that some of its brass probably would. Because heroes were more than just the gamified protagonists I thought of them as. They were weapons. And they were handled appropriately. Most treated them more like nukes than people.
On Earth, the term “one man army” was an exaggeration, an impossible fabrication invented only to glorify the skilled and lucky. But here, it was a reality. Nell was quite literally capable of turning the tides of war simply by charging in headfirst. She was more valuable than even the most renowned officers; I suspected that they were probably going to put together a squad to look for her soon if they hadn’t already. And it’s probably time for me to clear a few things up as well. I can’t just play the part of the indecisive protagonist forever now, can I?
“Yeah, I guess it’s about time,” I said. “In that case, what do you say we head out tomorrow?”
“Oh, uhm… Sorry if I made it seem like I was trying to get you to come with me. You don’t really have to if you don’t want to,” she said.
“Don’t sweat it,” I said with a shrug. “I was planning on tagging along anyway. I figure I probably need to be there anyway in order to tie up a few loose ends. I was kind of planning on keeping you, but I know it’s more complicated than just straight up saying you’re mine now or whatever since you’re a hero and whatnot, so I was going to go talk to some of the people you normally associate and sort out their concerns.”
“D-does that mean we’re going on a trip together?” She stammered in a happy but embarrassed tone.
“Yes, Captain Obvious. It does,” I said with a grin.
“I can’t wait.” She smiled at me, but twisted her lips into a frown as she seemed to recall something. “But let’s not take the Rir Express this time. ”
“What? Why not? I like taking the Rir Express,” I grumbled.
“Because we’re not in a rush. And I don’t,” she stated.
Aw, man… And here I was looking forward to riding like the wind.
And so, the next day went exactly as planned. We bid the dungeon’s other residents our farewells, hopped on Rir, and went for a slow, leisurely ride through the forest, one on which we found ourselves accompanied by the fearsome foursome. Rir was having them help make our trip more relaxing. He barked the occasional order at them and had them exterminate anything brave enough to approach our convoy.
The snake, the crow, the cat, and the spirit had all grown considerably. They’d leveled all the way from 1 to 83, 72, 79, and 71 respectively. Generally speaking, they were all growing at the same rate, and their stats generally fell in the same range, with each individual having different strengths and weaknesses based on the particulars of their kit. As the party’s primary damage dealer, Orochi was always in the thick of the fight. And as such, his level had naturally ended up a bit higher than everyone else’s.
I had high hopes for all four of my newest summons. It looked like they were going to keep hunting, growing, and making my life easier as they matured. Best retirement plan ever.
“Rir sure is soft and fluffy.” The girl situated in front of me offered the wolf a few pats on the head as she hummed.
“Of course he is,” I replied. “He’s the fluffiest thing that this world has to offer.”
“If you say so.” Nell giggled as she turned away from me and looked in the direction in which our destination supposedly lay.
As I watched her, I had a sudden thought. Nell’s duty had turned her into a tomboy, but she was undoubtedly still the closest thing the dungeon had to an individual who embodied the concept of a maiden. As someone who had undergone a strict, religious education, all of Nell’s actions seemed to carry a hint of grace to them. She had started to slip a bit as of late as a result of our influence, but at the core, she remained relatively elegant regardless. Moreover, she was one of the most bashful individuals around, and definitely had the girliest interests of all of my family’s members.
“Oh yeah, I know this is a bit of a random side note, but there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.” Thinking about the way she carried herself prompted me to ask her a question. “I know they taught you how to fight and shit, but did they teach you manners and stuff too? Or was that not a part of the standard hero curriculum?”
“It was,” she laughed, dryly. “I know I don’t make heroes seem all that important, but we are. We have to meet with kings and other high ranking nobles all the time, so one of the first things we’re taught is how we’re supposed to behave in high society.”
“Ew. Honestly, all that sounds like to me is a huge pain in the ass.”
“That’s exactly what it was.” Her eyes glazed as they directed themselves towards the past. “Thinking back, that was probably the toughest part of my training. Much tougher than learning how to use a sword. Do you know how many different ways there are to bow? And all the different situations they’re used in?” Her words were heavy, laden with layers upon layers of suffering and despair. “Because I do. I memorized each and every single one. I memorized how I was supposed to bow, how I was supposed to walk, and how I was supposed to eat. I memorized all of it. All of it…”
“I wonder how all my friends are doing…” After a brief moment of silence, the short-haired brunette snapped out of her trance and quickly changed the topic. “Or if the letters we sent ever ended up reaching their destinations.”
“Probably. It’s been a good while since we sent them.” I chuckled nervously as I entertained the thought.
Like the hero, I too had written a letter, specifically one addressed to the Allysian princess. It had been bundled alongside the letter that Nell had used to tell her superiors that she was still safe, so I had few doubts as to whether it had reached its destination. The letter’s contents had been fairly bland and generic. When writing to me, the princess had mentioned that she wished to see me even if it meant running away from home, so I’d tried my best to pacify any potentially problematic behaviour by telling her to think more of her father’s feelings on the matter. Yeah, Iunno about you, but I’m worried for her. Hopefully she doesn’t get too crazy. And hopefully visiting the capital will be enough to keep her sated and pacified for the time being. Hopefully.
“Oh, come on Yuki.” The less than thrilled tone I spoke with led Nell to frown at me. “It’s your fault the princess is so attached to you,” she said in a scolding tone. “You really need to stop saving every girl you come across if you want them to stop falling for you.”
“It’s not my fault it keeps happening,” I groaned.
“Yes it is. Why else do you think Lefi keeps saying that you’re just going around seducing every girl you come across?”
“Yeah, like I said. Not my fault.”
“Mhmm…” She smiled teasingly. Nell wasn’t all that used to smug grins, so the expression she wore looked much more like a genuine smile than it did anything else.
“What was that supposed to mean?”
“It was supposed to mean that it’s totally your fault that every single girl you save ends up falling in love with you.”
Only after speaking did she finally stop to think about her words. There was an awkward moment of silence. Her face slowly reddened as she lowered her gaze in order to hide her embarrassment.
“You know, Nell, if there’s one thing you’re really good at, it’s blurting out random embarrassing comments.” It wasn’t the first, nor even the second time the hero had voiced such a line before considering its implications.
“…I didn’t realize it was going to be that embarrassing until I said it,” she mumbled. “And now I’m starting to blush. This is all your fault. I never would have said anything like that if you weren’t rubbing off on me so much.”
“What do you mean, my fault? Since when have I ever said anything that embarrassing?”
“You do it all the time! I can’t even count the number of times you’ve made me turn red as a tomato anymore,” she said. “But uhm… that’s one of the things that I really love about you.”
“…I see. Uhh… Thanks, I guess…”
Well… This is awkward.