The Hero’s Return — Part 2
Editor(s): Joker, Speedphoenix
“Looks like the city’s coming up on the horizon.” I pointed at Alfyro the moment I spotted it. While the Rir Express would have allowed us to reach the city in about two hours, the Rir Not-So-Express had caused the trip to take a whole six— not that that was a bad thing. Our business wasn’t anywhere near urgent enough to warrant a mad dash for the capital, and the leisurely, uneventful journey had served as an opportunity for us to kick back and relax.
Alfyro was smack in the middle of nowhere. The Wicked Forest, an area that few wished to explore, was the only major landmark in its vicinity. And yet, it was bustling with life. There was even a queue outside its gates. So many people wished to enter it that the line never seemed to fade even with it moving at a fairly rapid pace.
After finding ourselves a nice, bushy patch of trees to keep us out of sight, we dismounted. I jumped off Rir and offered Nell a hand. This was our stop. I wasn’t planning on riding the legendary wolf all the way to the capital. There was no reason to risk blowing our cover. I wasn’t in a rush to stop some sort of sinister plot. Nor did I need to put down a douchey prince. It was the perfect chance to act as a human would and laze around and enjoy the scenery atop an old horse-drawn wagon as it bumped its way down an unpaved dirt road.
“Thanks Rir.” I ruffled my pet’s fur. “Don’t worry about waiting around for us. I’ve got no clue how long we’re going to be gone this time,” I said. “We’ve got other ways to get back home anyway.”
I was, of course, talking about the wonderful necklace-like device capable of teleporting me straight to my core. I was planning on making liberal use of it and warping us back once we were done with our business.
“Make sure you keep everyone safe while I’m out,” I said. “But don’t push yourself too hard. Make sure you bug Lefi if you ever end up finding yourself in a rough spot. She should be able to bail you out of just about anything.” After fluffing up the fur on his head one last time, I took a step back and looked at both him and the four lined up behind him. “Thanks Rir. And you guys too.”
All five monsters made a cry of acknowledgement and bowed their heads.
I knew that they would continue to serve me well, so I nodded, turned towards the city, and set out for its front gate with Nell in tow.
The line moved as smooth as silk. The soldiers responsible for screening the city’s visitors rarely stopped much in the way of anyone. And when they did, it was quick. They would look through their paperwork, ask a question or two, and allow them to enter.
At least until it was our turn.
“Good morning, and welcome to Alfyr—wait a second. I’ve seen you before.” One of the guards, an older man, stopped us before we stepped through the gates. His brow was raised in suspicious recognition; he had clearly made me.
Hmm… He does look kinda familiar.
“Wait, were you the same angry old guy I ran into last time I had to go through this gate?”
“I am. And I see you’ve yet to learn any manners,” he crossed his arms and huffed in mock indignance before breaking into a friendly smile. “It’s been a few months since I’ve seen you around. How’s life been treating you?”
“Same as usual.” I shrugged. “Man, how the hell did you instantly make me? I didn’t even realize I knew you ‘till you made it obvious that you knew me.”
“My memory’s one of my strengths. It’s why they’ve got me assigned to the gate,” he laughed, heartily.
I opened my mouth to call him on his bluff, but stopped midway and settled for laughing along instead. He wasn’t kidding, nor even bragging. He wouldn’t have been able to recognize me if he wasn’t telling the truth. Wow. I’m actually pretty impressed.
“I see you’ve got Ms. Holy Knight with you again today. Where’s the other girl? I could’ve sworn that there was a brat with silver hair with you last time, one that was every bit as rude as you were.”
Alright, I was impressed before, but now he’s got me blown outta the water. Shit dude, he’s 3 for 3. He even remembers Lefi. And she’s not even here.
“Damn, man, you really do have a good memory,” I remarked. “She didn’t come with us ‘cause she doesn’t really have any business in town today. Right, Ms. Holy Knight?” I turned to Nell in order to have her reaffirm the statement.
“Huh? Oh, uhm, yeah.” She nodded, half-panicked, before talking to herself under her breath, “I almost forgot I was supposed to be with the church. And that I was a knight… I didn’t even realize they were talking about me.”
I feel like I miiiight’ve just heard something I wasn’t supposed to. But you know what, whatever. I’mma just ignore it and move on.
“So, gonna let us through?” I turned back towards the old gatekeeper. “I’ve even actually got papers this time.” I flashed the card I obtained from the Adventurers’ Guild.
“Oh, well would you look at that, you can learn!” He chuckled. “Well, if you’ve got papers, then I guess I don’t really have much of a choice. Go on through and enjoy your stay.” He didn’t bother giving the card any more than a glance before using a hand to gesture at the gate behind him.
“Will do. See ya.”
With the guard out of our way, I had assumed that we were going to be able to go about our business without any further interruptions. I was wrong. A second dose of trouble greeted us the second we stepped into town.
I noticed an odd, clanking sound. Turning my gaze on the source of the metallic grinding once again led me to lay eyes on a soldier with a familiar face. Like the first, he was old. But one could tell at a glance he was much more seasoned. Though I didn’t remember his name, I had immediately recognized him as one of the commanders that had led the Wicked Forest’s invasion, and the only one to have lived.
For a moment, he stared at us in shock. He had frozen in place with one foot out the door; half of him was still stuck inside the gate-side guard station.
“W-what are you two doing here!?” He broke into a run and dashed right at us as he recovered. For some reason beyond my comprehension, the look on his face almost seemed frantic in nature.
“Long time no see, old dude number two,” I said with a casual wave.
“I wasn’t aware that you were so well associated with Lady Nell, Dem—sir.”
“Yeah, well I am. What’s up?”
“…I know that you likely have plans already.” He took a deep breath. “But please allow me to interrupt them and escort you to the governor’s manor. It’s of utmost importance that you see him immediately.”
“Has something happened?”
The hero’s question led the man to grimace.
“The capital’s descended into a state of chaos. It’s even worse now than it was when you set off for the demon realm,” he groaned. “And to make matters worse, even you’ve become a topic of much debate.”
“I have?” Nell blinked a few times in surprise.
“You have,” he nodded, gravely. “And not for any reason you might enjoy. I can’t explain it nearly as well as the governor. You might as well hear it from him instead. Would you mind?”
“I don’t, but do you?” She turned to me.
“Why would I?” I shrugged. “If it’s your business, then we’re probably going to have to end up addressing it eventually anyway, so might as well.”
“Thanks Yuki. Then uhm, Mister… Roston, was it? Please lead the way.”
“Right away, ma’am. And thank you very much for complying.”
And that was how I ended up visiting Alfyro’s governor a third time.
“Nell!? And the Demon Lord!? What are the two of you doing here!?” The first thing the governor did as we entered his office was react the same way as his subordinate.
The man, whose name I vaguely recalled to be Raylow, was buried in paperwork. Literally. His desk had so many sheets stacked on top of it that I could barely see him. The few glimpses I did catch informed me that he was even more tired than he was the last time I saw him. His hairline had receded far too significantly for comfort, and his eyebags were so prominent I began suspecting that he was part panda. Though he held the resources to live a life of luxury, he was clearly just as, if not even more tired than some of Japan’s most exhausted corporate slaves. Just looking at him was enough to make me cringe in a mix of discomfort and pity.
“Hey man, I uhh… know you’ve probably been a bit too busy to take care of yourself lately, so here. Take this.” I grabbed one of the usual potions from my inventory and handed it to him.
“And what would this be?” He accepted the gift, albeit with a look of suspicion.
“It’s basically just a vitamin supplement. It’ll probably make you feel a good bit better, so make sure you down it if you ever feel the urge to collapse.”
I suspected that the potion was going to end up being a little bit more effective than he was expecting it to be. I could already see him literally bursting with vigour the moment it flooded his system with its highly potent mana. But if anything, that’s a good thing. He kinda needs it.
“Thank you.” He said, tiredly. “I suppose the many sleepless nights I’ve enjoyed over the course of the last month have finally caught up with me.” A self-mocking smile appeared on his face. “I never would have expected to appear so exhausted that even you would be willing to take steps to better my health, Demon Lord.” His smile faded as quickly as it’d come and found itself replaced by a frown. “Now, I understand why Miss Hero over there happens to be present, but why have you come? Is it more business?”
“Nah. I’m just here because she is.”
“I don’t quite seem to follow.”
“Oh. Right, I forgot to explain. We’re getting hitched.”
“Excuse me?” He raised a brow as he leant forward as if to better hear my voice. “The two of you… are doing what…?”
“Getting hitched, married, whatever you want to call it,” I said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I’m sure you can already see the problem, with her being a hero and whatnot.” I shrugged. “Anyway, she was planning to see her superiors and shit in order to figure some stuff out, so I figured that I might as well tag along so I can claim her and then get any of the trouble that comes out of it sorted out.”
Raylow covered his face with one of his hands. He used his thumb to massage one temple, and his middle finger to do the same to the other.
“A demon lord is wedding a hero? I… don’t understand. Are you serious?” Upon lowering his hand, he turned to Nell for confirmation.
“M-mhm…” Her cheeks flushed as she bashfully nodded.
The action was both incredibly cute and entirely natural. Oh Nell, you cunning little vixen, you. Stop trying to win my heart over. I mean, I’m not going to say I won’t forgive you. You’re far too cute for me to really want to hold a grudge. But still. Knock it off, you sly fox, you.
“…” After taking a moment to process her response, Raylow sighed. “I have a whole plethora to say with regards to the sheer absurdity of this situation, but I’m going to be refraining from commenting for the sake of my own sanity.” Again, Raylow sighed. “I heard nothing and your relationship is absolutely not any of my business. Do as you wish.”
“That was the plan,” I said with a smirk.
“Though, I suppose that this means the topic I wanted to discuss with her very well may now involve you as well.” Raylow didn’t even bother verbally acknowledging the snarky comment. He simply ignored it and moved on. “Why don’t we get down to business?”
“Were you planning to speak to me about everything that happened while I was away?” asked Nell, timidly.
“I was.” After taking a moment to breathe, the old governor began to describe the current state of the Allysian Kingdom.