The Stampede — Part 4
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“And that’s game,” I said to the ogre beneath me. “I win.” He lay with his back against the ground and my feet against his chest. I lowered my hips and spread my legs in a classic slav squat as I pressed Enne against his neck.
After a moment of observation, the ogre let go of his club. It was over; he’d accepted the fact that he’d lost. Though I very well could have, I refrained from finishing him. I instead hoisted Enne back over my shoulder, stood up, and got off the oversized monster lord.
“Alright big guy, you’ve got two choices. One, you take your men and get the hell outta here.” I jerked my jaw in the direction they’d come from. “Two, I kill every last one of you. I’m fine with either or, so the choice is yours.”
Though I’d claimed impartiality, I was about as far from neutral as could be. The truth of the matter was that I’d only left him alive because I wanted him to avoid option number two. I highly doubted that it would be possible for me, or anyone, to take control of the ogre king’s unruly mob if he was slain. The moment he died would be the moment they scattered. And I was not thrilled by the idea of going through the pain that was chasing down stragglers. That was why I very much preferred the first of the two options. Having the king retreat with all his men in tow would be as ideal as ideal got.
Fortunately, he was willing to comply. The wild warrior-like expression on his face was replaced by the calm gaze I’d seen him wear earlier as he pushed himself off the ground with his monstrously bulky arms and stood up. He looked at me, the forest, and then me again before nodding in understanding. Wow. He’s pretty damn smart for some random monster. Are all ogres like this? Or is he just like a genius or something?
Observing his compatriots informed me that the first of the two options was much more likely to be correct. Unlike the orcs and goblins, who seemed to be senselessly screeching for blood, the ogres remained calm with their arms crossed. None seemed to bear even the slightest trace of agitation, rage, or blind bloodlust. I could tell that they were willing to honour the duel I’d fought against their boss and accept its outcome. So that probably means they’ve got some kind of warrior-like culture going on. I had no idea monsters were actually so… diverse. I’ve always just been kind of lumping them together. Huh.
The ogre looked towards the city’s walls and shouted an order. At first, his men seemed reluctant to back down. The orcs and ogres, still thirsty of blood, filed complaints in the form of high pitched screeches and low groans. But they were silenced immediately. A second, less patient roar from the king drove them to wistfully turn around and initiate a retreat.
After seeing that he had fulfilled his end of the deal, the monster gave me one last look, a meaningful smile, as he turned around and marched away.
“Oh, yeah, just saying, I wouldn’t worry too much about negative repercussions or anything,” I said. “I’ll handle all the shit that hits the fan on our end.”
Rather than turning around and offering a response, the ogre did nothing but silently walk on with his horde in tow.
After confirming that the wave had truly receded, I headed back to the city, and in doing so, immediately caught sight of Nell. It was hard, if not impossible to miss her, or at least the group that surrounded her as soon as she had taken down her barrier. Each and every man was cheering wildly, repeating the word “hero” over and over with enough enthusiasm to be mistaken for zealotry. The girl in question was forcing a sheepish smile. She didn’t seem to know what she was supposed to do about all the attention the soldiers were showering her with. Heh. All according to plan. I knew playing secret agent would work.
“There you are!” She called out to me the moment she saw me.
“Hey,” I waved back as I waded through the crowd. “Looks like someone’s clearly making the morning news tomorrow.”
“Did you know that this was going to happen?” she asked.
“More or less,” I said with a shrug. “I wasn’t sure if everything would really turn out the way I hoped it would, but I figured there’d be a pretty good chance that they’d start to treat you like a hero if you do hero things.”
“Oh, so this is all your fault…”
She pouted at me just long enough for me to be sure it was intentional before allowing her displeasure to melt into a bit of a half-miffed half-happy smile.
“Who might this be, milady?” One of the soldiers, specifically one whose armour was just a tiny bit fancier than everyone else’s, stepped forward. Guess he’s probably the CO around here or something.
“Oh, he’s uhm…”
“Think of me as one of her subordinates.” Nell began stumbling over her words, so I took over.
“Yeah. That.” Apparently, she didn’t like my answer, as she ended up giving me a clear look of dissatisfaction.
“And I’m also her fiance, just in case any of you were wondering,” I said. “We’re in the middle of heading over to the capital to take care of a bit of business.”
“W-what!?” The commander did a classic double-take, his voice tinged with disappointment. “T-the two of you are engaged!?”
“Mhm.” Nell nodded as she flashed a bashful smile.
Looks like she’s happy now. What a cutie pie.
I crouched, grabbed her by the legs, hoisted her onto my shoulders, and lifted her into the air as I stood back up. The newfound, embarrassing position led her to eep in surprise.
“Take a good, long look, men!” I used my diaphragm to project my voice so I could be heard over the crowd. “This is our saviour! Our hero!”
“Oh my gosh! Yuki!! Let me down!!” She squealed in a voice too quiet for anyone but me to hear. “This is so embarrassing!”
“Woooooooo! Long live the hero!” shouted a soldier.
“Long live our saviour!” echoed another.
“She’s so strong and beautiful she might as well be a goddess!” added a third.
A wide smirk appeared under my mask as the men cheered.
“And she’s all mine!” I said with a cackle. “Get cucked, y’thirsty cocksuckers! I bet you’re all jealous as fuck!”
“S-she’s already taken!? This can’t be!”
“Noooooooo!! I was just about to ask her out!”
The men, who had been roaring with excitement, twisted their cheers into jeers immediately. Many shouted abusive curses colourful enough to rival my own while others grumbled and resigned themselves to a hero-less life. Some of the most jealous individuals had even started kicking at my feet with a surprising amount of force. I was almost convinced they were trying to break my legs—not that they could. Humans were far frailer than demon lords, after all. I got revenge by cackling even more loudly, and pissing them off all the more in doing so. Almost everyone was making some sort of noise. The only one who wasn’t was Nell, who had spent the entire time doing her absolute best to keep her cherry-coloured face covered with her hands.
As much as I wanted to relish in the lively atmosphere, it wasn’t meant to last. A loud shout cut through the crowd and poured a bucket of ice water all over our post-victory celebrations.
“What a farce! You think the hero is our saviour!? That’s bullshit!”
Turning my head in the voice’s direction, I saw a man dressed in a set of merchant-like attire. And I wasn’t the only one. Many of the knights joined me in shooting him an irritated glare.
So the serpent finally rears its ugly head. Great. Just great.
“I bet she’s the only reason the monsters even showed up to begin with! It’s clearly because they wanted that stupid bitch you call a hero dead!”
“You think that the stampede was the hero’s fault? What nonsense!” shouted the commander. “Did you not see how hard she fought to drive it away!?”
Many others voiced their agreement, but their angry grumbles did nothing to dissuade the “merchant.”
“So you’re telling me that you think a massive horde like that just so happened to coincidentally come out of nowhere the day she arrives in town!?” He pointed a finger at her. “There’s no way that’s possible! None of the usual signs of a stampede like that were even close to being present! They clearly only came here because she did! She’s the one responsible for putting us in danger!”
“I would never do an—”
“Shut up, wench!” Nell tried to defend herself but was cut off before she could even finish her first sentence. “You’re nothing but a liar, a hypocrite, and a false idol! You’re no saviour! You’re just a walking threat to humanity! You don’t deserve to be called a hero!”
The sensation of Nell trembling under the weight of his words ran through my shoulders. He was getting to her.
So this is what you were up to. No wonder you were just hanging around until the battle was over. I gazed at my surroundings and confirmed that, while most of the soldiers remained unswayed by his argument, some had started to cast suspicious gazes in Nell’s direction. You know what, Fine? You wanna do this? We can fucking do this. I’ll play by your rules. But know this, asshole. You’ve fucked with the wrong demon lord. If you think you can match me in rhetoric, you better think again. I win arguments against the goddamn Supreme Dragon every fucking day. So bring it on, I’ll talk you into a hole.
And once I’m done, I’ll even do you the favour of burying you in it. Because whatever you say, one thing’s not going to change. I’m going to fucking murder you.