The Hero’s Supposed Successor — Part 1
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
With his prompt as my cue, I divulged everything I’d learned to the king by recounting my experiences with Argus’ secret agent.
“I was told that Sengillia had been attacked and that Nell was responsible for repelling the incoming force, but I was not made aware that such a scheme had taken place behind the scenes,” said the king, after digesting the information.
“Yeah, shit was messy,” I said. “You got any ideas as to who the asshole backing that Argus douche might be?”
Allysia’s monarch sank into thought and spent a good few moments contemplating the possibilities. But in the end, he shook his head from side to side.
“Unfortunately, the mastermind’s identity is not something I am able to determine with the information we possess on hand,” he said. “Argus is a cunning man. He is quick to switch between factions and often shifts his stance the moment the winds turn sour. He has never truly worked under any specific individual for long enough for me to deduce his true loyalties.” With a sigh, he turned towards the governor. “Might you have any ideas, Sir Raylow?”
“Unfortunately not, my liege. I gave the matter quite some thought, but ultimately reached the same conclusion,” he said with a weary, apologetic sigh.
“So which faction is the slimy bastard in right now?” I asked.
“He appears affiliated with several,” replied the king. “The one he has the closest ties to, at this precise point in time, is led by one Duchess Emeralda Flowlight, a distant relative of mine.”
“And you don’t think that this Emeralda chick is behind this whole thing?”
“I do not,” he replied firmly. “For the duchess is well… a woman.”
I was confused, at first. But then his words sank in. I immediately came to realize that powerful women, like Nell and her boss, were exceptions. Like many of Earth’s older monarchies, Allysia’s was one in which politics remained male-centric. Women were oppressed, regardless of position, and did not truly make it onto the political stage. They remained observers, save for when they expressed their opinions to their male counterparts. The rule applied even to high ranking nobles, like the duchess in question. And it was for that reason she was excluded from suspicion.
“Any scheme that seeks to harm Lady Nell is one devised by a traitor amongst our ranks, one willing to sacrifice Allysia’s well being for his own gain.” The governor turned to the king and began to speak as I remained lost in thought. “As such, your majesty, I would like to assist both our hero and her fiancé in this endeavour. My men have already begun working to track down the mastermind.”
“…Thank you, Sir Raylow. I know I can always count on you to stand by my side when it counts.”
“I would have it no other way, my liege. We understand that you are desperately fighting to make this country a better place for us all. Working to resolve an issue in your court, especially at a time like this, is merely my duty. As one of the citizens that has benefited so much from your benevolence, and a human being, it is something I must do,” said Alfyro’s lord. “Of course, not all of our co-conspirators, in this case, may feel that exact way. Some of us present may not exactly be human, after all.” He threw me a grin before breaking into a laugh.
Hey man, I know I’m not human, but I’m at least humanoid. No need to call me out like that. I totally fit in!
“It is as you say. Likewise, it is only natural for us to also cooperate with Nell, who stands at this conflict’s front line,” said the king. “I will also be doing a bit of prodding, but not extensively. I will entrust all in-depth investigation to you, Sir Raylow.”
“By your will.”
“Thanks guys,” I said. “This helps. Lots. But just FYI, I’m going to be doing things my own way. I won’t hurt anyone that isn’t involved but can’t really say the same for the people that are. Hope that doesn’t cause you too much trouble.”
“Please, by all means, do whatever you’d like,” said the king. “But I must say, I do feel sorry for Argus. The poor baron has most certainly incurred the wrong man’s wrath.” He chuckled as he condemned the slimeball I was after to an early death.
“Wait, so you’re not going to try and stop me?” I raised a brow. “Huh. Wasn’t expecting that.”
“I don’t see any point in trying. The only person even remotely capable of such a feat would be the fine lady you’ve decided to wed.”
Wouldja look at that! He totally gets it! I didn’t even have to explain!
“Don’t you worry, Your Majesty! I’ll make sure to keep a good grip on Yuki’s reins so he doesn’t end up spiraling out of control!”
“Very well. If you are confident you will be able to see it through, then that duty will be yours,” said the king.
“What do you mean, reins? Am I supposed to be a horse or something?”
“Mhm! That’s exactly what I was trying to say. You’re a wild stallion filled to the brim with lust. You go crazy whenever there are women around, and even crazier if they’re underaged!”
I raised my arms and half opened my mouth, as if to say “What the fuck!?” without actually vocalizing the words. Nell evidently found this action amusing, as seeing it prompted her to begin giggling uncontrollably.
After we finished discussing the Nell situation and our plans for the immediate future, we went on to talk a bit about politics, economics, and other issues plaguing the country in broader terms. None of it seemed particularly relevant to Nell or I, so we ended up stepping out and leaving the two older men to their business.
“Alright, so it looks like we’ve secured ourselves a place to stay while we’re in town, but I still think there are a few things on the agenda,” I said. “Did you still feel like stopping by the church today?”
The place that we were going to be staying referred to the castle. The king had been nice enough to lend us a guest room for the duration of our visit.
“I know it’s starting to get a bit late, but I really should. Staying away for a whole month is sure to have caused them plenty of trouble. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.”
“When did I ever say anything about not wanting to tag along? If you’re going, then I am too.”
“…Then let’s go.” A cheerful, content smile flickered onto Nell’s face.
Side by side, we navigated our way back through the castle. We walked under its brilliant chandeliers and down its grand hallways as we retraced the steps we’d taken to arrive at the meeting room. Upon turning one particular corner, we found ourselves greeted by another pair of individuals, one of which I happened to recognize. The familiar face belonged to one of the humans I’d met in the demon realm, the sorceress that had stood by Nell’s side. The other, less familiar individual seemed much more self-important. The armour he was wearing, which was frankly too fancy for its own good, immediately made me think of him as some sort of douchey frat boy when partnered with the manner in which he conducted himself.
“That’s a face I was not expecting to see,” said Mr. Fancypants. “Weren’t you supposed to be dea—”
He spoke in a bit of a high-handed, condescending manner, but was unable to finish before a louder voice cut him short.
“Nell!” The court mage ran right up to the hero with such vigour that it seemed as if she was going to tackle her, stopping only to avoid a collision.
“Ronia!” Likewise, Nell also exclaimed the other girl’s name, clearly also glad to see her.
“The flow of your magical energy… seems normal. And you don’t have any obvious wounds. Are you really okay? Does it hurt anywhere? I’ve gotten even better with healing magic, and I can fix most things now, so let me know if you need anything, okay?”
Ronia rambled on and on as she touched Nell all over and carefully inspected her for any signs of harm.
“I-I’m fine, Ronia. I’m sorry I made you worry.”
Evidently, the hero was overwhelmed by her friend’s concern, as she ended up on a back foot with a bit of an awkward smile. It was a reaction I totally understood. My impression of the sorceress was that she was the quiet type, so seeing her in such a fluster was quite jarring, to say the least. But that wasn’t to say her seemingly extraneous vigour was unjustified. It served as a demonstration of their bond, the extent to which she had been concerned for Nell’s well being. So uhh… this is actually making me feel kinda guilty. I probably should’ve had her stop by a bit earlier instead of keeping her cooped up for a whole month.
“It looks like you really are okay…” Ronia breathed a sigh of relief after finally completing her inspection, after which she immediately turned towards me and bowed. “Thank you very much. For saving my dear friend’s life.”
The display seemed to tug at Nell’s heartstrings, as the hero teared up whilst speaking the mage’s name. Likewise, I also found myself smiling to see that she cared so much about the newest member of my family, but as I wasn’t all that keen on necessarily expressing that sentiment, I ended up returning the bow with a shrug.
“Hey, don’t worry about it, it was nothing. Nell’s, you know, kinda important to me too, so I was going to end up doing it anyway,” I said. “Oh yeah, speaking of shit that went down back there, how’d things end up turning out on your end? I know Nell was keeping the people hunting you busy, but you guys seemed like you probably still had it pretty rough. Transporting a bunch of noncombatants isn’t exactly what I’d call a walk in the park.”
The mage had been working with the other member of Nell’s party to transport a whole slew of wingbearers. I remembered that their ranks included women, children, and wounded warriors. There were still a few with a good bit of fight in them, but all in all, there was much more cargo than there was anything else. Getting all of them to safety was sure to have been a much more difficult task than it seemed.
“There were no major roadblocks. Nell bought us enough time to call for backup and get to safety.”
“I guess that means that pushing my limits turned out to be worth it after all.”
The hero smiled, for a moment, but the expression was immediately wiped clean off her face.
“Still, you shouldn’t have,” said the mage, angrily. “You should’ve just acted like the coward you are and kept yourself safe instead. Reflect on your choices.”
“B-but I already apologized, didn’t I!?” stuttered a flustered Nell. “B-besides, if no one stopped to slow them down, then none of us would’ve made it out alive. Someone had to do it, and I was best suited for the job, so I think I made the right choice…”
“I don’t care. Reflect. Now,” demanded Ronia, unreasonably.
With no other choice left to her, Nell smiled wryly as she backed down in the face of her friend’s wrath. Their discussion was one I found entertaining, so I ended up laughing along heartily before reinjecting myself into the conversation.
“Man, you two are a goddamn riot,” I said, with one last chuckle. “Anyway, I’m sure you’ve still got lots to talk about, but it’s getting a bit late, and we’ve go—”
“STOP IGNORING ME!!”
Nell, Ronia, and I all turned in the shout’s direction, and in doing so, caught sight of Mr. Fancypants with his face red and twisted in anger. He was so pissed that the veins in his forehead bulged as his body trembled with rage. Oh yeah, he exists. Riiiiiight…
“So who the hell are you, anyway?” I asked, not out of malice, but because I really didn’t know who he was or why he was here to begin with.
“Y-you don’t know who I am!? You insolent hillbilly! How dare you!” he shouted. “And it should be me asking you that question! Who are you, and why are you wearing that suspicious mask!?”
Huh? Oh, yeah, right. Almost forgot I was wearing my mask.
Wait a second. How the hell does Little Miss Mage over there know that I’m the guy that showed up in the demon realm? The way she segwayed into the topic was so natural and casual I didn’t even realize she recognized me. Hmmm… Oh well, whatever, fuck it. I’ve already decided that it doesn’t matter if people figure out who I am, so I’m not even going to bother thinking about it.