The Hero’s Supposed Successor — Part 4
It turned out that Mr. Fancypants was every bit as weak as I expected him to be. He didn’t have anything particularly interesting up his sleeve, nor any hidden trump cards worthy of note. Even now, he was out of breath. Every consecutive swing caused him to either grunt or pant with exhaustion. I, on the other hand, was still in top form. It took me little to no effort to casually sidestep each and every single one of his attacks.
“Damn it!” he cursed. “Why won’t you attack me!? Could it be that you’re afraid of my awe-inspiring techni—”
“In your dreams, kid.”
I evaded a blow aimed at my torso and smacked him over the head with my wooden armament.
The action was one that, like basically everything else I’d done, caused the princess to brighten up and sing me praise. There were a whole slew of different cheers, but most ultimately sounded like something along the lines of “You’re the best, Mr. Demon Lord!”
She wasn’t the only one appraising my skills either. The king’s men had also become a part of the peanut gallery.
“How fearsome…” commented a soldier. “He’s warding off even Sir Manuel’s blows with ease.”
“I’ve seen many of Sir Manuel’s duels, and I can say for certain that he’s one of the toughest fighters I know,” said one of his friends. “The meister’s ability to overwhelm him so easily, especially without even taking up a stance, is proof that he’s simply that much more skilled. But I guess we shouldn’t be expecting anything less from Allysia’s saviour.”
The soldiers’ statements weren’t exactly accurate. While I certainly didn’t have any trouble handling someone of Mr. Fancypants’ caliber, it wasn’t because I was more skilled than he was. If anything, the opposite was true. He was better than me with a sword; his attacks and feints were, frankly, far more refined than mine.
But the difference in numbers turned the contest into a one-sided exchange. To me, he was practically moving in slow motion. That was why I never got hit, and why I never fell for any of his more deceptive blows. Again, I was reminded that, as a race, humans were incredibly weak. I was fairly certain that I could easily crush his skull and splatter his brains all over the arena if I chose to smack him with all my strength. Even with a shoddy, wooden blade.
Evidence of this could be seen in his exhaustion. The barrages he’d thrown at me, backed by the full extent of his strength, had taken their toll on his stamina. His movements had begun to dull, and his chest heaved with such force that it pushed against his armour every single time he took a breath.
“If I was you, I’d be careful not to drop my sword.”
There was no reason for me not to take advantage of the obvious weakness he showed, so I stepped forward after audibly warning him and smacked him in the arm just hard enough to make him involuntarily release his weapon.
“Alrighty, looks like I win.”
“N-No! You haven’t! Not yet!” Despite literally groaning in pain, he was unwilling to relent. “I won’t let this stop me. If I’m to become the hero, then I can’t possibly allow myself to lose!” He picked up the wooden sword and took up a stance as he spoke a line that caused me to raise an eyebrow.
Something seemed off. I couldn’t stand Mr. Fancypants, but even so, a part of me seemed to be suspecting that he wasn’t the scumbag I’d initially made him out to be. He was far too persistent, too desperate to win. The sheer force of will he exhibited made me think it impossible for him to be doing this for fame or glory.
“So why are you trying to take Nell’s place anyway?” With that in mind, I went straight to the point and questioned his intentions without beating around the bush.
“Why…? Why!? That should be obvious! The hero is supposed to serve as a symbol of Allysia’s power! The hero is never supposed to know difficulty, let alone defeat!” He spoke with impassioned fervour. “But ours has. And the people know. If they didn’t, then we could have kept the truth hidden away. But it’s far too late for that. We need a new symbol, Meister, one that can put our people’s hearts at ease.”
He paused to catch his breath, but I remained both silent and unmoving. I wanted to know what else he had to say.
“And that isn’t all,” he continued. “I can’t stand the thought that she, a woman, stands as our people’s shield. The battlefield is no place for women! Women are meant to be protected, kept out of harm’s way, not stained with blood or guilt or thrown into the frenzy of war! We should be arming them with needles and yarn and leaving the men to bear swords and spears! It’s for their own good. So that they can spend their lives in peace.”
It was then that I realized I’d got him all wrong. Well, almost. I still think he’s a douche, but whatever.
His attitude had initially led me to assume that he too was just trying to screw Nell over for profit. But that wasn’t true. He certainly had wanted her to step down, even against her own wishes, but only because he believed it to be for her own good. Because he felt that, as a man, he was responsible for bearing her burden.
He’d just been far too clumsy and proud to immediately express it.
That was why he hadn’t reeked of malice.
And why he hadn’t seemed exactly like all the other shitheads I’d met. That’d been my initial impression of him as well, but at the time, I’d brushed it off as a figment of my imagination. For fuck’s sake, dude. Why the hell are you acting one way when you clearly feel the other? We’ve got a word for this in Japan, it’s called being a “tsundere.” Acting like that as a dude just makes you seem like a creep, so knock it off.
“Hmm… I see.” He was done with his rant, so I made a short statement as if to appraise his intentions.
“Now come at me, Masked Meister! This isn’t over ye—”
I did exactly as he instructed and went on the offence. I drilled a foot into his sword and snapped it in half before dropping low and sweeping his legs out from under him. As he collapsed, face first, I stabbed my own weapon into the ground right by his head.
“Alright, so like I was saying, looks like I win,” I said. This time, the victory was too decisive for him to refute me. “Oh, and don’t worry about the whole defeat thing. This is just training. No one’s going to say jack shit about one botched spar.”
He groaned, clearly frustrated. But it was no longer possible for him to claim that he still had a chance, so he allowed the strength to leave his body in an admission of defeat, all whilst biting his lips in vexation.
“Alright. And now you’ve gotta apologize to Nell.”
“W-what!? Why would I have to do that!?”
“Why wouldn’t you? I mean, think about it. I just totally kicked your ass with almost no effort. And since I’m just one of her subordinates, you being weaker than me clearly means that you’re weaker than her too,” I said. It was a bit of an illogical fib. I was stronger than my fiancée. But he didn’t need to know that. “Feel free to keep calling yourself the next hero or whatever. I don’t really care how you feel about any of that shit. This whole apology thing is just ‘cause I think that you probably owe it to her after saying all that bullshit about her being too weak, despite being way weaker than her.”
“I guess you do have a point…” he groaned.
“Looks like we’ve come to an understanding then,” I said. “I’mma grab her. Make sure you keep your word.” I turned towards the bleachers and shouted loudly enough for my voice to echo throughout the stadium. “Hey, Nell! Get down here for a sec!”
The bob-haired brunette tilted her head in confusion and pointed to herself inquisitively, so I nodded and used my hand to gesture that I wanted her to head over.
“It seems like he needs me for something, so I’ll be right back,” she excused herself from the conversation she was having with Ronia and the princess and quickly jogged towards me. “What is it?”
“Well, you see, it turns out Manny over here has a little something to say to you.”
The verbal prodding seemed to have done the trick, as Mr. Fancypants ultimately decided to speak.
“I-I’m very sorry, Lady Nell.” He was so reluctant and embarrassed, that he chose to keep his face in the dirt over looking at her. “I must admit that, given my inability to defeat your subordinate, it was wrong of me to think that I was in a position where my opinions about your qualifications were justified. Please forgive me.”
It took a few seconds for Nell to deduce that this whole scenario was my handiwork, but the brief moment she’d spent in visible confusion was long enough to prompt Mr. Fancypants to hesitantly raise his eyes to gauge her reaction.
“Oh, well, uhm… I don’t really think losing to Wye here is really anything to be all that upset about. He’s too strong for his own good,” she said with a wry smile. “But you know what? I think you did have a point. I’m still not as strong as I should be. So uhm… how about we put this whole incident behind us so we can both keep doing our best to get as strong as we can? For Allysia’s sake.”
She smiled as she extended a hand towards him.
Mr. Fancypants was shocked. The harsh, demeaning scolding he had been expecting was nowhere to be found. And in its place was a gentle warmth.
Slowly, he reached towards her and took her hand.
“W-Will you marr—”
“Finish that sentence, and you’re fucking dead,” I growled.
“S-sorry, nevermind!” he stammered as a spell of cold sweat assaulted him.“Y-you’re absolutely right, m-milady. L-l-let’s both do our best! F-for Allysia!”