Lighting the Next Hero’s Torch
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
Mr. Fancypants’ attitude took a full 180 as soon as Nell charmed him with her angelic smile. He fully cooperated with us, recounting everything he knew in detail and clarifying whatever we asked. There had apparently been a whole group of people egging him on. It was led by a pair of counts and supported by the members of their clique, a whole slew of nobles of lesser importance.
“Hmmm… I see…” I brooded on the knight’s words for a few moments before addressing him again. “Well, Manny, that just leaves one question.”
“W-what?” He cast a few nervous glances in Nell’s direction as he stuttered out a reply, all in spite of going on and on about how women shouldn’t be heroes just a few minutes prior.
At this point, I’m not sure if he’s wearing his emotions on his sleeve or just plain stupid. Oh wait.
“You done trying to kick Nell’s off the hero’s pedestal, or what?” I said, after entertaining a rude thought.
“U-Uhm, I er… yes. I am. I now understand that being a hero is not just about swinging a sword around. Being as kind and merciful as a saint is of equal importance.” He said. “I know now that I was a fool to think that Nell lacked a hero’s qualities, so you’ll hear no more dissidence from me.”
The fuck is he going on about now? Like, actually, where did that even, okay, you know what? Whatever. After catching myself rolling my eyes and giving him a less-than-entertained smile, I decided not to think about it and just moved on.
“Are you still going to try your hand at being her successor or whatever?”
“Of course!” He placed a hand on his chest as he made a declaration. “I will endeavour to grow into a great warrior so that I can stand by her side as one of Allysia’s guardians, as promised!”
“Uhm… Right… Let’s both do our best,” said Nell with an awkward half-cringe, half-smile.
Hey, douchebag, knock it off. Stop making my fiancée cringe. I warned him internally as I grabbed an item from my inventory and tossed it in his direction. “Well, in that case, I guess you can have this.”
“Is that a wooden sword…?” He gave a dubious stare as it flew through the air, only to falter as he caught and nearly dropped it. “W-what!? Why is it so heavy?!”
“I mean… it’s a sword, and it’s made out of wood. So yes, Captain Obvious, it is a wooden sword,” I said, sarcastically. “But don’t let that fool you. It’s nothing like your average, run of the mill training weapon. It’s the toughest thing you’ll ever use, and it’s chock full of mana, so it even works as a good catalyst for casting spells. So long as you have that, you won’t even need a wand or a staff.” I began listing off the weapon’s properties from memory. “Hell, I’d say it’s probably even a match for some of the more well-known weapons out there. It’s shaped like a katana, er, I mean it’s curved and only has its outer edge sharpened, but I don’t think cutting with it is going to work all that well. It does do a pretty good job of inflicting blunt force trauma though, ‘cause of how hard it is.”
Most of the information I’d described could be seen in the weapon’s entry when appraised, which looked as follows:
Demon Lord’s Wooden Blade
Quality Rating: B+
This wooden katana was created by a demon lord by the name of Yuki from a branch of a tree known as an Adamantine Wizardwood. The demon lord channelled an excessive amount of mana through the weapon’s corpus during its creation, which led it to grow tougher than iron. It is an incredibly efficient conductor of magical energy and can be used as a catalyst in the casting of magic.
The only part I’d left out was that it was made from a species of tree that grows within the Wicked Forest. Despite being made of wood, it was tough as nails and could probably be used to smash a metal-based weapon in two without much trouble.
I wasn’t all that sure about its functionality as a catalyst. I’d only attempted to use it to cast magic once, and I hadn’t actually been all that convinced it’d made a difference, in part because I didn’t actually know how one was supposed to feel when using a staff, and in part because Enne was a way better conductor of magical energy. Moreover, she even came with extra features, such as the ability to cast spells without any input on my end. Not that comparing the two is really all that fair. I mean, sure, I made both, but Enne’s my daughter-cum-masterpiece, whereas that thing’s literally just some random piece of wood. Oh yeah, totally irrelevant side note, but I was thinking of inscribing “Lake Touya” on the side to make it resemble a certain comedic samurai’s signature blade, but I ended up giving up on the idea because I’ve got literally no skill when it comes to engraving.
“Hmmm…” Manny carefully ran his eyes along the weapon’s length. “I certainly can feel a great power emanating from within it. Are you sure that you’re willing to give me this for free? It seems rather expensive.”
“Hey, no worries. Just think of it as my way of thanking you for all the intel,” I said. “Plus, you’re still trying to pull off that whole hero thing, right? I figured you probably need to put in a good bit more effort, and this’ll probably help.”
I had only originally crafted the weapon for my own entertainment. It had turned out much better than I’d expected it to. While it wasn’t good enough to use, it’d hit the quality bar that made me feel as if throwing it away was kind of wasteful, so I’d chucked it in the back of my inventory and effectively forgot about it. This seemed like a decent opportunity to get rid of it. Passing it off meant doing it more justice than letting it rot. Though if I told him that, he’d probably get mad, so I’mma just shut up. Anyway, point is that he’s got everything he needs. So all he’s gotta do now is work his ass off and git gud so Nell can retire and come live in the dungeon.
“Does this mean that you intend to become one of the members of my party after al—”
“Fuck no! I literally already told you I wouldn’t!”
After a few more slightly frustrating exchanges, Nell and I regrouped with her two companions and headed out.
“For fuck’s sake,” I squeezed out a few words as I stretched my limbs. “Dealing with idiots is exhausting. Why the hell did I have to waste an entire morning on him of all people?”
“Well, he didn’t seem all bad. I thought that he had some pretty respectable intentions. He was just a little misdirected.”
“And didn’t you take a liking to him? Isn’t that why you gave him one of the weapons you made?”
“Nah, you’ve got all wrong. I only gave him that sword for the sword’s sake. I felt kinda bad for it since it was just sitting around in my inventory,” I said, “besides, I figured a little present like that would probably go a pretty decent way in the long run. If he works hard enough, you can retire and move in.”
“W-wait, you were thinking that far ahead already?”
“Well, yeah. Of course,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about all this since the moment you started talking about going through with this whole duty of yours or whatever. I mean, I do want you to move into the castle, and I’ll basically do anything I can to accelerate the process. But I still do want to keep your wishes in mind too.”
I grinned at her and shrugged, which caused her face to brighten up with glee.
Since we’d reached a bit of a natural break in the conversation, I turned towards the pair that accompanied her to the arena.
“So how did you two end up tagging along anyway?”
“I visited your room so we could all play together!” answered the princess. “She told me that you went to the training grounds, so we decided to go see what you were doing. We ran into Ronia along the way, and she decided to come too!”
“Ronia’s usually busy, but she happened to have a little bit of free time today,” elaborated Nell.
Ohhh, so that’s what happened.
“Do you ever wear armour?” The mage in question interjected herself into the conversation with a sudden question. “I didn’t see you with any in the demon realm. And you didn’t wear any just now either.”
“Now that you mention it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him with any armour on either,” said Nell.
“Yeah, I just kinda don’t. I know it sounds weird, but I’ve got some pretty good reasons for it.”
The reason I never wore anything but casualwear was because, in the Wicked Forest, there was no point in wearing anything else. Armour was, if anything, entirely detrimental. None of the mid-ranged armour listed in the catalogue was able to provide any significant protection against even the Wicked Forest’s weakest creatures. The high-end stuff could, but not even that was a match for anything that lived in the western region, where all the stronger monsters resided. A single hit was all even the best armour could take before being made unusable despite costing an inordinate amount of DP.
My strategy revolved around fleeing at top speed whenever I encountered something I couldn’t defeat. Something as heavy as a giant, chest-mounted piece of metal would not only get in the way of a swift retreat, but also make it more difficult for me to move around in general. Moreover, my body was already fairly tough as is. It was capable of tanking a hit from a dragon, a member of this world’s most powerful species. That was why I was confident in my ability to survive at least one hit from anything. All I had to do was guard my vitals, which I’d grown rather skilled at doing, endure the pain, and heal myself with a potion. I never had to worry about potentially not being able to down my medicine in time because Rir always had my back and covered me until I was back to full health. Thinking about it, why do soldiers wear armour anyway? It does nothing but make them more sluggish. Hell, they’re even crazy enough to wear helmets that obscure their vision. The members of this world’s races are far more powerful than the humans back in my world ever were. So how the hell does a thin ass sheet of metal actually do anything? Yeah, Iunno, none of this really makes any sense at all, as far as I’m concerned.
After a moment of internal pondering, I summarized my explanation to the girls whilst excluding anything that might clue Ronia in on my identity.
“Oh…” said Nell. “So you really did have a reason… I always thought you just liked wearing those weird work clothes because that was just your style.”
“Work clothes? What do you mean, work clothes? This is casual wear,” I said.
As I was basically always holed up in the dungeon anyway, I never saw any reason to wear anything that didn’t put comfort first, so I was perpetually dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.
“I see…” said Ronia. “So you’re a demon lord?”
“Ye—I mean, uh, of course not…” The question had been asked in such a natural fashion that I ended up accidentally nodding along and acknowledging that she was correct before I even thought about it. I tried to cover it up, but realized it was already far too late. “Alright, yeah, you got me. No point in hiding it if you’ve already got it all figured out,” I said.
I blame the princess.
“Nell is bad at lying. I knew the moment she tried,” said Ronia. “Does that make you the Wicked Forest’s demon lord? That’s the only one she knows, so I don’t think it could have been any other. Is her mission how you two met?”
Wow. She’s basically figured it all out. Goddamn, girl’s got brains. I guess she ain’t a court mage for nothing, huh?
“U-uhm, well, uhm… you see, Ronia, there are lots of reasons for this…” Nell, who was standing beside me, flubbed about in a flustered panic.
“It’s okay, Nell. It doesn’t matter what he is. All that matters to me is that he saved your life.”
“Thanks, Ronia. I really appreciate it…” said the hero, meekly.
“Mr. Demon Lord is a demon lord, but he’s actually more like a hero!” exclaimed the princess. “He’s really cool and even has really awesome wings!”
“I remember seeing them. They were impressive enough to make me feel the urge to study them,” said the mage.
“Uh… thanks, I guess?”
Is that supposed to be a compliment? I really can’t tell.
“Can we see your wings again, Mr. Demon Lord?” begged the princess.
“Uhh… sure, I guess, but it’ll have to wait since we’re in public right now,” I said.
“Yay! Oh, and can I see your home too?”
“Uhh… I live a bit too far away for that, I think. It’s also kinda dangerous, so that’s going to have to be a no. Sorry.”
“Aww… But don’t you live in a really big, awesome castle?” Her voice grew sadder and quieter as she spoke. “I haven’t really had any chances to go anywhere before, so I really wanted to visit and see it…”
“Alright, alright, I get it,” I said, giving in to guilt. “You can stay over for a few days when I head back. But only if your old man says it’s fine.”
“Oh my gosh! Really!?”
“Yeah, really. But again, only if he agrees. I’ll talk to him about it later.”
“Yay! That’s great! Thank you so much, Mr. Demon Lord! I’m so happy!”
I ruffled the tiny girl’s hair as she showed me a cheerful smile.
“…Does he like little girls?” asked Ronia.
“I think so,” said Nell. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him not be sweet on one.”
“Goddamn it! I told you like a billion times already, but I’m not a goddamn pedo!” I yelled, indignantly. “Besides, Nell, what the hell. Why would you even agree to that? Doesn’t that just make you look bad too?”
You know, thinking about it, it’s been a while since anyone’s called me a pedo. Back at home, they’ve all pretty much agreed that I am, and they more or less think of it as common knowledge. Which, FYI, is definitely wrong. It bothers the hell out of me, but I guess they’ve at least stopped making fun of me when I play with the kids. Which is… probably a plus, right…?
I had gleaned a lot from Mr. Fancypants, but I didn’t know enough about Allysia’s political climate to make too much of it. Fortunately, my good friend the king did. I later ran everything I learned by him, and in doing so, discovered that the counts the wannabe hero had mentioned were uncoincidentally Argus’ close associates. The trio was often seen discussing one thing or another whenever they attended one of high society’s parties, which in turn meant that this entire scenario was most certainly connected to the bastard’s plans.
The overly-exhausted monarch mentioned that he would look into their common associates in order to try to discern the mastermind, a statement which had almost led me to chuckle. I felt as if it would have been rather entertaining if the three had only one shared contact, and that the individual in question happened to be the bastard behind the scheme, mostly because that would have made the whole situation very much like those that were often seen in crime thrillers on TV. But as no one present would have even remotely come close to understanding my rationale, and because we were discussing a relatively serious topic, I realized that breaking into laughter wasn’t exactly the best choice and managed to stop myself short.
Another fact I was made privy to was that the castle would soon find itself host to a grand ball. The event was on such a scale that nearly every noble in Allysia was sure to attend—including those I found unsavoury.
Nell was slated to attend, both because she was effectively associated with high society, and because the king planned to use the gathering to announce her safe return. This made for the perfect place for me to make my move, so the monarch used his influence to secure me an invitation as well.
All the time I spent between my arrival and the banquet was time I would use to secure evidence. The goal was to face the Anti-Nells in an upfront conversation through rule of law, and then either murder them myself or have them jailed for treason. I wasn’t absolutely certain that we would be able to successfully secure all the proof we needed to justify that, but I was confident that I would at least be able to sniff out a good enough portion of their plans to mitigate their effects. There was simply no way they were just going to sit tight while she and I did as we wished, which meant there would be plenty of trails for me to follow.
The actions I’d decided to take this time around failed to follow my usual methodology. My usual approach would have been to strut my way in and laugh maniacally as I actively rejected social norms and did whatever the hell I wanted. But this time, I couldn’t. I’d already openly declared myself one of Nell’s subordinates, which meant my actions, especially the negative ones, were sure to reflect on what others thought of her. That was the only reason I had chosen the route of covert operations over waltzing into Argus’ mansion, torturing him until he spilled the beans, and burying him somewhere no one would find him once I was done. Nothing that broke that many rules would fly. If people found out that I was his murderer, then condemnation was sure to come from literally all directions. While the intuitive solution to such a problem would simply be not to get caught, the circumstances, unfortunately, made it much more complicated than just that. Everyone knew that Argus was one of Nell’s dissidents. Having him suddenly disappear, especially so soon after her return, was sure to turn many a distrustful gaze in her direction and rob her of her place amongst the humans.
This time, I was going to play by the rules. I was going to handle the situation in a way that bolstered Nell’s prestige and hold off on playing the role of a murderhobo until the situation had calmed back down. There was sure to be an aftermath, but I figured that the king could probably do something about it. …Alright, just calling it out, but I owe both the king and the governor a good bit. I should probably figure out some way to pay them back.