Side Story: The Hero’s Initiative
Editor(s): Joker, Speedphoenix
His embrace was incredibly warm. The way his breath tickled her neck as his arms wrapped around her back filled her with a deep sense of security. She was happy, euphoric even, to be in such close contact with him.
They stayed locked in each other’s arms for a minute. Or maybe five. Nell wasn’t sure exactly how long the experience lasted, but she knew she had to let go no matter how reluctant she was. She eventually retracted her arms and took a step back.
“Mmmmnnn… I’m not, but the sun will set by the time I am,” said Nell in a joking tone, “I’ll just have to make do.”
“Can’t say I disagree,” said Yuki. “Honestly, I’m not all that keen on giving you back to the pallies to begin with.”
“I’d love to stay and spend everyday messing around too, but I can’t,” said Nell. “Would you mind waiting a little bit longer? I should be able to accomplish enough to retire in about five years.”
The hero had already determined her next course of action. All she had to do was discuss the particulars with her boss.
“I’ll wait as long as I have to, if it means you’ll be here with us forever.” The tone he spoke in seemed to indicate that it was no big deal, but the look on his face was one of loneliness.
Nell’s guilt led her to take his hands in hers. She knew just the thing to do to make him feel better.
She stood up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips against his. The sensation was mind numbing. It was so overwhelmed by pleasure that it was like she’d taken a drug.
They tightened their grips on their intertwined fingers, just a tiny bit. But before they got too caught up in the moment, Nell once again slowly backed away.
“I love you, Yuki,” she said. “Don’t do too many silly things while I’m gone, mmk?”
“Uh… yeah… sure. I uhm… love you too.”
He shifted his gaze and shuffled his feet. Embarrassment had gotten the better of him.
Whilst burning that sight, which she found to be ever so lovely, into her eyes, Nell opened the magical door and made her way through to Alfyro’s outskirts.
The ride back to the capital was long. But Nell spent the whole trip with a big smile plastered all over her face. Every once in a while, as she gazed out the window at the scenery, the face he’d made immediately prior to her departure would resurface. And every time it did, she would giggle and smile to herself.
He was normally the one that teased her, not the other way around. He almost always kept a calm facade even in the face of all of her antics. She was glad, thrilled to have caught him off guard. The sight of his shame was precious; she was sure that the memory of it was enough to keep her from missing him for a full month. Once that passed, she would likely have to make do with speaking to him through the magical orb he’d given her and buy herself as much time as she could before, in the end, taking a break to return home once she could take it no longer.
She couldn’t live without him anymore. It simply didn’t feel right not to live within the paradise-like garden he’d crafted for those around him. Lefi had once mentioned the same thing to her, that she too was no longer able to return to the life that she’d lived before she met him. He was just too fun to be around.
Lyuu seemed to feel the same way as well, though she hadn’t actually voiced it. The warwolf wasn’t the type to engage in serious conversation, and never really talked too much about her feelings at length. But if she wasn’t happy, then she wouldn’t have been able to smile anywhere nearly as brightly as she normally did. Her carefree, happy-go-lucky demeanor was all the proof Nell needed to know that she was satisfied with the life she now led.
“It would be so nice to be able to spend more time with everyone…”
Nell would have loved to quit her job and simply live out the rest of her life as another one of Yuki’s wives. She knew that she would enjoy every moment of it, that being with her family would fill her days with happiness and joy.
But she couldn’t. Not yet.
Serving Allysia as its hero was something that she had decided for herself long ago. Throwing her choice, her resolve, out the window was something that she wouldn’t be able to live down. She knew that he wouldn’t have said a thing about it, that her family would’ve accepted her without judging the decision. But she herself wouldn’t have been able to continue on knowing that she’d abandoned such an important commitment.
What little pride she had wouldn’t allow it, not until she had accomplished enough for her to look back on her achievements and acknowledge herself as a true hero. It was something she felt she absolutely needed to do if she was to be worthy of a demon lord’s hand.
When Nell arrived at HQ, she found herself greeted by the Faldien Order. They were all gathered in front of the building, seemingly awaiting her arrival.
“Welcome back. How was your holiday?” asked Carlotta.
“It was wonderful,” chirped the brunette. “Thank you for letting me take such a long break from my duties.”
“You certainly seem to have gotten all the rest you needed. You’re much more energetic.” The order’s commander nodded in satisfaction. “I’ll be expecting you to work even harder than you were before.”
“I’ll make sure I do,” said Nell. “Oh and uhm, there was actually something I wanted to ask you.”
“Are you looking for ideas for your next date with Masquerade?”
“T-That’s not it at all! It’s something work related!”
Seeing her wave her hands back and forth in panic led all the other paladins to share a hearty laugh. While she was embarrassed, she managed to recover by clearing her throat and switching to a much more serious tone.
“I’d like to be given tasks involving more responsibility, such as subjugating monsters, resolving skirmishes along the border, and maintaining public order. Ideally, I’d like more monster-related jobs than the other two.”
“Oh…?” Carlotta raised a brow. “Trying to make a name for yourself, are you?”
“You always somehow end up a full step ahead of me,” Nell smiled awkwardly. “That’s right. Most of my work so far has been based on the capital. I know that I don’t have all that much experience just yet, but I’d still like to be given more difficult tasks.”
“And I’m assuming that’s why you’d like most of your work to be centered around monsters?”
“Mhm. Slaying powerful monsters is a surefire way to attract lots of attention. And I’ve also heard that a lot of monster-related work had been put off due to all the other things we had to attend to.”
Monsters were considered immediate, easily recognizable threats. And as such, defeating one, particularly a large, intimidating one that put the country’s citizens in harm’s way was sure to cause rumours to spread like wildfire. She was, in a sense, seeking to do exactly what the church had sought when it marched the Faldien Order on Poezahr’s demon lord—bolstering her reputation in the eyes of the people.
Hunting monsters was dangerous work. A certain level of skill was required to pull it off successfully, but Nell wasn’t worried. Learning about and encountering the Wicked Forest’s monsters made all other monsters look like cute, helpless animals.
She was, of course, fully aware that she couldn’t let her guard down. But the truth was that regular monsters were much weaker than the kinds that her husband regularly hunted. She knew this for sure because he taught her about the particulars of their stats, as well as many other tips and tricks involving hunting similar beasts. All in all, the hero was confident that she could handle just about anything that was thrown at her.
Even if she did encounter something that outclassed her, she was able to gain a leg up on it by using the many magically enchanted tools and devices that Yuki had provided. He had told her not to hesitate when using them. They were there for the sole purpose of her protection.
Making use of the mystical potions and deadly enchanted daggers he gave her to rack up achievements almost seemed like cheating. But allowing a monster more powerful than her to roam free was a recipe for disaster. Eliminating it immediately was paramount to keeping the number of casualties at a minimum. And for that alone, she was willing to set her pride aside.
“Okay, I understand, but I just want to make sure that you do as well,” said Carlotta. “You’ll be sent both to dispose of monsters, and to places with human conflict. Is that going to be an issue?”
“No,” said Nell confidently. “With the way I am now, I can easily resolve conflicts without incurring any casualties on either side.”
Carlotta’s eyes widened. She wasn’t used to seeing the ever timid Nell act in such an assertive, self-assured manner.
“I have clear goals now. I know exactly what I want and need to do.”
Carlotta observed the younger girl and confirmed that she wasn’t pushing herself, acting unnaturally, or getting carried away.
“Okay.” After a moment of consideration, she nodded. “In that case, I’ll be putting you to work immediately. I hope you’re ready to put your sword where your mouth is.”
“I am! I’ll do my best!” chirped Nell. The answer had come without hesitation. She was ready to finally truly fulfill her role.