The Hero Takes a Bath
A soothing warmth enveloped Nell’s body as she slowly sank into the water. The sensation was so calming and relaxing that it caused her to inadvertently leak a sigh. Above her shone a perfect replica of the starry sky outdoors. Both it and the gentle light it emitted felt so real that she almost couldn’t bring herself to believe it to be fake.
It had been a long time since she took her last bath. She never had the opportunity to back home. The church had provided her with a few chances, but none of their baths had been anywhere near as luxurious as the one she was in now.
As embarrassing as it was to admit, Nell had been so scared that she lost all strength in her hips. She couldn’t move or get up. The only reason she was no longer plopped on the ground was because the demon lord had lent her his shoulder. Speaking of which, the demon lord had offered to let her stay the night. It was already late, and she’d already been defeated once, so Nell ended up going with the flow and accepting. And so, he led her over to a building that resembled a hot spring resort and ushered her inside. That was how she’d suddenly ended up shoulders deep in warm bathwater.
Reflecting on the demon lord’s actions caused her to frown. The church’s description of him was completely inaccurate. Her superiors had made him out to be the type of evil overlord often seen in fairy tales. They called him a savage with many a victim buried in his wake. Her expectations had been set up in a way that completely failed to reflect what she thought to be the demon lord’s nature. After actually meeting him, she came to realize that he gave off a “guy next door” kinda vibe. He was a bit older than her and has his quirks, but all in all, he was casual and friendly. The attitude he faced her with reminded her of a neighbour.
She had taken up a stance upon discovering that he was a demon lord, but only because of her preconceptions. The man had never shown any hostility or ill will. His friendly intentions were only further evidenced by both his actions and the hero’s own skillset. Her enemy detection skill failed to identify him as a foe, and he had gone as far as to offer her a piece of advice.
You have to come up with your own opinions and act on them. Don’t just swallow what other people tell you and interpret it as the truth. Digest it.
His words continued to run through her head even to this very moment. It was as if he’d etched them right into her brain.
Nell had never acted on her own choices before. She had always remained obedient and strived to be the good girl. Back when she lived at home, she treated her mom’s wishes as her highest priority. She knew that her mother worked as hard as she could to raise her, so she tried her best not to cause her any further trouble.
Likewise, she did everything the church had asked of her as well. Her desire to become a full-fledged hero as soon as possible had driven her to receive their orders with naught but obedience. She listened to the knight’s words, memorized the priests’ preachings, and even sat through the old mage’s lectures while paying as much attention as she possibly could. She never showed even the slightest hint of defiance.
The demon lord’s words led Nell to realize that she was just a puppet. Subservience was so deeply ingrained in her lifestyle that obeying orders had become second nature. She never thought for herself. She’d always just let everyone else pull her strings.
None of the heroes Nell had always looked up to had been anywhere near as subservient as her. In fact, they were often exactly the opposite. They were their own bosses. They moved without instruction to eliminate evil, regardless of whether or not it had already come to light.
“Where did I go wrong…?”
The hero frowned as she thought over the steps she took to reach her current position, but stopped as she heard the door rattle open. Her body immediately responded by rising out of the water and taking a defensive stance, but the strength drained from her body as she realized that the person that’d entered was just a young girl.
“Huh…?” The blonde haired girl tilted her head as she regarded the hero. “Oh! You’re the girl my brother was bullying!”
“I-I’d really prefer you didn’t think of me like that…” Nell slumped forwards, depressed. “Wait! You were watching!?”
The hero couldn’t help but shout her question. The little girl that she’d never once seen in her life somehow knew of the trials and tribulations she’d just experienced.
“Er… U-Uhm… So what’s your name?”
After realizing what she’d done, Nell coughed and faked clearing her throat in order to dispel the awkward atmosphere before continuing with a question.
“I’m Illuna! What’s yours?”
“I’m Nell. Nice to meet you, Illuna.”
“Yup! It’s nice to meet you too, Nell!”
The adorable, doll-like girl sat herself down in front of a wash bin and hastily began to clean her body. Seeing her act caused the rest of Nell’s tension to leave her. Understanding that there was no danger, Nell allowed herself to sink back into the bath.
“Wait, did you just call the demon lord your brother?”
“Yup! We’re not related, but he’s like a big brother to me.”
Oh, so she just calls him that because she’s attached to him. Nell nodded to herself before addressing the little girl and asking one of the questions that’d been on her mind since she first met him.
“Uhm… What kind of person is your big brother anyway?”
“I’m super glad you asked!” The little girl’s eyes sparkled as she responded to the question with unexpected fervor. “He’s super cool! He saved my life! He plays with me all the time and makes sure I don’t get lonely! I really love him! He acts kinda silly sometimes, but I like that part of him too. It’s really cute!”
“I-I see.” Taken aback by the little girl’s excited response, Nell could only nod along as she listened.
Just why is this little girl so attached to the demon lord? Could it be that he sometimes craves children?
“Has the demon lord ever touched you anywhere weird?”
“Nope! But he does act kinda weird. Sometimes, he’ll suddenly start shouting about something while bursting out of his room and running off somewhere.”
“O-Oh. So he’s just weird?”
Illuna’s description of the demon lord left the hero confused. She didn’t understand him at all. The encounter led Nell to lose sight of what demon lords were. The image of the stereotypical evil mastermind she had built up throughout her life had totally crumbled away.
“And what, precisely, are you plotting this time?” Lefi crossed her arms as she regarded me with a piercing glare.
“Nothing, really.” I responded with a casual shrug. “She’s not set on attacking us anymore, and it’s already late. We have a crap ton of extra rooms, so there isn’t really any reason not to lend her one. Plus, I’ve been meaning to learn more about the humans, and this is as good a chance as any.”
“I see. So you intentionally created a set of circumstances such that you would have all the excuses you needed to rope yet another girl into your ‘dungeon.’ I cannot believe you.” An intimidating aura began emanating off of Lefi’s body as she spoke. “I know that I am the one that instructed you to initiate contact, but I meant not that you should sink your fangs into her. And to think that you even added a trio of wraiths to your collection while I remained none the wiser.”
“To be fair, it’s not my fault that all three wraiths are girls. They just kinda ended up that way!”
The first thing Nell saw as she exited the bath and entered the grand hall that led to it was the demon lord. He was sitting on his knees, as a silver haired girl lectured him, her tone stern.
“U-Uhm… T-Thanks for letting me use your bath. It felt really nice and warm.”
“Hmm?” The girl turned away from the demon lord upon hearing the hero’s voice. “Oh hello, crybaby hero.”
“First the bullied girl, now this!? Why do you guys all seem to think of me as something to pity!?”
Nell couldn’t help but yell as she was once again reminded of her cowardice by a young girl that she’d never once seen in her life. Speaking of, the blonde girl that she met in the bath had already gotten out and headed off to bed. A horned sheep demon that looked to be something along the lines of a maidservant entered the bath to pick her up right as she was starting to nod off. The maid had thanked Nell for playing with the girl before escorting the little blonde, who’d barely managed to squeeze out a tired “bye bye,” away.
Behind the demon girl had been another maid, a beastkin. Though Nell failed to understand why, the Beastkin seemed to think the demon was in some sort of danger, as she had urged her to quickly return the moment she picked the young blonde up.
“A-anyway, the guest’s here. S-Sorry Lefi, but I gotta entertain her.”
“Surely you jest. That is a task that Leila is more than capable of handling, and you’ve not the time for it. After all, you and I are about to spend a long night together.”
The hero was having a hard time processing the scene playing out right before her eyes. The demon lord, who’d initially come off as mysterious but kind, was being scolded by a girl even younger than Nell herself.
I really don’t know what I’m supposed to believe anymore…