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Chapter 3

The Hero Wept

My little sister was in my arms. The sibling I thought I might never see again—and certainly not before the demon lord was defeated.

“Big Brother!!!”

Ruti’s arms wrapped around my back and squeezed me tight. She was smiling as tears ran down her cheeks.

Both Gonz, who was standing next to me, and the chikuwa girl from the other evening who had come in with Ruti, were slack-jawed in shock. I was going to have to explain this all somehow, but…first things first.

I gave Ruti the biggest hug I could. I mean, I was glad to see my little sister again, too—from the very bottom of my heart.

Ruti seemed to have finally calmed down after a little bit, so I gently pushed against her shoulders, and she released me without fighting it. Her expression had gone back to normal, too.

She was still grinning, but it was one of those expressions of hers that probably looked like a blank face to people who didn’t know her well.

“Big Brother…you were completely wrong.”

“…? Say what?”

“I didn’t feel anything special about Ares at all.”

Did she mean that time when Ares put his arm around her when I left?

“Really? I could have sworn—”

“You were wrong.” Ruti cut me off with an uncommonly forceful tone compared to how she usually spoke with me. It was her way of rejecting what I’d been about to say without giving me any room to argue, so I just let it go.

“I understand. I guess I just misunderstood.”

“Right.” Ruti looked sad as she corrected me.

I see. So she and Ares weren’t really like that… On the one hand, that made me a little happy, but on the other, it was depressing to realize that Ruti had been left with no one to count on after I’d left.

…I should probably explain things to Gonz and the chikuwa girl, but how do I even begin to provide an excuse for all this?

“‘Big Brother’? So does that mean she’s your little sister, Red?”

“‘Big Brother’? Would you perchance be Mr. Gideon?”



Gonz and the chikuwa girl were both looking confused.

Argh, how do I deal with this?

Rit was out getting food for dinner. I was going to have to outline a few things to Ruti before she got back. At the same time, Gonz needed to be set straight as well.

He wasn’t tight-lipped by any stretch, but he could at least tell the difference between things that shouldn’t be shared and things that could be.


I flipped the sign on the shop to CLOSED. There was no way I could handle customers in this sort of situation.

“Ummm, you first, Gonz,” I decided.

“So what’s the deal?”

“This girl is my little sister. But please don’t tell folks about her yet. I’ll explain everything later, so if you could just keep this to yourself and head back now, I’d appreciate it.”

“No problem. I dunno what all you have going on, but it’s clear enough to see that it’s not like the two of you hate each other or anything,” Gonz said, being accepting with a big smile. “It’s a special thing, havin’ a little sister.”

Like I had Ruti, Gonz had Nao. The two of them got along really well, and he even treated her husband, Mido, like family, too, to say nothing of how much he doted on Tanta.

Gonz stood up and patted my shoulder.

“Also, Little Miss. Red…or maybe his real name is Gideon? I don’t know the story for any of that, but he’s a great guy and real dependable. In this part of town, everyone counts on him. He hasn’t done anything bad, so don’t you worry about stuff like that.”

“Okay,” Ruti replied with a nod. However, it looked to me like her expression was ever so slightly troubled.

The only ones left in the living room were me, Ruti, and the chikuwa girl—Tisse, her name was. She had an Assassin blessing, and she’d joined the Hero’s party to replace me on Ares’s recommendation.

I thought my duties and those of someone with an Assassin blessing were pretty different, though…

“Where to even begin…,” I wondered aloud.

“Big Brother.”

“What is it?”

“Are you living together with someone?” Ruti inquired as she glanced around the room.

Ugh. She’d caught on before I’d even had a chance to say anything.

There wasn’t anything in the room that would give Rit away. However, the vase of flowers and the style of some of the housewares betrayed that there was someone who shared this place with me. It’s a little nerve-racking to have to tell my little sister as much, though.

“Yes, I’m living with someone.”

“…I see.”

“She’ll probably be back before long. You remember when we were in Loggervia? Rizlet, the princess who used shotels and traveled together with us for a little while?”

“Yes, Rit.”

Ruti seemed a little sad as she nodded.

I guess I truly had been misunderstanding things when I thought she had gotten closer to Ares.

Around the time when she set off on her journey—and really ever since she was little—she only had eyes for me.

“Anyway, I guess you’d deserve to know how I ended up here. I imagine you heard from Ares that I had withdrawn from the party to scout out the enemy.”

“After that, Yarandrala started accusing Ares of killing you, so he explained that you had run away.”

Dammit, Ares. Couldn’t keep your word, huh? Not that I had any right to complain since I had abandoned my team.

I filled Ruti in on everything: Ares telling me to leave because I was holding the party back, the despair, drifting out to Zoltan, opening an apothecary…and how I started living with Rit.

“I intend to stay here together with Rit like this. And I expect we’ll get married eventually.”

I got a little tense when that word crossed my lips.

Rit was a princess, and while I was a knight, I was a commoner by birth, so all I had to my name was a low-level, nonhereditary peerage. It wasn’t really an appropriate relationship in terms of status, but Rit and I were both resolved to relinquish our titles if we needed to.

“I see.”

Ruti could tell from my expression that I was serious. She just nodded quietly without comment.

“I’m sorry for just disappearing like that.”

“…Ares is the one at fault. But…” Ruti looked me straight in the eyes. “I’ll silence Ares. So it’s okay, right?”


“Rit can come, too. Let’s travel together again, Big Brother.” Rit sounded like she was pleading with me. My heart was aching.

I had thought that Ruti had found someone else to rely on besides me. Ares, Danan, Theodora, and Yarandrala had their foibles, but they were all comrades who had mastered the paths they had taken, and they were all stronger than I was. Ares’s magic, Danan’s fists, Theodora’s spear and miracles, and Yarandrala’s ability to control plants outdid anything I was capable of. Even without me, I thought for sure they’d have found their own ways to support Ruti…

“The party doesn’t work together without you, Big Brother. I can kick Ares out if you want. But we need you.”

Ruti explained how poorly things had been going for her team recently. Ares had tried to do the jobs I had been doing by himself and failed. Danan had gone off to search for me, and Yarandrala had left the party after thinking that I had been killed. Tisse had joined to take my place, but that was three losses with only one addition.


I had thought that Ruti had been making good progress on her quest when I’d heard she and her party had defeated Gandor of the Wind. But nothing about the Hero’s journey was going smoothly. Just like Rit had feared, there had been significant problems after my disappearance. And if Ruti was saying that she wanted me to come back, that meant there was still a place for me in her group. If I wanted, I could go back to those days of adventuring again.

But… But even so… I…

“I’m sorry, Ruti. I’ve already found a reason for me to stay here.”

It wasn’t just Rit. This store, this slow life, they had become my reason for living. Answering the modest requests of the residents of Zoltan…the way they could get so happy from a heater to fight the winter cold…it made me happy.

Zoltan was already my home.

“I see,” Ruti responded quietly.

It was almost like she had half expected my reply.

“In that case, I’ll live here, too.” My beloved little sister stated her determination to stop adventuring just like I had.

It was a selfish thing to say. It meant turning her back on the battle that would determine the fate of the world, but could anyone really rebuke her?

What was there to say? What could I tell her?

I was consumed in a bitter vortex of thoughts. Yet that didn’t trouble me in the slightest. The more important thing was that the girl before me was suffering such unbearable sadness.

It was soon after that when Rit came with a bag of groceries.

“I’m back! Are you there, Red? Why did you close the shop?”

I frantically dashed out of the living room and into the storefront.

“I’m here. A…guest has stopped by. They’re in the living room.”

“A guest?”

The floorboards creaked behind me. Someone was watching from the door behind me. Not that I had looked back to see, though…

The bag of groceries Rit was holding dropped to the floor with a thud. She gasped and seemed to be at a loss for words.

“Um, yeah, my little sister is here.”

Even without looking, it was easy enough to tell who was at the door to the living room from the expression on Rit’s face.

“It’s been a while,” Ruti said quietly.

There was a clink as I set the cups of coffee I had prepared on the table. The room was so quiet that the sound was almost deafening.

Not good.

Rit and Ruti were both focused pointedly on the drinks in front of them, making no effort to look across the table. Tisse’s gaze was fixed on a little spider resting on the back of her hand. The arachnid was glancing all around as it made a gesture that almost seemed like it was trying to comfort Tisse.

“Um, Ruti, where are you staying?” I asked, if only to break the unease.

“An inn in the harbor district.”

“The harbor? Wouldn’t the taverns in the north or downtown be a bit nicer?”

“It’s fine.”

“I see… So what are you going to do? Do you want to stay here tonight?”

There was a spark of excitement in Ruti’s eyes at that, but she immediately looked down again.

“No. There’s still something we need to take care of in the harbor district…but the day that’s done, I would like to be together with you.”

“Got it.”

Something to take care of…?

“I hadn’t gotten a chance to ask yet, but why are you in Zoltan?” I inquired.

“One reason was to look for you.”

“For me?”

“Because you’re necessary to defeat the demon lord.”

The way Ruti had looked when she first saw me, and then when she’d said she was going to live here…and now admitting she had traveled to Zoltan in search of me… None of it really added up.

“And the other reason was to seek out someone else.”

“Who?” I pressed.

“A knowledgeable person who was hiding away in Zoltan. He has some information that is necessary to defeat the demon lord. But I already found him, so that part’s been taken care of.”

“I see.”

“Um!” Rit finally spoke up. “…What are you going to do, Red?”

Oh yeah, Rit wasn’t here for that part.

“I’m going to stay here and keep running this store with you, Rit.”

“Really? …But…” Rit glanced over at a despondent Ruti.

“You don’t have to worry… I’m going to live in this town, too,” Ruti stated matter-of-factly.


“We’re going to head back for today.”

“‘Head back’…?”

Ruti stood up. Weird. I had felt like something was really off since earlier, and that niggling sensation refused to go away. Whatever was going on with Ruti didn’t seem entirely bad, but I couldn’t trust that it was wholly good, either.

“Big Brother.”

“Feel free to come by whenever. I’ll be here.”

“I was just about to ask that.” Ruti smiled bashfully as she lowered her head slightly. I gently patted her head.


“I still haven’t gotten to talk with you enough. We both have so much to discuss…all the things that happened after I left.”

“Yes, but this is enough for today…” Ruti met my gaze. She looked satisfied.

“It’s fine. I have lots of time to spare now.”

From her spot next to me, Rit was stunned at the sight of Ruti’s visible smile.

As quickly as she had appeared, Ruti left, taking Tisse with her.

Rit and I sat at the table, deep in thought.

“Hey, Red. Is this all okay?”


“Um… Maybe it’s a bit weird for me to be saying this, but…Ruti really needs you.”


“In that case, I can’t help thinking…maybe it would be better to just go with her.” Rit looked pained.

“For the sake of the world, huh…”

If I was being honest with myself, I couldn’t deny that my heart was wavering. A part of me was unsure, especially after I’d seen how sad Ruti had looked.

“We should talk again. Ruti and I—and you and Tisse as well. All four of us.”


This wasn’t a problem that could be quickly resolved. We were going to need some time. There would probably be plenty of people who would criticize the Hero for abandoning her quest. However, if anyone was guilty in all of this, it was me. Ruti had not done anything wrong.

Even if she had been forced to bear the fate of the world on her shoulders, Ruti was still just a seventeen-year-old girl.

Having left the shop, Ruti walked away quickly and then groaned as she pressed her hand against her chest.

“M-Ms. Ruhr?!”

Tisse frantically dashed over to her.

Ruti took a vial of Devil’s Blessing out of her pocket and drank it one gulp.

“I shouldn’t have said I would stay here,” Ruti whispered as a cold sweat formed on her brow.

An intense urge from her blessing was pummeling the poor girl. Devil’s Blessing was supposed to lessen such impulses, but the world’s most powerful blessing would not let the Hero toss away her mission without a fight. It resisted with an overpowering desire for justice, and a pain like Ruti’s heart was caught in a vice.

“I have to weaken it further.”

“Ms. Ruhr…”

Tisse was uneasy. She could tell that something was off about Ruti. She had not journeyed together with the Hero for very long, but she could tell that the other young woman was acting abnormally.

“Kyaaaaaah!” someone cried out.

Tisse immediately readied herself, but Ruti had dashed off even faster than the assassin.

On the outskirts of the working-class neighborhood, there was a road running along the irrigation channel that functioned as the line between it and the harbor district. There, a high elf woman had been pulled to the ground by her hair.

“Who the hell let a goddamn long-ear sell stuff here?!”

An oden cart had been toppled nearby.

The various things that Oparara had been working so hard to cook were mercilessly strewn all around, and the two men—their cheeks flushed from alcohol—were grinning as they stomped on the food.

“Stop it!”

“This here’s a human town, ya hear? Freaks like you showing their face in public’ll give us a bad name.”

Human supremacists like them could be found just about anywhere. They were generally denounced by most humans, too, but even still, there were enough of them to form their own little communities in most places.

A twisted sort of pleasure warped the roughnecks’ faces after seeing Oparara’s face swollen from the beating…



It only lasted for the blink of an eye. The next instant, a girl was standing before them with her fist cocked back for a punch. The man it was aimed at didn’t even have time to curl up and protect himself.


The air was forcibly knocked from his lungs, and he was hit with an agony like his insides had been trampled flat.

Ruti had punched him while being careful to hold back just enough so as not to kill the ruffian. Still, that restraint was not out of any sense of mercy. She had carefully modulated her strength to barely keep him from passing out while still ensuring he would feel the worst possible pain.

That one blow had struck the man with injuries that he would carry for the rest of his life. The drunk man crouched over, holding his stomach and groaning as tears and drool covered his face.

“Wh-wh-what was that?!”

The other roughneck panicked and tried to run away, but Tisse had already cut him off.

“O-outta my way!”

He thrust his arm out to knock her aside, but Tisse just caught it and used it to send him flying through the air.


Slamming him to the ground, Tisse pinned him using his elbow and gently jabbed a finger into his side.

“Ugh— Ugggggggggggghhaaaaaaaaah!”

He wailed pathetically as he received a firsthand lesson in the ways an assassin destroyed a humanoid body. It was an attack designed to cause significant pain without leaving any visible traces.

“The chikuwa… What a waste.”

Seeing the food on the ground that the human supremacists had been stepping on, Tisse added a bit more force behind her finger.

By the time a pair of guards arrived on the scene after all the ruckus, the two thugs had already been dealt with. Tisse and Ruti handed the shamefully sobbing men over to the authorities.

“They’ll never make that mistake again,” Ruti stated.

Tisse nodded in agreement.

“Thank you both for your help.”

From the looks of it, the Zoltani guards were also pissed off by the men’s random act of violence, so they didn’t comment on Ruti and Tisse’s aggressive response. Instead, they chose to leave the young women with a word of gratitude.


Tisse felt a small sense of satisfaction. It was rare for an assassin like her to be able to help people like that. While uncommon, it was not at all an unpleasant feeling.

Meanwhile, Ruti’s reaction was almost the exact opposite. Her shoulders slumped a bit.

“Th-thank you! You saved me there!” Oparara walked over, a wet towel pressed against her cheek where she had been struck.

Seeing her face like that, Ruti placed her right hand on the high elf’s cheek.

“Ms. Ruhr!”

Realizing with a start what she was about to do, Tisse tried to stop her, but Ruti did not listen and activated her Healing Hands.


Oparara was shocked. In an instant, her pain was gone. Her swollen face had shrunk back to normal.

“I still can’t avert my eyes from people in need.”

“Ms. Ruhr…”

“Sorry, even though it was so important to avoid using my skills…”

“N-no, it’s fine… I’m sure what you did was right.”

Right, that is what it was to be the Hero.

Tisse could accept it. She even felt a little bit of pride at the fact that she was standing on the side of righteousness.

Ruti was staring at her right hand, the one she had just used to save the weak and lay the strong blow. The impulses that had been torturing her minutes earlier had vanished after rescuing the high elf. And as time passed, the Devil’s Blessing would start taking effect.

The reason she had run when she heard the shout was because she had thought that she would be able to ease the urges of her blessing.

In a soft voice that no one else could hear, Ruti asked her blessing:

“Is this really right?”

My name is Tisse Garland. I’m one of the Hero’s comrades, and I have an Assassin blessing.

It is currently evening. I just came back from giving the alchemist Godwin, who we have confined in a warehouse, dinner.

The plan had initially been for us to escape Zoltan during the night, but the Hero found her brother, whom she had been searching for in this town, so the plan changed.

It seems like she is considering staying in Zoltan. However, it is also still necessary to have Godwin make the medicine.

Godwin is too well-known in this town…

We would need to provide an alchemy workshop near enough that the Hero could reach it from Zoltan while also keeping Godwin confined so he doesn’t run away.

Difficult. That was the simplest way to put it.

If we had just a few more people, I could imagine a few separate ways we could accomplish that goal, but we only had the two of us. It was my first time in Zoltan, so there weren’t any people I could trust here. There wasn’t even a branch of the Assassins Guild. If push came to shove, I would guess that her brother Gideon was trustworthy, but…

“This is really quite the conundrum.”

“Yes,” Ruti said, nodding in response.

“Might it not be better to go to a different town until we’ve acquired more of the medicine? We could return to Zoltan after that.”

“I know that.”

“Eeep?!” I recoiled instinctively at the sullen aura emanating from the Hero. She was just sitting in a chair in thought, but it had such a powerful impact.

It had seemed for a short while like the force of her presence had softened a bit after meeting Gideon, but that was clearly not the case.

“There’s a place I would like to check out tomorrow. In the meantime, we have about a week, so it doesn’t have to be the top priority, but I would like to find a hideout.”

“I—I imagine we could make something work for that long, but…a place you wanted to check out?”

“Apparently, there are ancient elf ruins on the mountain near where we left the airship. If the facilities are still intact, it would likely be sufficient for our hideout.”

When had the Hero gotten ahold of that information?

“Supposedly, wood elves also used to live near that peak, and I’ve heard that useful plants grow all around there.”

Odd. I had never heard of wood elves having lived in the vicinity of ancient elf ruins. But that was probably just due to a lack of known examples.

Wood elves held the belief that nature operated on a cyclical structure. Their structures were one with the natural world, so after they disappeared, the shaped trees continued to grow until all traces of the wood elves had disappeared. At least, that was what my teacher at the Assassins Guild had taught us.

There might have been other wood elf settlements built near ancient elf ruins that had just become unrecognizable with the passage of time.

“If the ancient elf ruins are still intact, that would probably be sufficient for a hideout… But why…?”

Why was the Hero going so far out of her way in order to remain here in Zoltan? Seeing her serious expression, I couldn’t bring myself to finish my question.


A tiny leg tapped my shoulder. Mister Crawly Wawly was tilting his head.

What is it? Mister Crawly Wawly was trying to say something.

Don’t think so much about it? No, maybe don’t overthink it? And also, really look?

It was rare for Mister Crawly Wawly to push me so insistently in order to communicate. He started restlessly moving his two front legs, trying to communicate.

I was a little bit nervous. Mister Crawly Wawly was trying his best to get something across to me, but I couldn’t comprehend him at all.

“What is it?” I asked him to try to understand better, but he just kept transmitting the same vague image. I couldn’t understand. It had been a long time since I’d had this sort of problem.

My efforts with Mister Crawly Wawly commanded all my attention, distracting me from the Hero.



Without me realizing it, Ruti had walked right up to me. Surprisingly, her gaze was not directed at me as I froze in shock. She was looking at my shoulder. She was staring blankly at Mister Crawly Wawly.

The Hero stretched her hand out toward my shoulder. My thoughts froze. Fear and panic tore through me. I must have done something to anger her.

Not Mister Crawly Wawly!!!

Before I was aware what I was doing, I had leaped backward and drawn my sword.

My teeth were chattering. It felt like a fire was burning inside my head from the terror of drawing my weapon against an opponent I couldn’t hope to defeat.

The Hero stopped moving with her hand outstretched, still expressionless. Her gaze was fixed on me.

It was probably just a short moment, but to me, it felt like an eternity.

“…You have it wrong,” the Hero explained as she looked at me. “I know that creature is your pet. I wasn’t going to hurt it.”

What was she talking about? My breathing was ragged, and though I tried to listen to Ruti, I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying.

“I’ve seen that spider moving its legs around a lot next to you. I’ve even spotted it giving you insects that it caught…”

The Hero continued to say things like that while I stood there, still trembling and with steel in hand. A small shadow leaped into my view.

“Mister Crawly Wawly?!”

My pet spider leaped to the ground and raised both of his front legs, doing his best to make his small body to look bigger as he stood in front of me.

“Wh-what are you…? Huh? ‘Really look’?”

What am I supposed to be looking at…?

Mister Crawly Wawly was desperately flailing his small body, telling me over and over to peer harder.

And then…I finally saw it.

“This is a misunderstanding. I would never do something like that.”

Who was standing in front of me? The Hero. The person who bore humanity’s most powerful blessing, who shouldered the burden of saving the world, who lived for the sake of what was right, and who was feared by all her comrades. However, when I really examined her, all I saw was a puzzled girl who had upset her friend but had no idea how.

Our perceptions of the situation were off. I had drawn my sword in terror and gone into a stance ready to fight, but to Ruti, while she did not understand why, she could tell that she had upset me somehow.

The Hero was too strong, and she had become too far removed from the rest of us…murderous intent or hostility from an ordinary person did not register to her. It was almost like how a young child could be genuinely angry, and to adults, it just seemed charming.

And the reason I had finally managed to recognize that disconnect that had left her isolated all this time was because I had finally really looked at her.

Thinking back now, I understood. When we had been talking on the airship, the reason the Hero’s expression had shifted from time to time while she was looking at me was that she had been noticing Mister Crawly Wawly and smiling, just like I did. That night, what she had been looking for outside was a small pet of her own like Mister Crawly Wawly. That was all.

Ruti seemed at a loss for what to say…

“I’m sorry I don’t know what I did to upset you, but please forgive me. I didn’t mean to, and I am very remorseful.”

So she just apologized.

There was a clatter as I dropped my sword. Terrible guilt gripped me as I wondered why I hadn’t noticed any of this sooner.

I squatted down, and Mister Crawly Wawly jumped onto the back of my hand. He conveyed an image to me.

Apologize? Yes. I should.

I walked over to the Hero—to Ruti. Her shoulders twitched ever so slightly.

I took a deep breath.

“No, I should apologize to you. I was the one who misunderstood. I’m truly sorry.”

“I see… So you’re not angry?”

“No, I’m not angry at all. Are you angry, Ms. Ruti?”

“I’m not.”

“Good. But— Um…when you want to pet him, could you please just tell me first?”

“I understand.”

I held out Mister Crawly Wawly to Ruti. She brought her left hand close.


Mister Crawly Wawly leaped nimbly from my hand to Ruti’s. And then he waved his right leg at her to say hello.

“…What is its name?”

“Mister Crawly Wawly.”

“Crawly Wawly?”

“Mister Crawly Wawly. The Mister is part of his name, too.”

Ruti looked puzzled for a moment and then looked at my pet spider.

“Nice to meet you, Mister Crawly Wawly. I’m Ruti.”

She smiled gently as her eyes narrowed.

My name is Tisse Garland.

I have an Assassin blessing, and now I am the Hero’s friend.

The ancient elves—the first race, said to have ruled over the lands at the dawn of the world, between the time of the gods and recorded history.

There was the first realm where fairies and spirits dwelled. The warmth of springtime enveloped that land all year-round, and the immortal, unaging fay danced and sang. It was a paradise of never-ending pleasure. Those that dwelled there never knew pain or conflict. As a result, every day was incomparably blessed and filled with joy, so they had no desire to change anything.

Because it was a paradise, the first realm was one of infinite stagnation. After observing that first world for eons, Almighty Demis began to feel displeased with that inactivity.

That was when Demis created the second realm—this realm.

On the first day, the cosmos was created.

On the second day, the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars were created.

On the third day, the insects, animals, and plants that would become sustenance were created.

On the fourth day, the monsters that filled the world were created.

On the fifth day, intelligent creatures like elves, dragons, and demons were created.

On the sixth day, the ancient elves were created in the image of a particular fairy from the first realm that was said to be the most talented. Their destiny was to rule over this realm. Humans were created in Demis’s own image.

On the seventh day, with his work done, Demis rested, and during that night, the Asura were born.

On the eighth day, the Asura appeared to greet God, and God became angry, declaring, “I did not create beings such as you.”

According to the holy church’s book, that was how everything had been created. The dwarves and orcs who lived on the dark continent were subspecies of elves. The goblins who proliferated throughout the world were also the descendants of an elven race that had originated on the dark continent. High elf scholars argued that goblins and elves were entirely unrelated, but that remained a fringe theory.

The term ancient elves was a modern convention. In the oldest copies of the Church’s books, the creatures created on the sixth day were referred to as merely elves, while the word used for the elves devised on the fifth day was actually fay.

There was significant debate among scholars about the relationship between modern fay and elves, but the current consensus was that elves were a breed of fay. They were a sort of higher kind, distinct from archfay and possessed with the ability to establish an advanced culture. That is merely the leading theory, though. In this world where theology and biology intertwined, it became difficult to determine what was correct.

To clarify the current understanding of elves:

  Ancient elves (extinct)

  Wild elves

  Fays that were equivalent to elves

  Wood elves (extinct)


  High elves

  The original dark elves on the dark continent

  Dwarves, orcs, goblins

That marked the consensus of the elf studies field.

None doubted that the ancient elves possessed a more advanced civilization than is even seen in modern times. However, their exact nature is still shrouded in mystery.

Scholars comparing the elven coins that could raise the level of one’s blessing temporarily to the secret medicine of the wild elves that temporarily lowered one’s blessing level led to the belief that the ancient elves had analyzed and gained some more profound understanding of blessings.

Some among the clergy asserted that the ancient elves had incurred God’s wrath for their arrogance and been destroyed.

The true reason for their ruination was unknown. However, both the first demon lord and the first Hero had been born in that era. The story of the latter’s triumph over the former had been passed down for centuries.

In other words, the first Hero had not been a human, but an ancient elf.

In which case, just let a modern elf be the Hero, Ruti thought as she cut through the clockwork giant that stood before her. The slash elicited an unpleasant metal screech.

Ruti and Tisse were venturing into the ancient elf ruins that resided in the depths of the mountain where Red went to gather medicinal herbs.

Thankfully, portions of the old structures were still intact.

The upper level had been disturbed by chimeras and adventurers from Zoltan looking for ancient elf treasures, but the contraption for moving to the lower level was untouched.

The device had powered down for a time because the mana crystal it ran on had lost its charge. The gem had been replenished by absorbing magic power from the surroundings over the intervening years. Thus, restarting the lift to the chambers below wasn’t much of a hassle.

Having explored ancient elf ruins countless times before, Ruti controlled the magically powered lift with practiced ease as she and Tisse moved to the lower level of the abandoned structure.

This new floor was populated by the familiar clockwork monsters that infested all ancient elf sites. Ruti and Tisse were searching for the clockwork mother who controlled all of the lesser mechanical enemies.

“Phew.” Tisse wiped the sweat off her brow. Unlike Ruti, who seemed unconcerned as she fought, Tisse had found herself in peril more than once during their battles, and she was looking tired.

It’s not just the defensive clockwork knights. There would only be a single clockwork giant right before the clockwork mother in other ruins, but we’ve already encountered four of them. There were even a few clockwork destroyers, and they’re supposed to be used in invasions, not guarding. I definitely saw some underwater clockwork leviathans, too… What the heck is going on with this place?

Tisse cursed it all in her mind. Despite the seemingly endless onslaught of mechanical opponents, she was able to continue deeper into the unusually menacing ruins because Ruti would take down anything that stood in her way.

Finally, the two girls arrived at the clockwork mother’s room in the depths of the ruins. If they destroyed it, all the monsters it oversaw would stop functioning. Selling its scraps would net more than one hundred thousand payril, which was why taking on an ancient elf ruin was something of a get-rich-quick scheme.

I wonder if any adventurers would still be that excited after seeing this, though, Tisse thought after subconsciously recoiling back half a step at the sight before her.

The clockwork mother was a mass of gears that controlled all the other mechanical creatures in the ancient elf structure. And standing before it, as if to guard it, was a shining assemblage of metal—a clockwork dragon.

Unlike the other machine monsters that had screeched unpleasantly when they had moved, the dragon’s body was elaborate—almost artful—in its construction. Its parts hardly made a sound as it moved. Within its body flowed burning tar, and the spark flickering in the recesses of its open maw evoked the image of a red tongue.

The creation was legendary, an ultimate weapon. Stories spoke of a device like this that the previous demon lord had restored. Supposedly, it was so powerful that it had killed some of the last Hero’s comrades and forced that Hero to retreat in defeat once.

A cold sweat formed on Tisse’s brow. Until now, she had never believed that clockwork dragons existed.

“Ms. Ruti!”

Tisse was going to suggest that they withdraw for the moment and get Gideon and Rit to help. It was too powerful for the two of them to face alone.

“It’s fine.”

However, Ruti appeared wholly unbothered. Her sword, the Holy Demon Slayer, hung at her side listlessly. Ruti did not even adopt a readied stance as she faced down the massive, artificial opponent created by the ancient elves.

There was a mansion in downtown Zoltan.

It had once been the abode of a summoner, but they eventually joined up with the Mages Guild of another town and left Zoltan behind. The structure was one of the few buildings in Zoltan that had a basement equipped with magical defenses.

The manor gave off a creepy vibe, dissuading most from taking an interest in it. This left the place cheaper to rent than its neighboring homes. It was a perfect demonstration of how Zoltan was behind the times when it came to magic.

“It suits my needs just fine, though.”

Bui, the dark-skinned young swordsman, set the report he had finished reading on the desk he was sitting at.

The documents contained information on the wood elf ruins that existed around Zoltan.

They had almost all disappeared as trees overran them, but Bui had hired investigators and the few available researchers in Zoltan to investigate what remained.

Bui had been tasked with finding a particular object that the wood elves had secreted away.

Unlike other wood elf sites, which had grown into their surrounding forests, this structure would have remained unchanged because it needed to stand watch over the precious item Bui was after. His investigation had involved eliminating potential places and narrowing down the object’s location, and at last, he was finally nearing the end of his search.

“No wood elf structures remain around here.”

Bui drummed his fingers on the desk with a sigh. His mission had become troublesome.

Protecting something meant keeping intruders out, and that meant a structure surrounded by walls. The damn wood elves must have sealed it away in something other than one of their buildings.

“Did they resort to their usual trick and hide it in a natural fortress? If so, then maybe at the bottom of the southern ocean or the Wall at the End of the World?”

While it was undeniable that either locale would be difficult for humans and demons alike to penetrate, there were aquatic creatures at the bottom of the ocean, and dragons, gugs, and other beings could survive the Wall at the End of the World.

Bui was searching for something that the wood elves would want to be certain no one would ever reach. Thus, it was unthinkable that they would keep it in a place where anything had a reasonable chance of getting through.

In which case, if it was a place in Zoltan that no one would be able to break into, then that left just one place.

“The ancient elf ruins.”

The site was a collection of half-crumbled buildings protected by blessing-less geared warriors who continued to move even after thousands of years. Typically, the wood elves avoided the remnants of their now-extinct brethren. However, the fact that they had established a settlement on the same mountain as the ancient elves in Zoltan was practically a confirmation.

Bui stood up, checked again to be sure there was no one at the stairs to the first floor, locked the door to the basement, and then flipped a switch hiding in the nearby bookshelf.

A segment of the wall noiselessly slid away, revealing a set of stairs leading underground. Descending, Bui arrived in a small room with stone walls.

It was a hidden chamber with powerful magical defenses that had probably been the previous owner’s secret laboratory. Bui opened the shelf at the back of the room that was locked by a magic key. Inside was a single large, sparkling gray gem.

Its unnatural glow inspired unease in those who beheld it, but Bui paid that no heed as he touched the stone and bathed in the ashen gleam.

The gem was a rare magic item called an incubus heartstone. By synchronizing a gray onyx with it and then burying that onyx in the ground, it would unleash a curse that robbed those nearby of their spiritual energy. It was an item that converted the stolen force it stored into magic power that could then be accessed by the one who owned the stone.

It was an item from the previous demon lord’s treasure vaults and made the perfect tool for Asura demons. Without a blessing, magic was difficult for them to use efficiently on their own.

“Hmm? Is this all that it has stored up?”

The blanched light dimmed soon after Bui touched it, and it transformed into a dull, shabby stone. Bui concentrated, checking to see if the sudden dip in his spiritual energy harvest was somehow his fault, but that didn’t appear to be the case.

“Did someone notice the curse already and implement countermeasures?” Bui groaned to himself. Even the fay should not have been able to block the hex. Still, whether he wanted to believe it or not, the magic power provided by the incubus’s heartstone was far from enough for what he needed.

“This isn’t nearly enough magical power to investigate the ancient elf ruins on my own.”

He would need an accomplice.

Unfortunately, he was far removed from the demon lord’s army’s front lines. He wasn’t able to call in support, and there were no adventurers in Zoltan who would be of any use.

“What should I do about this?”

Bui touched his finger to his temple as he slipped deep into thought.

He was entirely unaware that, at the exact same moment, Ruti and Tisse were already clearing the ruins.

Two weeks had passed since Ruti had arrived at my shop.

The following three days, Ruti had been away, but after that, she’d shown up regularly. She and Tisse registered as adventurers, and while they had not been incredibly proactive about it, they were taking quests to clear out goblins near the town from time to time.

The two girls were powerful. Clearing goblins was beneath them, to say the least. It seemed likely that the reason they took the quests was to stave off impulses from their blessings.

Exterminating goblins—humanoid creatures—who were attacking villages was the perfect way to deal with both the Hero blessing’s urges to save people and the Assassin blessing’s desire to kill people.

What’s more, since all they were doing was fighting weak opponents, Ruti and Tisse were taking the quests without any concern for the number of enemies. Word had started to spread around town about reliable new adventurers as people saw them heading out to the goblins’ hideouts like they were going for a lighthearted stroll and coming back after having destroyed it.




For some reason, the pair had come to help out at my shop today.

I had tried having Ruti stand at the counter, but maybe because of her inherent, powerful aura, customers reflexively screamed when she greeted them.

The reaction hurt Ruti, but it also taught me something new.

“Perhaps if you were able to smile a bit more, they wouldn’t react like that?” Tisse proposed.


I had assumed that I was the only one able to notice that Ruti was sad over the patron’s frightened reaction, but Tisse had recognized it, too. She’d even given my little sister some advice.

“Yep, if you can manage to smile just a little bigger, I’m sure it will be okay. Do you mind if I leave the counter to you for a little longer?” I asked.

“That’s fine.” Ruti clenched her fist slightly. She was determined to keep trying.

While Ruti and Tisse were tending the shop front, Rit was checking the count on the various medicines in storage and taking inventory.

We always kept an eye on our stock, but now was a good opportunity to be more meticulous since we had extra help. Rit and I had been talking recently about how it’d be a good idea to do a thorough check of what all we had.

“Doing okay in here?” I entered the storage room, carrying two cups of coffee.

With pen and paper in hand, Rit was doing her best to take count of the many medicines we had stockpiled.

“Argh! I give up! You made me lose track of where I was!” she shouted with perceptible despair.

“My bad, my bad. I’ll help you out after this, so how about taking a little break.”

“Yeah, I was getting a bit tired.”

The two of us went to the living room and had a seat. We could hear Ruti speaking with customers out front.

“Do you want to go check on her?” Rit inquired.

“There’s not much point in having her do it if I’m standing over her shoulder. That kind of thing will make her self-conscious.”

“You know her well.”

“She is my little sister, after all.”

Rit and I both took a sip of coffee.

“Mmm, it’s especially strong today. Plenty of sugar and milk, too. But it’s still delicious.”

I had put a little extra effort into the brew today. I used three fine metal filters and poured the hot water over coarsely ground coffee beans. Openings in the filters would get blocked by the beans, extracting the coffee more slowly. This left the drink very potent, so I’d added a fair amount of milk and sugar, too.

“There is herbal tea as a palate cleanser, too.”

“Because this is a coffee to be enjoyed in the moment, rather than for the lingering aftertaste.”


“Thanks, it’s delicious.”

It was a way of making strong coffee to be enjoyed at a slow pace. The herbal tea beside it was for occasionally resetting the palate so you could appreciate that fresh first sip flavor again.

Rit and I relaxed, enjoying ourselves.

“That was great. Thanks.”

“I’m glad you liked it.”

Rit placed her cup down with a satisfied expression. The two of us looked at each other in silence for a few moments. But before long, Rit stood back up.

“All right, I think I’m going to go take over the counter for a bit,” she declared.

“What for?” I asked.

“It’s about time they got a break, too.”

“In that case, I’ll go.”

“Nope,” Rit refused with a grin. “I’m sure Ruti wants to be able to enjoy sipping her drink with you after all.”

Rit left the room without giving me any chance to get a word in edgewise. I flicked one of the cups. It made a nice sound.

Even though she had kept the cost down, the dishes Rit had chosen were good quality ones.

“All right, I guess I should get some drinks ready for the two of them.”

Putting the cups on a wooden tray, I headed into the kitchen.

“Thank you both for your help.”

There were three cookies and a trio of sweetened cups of cocoa set out on the table.

“Thank you.”

“If I may.”

Ruti’s eyes sparkled as she took a sip from one of the mugs while Tisse decided to go for a cookie first.

“These are adventurer rations, right?” Tisse asked with a shocked expression. “It’s…quite delicious.”

“I mixed some nuts I gathered up on the mountain into it. They give it a flavor almost like cinnamon,” I replied.

“Cinnamon…I’ve never had that before.”

“Really? Then I’ll make a cinnamon pie for tonight. Also, here, I soaked a bit of cloth in sugar water,” I said.

“Huh?” Confused, Tisse cocked her head slightly to one side.

“I thought it might make a nice snack for that spider,” I explained.

I nudged a plate with a bit of cloth on it over toward her. The arachnid hopped down from Tisse’s shoulder. It raised its leg politely to greet me and then started to drink the sweetened liquid.

“So you noticed him. Thank you very much.”

“That little guy? I mean, you seemed to be getting along so well with him.”

“His name is Mister Crawly Wawly.”

“Crawly Wawly?”

“The Mister is part of his name, too.”

A tiny smile crossed Tisse’s face at my reaction. Her outward expressions were relatively subtle, but behind that, she seemed to be a normal girl, just like Ruti.

“Big Brother.”

“Hmm? What?”

“Is it okay to have lunch with you, too?”

I patted Ruti’s head. I had just been talking about dinner with Tisse.

“Of course it is. That was the plan from the start.”

“I see.”

“And not just lunch. You’re going to stop by for dinner, too, right?”

“Yes,” Ruti responded with a smile. “The truth is: I love your cooking, Big Brother.”

Ruti broke out in a natural grin. It was almost spellbinding. It was a lovely expression that immediately conveyed Ruti’s feelings.

“Yep, I remember.”


“Is there anything in particular you’d like to have?”

“…I want to drink honey milk.”

“Got it.”

My sister’s request wasn’t really what I’d been getting at—I’d been hoping to hear what she wanted for lunch. It didn’t matter all that much, though. There was still an hour and a half left until lunchtime.

What goes well with honey milk?

At lunch, Rit, Tisse, Ruti, and I crowded around the table.

There were bacon sandwiches, potatoes gratin, and a salad made with the breast meat of a dragon chicken—a giant, bear-size bird—I had gotten some from the market’s butcher, as well as onions, and topped it with a lemon-flavored dressing.

Naturally, we also had hot milk with honey, made the way Ruti had loved ever since she was a child.

“Thank you for the food.”

Unsurprisingly, Ruti went for the honey milk first. With the first taste, her eyes gleamed, and then she immediately downed half of it in one gulp on the spot. The years had done nothing to change the way she drank it. I couldn’t help but break into a smile from the nostalgia.

“Ah, this is dragon chicken, right? That’s different,” Rit commented as she partook of the salad.

It was just like Rit to notice something like that after a single bite. Dragon chicken meat had a slightly different flavor, but it was still basically just poultry. Judging by her grin, the flavor worked well for her, which was gratifying.

“Apparently, the farm missed it in their selection process, and one dragon chicken with a Beast blessing caused a mess and ran away. They got an adventurer to deal with it, but that left the butcher with a lot of poultry to offload, so it was on sale.”

Unlike humans and elves, animals did not have many different kinds of blessings. They could be born with blessings like Warrior, Sorcerer, and Thief, but that was rare; only one in twenty. The remainder had Cattle or Beast blessings.

The former fostered a greater tendency toward cooperation and gentleness, while the latter tended to induce a dislike of flocking and more aggressive behavior.

Animals with the Cattle blessing were best suited for livestock, of course. The reason cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and goats were kept as farm animals was because they tended to have the Cattle blessing. It was rare for creatures like them to be born with the Beast blessing.

When it came to pets, it was possible to train an animal with the Beast blessing, but they weren’t suitable as livestock for commerce.

It was standard for the owner of a farm to determine as quickly as possible which blessing an animal had and then have those with Beast blessings put down early. I had a few doubts about that method of handling things, but I didn’t know enough about farm animals to really be butting into it.

The occasional broken fence wasn’t the end of the world, but creatures with Beast blessings did occasionally injure other livestock or people. I guess addressing the matter in some form or another while they were still small was the only choice.

Hearing that the chicken meat had been from one with the Beast blessing, Ruti looked down at it with a severe expression for a moment before she began eating it.

I knew that Ruti wasn’t much of a talker, but Tisse was a quiet one, too. She would say what was necessary to assert her thoughts, but that was all. After mentioning that she was enjoying the food, she ate in silence.

Judging from how her eyes were moving, she seemed to be paying close attention to what we were saying and how we reacted, but she was not the sort of person to contribute small talk to keep the conversation moving.

Tisse was more the sort who only spoke with a clear goal in mind. She’d use her words as tools to carefully and precisely convey her intentions.

Given that, the natural result was that Rit and I were doing almost all the conversing. We used the time to outline the sort of life we were living in Zoltan.

Compared to when I was a knight or part of the Hero’s party, the day-to-day here was far more peaceful. Ruti seemed to be particularly interested as she listened to us.

“This is generally about how our day goes.”

“From time to time, I have the shop to myself when Red goes out to gather herbs, though.”

Rit was still calling me Red. We had spoken the night before about what to do about that—whether she should call me Red or Gideon when Ruti was around. We’d settled on keeping things as they were. While in Zoltan, we were just Red and Rit.

“Big Brother.”


“Is the place you get herbs that mountain to the northwest?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“…In that case, I know the place. I’ll get some for you.”

“I’d certainly appreciate it, but are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s fine.”

“Got it. Then as long as it doesn’t interfere with any of your own stuff, I’m happy to have the help.”

Ruti nodded.

I don’t have dreams.

Winter had come to the forest, and the trees were barren in the cold. Gray clouds had blotted out the sky, and a cold, dry wind was blowing. My ears hurt, so I pressed my hands against them to warm up.

I was seven years old, and I was always by myself in the woods near the village.

It was only around a five-minute walk from home. If I listened closely, I could hear the sound of people going about their lives in the village.

I stayed in the woods, waiting for the sun to set—for the day to pass.

When there were lots of people around, there was no telling when someone would require help. The Hero couldn’t refuse a person in need.

Hiding in my house was difficult, since my parents and I did not get along very well. My mother wove inside, and when I was around her while she was working, she would get into a terrible mood.

I didn’t have any allies. Not anymore…


I spun around in surprise. That voice belonged to the person who I so longed to see, the one I was waiting for.

“Big Brother.”

I leaped into his arms as he spread them with a smile.

Usually, my mouth never moved, but my cheeks would just naturally relax when I was in his arms.

And seeing me grin, Big Brother would beam happily, too. Moments like that were blissful.

“I was promoted to esquire, so I was given a week off to tell my family and take care of whatever preparations I needed.”

My big brother had been scouted by the Bahamut Knights and had left for the capital. I had thought we wouldn’t see each other for a long time, but he had risen from page to esquire in just half a year and had traveled all the way from the capital back to this far-off little village.

“I never had any free time because I was always busy attending to my superiors, but I’ll be able to take some time off now. I’ll come visit whenever I can.”



I welled up with joy and clung even tighter to him. He held me closer, too.

I would have liked to stay that way forever, but Big Brother gently released me after a bit.

“Shall we head back now? I haven’t had a chance to say hi to anyone else yet.”


I was a little disappointed. The two of us walked out of the forest, holding hands. His had gotten bigger and stronger since he’d left.

I didn’t dream because I couldn’t sleep anymore. At night, all I could do was walk through scenes from my past.

I could still clearly remember the warmth of Big Brother’s hand holding mine back then.

I stretched my fingers out in the darkness of the night. Until just two weeks ago, I had thought that I would never feel his hand again. But now…

As I waited for the dawn, I smiled as I realized that I was looking forward to tomorrow.

The next day.

“Not that this is really the sort of place anyone would go for sightseeing.”

“I see.”

Ruti and I were walking around the working-class part of Zoltan.

The plan was to show her around. She still wasn’t familiar with this section of town.

There were only a few clouds in the sky—great weather for walking.

As Ruti and I strolled along a path that had been worn into the ground by many before us, we spotted a bunch of kids waving branches and pretending to be adventurers as they ran around.

“Not so fast, goblin!”


The one pretending to be a monster was trying to sound menacing, I guess, but for some reason, he made a drake roar as he scampered about. The children seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a familiar scene in this neighborhood.

One of the boys running around noticed me and turned around.

“Hey, Big Bro Red! Teach me how to fish sometime!”

“Sure thing. I’m a bit busy, but another day.”

“Hurray! It’s a promise!”

The boy raised his arms in joyful triumph. Then, as if realizing something, he made his best effort at a serious expression.

“Big Bro,” the kid began.


“You shouldn’t cheat on Rit!”

“She’s my little sister. She only just arrived in Zoltan.” I grinned wryly as I tousled the child’s hair.

“Cut it out!” He laughed as he shook his head.


“Ah, they’re calling me. I’ll see you later!”

With that, the boy ran back to his friends.

I was filled with warmth as I watched him go. It was a peaceful Zoltan morning scene.

When he was far enough away, Ruti tilted her head a bit.

“Are you certain it’s all right to admit that I’m your little sister? Unlike that half-elf man from when we first met, that child will tell everyone he knows about me.”

“I intend to keep your blessing and the fact that I’m the knight Gideon a secret. But you’re my little sister. There’s nothing bad about being proud of you. I don’t see a need to conceal that.”

“…I see…”

Upon hearing that, Ruti’s eyes widened slightly. Then her cheeks relaxed a little bit, and she nodded slightly.

The two of us continued for a while until we came upon a familiar building.

“That’s a sauna that we go to pretty regularly. It’s run by an old man named Zeff. He’s an interesting guy and a respectable artisan.”

I was still delivering fragrance bags to him regularly. I’d worried that folks would get bored with it, but Zoltanis had truly taken a shine to a bath with herbal scents. It was just ten in the morning, but more people were going in than I would have thought.

“A sauna.”

Ruti’s gaze was fixed on Zeff’s shop.

“Want to go take a look?”

It was a little bit out of the way, but there was no pressing reason I had to finish showing her everything today, either.

Nearly two years had passed since I’d left the Hero’s party. Since we were making up for lost time, it wasn’t such a bad idea to take a more scenic route.

At my suggestion, Ruti turned to look straight at me.

“I’ve never been in a sauna like this before,” she admitted.

Back in our home village, there was a small lodge for smoking meat to keep it from spoiling. It also functioned as a community sauna. That was the best our little town had. There’d been no for-profit bathhouses or the like. And once Ruti had set out on the Hero’s journey, there hadn’t been any time for saunas in lands under attack by the demon lord’s army. If we stayed somewhere after defeating the demons, it was usually the local lord’s mansion or a palace. In such resplendent locales, we’d just used private baths there.

Thinking back on it, at least while she was with me, Ruti had never visited an establishment of this sort.

“So it’s your first time, huh? Unlike the elegant spas they have in castles, this is a simple one that uses stones heated by a stove. It can get a little raucous with the other customers, but that’s not such a bad thing, either.”

“I’d like to try it.”

“All right, then shall we?”


Ruti and I headed into Zeff’s shop. Inside, there were several groups of customers who were enjoying a beer after their steam. It must’ve been nice to be able to drink in the morning.

“Welcome. Oh, Red, eh?”

Zeff’s teeth flashed as he grinned and greeted us. The young man working part-time seemed busy delivering the drink orders and didn’t have the opportunity to pay much attention to us.

“Looks like business is booming.”

“All thanks to you. Don’t think I’ve seen this young lady before,” Zeff remarked as he motioned to Ruti with his hand.

“She’s my little sister.”

“Oh? You never mentioned having a little sister before.”

Zeff gave Ruti a long, hard look.

Uh-oh, this might be bad.

“…gh.” A cold sweat popped up on Zeff’s wrinkled brow. His hand on the counter started trembling, making a noise as his fingers drummed nervously on the surface.

“Zeff, um…” I started frantically trying to think up an excuse.

However, Zeff just looked down, averting his gaze as he took a deep breath. “Phew, sorry ’bout that. I’m fine now.”

“Ah, no, it’s my bad. My sister is—”

“I’ve got no interest in prying into my customers’ blessings or past. I’m sorry for bothering you, Missy.”

Ruti looked a bit surprised as Zeff lowered his head. It might well have been the first time anyone had ever had that reaction to her. It was typical that people who saw the Hero found themselves incapable of ignoring her—whether they felt respect, fear, hatred, or whatever else. It was rare for someone to respond the way Zeff ultimately had, by pulling back a bit.

But that was the way things were in Zoltan. People here didn’t pry into one another’s lives.

“All right, two people, yeah?”

I placed two quarter payril on the counter, took the locker keys and towels, and then walked away.

“Okay, I guess I should explain things before we go in.”

“Can I not just go in with you?”

“No, there are different rooms for men and women.”

“I see.”

Ruti looked dejected.

“But we can get drinks and some snacks after we finish in the sauna. It’s not much, but let’s have a little something together.”


Then I outlined how to go into a public sauna. Ruti nodded along as she listened with her own sort of serious expression.

“That’s the gist of it, at least. As for me, let’s see, I was thinking of keeping it a bit short today and get out after twenty minutes, but what did you feel like?”

“I’ll do that, too,” Ruti replied.

“Got it. You should relax and not worry about time, though. I’ll wait for you out here if you take a little longer.”

“I’ll be okay.”


And with that, Ruti and I split up for a bit and went to our respective changing rooms.

Last time, Gonz and Storm had turned it into a competition, but saunas weren’t the kind of place for an endurance test.

When I got out of the sauna, I dumped a jug of water over my head to wash off the sweat. The cool liquid felt great on my hot body. There were refrigeration units in a high-ranking noble’s sauna to cool the water so you could enjoy the tranquil temperature of a lake in the middle of winter, but there was no way you would find a magical device like that in Zoltan.

But— Well, even without that, just plain water felt great when you were washing away the perspiration after a steam.

“That should be enough, I suppose?”

It was a little earlier than the twenty minutes I had said, but I changed back into my clothes and headed back into the hall.

A short while later, exactly twenty minutes from when we’d entered, Ruti came out.

“Over here.”

Ruti trotted over and sat in the chair next to me.

“What do you want to drink?”

“Whatever you think is good.”

“Hmm, all right… Then I guess let’s get a mixed-fruit milk.”

I placed the order with Zeff, and soon after, he brought two wooden cups of the stuff.

It was a tasty drink with a nice blend of sweet and citrus. Glancing over, I saw that Ruti was gulping hers down.

““Haah.”” We finished and set our cups down at the same time.

“It’s been so long since I could be together with you like this, Big Brother,” Ruti said as her face relaxed. “We were always side by side when the journey first started. I was still weak, and you were always helping me. You taught me so many things.”

“When we first set out, huh? Your blessing level was really low in those days.”

“Traveling was fresh and interesting back then. And also, you were there.”

“That brings back memories.”

The demon lord’s army had attacked our village, and Ruti and I had cleared the abandoned mine that the goblins were using as their base and then led all the villagers from nearby towns to take refuge there.

After that, we attacked the demon lord’s army’s camp, took care of a problem for a weapons merchant and got access to his weapon stores to gather gear, and then reclaimed our home with the help of the armed villagers.

The loss of such a small foothold was a paltry thing to the demon lord’s army, operating on a continent-wide scale. Neither the forces of Avalon nor any powerful demons had bothered getting involved in such a small skirmish.

But even still, all the people who’d battled that day were serious. They were fighting to protect their homes and families, after all.

It was something much easier to picture than the fate of the world. You could say it was a bit less grand, but it was the adventure that had kicked off our quest.

It had been Ruti’s first time outside the village, so everything she saw was new and different. I could still remember the first time she ever saw a unicorn. It was a tranquil scene as she brushed its white coat.

Unfortunately, even that was taken away from my sister as her blessing rose in level.

“Ah!” A young girl’s voice suddenly brought me out of my thoughts.

A dwarf girl was looking at Ruti with wide eyes.

“It’s the shaking girl!”

“Shaking girl?”

I was confused, but Ruti’s shoulders twitched. The girl smiled like she was reuniting with her hero.

“That was so cool! The way you poured the water like boom right after getting out of the sauna, and then when you shook your body and the water went flying everywhere!”

In her excitement, the girl’s voice grew loud. Other women who had been in the sauna with Ruti also commented on how impressive it had been, which caused a little bit of commotion.

Ohhh. Only one of the towels Ruti had was wet. I had just assumed she hadn’t brought one into the sauna, but apparently, it was because she had shaken her body to dry off. It was a superhuman sort of feat.

Ruti looked down, seemingly uncomfortable. Hmmm.

“She’s pretty amazing, isn’t she? That’s my little sister for you, though.”

“She’s your little sister?! So cool!”

The girl enthusiastically hopped up and down at that.

“Ohhh, you’ve got a sister, Red…”

The other people around us in the rest area seemed to relax a bit once they learned that the unknown entity was just the younger sibling of the guy who ran the apothecary.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“She seems pretty strong. A pretty far cry from you, Red.”

“She only recently arrived in Zoltan, so I was showing her around a bit.”

“Ohhh, I see.”

With that, their conversation shifted to the pet dogs they had, and Ruti and I slipped away after a brief introduction. Leaving Zeff’s place, Ruti looked a little bit down.

“I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“I hadn’t meant to make a scene.”

I’m sure she had just been trying to dry herself as efficiently as possible. She still didn’t seem to realize why it had drawn as much attention as it had, but she still felt guilty for drawing everyone’s eye and causing problems for me when I was trying to hide my identity and just run an apothecary.

I gingerly brushed her blue hair.

“Ruti, you don’t have to worry about anything here.”


“It’s true that I’m keeping my past a secret, but none of them tried to probe any further about us, right?”


“Even if you stand out a little bit, it won’t cause a problem here in Zoltan. So don’t worry about it. Just do as you please.”

Ruti’s red eyes stared straight at me. It felt like those ruby orbs were trembling slightly.

“You promise? It’s really okay.”

“Of course. I’m glad, even. I got to introduce everyone to my awesome little sister.”

That was the truth. I had been considering going around town to everyone I knew and having them meet my sibling. The only holdup was that I still didn’t have a clear grasp of what was going on with Ruti, so I wasn’t sure how exactly I should introduce her.

“Am I really that great a little sister?” Ruti pondered in a soft voice.

It was very gentle, like she was just mumbling to herself, but there was no way I could have missed it.

“You’re adorable, kind, and straightforward. I’m proud to be your brother,” I declared firmly.

Ruti’s cheeks flushed so subtly that anyone else would have missed it. She was embarrassed, and that was cute, too.

“All right, shall we continue the tour? How about we go check out the market next?”


Ruti held out her hand.

Whoa, that’s nostalgic.

I took it, and the two of us walked through the neighborhood.

I could feel Big Brother’s warmth as we held hands.

Today, it wasn’t my blessing that was pulling me along, but Big Brother’s arm. And that made me so unbelievably happy.

“Big Brother.”

“Hmm? What is it?”


He chuckled quietly at my silly response. That expression of his was more precious to me than any treasure I had ever held.

Ahhhhh, this is bliss…

If I could have just one wish granted, it would be to have this day last forever. But it was God who forced the Hero blessing on me…so who should I be asking to grant my wish?

Unable to think of anyone, I kept the wish tucked away deep in my heart.

That night, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, and I had dinner together. Ruti’s face was as flat as always, but she still managed to convey that she enjoyed the meal with every fiber of her being.

“Oh yeah, we have a bath here. Do you want to take a dip before going back to your inn?”

“A bath? Yes, please.”

There was just no helping the fact that you almost never had a chance to take a proper bath while traveling. We would wash—cleanliness was important—but it was just a bucket of water and a towel most of the time.

There was a big old bell in our village that had been turned upside down that we used as a tub. Big might be something of an overestimation, however, as it was only large enough for one child to fit in at a time. The adults in the village just washed themselves off with water and didn’t get into the bath.

Our village widely believed that regular bathing made it harder for miasma to cling to you. Hence, the man who did the metal casting for the town acquired a discarded church bell and repaired it so that at least children, who were more susceptible to miasma, could take proper baths.

When we were young, Ruti and I had taken baths every three days or so.

“We used to wash together,” Ruti commented nostalgically.

I guess she was thinking back to our childhood, too. For that bath, you would warm the water by stoking a fire directly underneath the bell. Unsurprisingly, the bottom of the bell would get incredibly hot, so wood boards were placed in the water. When you got in, you would sit on one of the planks, which would sink some, and you would have to be careful not to touch the bottom.

There was always an adult around, and for little children, their parents would help them, but because we both had gotten the hang of it at an early age, from around the time Ruti was two, I would get into the bath while holding her.

She would cling to me with her tiny hands. Our parents always complained that Ruti never cried, screamed, or laughed, but when we were in that warm water, her face would melt into a smile without fail.

It was so adorable to see how happy she was, so we had bathed together until we’d grown too large to fit in the bell. I’d like to believe Ruti had enjoyed that experience as much as I had.

“Can we get in together today?”

Phew, I guess it’s safe to say she didn’t hate it, then.

“Weeeell, at our age, we probably shouldn’t be taking a bath with each other.”

“I see.” Ruti seemed to be genuinely disappointed.

Yeaaah… I mean, if we’re siblings…? No, no, even then, we really shouldn’t.

“In that case, I’d like to go with Rit.”

“Huh?” Rit had been lounging comfortably in her chair, listening to us, but that caught her attention.

“Is that a problem?” Ruti pressed.

“…Hmm, no, that’s fine. I had wanted a chance to chat a little bit with you anyway,” Rit answered with a grin.

Ruti nodded with just the slightest smile.

I hadn’t thought much of it, but Ruti and Rit really hadn’t exchanged many words.

Way back when they had faced off in the colosseum that one time, Rit had wound up pretty bruised and battered. The experience might have left her feeling a little uncomfortable when it came to dealing with Ruti.

My sister was naturally a quiet sort of person, so if you didn’t start the conversation yourself, she’d keep quiet.

This seemed like a good chance for the two of them to open up to each other.

“I see, then I’ll go get the water warmed up,” I said.

“Um?” Tisse called out. She was fidgeting her hands restlessly. “Would it be okay for me to join, too?”

It might be a bit tight for three people, but perhaps if I filled the smaller single-person tub attached to the main one?

“Sure, I’ll get things ready, so just take it easy here for now.”

As I got up, I caught Tisse closing her eyes like she was steeling herself for an encounter.

On the seas. A first-class room in the high-speed clipper known as the Sylphid.

After being outed as a conspirator in the Devil’s Blessing incident and losing to Red, Albert was lying weakly on a bed.

His head was throbbing in pain, and he felt an unpleasant sense of fatigue gripping his body. But even with all that, he was not dwelling on how terrible the situation was. Quite the opposite, he even felt a profound sense of satisfaction from the bottom of his heart.

The Sage, Ares, was beside the bed on which Albert was lying.

“Heh-heh-heh, I don’t know what sort of mission you are pursuing, Ruti, but there’s no way you can defeat the demon lord without me!”

Several days of using high-level magic had left Ares exhausted, but his bloodshot eyes still shone as he raised his arms and shouted his declaration.

Theodora was casting healing magic on Albert, who looked pale and sickly. Albert’s eyes narrowed as he idly passed the time beneath the glow that was infusing him with life force energy.

There was no one in Zoltan capable of using healing magic of that level. Not Ria, the monk he had once formed a party with, nor even Bishop Shien who headed Zoltan’s holy church could begin to compare.

But even with spells of this level, Albert was having his blood drained every day, which kept him from fully recovering.

After Tisse and Ruti had left in the airship, Ares, Theodora, and Albert, who had been dragged there in a stupor by the contract demon, had remained at camp for several days, just waiting idly.

When Albert found out that they were the Hero’s party, he was excited. Long had he dreamed of joining up with such a glorious group. Even more than elation, though, he was ashamed and disappointed in himself for arriving not as a champion, but as a filthy criminal.

Things had since changed, however.

There was blood splattered around the floor at Ares’s feet. It had been taken from Albert’s arm. Distorted scars ran down his limb where it had been healed by magic only to be lacerated again, over and over.

As Ares concentrated, the blood seemed to squirm and form a figure of sorts that indicated a direction.

“There’s no mistaking it! Ruti is somewhere in the direction of the Wall at the End of the World!” Ares’s bellow resounded in the room.

Hearing the Hero’s name, Albert’s weakened heart started to pound in anticipation. However, while Ares and Albert grew more excited, Theodora’s expression was distant.

“If she’s on the other side of the Wall at the End of the World, then we’ve got a problem. Even if we go around it by sea, that would mean a voyage without any supplies. We’re going to have to borrow a large carrack or a galleon warship. We aren’t going to be able to keep up with an airship.”

Ares seemed to have no intention of answering Theodora’s concern. He just grinned as he stared at the crimson liquid on the floor.

“This blood still retains the power of the contract demon’s accord! The one to go to the Hero’s side! Our friend here has the ability to show us the way to Ruti! If I draw on this miracle, I can surely catch her!”

“Get a grip already,” Theodora muttered as she beheld Ares’s frenzied shouting with an icy gaze.

Ares swung around and glared at her with wide eyes. In those orbs was such a tremendous bloodlust that even Albert felt a chill run down his spine.

“What did you say?” snarled Ares.

“Milady left us behind of her own will. What meaning is there in chasing after her like this?”

“The power of Ares the Sage is necessary to defeat the demon lord! I’m merely doing my best for the sake of the world. Why are you here, though? If you really believe there is no meaning in pursuing Ruti, then shouldn’t you just turn tail and run?”

“If left to your own devices, you would have already killed Albert here,” Theodora spat back.

Ares’s face warped as he lunged in and grabbed the woman by the cloak. “I can use healing magic, too! Mine is at least as powerful as yours, if not more so! Don’t you dare forget: I’ve only entrusted this to you because you said you wished to do it!”

“You just don’t understand, Ares,” Theodora responded. Her tone of voice made it sound like she pitied him, which only served to vex Ares further.

“It’s not enough to just have a skill that restores the wounded. If you can’t empathize with an injured person and understand their pain on some level, then you can’t actually perform the act of healing.”

“Hah! What nonsense! Meaningless equivocation! Do you really think you can pull the wool over my eyes with such vague platitudes?!”

Judging that there was nothing she could say that would get through to Ares as he was now, Theodora merely shook her head limply and gently removed his hands.

“If it weren’t for the fact that a life is at stake, this would be a good chance for you to learn from painful experience… Just leave Albert’s healing and health management to me. I swear I’ll keep him alive until you find Milady.”

“Don’t go thinking you can hold this over my head for a favor later. Not over something as trivial as this.”

“I had no such intention. I’m merely doing what needs to be done, both as a cleric of no great importance and as someone who was once a comrade of the Hero who will save the world. We didn’t fight all this way because of anyone’s orders, to have someone owe us, or out of some desire for gratitude. We struggled because we wanted to save the world. At least that was why I fought.”

Ares stared Theodora down with a tremendous glare, and then, as if to indicate he no longer wished to be in her presence, he stormed out of the room.

Theodora looked down at the blood on the floor and picked up a bucket of water to start cleaning. It had become a regular practice of hers recently.

“Shall I help you…?”

Theodora looked a bit surprised at Albert’s offer.

“You don’t have to worry about it. Just rest yourself.”

“…Am I…? Have I been any help at all?”

Albert looked her in the eye. His gaze was weak, but his eyes were pure and bore no malice.

“I don’t know. But thanks to you, we are getting closer to Milady. Whatever else might happen now, we will be able to determine the result for ourselves without relying on anyone else’s decisions. And that is something we would not have been able to do with you, Albert. You have my gratitude for that.”

“I see…”

A peaceful smile crossed his lips.

They would head toward the Wall at the End of the World next, taking the southern sea passage around it. That would put their vessel close to Zoltan.

Albert’s missing right hand ached.

Seeing that, Theodora said, “Our next stop is the merchant city of Lark. We’ll get you a prosthetic hand there. Lark does a lot of trade with the archipelago country. I’m sure they have prosthetics made by alchemists there. Even if you can’t hold a sword, having a hand that can move again should ease the pain.”

“But to slow your journey on account of me…”

“Don’t worry about it. If it wasn’t for you, we would never have discovered where Milady was. We can spare a little time,” Theodora assured with a smile.

Albert glanced down at the stump that had once been a proper, full arm.

“He was mysterious, the man who severed my hand,” Albert said, recalling the appearance of that D-rank adventurer with a bronze sword at his waist. He’d been strong. So much so that Albert couldn’t even begin to guess at how badly he’d been outclassed.

“Why? Even with all that strength, why did he not become a hero?”

Albert wasn’t expecting an answer. The quiet question was more directed at himself.

However, Theodora looked down at Albert with a hard expression. “People must try to live in a way befitting their Divine Blessing.”

“That’s what the holy church teaches,” Albert added.

Almighty Demis bestowed Divine Blessings. Those who had been granted powerful gifts were expected to fulfill suitable roles. Theodora was a Crusader and a cleric of the sacred Last Wall fortress. Albert had expected her statement to end with some sort of remark about the church.

To his surprise, though, Theodora shook her head.

“However, Divine Blessings are not people.”


“People have free will. They have lives, dreams that they hope to achieve… Is someone with a blessing that could allow them to become a hero required to live their life as one? Are they not allowed to choose another path?”

“But that is what God wishes for them,” countered Albert.

“Then why did God give people free will? If fulfilling the Divine Blessing’s role is everything, what need would we have for choice?”

“That’s… I don’t know.”

Albert was not a theologian, nor was he even a particularly fervent believer. He was not remotely equipped to debate a cleric like Theodora.

“My apologies. I’m actually looking for the answer to that question as well.”

“Even you feel doubt?”

“I was left behind by Milady. I’m not nearly wise enough not to doubt myself after that,” Theodora admitted with a bitter smile. “What was the name of the man who took your hand?”

“He called himself Red.”

“Red, huh? I’d like to meet him,” Theodora muttered quietly to herself as she took the bucket and brush for cleaning the blood on the floor and left the room.

Albert closed his eyes after watching her leave. Bereft of stamina, he quickly drifted off to sleep.

There was a splash.

A single drop of water had fallen from the ceiling. Even though I was in a hot bath, for some reason, I felt a chill as I stared at the ripple it made.

My name is Tisse. I have an Assassin blessing, and I’m Ruti the Hero’s friend.

Currently, I am soaking in a tub. To be frank with you, I love baths. I adore them so much that my fellow contract killers call me the bath reviewer.

During my journeys, I put together a guidebook that contained all the notes I had on public baths, hot springs, and sauna complexes in places I had visited over the years. It’s considered a must-read by fellow Assassins Guild members preparing for excursions of their own. Murder was a rough line of work, and everyone wanted that one comfort that could bring them warmth.

A place where people generally stripped themselves bare and defenseless was the perfect spot for assassination, so my guide was also a proper resource for work. I’d written in notes about where to conceal weapons and the location of escape routes.

And from my perspective as someone who loved baths enough to write a book on them, this one…earned high marks.

Despite being for household use, there were two separate tubs, which was a big plus. The separate bath I was currently in was one in which you could really appreciate your personal space.

Society demanded that you communicate. That was no less true for assassins. In fact, precisely because killers had to infiltrate cities while always playing the role of a false identity, it was a job that often endured the stresses of social engagements.

No matter the time or place, you could never speak freely. You always had to control your communication, paying close attention to what exactly you might be saying and what sort of influence that might have on the job at hand. It was incredibly tiring.

I knew several assassins who had been working longer than me who were perfectly skilled as killers but had difficulty with the job’s social aspect and could never make a name for themselves.

Because my master had drilled into me how to mask my emotions and thoughts properly, I could become whatever kind of person I needed. But it was not like I particularly enjoyed dwelling beneath a facade.

I’m trying to say that being able to soak myself in a private bath and enjoy a little space to myself as Tisse Garland made me incredibly happy.

That this bath used a pipe to warm the water was another point in its favor. If someone were outside stoking a fire, I wouldn’t be able to help focusing on them. But with this tub, you could control the temperature by just getting a little bit out of the water and adjusting a valve.

“Four stars. It is just a little bit unfortunate that the bath is quite deep, so the water reaches my mouth while I’m sitting.” Unfortunately, my comment was little more than a burbling sound that no one else could interpret.

I was short. Since I fought in a way that took advantage of precise strikes to critical points from behind rather than a method that relied on strength-based power, being small in stature was advantageous. Still, it also led to many inconveniences in my personal life.

Mister Crawly Wawly was currently dining on an insect that had been drawn to the humidity of the bath. Seeing him carefully holding it with his front legs as he ate it while looking so happy was endearing.

Haaah, I should stop trying to escape reality and face what’s happening in front of me. I mean, it wasn’t like there was an actual problem yet. It was just that both Ruti and Rit were in the same bath together.

Having watched her from up close recently…I could tell that Ruti loved her big brother Gideon. As in, she was deeply in love with him.

But Gideon and Rit both cared for each other. It was clear at a glance that they were head over heels for each other. And to Gideon, while Ruti was his beloved little sister, that was all there was to it. It was a different sort of affection from what he felt toward Rit.

“It’s a nice bath, isn’t it?”


There was no flow to Rit and Ruti’s conversation at all as they sat across from each other. Ruti watched Rit without looking away, answering questions with few words, and not volunteering any discussion herself. Honestly, Rit was doing quite well to endure it.

Even if Ruti harbored no hatred for Rit, a person with ordinary nerves probably wouldn’t be able to take sitting face-to-face with her. I had become the Hero’s friend, and even I had a much easier time sitting next to her instead of directly staring her down. Honestly, I’m not sure Ruti felt zero anger toward Rit.

I had joined them in the bath like this to help ensure that nothing terrible happened in the worst case.


Finally, Ruti said something!

My heart was racing as I readied myself to leap out of the water at any moment if necessary.

Just in case!

“What is it?”

“Have you already taken a bath with my big brother?”

Going there already?! Urgh!

“Yes, I have.”

And a merciless counter! Terrifying!

There did not seem to be any hint of turbulence brewing between them. Still, love was the sort of thing capable of pushing a person to murder. I knew that too well as an assassin, having seen all kinds of situations where someone felt driven to end another’s life.

“I have, too. A long time ago, though.”

“How was Red…Gideon back when he was young?”

“The same as he is now.”

“So he hasn’t grown at all?”

“No. Big Brother has always been cool.” Ruti glanced down slightly. Looking closer, I could see her cheeks had turned a little red. “I used to be weak.”

“Really? It’s hard to imagine that with how you are now.”

“It’s true. My first fight was an orc hussar who attacked our village—no, that wasn’t it. The first was when I went out into the mountains near our village to look for a child who had gotten lost.”

“A lost child?”

“I was five years old, just a little kid myself. But I’m the Hero, and I couldn’t ignore someone in trouble.”

“Ah, the blessing’s impulse…,” Rit murmured with a serious expression.

The urges of a Divine Blessing were something that all who lived in this world encountered. The question of whether to live a life following one’s Divine Blessing or to resist that and exist as you wished was one everyone struggled with. Most people chose the route their blessing pushed them toward. Resisting those intrusive impulses was a painful thing, and your blessing would grant you the skills necessary to live a life per the path it desired of you. Even so, there was no guarantee that was the sort of person you wanted to be.

While I was lost in that thought for a moment, Ruti began recounting her first adventure. She was far more talkative than I had ever seen her.

On the first day of spring, a girl who was not my friend ventured out to the mountains that were crawling with animals who had just woken from their hibernation and were wandering around in search of food. Somewhere along the way, she had gotten lost.

Big Brother had gone out to take care of something that day. I didn’t have anyone else I could rely on. Father and Mother were not powerful enough to be going into the wilderness during that season.

I knew it was dangerous, but the Hero blessing pushed me, saying I had to go.

There was still a little bit of white snow left on the mountain. The river rushing so loudly was probably because of the snowmelt. I was only five years old. Even ordinary beasts were deadly opponents for me, let alone monsters.

All I had was one unreliable knife. I was shouting that lost girl’s name as evening closed in, always moving to avoid anything that might be slinking after me. Noticing a presence, I turned around and saw a large wolf sizing me up. Perhaps it didn’t desire to eat such small prey because it looked away from me disinterestedly and disappeared into the darkness.

However brave they were, a normal child would probably have screamed and run away at that. It was only natural. I didn’t feel fear, though. I just acknowledged that the threat had passed and continued my dangerous adventure.

Shortly after dusk, I finally found the missing girl. Unable to navigate her way back, she had instead discovered a cave that seemed warm and was crying inside it. There were claw marks from a large beast on a nearby tree, and there was a powerful animal odor inside the cave.

If the girl had possessed Perception, then she would have noticed the enormous creature inside. The owlbear had already judged her to be its next meal.

Owlbears were at the top of the food chain in the mountains. Even the wolf from before would have fled from one. I imagine the only reason it hadn’t killed her already was that it had just finished eating something else earlier.

The clever beast knew that human children died easily. The owlbear was letting her live so that it could consume her in the freshest state possible.

Although I had the Divine Blessing of the Hero, my level was still only one back then. I was just as much a kid as the lost girl. The enemy was an owlbear, something said to be unbeatable without at least a level of fifteen. The difference in strength between us was obvious. Still, I couldn’t abandon her. I suppose you could call that a flaw with the Hero blessing. It didn’t fear death and prioritized fulfilling the role of the Hero over survival. Not only that, it didn’t even really register that such single-mindedness sacrificed something in return.


The girl noticed me and shouted my name as she ran over in tears, alerting the owlbear that another source of food had arrived.

“Guuooooooooh!!!!!” The great beast roared as it leaped out from the depths of the cave.

I held my knife in a backhand grip and readied myself. I knew my likelihood of winning was slim. If I failed, all that awaited me was death… I had just one chance. The owlbear charged and swung its claws down at me. It was too fast, so I couldn’t dodge it. Because of that, I held my left hand to my chest and waited for that one moment.

The owlbear’s claws ripped into my body.

“Healing Hands.”

I should have been torn to pieces, but I was uninjured. Using all the power of Healing Hands, I had healed myself at the same moment its claws were gouging into my body.

I’m sure the owlbear never expected its prey to be uninjured. Using that moment where it was off guard, I slammed the knife into the owlbear’s left eye as hard as I could. It roared in pain.

Too shallow…

Even though I had stabbed it with all my might, the knife had only pierced its eye. It was a deep wound; one could have been an eventual cause of death, but I had required an instant kill. My weapon needed to have reached the monster’s brain.

There was a thud as I was sent flying through the air. The owlbear had flailed its arm and knocked me aside. Because it had not managed to hit me with its claws, I avoided dying then and there, but that was all.

My body rolled across the ground before finally coming to a stop. I desperately tried to raise my blade, but my arm was just hanging loosely… The bones were broken.

I had tried my best. There was nothing to be done.

And perhaps the blessing acknowledged that because it did not demand that I die on my feet. In its infinite mercy, in the end, it had allowed me to face death lying on my side.

Even if I didn’t perish, all it would mean was that I would continue to suffer like this for people I wasn’t even particularly close to. If I survived, I would continue to suffer for others, only to have them call me a creepy girl behind my back. My survival simply meant being used by those who secretly feared and hated me whenever it was convenient for them to ask for my assistance.

It was enough. I had lived for five years—not even that long counting from when I became aware of my surroundings. Back then, when I didn’t have Immunity to Despair, that moment was more than enough to make me lose hope.

However…there was one person, just one, who did not demand my help. There was one who would always be there for me whenever I wanted help. One person who loved me just because I was his adorable little sister.

I could leave everything else behind without care: my parents, that village, even the world. But not being able to see Big Brother again…I couldn’t take that.

And as that thought crossed my mind, the words slipped out of my mouth before I even knew what was happening.

“Save me, Big Brother!!!”

A blade slashed in like a bolt of lightning.

A sword cut into the left side of the owlbear’s body, out of the blind spot from the eye I stabbed. The weapon slipped through the beast’s thick armor of muscles and pierced its heart. The seven hundred kilogram monster perished with a single blow.

“Ruti! Are you all right?! You’re so badly hurt!”

He did not pause to take pride in defeating an owlbear. He did not even glance at the tremendous feat he had accomplished. He just looked at my wounded body…and cried.

“I’m sorry for being late. I’m so sorry…”

“It’s okay. You saved me, Big Brother.”

I didn’t mind the pain at all because the person in front of me would always be by my side whenever I was suffering. He would cry for me.

That made me happy.

When Ruti finished her story, she fixed her gaze on the ceiling.

Her flushed cheeks definitely weren’t because of the hot bath.

“So it was like that for you, too.”

Rit was looking at the ceiling as well. As if she was trying to remember something.

“When Shisandan killed my master and the royal guards and adventurers who had believed in and supported me, I was despondent. Even though I had gotten into such a bitter argument with you all about how we would protect our own country, at that moment, I couldn’t help wondering if things wouldn’t have been better if I had never been born. Since it was my fault that it had turned out like that.”

“I see.”

“And that was when Red saved me. He rushed in early before the rest of you arrived and faced off against Shisandan and fought for me. He pushed me to get revenge instead of stewing in regret for what had happened.”

That must be something that happened during the fighting in the Duchy of Loggervia. Rit’s eyes were closed as she recalled the scene.

“I’m sure you noticed it, too, Ruti, but there were countless times when we were in the bewitching woods when I was about to give up. It felt like we were wandering in circles, and even if we weren’t, we spent a whole week in that forest… I couldn’t help thinking that everyone in Loggervia might already be dead.”

It was a dark story, but Rit’s expression was bright and clear. The memory was painful, but it was also when Rit had met Gideon.

“Through it all, Red was there for me. He fought alongside me. He talked about trying to save Loggervia together. Deep in the bewitching woods, where the sun couldn’t reach, I was okay because I had him. It was the first time I had ever felt like that.”

Rit hugged her knees, hiding her mouth as she smiled.

Ahhh, I see. So that was the sort of person Gideon was.

It wasn’t really a surprise that Ruti and Rit would both fall in love with him after those sorts of experiences.

Ruti cupped some bathwater in her hands and raised it. The water trickled out and back into the tub with a splash.

“Baths don’t feel as good to me as they used to.”


“The reason that soaking in hot water feels good is that when you get into the tub, your body warms up, your blood starts circulating better, and tired muscles feel renewed.” Ruti scooped up more water. The sound of the drips filled the room.

“I have immunities to all sorts of things now. Whatever extreme cold, or intense heat, my body temperature doesn’t change. The warmth of a bath is no different. To me, it’s nothing more than just a single piece of information that the environment around me is hot.”


“I don’t get sick, and I don’t feel tired. My body is always in optimal condition.”


“It’s the same for food, too. I don’t get hungry. I don’t need water, either. I can taste flavors, but my body doesn’t need nutrients.”


“The reason I think baths feel good is that I can remember the pleasant sensations of the past. I’m just re-creating the feelings from those memories.”


“The honey milk Big Brother made for me when I was little was the most delicious thing ever. It was sweet and gentle, and I felt like I could drink it forever. But the honey milk that I had today, even though it should have tasted better than it used to, didn’t. But even so, I still have my memory of Big Brother’s honey milk being wonderful.”

Oh… So that was what had been aggravating the problem.

Ruti was humanity’s strongest.

Ares and I, Danan and Theodora, and even Gideon—we were stronger than most other people. Yet even banded together, we wouldn’t be able to defeat the Hero. Ruti would never again be able to experience the feeling of someone truly coming to her rescue.

Her feelings did not modulate as strongly as they used to because her blessing had taken the bulk of emotions that might harm her. Because of that, she could only experience love in the past.

…So does that mean Ruti can’t ever love anyone other than Gideon?

Rit remained silent as well, shocked and unable to respond.

So this is the Hero’s blessing? Humanity’s hope, the Hero chosen by God, the world’s most extraordinary power?

“When we were with you in Loggervia, I hated you, Rit.”

“Yeah, I was definitely standoffish then. The whole ‘Who would just stand by and let someone else save their home?’ thing and all,” Rit said, smiling wryly.

“I don’t mean like that. I was jealous of you. Able to smile freely, to get angry, to cry…to love. I was jealous of you getting closer and closer to Big Brother…so jealous…”

There was a splash. Droplets of water were falling from Ruti’s eyes into the bath.

“So truly envious…I hated you. And because of that, even though Big Brother and Ares said we should add you to the party, I didn’t ask you.”


“Rit, Tisse…this is me.” Ruti smiled so plainly that even Rit and I could tell.

“This is the Hero, Ruti… I just wanted to be you, Rit, not the Hero.”

I had been wrong. I wasn’t the right person for this. I had been worried about the incorrect thing. I hadn’t understood what the real problem was. It needed to be Gideon here, not me.

He was the only one. Undoubtedly, he would have been able to save Ruti.

Ruti’s forlorn smile was so tragic that it made me want to avert my eyes.

There was a tiny tap on my shoulder. Looking back, I saw Mister Crawly Wawly there.

“Huh? I’m wrong?”

He raised both his legs. If he had a voice, I’m sure he would have been shouting as loud as he could.

Don’t give up hope! Just start now!

Mister Crawly Wawly was right.

A princess taken prisoner by the Hero blessing, unable to freely determine her path. Gideon was the hero who could save the princess. So then would that make me the mage to guide him?

Sensing a gaze, I saw that Rit was looking at me. The two of us exchanged glances. She nodded slightly, determination plain in her expression. Though it had only been for a short while, she had been one of Ruti’s comrades, too.

We had two people and one spider to be the mages who guided the hero that Ruti needed. That would do for the cast of the story. The imprisoned princess had already suffered more than enough.

In that case, the next step was to lead Gideon to battle the evil dragon that had captured the princess and rescue her.

I didn’t know what I could do to help Ruti, but Mister Crawly Wawly and I were her friends. Even if we couldn’t see the goal in the distance, this was just the beginning!

The start of a story where we save the Hero, and everyone smiles in the end!

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