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Chapter 2

A Long Vacation

Rit, Ruti, Tisse, Yarandrala, Danan, Albert, and I were gathered in Ruti’s mansion for breakfast.

“The food you make really is tasty!”

“Mhm. Big Brother’s cooking is always delicious.”

Danan and Ruti were enjoying the meal.

Normally, Ruti would have eaten more elegantly, but evidently, Danan was rubbing off on her.

Admittedly, the sight of her enjoying a meal so thoroughly was adorable.

Back when she’d been the Hero, Ruti had only ever eaten meals to keep up appearances during negotiations with influential people.

A fully developed Hero blessing granted resistances and immunities to all sorts of things. The Hero could not be allowed to fall due to a simple lack of water or food.

Ruti’s body remained in constant perfection. Even if she ate, the nutrients did not affect her body. She’d once described it as eating while always feeling full. Even if she tasted the flavors, they didn’t connect to any deliciousness or a desire to eat.

Thanks to the power of the New Truth blessing that had formed in her, she was able to nullify the immunities that robbed her of those human qualities.

However, New Truth’s power felt a bit too convenient. Nullifying one’s own skills… It was as though Ruti’s desire to be free from the Hero had been made manifest.

Divine Blessings were granted by Almighty Demis. There was no room for human desires to enter the mix. That’s what all living records asserted anyway.

Most likely, Ruti’s New Truth was not the work of God but something formed within her.

It was a power that went against the fundamental rules of this world—that every person was born with a Divine Blessing to grant them a set role in life.

“Thank you for the food.”

Having finished her breakfast, Ruti politely wiped her mouth with a napkin, looking for all the world like a completely normal girl.

Ruti, who possessed a blessing that broke all the rules, and the completely unprecedented appearance of a second Hero…

What’s going on…?

Whatever happened, I would always be there for Ruti. That wouldn’t change.

“All right, now that breakfast’s done.” I looked around the table at everyone. “Let’s talk about the Hero.”

They all nodded.

“Albert, let me confirm things one more time.”

“Yes, sir.”

“The church has officially recognized Van as the Hero?”

“Yes, Cardinal Ljubo has taken on the role of his guardian, and an Appraisal was performed by someone with a Saint blessing. Father Clemens has also validated this new Hero as genuine.”

“So the new Hero was recognized by the very top of the church’s hierarchy… I suppose they have good reason to put their faith in this Van.”

“Indeed. Ruti was a Hero who belonged to no organization, but this boy has been acknowledged by and works for the church.”

“The church’s Hero…”

I felt a bit of unease in the back of my mind at the notion.

The Hero embodied justice and righteousness. Any wrong could be justified with their approval. That only became more true when the Hero was backed by the church, the largest organization on the continent. If they crossed a line, it would be impossible to stop them.

No, there’s no point worrying about something like that now. I don’t have the right to complain after abandoning the Hero’s journey.

“Van is the youngest son of the King of Flamberge. He was said to be living as a monk at a monastery in Avalonia when he was discovered by Cardinal Ljubo.”

“Discovered by a cardinal, huh? If he had the Hero blessing, then he should have been out there fighting. If there was another Hero, we would have had a lot more strategic options,” Danan grumbled.

“It’s been, what, three years since we went to the Last Wall fortress?”

“That was when we met Theodora. It brings back memories. If the church had already known of Van back then, they definitely would’ve reacted strangely to the presence of two Heroes…but there was no sign of any trouble.”

“Ruti’s got a point. Seems like the church didn’t know about Van when we visited.”

So while Ruti was fighting, Van lived peacefully, far removed from the flames of war.

I shook my head. “But that doesn’t really mesh with what Albert told us about Van’s personality.”

Albert asserted that Van was a devout believer. It was hard to imagine he’d delay filling the role that the Hero demanded of him.

If he truly was that zealous and possessed the Divine Blessing of the Hero, then he would’ve taken action the moment the demon lord’s army landed on the continent. He wasn’t like Ruti, who only set out after she had no choice because our home was attacked.

I’d never met Van myself, so I couldn’t be certain, but the stories still felt contradictory.

“Well, no use worrying about that now,” Danan cut me off. “The problem is that this guy is coming here to Zoltan, right?”

“Yeah. That’s the issue,” Rit agreed.

“How much does the church know about Ruti retiring?”

Albert shook his head at Yarandrala’s question. “As far as I’m aware, they’re completely ignorant. News about the Hero’s quest never spread much unless she took direct part in the war effort.”

“Plus, there’s all the rumors that spread around. Only people who witnessed the Hero in person know the truth.”

“But give it half a year more, and folks will notice something’s off.”

“Even so, their first conclusion will be that the Hero failed and died.”

Moving from battle to battle and trying to end a continent-scale war as an individual was impossible, even if that sole person’s might was bolstered by blessing and level.

It wasn’t enough for you to take on a few hundred people and win. The might to destroy the world still wasn’t sufficient. Winning against a massive army capable of destroying the world all by yourself…such was the level of strength demanded of the Hero.

“Falling somewhere along the Hero’s journey is the rule, not the exception. No one would be that shocked to hear that news. It’s why I always told the rulers of kingdoms we visited not to assume the Hero would come to save them once we left,” I remarked.

“You said that in Loggervia, too. You told us to prepare to fight once the Hero was gone.” Rit wore a nostalgic smile.

“That’s why I never worried about Ruti staying in Zoltan. But this new Hero coming changes things…”

Van the Hero and Cardinal Ljubo.

“Cardinal Ljubo will definitely recognize Ruti’s face, and likely mine as well,” I said. “We never really spoke with him, but we met while at the Last Wall fortress.”

Cardinal Ljubo was a big man, around two meters and thirty centimeters tall. Even among the key figures leading the church, he stood out.

Although all of the cardinals had their own quirks, as I recall…

“Running into him could mean trouble…”

So what should we do? I wondered.

“In that case,” Yarandrala began, raising her hand. I nodded for her to continue. “Why don’t you, Rit, and Ruti extend your holiday? Just take it easy in some village a short distance away from Zoltan until Van and his party finish what they came to Zoltan for.”

“Take it easy… Hmm.”

“Tisse and I can handle Ruti’s plantation and your store. Just think of it as a long vacation.”

Evading Van was paramount, and Yarandrala’s idea sounded like the safest option. Van’s goal was the beached Vendidad, so once he got the ship, he and his party would surely depart Zoltan. It was a strategically meaningless settlement that offered no reason for a Hero to stay.

“In that case, maybe I should stick around here a bit longer?”

“You sure, Danan? Cardinal Ljubo will recognize you, too.”

“Well, I’m not plannin’ on meeting them, but I’ve got a bad feeling about all this.”

“…Really? Your gut’s typically pretty accurate.”

I grimaced a bit as Danan grinned.

“Anyway, with me, Yarandrala, and Tisse hangin’ around, things will be fine. On the off chance that I do run into this new Hero, I’ve got a pretty solid excuse to convince them I got kicked out of Ruti’s party.”

Danan patted his right shoulder.

A pugilist who lost his dominant arm. I would’ve been hard-pressed to conjure a better excuse for someone to retire from the front line.

“But you’re stronger now than you were then,” Ruti said. Danan stood agape in surprise, then burst out laughing.

The next day, we followed the river out of Zoltan until the evening—a distance of about forty kilometers.

Our destination was a village called Sant Durant, which sat in a valley.

Supposedly, during Zoltan’s earliest days, a famous lumberjack named Durant had died there.

He was no war hero, but when pioneers lost their homes and firewood to a hill giant attack, he’d gone out and felled tree after tree, bringing the wood back and saving the settlers from the winter cold.

It was an appropriately Zoltan-esque story.

“Hmm. It’s a tranquil sort of place.”

I spied the village up ahead along the path following the river. Fields and wooden houses dotted the gentle slopes.

“When I heard it was a village in a valley, I imagined a more secluded place.”

“During the summer, it’s apparently pretty popular among the nobles who like to travel. Although rural and removed from Zoltan, it still seems to be pretty well set up.”

Spending the warm season in a place connected to an old hero sounded like the sort of thing some aristocrats would enjoy.

Its distance from Zoltan meant traveling merchants hardly ever came by, but with all the things nobles brought to the village, it wasn’t too remote.

“You’ve never been here before, right, Big Brother?”

“Never. Anytime I came this way, it was always to climb the mountains for herbs.”

The road was covered in weeds. Sant Durant’s wall to protect from monsters was better than I expected, likely thanks to some aristocrat’s support.

“Oh, travelers?”

A villager was standing on the lookout platform at the fence’s entrance.

“Yeah, we were hoping to stay here for a little while.”

“Wanderers are rare this time of year. I doubt the inn’s ready, but we can find you somewhere to stay.”

It was clear from his tone that these people were used to guests.

“Where should we head for the inn you mentioned?”

“The tavern right off the plaza has some rooms, but all the inn’s got is a corner of a stable and a blanket.”

I’d stayed in places like that back when I was a knight. But such accommodations would be a waste of our impromptu vacation.

“Ha-ha-ha. I can tell that’s not too appealing. In that case, follow the road to the plaza and look for the signs. Old Larry has cottages for rent, so try talking to him.”

“A cottage? That sounds nice. Thanks.”

“Once you’ve dropped off your bags, you should check out the general store in the plaza. The stuff you can get in these parts is a bit limited.”

“All right, we’ll stop by there later.”

“Enjoy your stay.”

The man smiled and let us into the village.

“Wow, they even have a gravel street,” Rit commented.

It was rare for a village of this size to have a properly maintained road instead of a worn dirt path.

“Thinking back, I’ve never really been to a tourist village.”

Ruti nodded. “It was never important during the fight against the demon lord’s army.”

“I’ve been to a couple of the biggest and most famous ones in Loggervia, but it’s my first time at a place like this!”

“Between the three of us, we’ve had just about every sort of adventure there is. Who would’ve guessed there was an entirely new experience so close by.”

“It’s neat!”

We all laughed cheerfully.

In the center of the round, gravel-paved plaza was a gallant-looking stone statue of Durant with his ax on his shoulder. Muscles bulged all over his body: the ultimate sort of macho man. The effigy was carved in normal stone, not marble, but it had been cleanly and neatly worked.

The sculptor had to be pretty skilled to depict such detail so well.

“Look! There’s a description on the board!”

“Let me see.”

The Hero Durant (Family Name Unknown)

He carried countless logs, saving people without shelter, people suffering from the cold, and people fearful of monsters.

All by the power of his great mass of muscle.

The ultimate macho man. A beauty of muscles.

“The sculptor had a bit of a muscle fetish, I guess… That might explain why the statue is so burly…”

“Art is born of passion.”

Rit was nodding to herself as she observed the statue from multiple angles.

It wasn’t too shocking that a princess knew about creative works. That was my Rit for you.

“But I prefer a build more like yours.”


Rit grinned at me.


In this village, vacant homes were rented out as cottages for visitors.

Apparently, the nobles and wealthy merchants of Zoltan brought a servant or two to spend their time here in relaxation.

“It’s rare to have visitors this time of year. Here are the keys to the rooms.”

I took the brass ring of keys from Larry.

Apparently, he managed these properties with his wife.

The village was also a place where retired people could go for simple work.

The populace was mostly self-sufficient, and the windfall from seasonal tourism kept their infrastructure intact. I didn’t know how many generations back it was, but whichever village elder worked to build the little town into what it was had to be brilliant.

“Perhaps a merchant or noble with some economic studies under their belt helped out.”

“Maybe. Either way, we can enjoy the fruits of their work and have a nice long-term vacation.”

“A training camp in the woods and now an elegant holiday in a cottage. The fun never stops.”

I was still a little worried about Van the Hero, but, for now, it was best to enjoy ourselves. It would’ve been a waste not to.

Walking past the management lodge, we arrived at a little house surrounded by beautiful green trees.

“Ohhhh, this is pretty nice.” Rit sounded excited.

“What’s the inside like, I wonder?” I unlocked the door and opened it up.

The furniture and cookware hardly looked expensive, but they would definitely get the job done, and there was a warmth to the wood-carved accessories.

Even without any of the complex decorations that a luxury lodge for nobles from Central would sport, this cottage still managed a comfortable and bright atmosphere.

“This is really nice.”

Ruti scurried from the entrance, eager to inspect all the rooms.

“There are three bedrooms, a full bath, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and the closet with cleaning supplies is right here. Oh, there’s an outdoor dining table set in the yard, too.”

“Seems pretty spacious.”

“I’m sure one of the bedrooms is meant for a servant. There’s also a water jug and washing spot connected to the back of the kitchen.”

“Hmmm, what should we do, then? Shall we each take one of the three rooms?”


Rit and Ruti immediately rejected my idea.

Despite having a trio of rooms at our disposal, we ended up all sleeping in one together.

After checking out the cottage and dropping off our luggage, we returned to the plaza at the village center to visit the general store we’d heard about.

“Welcome. I was expecting you.”

A middle-aged woman greeted us at the general store.

Evidently, word had already spread about our stay, so she greeted with no surprise.

The store’s primary commodity was food, mainly vegetables. They sat in baskets, lining the tables. However, there were shelves offering candles, soap, pots, pans, and other sundries.

Set apart from all the other items was a hot sandwich maker with a mithril surface that food wouldn’t stick to.

“Our village doesn’t really have much for meat. There’s dried fish from the river if you like, though.”

“Dried fish, huh? That sounds pretty good. Yeah, I guess we could give that a try.”

I bought a few more ingredients, too. The selection of vegetables was slim, but they’d all been grown well. I was looking forward to cooking with them.

“Hey, can we buy some candles, too?” Rit asked.

“We have stuff for light in the item box, though.”

“But don’t you think that a candlelit evening would be nice?”

“True, that does have a certain appeal. All right. Let’s pick out a few.”

We’d packed the essentials, of course, but using some local resources wasn’t a bad idea, either.

“Hmm. Seems like there are two different kinds of candles.”

“One type is for practical use, and the other is more for mood,” the woman running the shop explained.

“Ah, in that case, a set of each, please.”

I was curious to see what a mood candle entailed.

“Thank you.”

The store tender saw us off with a bright smile, and we headed back to the cottage.

By the time we returned, it was already getting dark. The moon and a few stars had appeared overhead.

It seemed the perfect chance to test out the candles.

“Shall we see what this mood candle is like?”

I lit a wick.

“Ohhh, the flame is purple!”

Rit’s and Ruti’s eyes shone as they beheld the little light.

“Hmm, they must have something mixed into it. Interesting.”

“But it isn’t bright at all.”

“That’s why it’s for setting the mood. It’s meant to help enjoy the dark.” Laughing, I snuffed the mood candle and replaced it with a standard one.

“Hmm. There’s no smell.”

“I guess it wasn’t made with tallow.”

“For a little village removed from the city, it sure has a lot of nice things.” Rit looked impressed. “Seems like this will be a fun vacation!”

I grinned to see her enjoying herself.

“All right, what should I do for dinner?”

Standing in the kitchen, I laid out the ingredients we’d purchased at the general store and the seasonings I’d brought along.

Trout, charr, and others. We certainly had a healthy selection of dried fish…

“Let’s go with tomato and sweetfish.”

I picked up the kitchen knife from home and got to work.

“I should probably begin with the sides.”

Baked potatoes with the tops cut open for cheese to be added before putting them in the oven. A vegetable soup with greens stir-fried in olive oil before they were added to the pot to simmer.

Preparing sides that would offer enough for everyone was the best choice.

And now for the main dish.

After cutting some garlic, I added some olive oil to a pan and started cooking it. Then I added a dried sweetfish to fry. The smell was excellent, and it made my stomach growl.

“Mm! That’s a nice aroma!”

“I can’t wait.”

Rit and Ruti called to me from the dining room. Clearly, they were getting excited.

With the two of them hungry and expectant, I’d better make sure this is delicious.

Steeling my resolve, I added the tomatoes I’d prepped in advance. Then I sprinkled some salt and covered the dish to let it simmer.


I took the sweetfish out first and set them on a plate, pouring the remaining tomato-soup-like liquid over them afterward.

Steaming the dried fish in the tomatoes’ juices had cooked them up nice and plump.

The red of the tomatoes over the fish made for a nice presentation—in my eyes anyway.

I should add a little bit of parsley for color, too.

“Okay, now to finish the rest.”

I pictured Rit’s and Ruti’s delighted expressions as I continued.

The dishes I made lined the dining room table.

“Thanks for the food!”

“Thank you for the food.”

After energetic expressions of gratitude, Rit and Ruti started to dig in.


They looked pleased as they ate my cooking.

“It’s so plump.”

Ruti’s eyes gleamed after she tasted some of the fish.

Seeing her like that made all that effort preparing the meal worthwhile.

Now to have some myself… Mmm. Yeah, this came out well.

The dinner continued pleasantly, with smiles all around.

It was a lovely time.

Once we’d finished, the three of us went to the yard to enjoy the night’s breeze.

“We should buy some more of these candles when we leave.”

Rit watched the gentle purple flame wavering atop one candle on the table.

The glow wasn’t enough to illuminate much, but it had a certain beauty—almost magical.

“Yeah, once Van the Hero leaves Zoltan, I want to show this to Tisse and Yarandrala.”

“I bet Mister Crawly Wawly would like it, too.” Ruti wore a tranquil smile as she thought about her friends in Zoltan.

“Van the Hero…”

“Theodora—No, I guess she’s Esta now. If Esta’s prediction is correct, they should arrive in about a week, right?”

I nodded in response to Rit’s question. “I guess they’ll be going straight for the Vendidad when they get to Zoltan. The government won’t refuse a Hero and a cardinal. It’s not like anyone in Zoltan was going to use the ship anyhow.”

“I don’t know how they plan to move a boat that large, but if they have a Behemoth Ring, it should be pretty quick work.”

“A Behemoth Ring is a magic item that, according to legend, allowed a little girl to carry an entire mansion full of giants. If the myth is to be believed, its power bolsters strength and carrying load tenfold, making it possible to lift absurd weights.”

“But will it be enough for that humongous ship? A giant’s mansion doesn’t begin to compare.”

“My guess is they intend to use a Communal Magic elixir. It shares magic cast upon someone with others for a limited time. By distributing a Behemoth Ring’s power among the party, they’ll be able to carry the Vendidad into the ocean.”

“Reproducing the effects of a legendary-tier magic item would take a rank-five draught, wouldn’t it? And they’d need a large quantity, too. Something like that would bust Loggervia’s national budget,” Rit said.

“The plan would be impossible if not for the backing of the biggest organization on the continent.”

On our journey, Ruti and I set out using the money I’d saved up for her. Questing with the church’s financial might behind you allowed for much more.

“If it lets them finish their business in Zoltan and leave faster, then that’s fine,” Ruti chimed in.

“True. It’d be a problem if they came to Zoltan without a plan and then lingered around trying to figure out a way to move the Vendidad. Their likely plan works out well for us.”

“And I know just how intense the Hero’s impulses are. He should be driven more by a desire for justice than the church’s designs.” Ruti’s analysis was probably correct. She was the foremost expert on the subject, after all. “For now, I just want to enjoy the vacation.”

“In that case, shall I make some honey milk? I still have a bit of honey left from the giant bees.”


Would that this easy calm could last forever.

Surely, all three of us thought as much as we enjoyed the peaceful night.

Elsewhere, on an island south of Avalon…

The utterly barren isle was inhabited by salt dragons, one of the four types of dark dragons.

Once, this place was inhabited by fairies, a veritable paradise filled with flowers. Salt dragons arrived from the dark continent during the era of the original demon lord and invaded, transforming the haven into a lifeless wasteland.

“Salt dragons are creatures of stagnation and destruction. Their breath corrodes everything, and their salt poisons the ground. They are destroyers of civilization, evil dragons that despise all advancement. Their existence nurtures the flames of wrath,” Ljubo explained, offering a description befitting a cleric.

“Yes, sir. The salt dragons are dark dragons who obey the demon lord. In other words, they are the Hero’s enemies!”

“Right, right. All wicked monsters are our foes, so let’s kill them!” Lavender encouraged. Van’s eyes gleamed at the notion of the Hero’s foes.

“Our goal is to recover the demon lord’s ship in Zoltan, isn’t it? I question whether there is any point in a diversion like this.”

Esta had raised this point countless times already on the journey.

“Because there is evil there.”

And Van’s reflexive answer remained unchanged.

“The dragons here are not at odds with any neighboring settlements. Should we go out of our way to go in and slay an enemy that won’t attack so long as no one disturbs this island or its waters?”

“Now, now, Esta, this is a perfect opportunity for Van to raise his level. And wasn’t a secret fairy treasure stolen by the salt dragons? Surely, obtaining such a prize wouldn’t be a waste.”

There was a greedy smirk on Ljubo’s lips.

“I have doubts about that legend. No such stories existed until the salt dragons took over. After they invaded, word of a secret Fairy King’s Shield began to spread. It’s possible the salt dragons brought it.”

“Eh, maybe.” Ljubo only offered a bored reply.

“It’s okay,” Van responded cheerfully. “Defeating monsters and attaining treasures is just. It’s written in the church’s scriptures.”

Seeing Van’s innocent smile, Esta gave up arguing.

The boy was correct; slaying monsters and gathering valuables was good according to Demis’s teachings.

“But if you go around thoughtlessly making enemies, you’ll come to regret it. You shouldn’t lose track of what needs to be prioritized.”

“No, that’s wrong, Esta. The Hero exists to destroy all evil. I am the enemy of all wickedness.”

“…Okay. If that’s your Hero path, then I suppose I shouldn’t push further.”

Van had a very different view on being the Hero than Ruti ever did.

To think it was so difficult to be a guide… I wish I could talk with Sir Gideon.

No, I donned this mask to hide my identity. There’s no way I can meet with him now.

Esta took her place at the front of the party, as she always did.

Nine days later, they arrived in Zoltan.

It was the tenth day since we’d come to Sant Durant.

“It’s already been ten days. Taking it easy is nice, but there hasn’t been any news,” Rit said while sitting in a chair and drinking some juice.

Instead of her usual clothes, she was wearing a bikini top, shorts, and sandals.

No matter how you looked at it, that was a summer outfit, even though it was a spring afternoon.

“It’s so hot today.”

Rit smiled.

Sheesh… Between her breasts and thighs, I’m not sure where I should look. Not that I mind, though.

“Eh-heh-heh. You should wear something a little more revealing instead of your normal clothes.”

“But I like this shirt. It’s cool in summer and warm in winter.”


I grimaced. Rit was cute even when giving her disapproval.


“Oh, did you change, too, Ru…ti…?”

“Mhm. I did.”

Like Rit, she’d decided against her usual attire.

“I borrowed your shirt. It’s cool in summer and warm in winter. It’s a nice shirt.”

Ruti seemed in an excellent mood.

The size obviously didn’t match at all. It was loose and billowy on her. And also…

“Why aren’t you wearing anything under it?”

“I always wear dresses, so I didn’t bring any pants or skirts.”

She only had underwear on beneath my shirt.

I can’t let any other guys see her like that. If any did, I might draw my sword unconsciously.

“Ah! I didn’t think of that!”

I wasn’t sure what Rit was shouting about.

I couldn’t wear either of their clothes, so if Rit took my remaining shirt, I wouldn’t have anything to wear for myself.

“Big Brother’s shirt… Heh-heh.”

Ruti seems to be enjoying herself, so I guess it’s okay?

“Anyway, I wonder what’s going on back home.”

“Esta judged that they would reach Zoltan in a week, so they should be there by now, right?”

“Should I go check?” Rit suggested. “They won’t recognize me.”

“No, let’s just trust the others and behave ourselves. It’s not as if Van is searching for Ruti. I’d like to avoid going back and forth to Zoltan if we can help it.”

“I guess you’re right. We would’ve heard something if there was trouble.”

“This is a Hero we’re talking about. I don’t think they’ll do anything bad. We can just wait for them to leave.” So saying, I took a seat in my chair. “Maybe I should have some juice, too.” I poured myself a cup from the bottle. The amber-colored apple juice was perfect for this weather.

It was meant to be apple wine, but it hadn’t entirely fermented yet, so there was hardly any alcohol to it. The taste was strong and sweet, and it really hit the spot when cut with a bit of water.

“So, what should we do this afternoon?”

“How about reading outside?”

“I want to take a walk through the forest.”

“Hmm. I think we can manage both.”

We had time, so I saw no reason not to indulge in everything we wanted.

Foreign sailors in Zoltan’s harbor district had been drinking since lunch and were singing raucously.

They’d brought in a large amount of lumber on their ship.

The wood was for repairing civilian vessels damaged during the war with Veronia and repairing a few of those lost. The double-masted, triangle-sailed caravel the sailors had arrived on was for the Zoltan navy. Although a secondhand boat, it was still a newer model and much swifter than the older ships moored in town.

As Zoltan’s flagship, it was renamed the Glory of Zoltan. There was a well-worn feeling to it, but it was still clearly a newer boat. Lord William was quite pleased with it, even planning a ceremony to celebrate its acquisition. The foreign sailors were still in town because they’d been invited to the party and had been offered free food and drinks.

Amid the slightly-livelier-than-usual harbor district, a small shadow and an even smaller shadow stood together on a pier.

“It’s peaceful,” the girl beneath the hood, Tisse, muttered while fishing. Beside her, Mister Crawly Wawly had his own thread in the water, too.

“They’re really taking their time getting here…”

Tisse and Mister Crawly Wawly’s goal was to find Van the Hero.

Danan and Albert were watching the city gate in case the Hero came by land.

“Did they take a detour?”

Mister Crawly Wawly cocked his head, as if to say “Who knows?”

The next instant, he moved his legs in surprise.

His thread jerked, and the spider grabbed it with two forelegs and pulled, his small, round body shuddering.

“You can do it, Mister Crawly Wawly!”

Emboldened by the cheer, the spider struggled with the taut strand.

The water’s surface bubbled, and a giant shadow (compared to Mister Crawly Wawly) rampaged like a furious dragon.

Mister Crawly Wawly ran left and right, carefully controlling the tension so that his line didn’t snap.

Tisse held her breath as she watched the intense battle.

“This is a fight that will go down in history!”

Just when it seemed like the battle would never end…the shadow below the waves began to slow.

Deciding that was the moment, Mister Crawly Wawly poured all his strength into his legs and pulled.

There was a big splash, and the giant shadow was tugged upward toward the pier.

“Don’t let your guard down!” Tisse warned.

Mister Crawly Wawly skittered back, and no sooner had he done so than a blade came crashing down where he’d been standing.

“That’s…a king crab!”

It was a giant crustacean. With its legs spread, it measured over a meter in length. Spikes grew from its shell, giving it the appearance of an evil knight’s armor.

“What is a king crab doing here?! They aren’t supposed to live around Zoltan!”

Tisse couldn’t glean anything from the crustacean’s beady black eyes. It merely readied its claws, determined to defeat its enemies rather than back down.

Fortunately, Mister Crawly Wawly was a species of jumping spider.

Leaping to avoid a plunging claw, he attempted to attack the crab from above.


The crab defended itself against the attack and left a wound on Mister Crawly Wawly’s round stomach with its left claw.

These are the famous words of Chi Chi Long, the brown rat with the Divine Blessing of the Martial Artist, a great kung fu master of the animal world:

“A crab has two claws.”

It was an important maxim.

The king crab followed up with its right claw to finish the battle; its left was raised over its head, ready to intercept a jump.

It was an invincible stance, like a warrior wielding a sword and shield.

However, Mister Crawly Wawly did not leap up high, instead lunging forward, low to the ground.

Mister Crawly Wawly could jump over ten times the length of his own body, and he used every bit of his leg strength to advance, creating his very own version of Lightning Speed.

Closing in on the king crab, Mister Crawly Wawly then launched himself high.

“Finisher! Rising Spider Punch!”

Mister Crawly Wawly could not speak, so Tisse gave voice to his ultimate technique for him.

Admittedly, she’d concocted it on the spot, but she was pleased with how cool it sounded nonetheless.

It was a blow that focused every bit of Mister Crawly Wawly’s jumping strength in a single point on his front leg, and it had enough force to bust through the shelled abdomen of the king crab.

Even the king crab was left stunned by the impact, and it collapsed, causing the ground to tremble.

Landing on the ground, Mister Crawly Wawly raised both his front legs in a victory pose.

“Amazing!” Tisse applauded him. “Let’s have crab hot pot tonight.”

Tisse was happy, but Mister Crawly Wawly could not eat crab stew, so he shook his head, lowered a thread to the water, and started fishing again. He glanced over at Tisse.

“What is it? ‘By the way, did you reel in anything, Tisse?’ Er…”

Tisse only went for the big catches. There were times she could spend the whole day without fishing up anything. That was just what the activity was to her, but Mister Crawly Wawly teasing her after he landed his own haul was frustrating.

“Just you watch. I’m going to find something amazing soon.”

Mister Crawly Wawly gently waved his leg, as if to console Tisse, and the girl gritted her teeth.

The two of them were having fun in their own way.


Sensing something, Tisse peered out past the river.

A high-speed sloop, and the flag is the church’s… Looks like they finally arrived.

Tisse continued fishing as she watched. Mister Crawly Wawly immediately started moving to get word to Yarandrala and the others.

“Now then.” A light tug at her line, and Tisse removed the bait from the hook to keep any fish from distracting her.

Her mission was to inform her friends that Van the Hero had arrived and to learn his voice and face, all without making direct contact or being followed, of course.

I wonder what sort of person this second Hero is.

Preconceptions lead to bad results.

Tisse had been taught as much as a hired killer, but she couldn’t help but picture Ruti.

“It can’t even hold a proper ship? What a shabby port,” Cardinal Ljubo grumbled as he stepped out of the landing craft.


“Sorry, sorry.” Under Van’s critical eye, the cardinal apologized and rubbed the back of his head with one hand.

“Heh.” Esta chuckled slightly.

“What is it?”

The masked woman shook her head at Van’s inquiry. “Nothing. I merely recalled an old comrade. He said something similar.”

“You’ve been to Zoltan before?”

“It was only a short stop. I’m hardly equipped to give you a tour.”

“Hah-hah, it’s not like we’re here to go sightseeing anyway… So, this old comrade. Was he a hero like you?”

“It’s hard to say.”

“I’d love to meet him.”

“Unfortunately, you won’t have the opportunity.”

“Right, we have to slay the demon lord, so we can’t take any unnecessary detours.”

“No, he died. That’s why you can’t meet him.”

Van gasped. “My apologies for causing you to remember something painful.”

“It’s nothing to trouble yourself over. I’m the one who thought of it.”

“Right, right! You didn’t do anything wrong, Van! He probably died from the stress of Esta’s lectures.”

“Hey now, Lavender!”

When Van scolded the fairy sitting on his shoulder, she looked over at Esta and stuck out her tongue before fleeing into Van’s pocket.

“Let’s find a place to stay. I’m not the best with sea travel.” Cardinal Ljubo seemed ready to get some rest.

Lavender quickly emerged again. “Poor Ljubo! How many times did you throw up on the boat?”

“I don’t have the energy to indulge your banter, so behave yourself and play with Van.”

“Hooray! I have permission from the cardinal!” Hugging onto the side of Van’s face, Lavender rubbed her cheek against his. The boy looked embarrassed.

“Do you know a good inn around here, Esta?”

The masked woman pondered Lavender’s question for a moment. “Zoltan has a central district at the core of the city; a northern district with farms and an Adventurers Guild; a southern district home to merchants and craftsmen; a harbor district, which is where we are presently; and the slums of South Marsh. In terms of quality lodgings, the central or northern districts are probably best, but considering what we are here for, the harbor district is likely the most efficient. We’re going to have to gather many people if we hope to move the Vendidad.”

Turning to face the river, Esta looked out at the black metal ship beached on a sandbar in the middle of the water.

“That isn’t the demon lord’s vessel anymore; starting today, it belongs to the Hero.”

Van beheld the Vendidad with a boyish curiosity and excitement.

Tisse, who was watching from a distance, was stunned.

That’s the new Hero? He’s so expressive. Nothing at all like Ms. Ruti.

Tisse didn’t know why, but for some reason, she felt terribly uneasy.

Come evening in Sant Durant, Ruti, Rit, and I were having fun playing a board game called Wyvern Race.

“I’m betting ten coins on Big Brother’s dragon.”

“Geh, so if I win this last race, that means you’ll end in the lead?”

“That’s a bold strategy, but if you lose ten coins now, it’ll be tight for you to come back.”

“I’m betting all of the rest of my coins on my own dragon.”

“Ummm… So even if I win this race, you’ll still be ahead, if only barely. If you do that, I’ll have no choice but to maneuver to make Rit’s dragon win the race. Are you okay with a two-versus-one? If her dragon wins, you’ll lose everything.”

“Challenge accepted. I trust my dragon.”

“Ohhh! So this race is the decisive fight!”

We were having fun rolling the dice.

It was a pleasant evening.

Knock, knock.

There was a sound at the door.

“Is it the manager?” Rit stood and went to check.

“It’s not the manager. It’s a friend,” Ruti said.

“A friend?” Rit opened the door. “Mister Crawly Wawly?!”

The spider was riding a pigeon, and he raised his right front leg in greeting.

What a sight: an arachnid messenger.

“He really is a high-spec spider.”

Even Rit was surprised.

She showed him and the pigeon in. Mister Crawly Wawly tapped the ground with his front legs.

“Ahh, you want to thank the pigeon?”

I didn’t have a skill to talk with spiders, but Mister Crawly Wawly was intelligent and capable enough with communication that I’d begun to grasp what he wanted to convey.

I got a plate with some beans that the pigeon might be able to eat.

While I did, Mister Crawly Wawly caught an insect and had something to eat himself.

“Sorry I couldn’t provide any food for you, Mister Crawly Wawly.”

His body quivered, as if to reply that it wasn’t an issue. Then he lifted his fifth leg up. There was a small piece of paper tied to it.

“A message from Tisse?”

I took it from the spider’s leg and opened it.

“The Hero arrived. No issue at present…”

That was the entirety of the message.

“All right, then we won’t be able to go back to Zoltan for a little while longer.”

“Hopefully Van takes the Vendidad quickly and leaves.”

“The negotiations with Zoltan will require a couple of days. The rest depends on the strength of their Behemoth Ring and how many elixirs they have.”

Looking outside, I realized it had gotten pretty dark.

“Do you want to stay the night?”

Mister Crawly Wawly nodded.

“Okay, I’ll have to get something for the pigeon to sleep on.”



I pulled one of the clay plates I used for preparation from my bag and held it out for the pigeon.

“What do you think? Would this be a good fit for sleeping?”


Seems it’s pleased with the idea.

I set the dish down on the bed in one of the rooms we weren’t using, and the pigeon settled in to rest.

Flying a forty-kilometer route in one go with that small body… Birds really are amazing.

“Hmm…” Van the Hero was in Zoltan. I was a little concerned what might happen. “Still, it’s nothing for us to worry about.”

My and Ruti’s goal was to avoid Van and his party. We had to trust Tisse and the others and remain here, taking it easy. That was the best course of action. Letting our unease get in the way would be a waste.

“For now, let’s continue our game.”

I picked up a die again and faced the board. Mister Crawly Wawly was waiting there, holding a die in his forelegs.

“Huh? You want to play, too, Mister Crawly Wawly?”

He really is a high-spec spider.

The next day, after having some breakfast, we saw Mister Crawly Wawly and the pigeon off and started our day.

Ruti, Rit, and I had talked about taking a stroll through the village, and we decided it was time, so we set out along the gravel-paved path.

We enjoyed the view of the green wheat swaying in fields sowed upon steps along the mountain slopes. Here and there, we spied villagers out watering the crops.

“It looks like they’re drawing water from irrigation channels up the peak. The source seems plentiful because the village is nice and clean, too.”

It was common for villages farther from cities to struggle a bit with infrastructure and end up dirtier for it, but the roads and buildings here were all well maintained. Living in a place that had no water supply issues was a boon for sure.

“I wonder what the nobles who come here to escape the heat do?” Rit said. “Do they just lie around in their cottages eating and reading, or do they go swimming in the river? There aren’t any places to go hunting nearby.”

“Yeah, I haven’t really noticed any larger game around here.”

Meat wasn’t a large part of the local diet, either. The people had fish from the river, chicken eggs, and milk from plow mares, so the lack of meat wasn’t a critical health problem, and nothing suggested it was an inconvenience.

“Nothing but fish is a bit trying, though.”

“Want to go hunting to see if there are any edible animals or monsters around?”

“It’s too much of a hassle to go to that length.”


While we conversed…


…there was a cry from one of the fields.

“What is it?”

We hurried in the direction of the cry.


Someone was groaning.

“Are you all right?” I called.


“I’m coming to help!”

With that, I rushed into the field, careful not to trample the wheat as I moved. A woman in her twenties had collapsed on the ground.


I gave her a quick examination. “A bruise on the hip… From a fall, I imagine. Can you speak?”

“H-here… It’s…”

Her voice was hoarse as she clutched her side.

“Rit, can you lessen the pain with your magic?”

“Got it! Spirit of water, wash away the pain.”

With a river nearby, this was the perfect place for water spirit magic. A little color returned to the woman’s pale face.

“Is there a doctor in this village?” I questioned.

She shook her head.

“Let me check a little bit.”

I carefully touched her stomach.

“Let me know if the pain gets worse.”

Waiting for her to nod, I touched a couple of different locations.

“Ah! Owwww!”

“The pain is worst in the lower right abdomen? Judging by the distribution… I see…”

Analysis from my First Aid skill told me she needed a simple painkiller.

If the agony had been caused by bacteria, an infectious disease, or some sort of poisonous substance, then the skill should have suggested a medicine to treat the cause. There were no internal organ ruptures, either. First Aid would have suggested a position to close the wound otherwise.

“This is internal inflammation…probably appendicitis.”

Inquiring with the woman revealed she’d been nauseous and had been feeling pain since morning.

She’d collapsed not from sheer agony but because she’d passed out.

“I can treat appendicitis with a magic potion I have on hand, but…”

An expensive curative would handle the inflammation, but it would likely return later.

It was fortunate we were nearby, but in a village this far from Zoltan, if the woman’s appendicitis struck again, it could easily turn fatal.

“For now, let’s get her inside.”

Ruti and I carried the ailing woman to a house, careful not to add any pressure on her abdomen.

“I suppose I should check, but is there anyone in the village who can perform a surgery?”


It took her a moment to grasp what I was asking.

“There’s an old man good at cutting off warts, but…”

“This isn’t really something to attempt with that little experience.”

I wasn’t a doctor, but I’d learned to remove arrowheads embedded in flesh and sew cut stomachs when I was a knight.

I had some anesthetic and hemostatics on hand, and Rit and Ruti knew healing magic.

We have what we need to conduct a surgery…

“My name is Red. What’s your name?”


“Okay, Kate. I run an apothecary in Zoltan. Your appendix…one of the organs inside your stomach is hurt.”

“O-one of my organs?!” Kate paled. “A-a-am I going to die…?”

“No, it can be treated.”

“B-but my mom and my grandmother both collapsed from stomach pain and died… I always thought I would end up like that, too.”

Hmm, maybe a family disposition for appendicitis?

“I said it could be treated, didn’t I? There are two ways of dealing with it.”

“Two ways?”

“The first is using a Cure Sickness magic potion.”

“A magic potion?! Agh…”

When Kate heard that, she reflexively tried to sit up, but the pain stopped her.

“I don’t have the money to buy anything that expensive…”

A Cure Sickness potion went for six hundred payrils. It was a draught made using a magic that increased one’s natural recovery ability, but there were a lot of things it did not work on. Thus, it had a reputation for being both expensive and unreliable. However, it was highly effective on ailments not caused by open wounds or infections. When administered correctly by someone with the ability to diagnose diseases, it was well worth the cost.

In my case, I could quintuple a vial using my multiplying potion, meaning the cost was effectively just one hundred twenty payrils.

That was still more than a villager living in a rural settlement would be able to shell out.

“Yes, the price is an issue. Additionally, if you use the potion to treat the condition, there’s a possibility it will return,” I explained.

“‘Return’… You mean I’ll end up collapsing from stomach pain again?!”


Kate’s face darkened in despair.

“That’s one option. The other way doesn’t use an expensive magic potion, and there is no chance of the malady recurring.”

“Then that’s my only option! What other choice is there?”

“Undergo surgery to remove the organ that is causing the problem.”


“After using an anesthetic to deaden the pain, I would use a sterile knife to cut open your stomach and excise your appendix. Then I would sew your stomach back up and cover it with a medicinal poultice. After letting it rest for a day, I would remove the threads and reapply the poultice. Then after another half a day of rest, you’d be able to move around again.”

Kate didn’t look any less frightened.

Going through an operation in a village that doesn’t even have a doctor certainly would sound frightening.

“Th-there’s no way. I’d die.”

“The procedure is to keep you from dying.”

Logic aside, it was impossible for someone to trust complete strangers with such a serious issue.

“For now, gather your family and discuss your options. You can decide after that.”

Two hours later, Ruti, Rit, and I were assembled in Kate’s house.

“Swallow this pill with some water.”

I gave Kate the anesthetic.

“In ten minutes, once you are lying down, I’ll have you take one more. Everything will start to feel fuzzy. You can just close your eyes when that happens.”

After talking it through with her father and husband, Kate had elected to try the operation.

I’d worried they wouldn’t put their faith in an outsider. Fortunately, this was a village that saw many vacationing nobles, so the general perception of outsiders was that they possessed a wealth of knowledge. That ended up working in my favor.


Recognizing that the medicine was taking effect, I wiped down a small knife with alcohol.

“You know about medicine and actual doctor procedures. I learned how to stitch wounds as an adventurer, but I’d never be able to do something like this,” Rit commented. She was assisting me.

The knife I used was Rit’s—one she’d acquired from an ancient elf ruin in Loggervia. The blade made of an unknown metal was much sharper and sturdier than any steel one.

“Ha-ha, military doctors sort of run the gamut. We couldn’t bring the Bahamut Knights’ physician with us everywhere we went, so there were times we had to rely on medics from other squads… Thinking back on it now still makes me shiver.”

“Oh? What happened?”

“Well, there was one guy with a Monk blessing who could use healing magic four times a day, but that was all. He didn’t even know how to stop a wound from bleeding. And there was this awful Shaman who wouldn’t so much as administer first aid without a healthy dose of prayer. After a few incidents with people like them, the knights took their medical lectures seriously.”

“Ugh, that sounds rough.”

I moved beside Kate.

Okay, time to do this.

After double- and triple-checking that all of the tools I needed were gathered on the stand, I got to work.

“There’s a depth to keeping people alive that’s different from killing them.”

Something Danan said once surfaced in my mind. I’d fought countless times, so I understood how to cut skin. I knew where the internal organs were and how to run a blade through to slay a person.

And that experience was now being put to use in order to save this woman.

“Okay Rit, Ruti, I’ll be counting on you for backup.”

Reassured by their nods, I gently placed the knife against Kate’s stomach.

“Thank you so much, Mr. Red!”

Kate’s family members all shook my hand.

Word of the apothecary who saved Kate spread to the rest of the villagers, too.

I wasn’t paid much in the way of money, but we did get lots of fresh vegetables, eggs, chicken, milk, apple cider, ale, and all sorts of local alcohol.

Also, they promised to bring us fresh-baked bread and freshly picked vegetables.

We wouldn’t have any food issues while we were in the village, that was for sure.

“I always thought I’d die as my mother had… I’d given up, thinking that it was God’s chosen path for me.”

“That wasn’t fate, just a disease that couldn’t be healed the typical way.”

If she’d been in Zoltan, it would have been taken care of without much issue. This wasn’t a miracle brought on by some special Divine Blessing, just a malady removed with human hands.

“Umm, Mr. Red… Why would you go so far for someone you had never met before?” Kate asked. “I don’t know how doctors are, but I can’t imagine opening stomachs and cutting out a bad thing is easy…”

Hmmm… I’m not really sure how to answer that.

“I just happened to be passing by, and coincidentally knew how to treat you. That’s all.”

“You’re a good guy… You can say it isn’t fate, but I’m sure meeting you was God’s will.”

Kate and the rest of the villagers offered grateful prayers to Demis.

Behind them, Ruti wore a troubled look.

I should pat her head later to soothe her.

“Okay then, I’ll come by tomorrow to remove the stitches. If you feel anything strange, be sure to let us know. We’ll be in the cottage.”

The stroll had turned into quite the little adventure, but everything worked out.

By the time we were back in the cottage, I was ready for some rest.

“I’ll handle the laundry,” Rit volunteered, evidently worried about me overdoing it.

“Thanks, that helps. It’s been a long time since I’ve done something like that. I guess I’m a little exhausted mentally.”

“It’s fine, just take it easy. You were super cool today!”

Rit took the clothes bloodied from the surgery over to the washing area.

She was a princess, but she knew how to do the wash quite well. Cleaning your own clothes was a crucial skill for an adventurer. Clothes got dirty from the many quests and fights.

Whether they were smug adventurers with showy techniques or fearsome, gruff-looking adventurers with big greatswords, they all took up laundry boards and soap, then hunched over to scrub their garments clean at night.

During our journey, Danan, Theodora, and even Ares all washed their outfits. Behind every glorious adventure were many tiresome, everyday chores.

“I washed lots, too. I learned how to wash clothes well,” Ruti said.

“Yup. Your clothes were always clean on the road. Thanks, I’ll leave today’s laundry to you and Rit.”

Surprisingly, the old Hero’s party was a lot better at the wash than you might have expected.

“Big Brother.”

“Hm? What is it?”

“Good job.” Ruti came over beside me while I sat in a chair, and she put her hand on my head. “There, there.” She patted my head.

“Thank you. But it’s hardly praiseworthy.”

I hadn’t done the surgery for free. I’d been given adequate payment. Receiving the poultry was nice, since it wasn’t available at the general store.

There wasn’t very much, however, so I’d have to use it carefully.

I could make a soup stock from the bones.

Making food for Ruti and Rit had become a hobby for me, so there were lots of things I wanted to try cooking, even on vacation.

In monetary terms, all the food and drink was cheap remuneration, but taking a bunch of payrils from a rural village was worth far less than enjoying our vacation.

Honestly, I hadn’t really committed some selfless act of heroism.

“You know, I only thought to go to such lengths because we had so much time on our hands. Ordinarily, I would’ve given some basic first aid and recommended she head to Zoltan for full treatment.”

“I meant what I said,” Ruti replied. “You relax and let me pat your head.”

There wasn’t anything for me to do, so I closed my eyes and let my sister have her way.

I really was tired.

Before I realized it, I’d fallen asleep.

In my dream, I saw a young Ruti, her clothes covered in mud, getting scolded by our mom.

Ruti’s blessing demanded she help anyone in need. Her dirty clothes were surely the result of being compelled to aid someone.

Knowing that, it seemed unfair to scold Ruti. I couldn’t bear to watch.

I stood between them and defended my sister, saying that Ruti had done the right thing, so she shouldn’t be punished. Eventually, Mom gave up. She left with a pained look on her face.

Mom knew as well as I did that Ruti hadn’t gotten dirty just playing around. She chided Ruti because she didn’t want her sacrificing herself to aid others. If Ruti continued down that path, she would grow to regret it.

To Mom, who possessed an utterly average blessing, that was something important to impart on her child.

Unfortunately, Ruti had the Divine Blessing of the Hero. She had to help people, even if it came at her own expense. It couldn’t be helped. Over time, Mom wound up distancing herself from Ruti…

“Big Brother.”

Ruti looked up at me. I relaxed my face and smiled as I patted her head.

“I’m sure it was hard. You did well.”

“I’m the Hero, so it’s no big deal.”

“Maybe, but I’m still going to pet your head because I think you did something good. You don’t have to worry. Just enjoy it.”


I patted her small head.

Ruti clenched the hem of her outfit, eyes cast down.

It was a nostalgic memory from our youth.

The little Ruti from back then was now complimenting me and petting my head.

I was pleased to see how she’d grown.

She really had become a wonderful young woman…

Hopefully, her life will continue to be filled with happiness.

After removing Kate’s stitches the next day, I picked up more food and returned to the cottage around noon.

“All right, time to make lunch.”

I’d already decided on the menu.

I grilled the poultry and vegetables I’d prepared beforehand and filled a pot with water.

Today’s lunch was a local dish eaten for generations in this village and supposedly originated in Durant’s hometown.

“Next, add this powder we were given and let it simmer, and introduce this other spice and some flour into the pot.”

The recipe calls for flour, so will it turn into a nice, thick kind of soup?

I added the amounts of spice and flour I had been told.

“That’s an amazing color.”

The soup had turned a nontranslucent brown.

“The smell is strong, too.”

I was starting to get a bit worried.


Preparing an unfamiliar recipe was a little like an adventure.

There was no knowing what it would taste like when it was done, and I had no guarantee it would be pleasant. There was no telling if a dish had been made correctly until it was too late. It was sort of like the unease of sailing the ocean with a treasure map that might be fake.

“Hmm. Is this what they call curry?”

Rit and Ruti clung to me while peering into the pot.

“How unique.”

Ruti looked intrigued, and she stared at the simmering contents.

Our lunch for the day was indeed supposed to be curry.

“I wonder if it will turn out all right? I did make a chicken salad, just in case, but…”

“It’ll be fiiiine. Even if it isn’t delicious, we’ll still have the fun memory.”

“I guess, but…”

“Don’t worry about poison-testing. I can turn on my Hero immunities to make sure it’s edible.”

“To think the day would come when you would have to check my food for toxins…”

“You should have let me do it while we were traveling, Big Brother. You were always so stubborn.”

During our days as the Hero’s party, I never used any ingredients unless I was certain they were safe. Losing to the demon lord’s army because our combat abilities were hampered by bad food was unacceptable. So while we were traveling, I stuck to familiar recipes, ingredients, and seasonings to be safe.

“I can’t wait.” Ruti was clearly getting excited.

Thirty minutes later, the curry was complete at last.

“Hmm. Okay.”

I’d made a lot of different foods in my time, but this one was entirely new to me.

“A poison check and flavor test.” Ruti opened her mouth. “Ahhhh.”

“If it doesn’t taste good, please give it to me straight.”

I scooped up a little bit of curry on a spoon and blew to cool it before lifting it to Ruti’s mouth.

She gobbled it up.

“…How is it?”

“Spicy…but delicious.”

“I-I see. That’s a relief.”

I decided to try some, too.

The powder I’d been gifted was seemingly a mixture of chili pepper and black pepper. Undoubtedly, that’s where the heat came from. That spice mix wasn’t merely spicy, however. The medley of ground pepper created a distinct flavor.

“It feels like there are at least four other flavors.”

“Let me taste it!”

“Of course, help yourself.”

I started to pass Rit the spoon, but…


…Rit opened her mouth expectantly.

“Be sure to blow on it first.”

“All right, all right.”

With a wry smile, I fed Rit how she wanted. On occasion, she really acted like a spoiled child.

“Hmmm… I like this flavor!”

Rit must have enjoyed the taste because she opened her mouth for another spoonful.

“Let’s eat the rest of it properly,” I said.


“The weather is nice; how about taking this outside?”

“I second that idea!”

I set the chicken curry, the chicken salad I’d made beforehand, and some fresh, cool water from the well on the table in the yard.

We partook of the spicy brown curry while admiring the green mountains of spring.

“This curry goes with bread and pasta, right?”

“It can, yeah. We have bread for today.”

“I wonder how they taste together. Ohhh, it’s great!”

Rit started eating faster.

She really seemed to be a fan.

“In Durant’s homeland, they supposedly had curry with rice, too. It’s too bad we can’t get any rice here.”

“We won’t be able to re-create Durant’s style of curry until Zoltan imports some rice.”

“I’d like to try it sometime,” Rit said, and I was in total agreement.

“Apparently, curry is only made for celebrations in Sant Durant, but all the necessary ingredients are local. We could return here when we have some rice,” I suggested.



Rit and Ruti both cheered.

A little settlement like this would never have been a stop during the Hero’s journey.

But the time we spent in Sant Durant was joyous and filled with smiles, and the food was absolutely delicious.

A buffet had been set up in a restaurant near the center of Zoltan to celebrate the arrival of Van the Hero, Cardinal Ljubo, and Escarlata the warrior who drove back the heavenly king of the water.

“To think the day would come that our humble Zoltan would host the Hero and a cardinal. And Escarlata, word of your brave deeds has reached even our distant home. We are truly honored to offer you this simple respite from your valiant quest.”

With that toast, Mayor Tornado raised his glass. All of the Zoltan nobles around him raised theirs as well.


There were clinks as everyone toasted joyously.

The Hero visiting Zoltan was an unthinkable event. As such, all the local aristocrats who dreamed of a glorious life in Central leaped at the chance to attend.

“Oh-ho-ho. After being sick on that awful boat, I’ll be eating and drinking to my heart’s content today.” Cardinal Ljubo had a slovenly smirk on his large face as he grasped for all of the food and alcohol lined up before them.

“And after good food and drink, the next step is a fair woman… I’m sure the reputable noble I spoke with earlier will provide… Geh-heh-heh.”

Prior to Van setting out from the Last Wall fortress, Ljubo had been abstinent. However, now that opportunities were presenting themselves, he was growing sloppier and looser.

How vulgar…

Esta could not stifle a wry chuckle at the undisciplined man.

Back when she had been Theodora, she would have been enraged, asking how Ljubo could call himself a member of the church…

I suppose a vulgar person is probably easier to deal with on the Hero’s journey than a high-minded priest.

Esta’s experience from traveling with Gideon and the others gave her a more flexible perspective.

Besides, there’s a bigger problem.

Esta looked to a different person and sighed. The boy who was supposed to be the core of their party, Van the Hero, made no effort to hide his displeasure. He took an impolitic attitude with every noble who greeted him.

Unable to bear it, she called out to him. “Hey, Van.”

“What is it, Esta?”

“Let’s talk outside for a moment.”

“Gladly! I was just thinking of heading out myself!”

Van’s response was excited. Enough so that those around him heard.

Esta groaned as she put her finger to her forehead.

He should have learned basic etiquette at the monastery, yet his behavior was awful.

The two went to a terrace on the second floor, away from everyone else.

“Hahhhh… Listen, Van, I won’t tell you to act like you are enjoying yourself, but would you please try to hide some of your displeasure?”

“Oh, it’s the usual talk!”

Van’s expression transformed immediately. Now he looked as though he was enjoying something.

“Do you really like my lectures that much?”

“Of course. As an inexperienced Hero, speaking to a Crusader with such a high blessing level is always worthwhile.”

Sensing that he really did mean that and wasn’t merely acting polite, Esta scowled.

She’d never convinced him to change his mind on anything. It had gotten to the point where she almost wondered whether it was even worth attempting to converse with the boy. More and more, she found herself struggling to comprehend him.

However, she hadn’t called him out here for that.

“Van, these are the people who will help us carry the Vendidad. Try to be more considerate and respect their feelings.”


“Yes. They held this party today to celebrate your arrival. I’m not saying you have to go around wearing the phony smile of a Veronian noble, but try not to look so annoyed.”

“Hmmm. Why are they holding a party for the Hero in the first place?”

“Why? What’s odd about people expressing their gratitude and admiration?”

“The Hero saves people because that’s what God has decided. It’s not something that requires appreciation, is it? This whole thing is a waste.”

“Perhaps it is to you, but other people see it differently. The Hero inspires people, giving them the courage to oppose evil.”

Esta didn’t expect Van to accept everything she was arguing, but the notion that the Hero inspired bravery aligned with the church’s interpretation. She hoped to convey her own ideas through that connection.

However, Van shook his head with a vacant look on his face.

“No, that’s wrong.”

“What? I’m sure you’ve read the church’s doctrine. It’s quite clear that one of the Hero’s responsibilities is to embolden the people to fight. There are times when the Hero must lead others into battle. It’s important to understand and respect what people feel and to take responsibility for whatever course of action you choose.”

“I’ve read the church’s interpretation of Divine Blessings. With the appearance of the Hero, people have a natural responsibility to bravely rise and fight together with God’s champion.” No emotion colored Van’s words. He spoke plainly and simply.


“The Hero’s advent means that others will have to fight alongside them and will die as a result. Such is Demis’s will, so it’s only natural they battle courageously. Similarly, it’s expected that they’ll perish as a result of that bravery. There’s no need for gratitude or admiration. All that’s necessary is faith in Demis. Nothing more ought to be involved.”

“…So you wouldn’t feel anything from sending people who fight for you to their deaths?”

“I wouldn’t. Martyrdom is a show of faith. Gratitude is impure.”

Esta felt keenly aware that there was a tremendous distance between herself and the boy she journeyed with.

Two days later, in Sant Durant village…

“Good morning!”

…a local boy’s cheerful voice sounded from the entrance.

Opening the door, I saw the child standing there holding a basket filled with vegetables, eggs, and dried fish.

“Thank you.”

I gave the boy a copper coin for a tip and received the basket.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Red! I’ll be back tomorrow!”

Watching him turn and leave cheerfully felt refreshing. I made for the kitchen to put away the gifted groceries.

Today was looking to be another good day.

After finishing breakfast, Ruti, Rit, and I decided to take a stroll beyond the village until lunch.

We walked out toward the mountains, enjoying a trek through the spring fields.

Breezes came and went, carrying flowery scents through the air. Basking in the comfort of it all, I narrowed my eyes happily.

“This is a nice village,” Rit said, smiling.

“Yeah, it is.”

I grinned with her.

Ruti was crouched looking at a bee that had stopped on a blossom.

“So fluffy.”

She looked pleased to watch it fly off with pollen all over its body.

“They carry the pollen around for the stationary plants. Nectar and pollen are both food for bees, and bees are a crucial part of the flowers’ life cycle. The vegetables that grow here are all propagated by bees as well.”

“It’s amazing. The bees just work for their hives, yet they’re helping all the plants and us, too.”

Ruti stared at the bee as it left.

As the Hero, she’d been forced to live her life for others, so perhaps she glimpsed something special in the way the little insects lived.

“Form up!”

Suddenly, we heard a raised voice.

“One! Two! Three!”

Several others called back in unison.

That sounds like…training?

Pursuing the noises, we discovered a bunch of children gathered in a clearing. They were practicing with spears.

“Combat training, huh.”

The wilds beyond any village’s walls were home to both animals and monsters.

No powerful creatures prowled the woods out here, but for a settlement so far removed from Zoltan, the locals couldn’t count on anyone but themselves for help.

Sights like this one weren’t exceptionally uncommon. In fact, pretty much everyone living in this world learned how to fight to develop their blessing. Every village child learned the basics of wielding a weapon.

Although in my case, I’d already gone off into the woods and killed a monster alone by the time I was old enough for combat practice, so I hadn’t had much training.

“That’s the Lotus School.”

The oldest child was reading a training book for the fighting style that Yarandrala had written. In particular, the kid was reviewing how to use a pole like a spear.

By consulting that worn old book, the children were trying to teach themselves the basics of polearm combat.

“Ah! That boy from this morning is there!”

The child who brought us the ingredients had evidently joined in the training.

He was holding a plain spear just a little too large for someone his age and was rehearsing thrusts and overhead swings.

“How charming,” Rit remarked as she observed.

Most of the kids looked less like they were swinging their spears and more like they were being swung around by their weapons. Still, there was a charming quality to their earnestness.

We sat down in the shade of a tree and took a break to watch the children practice for a while.

The swings we’d done together at the training camp recently started to feel almost nostalgic.

It wasn’t that long ago, yet it almost felt like it had occurred in a different world now.

“Ninety-eight! Ninety-nine! One hundred!!!”

Finishing their one hundred reps, the children set their spears on the ground and sat down.

“So tired.”

“My arms hurt.”

They were messing around, pushing each other playfully. Exhaustion did little to dampen their spirits.

“Oh, it’s Mr. Red!”

The boy noticed us sitting in the shade.

“Mr. Red? You mean the doctor who is from Zoltan?!”

Kids who looked tired moments before stood and rushed over.

They really are full of energy.

“Hello. I’m not a doctor. I’m an apothecary.”

“Hello, Mister! But my dad said you were a great doctor from Zoltan!!!”

“My dad said so, too!”

“A famous doctor!”

The kids were all clamoring boisterously.

Their parents’ words probably carried more sway than anything I said.

Behind me, Rit and Ruti were both laughing.

“Hey, don’t you all need to keep practicing?”

“Ah, right!”

They hurriedly retrieved their spears, then made a point of coming back towards us to resume training.

They performed their well-rehearsed techniques as if they hoped to impress me.

They’re too adorable…

“It would probably be a bit better if you held it like this.”


“Your pivot foot is shifting. You should pay a bit more attention to your center of balance.”

“Like this?”

“You don’t have to make your upswing so dramatic. A spear is long, so even with a smaller swing, it still has plenty of force behind it.”


Before we realized it, all three of us had joined in the training.

“You already have a good grasp of the basics, so you should probably study more about spear fighting to match your Gladiator blessing.”

“Ehhh?! How did you know my blessing?!”

Seeing how amazed he was made me feel as though I’d performed a magic trick.

“Because I’ve studied a lot.”

“Amazing! If I study in Zoltan, will I be able to do that, too?!”

“You might, if you work hard. But it would mean being separated from your mom and dad.”

“Ah…I don’t want that…maybe not, then!” The boy smiled, bashful. “Without me, there won’t be enough people to take care of the fields.”

He was a little shy, but the child had a solid grasp of things.

The calluses on his right hand weren’t from combat practice; they’d formed from farming tools.

Undoubtedly, he helped with chores every day.

The Gladiator blessing had a rough period around level 10, but for those able to overcome that, it became a powerful blessing that granted strength sufficient to become a first-rate adventurer.

For those setting out to be heroes, the order they took in their skills was crucial. However, this boy wasn’t aiming for the sort of life where he’d be constantly raising his level in battle.

“For skills, you can go one level in Weapon Proficiency: Spear, one in Critical Eye, and one in Parry. Then you might want to put three levels in Muscle Boost and Endurance Boost. After that, if you get Martial Art: Sword Impact, you shouldn’t ever have to worry too much about losing to monsters around Sant Durant.”

“Really?! Thanks! There wasn’t anyone in the village who could teach me about a Gladiator blessing!”

“Cool! Teach me, too!”

“Me too! Me too!”

“All right, all right. Everyone wait your turn.”


The other children had Warrior, Soldier, Mage, and Monk blessings.

A few of the kids hadn’t discovered their Divine Blessings yet. For them, I just went over the basics of what sorts of skills to take.

“You’re amazing, Mr. Red!”

It was kind of fun teaching children every once in a while.

Rit and Ruti looked to be enjoying kids who were so open and expressive.

After a while…


…someone called for the children.

The man who’d been on guard at Sant Durant’s gate was approaching.

“Word is ogrekin were spotted outside the village. Just to be safe, head on back home!”


The kids were shocked.

“Come on now, don’t cause a fuss. Just head on back now!”

“Fiiiinnne! Thank you for teaching us, Mr. Red!”

“See you, Mr. Red!”

“Bye bye!”

The children all bade cheery farewells while hurrying toward the village.

“Ha-ha, looks like they’ve taken a liking to you,” the guardsman remarked.

“We stumbled on their training, and one thing led to another… It turned out to be pretty fun,” I replied.

“Looking after kids can be a fun change of pace.”

“Not so much if you’re doing it every day, though?”

“My son’s turning five this year, and he’s a little ball of energy. I can’t keep up with him so well anymore,” the man answered with a smile.

It was clear from his smile that he loved his child from the bottom of his heart.

“So… What’s this about ogrekin?”

“Ah, right. Ginny the logger mentioned spotting them. She’s the sort of person who would mistake a withered bush for a goblin, but it’s best to be safe.”

Ogrekin were a smaller subspecies of ogres, normally no taller than two meters. They were physically stronger than people but possessed low intelligence and didn’t use weapons or tools.

Supposedly, they were the result of ogres intermixing with humans, but there was no record of a child being born to such a union. Their name was simply derived from their resemblance to proper ogres, and even if they had no connection to humans, it was still a commonly accepted theory that they were closely related to ogres.

“Do ogrekin show up around here often?”

“Every once in a while. Ordinarily it’s fine, and they don’t pass that close to the village, but it is dangerous to go out walking in a small group. Six years ago, a family in a house on the outskirts of Sant Durant was eaten.”

“That’s scary.”

“It’s probably best you head back to your cottage. The young men of the village will go out on patrol.”

Ogrekin weren’t particularly strong creatures, weak enough that a C-rank party from Zoltan could handle them.

And were this Zoltan, I’d take it easy and entrust the problem to someone else. However…Sant Durant’s militia was not made up of warriors by trade; they were volunteering farmers.

“Maybe I should investigate things?”

“What? N-no, we couldn’t ask that of a visitor…”

“It’ll just be for today. If I don’t find anything, then I’ll leave the rest to you all. It’ll be a nice way to explore around a bit outside Sant Durant.”

“Explore around? You heard me say there were ogrekin skulking about, right?”

“Despite how I look, I’ve seen a fair bit of action.”


No need to look so dubious.

“It’s okay.” Ruti raised her hand and stepped in front of me. She was holding a slender stick in her hand. “Watch this.”


Ruti took a breath and then swung the branch down forcefully.

“Huh?” The guy didn’t seem to understand the point to the gesture initially. Behind him, there was a loud bang. He spun around wildly. “Wh-what was that?!”

A large tree had been split in half, the two pieces falling apart.

Ruti had loosed a vacuum slice, wielding the branch like a sword.

Some fighters could achieve similar results with a proper blade, but my little sister was likely the only person in the world who could pull it off with a blunt bit of wood.

“We’re pretty strong.”

“I-I see…”

The man gulped and repeatedly nodded in acknowledgment of Ruti’s display.

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