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One Who Guides the Hero

Blood pooled on the ground and soaked into the earth.

Van lay on the ground, thinking about what had happened as his body grew cold.

Death was near.

Van the Hero has been defeated—completely and totally.

That much is fine. The Hero is meant to fight evil, but they don’t have to win.

Van knew that God desired the effort to reach victory, not the end result.

History had a plethora of righteous Divine Blessings that had fallen to evil ones.

Demis was all-knowing and all-powerful, meaning his plan couldn’t be for the Hero to triumph over the demon lord. If it were, then the Hero would never lose.

“Vannnnnn!!!!!!!” someone shrieked. “Oh, how awful! Hold on, Van!”

“I’ll cast Regenerate!”

Van realized it was Lavender and Ljubo. However, he wasn’t interested in them.

My only goal was to fulfill the Hero’s role. That was what I believed in above all else. How should I interpret this situation?

With Ljubo’s magic, Van’s broken arm was able to move again. The boy slowly brought his hand over his face.

Something felt hot, and his fingers sank unnaturally into his cheek.

Van thought about what had happened with a detached perspective, as if he were a distant observer.

“Healing Hands.”

Radiant light surrounded the Hero, restoring him from the brink of death.

“Van!” Lavender clung to his neck as he sat up. “Are you okay? That must have hurt, right? I’m sorry! I won’t ever leave your side again!”

Van didn’t respond, however. He didn’t so much as look at her.

His restored eyes shone brightly as he looked into the sky with a smile.

“Yes! Now I understand!”


“I will kill that blue-haired girl. And once my Hero blessing absorbs the blessing that she has nourished through her life, I will become the true Hero!”

“Van, what are you talking about?” Ljubo was perplexed, but Van didn’t feel the need to explain to the cardinal he so respected.

“Our Lord is come! Aha, aha-ha-ha, aha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!”

Ljubo recoiled in fear at Van’s heavy laughter.

“I don’t get it, but I’ll support you no matter what, Van!”

Lavender clung to the boy as she always did.

Heedless of his comrades, Van grinned wide, truly elated.

After returning to Zoltan, we all gathered in Ruti’s mansion.

“Sorry I’m late.”

Esta opened the door and stepped inside.

“I’d heard the stories, but I’m still surprised you started wearing a mask.”

“It suits me, doesn’t it?”

Rit and I paused, slightly taken aback by the joke. Perhaps our reaction was amusing, because Esta smiled.

“Hey, this ain’t the time to be screwing around.”

Danan was in a foul mood. Their personalities had flip-flopped compared to the old days.

“Sorry, I was glad to have the chance to meet you all again.”

Ruti, Danan, Yarandrala, Tisse, Albert, Rit, and I were all present. Esta looked to each of us in turn, evidently pleased.

“Okay, I can’t stay long, so let’s get down to the matter at hand.” Esta pulled up a seat. “Van’s wounds were completely healed by Cardinal Ljubo’s healing spell and his own Healing Hands. He has no lingering issues, either.”

“His spirit wasn’t broken?” Danan asked.

“No, the Hero does not feel fear,” Esta replied.

“But he can experience failure. He looks like the sort who hasn’t ever really hit a wall. I figured getting beaten into the dirt would’ve imparted some kind of impression.”

“…Van doesn’t think he failed.”

“Even after losing that badly?”

“He smiled.”

“Gah! That kid seriously pisses me off!” Danan roared as he hit his fist and stump together. “I want a rematch! Lemme kill him, and that’ll be the end of things!”

“Calm down,” I fired back. “He’s the church’s Hero. If he died in Zoltan, the church’s people would come crawling out of the woodwork to investigate things.”

“What a pain in the ass!”

Danan’s face twisted as he tried to control his outrage.

“So, what is Van going to do now?” I asked Esta.

“He’s convinced himself that his duty as the Hero is to kill Ruti.”

Wait, what?

“He’s after Ruti?”

My chest grew hot suddenly.

“Oh? You getting fired up, too?! Let’s go kill this guy together!” Danan sounded thrilled.

It was true that if Van intended to hurt Ruti, I wouldn’t hesitate to draw my sword.

Rit frantically tried to calm me. “Wait a second, Red!”

Thanks to her, I snapped back to myself. No good, that was a little too impulsive of me.

“Some things never change.” Esta sounded a little astounded, or maybe exasperated.

I sniffed, a bit irked.

“There is definitely cause for worry, but we have a week before anything happens, at the very least.”

“What do you mean?”

“Van is venturing to the south seas to hunt monsters and increase his level. The trip is also intended as a test voyage to learn how the Vendidad operates.”

“The south seas… I suppose that’s the closest location to Zoltan with high-level monsters.”

“We leave port tomorrow. Albert and I will be going with Van.”

“Will you two be all right?”

“A couple allies on the inside can’t hurt, right? I think we’ll manage.”

“That’s true, but…”

“Don’t worry. I’m not planning on fighting Van,” Esta assured. “I just need to confront that failure of a Hero.”

Failure of a Hero, huh?

His faith in Demis and his Divine Blessing were strong. Could he really be convinced of anything?

“If we’re going to try something, it would be better to go after his comrades instead of him.”

Everyone else nodded at that.

“Esta, how much do you know about Cardinal Ljubo and the fairy Lavender?”

“Ljubo’s goal is to use Van to advance his personal glory, to be one of the people who saved the world.”

“So then fighting Ruti is a diversion, and in his eyes, it’s a needless risk. That might give us some leeway with him.”

A rapacious cardinal would be a lot easier to deal with than a martyr Hero.

“Lavender doesn’t have any particular goals. She just loves Van and acts only for his sake.”

“So if we get her to understand Van’s life would be in danger, we might be able to sway her, too.”

If it was to protect the person she loved, Lavender might even be willing to aid us. “So we persuade Van’s party members, then we get them to convince him to become a Hero for the people and not for Demis. That’s the current plan.”

“In which case, Rit and I will be crucial. Van doesn’t know Rit, and I haven’t taken any aggressive action against him,” Tisse interjected.

I was a little surprised by the remark. I looked to Rit, who nodded reassuringly.

“I’m fine with getting involved. I was once an adventurer called Rit the hero, and I should live up to that title.”

“We’ll be facing the Hero and his party, though… They’re powerful enemies.”

“I get that you’re worried, Red, but I worry about you and Ruti just as much! I want to help.”

“…Right, sorry. I wasn’t thinking pragmatically.”

“It’s okay. I like that strategic side of you, but I love your kind side.”

Tense as the situation was, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful Rit’s smile was. My heart skipped a beat.

“Looks like the two of you are getting on just fine.” Esta was smiling.

“Sorry, we were in the middle of an important conversation, and I just…”

“No, don’t worry about it. Love is a good thing.”

Danan, who’d been watching Esta, looked astonished. “Ruti, Gideon, Tisse, Rit, Theodora… Everyone’s changed. Are Yarandrala and I the only ones who haven’t?”

“Oh? I’m just a peaceful high elf living a slow and simple life now, thank you very much.”

“That right? Then who did I see sneaking off in disguise to fight in Zoltan’s colosseum? Didn’t you kick the ass of that third-ranked spear fighter with your bare hands? You’re the same as you ever were, the sort who balances peace and war.”

“Oops, I wasn’t aware anyone knew about that.” Yarandrala looked away, feigning embarrassment.

She really just can’t keep from getting involved in everything.

“But, y’know, change doesn’t seem so bad.” Danan’s expression suddenly turned serious. “This whole Hero problem isn’t gonna go away by whaling on him, right? Our plan calls for a different kind of strength, and I don’t have a damn clue what to do.”

Danan was right; this was a different sort of fight from the many in our shared past.

“Before, we worked to free Ruti from her Hero blessing… This time, it’s something like the opposite. We need to guide Van into becoming a true Hero.”

I would’ve preferred if we could solve everything without getting involved with Van, but it was beginning to look like a clash with this new Hero was inevitable.

Guide and Hero.

I felt a bit uneasy, and I wondered if this was Demis’s will.

Regardless, my path was clear.

“It won’t be easy… But I know we can do it!”

“““Yeah!!!””” Everyone responded emphatically.

I’ve found some truly dependable friends.

Evening, Zoltan.

Red & Rit’s Apothecary.

“We’re hoooome!”

“We certainly are.”

Rit and I had returned home after being gone for a while.

“Yarandrala kept the shop in pretty good order. I don’t see any dust.”

“She loves cleaning.”

“How were sales? Do you think she knew to keep accounts? Ah, maybe she didn’t get around to it since she was busy dealing with Van.”

“Yarandrala used to run a flower shop. She’s got experience with handling finances.”

“Really? Ah, the medicine stocks have run pretty low. Yarandrala might know a lot about plants, but without the Alchemy skill, she can’t produce many remedies.”

Rit looked to be having fun inspecting things. Something about it was indescribably pleasant for me to watch.

“The vacation in Sant Durant was fun, but I feel so calm now that we’re back.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. This is our home, after all.”

I hugged Rit close. I could feel her arms squeezing me tight, too.

This. This house, this town. This was the world I wanted to protect.

The Divine Blessing of the Hero could stand in my way, and God could disapprove, but I had no intention of backing down.

Such was the decision I came to while enveloped in Rit’s gentle warmth.

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