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Chapter 3

And Sometimes I’m Not Sure

The next day, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, Yarandrala, Danan, Esta, Albert, and I gathered in Yarandrala’s room at the inn where she was staying.

“That’s the rundown of things from the past few days.”

Everyone nodded after Rit and I delivered our reports.

“‘An ancient elven creation,’ huh?” Esta chuckled a bit.

She was much more expressive than before she’d donned her mask.

“You really come up with some unexpected ideas. And seeing an utterly convinced Ljubo trying to sell Van on it was excellent.”

“I’m just amazed that you were able to deceive Cardinal Ljubo, of all people, with a story like that,” Albert said with admiration.

“Ljubo and I both argued that we should leave Zoltan, but Lavender and Van are set on staying and searching for Ruti. Although in Lavender’s case, she’s simply supporting Van’s decision and probably doesn’t see any point in fighting Ruti,” Esta explained.

“So far, everything’s going as expected,” I replied.

Swaying Ljubo had denied Van help in his hunt for Ruti. And without such an influential church member aiding him, Van had no option but to search for Ruti directly on his own. The current plan was to use the extra time that afforded us so Rit could win over Lavender.

“The talk with Lavender could’ve gone worse, but her single-minded love makes her a challenge,” Rit said.

“Ljubo won’t be an issue so long as we maintain contact, so we should focus on Van and Lavender.”

“There’s at least some hope for convincing Lavender, but what about Van?”

Esta shook her head. “His behavior has grown odd since the encounter with Ruti. Before, he would listen when Ljubo insisted, but now…”

“So the Hero is hung up on killing Ruti?” Danan groaned.


“I understand his belief that the Hero blessing’s urges are just and that to satisfy one’s blessing is a sign of devotion to God’s teachings, and thus, the right course of action. But is he really so devoted to beating Ruti just because he wants to increase his level?” I asked.

To raise one’s blessing level was to act in accordance with God, who assigned that blessing. Valuing that endeavor highly was in line with Van’s sense of virtue. However, if the goal was simply to increase his blessing, there was no need to seek out Ruti specifically. Van could fight any powerful enemy with a blessing, as he’d done in the south seas.

“Hard to say. It’s not like I know anyone else’s blessing.” Danan didn’t seem interested in thinking about it, either, as his fist thudded against his knee. “Not bein’ able to fight wears on my nerves!”

“You’re our trump card if a battle becomes inevitable, so you’ll have to put up with it for now,” I said.

We couldn’t let Ruti fight, so Danan was our strongest usable combatant. He was the only one who could stop Van alone.

Danan cocked an eyebrow. “Really? Couldn’t you figure something out for a guy like him?”

“Don’t be crazy. He held his ground fighting you and Yarandrala simultaneously,” I responded.

“If it weren’t for those salt dragons, we woulda murdered him then and there,” Danan grumbled.

It would be really problematic if you actually killed him, so could you not focus on that?

“…Anyway, the Hero is the hope of the people. Even if Van doesn’t really live up to that ideal,” Esta said. “I don’t intend to force him to try to save the world just because he’s the Hero, but if his power causes trouble for others, then it’s our duty as party members to the last Hero to guide him, right?”

I nodded. “Right… For now, let’s take things one step at a time. First is convincing Lavender. Rit, continue leading efforts on that front, and the rest of us will do whatever we can to support her.”

“Yeah, I’ll be counting on you all,” Rit answered with a smile.

Ruti pouted as she watched us. “There’s nothing for me to do.”

We had to keep Van from finding her, so she was being kept in reserve as an absolute last resort—to be used only if someone’s life was in genuine danger. Naturally, we were doing our best to keep things from reaching that point, so ideally, Ruti would never take action at all.

“Everyone else is doing so much.” We smiled as Ruti grumbled in frustration.

“Your job is to protect our day-to-day lives. We’re entrusting you with watching the shop and the plantation while Tisse, Rit, and I aren’t around.”

“Ah, that is important.” Ruti’s eyes widened, and she broke into a smile. “Leave the store to me. I’ve memorized where all the medicines go and their effects.”

“Good. I’m counting on you.”


Customers had been inconvenienced while we were away on our vacation, so I didn’t want to close the shop again if I could help it. If Ruti was willing to pitch in, I’d gladly accept her help.

“Wait.” Yarandrala spoke up for the first time during the meeting. Her tone was sharp. “Van is on the move!”

She’d been monitoring the Hero’s activities via her ability to communicate with plants.

Once Yarandrala got to know the vegetation of an area, the range of her network exceeded that of skills or standard forms of magical detection.

“And they’re heading this way!” Yarandrala added.

“Lavender’s caught on to us.”

It was likely the same technique that had allowed the fairy to notice Tisse while she was hidden. We’d have to hold our next meeting at Red & Rit’s Apothecary.

I quickly handed out instructions with a serious look on my face.

A bell chimed as the door to the shop opened.

There were two sets of footsteps, but three presences.

“Welcome,” Rit greeted from behind the counter.

“Rit,” Lavender replied.

“Hello, Lavender. And Van and Cardinal Ljubo as well.”

“That big guy from last time, Esta, Albert, and Tisse are here, too, aren’t they?”


“Playing dumb?”

“No, I’m a little surprised, but yes, they’re all here, just like you said.”

“See? I told you!” Lavender puffed out her little chest in boast. “Esta is connected with Rit! She betrayed us!”

“Mrgh.” Ljubo sounded uncomfortable.

“Betrayed? She hasn’t led you into a trap. Do you really think Esta would do that?” Rit said.

Lavender crossed her arms. “She’s sneaking around behind our backs, isn’t she?!”

“This isn’t something to discuss in the middle of the store… Esta’s inside, so why don’t we all talk about it together?” Rit kept her cool as she spoke. Lavender didn’t seem pleased by that reaction, but Ljubo looked relieved.

As for Van…

“Huh, there sure are a lot of medicines… Oh, let’s get some of this one before we go.”

Van innocently perused the items lined up on the shelves.

Rit led the three guests into the living room, where Esta, Albert, and Tisse waited.

“Where’s the big guy?” Lavender questioned.

“Heh… This room’s a bit small for both him and Cardinal Ljubo, so he’s waiting somewhere else,” Esta replied. Then she looked at Van. “I’m prepared to explain myself, but I gather you don’t believe I’ve betrayed you.”

Van cocked his head. “Not exactly. You’re going to justify yourself, right? I can wait until I know if you’ve turned on us before treating you as an enemy.”

The lack of concern in his voice was evident. His personality had become less human than before.

“Esta! Confess that you betrayed us and admit that Van should kill you on the spot!” Lavender insisted.

“No violence in the shop, please.”

“Quiet! Van is always right, so he can cut someone down whenever he likes! No one can get in his way!”

Rit smiled wryly. “What a troublesome fairy.”

“It won’t come to that,” Esta responded. “It’s hurtful to be accused of betrayal. Cardinal Ljubo asked me to look into the identity of Van’s enemy. It’s only natural I’d reach out to someone well versed in the subject.”

“‘Well versed’?”

“Ljubo should have been given the report, too. The thieves he met work for Rit.”


Rit’s expression was one of supreme confidence as she spoke to Ljubo. “I used to work as an adventurer. They were agents of a Thieves Guild faction I crushed.”

That was a lie we’d cooked up, and Rit spoke it without hesitation.

“I got in touch with Esta, as my subordinates did with you, Your Eminence. And I convinced her there was no need for Van to fight the ancient elf creation.”


“Esta acted for Van’s sake, and you, of all people, ought to see the reason not to battle that creature, Cardinal Ljubo.”

“Yes, well…” Ljubo looked troubled. Lavender gnashed her teeth but kept silent.

All right. Ruti and Yarandrala should be far enough away by now. At the very least, they were beyond my detection. Guess that means it’s about time.

“You sure this is all right, Red?” Danan whispered.

We were hiding together in the workroom, listening to the discussion with Van’s party.

“I planned to observe how Rit’s talk with Lavender proceeded, but this is a good chance for us to act.”

Danan grinned. “It’ll be a definite shock either way. Landing an opening punch after a feint is always a sweet feeling.”

Martial arts remained his go-to for metaphors, even in tense situations.

“Okay, shall we?”


Danan and I exited the workroom silently.

I could hear Rit skillfully parrying Lavender’s high-pitched complaints in the living room.

“Is someone there?” Van asked, his voice directed at the door to where Danan and I were.

“It’s that big guy. Guess he’s coming out after all!” Lavender stomped noisily on the table.

“I wonder if you know him, Cardinal Ljubo…?” There was a slight trace of concern in Rit’s voice.

She said him, not them, despite knowing Danan and I were hiding together. It was a covert question, asking if it was truly all right for me to go through with this. Honestly, it probably wasn’t, but we were dealing with the Hero. I had to steel myself and take a risk.

“…Got it,” Rit murmured softly, and then she turned to Van with a sharpness to her gaze. “Allow me to introduce the man I told Lavender about, the man I love. Red, could you come in, please?”

I opened the door.

“You’re the swordsman who stole my shield!”

Van reached for his sword. But a loud voice thundered through the room as though to stop the Hero.

“It can’t be! Why are Gideon and Danan here?!”

Lavender and Van froze upon seeing Ljubo’s shock.

“Gideon and Danan… You mean…the warriors from Ruti the Hero’s party?!”

“Indeed! These two fought alongside Ruti the Hero at the Last Wall fortress!”

Van had not shown any interest in the discussion thus far, but now we had his complete attention.

Hopefully, that would help him and his allies forget any possible connection between Esta, Tisse, and Rit beyond what had been explained already. Van believed in the Divine Blessing of the Hero above all else. Thus, Danan and I, the other Hero’s comrades, were possibly the only two capable of influencing Van.

“Why—why are Ruti the Hero’s comrades here?!”

Danan and I glanced at each other.

“See for yourself.”

Danan held up his right arm and rolled back his sleeve, revealing his missing forearm.

“I screwed up.”

“That’s…” Ljubo was speechless. He’d witnessed Danan’s strength for himself during the battle at the Last Wall fortress.

“They’re the ones who fought Van before the ancient elf creation arrived,” Esta stated.

Tisse nodded. “Ruti the Hero’s comrades would be able to fight Van on equal footing…”

“I reached out to them for information. There’s no harm in paying respect to those who have fought the demon lord’s army.”

“And as a local adventurer, I knew they were staying in Zoltan, so of course I came to them for help occasionally.”

Esta and Tisse both fibbed expertly, and Van accepted it at face value.

“I see. So that’s how it happened.”

Okay. That takes care of any suspicion regarding Esta and Tisse meeting with us. Let’s deal with each problem in turn.

“So why did Ruti the Hero’s comrades attack me?” Van looked genuinely confused.

A vein throbbed on Danan’s temple.

Not good!

Before he exploded, I stepped in to explain. “It’s because you were going to harm many people.”


“The Hero fights to save the suffering. We have left the Hero’s party, but we still wish to protect the people of Zoltan from undue pain.”

“You misunderstand. I acted because I wanted to rescue everyone from their doubt and allow them to live in accordance with their blessings and the teachings of Demis.”

“That may be your way, but it wasn’t how Ruti did things.”

“Ruti the Hero…”

“Being manipulated by magic, seeing those dear to you die, losing your homeland, the Hero should prevent such tragedies, not cause them,” I argued.

Van watched me, apparently unable to accept my words.

“I’m the Hero. My blessing’s impulses tell me that what I’m doing is correct.”

“And I’m the Guide. The one and only person in this world tasked with showing the Hero the proper way.”


For the first time, Van was at a loss for how to respond. For just a moment, doubt ran across his eyes. My existence, my Guide blessing, was the ultimate challenge to Van’s ideology of dogmatic adherence to blessings and religion. The Guide blessing was the one and only blessing created expressly for directing the Hero.

That was the biggest reason I’d elected to reveal my identity to Van. I was possibly the only person left who might convince the boy.

“Van, I think I need to have a talk with you.”


Van looked unsure. His Divine Blessing was the pillar that supported his every decision, but he couldn’t reject what I said because my blessing was meant to advise his.

A small figure abruptly stood between us.

“Don’t trick Van! Van is always right!”


“No, Rit! I won’t let anyone get in the way of my love!”

Rit and Lavender stared each other down. Yet while the fairy glared hard at us, the malice in her eyes weakened when she looked at Rit. At least, that’s how it appeared to me.

“I have no intention of getting in the way of your love… I only want to introduce you.”


Rit broke into a tranquil smile. “This is the man I love.”

“…I see.”



“The simple life I share with Red is my love. And I won’t let anyone threaten it.”

“…!!!” Lavender was visibly stunned. The fairy had a very extreme outlook that differed from Van’s.

No philosophical argument would alter Lavender’s opinion. The only way to get through to her was by using the same perspective of love.

“We got to know each other a bit the other day. And today has been a meaningful encounter for all of us. Why don’t we end things here for now?” I proposed.


Lavender kept her narrowed eyes trained on Rit, but she moved to Van’s shoulder.

“Oh-ho.” Ljubo was evidently surprised to see Lavender back down. “I suppose I should’ve expected nothing less of a Hero’s comrades. I take it you will arrange a later meeting?”

I nodded. “Yes, it’d be best to speak with both sides on an even footing, don’t you think?”

“I do indeed… Any objections, Van?”

“No…” Van was listless, still lost in contemplation.

Van’s party left peacefully, and the living room in Red & Rit’s Apothecary was silent for a bit.

“Should we really have let them go?” Tisse asked. “With more pressure, you might have been able to convince Van while he was still confused.”

I shook my head.

“I might have been able to win him over momentarily, but it wouldn’t have lasted.”

The pillar of his faith was still unshakable.

We needed proper discourse, not deception. Van wouldn’t give up on Ruti until he had an answer that suited his faith-based perspective.

“Is there any solution that will actually satisfy him?” Tisse inquired.

“That’s a good question…,” I said.

I figured Van would probably listen to me once I brought up my blessing, but there had never been a chance to broach the subject before because he had never been willing to spare a moment to listen.

“It sure looked like you were seeing a dozen moves ahead of them and leading them around by the nose…”

I smiled. “Making it look that way is just a negotiation tactic.”

Truthfully, I had not been nearly so at ease as I’d made it seem in the moment. Lavender’s ability to sense people limited coordination, which caused a lot of problems. I’d tried assembling our group in the apothecary shop, which was far from downtown, yet even that was apparently in range. Even if we concealed my and Danan’s identities, it would be challenging for all of us to gather and exchange information in the future. Thus, I had to reveal our identities to remove Lavender’s suspicion over our meeting.

“We obviously couldn’t reveal that Lavender was giving us trouble. It was far better to make it seem like everything was proceeding as we planned. Still…that was nerve-racking.”

“Good job. You kept really, really cool there.” When I slumped back in my chair, Rit came out with a cup for me. “Here, my special tea.”

“Ahhh, that’s a nice smell.”

It was brewed using quality tea leaves, and Rit had added a spoonful of mead, too. The taste reminded me of drinking mead with Rit, a relaxing memory.

“All right, so the situation’s improved, but what now?” Tisse asked.

I set the cup on the table and considered the question for a moment.

“About that… I’d like us to work on convincing Lavender, so our efforts should be focused on supporting Rit.”

“What about Van? Is it okay to leave him be?”

“I’ll do what I can with him…but I doubt I’ll get many opportunities.”

Van was unsure because he didn’t know how to interpret the Guide blessing in relation to his Hero blessing. My best guess was that he’d decide on an answer after the third time I spoke with him. The Hero recovered from any doubt brought on by sudden shock, and it never took that long.

“This was my first talk, so now I’ve only got two more to get through to him. What to do…? I’ll need to come up with something quickly.”

“This can’t be easy if it’s forcing you to use a more rash tactic,” Tisse remarked.

Rit hummed. “I’d like to believe convincing Lavender will get us closer to what we want, but…I should think things over a bit more.”

I took another sip of tea.

Danan sighed and scratched the back of his head. “Hahhh, what a pain. I could do with an enemy who just needs their ass kicked.”

“We can’t deal with things here like we did when fighting the demon lord’s army… Although I confess, I feel the same,” Yarandrala said. She and Danan shared a laugh.

Yeah, I’m starting to miss when things were simple enough to resolve with just a fight, too.

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