Mushoku Tensei (LN) - Volume 25 - Chapter 9.2

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I Wanted to Be a Hero

EVER SINCE I WAS LITTLE, I dreamed of being a hero. Old tales from my father and my grandmother were my inspiration there, as you might’ve guessed. From my father, I heard the legend of North God Kalman, the little-known champion. From my grandmother, I heard the legend of the fearful demon king named Atoferatofe. Together, it was the tale of a champion and a demon king. A demon king was born powerful, was a ruler, and had no peer when it came to viciousness. A champion was born weak but overcame many trials to strike down the vicious demon king. North God Kalman and Atoferatofe embodied this idealized pairing. My father told me how precious that connection between champion and demon king was. North God Kalman the champion wasn’t strong, by any means. Possessing slightly more skill than most, he’d set up his own school, but he was still never anything more than a commonplace warrior. Despite that, he waged a hopeless war for peace. That was the sort of era it was. He couldn’t have lived with himself otherwise. The only reason they called him a hero was because he faced the final battle and survived it. No one would have remembered his name if he hadn’t. Having said that, the fight—the Laplace War—was such a terrible war that just surviving could be counted as an achievement. Many people fought and died ugly deaths in that war. Human, beast, elf, dwarf, halfling, or demon, they all died. That meant everyone who survived was great, or so my father said. He told me it was a time when you needed all your strength and your wits just to survive. My grandmother seemed to agree with him. My grandmother didn’t die in the battle, but she was sealed away partway through. “What would you call those who achieved the great feat of ending the war in such an era, if not heroes?” my father would say passionately.

My favorite story was a different one. A different hero with the same name: the tale of the Second North God Kalman. The second Kalman set off on a journey to make the name of North God Kalman, a true champion, known throughout the world. In his travels, he helped people and defeated great enemies. He wasn’t righteous, not by any means. He wasn’t resolved to help people or snuff out evil. It just so happened that he ended up helping people and nations. He earned the gratitude of many, but he fought only for the name of North God Kalman…and by the same token, to show off his own strength. He had no reason to fight, nor any demon king to slay. He fought only for himself. And ultimately, he became known as the greatest warrior.

Yes, there was a time when no one disputed that Second North God Kalman was the greatest warrior alive. He managed to pull that off. Because of that, I thought that he really was a hero. He was the coolest person in the whole world, so I looked up to him. My father told me I wasn’t to be like the second North God. He only told me the story because it made me happy. He wasn’t proud of it, not in the slightest. If anything, my father heaped far more praise on the First North God. “He was really amazing, really noble,” he’d say.

It was the Second North God who stayed with me in my heart. It was the Second North God who I wanted to be like. Lying in bed before I went to sleep, it was he who I imagined becoming. I’d fight like the Second North God and eventually become a hero.

When I realized I had a talent, my dreams grew closer to reality. I had a knack for sword fighting. So strong was my grasp of sword fighting that I sensed my own great potential. Because of that, I thought—without basis, it turns out—I could defeat the Second North God. I should have been able to.

I put everything I had into it. I had more than enough potential.

So why did it end up like this?

Now, total darkness covered my vision. My body was being squeezed hard and there was a ringing, like when you cover your ears with your hands. My limbs wouldn’t move at all, and my awareness was hazy. The pressure on my body hurt. If I weren’t me, maybe I’d already have been crushed to death. I couldn’t do anything, not even twitch. It was agony to breathe, but my body was tough. I could tell this wasn’t enough to kill me. Maybe because I couldn’t move, my thoughts wouldn’t stop racing.

I once heard the story of how my grandmother was sealed away. My grandmother was a brute, and people of her race didn’t die easily, so she’d been sealed away numerous times. My father liked to say he’d seal me away if I was naughty. They’d have my grandmother tell me about the time she spent sealed away. Grandmother told the story with a scowl.

She said she got better at talking, but she lost the use of her body and the power of speech. Her thoughts grew dull and her usual urge to wreak havoc was forcibly suppressed. She said it was absolutely humiliating. I bet she felt just like I did now.

I lost.

I lost to the follower of Dragon God Orsted, “Quagmire Rudeus.” I never should have lost to such an opponent. Rudeus was a fainthearted, lily-livered, spineless rat. The sort to surround himself with safety nets. A guy who couldn’t take a fight. He thought he was so clever, when all he had was low cunning. He was the type to be so overconfident in his own plans that he got sucked into them and died.

…No, that’s not right. He was spineless, but he wasn’t without resolve. He showed me that at the end. He came out and fought. He fought me one-on-one. I was gravely wounded, but even then, the odds were in my favor. He must have known that, yet he still stood up to me. He knew getting that close could be fatal, but he stood tall and struck true. I didn’t think he had it in him. I misread him, and lost because of it. I had to admit that.

Rudeus Greyrat was a warrior. Maybe it was guys like him who were the real heroes. A little cowardly, a man who couldn’t survive without the help of others, working out convoluted strategies, scurrying around as fainthearted as a mouse. Underneath that cowardice, he harbored hidden courage.

Someone with the guts to fight with all their strength against an opponent they have no hope of defeating… Yes, just like the First North God.

Okay…I see now. Perhaps I misunderstood some things about strength. I thought a hero only had to be strong. What is strength, really? Could you call yourself strong for fighting and defeating opponents weaker than yourself? I could’ve surpassed the Second North God. I could’ve become history’s greatest North God Kalman. That wasn’t worth questioning; I knew I could. What would it matter? When you achieved something you knew you could do all along, what does that mean?

A true hero fights battles even when he doesn’t know if he can win. It’s by achieving an impossible task that you become a hero. Like how the First North God Kalman reformed Demon King Atoferatofe. Like how the Second North God Kalman slew terrible enemies beyond mortal comprehension across the world. Like how Quagmire Rudeus defeated the Third North God Kalman.

You had to do something that, at first glance, seemed beyond you. Yes, exactly. That’s why I lost to Rudeus. This time he was the champion, and I was the demon king. Just like the demon kings of history, I’d sneered at the champion and treated his allies like insects. Too proud to unleash my full power, I’d been defeated. Rudeus Greyrat was a champion—a hero. It was hard to shake the impression, looking at him in the flesh, that he was just a pitiful small-timer, and so you ended up underestimating him. He did great things. They’ll surely call him a hero in ages to come. I got it wrong. I would have had to do everything in my power to crush him from the get-go if I wanted to stand a chance. Like a fool, I thought I’d knock him off without really trying because the next battle was the real one. I should have known. Ever since I was a child, I’d heard the story, over and over again, of the demon king who lost making exactly this mistake. How could I have forgotten something so simple? I wanted to go back in time and punch myself.

I was wrong, and that’s how I ended up paralyzed in a place like this.

…Was I going to die here? Maybe because I had a lot of my grandmother’s blood, I was tough. I’m not so easily destroyed, not even buried in the ground like this. Only, unlike Grandmother, I wasn’t immortal. If I stayed paralyzed like this, eventually I’d die. Either from starvation or something else. I suppose this is how it ends for a reckless fool…

“I don’t want to die…”

It’s well enough to die when you’re defeated. I could accept it. That’s the nature of battle. I tried to always accept my death—but only after I’d fought with everything I had. I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t been serious. That wouldn’t happen next time. Next time, I wouldn’t hold back. I’d fight with my full strength from start to finish. I’d do my utmost in every battle, like a champion, like a hero, like a man worthy of the name North God Kalman. I swore it on my sword, on the gods, on my grandfather, the great First North God Kalman.

So someone, please. Find a way to give me another chance.

Even as I kept wishing that, over and over again, I felt my consciousness fading…

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