“What?” Arryn was the first to respond. Alice didn’t say anything.
“No, I’m not joking,” I said ahead before she could even ask it.
“All this time?” Arryn asked.
“All this time,” I responded.
“I…” Arryn muttered.
“Remember the… woman in the guild, the receptionist?”
“Yes,” I said, nodding. “Since I was the fresh hero, I asked her to give me any good tips on how I could get to know adventurers,” I said, looking at Arryn. To be fair, it felt good to tell someone the truth. “So she casually pushed me into your group. It was a win-win situation, and she said that she could sleep better if I was with you guys. Especially since this quest was already slightly suspicious before we even left.”
There was a moment of silence. For once, I looked away, into the sky. Not that there was much to watch - it was filled with the mist, and the bath’s steam didn’t make it any better.
“I failed her. I failed you,” I said. Few tears gathered at the edge of my eyes, which I immediately washed away. “I had everything under control until he… I might be the hero, but even I wasn’t ready for his actions. And he did all of it despite me telling him the truth as well, that I was the hero. He probably didn’t believe me.”
“I-I think he believed you,” Alice said quietly, and more slower than her usual talking speed, looking at the water in front of her. “B-but he’s this kind of man who would still do something stupid. O-only because he felt like it.”
Arryn stared at Alice for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” I said, bowing slightly. “I’m truly sorry. You can blame me if you want.”
“I will,” Arryn interrupted Alice. “If he’s dead, that is.”
“Arryn,” Alice muttered, looking at her companion. “It’s not his fault. You know Bill better than anyone...”
“Exactly!” Arryn said, tears finally falling down, hitting the pool’s water. “And this is precisely why. I need to blame someone for this. I was always careful. I preferred to abandon quests over some of us dying, or him getting hurt. I never argued when it came to ethical points. And if anything, it wasn’t him holding us back. After all, he was the bravest of us all. It was me, who slowed us down! It was always me!” She reached out her hand to grab the nearby smaller towel she had taken with her, just to hide her face and remove the tears. “I loved him. No. I still love him. And I will never forgive you or anyone else if he dies.”
My eyes widened, slightly. I didn’t see that coming.
“I know,” Arryn interrupted. “Me and love him? It never seemed that way, did it? Well, that’s because I’m an elf, and he’s a human. And I happen to be from a family who doesn’t really approve any of this. But I could convince them to become an adventurer. And I could at least be with him, adventure with him. Even if it was unrecruited love, I was happy. Even if all we did was mock at each other and be companions. I was happy with all of that.
“But none of it will happen if he’s dead. It’ll be over. All because his stupid feelings to sacrifice himself for something stupid like… I bet he told you how great we are and how bad he was. But he doesn’t realize how valuable he is to us. He is the bard of our party. He’s the one who keeps up the mood, or talks when there’s a need to talk. He’s the one who keeps our morals always straight. And he’s the one who has saved countless people, even though he’s not the strongest and greatest adventurer out there.”
As she spoke, with every sentence, her voice increased. By the end, she was almost shouting, soundless tears hitting the hot water in front of her. But by the end of her monologue, she realized that she was too loud. “I’m sorry for shouting,” she muttered.
“This is fine,” I responded, nodding. There was a moment of silence between everyone. We were just there, thinking.
“So, did you learn anything about adventurers?” Arryn said, weakly, finally looking at me.
I nodded. “A lot. A lot more than I ever expected.”
And I did. I learned how broken the adventurer’s system was. Perhaps I could see it only because I never was adventurer like them. I never went through that broken system. If one spends too long in a flawed and broken system, they either will stop seeing its faults, stop caring, or just leave altogether.
“Good. I hope you’ll take it into good use,” she said, finally completely calming down, but still removing her tears.
“You’re not wrong, Arryn,” I said, looking at her. “It’s thanks to people like Bill, who do great things. It’s thanks to them that people are saved and helped. Long time ago it was natural to help others. But…” I looked at the water in front of me, slight waves moving around from all directions.
“...but?” Arryn asked.
“...I can’t help but respect Bill. He did what he wanted, till the very end. I only wish that he’s still alive, somewhere, waiting for us to rescue him.”
There was a moment of silence, once more. Arryn visibly had a hard time not crying.
“I-I… have to go,” Alice finally said, standing up. “N-not that I want to leave, but I’ve been here too long. I’m slightly overheating,” she said.
“Me too,” Arryn said, nodding, and standing up as well. Both of them got out of the water, slowly. Of course, I absorbed every moment of it.
“I’ll stay a little bit longer, so you can wash. Let me know when you’re done,” I said, giving them a weak smile.
“Thank you,” Alice said with a firm voice, giving me a smile and walking away.
“Don’t peek,” Arryn whispered towards me. “It would be a pity to lose hero that soon,” she said, giving me a smirk. At least she could still joke around. That was a good sign.
“I won’t,” I said, smiling. To be fair, I wanted to peek. It almost felt like something Bill would’ve done, bringing me with him. But it would suck to be labeled as a hero who peeks at girls. So I had to abandon that idea. For now.
Dammit Bill. You are supposed to bring us to ruin right now, I thought, smirking.
It didn’t take long before I got myself out of the bath as well, getting myself seated on the nearby chair, probably just for such purposes.
To be fair, all of it felt slightly weird. Perhaps it was the fact that there wasn’t this epic conclusion that I had expected. Then again, maybe it was still to come? Or perhaps it was just the unknown that bothered me.
But once more I felt powerless. And as I realized that I was completely alone, my body began to slightly shiver, and tears began to flow. All those images of my first adventure went through. I could still hear Bill’s final voices. I could still remember those battles.
And perhaps it was one of the first times when I really realized what it meant to be a hero. What it meant to fail people. Before I thought I could be easily replaced. But could I really? There was no new Demon King, and there wouldn’t be one for a long time. And people like Bill looked up to me, in hopes that I could do something about our future. Races as they were now, would never be able to get together to fight against the new evil behind the volcano. And if the new evil knew that we knew, maybe it would be us who would be wiped out?
Can I do this? I’m only a boy who was stuck in his room, imagined all those adventurers in his head. I had never talked with anyone, not really. Yet here I was, talking to the most important, as I’m trying to be an important figure myself.
“Hiro,” Alice muttered. I quickly moved my hand over my face, secretly removing the obvious tear lines. I tried to look as I was simply tired and removed the slight sweat. Finally, I looked back at Alice.
“Yeah? You’re done?” I said, as my vision began to focus on the figure that stood in front of me.
Alice’s clothing was completely different. It wasn’t even close to the old one. It was probably impossible to get the old clothing, or similar to that in the first place, or at least that soon. She had a long red flowy dress, a black leather corset and armlets. Around her waist, she had half-leather and half-chain belt, with a few charms connected to it just for some style points. She was stunningly pretty.
“Holy shit!” I said it out loud.
“What?” Alice muttered, looking behind her as well.
“You’re so pretty.” I mean, I couldn’t help myself. “And it fits you really well.”
Alice blushed, visibly. “It’s too revealing.”
“And that’s fine. It fits you really well. You’re a beautiful woman, Alice.”
“Eh, please,” Alice muttered, blushing even more. “It’s probably stupidly expensive clothing,” she murmured, making a few circles on the spot while looking at the dress.
“I bet,” I said, grinning. “But it’s pretty good material. It’s definitely meant for adventuring,” I said.
She nodded. “I noticed that too,” she said, finally stopping. “But yeah, we are done.”
I nodded, finally standing up. “Thank you.”
Alice looked at me, taking a few steps towards me, and stopping in front of me.
“What?” I said, examining her.
“You’ aren’t a strong hero, are you? I mean… physically or magically. I could tell. The magical essence test we did, it wouldn’t lie.” I stared at her, surprised. I hadn’t expected any of that. But as I opened my mouth, she pushed her finger on top my lips. “Don’t answer that. Your secret is safe with me. And I understand. I think you have many other qualities, things that no other adventurer has. I only hope that they will see it one day, so you can be who you really are. But until then, good luck.”
She leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Yet another thing I hadn’t expected. I couldn’t imagine the courage it took to do all of what she did.
“Your stuttering,” I suddenly said, before she could turn around. “Did you stop that because I’m the hero?”
She looked back at me, smiling, and shaking her head. “After today, listening to Arryn’s problems, knowing your problems, and after realizing what Bill did… I realized something. I also need to step up and work on myself. And it’s not because I feel pressured, but because I want to.”
With yet another smile, she turned around and walked away, leaving me alone.
“Fuck,” I murmured. “I might fall for her.” But I couldn’t help but smile in this hopeless situation.
If Alice was pushing herself, it was only natural that I, the hero, should do that as well. There was no time for depression. There was still a lot to do.
And as I took my next step forward, I slipped straight into the hot bath, like a true adventure should be - full of slippery slopes.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
You can read my stuff and shorts at reddit.com/r/Elven
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