“And [Hero] Daniel, it has been a while, hasn’t it?”
Salvos blinked as Faith said those words. Helen did not expect the princess to be so upfront with Daniel’s true identity. But if what she told them was to be believed— and it should be believed since Zack was certain she was truly the princess of Elutra— then that meant Daniel did not come from this world.
It was something every child heard about. [Heroes]. They came summoned to the Nexeus by rituals from times long passed. It was not anything that happened anymore, and yet now a real [Hero] was before them.
When they were broken the news, Helen remembered how Zack reacted. The normally haughty [Mage] immediately swore he would apologize to Daniel for the way he had treated him. And Jaakko too— Helen had never seen the Cyclop’s one eye grow that wide.
So now, it was Salvos’ turn to learn the truth. That her companion was not who he claimed he was. And that the man she was standing next to was actually a [Hero] from another world.
Helen gave the silver-haired woman a sympathetic look as she exchanged a glance between Faith and Daniel. The latter’s eyebrows arched darkly over his eyes, even as the former smiled at him. Salvos opened her mouth—
“Wait, Daniel, is that really a princess? For real? Am I meeting a real princess?!”
Zack turned to face Helen as she stared, blank-faced at Salvos. He spoke hesitantly.
“...uh, that wasn’t the reaction you were expecting either, right?”
I bounced on my feet as I regarded Daniel. The Human man looked unhappy, but I didn’t care. Because in front of me stood a real princess!
Supposedly, that meant she was like Saffron but even more important. And not only did she come in a carriage that would have put the entire Merryster family’s fortune to shame, but she was also from the kingdom that summoned Daniel! That meant they knew each other.
I pointed accusingly at Daniel.
“Why didn’t you tell me you knew a princess?”
Helen, Zack, and Jaakko locked onto me with surprised expressions. My companion’s gaze snapped up, finally broken from his stupor. Sighing, he rubbed at his temples.
“I did tell you I knew a princess, Salvos. You just forgot.”
“No, you didn’t!”
“Yes, I did— Look, let’s not talk about this right now.”
Daniel turned his attention back to Faith. The princess— was she a Princess with the Title, or just a princess?— tilted her head slightly. She still wore that same smile on her face, waiting expectantly for him to say something.
He seemed to struggle to get a word out until finally, he shook his head.
“Faith, what do you want from me?”
“What do I want? I just came here to save you, Daniel. I heard about what the Inoria Empire did. They put a bounty on your head to the Harrowed Vindicators, and now every one of their third-rate assassins is coming for you, hoping to earn a few thousand gold.”
“That’s not why you came here now though.”
Stepping forward, my companion inspected the princess. Behind her, the retinue of guards— most of them high Silver in level, although a handful were low Gold— tensed. He folded his arms across his chest.
“What do you really want, Faith? And you better choose your words carefully. Because I won’t believe a fucking word you say unless it’s something that’s purely self-serving.”
The words struck the princess like a slap to the face. She stumbled back slightly, her face overcome with a look of shock. Not only did her guards react this time, but even Jaakko and his team did too.
Even I stared at Daniel, aghast.
“Psst, Daniel, aren’t you supposed to be respectful to her? She’s a Human princess!”
“She’s scum, Salvos. She tried to use me only for her own gain when I had been helping the Elutra Kingdom in their war against the Inoria Empire. She… manipulated. Tricked me. Made me believe things that weren’t true. Just for politics.”
I turned to Faith, seeing her face contort. The smile vanished, and she frowned.
“But that’s not true.”
Faith spoke over him. She faced me, giving me a pleading look.
“Daniel has… misjudged me. Ms Salvos, I know we’ve only just met, but I implore you to convince him to trust me.”
I glanced back over at Daniel. The Human man seemed repulsed by what Faith was saying. He spoke through gritted teeth without even facing me.
“Salvos, she’s a snake. A real snake.”
“You mean she’s not Human?”
“I… no. I mean she’s conniving, cunning, and cruel. Not the kind of cruel that leaves you for dead, but the kind that makes you distrust people.”
Finally, Daniel turned my face.
“You’re not exactly… the best at social cues. And I have to admit, I am not either. But I’m asking you to listen to me. Faith is not someone you should ever put your trust in.”
I blinked and stared between the [Hero] and the princess. There was history here between them. And some sort of invisible force was clashing here. I could not see what it was, but I could tell that much.
“If you help me speak some sense into Daniel, I promise I’ll reward you greatly. Anything you ask of me, I’ll give it to you.”
“Salvos, you aren’t actually thinking of this, are you? Because even if you try to make me work with her, I won’t.”
Now I had to pick between them. One was my companion. Someone who I had fought alongside for so long— through so much. But the other was a princess!
She was a real-life princess! Maybe even a Princess! And if I sided with her, maybe I could even learn how to become a princess too!
So I beamed. I slowly let my gaze rest on Faith, my lips still curled up. Daniel looked at me disbelievingly as Faith sighed in relief.
“I’m glad you—”
I exclaimed. Faith blinked as Daniel paused. Then he laughed.
“I should have expected that. I don’t know why I expected anything else from you.”
Faith could not believe what I had just said. She gesticulated, her fancy dress ruffling with each movement she made— the gems and jewelry decorating gleaming in the moonlight. This was a princess. And I could have won her favor right here. But—
“Daniel is my companion. And if he tells me you’re bad, then you’re bad.”
I waved a finger matter-of-factly. It just was how it was. I wouldn’t forsake my companion, even if the Princess of princesses told me to.
The bodyguards accompanying Faith sputtered— one of them drew a sword and pointed it my way.
“You dare insult princess Faith of Elutra?!”
Turning a daring gaze towards them, I bared my teeth in a grin.
“And if you want me to take it back, you’ll have to make me.”
The man— the highest level of the bodyguards at Level 45— took a step forward. But before he could object further, Helen hurriedly ran to my side.
“Salvos, what are you doing? Princess Faith is telling the truth. When Zack started… uh, prying… around Daniel’s identity, she was the one to contact us. She told us he was in danger. That the Harrowed Vindicators were after him.”
“Then she lied to you too.”
I spoke simply. Helen opened her mouth, but the bodyguard from before snapped.
Faith cut the man’s sharp voice short by raising her hand. She slowly glanced between Daniel and me, the smile wiped from her face, replaced with a more serious expression.
“Stop calling me that!”
My companion snapped. She nodded.
“Daniel, then. I apologize if your interpretation of my past actions has disillusioned you to my true character. However, one of the reasons why I came here was indeed to save you. But you are right: I have another reason too.”
He narrowed his eyes.
“And that reason is?”
“To ask you to come back.”
Daniel had been expecting those words from her. Faith was so predictable once he understood the exact kind of person she was.
The reason why the [Hero] left the country in the first place was exactly because of the politics she played with him. She had been the fifth in line to the throne of Elutra. Now she was third. And that was because she used him.
Everyone there tried to use him— but she used him the most.
Feeling his hands slowly tighten into balls, he glanced up and shook his head.
“I don’t know what kind of madness overtook you since we last saw each other, but I refuse.”
“You have to, Daniel. The—”
He put his foot down as his voice echoed in the darkness. Faith took a step back, shocked by the sudden shouting. Daniel spoke through clenched teeth.
“I will not go back. Never.”
The eyes of the princess grew dark. Then there was a soft sound— a sniffling. Daniel wasn’t sure if he had been too loud, but he stood by his words. His anger was justified. She had convinced him that she loved him. His broken heart almost mended. But all she loved was what he got her.
Faith glanced back up, and Daniel hesitated, not wanting to see any puppy-eyed look. But instead, all she did was wrinkle her nose. Her gaze swept across the corpses around them, and she grimaced.
“I’d like to continue this conversation. However, I do not think this is nearly the right place to carry it out. Would you at least be willing to move this elsewhere? Perhaps my camp. It’s no more than half an hour’s travel that way. And there’s food and tea too,”
Gesturing behind her, Faith looked at him expectantly. He bit his lower lip, feeling slightly guilty about shouting. But before he could say anything, Salvos piped up.
“Food? Tea? No way!”