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177. Interlude - Daniel's Debate

A young man sat in a bar, downing a tankard of ale. It tasted terrible. Incomparable to the beer he once drowned himself in years ago. There was a rambunctious atmosphere with people laughing and dancing and chatting and singing. He didn’t partake in any of that.

He was all by himself. Alone. Not just in the sense that he was brooding, with his unkempt black hair falling down to his shoulders, and his hollow brown eyes staring down at the yellow liquid as he stayed to himself. He was also all by himself, without his friends, in a country he had never been to before.

Salvos and Edithe. Those were the names of his friends. One of them wore the guise of a beautiful young woman with moonlight limned silver hair and a mischievous smile that hid a hint of childlike curiosity. The other was a kind and bold redhead, whose powerful magic rivalled that of her strong personality.

It had only been a few weeks since he last saw them, but they were the only true company he had for so long. And that was because of the last reason:

He was from another world.

Daniel Song. [Hero]. Coward. And a normal young man who grew up on the civilized planet called Earth. He didn’t have to fight every day of his life. Nor was he responsible for anyone but himself.

But now, he finally returned to the place where his adventure began. Where he lost everything he thought he had and was given everything he thought he wanted. The Elutra Kingdom.

It was where he was summoned into Nexeus. Told he’d be fighting for a grand cause. And realized that it was all nothing but a web of lies.

He left. But he came back. Because of rumors he heard. That of Demons and sacrifices. All he had to do was cross the border up ahead, and he’d be able to find out if princess Faith of Elutra had been lying to him again.

It was simple. It was only a ten mile trek. He could evade any guards that tried to stop him. Fend them off, even. Especially considering his level. A Level 103 [Hero]. He had a second Class too. But it wasn’t comparable to his [Hero] Class.

But he hadn’t left. A week passed, and he was still here. He stayed in this inn, sitting at its bar, drinking himself to sleep every day. Why didn’t he go? He had mustered up the energy— the courage to act— when he was around his friends. But now that Daniel found himself alone again, he couldn’t bring himself to fight.

What even was the point?

He waved a hand, asking for another drink. The [Bartender], for his part, didn’t question Daniel. No one bothered him during his time spent wasting away in the inn at this border town in the Inoria Empire. His level was more than twice the highest-leveled individual here.

They simply let him drink to his heart’s content.

And drink he did. He ordered another, and another, and another, even as his tab racked up from silver to gold coins. He didn’t care. He had the money. Thousands of platinum coins he could easily withdraw from any Merchants Guild.

Was Daniel being a coward? Of course not. He had already resolved himself to going through with this. Just… maybe next week. He wasn’t in any rush, right?

War wasn’t something that wasn’t resolved in a year or even two years. He could wait just a little longer. At least, that was what he was telling himself to feel better.

He sighed as he laid his head on the table, still gripping his tankard. He would’ve dozed off right there if not for the figure that approached him from his peripheral vision.

“Is this seat taken?”

A pretty voice asked. Daniel glanced up to see a young woman, around his age, with her brown hair tied into a braid. She smiled sweetly at him as he bumbled his way into sitting up.

[Farmer - Lvl 13]

“Are you… talking to me?”

He tried his best not to slur his words, although he was too drunk to be able to tell if he succeeded or not. She nodded.

“Yes! I was wondering if I could have this seat.”

She gestured at the stool next to him, and he slowly shrugged.

“I guess?”

“Great!”

Daniel tried to mind his own business. He avoided meeting her gaze as she pulled the seat out and plopped herself onto it. Why was she sitting next to him? There were a dozen other empty seats at the bar, but she chose to sit next to him. Why?

His drunk mind raced through all the possibilities, but it could only come to one conclusion. And it just made him want to shrink away. But she spoke up.

“I’m Amanda. What’s your name?”

“Oh, uh, I’m… Daniel.”

He scratched the back of his head, staring intensely at the cupboard of alcohol ahead.

“I’ve seen you around. You’ve been drinking every day for the past few weeks. Do you like alcohol that much?”

She giggled, and Daniel flushed.

“T-that’s… I just… have bad memories I want to forget. That’s all.”

It wasn’t a lie. He sunk his lips into his drink as he tried to wash away his sorrow. He wanted to go back. He wanted to see her again. He wanted to—

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t forget. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t see—

“You’re an adventurer, right?”

Amanda’s cooed, her voice dragging him out of the echoing chamber of his miserable mind.

“I am.”

“I hear it’s tough work. My Dad used to be an adventurer— until he started a farm here. Now, I’m just a [Farmhand], trying to help her pops out.”

“I see.”

He didn’t feel obliged to give her more than a short response. He downed his tankard, ready to take his leave. But she leaned forward, hugging his hands, holding him down.

“Say, if adventuring is bad for you, why not try settling down like my Dad did?”

Daniel paused. Settle down? He considered that many times. He even tried, when he had just fled Elutra. But now… it was more of an alluring idea than ever.

He didn’t know why that was. Just that Amanda’s words were captivating. He blamed it on being drunk, so he tried to excuse himself once again.

“I’m sorry, but I—”

“Why don’t you have another drink? Let’s just chat for a bit.”

She circled around him, smiling.

“I’ve just been watching you sit all alone, as if you need someone to talk to. Come on, I’m sure talking about it will make you feel better, right?”

He hesitated. Well, the sun had just set, right? He glanced out the window, confirming that it was barely past twilight. Going to bed so early would be a waste of a day. He found himself being settled down by the girl as she ordered him another tankard of ale.

“So, tell me about yourself.”

 

—--

 

Amanda was beautiful.

Or at least, Daniel thought she was, even after he sobered up a bit. He stopped drinking as much, and spent more time just… speaking with her.

And she wasn’t just beautiful in looks alone. The way she spoke, the way she laughed, the way she smiled whenever they made eye contact— he thought she had to be someone with a soul as beautiful as she looked.

“...and honestly, I’m glad my Dad asked me to stay—”

She also wasn’t someone overly complex. She was a simple girl with a simple outlook in life. And that was what attracted Daniel to her the most.

Amanda placed a hand on his shoulder as his face burned from more than just alcohol. She opened her mouth— and the [Bartender] slammed an empty glass on the table.

“Sorry, bar’s closed.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Jerome.”

She stood up, proffering Daniel a hand. He accepted it, following her out of the inn. She glanced up at the stars.

“It’s a calm night.”

Her voice was cool like the night wind. Amanda glanced over in the distance, her face lowering.

“Sometimes, you can hear the sounds of armies marching into Elutra. The noises of battle and war. It’s just… scary.”

“I…”

Daniel wasn’t sure what to say. He saw her solemn look, and felt inclined to act.

“I can walk you home.”

She brightened and turned to him.

“Really? You’ll do that for me?”

“Yes.”

He was just accompanying a scared and lonely girl back to her farm, right? She lived just outside of the town, so he was doing what was right. Especially since monsters existed.

“Thank you.”

She hugged his arm once more and began to lead him down a beaten path.

“Say, are you really sure you don’t want to just settle down?”

Amanda spoke up as they left the small buildings behind them. Daniel pursed his lips.

“What do you mean?”

“With me.”

She was blunt, and that only made him blush even harder. He tried to avert his gaze, but she was pressed up to him now.

“I think I really like you. I know it’s only been one night. But I feel like we really connected there.”

“I—”

Daniel snapped his mouth shut, before he could say anything he’d regret. But it didn’t sound so bad, did it? To live a simple life without fighting and killing and war and politics? The life he had back on Earth.

No, he tried to tell himself. You can’t. You have a girlfriend—

But that wasn’t true, was it? Emily was dead. She died years ago, even before he was kidnapped to this world. And this girl… she did look like Emily, didn’t she?

Daniel wasn’t sure if it was because his vision was a haze, but Amanda’s brown hair, soothing voice, and round eyes reminded him of Emily.

She wasn’t an unrivalled beauty like he’d never seen before: she was plain and pretty. And she had a big, open heart. That entranced him.

But he couldn’t—

“What do you say?”

She paused, facing him with a smile. Daniel froze. If he rejected her here, that smile would break. And he’d be forced to watch it shatter like glass. He didn’t want that.

So, he took a deep breath, taking in the cherry sweet scent of her perfume. It was familiar, somehow. But it only emboldened him to protect her smile. Daniel opened his mouth.

“Ye—”

But he froze. He sniffed once again, standing this close to Amanda. Her perfume was at full force. It tried to choke an answer out of him.

She tilted her head as he pushed her away. The feeling grew muffled, but it was still there.

“You’re doing something to me, aren’t you?”

“W-what?”

Amanda stepped forward, but he shoved her back. Again, the feeling seemed to dissipate. It wasn’t fully gone. Not as long as Amanda was around him.

“What are you talking about, Daniel?”

She stared at him, aghast. He reached for his sword, but realized he must’ve left it in his room like a damn idiot.

“Stay back!”

He raised a fist.

“Why are you acting like this? Why—”

“Don’t play stupid with me. I’ve been affected by mind magic before. By a Skill that makes you lose your senses. I know what it’s like. You… your perfume. There’s something in it. I don’t know what kind of alchemical mixture it is, but you’re trying to seduce me.”

Amanda’s eyes widened. She tried to work her jaw. She seemed genuinely confused for a moment. Then her gaze darkened.

“Ugh, you really should’ve just gone along with it.”

“Wh—”

And she lashed out. A double-bladed dagger flashed into her hand, pulled by some magic, as she swung at him.

He took a step back, barely dodging the attack as it nicked his hair. Poison. He saw the green tips of the weapon. Can’t let myself get touched. He jumped away from her as she spun around, pulling a copper ring from her finger. It was had blended in with her skin, like it wasn’t even there, and now that it was gone, Daniel could identify her again.

[Rogue - Lvl 117]

She chuckled, shaking her head.

“You could’ve died a blissful death. In ecstasy. Happy. But now, you'll have to suffer.”

“Who are you?”

Daniel took up a defensive stance with only his fists.

“As I told you, I’m Amanda. But others know me as the Silent Serpent. One of the Harrowed Vindicator’s best assassins.”

She shook her head, smirking cruelly, any pretext of a kind girl she had from before gone.

“And you’re the [Hero] of Elutra, aren’t you?”

He didn’t answer, and she cackled.

“Say, what did you think would happen to you when you stepped foot into the Inoria Empire. You know, the country that’s hired assassins to kill you? Don’t you think someone’s going to decide and take that thousand platinum bounty on your head?”

She spread her arms wide.

“I’m the lucky one who got to you first. But honestly, you were so pathetic that I thought I got the wrong guy. I won’t be surprised if Edward the Shadower or Vern the Deft Killer found you first but decided you weren’t worth killing.”

Daniel narrowed his eyes.

“Are they also from the Harrowed Vindicators?”

“Of course.”

Amanda snorted.

“And there are many more out there searching for you. But I’ll be the only one to reap the reward.”

Her face twisted as she edged forward. Daniel took a step back, still slightly wobbly and dizzy from the alcohol.

“Say, you’re a [Hero], aren’t you? How about you show me what you’ve got!”

She dashed forward, like a bullet tearing through the air. She moved fast. Too fast for Daniel to dodge this time.

“[Savage Step]. [Pinpoint Strike]. [Charge of a Thousand Blade].”

Daniel didn’t try to dodge. He didn’t even try to run. All he did was raise a hand, speaking softly.

“[Will of the Hero].”

Light engulfed him. Her dagger went flying as his body flashed. Amanda blinked and stumbled back, but he grabbed her by the arm.

“How—”

“[Hero’s Slash].”

Daniel brought his fist down at her face. It was overcome by a gleaming light. It broke through all the layers of protection she wore in an instant. He smashed her into the earth, and a crater opened up below.

She lay crumpled at his feet, barely even twitching. Barely alive.

“Hgnh…”

Amanda tried to stand up, but he forced her back down, tightly squeezing her arms. She screamed.

“You tricked me! You played with my heart! You tried to kill me!

Her agonized cry slowly turned to a laugh. One that was still clearly in pain.

“This is… a [Hero]!”

She laughed and laughed as blood sputtered out of her mouth. Shaking her head, she completely ignored Daniel’s rage.

“Seriously, and I thought I could fight this?”

He slammed her back down and the ground trembled. But she still laughed.

“This is— good job, you did what thousands of others have failed to do. You bested me in battle. And with a single blow too!”

“Do you think this is a joke?”

Daniel was in a rage. He had never been this angered before. Perhaps it was because of the feeling of betrayal he felt— and all the sorrow he had pent up coming out at once. But all he saw was red.

She squirmed underneath his grip as her bones began to break.

“May— urk— be? It’s kind of funny. Especially considering that you’ll still die, anyway.”

He paused.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on now.”

She mustered up a grin.

“Did you think the assassins would stop with me? You’re in the Inoria Empire. And most of Elutra is now a part of the Inoria Empire too. Maybe if you return to the Plaguelands, you’ll be safe. But here? You’re in our territory.”

Daniel frowned.

“I see.”

He came here to help save Elutra— or at least, investigate what Faith had told him. But now, he now had high-leveled assassins coming after him like never before. And they only had one goal: to kill him.

Daniel, as miserable as he sometimes felt, knew he didn’t want to die. He wanted to return to Earth some day, and leave this world behind. But if even that was taken away from him? Well, he wouldn’t allow it. Not anymore.

“Well, it’s a good thing I have you here. Because you’ll tell me where the base of the Harrowed Vindicators is. And I’ll destroy them.”

It was a delay. A short delay. One which would take a few days or weeks or months. But hey, what were a few months in war?

He punched Amanda in the face once more, knocking her out.

 

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