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The three days we spent traveling to the capital were peaceful. We even spared enough time for equestrian lessons. Lydia appeared quite miffed when I surpassed her in proficiency after only a few hours. Animal handling came naturally to me thanks to my «Survival Aspect» and my high «Intelligence» helped me absorb everything Anna and Lydia could teach me in record time.

"This explains why you learned how to shield your mind so quickly." Lydia pouted. I chuckled while she sulked in her saddle.

"What's your «Intelligence»?" I pressed.

"Just to remind you, the universally assumed average is 10."

"Uh-huh."

"So, my «Intelligence» is well above the peasantry."

"Uh-huh."

"Damn you to the bottom of the Abyss, Levin. My «Intelligence» is 13."

"W-wait. Where did all your «Attribute Points» go? I thought you were groomed to lead your kingdom!"

"I was. Through force of will. «Charisma» is my highest «Attribute»."

"This explains so much."

"Yes. I am very beautiful, Levin."

"That's not what I was-"

"I shall be gracious and excuse your rude behavior until now. You may thank me for my benevolence."

"I don't think «Charisma» translates to mind control-"

"Hmm?"

"T-thank you for your mercy, Princess."

"So, did you enjoy my maid?" Lydia's change in topic gave me whiplash.

"That is a loaded question." I cautiously answered. Anna shot me an expectant stare. I swallowed air.

"Anna worships the Goddess of Fertility, so I hoped you two would mate and she conceived quickly.”

I blanched when Anna nodded along.

"Why is your faith important?" I robotically turned to Anna.

"A Hero's lineage brings great prestige and power to any nation. Even a bastard line is worthy of praise. Your seed would be of great value to Renalis, Levin. The children of Heroes oft become quite powerful in their own right. It would be heretical to end your line with your life. It is my duty to encourage you to propagate. Moreso, I would be honored to bear your children. As many as you want."

"Thank you, I think."

"After I have regained my throne," Lydia interjected. "I also want you to lay with me. My bloodline only stands to benefit."

"T-hat's a hard pass, Lydia. You're my-"

"-Daughter's age. You have been using me as a surrogate for Rebecca. I simply have to disabuse you of your misguided emotions."

"Why is this all coming out now?!"

"Because we may die on the morrow. I want nothing left unsaid."

"I will protect you and Anna. You don't have to worry about your last rites."

"Please, I am not a child, Levin. I know our odds are slim. But let me say this: I am glad to have met you, Levin. Among all this dark tragedy, you have been the one shining light. I think I have fallen for you."

"What you feel was born out of desperation for human connection! It wouldn't happen under normal circumstances."

"I don't care."

"You will, once you get a chance to decompress."

"Then we shall revisit this after. But be warned, Levin: a dragoness is never denied her treasure for very long. You shall be mine."

I facepalmed. Did she see me as a lover or a prize? Was it both? Should I just leave as soon as Lydia reclaims her throne? No, I needed to stay since I was the reason Renalis would even meet the quota.

"Anna, convince the Princess."

"I've already agreed to share you."

"What?! When?! Why?!" I howled.

"That was the condition Her Royal Highness demanded when I laid with you three nights ago.

"I don't plan on staying in this world! I'm going back to Rebecca!"

Both women then cringed.

"What now?"

"Levin," Lydia's voice was strained - a far cry from her usual tone of confidence. "Are you certain Goddess Seras said she would bring you back to life in your world?"

"N-no, but she implied-"

"Levin, what exactly did she say?"

"She didn't promise anything specific, but she implied-"

"Levin, the Gods can be very cruel-"

"No. No. No. No. I kill a Demon God and she brings me back to Rebecca. That was the deal!"

"Levin, when you died, what did you wish for that brought you to Seras?"

"I can't exactly remember. I was dying."

"Are you sure? Or are you just refusing to accept reality?"

"I-I wished to say goodbye. I just wanted enough time for that much. But it’s changed. I’m still alive! I can go back-"

"Then that is all Goddess Seras will grant you."

Lydia’s words damned me and I felt my whole body go numb. I dismounted and gave Anna the reins then wandered off by myself. I ignored Anna’s pleas to stay and shook Lydia off my arm. I needed time to think. Maybe I could renegotiate. If I killed two Demon Gods, then Seras would have to reconsider the original terms, right?


Right. Right. Right. Right. Lydia is wrong. She has to be. Seras was the Goddess of Balance. She would have to repay me properly if I tipped the scales too far in my favor. How many Demon Gods would it take for a second life on earth with Rebecca? Three? Four? Five? It doesn’t matter. I’ll kill as many as it takes. I’ll do whatever it takes. Goodbye isn’t enough. Not anymore.

I eventually returned to the camp just as Lydia and Anna were breaking it down.

“Sorry, I needed some time to think. What else needs to get packed up?”

Lydia shook her head. “I’m ordering you to rest, Levin. We will be within sight of the city gates by morning.”

“It’s fine. I’m good-”

“No, Levin, you are not. Your eyes are bloodshot.”

I wiped my eyes and clicked my tongue as half-dried tears clung to my fingertips. How long had I been crying? When did I even start?

“As your Princess, I am ordering you, my champion, to get a full night’s sleep.”

“Lydia-”

“Levin! Stop! You represent all of my military power. I can’t do this without you. Please!”

I retreated from her and accidentally backed into Anna. She yelped, fell, and dropped some of our tentage.

“Anna, I’m so sorry. Let me pick that-”

«Ranger» Levin, your current mental state is so far gone I can even hear your thoughts again,” Lydia batted my hand away from the luggage. “Your «Attributes» are so high, your training so extensive, and yet you failed to notice Anna walking behind you despite having your «Map» activated? You are in no state to help anyone, much-less wage war.”

“Lydia-”

“Don’t make me give up at the gates, Levin.”

I surrendered and slunk into the wagon. I was desperate for any distraction, but Lydia was right. I hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in over nine days. And now my emotions were playing havoc with my perception and judgment. In my current state it didn’t matter how overpowered my «Status» was. I couldn’t punch a bag into submission, much less fight off an entire army.

I promised to protect them. Yeah. I need to live up to that obligation or I’ll never forgive myself. Rebecca, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Daddy’s got some work to do.

I wrapped myself up in a wool blanket and closed my eyes.

“Levin! Levin!” We’re almost there.”

Lydia’s voice jarred me out of a dreamless slumber and I replied with a lengthy yawn and a wide stretch. It took me only a second to process her words and my whole body snapped fully awake.

“How do I look?” I asked while readying my gear.

“Much better. I would almost say Heroic, but you don’t have a sword to brandish. The bards will weep at the lost opportunity.”

I smiled. Lydia grinned. Then she leaned forward and pecked my lips.

“For good luck, my one and only Hero.”

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Tyonis

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