Kallistus Kal sat atop his gilded throne as a crimson-haired woman swept into the ornate chamber. She passed rows of royal guards and bowed deeply.
“You may speak, Melissa,” he addressed his subordinate as she kept her head low.
“My liege, you have received a [Missive] from the Ashoreim Republic and the Craok Confederacy,” she said, producing a piece of parchment. “They demand to know what has prompted this declaration of war with the Astrad Kingdom. They assert that if they find the Kingdom of Kal’s casus belli to be dissatisfactory, they will be forced to intervene through their exclaves.”
The [Hero King] leant back on his throne, resting his chin on his hand. “So the dwarves of Alius finally speak, but all that has come are merely meager threats and posturing.”
“Yes, my liege.” Melissa raised her head and took a step back. Her eyes flickered— those crimson irises glimmering dangerously as her lips twisted. “It is outrageous. How dare they insult you and our kingdom.”
The [Archmage] balled her hands into fists, crumpling the parchment, before setting it ablaze. She met her king’s gaze with a crooked smile.
“Should I reply with a [Remote Missive] of [Fireballs] and [Frost Spikes]?”
“Let us not be hasty, Melissa.” He shook his head, and she paused. “They have yet to intervene in this conflict. The dwarves are too entangled by their own problems in Alius.”
Melissa watched as he rose to his feet and folded his arms behind his back. He strutted down the steep steps of his elevated throne, coming to a halt right before her as he spoke.
“With the rise of the new Fairy Queen starkly opposed to their heretical magitech, and the growing dissidence of the nagas and gnome, the dwarven nations cannot act just yet. What they have sent our way is but empty words. Let us not give them a real reason to intervene in our war.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder, and she hurriedly dropped to one knee.
“I apologize, my liege. I was too brash in my thinking. I can only hope to be as wise as you.”
But he refused to let her keep her head down. Kallistus brought a hand to her chin, bringing her gaze up to face him. “Do not apologize, Melissa. You had the best intentions of our country in mind.”
His words instantly made the expression on her face disappear— she brightened, smiling as she brought her hands up and clung to his arm. But he let go of her.
“I want you to tell the dwarf nations that this war was brought upon by the Astrad Kingdom. Explain that we have reason to believe that King Aries had supplied mercenaries, gold, and weaponry to Archon during the final stages of our war.”
Melissa immediately rose to her feet and bowed. “I will do so at once, my liege.”
“We need to delay any dwarven plans of intervention for as long as possible,” Kallistus said as he climbed up the steps back to his throne. “Go and fulfill my bidding, Melissa.”
“Yes, my liege.” She spun around and marched out of the room.
The [Hero King] sat back onto his throne, watching her go. Her footfalls vanished beyond the gilded chamber, and Kallistus closed his eyes. He remained in silence for what felt like an immortal moment, before his eyes flickered open.
He looked up, seeing the shadows in the throne room moving oddly. The light crystals shimmered and glowed brighter as the royal guards in the room glanced about warily. But he waved a hand dismissively at them.
“The rest of you are dismissed. I desire to be left alone in private.”
The royal guards exchanged uneasily looks, but their leader nodded. He stepped forward and bowed.
“Yes, my liege.”
The rest of them followed him out, closing the large double doors on their way out. Finally, the [Hero King] was left alone. For just a single moment. Then the light in the room dimmed until there was only darkness left, and figures emerged from the shadows.
Six faceless figures knelt before Kallistus. They varied in size and stature, most of them clearly non-human, although some were. One of them was a ball that floated at shoulder height, while another was nearly ten feet tall. They spoke in unison as they faced the [Hero King].
“You called for us, King Kallistus?”
“I have been waiting for your arrival,” Kallistus said disapprovingly. “The Sect of Abyssal Thorns had hounded me for the past seven weeks to declare war on the Astrad Kingdom, yet I delayed while awaiting you six to gather before me.”
A humanoid figure— one with a long tail— instantly prostrated before him and hissed. “I apologize for the delay, King Kallistus. It is my fault that we have taken so long to arrive. Punish me, but not the others.”
“Please punish me instead,” another said. The figure of a young woman.“It was my own foolishness that sabotaged the [Teleportation Ritual]. I am sorry.”
It didn’t stop there. One after another, all six of them tried to take the blame for their late arrival. But Kallistus just raised a hand, and they immediately grew silent.
“That is enough. There will be no punishment, nor are any of you to blame. I have called you all here for a reason, and while you have arrived later than anticipated, I am pleased to see you six gathered here before me.”
“We live to serve you, our King!” they said all at once. “What do you need of us?”
The [Hero King] closed his eyes, lying back on his throne. He remembered an event that happened just seven weeks ago— during the last full gathering of the Sect of Abyssal Thorns. He recalled the Call of the Void. Or so it was what Leohard claimed.
That was false. Kallistus knew the truth. It was a rift in space. A tear created by the Void. He had sensed them in the past— very faintly. And he noticed these rifts, appearing more frequently than ever over the years, his senses growing stronger. Each time they appeared, he was able to discern their location better, even if vaguely.
But now, he was finally able to pinpoint the exact location of the most recent rift. Perhaps it was because it was greater than the last few— even Leonhard had sensed it— or maybe it was because it had been open for so long. It didn’t matter. He simply knew the origin point of that opening to the Fractured Realm.
It was time to act soon. He had to make careful preparations before he could finally be granted salvation. His eyes snapped open as he started.
“I need you to travel to Mount Arkais…”
And the six of them listened.
War had been declared. The Astrad Kingdom was now at war with the Kingdom of Kal. It was a move that surprised everyone across the world. It was an event that was going to forever change the course of history… or whatever, I didn’t really care.
Sure, war was bad. I understood it sucked, even back on Earth. But I wasn’t going to intervene. Noele had said I could probably head over to the Kingdom of Kal and slap the [Hero King] Kallistus in the face. He was supposedly only an S-rank equivalent, so he would be about as difficult as Jax to deal with.
I was confident he wouldn’t be a problem for me. But somehow that meant I was supposed to do something about this war.
“Please, Amelia,” Noele said as she took a step forward. “You have got to put a stop to it!”
We were still in the Adventurer’s Guild of Northon. I had taken a seat and ordered some food since I was hungry, but no one else joined me, too distraught by the news. I yawned as the blonde girl continued.
“You are strong enough to save millions of lives! You can’t let this play out— the entire continent of Laxo will devolve into war if this happens!” Noele exclaimed.
“I didn’t do anything about this [Hero King] invading Archon, didn’t I?” I gave her a flat stare. “I’m sure things will mostly be fine.”
She pursed her lips. “Things will most certainly not be fine. This is a conflict that involves the two largest nations in the continent— maybe even the entire world!”
“Didn’t the elves have a larger country or something?” I raised a brow at her.
“They… do. And so do the merfolk. But they’re both a united people, not a country. This is different.” The Noble Spellsword inhaled deeply, meeting my gaze. “Please, Amelia. This war has to be stopped, and you are the only one in the world who can put a halt to it.”
I sighed as I rose to my feet. “If I do this, then why shouldn’t I put a halt to every other war in all of Vacuos? Why shouldn’t I go to Drazyl and stop the elves from battling the merfolk? Why shouldn’t I go to Alius and… I don’t know, there’s probably something going on there as well, right?”
Noele drew back, drawing her lips into a thin line. “There have been some skirmishes between the fairy nation of Zla’fyrasa and their dwarven neighbors. There is also an extreme rise in terrorist attacks all across the continent because of worsening inter-species tensions.”
“The whole world is at war,” I said, waving a hand vaguely around us. “The whole world is always at war. No matter what world it is, no matter what era it is, there is and will always be some level of conflict.”
“You don’t have to put a stop to every war,” she whispered. “Just this war.”
“And why not?” I asked, raising a brow.
The blonde girl just stood there quietly as I shook my head.
“If I intervened in this war between the Astrad Kingdom and the Kingdom of Kal, then why shouldn’t I intervene in the war between the elves and the merfolk? Why shouldn’t I intervene in the conflict between fairies, dwarves, gnomes, nagas, and whatever in Alius? Why shouldn’t I intervene in every regional conflict across Laxo? In fact, why should I stop there?”
I glanced out towards the street of Northon.
“I should do something about every little conflict, since I can. Every monster attack, every murder, every mugging, every domestic dispute— I should patrol around the world trying to put a halt to all of it, like I am Superman or whatever.”
“Who?” Noele blinked at me, and I sighed.
“Noele, I’m not a [Hero] or a hero or a superhero or whatever. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but everything I’ve done so far has been for myself. Sure, if I see someone in trouble, I’ll try to do something about it. And if offered enough money, I’ll do something I may dislike because I like money. But war is different. War has consequences that I am not going to bear the responsibility for.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Well, if I go over to the Kingdom of Kal and kill this [Hero King], what happens then?” I shrugged back at the Noble Spellsword. “Do I become the [Hero Queen]? Do I have to look after his kingdom? What happens if I’m an incompetent ruler? What happens if I appoint an incompetent ruler? I’m not going to deal with all of that bullshit. I turned it down once, I will do it again and again and again.”
My gaze darkened as I remembered the Voidgod’s offer. I recalled the blue screen that regularly flashed before my eyes. An annoyed feeling boiled within me, but I quickly dismissed it and met Noele’s gaze.
“There is a saying where I come from— with great power comes great responsibility. And I am not responsible. I am not a [Hero]. I am here to live my life as I please, not save the world or whatever.”
The blonde girl gritted her teeth. “Then I will pay you!”
I paused. That took me by surprise. Her voice drew the attention of more than a few adventurer’s in the guild. I stared at her as she reached for her coin pouch.
“If you’re only motivated by money and what benefits you, I’ll pay you. Just name your price!”
I gave her a flat stare. “Alright— a hundred thousand platinum coins.”
And she blinked. “I-I… what? That’s more than most countries have in their vaults!”
I held a hand out at her expectantly. “Well? I’m waiting.”
“I can’t afford that!”
“Then I’m not going to do shit,” I said dryly. “I’m just going back to Windrip as I planned, and I’ll meet you at Whiteridge after.”
Noele hesitated. She shifted her feet uncomfortably. “But what if something happens to us?
“Isn’t the front lines on the other side of the Astrad Kingdom? I heard someone talking about that— that there’s a natural barrier preventing a full assault coming from both the north or the west of the country.”
“But still— something can happen.” The blonde girl held my gaze seriously. “I’m your student, aren’t I? You wouldn’t want that to happen.
I thought about it for a moment. I turned to face a small figure at the other side of the guild.
“Saros,” I called out to the gnome. “Do you have like a communication device or whatever that works across long distances?”
“You mean like a [Message] scroll? Of course I do.” He snorted in response.
“Give it to me, and I’ll let you keep the job’s reward,” I said simply.
Saros blinked, then he hopped off his stool. He dashed past Skye and Deon who were resting by another table, heading out of the Adventurer’s Guild.
“It’s in my inn— I’ll get it right now!” he said in a hurry.
I grinned back at Noele. “See? Problem solved. If anything comes up, just send me a [Message], and I’ll be right there.”
The Noble Spellsword clearly wanted to argue, but she couldn’t. Because I knew that she wasn’t actually worried about her own life. She was an A-rank adventurer— a strong one at that. She could handle herself and her parents just fine. Her protests were just an attempt to get me to stop this war.
But I wasn’t going to do anything about it. I could protect Noele and anyone I really cared about without too much trouble. I wasn’t going to involve myself in a full-scale continental conflict unless I had no other choice.
After all, I came to Vacuos to live life for myself, not to live for the sake of others. Whether it was the Voidgod, the World System, or some [Hero King], I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in the way of that now.
Not as long as I could do something about it. And there were a lot of things I could do about it.
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