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The next day, I bade farewell to Noele and her parents. They left for Whiteridge, booking an enchanted carriage to take them there at the break of dawn. They were supposed to arrive there in two days’ time, not a long trip by any means, but I could’ve brought them there at a much faster rate. I did make the offer numerous times… only to be shot down, even as she was about to leave.

“I told you, I’m not letting you give my parents a heart attack.” Noele rolled her eyes. She was adamantly against it in every way. “My Mama and Papa are old. They’re pretty much retired [Farmers] at this point. They won’t be able to handle the trip to Wolfwater if you carry us there.”

“Wolfwater?” I raised a brow. “I was under the impression you were from Whiteridge.”

The blonde girl nodded. “Wolfwater is a small farming town right outside of Whiteridge. It’s technically a part of the city, but it’s its own thing.”

“Oh. Well, that’s fine, I guess. They’ll just escort you as far as Whiteridge, but that’s all.” I rubbed my chin in thought.

“Wait, what’s this about escorting me now?” Noele blinked.

“We are escorting you,” a familiar grumpy voice said.

I stepped to the side, and the Noble Spellsword paused. She stared as three figures emerged from the gates of Northon, leading a pair of horses behind them. Deon the Virtuous Guard, Skye the Silver Shade, and Saros the Gnome Inventor came to a halt next to me and nodded.

The gnome was the one who had spoken. He crossed his arms, eyeing the enchanted carriage. “An express ride— our horses better be able to keep up, we bought them from a Level 33 [Beast Master].”

“What’s going on?” Noele stared at me, flummoxed.

“I hired them to escort you,” I said simply as I faced the blonde girl. “Especially since you were so worried about something bad happening to you or your parents— I decided to give you a little extra security.”

The Noble Spellsword’s eyes went round. She stared at Deon who stepped forward, clearing his throat as he faced me.

“While I may not have… carried myself too competently in the Frozar Mountains, I am grateful that you have given me a chance to repay my debt to you, Amelia.” He bowed his head low my way respectfully— a stark contrast to how he had behaved while lost in the labyrinth. “I will ensure your friend and her parents arrive in Whiteridge safely.”

Skye the Silver Shade nodded in agreement. “You saved us. This is the least we can do for you.”

“You paid them to escort me?” Noele asked, wide-eyed.

“They’re doing it for free,” I said with a shrug. “I wanted to pay them, but they refused to accept the payment.”

“They refused the payment,” Saros snorted. “Unlike those two sappy idiots, I ain’t doing this for free.”

I grinned back at him. “You still only charged five gold coins. I’d have thought an A-rank like you would be worth at least twenty. It seems you’re a sappy idiot too.”

He averted his gaze, but didn’t rebuke what I said. Noele just looked at me, still in awe. I turned to her with a smile.

“You’re my student— or whatever,” I said, patting her on the shoulder. “I’m not going to let you die on me.”

“Amelia…” she whispered.

I met her gaze, and my smile slipped for a moment. I scratched the back of my head. “Also, if I’m being honest, I asked Deon, Skye, and Saros to watch over you to ensure you don’t run off to fight the [Hero King].”

She blinked. “That’s— I wouldn’t do that. What? What even gave you that idea?”

“Can’t be too safe.” I shrugged back.

Noele shook her head. “I’m going to spend time with my parents, Amelia. I’m not suicidal— and I’m not going to force you to put a stop to this war if you don’t want to. I’ll still… try to convince you otherwise. But trying to fight the [Hero King] myself while hoping you’d intervene is just downright idiotic. I’ll die.”

“I’m glad you understand that too.” I nodded at her, taking a step back. “Now go enjoy your time with your parents.

“I will.” The blonde girl turned to the carriage, eyeing Nolan and Nicole for a brief moment, before glancing back my way. “Thank you again, Amelia. For everything.”

“You can thank me by paying me on time next month,” I chuckled as I waved at her goodbye. “See you in Whiteridge.”

“Don’t take too long.” She grinned at me, closing the door shut. The windows were open, and she just waved back. “Although, I won’t be surprised if you get there before us.”

With that, the carriage took off. Saros, Deon and Skye followed after, riding on horseback. Saros just sat atop Deon’s shoulder, so they only used two horses. And the horses moved at a trot faster than I’d expect a horse back on Earth to move. The enchanted carriage was fast too. Almost comparable to a car at an intersection.

I watched them go. They left Northon behind, and I took a step back. I glanced towards the sky and nodded at myself.

“Alright, now back to Windrip.”

 

—--

 

If I wanted to, I could’ve arrived at Windrip in mere moments with a single jump, but I didn’t want to. Instead, I decided to take the scenic route, leaping slowly over the tall boreal trees surrounding Northon, taking in the vast taiga forest, and simply relaxing.

I felt the wind grazing over me. I saw the small animals wandering between the dark trees. White rabbits, wild boars, and other critters. They looked up and saw me jumping hundreds of feet in a single bound, before taking off running, scared by my presence.

There were monsters hunting, scouring through the snowy bushes. Large dark foxes that dwarfed even wolves back on Earth. Massive mammoths lumbered forward, pausing as I passed. But they didn’t flee. They just watched me, and I nodded at them.

“Cute creatures,” I remarked idly.

I wondered if they would make good pets. But— I saw the intelligence in their eyes. They recognized I wasn’t threatening them and they respected me. So I respected them in return and dismissed the thought.

I saw the sights. I took my time. But most importantly, I actually enjoyed myself for the first time in a while. It was a nice change of pace. Especially after yesterday’s worry.

Noele had begged me to intervene in the war between the Astrad Kingdom and the Kingdom of Kal, but I rejected her request. I had been concerned she’d get upset at me. She seemed incredibly desperate, after all.

Fortunately, she was fine this morning. She didn’t seem to hold my inaction against me, which was good. But our conversation reminded me of something.

I had come to Vacuos with a single reason in mind— I wanted to live life for myself now. A peaceful life. A life which I enjoyed above all else, unbeholden to the will of others. After all, I wasn’t responsible, and I wasn’t a [Hero], nor a hero.

I had been too hyper-fixated on getting things done that I didn’t remember to enjoy myself. Whether it be setting up a food stall or trying hunting down A-ranked monsters, everything I did was a means to an end.

But I didn’t actually live. I didn’t actually spend time doing things for myself. Everything I did was for the future, so it was no different to what I was doing in the Fractured Realm.

I came to a halt at the very peak of a tall mountain. I swept my gaze around at the undulating landscape, taking in a deep breath. This was the real world. It wasn’t that broken nightmare with no smell, no changing sights, and no reprieve.

No matter where I turned in the Fractured Realm, I saw the same stars in the sky. No matter where I ran, I smelled the same depraved scent proliferating, almost suffocation. And no matter how many voidlings or voidbeasts I had slain, I couldn’t stop and take a break.

But here, I could relax. I could feel the gales beating against my back. My torn cloak whipped behind me, and I took in a deep breath. The frosty air was fresh, cool in my lungs,, with some salt from the brine. The nearby monsters didn’t attack me. The world remained at ease.

I could enjoy myself here in Vacuos.

“But here’s the question— what do I even enjoy doing?” I wondered aloud as I sighed.

I stood here at a mountaintop for a full minute, and the relaxing feeling vanished. It faded away, replaced by a niggling annoyance. I knew what the problem was, even if I didn’t want to acknowledge it. It was the reason why I spent days on end just staring at Windrip’s Adventurer's Guild’s job board, waiting for something new.

I was bored.

I was so incredibly fucking bored.

First of all, it was taking me forever even just to get to Windrip. I knew I could’ve just gotten to the city in a single jump, so I felt like I was just wasting my time by traveling slowly so I could enjoy the view.

Secondly, and worst of all, I had nothing to do. Even if I returned to Windrip, I would still be bored. Sure, I spent some time trying out cooking a month ago, but I got bored of that after a week and a half. I tried to pick up painting, only to be turned down by one of the few [Artists] in Windrip.

I would have thought that being an [Artist] would make them more open minded than not, considering the whole concept of artistic integrity and how it was all a creative endeavor, but apparently he was just an even bigger snob for levels than the layman.

Right now, I felt like I was just drifting around aimlessly, nothing to do but to see what the new day brought about. But the new day typically brought about another bout with boredom. Anything new I tried ended up being abandoned after the first obstacle. Maybe I could’ve revolutionized how food worked in Vacuos if I committed to my food stall.

But it was always just a fleeting interest, soon forgotten and buried behind.

Sighing, I leapt off the mountaintop, soaring across the sky above the clouds. I could almost see the twinkling stars from up here. The speckled scintillating sparks that were dimly visible in the morning. I tried to enjoy this scenic trip, but there was nothing for me to enjoy. And it was because I knew nothing.

Or, rather, I only knew only one thing.

My eyes flickered as I began to descend. I saw a small town in the distance, right at the edge of a valley. A column of smoking ascended from the wooden walls, and I took a deep breath.

All I knew was how to fight. It was what I always returned to. That was all I had spent the last ten years or however-long I was trapped in the Fractured Realm doing. I didn’t want to be a [Hero]. I didn’t want to be a hero.

As much as I tried— as much as I wanted to reintegrate into society and live a peaceful life— I couldn’t. I saw the flash of a blue screen from the corner of my eye. The offer to become a [Hero]. I rejected it again as I changed my course.

Yesterday, I had told Noele that if I saw someone in trouble, I would do something about it. But that was only because I couldn’t help myself but act. Just like right now.

The edge of the town was shrouded in mist. I saw shadows moving within as screams echoed out. Blood stained the earth, and bodies lay scattered across the grass. I descended into the mist, drawing my blade as I mentally apologized to Noele.

The truth is, I am a hero. And I hated every second of being one.

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