I Became the Hero Who Banished the Protagonist - Chapter 39
I hurriedly woke the rest of the party and Karin, and we ran straight to the Archduke’s mansion. Archduke Quenor also noticed the shaking and movement earlier, and he was giving instructions to his soldiers and knights in front of the estate with a solemn look on his face. The Archduke left Karin in the care of his wife, standing outside the mansion with a worried expression, and trudged over to me.
“Elroy, welcome back.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, Archduke Quenor’s voice was calm. A man who had fought powerful monsters and triumphed against them all, he knew how to stay calm in a situation like this. On the other hand, my heart was pounding against my chest, threatening to burst out.
“Did you feel that….”
“I felt it. Very clearly. Elroy, you felt it too, right?”
I nodded. The rumbling earlier was ominous. It wasn’t a good sign. It couldn’t have come from a large-scale army or a charge of horses. It was something much more fundamental, almost like the definition of fear. The Archduke and I looked to the same place, our mouths pursed.
“… I will prioritize the Archduke’s command.”
‘He probably better understands the situation than I do.’
“I’m sorry for the people, but the festival must end on the first day. I’ll issue an evacuation order and have everyone ready to leave at any time within four days. Rhys!”
Archduke Quenor turned to the side and called out in a sharp voice. Rhys had been barking orders at his soldiers but jumped at Quenor’s call.
“Form an emergency patrol right now. Take special care to cover all patrol areas unison, and ensure you have plenty of flares. Furthermore, maintain the highest level of alertness from this day forward until war breaks out.”
Archduke Quenor glanced at me.
“Henceforth, I’m making the Hero’s Party a permanent part of Patrol Sector One. Rhys, you and Elroy will be in command of Patrol 1. You will share the leadership, but Rhys will prioritize the overall patrol plan, while Elroy takes the lead in combat situations.”
“Your orders, sir.”
Rhys replied tersely, then ran back to the bustling soldiers. The Archduke quickly tore his gaze away from Rhys and looked at me. His blues eyes fazed at me steadfastly.
“I want you to scout carefully. Above all else, you must prioritize your safe return. If you see anything suspicious, don’t try to investigate further. It’s enough to know that something is out of the ordinary.”
I nodded. His words had an odd resonance that roused me to action.
“Scout the area, and if we have any indication that the Fourth Disaster is approaching, we will request reinforcements to the Capital. Simultaneously, we will be ordering the population to evacuate.”
“It hasn’t been long since we defeated the Third Disaster. The Capital hasn’t had time to replenish its lost troops and resources. We shouldn’t expect much support.”
“…I see. But we must do what we can.”
The Archduke looked at me momentarily as he said that, and then one corner of his mouth lifted.
“I wonder if I’m taking advantage of you too much, but given the circumstances, I hope you’ll understand.”
“You speak as if you haven’t worked me to the bone, Archduke.”
I retorted playfully, and Archduke Quenor chuckled.
“I see you’re still lucid enough to joke. Take care of Patrol One, Hero’s Party.”
Georg and Marianne nodded at the Archduke’s words, and Daphne swallowed dryly. I stared at our party. Now, I must prepare for a real war with them.
“Let’s go. I assume you all remember what patrol area one was like?”
“Yeah. I remember.”
After checking on my companions, I gripped the hilt of my Holy Sword one more time. She responded immediately to my touch.
(It’s okay, Elroy. Trust your comrades like how they trust you. Don’t think about anything else for now. Just focus on what the Archduke has told you to do.)
I let out a long sigh and nodded. My pounding heart lost the strength to beat harder and slowly regained its normal rhythm. As she said, I should only think about patrolling and seeing if there were any signs of the Disaster. As we rode out of the stables, Rhys greeted us, ready to go.
“We’ll scout the afterward. Our first priority is to get to the lake. We’ll see if there’s been any change in the horizon, and then we’ll look carefully on the way back.”
The bars of the outer castle began to clank and rise. The knights of Evernode, led by patrol Sector One, assembled at the doorway. Rhys looked back at the patrols.
“Let’s go! Don’t be shy, and set off the signal flares first if anything goes wrong!”
I narrowed my eyes at the path leading to the forest. Maybe it was my imagination, but a more unnerving aura was lingering.
“Why don’t you lead the mission, Hero?”
I shook my head. Even though the command is both mine and Rhys, if he waited for my orders, we would unnecessarily make the chain of command slower. It would be far better to give the priority entirely to Rhys and his lieutenants. At the same time, I stand at the rear of the patrol, ready for any possible ambushes.
“I’ll stay in the rear and watch for any possible attack. I’ll only move up to help if the situation worsens. You can take a point, Rhys.”
He nodded without argument and reined in his horse, moving faster than usual. The patrol was out of the outer gates and into the thick forest in no time.
“Do you think the trembles earlier were from the Fourth Disaster?”
Daphne, who was a little ahead of me, asked. I nodded.
“The earthquake is most likely from the Giant raising itself up.
“…There was an earthquake just for that.
The color of her face. She tightened her grip on the reins.
“And Elroy felt it?”
I frowned. Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t merely felt the tremors; I could clearly sense the Giant’s presence. Was its presence this clear in the first place? Judging by Daphne’s reaction, it didn’t seem so.
(My mana has altered your senses, Elroy. You can sense the Disasters and monsters much easier now.)
‘You have a lot more features than I thought. Say, you got anything else?’ I glance down at the hilt of my Holy Sword.
(…It seems common sense was not included.)
Rhys, in the lead, signaled for us to stop. The forest was suddenly silent as the frantic horses came to a halt. In the distance, the hooves of the patrol circling Patrol Two could be heard.
Georg muttered. I nodded my head and looked around. The area was usually peaceful, but now it was too quiet. Not a rustle of grass, not a single small creature moving. Not even the scent of monsters. It was as if the whole forest held its breath.
Then Rhys raised his left hand and drew his sword.
“It’s not long until we reach the Eye of the North. From here, we will advance with the utmost caution.”
At his words, the soldiers readied their weapons in unison. I, too, drew my holy sword and began circulating my mana to expand my senses. I still found nothing. ‘Did it call every monster to create its army.’
Our anxiety took concrete form when they reached the Eye of the North.
Beyond the mountains, the sky was completely ashen. The looming gray clouds gathered, becoming darker. It ate the blue sky and casted shadows on the mountain’s peak. There was probably a blizzard raging beyond that could blow a man off his feet.
The scene shown by the crown of thorns had shown me overlapped. The blizzard raged under an ashen sky as I walked alone through the deserted Evernode. The Giant approached, crushing the trees of this forest like matchsticks.
I snapped out of my reverie at the sound of the Holy Sword’s voice and sharpened my senses. I felt the cold wind more clearly.
(Focus, now is not the time to be so stunned.)
‘…Sorry. I’ve never been so overwhelmed by a presence alone.’
(Carelessness doesn’t just come from arrogance. Be careful, Elroy.)
She said sternly, and I shook my head vigorously and turned toward the lakeshore. Rhys was staring at the mountains.
“You’ve got some a lot of stuff to report… I can’t believe the horizon got that close overnight.”
“It probably moved forward when the earthquake hit.”
As I replied, he removed his gloves, dipped his hands briefly into the lake, and then frowned.
“It’s cold. It’s never been cold during the summer.”
Rhys took out his hand and shook it. Just then, the patrols from Patrols Two and Three were finishing their rounds and arriving at a nearby place.
“It’s bad; the lake will start freezing soon. Did you guys encounter any monsters on the way here?”
The leader of Patrol Two shook his head.
“No, sir. The forest was eerily quiet, and we didn’t see any white wolves we used to see so often.”
“And Patrol Three?”
The leader of Patrol Three shook his head again and sighed.
“Nope. If Patrol One didn’t encounter the beast in the first place, there’s no way the rest of the patrols did.”
“No. Other than that, it’s exactly the same as usual, damn it.”
“Same here. I’d feel better if I’d seen something.”
Rhys bit his lip and turned his gaze to the other side of the lake. I glanced at the patrol leaders, who had begun to hold a heated meeting again. Then suddenly, my head turned to the woods.
‘Someone was watching us.’ I opened my mouth to speak, holding on to the faintest, most uncomfortable sensation that prickled my skin.
“There’s something in the woods.”
The crawler, Zhu, was an intelligent monster who volunteered to be the servant of the Fourth Disaster. The name ‘Zhu’ was given to him by another monster. He was relatively weaker than the other intelligent monsters that served the Giant. Still, he was no slouch regarding stealth and mobility.
Zhu clicked his warty claws, creating a sound similar to laughter. To human ears, of course, it would sound like nothing more than the grisly grinding of bones. He heard every fiber whispering the same words, ‘Kill them. Kill them and eat them.’
The time was near. The day will come when he will turn them into meat. No matter how hard they struggle to live, they will be crushed beneath the oncoming footsteps, forever trapped in its eternal winter.
Seeing the corpses talking when they came to their senses was a pleasure. It was also fun to watch them leave their nest only to be killed before they could return. If so, how much more fun would it be to slaughter them to my heart’s content while freeing this bloody urge I held back?
Zhu shivered on his sturdy hind legs and retreated into the forest’s shadows. They didn’t notice the slightest bit. In the woods, he waited, his jaws clicking together. ‘Maybe I should give them so hope. That will make it much more enjoyable.’
They eventually walked under the tree he was in.
As Zhu settled back into his stance, determined to strike, he stopped moving.
‘What? Surely they were there just a moment ago?’
Zhu followed his instincts and defended himself but was still thrown back. He quickly regained his balance and raised the blade of his forepaw. ‘How dare this guy fight me head-on….’
Zhu’s body stiffened at the sight of the human before him.
“There was a rat hiding.”
The gray-haired, turquoise-eyed human held his sword high in the air, and behind him, the knights who seemed to have followed him drew their weapons in battle formation. ‘How did they find me?’
“I see. You’re an intelligent monster, aren’t you? If that’s the case, then….”
The human lowered his sword. Pure white energy began to trickle from the blade.
“I need to talk to you for a moment.”
Hope you enjoyed that. It feels wrong to use ‘she’ for a sword. It makes me wonder if I just use ‘it’ again.
Also, there will be another chapter later in the day. No exact time, but look out for that.