I Became the Hero Who Banished the Protagonist - Chapter 40
TN: Thank Xonder for this chapter. Also, sorry for finishing late.
Archduke Quenor muttered to himself as he looked at the crawler’s body. The head looked different from the typical one. Its head was twice as large, and the black armor encased that encase it was highly decorated and ominous, like that of a pack leader.
“Such a creature has appeared.”
He patted the crawler’s head. He stared at it for a long time, then looked at me.
“Did it say anything to you?”
“It did say something to the effect that we were about to be crushed beneath the feet of the Giant. It also warned how our resistance was futile. It’s a good thing he’s not a very intelligent monster.”
That didn’t mean he was weak. As he wriggled and struggled in a last-ditch effort to resist, his attacks were far more vicious than I’d expected. Sure, Rhys and I killed him quickly, but if it attacked another patrol, they’d suffer near-annihilation.
“So you’re saying there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of demons worse than this one on the other side of the horizon.”
“Yes. They’re probably preparing for war, just like us. The ones we fought today were likely used to get a read on our power. They are nothing but their expendable dregs.”
Archduke Quenor grabbed the crawler by its neck and handed it to a waiting soldier.
“When you request assistance to the Crown, include this head as evidence. Discerning Templar leaders will immediately realize the gravity of the situation.”
The soldiers and other personnel departed, leaving only the patrol leaders, a few vassals, Archduke Quenor, Luke, and our party in the meeting room.
“How serious did the situation seem?”
Rhys stepped forward.
“We could visually observe the edge of the limits from the shore of the lake. The Giant’s movement likely caused the fluctuation. Also, the water in the lake has become freezing cold.”
“…The patrol area will be reduced soon.”
Archduke Quenor muttered. The Archduke turned to me.
“If we keep sending out patrols in the future, these minor clashes will continue.”
“…As you know, what makes war with monsters especially difficult is that we cannot understand their behavior with our own minds.”
I remembered how irrational the monsters were in the original. Rationality doesn’t exist for them. Good and evil don’t factor in, and there’s no such thing as an ally, even if they’re attacking the same thing.
“We must never let our guard down when patrolling. We will have more skirmishes from now on. The good news is that we can read the monsters’ movements.”
“Are you talking about the Giant’s movements?”
I nodded. No matter how irrational the monsters were, they still followed a pattern. They worshipped the Disaster as a god, so they wouldn’t suddenly launch a massive attack when it wasn’t acting. The Giant held them together as an army, not each other.
“Elroy is right. Even in the War of the Kraken, the monsters always surrounded the Kraken.
Georg nodded in agreement.
“…But we should be careful about getting too close to the horizon because while they may not make a full-scale invasion, there’s no guarantee they won’t attack a patrol like they did today.”
Archduke Quenor nodded decisively.
“I thank you for your advice. At least we’ll have time to evacuate the town.”
The Archduke turned to Luke and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“When the evacuation of the residents begins later, I want you to lead the procession. The people will feel more comfortable with House Stroff’s blood at the head of the line.”
“Archduke, I can….”
“I understand your desire to fight, Luke, but I will take no argument from you. It’s not because you’re not good enough to fight the enemy, and it’s not because I prioritize your safety.”
Archduke Quenor spoke to Luke in a low voice as if he had prepared for this conversation beforehand.
“Our castle and lands are not the only things in Evernode. I am entrusting you with the most important thing of the Duchy. Do you understand, Deputy?”
Luke looked into my father’s eyes. Their gazes exchanged for a moment, and then Luke nodded.
“…Yes, sir. I understand, Archduke.”
There was an awkward silence as the father-son conversation ended. Archduke Quenor patted Luke’s shoulder a few times and let out a short breath.
“On your next patrol, I will accompany you, for some things can only be learned by seeing them with your own eyes rather than sitting back and being briefed. I also want you to begin evacuating the residents as soon as they’re ready and to work closely with the Adventurer’s Branch of Evernode in the process.”
With that, Archduke Quenor adjourned the meeting and ordered it dismissed. Evernode’s senior officials left the room with serious look on their faces. I watched them go momentarily, then turned to follow them out of the room.
“Wait, Elroy, Georg.”
Georg and I turned to face the Archduke who had called for us. I dismissed the rest of the party first, then approached the Archduke.
“May I have a word with you?”
‘Come on. You’re being unnecessarily scary, this guy.’
I narrowed my eyes at Archduke Quenor, but he looked no different than usual. The same old, steady eyes and stance, facing me still. I glanced at Georg next to me, and he turned to Archduke Quenor with the same uneasiness I had.
“Well, it’s nothing serious enough to warrant that look.”
Archduke Quenor looked at us and smirked.
“It’s just that since we’re unusually close to the Disaster, and you’re arguably the country’s foremost expert on Disasters. I had a few questions I wanted to ask you.”
Archduke Quenor pulled out a chair and sat down. The Archduke said he had a few questions but seemed reluctant to say them out loud. ‘Hey, mister, you said it wasn’t serious.’
“If Evernode were to face the Giant without support, do you think we could repel them?”
“…I dare say it’s impossible. The castle will fall if we can’t repel the Giant and allow it to get close to Evernode.”
“Ultimately, we must defeat the Giant before it reaches this castle. Is that right?”
The scene that popped into my head was that of the original Evernode, which was in desperate defense against countless monsters. They would have been forced into a defensive battle against time after Elroy’s defeat.
“What does it feel like to face disaster head-on?”
Georg spoke up.
“Helplessness, frustration… But most of all, the thing that dominated my mind was…”
Georg’s voice seemed to grow colder just thinking about it.
“It was fear.”
No, it was more than fear. A sense of rejection welled up from the deepest recesses of the body. An instinctive cry to flee. No one tries to face an erupting volcano or fend off an oncoming tidal wave or typhoon.
“There’s a reason they’re called Disasters.”
Unfightable yet inevitable.
Archduke Quenor gripped the hilt of his sword as he echoed Georg’s words. In the original story, the Archduke had faced the Giant and its forces himself many times, slowing its advance. How many men could face a Disaster alone and slow its advance?
Ultimately, Archduke Quenor sacrifices his life to bring the Disaster to the brink of defeat. This allowed Arjen to slit its throat.
“It’s been a while since I’ve practiced my mind.”
The Archduke slowly opened his eyes. In the midnight sun, his blue eyes glistened like a lake. I had to try not to read death in them.
“Thank you for your answers, Elroy, Georg. You may go in and rest for the night. We will begin preparations for the War of the Giant tomorrow in earnest.”
We left the conference room in good spirits.
“I would have thought that after fighting one Disaster, I would have gotten used to it, but the thought of fighting another is disturbing.”
Georg said, stopping in the hallway.
“…You must be trying to prove your decision then, Elroy.”
He looked at me with a frown. He was referring to the conflict between Elroy and Arjen during the battle with the Kraken.
“Elroy, I doubted your decisions before. However, you’ve become reliable lately.”
“…What a strange thing to say.”
Georg smiled bitterly and slowly moved away from me. I waited for him to leave the hallway, then slowly followed him.
Then, at the end of the corridor, I came face to face with an unexpected figure.
Daphne smiled wryly,
The Ironblood Princess, her eyes moist and red from crying.
Karin stood, holding Daphne’s hand tightly. I looked back and forth between Karin and Daphne, unable to understand what happened.
“What’s going on?”
“She wanted to see Elroy and the Archduke, and apparently, they’ve been caught her trying to leave the manor a couple of times. I happened to be nearby, so I told her to wait until the meeting ended, and here we are.”
I could hear Karin sniffling. It was apparent she was scared. There was a big earthquake, and people ran around like crazy. I smiled bitterly and bent my knees to Karin’s eye level. I gently wiped her tear-streaked face, and her breathing evened out as she calmed down.
“The Archduke will be in his chambers for a while to train, so why don’t you take a walk with me and Daphne before then?”
Karin nodded, not responding with a word. I led her to the back of the manor. I could hear the sounds of the people within the building running about. Her eyes kept darting in the direction of the noise.
“They think there’s going to be a war.”
As we walked down the aisle, Karin was the first to speak. Daphne and I looked at her, a little surprised. She wasn’t just crying out of surprise.
“T-they said that there are a lot of scary monsters coming down from beyond the walls and that the people of our castle have to go fight them, and I have to run away from here.”
Karin’s voice trembled a little.
“I-I don’t know what to do, Hero. Rhys, Serene, and Hedwig will all fight. Father….”
Karin said the names of the knights she was familiar with, one by one, and then broke down again. Daphne hugged her as she began to sob again. Her shirt was slowly stained with tears. I stayed still, waiting for Karin to stop crying, and bent my knees again.
“… It’s okay.”
I stroked her hair, but she wouldn’t stop crying.
“They are all strong, so I’m sure they’ll be able to defeat the demon and reunite in Evernode.”
She looked at me like I was a liar. I couldn’t convince this intelligent child.
“…When there’s a war, even the strongest people die.”
And she vaguely knew that there was a war, and only then did I realize why she was looking for me. I squeezed Karin’s hand.
She looked up. For now, I decided to forget that I was possessed, and for the sake of this crying child, I would make one promise.
“I’ll protect them.”
Karin blinked. The tears that had been welling in her eyes threatened to fall.
“Rhys, Serene, Hedwig, the Archduke. All of them. Do you know why I can promise you this?”
Karin’s green eyes seemed to regain their light from beyond my vision.
“You’re the Hero…?”
Right. Because no matter what happens to Elroy in the original, he will always be the Hero. And I, in this body, have to be a Hero, too.
Suddenly, the words that “someone” said came to my mind.
“A Hero is someone who protects people.”
I wiped Karin’s teary eyes again.
“Do you promise…?”
Karin asked, holding out her pinky finger.
Karin’s little finger intertwined with mine.