The western region of the Central Continent held a large country, Seize Kingdom. To the west of the country was a vast forest. Hidden in the greens was a village of demihumans, its people mainly composed of former citizens of the elven country that had been eradicated by the humans.
“Heeey, Gold, ya mind lendin’ me a hand?” said a middle-aged elf who, despite his age, only still looked in his late thirties.
“Yeah, I’m coming,” replied a large man working on the fields. He laid down his hoe, taking the hand-sewn handkerchief on his shoulder to wipe off his sweat.
“Sorry for botherin’ ya. Howsit? Ya used to field work yet?”
“…it’s not bad,” Gold hesitantly replied. The elven man broke into a gentle smile.
“Right, that one. Can ya do something?”
“Leave it to me.”
The elf was pointing to a large boulder on a field that was half-way sunken in the ground. With their mastery of elemental magic, the elves would normally simply ask the earth elementals to bury, dismantle, or deal with it however they saw fit, but apparently there was quite a bit of iron in this boulder. Iron had a binding effect upon the elementals, so they were loathe to get close to it.
With a grunt of effort, magic coursing through Gold’s bulging muscles, he lifted the boulder that must have been at least 500 kilograms onto his shoulders.
“Where should I put this?”
“Whoumm,” the elf stumbled over his words in astonishment — he’d asked Gold to deal with it, he just didn’t think the man would actually pick it up, “the old dwarf said he wanted some iron, so just put it near the village. He’ll probably come by to break it up later.”
Gold nodded and started walking. The ground heaved with his every step. The children playing nearby timidly approached him.
“…watch out, it’s dangerous.”
The kids stayed silent.
Gold put down the large boulder at the edge of the village, sending a thud reverberating through the earth. From the group of children taking nervous peeks of him from afar, a young elven boy jumped out toward him with a beaming smile.
Gold put on a clumsy smile and gently patted his head.
Two months earlier, Gold had fought as a Hero to protect his motherland, the Empire of Torrann, against the invasion of a Dark General, the Troll King, and his army. But just as he was heading for the battle, the country’s protective barrier was suddenly broken by a plot of Whitehare, the Dark Lady who had been wreaking havoc all over the world. With the barrier gone, only ruin awaited the Empire of Torrann.
Gold had been locked in single combat with the Dark General at the time. He had lost, overwhelmed by the Troll King, and just as death stared him in the face, he was saved by a whim of the Dark Lady Whitehare.
The Dark Lady had said that it was a reward for his self-sacrificing attempt to save a kid and let him go.
Gold had asked her why. She said she didn’t see any difference between the life of a human and the life of a goblin as if in mockery of him, the man who’d left a demihuman slave to die.
He had felt that her words were those of a Dark Lady who only thought of human lives as nothing more than so much dust. But Gold also felt the cold gaze of disdain she had for him, and he began to doubt. Who was he fighting for?
When a crisis threatened the world, Heroes were born to save it.
But whose world was it?
In Yggdrasia of the present day, the human race had seized all the Saplings and had used their magic power to dominate the whole world. Gold’s ‘world’ had been the ninety-nine human countries surrounding the Saplings.
To humans, demihumans were useful cattle. To humans, goblins and orcs were useless pests. It had been the common perception of humans, and Gold had been taught it as the natural order.
Yet a single sentence of the Dark Lady had driven a crack into his worldview.
Gold had left on a journey to retrain himself, to eliminate his weakness, and to find an answer.
He had dove into the deep forest with nothing but scraps of food, his weapon, and his armor. He fought with all that attacked him. He strove to know everything about them.
But no answer was forthcoming. Hunger and fatigue had driven him to unconsciousness, and his savior was a small elven boy who had come to gather inside the woods.
Currently, the demihuman races and the human race were on two sides of a conflict. The humans had relied on their militaristic might to oppress and turn demihumans into their slaves, yet the Dark Lady had upended the power balance just by her lonesome.
All the same, as a person, the boy’s father could not have left Gold to die. He had taken him to the hidden village, and Gold was allowed to stay and recuperate under heavy surveillance.
Gold woke up, and what awaited him were gazes of wariness and disdain of the demihuman villagers. Then the twin princess and prince of the fallen elven country came to meet him. They stared at him and traded only a few words before saying, “Stay however long you like,” and left.
Ever since Gold returned to consciousness, Yol, the elven boy that had been his savior, began to visit him frequently.
The boy held no hatred or prejudice against the human race, only curiosity. He asked Gold about many things, and in return the boy told him about every single thing happening in the village, the forest, as well as the White Spirit he’d once met before.
Gold was bewildered. He only ever saw demihuman children either prostrating in fear, or glaring at him with gnashing teeth as soon as they saw him.
But Yol was no different from the human children living in the countryside.
He’d talked to Yol’s father. The long-lived man had displayed astonishing wisdom. If the decadent nobility of his country, men and women who’d drowned themselves in their desires, were ‘humanity’, then what would that make the elven man?
Gold had had a heart-to-heart talk with Yol’s parents. The couple had advised him to try helping out the village with the fields.
It was the first time he’d done any farmwork. His meals were humble, nothing but fruits and potatoes. Yet the moment he saw the buds sprouting from seeds he’d planted on the dirt with his bare hands, he thought it was the first time in his life he ever felt something close to fulfillment.
Seeing Gold and his sincere work, the villagers slowly came to accept him.
He woke up in the morning with them and worked until sunset as they did. In the evening, he shared drinks of fermented milk with the village elders.
And today, as Gold was patting Yol’s head, the elven, dwarven, and beastman children approached, clinging to the.heavyset man.
A little cat-eared girl around three of age stretched out her tiny arms, looking up at him.
It took Gold a few seconds to understand what she wanted. He effortlessly picked her up and gave her a ride on his shoulders. She squealed in delight, and the other children scrambled to climb onto him. He let them, trying his best to not drop them from his arms and shoulders… and he began to wonder how he could even take a step.
Then a voice called at him from afar, delivering him from his predicament.
“Heeey, Gooold! The princess is calling for yooouuu!”
“Sir Hero, have you gotten used to life here?” asked the princess of the lost kingdom.
“…yes, by your grace.” Gold tersely replied, slightly bowing as he stood on a rug of animal skin. Of the elven twin, it seemed the girl was the older sister. The brother next to her continued his silence.
They were in a shabby log cabin, its slightly-larger size the only thing to distinguish itself from the other village buildings. Gold knew it was the humans who had robbed the villagers of their families. He turned his eyes slightly to the side, unable to bear the princess’ gaze, and he noticed a wooden sculpture of a person with rabbit ears. The princess saw his look. She faintly narrowed her eyes, twitching the barest of a smile.
“Have you realized, then? All of us pray upon the Dark Lady.”
“…is it because… she’s the Dark Lady, milady?”
Were the demihumans, those not of the human race, aiding her because she was the Dark Lady, the lord of monsters? The thoughts behind his words went unsaid, but they reached the princess all the same. She was reminded of the girl of white who had once saved her and her brother. She looked coolly upon Gold.
“No. We follow her because of the whole world, she is the only one right.”
“Wh” Gold was stunned, his eyes wide open. “That tragedy was right?! Hundreds of thousands of people died there!”
“Indeed. Many lives had been lost. Perhaps many demihuman slaves, too, had not managed to escape.”
“Sir Hero,” the princess interrupted his objection, “who do you fight for?”
His breath hitched. The barb stuck in his heart burrowed deeper.
“There is a legend among the elves. It says the World Tree and its Saplings were the pillars that held up the world.”
“I… know about that.”
“Then why is the human race using their power? Is that power not what should have been used to sustain the world?”
“I shan’t just tell you the answer. Think it through. But this is not what I have called you here for,” she turned to her brother, “Bring it here.”
The prince took a package wrapped in cloth in the back of the room and brought it in front of Gold.
It was a greatsword of mythril, holding within it a strong magic. Gold’s hand shivered as he looked upon the powerful shine.
“It is a weapon made by the ancient elves. It had once been used by an elven Hero, our grandfather. He was killed by humans a century ago, as they had seen him as a threat.”
There were Heroes of races other than humans. But they were feared by the humans, and had all fallen before the humans’ military might.
“Apologies, I had said too much. Sir Hero, please take it.”
“It is one of the treasures of the elves that we had luckily managed to bring with us. Hero or not, I do not think anyone would be comfortable without a weapon by their side. Please, sir Hero… use it for the sake of the World.”
“… then I shall accept, milady.”
Call forth the Hero’s power for the world, not for the human race.
Gold bowed, overwhelmed by the answer that was still yet nebulous in his mind.
And then, right at that moment, a shout reached his ears.
“…t-the humans are attacking!”
The princess hates Gold. The princess and the prince were the kids that were captured at the auction.