The revival of the ancient demon king and accompanying it, the selection of heroes by the holy sword. When Yulifalet arrived at the castle, it had been a few weeks since the decree from the king to gather the youth from all over the country.
Anyhow, the Schtorenvihein grounds were in a remote place even in this vast country. So no matter how much he hurried, changing horse-drawn carriages, reaching the king's palace required an appropriate number of days.
The Schtorenvihein family did have their own personal carriage but Yulifalet and his father, the family head, had decided that it should be used mainly for his mother because of her deteriorating foot.
One could say, 'wouldn't it be better to have a wizard teleport you instead of using primitive ways like horse-drawn carriages?' But there was no way there'd be a wizard powerful enough to teleport someone in a remote countryside area like the Schtorenvihein grounds. And when he considered the prize money, the horse-drawn carriage was the best he could do.
When he reached the capital, it looked incredibly brilliant and showy to country-bred Yulifalet's fresh green eyes. The well-organized, vast paved street spreading out, and the large stores and markets on both sides of it.
Yulifalet had never seen so many people going back and forth before; on top of that, they were all dressed in the latest fashionable clothes, so different from in the countryside. Standing open-mouthed in shock at the impressiveness of the capital and the number of carriages going back and forth, Yulifalet almost got run over.
That wasn't all. As people lightly bumped into him, there was one time when his wallet was pulled out. Thankfully, the Schtorenvihein family's butler who was also Yulifalet's tutor had especially come along with him all the way from his hometown.
He was the one that got the wallet back, saying, 「Young Master, please be careful. I'm an old man, and this just took years off of my life again.」
They managed to avoid further problems thanks to him. If he wasn't there, Yulifalet might have just had his personal belongings stripped away from him, cast out on the roadside.
So——why was it like that? Although it wasn't really like that, why did the city's brilliance seem not just glorious to Yulifalet, but also as if it was tinged with a shadow?
The sword that wouldn't choose a hero, no matter how many young people were gathered from all over the country. In spite of that, the demons were waving about their menace everywhere.
There had been no attacks on the kingdom so far, but he heard voices whispering that it might only be a matter of time before there was.
And he realized that the Schtorenvihein grounds would be no exception. He realized that they were just lucky to not have been damaged by the demons yet, and it wouldn't be strange if his beloved hometown fell into the demons' hands.
Although he knew that, just how was it so? Someone like him couldn't possibly be chosen by the holy sword. But that's just why he could decide to come up with some countermeasures against the demons when he went back home. He discussed it along with his butler, 'we may be in the most remote countryside there is, but this isn't a time to be ignorant and at bliss.'
The hero selection ceremony in front of the king - in other words, when he took the holy sword in his hand, that must have been why he wasn't nervous. This has been said before, but Yulifalet truly didn't think even the slightest that he would have been chosen.
He meant to quickly finish that ceremony which was nothing but formalities, and then go back to his hometown like the other young people. And yet, no one could have expected the result.
「The selection has been done. Yulifalet Lila Schtorenvihein. In the name of our goddesses, we deem you the hero.」
That was what the king said to Yulifalet as he stood dumbfounded, holding the holy sword with its shining blade exposed for the first time in 500 years. In that moment, Yulifalet's destiny had been released from Yulifalet's own hands.
He was separated from the butler that had come with him along to the capital. He watched in amazement as equipment for him was put in order and he was given enough for his traveling expenses to the point where it made him dizzy!
He had no time to argue, and no margin to refuse. By the time he firmly understood the situation he'd made, it was too late. Yulifalet was made out to be the hero that everyone longed for.
Why was it him? He wondered that so much in the room he'd been given to use until his trip, but no answer came. Even if he asked the holy sword, even if he prayed to the goddesses, nothing changed. It was shameful, but he couldn't stop trembling. He couldn't help being afraid. But he knew that he couldn't quit now.
「These are the people that will go with you to defeat the demon king.」
The day before the departure, the king got up from his throne and introduced them to Yulifalet himself. They were the king's daughter who was the shrine maiden princess, the natural-born 'Black-Haired One' that was the royal palace's head wizard, and the leader of the chivalric order of knights who had fled back to the capital along with a few subordinates after the last attack on the demon king.
Quite frankly, he thought, 'will we really be okay with only this much power?' Of course, he knew that they obviously wouldn't take people from the royal capital's guards and organize an army like last time. But wasn't it going too far to just send a few select individuals? Not to mention, the three people excluding him were all indispensable, essential for the country.
'Just what is the king thinking?'——That thought must have been written all over his face. Leaving the capital in the horse-drawn carriage that headed towards the first city, Princess Clementine wore a thick hood. Under it, her lips smiled, colored the same as a lovely petal.
「You seem pretty worried, don't you?」
「—N-no, not at all.」
「You have a lovely face. As for your choice of words, it's no problem if you just talk like normal. Since we're going to be around each other for a long time anyway.」
From the perspective of Yulifalet, a minor aristocrat, Princess Clementine's words made him want to say, 「Please don't say unreasonable things!」 But the princess's amber eyes didn't seem like she'd allow him to refuse, so in the end, all Yulifalet could do was nod.
「Y-yes…… I mean, yeah, got it.」
「That's right, please keep up that tone. I don't hate understanding people.」
Yulifalet looked dejected as the princess giggled from under her hood, the sound of her laughter like ringing bells.
The first time he saw her, he thought she was so delicate, beautiful in a doll-like way - just the kind of girl that his childhood friend would long for. But when she opened her mouth, she… How to put it… She changed, that's the impression he got now.
Clementine seemed to cleverly realize his bewilderment, and alluringly laughed again.
「At the end of the day, my father is a creature that is 'king' before he is a father. And the royal capital is the mark of this country, the last fortress. They may have cast countless barriers to protect it, but they don't know when they might be attacked by the demon army. So it's impossible for him to give up more people defending the royal capital to come with us. But be that as it may, he can't just let the demon king be, right? That's just why we're here.」
Unable to grasp Clementine's intentions, Yulifalet tilted his head in confusion. But the princess continued, seemingly not minding.
「Our duty is to defeat the demon king, but at the same time, it's also to put ourselves in the demons' eyes, to distract them from the royal capital. And that also means reducing the people's anxiety, even if only a little, right?」
'Do you understand?' This time, it was Clementine that tilted her head, asking Yulifalet that. Her hood had been moved to the side. In those amber eyes peeking out, there was not one bit of fear reflected in this journey towards imminent death.
「What is it?」
「Are you alright with that?」
The living jewel of the kingdom, who by all rights should have been protected more carefully than anyone and anything else in the royal palace. Just why did she have to willingly throw herself into the fight? Yulifalet tightly clenched his fist without realizing. Clementine blinked her big eyes at his question before calmly smiling, as if it was a foolish question.
「Before I'm one of the women and children, before I'm the one blessed with the goddesses' divine protection, before all that, I'm one of the royals. If I don't put this body to use, I will only keep being supported by each of the nation's people every single time. Then, just when am I supposed to put it to use?」
He couldn't help but having his breath taken away. He knew the girl in front of him is younger than him. She had prepared herself for the worst far more than he had.
Even though he'd been chosen by the holy sword, he still had no understanding of reality. She was so different from him. He was just going with the flow, merely crowned with the title of hero and nothing more.
He couldn't do anything but remain silent. Looking at Yulifalet, fellow passenger as well as companion on the journey Alhelm Lix stifle his laughter.
「Princess, don't tease Yuuli like that. Look, he's so worried.」
「Oh, I didn't mean to do that.」
'I beg your pardon,' smiled Clementine, shutting her mouth just like that. After that, the only sound heard was the clattering of the carriage as it shook.
For better or for worse, the passengers on the horse-drawn carriage that left the capital were no more than just Yulifalet and the others. Yulifalet, the princess, the leader of the chivalric order, and then the royal palace's head wizard who hadn't exchanged a single word with him since being introduced. The atmosphere between the party, organized of just four people to defeat the demon king, couldn't possibly be called harmonious.
It made sense for them to be silent, considering the fact that they were burdened with this mission. But Yulifalet couldn't bear the excessive silence, and decided to talk to Alhelm, who was the easiest one to talk to out of all his companions.
「Um, Mr. Alhelm…」
「Ah, just call me Al. Since I'm calling you Yuuli too. Besides, we don't need to be polite.」
Yulifalet breathed a sigh of relief at how carefree Alhelm was, waving his hand about as he said that. He finally opened his mouth to ask what had been bothering him this entire time.
It might be something he perhaps shouldn't ask about. But it was something he wanted to know no matter what, as a companion on this trip heading towards the demon city.
「……Well, Al. Why did you decide to head out again to defeat the demon king?」
「Hm? What do you mean by that?」
He hesitated to continue further. The leader of the chivalric order spoke without hesitation, smoothly saying what Yulifalet hesitated to say.
「You mean, why am I here even though I fled back, barely alive the last time?」
「—I didn't mean to be rude……!」
「Ah, my bad. I didn't mean it in a bad way. My apologies for making it sound like that.」
Alhelm raised his hand in an apologizing gesture, and Yulifalet frantically shook his head. He was the one that should've apologized. Ignoring Yulifalet's regrets that it really wasn't something he should've asked, Alhelm continued the story as he pleased.
「That's right, if I had to say it, it's 『because』.」
When he gazed at Alhelm, wondering what it meant, he narrowed his reddish brown eyes and smiled. His eyes seemed as if they were looking someplace far away, unknown to Yulifalet.
「Yeah. I survived, thinking about my soldiers' lives. Their souls are definitely still wandering the demon city even now. It's the duty of the ones they kept alive to set their souls free, it's my atonement. Though I was told by my assisting officer in the capital, 『Are you an idiot?』 so there's that!」
Alhelm loudly laughed. As if it was only natural. His way of speaking was light, but there was a firm light of determination in his eyes, as if he didn't hate even death.
Yulifalet gulped, overawed by that light. Both Clementine and Alhelm each held their own determination as they looked at this journey. Then, was the last person also like that, the wizard? As he thought that, his gaze faced the wizard wearing a black robe, his hood covering more than Clementine's, up to his eyelids——Agedilus Von Lancent.
「……Um, well then, Mr. Agedilus……」
'Why did you take part on this journey?' He was about to ask that to the wizard who hadn't made the slightest movement until then to the point you couldn't tell if he was awake or asleep. But he moved then. His white hand reached out mid-air, his wand in his hand as if it was piercing through the air. Not understanding the meaning of that action, Yulifalet's eyes darted here and there. The sword hanging by his waist trembled.
Agedilus muttered that briefly. At the same time, Clementine flung off her coat. Then, Alhelm took out the sword by his waist, kicking open the door of the still-moving carriage.
「Really, that man is a hard worker!」
The horses' neighs and the driver's scream reached his ears. The carriage came to a sudden stop; Yulifalet was thrown out of the wide open door from the force, narrowly managing to land safely.
Yulifalet let out a sigh of relief. Suddenly, a shadow fell over him from high in the sky. Lured by that, he looked towards the sky, widening his green eyes.
「It's a wyvern.」
「A wyvern?! That?!」
At Agedilus's short reply, Yulifalet ended up raising his voice without realizing. Wyverns were a small, low-grade kind of dragon out of the dragons that fell to the evil side. But they could breathe fire, which made them a troublesome monster.
In spite of the countless large monsters flying overhead, with power that crossed human knowledge, Agedilus unconcernedly chanted ancient words that appealed to the spirits in his beautiful, calm voice that had not a single bit of hurry in it. He prepared to use the wand in his hand.
Yulifalet trembled involuntarily at the monsters he was seeing for the first time. Not minding him, Agedilus used his wand to manipulate the wind, knocking the wyverns to the ground one by one. As if waiting for that, Clementine used the gods' power to cast light magic, purifying the wyverns and extinguishing them, and Alhelm used his sword to cut the wyverns' heads off.
By the time he realized it, the number of wyverns decreased to less than the fingers on a hand, without Yulifalet doing anything. Was this the power of the elite of the elite in this country? As Yulifalet watched in shock as the wyverns were slaughtered, a scream reached his ears. He looked to it only to see the driver of the carriage was still about to get attacked by a wyvern.
His body started moving by itself. Taking out and grasping the holy sword, he cut off its head with one stroke. The holy sword cut through the wyvern's flesh astonishingly easily. A sensation traveled from the sword's handle to his hand, completely different from the one he got when he ploughed the earth with his hoe.
Shaking off the uneasy, restless feeling, he looked around his surroundings. In the time it'd taken for him to settle off one wyvern, his companions had defeated all the other wyverns. Countless wyvern corpses were scattered across the earth. Including the ones that the princess had extinguished with her light magic, plenty more wyverns had attacked them. But in spite of that, they had defeated them and come out almost unscathed.
So, was he definitely necessary or just a burden? That feeling crossed Yulifalet's chest. He left the capital with no resolve or determination, only chosen by the holy sword and kicked up to the position of hero because of that. Even comparing him to them was ridiculous.
Averting his eyes since he felt down, he wiped the blood off of his face and turned to the sitting driver, who couldn't stand out of fear.
「Um, are you alright?」
He didn't seem to have any wounds at a glance, but he must've had a bigger mental blow. He reached out his hand to the driver, trying to get him to stand first of all, when he suddenly stared at his own hand. His hand, that was covered in wyvern blood. Thinking 'he probably doesn't want to touch a hand like that,' he tried to pull back his hand but the driver suddenly grabbed onto it with both hands. As Yulifalet was startled and surprised, the middle-aged driver in front of him covered Yulifalet's hand with both his hands, big tears falling down his face.
「T-thank you, so much……!」
Those thanking words from the bottom of his heart. It was nothing more than two words, but Yulifalet certainly felt his heart move from them.
He'd probably be laughed at with 「It's not that simple!」 Or he might have been scolded, 「After all this time?!」 But either way, right then, in that moment, Yulifalet finally caught a glimpse of a part of what he was entrusted with. 『Hero』. He knew that he still wasn't suitable enough to be crowned with that title. He didn't know how many people he could save with his hand. But, even so, that's just why he decided he wanted to save as many people as he could, with that hand.
That was probably the birth of 『Hero』 Yulifalet, in the real sense of the word. And then, the party of just four heroes with Yulifalet as the leader, set out once again on their journey to the demons' city.