Chapter 3:

Forest Maze

The Consequence of Saving the World

Looking back at the house on the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would even live in a place like that. Bookmark here

Sure, the interior and furniture inside were miles better than mum’s house, but it’s just too lonely. Why would someone live without neighbours, far away from civilisation? What kind of person was the past me, the Hero who killed the Demon Lord? Sereya mentioned that I wanted a ‘slow life’ but, forget slow—with the forest surrounding this place, there was absolutely nothing going on here!Bookmark here

I mean, if I was the guy responsible for saving humanity, wouldn’t I stay in the biggest mansion in the city, with all the butlers and maids and the riches in the world? This past me, this, Hana-something fellow, he’s…Bookmark here

...he’s pretty dumb.Bookmark here

“Wait, you didn’t take anything?” Sereya’s question popped my bubble of thought.Bookmark here

She changed her clothes to something that adventurers would wear. Leather boots that stretched up to her thighs, a comfortable top made of wool, and a mantle that helped to hide her missing arm. Bookmark here

Underneath her mantle and around her waist was a thick belt. A sheathed sword hung by her hip. I hoped this trip wouldn’t be too dangerous. Having a woman act as my bodyguard was embarrassing!Bookmark here

“Oh right, I probably look pretty strange in all this, huh.”Bookmark here

Crap, I think she caught me staring.Bookmark here

“No no!” I scrambled for a follow-up, “I, er, you look more normal than I thought.”Bookmark here

“Normal? I knew it, I should’ve worn something bolder. This is just too plain, I guess.”Bookmark here

Wait, so did you think you look strange or normal? Why were women always so picky with their clothes?Bookmark here

“A-Anyways,” she said as she changed the topic, “beyond this woodland area here is the main road. We could walk all the way to the capital, but that might make your pinky toe worse, so we should hitch a caravan instead.”Bookmark here

“I’m okay with that, but how big is this forest in front of us anyway? This house is completely surrounded by trees. Wouldn’t there be monsters or wild beasts?”Bookmark here

“Nope, it’s a pretty small forest and there are no monsters.I think.”Bookmark here

You think? You mean there were monsters?!Bookmark here

“This forest is artificial, you know? You asked E—” she paused momentarily as her eyes darted around, “a f-friend to erect all this forest around our house.Bookmark here

Since she corrected her next line to ‘a friend’, I could only assume that it was someone ridiculous again. She probably didn’t want me to get shocked as I found out. What kind of monster could summon trees in the middle of nowhere, anyway?Bookmark here

“Wait, so what’s the point of putting so much effort into changing the scenery? Did the ‘past me’ have a hard-on for trees?”Bookmark here

“Hehe, that’s why you wanted this forest erected, hmmmm?”Bookmark here

Oh no.Bookmark here

I think I knew why past me left her hanging and never answered her feelings. If this was what I had to deal with, nope, sorry, I’m out.Bookmark here

“Boo, you could at least laugh. You really liked those jokes,” she pouted, “The reason why the forest is here is that if someone tried to enter and didn’t know the correct route, they would be stuck inside walking around in circles. It’s basically a maze to keep people out, so yeah. You really REALLY didn’t want the world to disturb your retirement.”Bookmark here

Wait a sec—Bookmark here

“So that means if I entered the forest earlier to chase you when you were running away, I would get stuck in the forest forever?!”Bookmark here

“Yup.”Bookmark here

Don’t answer so frankly!Bookmark here

A massive sigh of relief exited my system. If I didn’t explain myself properly to her, I would have gotten into real big trouble. First Sereya, and now past me? Why did everyone want me dead?Bookmark here

“So, just make sure to follow my lead,” Sereya gestured me to follow her as she started walking into the foliage, “If you get lost, scream. If it’s loud enough, I can probably find you.”Bookmark here

“Do I look like a child?” I shot a piercing glare at her smug face. Unfortunately, she didn’t re—Bookmark here

“HELPPPPPP!”Bookmark here

A high-pitched cry for help shot through the woods and towards our position. Talk about timing.Bookmark here

“Shall we make a move then?” Sereya asked with a gentle smile.Bookmark here

“Yeah! What are we waiting for? She needs our help!” Bookmark here

“Help? You want to help her?” Tilting her head to her side, Sereya seemed puzzled beyond belief.Bookmark here

“Isn’t it obvious?! I’m supposed to be the Hero, right? What are we doing standing here? Let’s go!”Bookmark here

I was about to run when I felt Sereya’s hand on my shoulder. Her hand jolted me to a realisation—rushing headfirst into the forest would only result in me ending up like the girl screaming for help. Only Sereya knew the way around the woods.Bookmark here

“Let me give you a warning,” she said in a stern tone.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I know. You have to lead the way. Sorry I overreacted.”Bookmark here

“No, it’s not that. For the past five months we’ve been here, you’ve ignored every single cry for help from the forest. Are you sure you want to help her?”Bookmark here

When she asked me that, I could feel my fist clenching by itself. My past self—Bookmark here

How could a Hero ignore these blood-curdling screams for help right outside his house?! For five months, how many people were trapped there, scared and all alone?Bookmark here

To think that the past me, a Hero who killed the Demon Lord, couldn’t even do the simplest, most basic thing that a Hero does—made my blood boil.Bookmark here

“Sereya,” I growled, “what kind of Hero ignores someone in need?!”Bookmark here

She let out a tired sigh, “I don’t mind leading you to the source of the scream, but only under one condition.”Bookmark here

“What is it?”Bookmark here

“Do not regret helping her.”Bookmark here

What? R-Regret?Bookmark here

My blood froze for a moment as I began to consider the consequences. Under what circumstance would someone ‘regret’ helping someone in need? Was the person who was crying for help an assassin? Was this a trap? Bookmark here

I looked at my companion beside me. Logically speaking, Sereya, a warrior of incredible power, harboured feelings for me. If something happened to me, she would undoubtedly prevent an attempt on my life. Bookmark here

Since this was the case, I wouldn’t have any issues helping this person. Bookmark here

“The only regret that I’ll have is if I didn’t help someone in need. C’mon Sereya, it’s time to be a Hero!”Bookmark here

She nodded at me, but I had a feeling that she wasn’t entirely convinced.Bookmark here

Casting my doubts aside, I trailed behind her steps. As we walked past the first few trees, I began to wonder—what kind of forest could double as a maze? I paid particularly close attention to the trees and I could tell that they were not looping or repeating themselves. Even the small shrubs and the ground were different.Bookmark here

However, Sereya’s path seemed oddly random. She would walk like 8 steps in one direction, before turning a different way and walking another specific number of steps. Even if I forgot the number of steps she took, her footprints made it obvious—I just needed to walk the exact same path.Bookmark here

It had probably been about ten minutes or so. After all this aimless walking, I completely lost track of where the cry for help came from. With such a disorienting route, I just hoped that Sereya knew where to go.Bookmark here

Just as I thought of that, Sereya came to a halt, nearly causing me to collide into her.Bookmark here

“There,” she whispered to me as she pointed right in front of her.Bookmark here

Looking over Sereya’s shoulder, I could see a girl in light armor slumped on the ground, quietly sobbing. Just how long had she been lost in this forest?Bookmark here

“Hey!” Bookmark here

Just as I called out to the lost girl, Sereya immediately jammed her palm at my mouth, muffling my next few words. I was surprised it didn’t hurt, but it was still rather uncomfortable.Bookmark here

“Hello? I’m here!” Bookmark here

Looking right at us as she said that, the girl ran towards our position, but—Bookmark here

I didn’t really know how to describe this, but she faded out of existence. The cold sweat dripping down my forehead was freezing. Did I...kill her?Bookmark here

“Hello! Please say something!”Bookmark here

Hearing the girl’s voice once again helped me gain my composure. She was still alive. However, the source of the voice was so near, It sounded like she was just ten steps behind me. I turned around, but there was no one there.Bookmark here

“Don’t take another step further!” yelled Sereya, “Stay completely still and we’ll find you.”Bookmark here

I was beginning to have an idea of how this forest served as a maze. While sound travelled normally, our vision was heavily distorted. At our position, I was able to see her, but it appeared that she was unable to notice us. Bookmark here

“This isn’t just a simple illusion,” Sereya explained, “This is spatial magic. It’s completely impossible to traverse by relying on any of the five senses.”Bookmark here

“Then, did you find the way with magic?”Bookmark here

“No, silly,” she leered at me, “I’ve completely zero affinity towards magic, remember?” Bookmark here

Okay then, so she was the pure muscle type.Bookmark here

“So what’s the trick?” I asked.Bookmark here

“The oldest trick in the book.” leaning close to my face, she tapped the side of her head several times, “Memory.”Bookmark here

After boasting how great her memory was right in front of my face, she turned left, walked several steps and made a few more random directional adjustments after set distances. Before I knew it, we were standing behind the lost girl, her back faced towards us.Bookmark here

“Turn around,” Sereya instructedBookmark here

“Y-Yes!”Bookmark here

Startled by the emergence of the voice behind her, the girl performed what was commanded of her.Bookmark here

As Sereya was right in front of me, I leaned to the right to have a better look at the girl. It was at that moment, we made eye contact. Bookmark here

Blue, yellow?Bookmark here

Her eyes were of differing colours. I have never seen something so unique yet intriguing in my whole life.Bookmark here

“Are you...the Hero?” she asked.Bookmark here

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