Chapter 35:

Family Friend

The Consequence of Saving the World

As I walked down the front steps of the infirmary for the final time, I found my own steps to be lighter than when I first came here. I had finally gotten used to my body—how much it could stretch and what it could do. More importantly, it was my mind that felt lighter, clear of hesitation and ready to move forward.Bookmark here

Even the Goddess looked as if she was welcoming the end of my recovery with the gentle warmth of the morning daylight. The weather was perfect for going out, and I had the perfect person to go out with.Bookmark here

Our timing was just nice. Sereya just arrived. She was walking towards me, her face scrounged up and eyes squinting as the tungsten sun lit up her complexion. Bookmark here

“Even one of the Seven Heroes with her enhanced senses is no match for the sun, eh?” Bookmark here

Maintaining the same annoyed expression, she answered, “Who do you think I am, Azelia? Too much sun is bad for a girl’s skin, y’know?”Bookmark here

Azelia?Bookmark here

It took a brief moment for my mind to connect the dots, but eventually, the image of a large, flaming bird appeared in my mind. Azelia was the one sitting next to me during the summit. Though, “perched” might have been a better description, since she was speaking through her bird familiar.Bookmark here

Perhaps my puzzled look gave it away, so Sereya—now standing next to me under the shade—clarified:Bookmark here

“Azelia Crimson, the Flame of Phoenixfell, the quote unquote, ‘Greatest Mage of All Time’? She’s useful for lighting up dark caves and dungeons, I’ll give her that though. Other than that, she’s a jerk.”Bookmark here

Yeah, I remembered them bickering. So the greatest swordsman was not on friendly terms with the greatest mage, huh.Bookmark here

“That’s another story for a different day,” Sereya said, “You’ve put this on before?”Bookmark here

In her hand, was a leather sword belt for Exordium, straps loosely around the scabbard as the weapon slept within. It truly felt like a present.Bookmark here

“Thanks!” Taking the harness into my hands, I examined the straps and buckles. Honestly, I’ve never worn a sword belt before, but I wasn’t going to ask a one-handed woman to help put it on for me.Bookmark here

Sadly, it appeared that I was wearing her patience thin by fumbling around with the belt. I looked at how the sheath of the Messer was worn around her waist, but I wasn’t able to replicate the way it was strapped around at all.Bookmark here

“That’s not how you do it,” as those words left Sereya’s mouth, she got on her knees. Loud warnings were sounding off in my mind—her face was dangerously close to my crotch!Bookmark here

“Put it through the buckle here,” she instructed as she held part of the belt against my thigh. Bookmark here

I desperately tried to vanquish the untoward thoughts that sprang in my head. Sure, she was just helping me to put it on, but I knew for a fact that if someone saw the two of us from a certain angle, they’re gonna have a huge misunderstanding.Bookmark here

All of a sudden, Sereya stopped, her hand still remaining in place as I slipped the strap through the buckle. From her kneeling position, she looked up at me with the gaze of a fox—this woman was up to no good.Bookmark here

However, just as my saliva tumbled down my throat, her gaze fell onto the straps around my waist once more as she told me where to pull next.Bookmark here

“Does it feel too tight? Try moving around a bit and see if it’s comfortable,” she remarked as if nothing had happened at all.Bookmark here

The metallic parts of the harness jingled as I did a couple of small hops and swayed my hips a little. The tightness was just right. It didn’t feel like the sword would get in the way of movement.Bookmark here

“There. Not too bad, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, thanks Sereya.”Bookmark here

“Were you expecting something more, perhaps?” the same teasing look cemented itself on her face.Bookmark here

“Yes, but I’d much rather you flirt behind closed doors instead of in the middle of public.”Bookmark here

Her cheeks puffed up like a squirrel, mildly irritated at me for not playing along. She got up and dusted off her knees, and sighed, “Unfortunately for us, that’ll have to wait for quite a while. We have some travelling companions following us to Breven.”Bookmark here

Eh? I failed to hide my disappointment once I heard that it won’t be just the two of us.Bookmark here

“Why’d you let someone tag along? Thought you’d rather ‘have me all to yourself.’”Bookmark here

“Oh I do. But let’s move along. I’ll explain along the way.”Bookmark here

We proceeded to the stables by the main gate, where a horsecart prepared by Melyeze awaited us. Along the way, as I silently said my goodbyes to the buildings and structures I recognised, Sereya briefed me on our situation:Bookmark here

“While you were recovering, I filled my time by taking on quests in the Adventurer’s Guild.”Bookmark here

“You’re working? I thought you told me you were killing time?”Bookmark here

“Well, just like how you sneaked out of the hospital every morning to exercise, I did my own exercise by killing monsters. Nothing too conspicuous, though—I only hunted weak ones.Bookmark here

I shuddered at the thought that her definition of ‘weak’ may still be ‘really strong’ for the rest of humanity.Bookmark here

“Anyways, I took an escort quest to Breven. As to why I took it, it’s because the client was an old family friend.”Bookmark here

“I thought you mentioned that going back to Breven isn’t dangerous? Why would people need an escort?”Bookmark here

“The same reason security guards still have their jobs even if we’re in times of peace. Regardless, you can rest easy with me around.”Bookmark here

Why, of course. This was an example of someone who was way overqualified. Bookmark here

“Just one more thing,” Sereya told just before we reached our destination, “They already know who I am. As for you, just deny that you’re the real Hero—it’ll save us a lot of trouble.”Bookmark here

Right. Wouldn’t want people to start kissing the ground and thanking the Goddess now, would we?Bookmark here

While there were still more questions floating around in that half-empty head of mine, I had to keep a lid on them. We had just arrived at the stables. Unsurprisingly, this place was as packed as a haystack—people waiting for their transport, horses and carts of all kinds were parked along the wall, not to mention the guards and officials scurrying about like rats.Bookmark here

I stuck close with Sereya as she led us to Melyeze’s parting gift—a modest-looking horse cart. The cart itself was nothing special. It was a fair bit smaller than the merchant’s cart that we hitched a ride on.Bookmark here

What was special though, was the horse. It was a ‘she’, and it was clear to me that she was well-trained. Unlike many of the other horses here, she leapt into battle and charged into enemy lines before. The few scars under her auburn belly spoke volumes. Luckily, her legs were in fine shape. A veteran of war—her eyes had a focused glare to them.Bookmark here

“I see you’re appreciating Zephyr as well, eh?” I was caught off-guard by a guard. He continued, “Sir Melyeze specifically chose this fine specimen to be your steed. Take good care of her.”Bookmark here

“We will. Thanks for your help,” Sereya responded.Bookmark here

After the guard left, I asked her, “So where’s this client of ours?”Bookmark here

She looked around, “They’re almost here.”Bookmark here

I copied her and also scanned the surroundings, but there were no signs of a ‘client’ anywhere, just busy people and animals. Guess I had to trust her enhanced senses for making that call. Bookmark here

A minute or two after that, from amongst the sea of traffic emerged a woman in her forties, luggage in hand while a worn, but still wearable tunic draped over her slightly chubby form. Her gaze landed in our direction and soon, her footsteps as well.Bookmark here

“Sereya, is that really you?” the lady’s voice started to crack as she picked up the pace.Bookmark here

“Yes, Anita, it’s me,” my trusted companion had a beaming smile. To my surprise, Sereya’s eyes were teary as she ran to meet the lady who just appeared.Bookmark here

Anita, as labelled earlier, dropped her bags and caught Sereya in a deep embrace, “Oh, you’ve grown so so much,” the lady muttered.Bookmark here

For me, she definitely seemed a lot more than just a ‘family friend’. This was the kind of reunion a person had when they had not seen a loved one in years. Watching this scene unfold filled me with warmth and expectation—will I also have this once I’m back home?Bookmark here

“Oh, Sereya, your arm,” Anita pulled back, her teary eyes looked as if they were about to overflow, “I’m so sorry.”Bookmark here

“Hush, I don’t want that to spoil this moment,” she comforted.Bookmark here

That was when I realised—a tiny figure appeared from behind Anita.Bookmark here

“So you’re Sereya the Merciful Blade?” the little girl asked.Bookmark here

Her expression was dark and her eyes were grim. Rather than wait for an answer, she gave her own:Bookmark here

“I hate you.”Bookmark here

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