The Consequence of Saving the World
Her light blue hair swayed gently in the evening wind. The leaves rustled as the rhythmic drumming of her foot signalled her impatience. The childlike pout on her face concealed her unbelievable strength.
Despite that, the creatures of this forest saw right through her facade. The pindrop silence surrounding us cemented that fact. As Sereya rubbed her tummy, all monsters and animals both large and small knew—the top predator around was hungry.
As I gathered the rabbits I hunted that were scattered during the ambush, I kept them inside the same basket once more.
“You’re not taking the wolf?” my eyes nearly flew out of their sockets when she asked.
Sure, I get that everyone was hungry, but there was no way we could finish that. Even though it wasn’t that meaty, it was still my size. Also, lugging it back to camp and prepping it would be a nightmare. Explaining all this to Sereya would be a waste of energy, so I put it in a way she could understand:
“You’ll get fat.”
A loud, exaggerated gasp left her mouth, “I saved your life and this is how you treat me?!”
“I want you to eat the right portion so you’ll stay as pretty as you are.”
“Don’t think I’ll let it slide just because of your sweet talk!” on the contrary, her blushing face made me think she will.
As I walked to her side, I showed her the basket in my hand, “Three rabbits should be enough for us. The meat is lean and low in fat, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Her eyebrow shot up, “How did you catch them?”
“Eh?!” her surprised yelp startled me, causing me to jump a little, “You can use magic?!”
“No, you dingus,” I bent down and grabbed a random pebble near me. Quickly, I winded up and threw it at the ground a distance away from me, “Like that.”
“Ooooh,” as she rubbed her chin, I wasn’t sure if she was impressed or being sarcastic, “Since when did you know how to hunt? I thought you said you were a farmer.”
“I am. Guess what’s a farmer’s worst enemy.”
I almost caught myself wanting to pat her on the head for getting it right, but I resisted the urge to do so. Wouldn’t want to get Dire Wolf blood on her nice hair.
“So you can take down rabbits with just stones? I always thought people did it with bows,” as she asked, we began to trek back to camp.
“Yeah, that’s an option, but I’d prefer not to have a hole in the meat. Stones are a lot more economical, too.”
“Huh, you’re cooler than I thought.”
I did a double-take. The world’s greatest swordswoman thought that I—someone who could hunt rabbits with stones—was cool?
“You could slay dragons. What’s so cool about some bloke who could hunt rabbit?”
“You’re good at something and I respect that. We’re both good at different things and that’s okay.”
I admired her not just because of her strength, but also because of how down to earth she was. It was easy to forget that behind her unmatched skill with the blade was a normal person, too.
However, I wished it was that easy. There was still a great divide between us. She’s a real Hero, I’m a fake one. She’s strong, I’m weak. The sword on her waist cuts her enemies. Mine just happened to be stuck between me and that monster.
“So, how does it feel to swing your sword for the first time?” she asked.
Looking down, I saw that my hands were still shivering. Even with Sereya’s comforting presence, the fear hasn’t left my system yet. The warmth from the monster’s blood that seeped into my gloves has turned ice cold.
Even though I did my best to put up a tough front, her slender hand found its way to mine as she gripped it firmly, but not too hard. The sudden sensation startled me.
“M-My hand is dirty!” I instinctively jolted and tried to let go, but hers was glued to mine.
“Heh,” a cynical chuckle escaped her lips, "Mine's been dirtied far too many times to count. Get used to it."
Her hand was tiny. It felt so fragile as it was cupped in mine. Yet, it was so used to the sensation of blood and battle, she didn't mind mine at all.
"Sorry, you're probably thinking how pathetic I am after struggling so much against one Dire Wolf."
"Yup, that's a pretty lousy display, to be honest. You nearly lost because of your nerves. It doesn't matter how skilled you are if you're panicking—that's the fastest way to get yourself killed."
I already know that. I tried everything I could to calm myself down, but my body just wouldn't listen. It's frustrating, really.
"Don't beat yourself too hard over it. Fear, panic, self-doubt—these are all emotions that keep us alive. Don't try to get rid of them. Make them yours.”
“And how do I do that?”
She pondered for a bit, “You’re always gonna have butterflies in your stomach. It’s your job to make them fly in formation.”
That’s a charming way to put it. Make the butterflies fly in formation, huh.
“But anyway,” Sereya shifted the direction of the conversation, “I can teach you sword fighting if you want. You can be my first ever student!”
Her enthusiasm was like that of a little child showing off their drawing of scribbles.
“Nah, I’ll pass.”
“But why?!” the vice on my hand tightened instantly.
“We’re at peace now thanks to you. Why would I need lessons from the world’s foremost demon killer?”
“Yeah, I guess that does make sense,” as she said that, her hand let go of mine.
Before I could ask why, she answered, “No, I’m not upset at you or anything. We’re near the camp, that’s why.”
I finally realised we were approaching the edge of the forest. Time to stop being Evan and start being Uncle, I guessed.
“You’re ba—heavens! What happened?!” Anita’s greeting turned into alarm.
“Oh, don’t worry, this blood isn’t mine. Just met with a little trouble along the way, no big deal.”
“I see. Who would’ve known that these woods would be so dangerous? Perhaps we should set up camp somewhere else?” she suggested.
“No, it’s fine! It’s fine! It’s just me being unlucky more than anything.”
The safest place to set up camp was wherever Sereya was, so there was no point relocating.
As the walking animal/monster repellent went to her tent, I handed the basket over to Anita, “Think you could prepare this?”
“Ooh, what did you bring back, Uncle?” Ain scurried over, peering into the basket as her mother opened the lid, “Oh. Umm, actually, I’m not that hungry anymore.”
“Haha! Don’t worry about her. Once they’re smoked and seasoned, she’ll be begging for seconds!” Anita exclaimed.
The former maid began to put her abilities to good use as she proceeded to turn the carcasses into cuisine. In the meantime, after somehow persuading Ain to leave me alone for a bit, I changed out of my bloodstained attire into clean ones.
While waiting for dinner to be made, I headed to the pond nearby where Zephyr was drinking. There, I washed my clothes. Thankfully, the blood wasn’t too hard to get rid of. If I had stalled this task to tomorrow, it would be a real pain in the back to finish.
As I returned to camp, Ain was already chowing down on the roasted rabbit ahead of everyone else! There was no sign of remorse whatsoever—mother knows best after all.
In complete contrast, Sereya watched over the rabbit meat by the campfire, making sure they didn’t get too overcooked. While Ain’s chewing was loud enough to wake the dead, Sereya was dead silent. It was bizarre seeing her that quiet.
“Uncshle! Comph and takesh a bite,” I could barely make out her invitation to eat as she spoke with her mouth full.
As I set my clothes near the campfire to dry, I grabbed one of the ready pieces of rabbit meat and sampled one for myself. Despite how dark it looked, it wasn’t chewy at all. Instead, it melted in my mouth. Anita had marinated them in some kind of spice that made the meat taste divine. If this was served at a restaurant, it would’ve been the first thing to sell out—it was just that good.
Eventually, Anita returned with refilled waterskins and handed them to us to help wash down our meal. The two ladies also started to have dinner.
I was halfway done with mine when suddenly, something soft landed on my thigh. Ain had lost to the allure of sleep—not uncommon for children her age after a hearty meal. I tried my best not to make any sudden movements to wake her up.
“She never had anyone to be that comfortable around before. Just what is your secret?” Anita asked.
“I really wished I had one,” I admitted.
“Tell me more about yourself, Uncle. How did someone like yourself end up as an adventurer?” she followed up with another question.
I had to come up with a fake story again. As the burning wood crackled and pop under the pressure of the campfire, I too, felt the pressure building. Weirdly enough, I didn’t feel stressed or anxious.
Perhaps the butterflies in my stomach were flying in formation after all.