The Consequence of Saving the World
“Everyone, listen up! Get your butts here in your groups right now!”
I was beginning to change my opinion about Bernard. Not because we found the perpetrator which cleared my suspicion, but because he made a surprisingly good trumpet. It felt nice not needing to strain my voice, but I pity his—no wonder he sounded so rough.
The pilgrims and adventurers were definitely annoyed from being called to assemble once more, but this would be the last. It was time to get the second stage of the plan in motion.
As I stood between Sereya and Bernard, I addressed the crowd before me, “We’ll be conducting a search. I’ll decide which group stays here and which group heads into the woods.”
“But I thought you said one of us did it? Why are we doing a search?” one of the pilgrims made a valid point.
“I already know who did it,” my answer was met with gasps and murmurs, “but this search is for the culprit to show his true colours. Like it or not, I can assure you, by the end of this search, the culprit will be found and if we’re lucky, your loved ones, too.”
Finally, I saw some happy faces amongst them. Ironically, the happiest was undoubtedly Talbot—his sinister intentions masked by his beguiling dimples. Fortunately for him, he’d get to keep that smile on his face for a little longer. Good thing karma will slap him in the face before I do.
“You, you and you!” I pointed at three groups, “You lot got and cover the area to the left of the camp.”
Next, I pointed at Talbot’s group and the two beside it, “The three groups at the back there, search the area to the right.”
“But there’s a child with them!” another heckler was referring to Ain. This was starting to get annoying.
“I’m not a child!” Ain snapped back. Yeah, go tell ‘em! Even though she was still a minor, it felt satisfying to see that adult getting shut down by her.
“Come back before it gets dark, and don’t you dare take an eye off your group members! The rest of you, stay here and stay sharp. Let’s go!” I could finally take a breather from all this public speaking.
As each of the groups I picked had an adventurer in them, the pilgrims who made up the remaining two group members followed their lead. Sereya and I waited for a bit as the crowd dispersed.
Before we headed off in Talbot’s direction, I felt a large hand on my shoulder, “Sir, is it really true that I’d get to see m—we’d get to see our loved ones again?”
I turned to face Bernard, “If the Goddess wills it.”
Even if She didn’t, Sereya definitely did. That’s more than enough assurance for me.
The two of us made our way into the forest. It didn’t take long before we caught up to Talbot, Anita and Ain.
“Uncle, you’re here!” the little girl waved and called out to me. As I replied to her greeting with a wave of my own, she went back into searching, looking intently at the ground for clues as she snooped around.
“Ain, stay close to us, you hear?” Anita reminded her daughter.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye out on her. Just follow my lead,” Talbot reassured.
As an Ogre-ranked archer, I had no doubts about his eyesight. The same can’t be said for his judgement, though. For an adventurer to have stooped to crime, he better regret his decisions once this is done and dusted.
We walked for quite a while. There weren’t any notable landmarks in these woods and I was struggling to remember the way back to camp. Thankfully, Ain took searching very seriously as she disturbed a lot of the shrubbery and plants along the way. This trail should prove useful in finding our way back.
“Who’s there?!” a voice yelled out from a distance. I couldn’t see behind all these trees and leaves at all.
“Relax it’s me,” our guide put the hidden voices to ease, “These guys are with me.”
Hidden amongst the foliage, two brigands stepped out into the open.
“Shh!” Anita quickly covered the mouth of her daughter, “No matter what happens after this, do not make a sound, okay?”
Frightened, she nodded and held onto her mother, tighter than ever.
As we carried on ahead, the brigands sized us up. The one closer to me eyeballed me intently, scanning me up and down.
Talbot yelled, “If you guys love staring so much, go back to lookout!”
Just like that, they left us alone. These brigands were organised and had some sort of hierarchy, it seemed.
Footprints and other signs of human life which were previously devoid on our way here began to litter the area as we kept our pace. We were getting close. An uneasy feeling crept its way from my boots and into my heart. Please Goddess, let the kidnapped pilgrims be okay.
Eventually, the gaping darkness of a cave fell into my view as we approached the side of a hill. Besides the cave entrance, there were two guards. They didn’t say anything—unlike the previous two—and just waved at Talbot, who did the same.
My body was telling me not to head inside, but I ignored it. Seeing Ain tremble as she held her mother’s hand was all the more reason for me to confront whatever lay within.
What first appeared as eternal darkness turned out to be pretty well-lit. There were torches and campfires, even a few thugs who chatted and played dice. Including the ones we’ve bumped into outside, there were already nine in total, but still no sign of the captive pilgrims.
There were a few branching paths here and there, but there was no chance for me to take a look around. The only option was to be led by Talbot.
Our long walk finally came to a close as the tunnel we were in expanded into a large space. Two tattered and faded banners hung from above the cave ceiling and down to what appeared to be a rock formation shaped like a throne.
Beside this centrepiece were two women in rags and chains. Both of them held onto large palm leaves, fanning a bald, bare-chested giant of a man, sitting comfortably on the throne as he filled his belly with grapes on a dish next to him.
Even though he was seated, he had to be as tall as me. This man was dangerous.
“Talbot, what did you bring me this time? Why are they not in chains?” his gravelly voice travelled clearly in here thanks to the acoustics of this space.
From behind him in the darkness, four thugs emerged, curious to see what bounty was brought this time. It took a bit of squinting, but behind them, I could vaguely make out women and children chained against the cave wall. I didn’t want to imagine what they must’ve been through.
Stay calm, Evan. Now’s not the time to lose your temper.
“Boss, we can finally take down all the other adventurers! Allow me to present to you Sereya the Merciful Blade and Hero Evansmith!”
He jolted up from his seat, accidentally knocking down the plate of grapes beside him. Every single person in front of me—be it pilgrim or bandit—had the same bulging eyes of disbelief.
“H-He’s n-not Uncle?”
Hearing Ain’s whisper broke my heart. Sorry, but I’ll explain later.
“You idiot! You’ve brought two of the Seven Heroes—”
“The age of Heroes is over,” I stepped forward and interrupted the bandits’ boss, “I’ve come here to make a proposition, sir…?”
“Rolf,” he replied quickly, “The hell are you on about?!”
“I need you and your men, Rolf. Without demons or wars to fight, what purpose is there for us to fulfil? Adradia and the other nations have completely forgotten about the contributions I’ve made, and I intend to make them remember through steel and blood.”
“Y-You want to start a revolution? You mad lad!,” Rolf turned around and struggled to hold back his laughter, “You guys hear that? THIS is the god you’re worshipping? Might as well worship the Demon Lord! Hahahaha!”
“Sereya?” I turned to face my partner.
“About damn time!”
It happened in an instant.
The sound of her blade leaving her scabbard was still playing in my ears, but she was completely gone from my sight. My hair fluttered as if nature had conjured a strong breeze, but the only force of nature here was Sereya—the wind generated from her acceleration was the only evidence that she left her position.
As I turned to my front, the chains binding the two women beside Rolf were just starting to crumble into pieces. Behind the throne, she was making quick work of the bandits.
The edge of her blade was reserved for slicing through shackles. The hilt of her sword was reserved for the unfortunate skulls of her enemies—they weren’t even able to pull out their weapons in time.
She did a splendid job at keeping her bloodlust in check on the way here. I knew how angry she was the whole time—seeing her let loose and kick butt was cathartic as hell.
I could only imagine how much more excited she must be to let her blade do the talking.