The night before the final battle.
At least spend these final moments with the people you want to meet one last time. The group of heroes gathered to defeat Elq Harksten, a ‘Visitor’ officially recognized as an enemy of the Church of Holy Light, was temporarily released for that reason.
“… so why did you come back here?” asked the Daughter, a look of astonishment on her face.
“I just told you, didn’t I? Tomorrow’s the final battle. There’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to come home safely, so they said to spend our last night with the people important to us–”
“That’s exactly what’s wrong with this!” the Daughter exclaimed, sharply cutting off the Father’s words. Scurrying about the kitchen of a small public orphanage, she seemed very angry for some reason. “No matter how you think about it, when they said ‘important people’ they really meant a wife or girlfriend or something like that!”
“Well, I think a few people did end up doing that…”
Including the current Regal Brave, the group of heroes consisted of seven people in total. Among these, two were married and two were in a relationship — well, one of those two said he had so many lovers he didn’t know which one to spend the night with, so he can be treated as an exception.
“Anyway, I’m here now, and where those people chose to go has nothing to do with me.”
A delicious smell wafted by, followed by the loud rumbling of an empty stomach. Fortunately, the Daughter, concentrating hard on stirring the contents of the stew pot, didn’t seem to hear.
“So you don’t have any girl you want to spend your last night with, Father?”
Although the girl called him father, the young man was not her true biological father. He just happened to be the oldest of the ones raised at the orphanage; the manager of the place, who maybe should have been their father figure, was a little too old for the title, so the nickname stuck.
“There’s no way I’d have that kind of free time,” Father replied. “Ever since I qualified to become a Quasi Brave, everyday has been never-ending training, studying, fighting, and more fighting.”
Judging by her half-hearted response, the Daughter obviously did not believe his excuses. Well, that’s understandable. Quasi Braves, second in strength only to the Church appointed Regal Brave, humanity’s greatest warrior, have enormous popularity with the public. Going into any town and revealing one’s identity as a Brave will instantly draw a surrounding of girls squealing in high pitched voices, and attending a congress sponsored party will have you randomly introduced to daughters from noble families.
However, attracting a girl with your shiny title of Quasi Brave and having that girl be someone you actually like in return are completely separate issues. No matter what girl approached him or what tricks they tried, the young soldier always just sort of pushed them away. Of course, he was aware that other guys would consider this an unfortunate waste.
“When I saw you before, there seemed to be some pretty nice girls working with you though…”
“No idea who you’re talking about, but comrades are just comrades you know?”
“The fact that you’re saying that seriously and not just being clueless kinda makes me want to kill you.”
“Geez, you can be really mean sometimes.”
“Hmm… just like someone I know…” retorted the Daughter, right as the stew finished cooking.
“Are the little kids already in bed?”
“Of course. What time do you think it is?”
“Then what about that good-for-nothing master?” the Father inquired, referring to the old man that manages the orphanage. No one knows anything about his past before he came to the orphanage, but somewhere and somehow he acquired extraordinary swordsmanship skills. To the young man, he was the strongest man and best sword teacher in the world, but the complete opposite of a good exemplar with regard to everything else.
“He said he had some business in the Capital and went off. Lately whenever I think he’s come home, he goes right out the door again,” the Daughter replied with a sigh. “I wish he would just settle down here for a while.”
“So it’s just been you and the kids keeping watch over this place?”
“Mhm. What, did you all of a sudden decide to worry about us?”
The Daughter laughed at the young man’s loss of words. “Just kidding. Guards from town sometimes come here on patrol, and lately Ted has been coming to help out pretty often.”
The Father reacted immediately at the mention of that name. “I’m grateful for the guards keeping watch, but kick Ted out. I don’t want him near you.”
“Look at you, getting all serious. Do you really dislike him that much?”
It’s not that the young man hated Ted, but as a ‘Father’ he thought he had the right and the obligation to be angry in situations like these.
“The food’s ready, help yourself,” the Daughter declared as she took off her apron and carried the big stew pot over to the table.
“Ah, finally! Even before I arrived here I was starving.”
“Well, all I did was warm up some leftovers since it’s so late,” the Daughter said with a straight face. However, the young man could see through her attempt to hide her embarrassment; he knew that food in the orphanage was not so plentiful that a whole pot of stew would be left over from dinner.
He decided to pretend he didn’t notice, replying with a simple ‘thanks’.
“You don’t need to thank me for something like this,” the Daughter said proudly. She sat down across the table with a grin, chin resting in her hands, and watched the young man eat.
Let’s be honest here, the Father thought to himself. Even if I had a girlfriend, I probably would have spent this night here at the orphanage anyway. Five years ago when I was still a little boy, I picked up a sword for the first time in order to protect this place. During those five years, I struggled through the hell that training was, even though I had no special talent, because I knew that one day I would be able to return here.
Tomorrow, we go to fight the Visitors, the enemies of all the humans living upon this land. When you say it like that, it sounds like a grand adventure with a heroic cause. But in the end, we will do the same thing that we’ve always done. For the things we want to protect. For the places we want to return home to. We take up our swords, fight, and survive.
“But still, at least in times like these, don’t you think you could say something a little considerate for once?” the Daughter complained.
The Father, slightly confused, listened as he broke up a potato into bite-sized pieces. “Something considerate? Like what?”
“‘After this war ends, I’ll get married!’ Something like that.”
“Uhh… those words have never lead to anything good.”
The Father recalled a time when he, a young boy, looked up to and idolized the Regal Braves. He would often read fiction that told of their adventures, and, if he remembered correctly, whenever someone said a line similar to what the Daughter just suggested, the character would soon after meet an untimely death. Given that the young man did not particularly want to die, he did not want to say anything that would foreshadow such an outcome.
“I know, I know. The little kids read the books you left behind, and I’ve memorized the storylines after helping them so many times.”
“If you understood that and still suggested me to do it, then I think you’re the bad person here…” the Father pointed out while carrying a spoonful of stew to his mouth. The delicious flavor, overflowing with spices, brought back fond memories. Made specially to suit the tastes of hungry children, this stew would not be found at any high-class restaurant in the Capital.
“Well, I get that, but still… I feel something’s not right.” The Daughter started lightly tapping her fingernails on the table. “Tonight, you and the other soldiers were told to not leave any regrets behind. Isn’t that the same as telling you to be ready to die at any moment? That doesn’t seem right to me… I don’t know anything about war, but I think that those who aren’t ready to die at all would be more likely to survive, because they tell themselves that they must return home no matter what.”
The Daughter paused for a moment, a grave look on her face, then continued. “In the books you used to read, those types of characters were killed off first because it makes for a more dramatic and exciting story. Of course it’s more sad when a character dies if you really wanted to see them return home and reunite with their loved ones. But in real life it doesn’t work that way.”
The Father could see her fingers starting to shake ever so slightly. She was a strong girl, never letting any hint of fear or anxiety show on the outside. No matter how tough things got, a true complaint never escaped her lips.
“So when you go to fight tomorrow, don’t jinx yourself by having such a pessimistic mindset. You need something more certain to cling on to, a clear reason why you need to return home. If you don’t tell me one right now, I don’t think I’ll have the strength to send you off with a smile tomorrow morning.”
The young man knew what she was trying to say. He wanted to do something to comfort her, but still, he couldn’t just suddenly announce his wedding plans. First of all, he would actually need a partner to marry, and an important decision like marriage isn’t something you just decide on the spot. On the other hand, something silly like ‘I’ll think of a good name while I’m away, so have a baby ready when I get back’ would definitely earn him a hard slap.
After some careful thought, he replied, “Butter cake.”
“The one you bake is pretty good. Make an especially big one on my next birthday, will you?”
“You’re going to live through the battle and come home… for a butter cake?”
“Ahh… I was hoping for something more serious, but…” The Daughter scratched her face a little, then replied, “Well I guess that works. In return, you’ll have to eat so much cake that you get heartburn.” She managed to put on a smile, although it showed a hint of the dark turmoil beneath.
“Of course. Leave it to me.” The young man, still munching on the stew, assured the Daughter.
The night wore on, with each passing minute bringing the morning of the final battle closer.
Within a year from that night, humanity went extinct.
Naturally, the young Quasi Brave couldn’t keep his promise.