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 and visit me?” the teacher said with a grumpy face.
“I mean, I don’t have a family or a boyfriend, sooo…” Leila answered with a laugh.
The inn her master was staying at was situated in the 6th District of the Imperial Capital, in a slum far away from the knight patrol routes, in an area with a reputation for rampant pickpocketing. The floorboards creaked loudly with every step, the dust covered fireplace hardly seemed usable, and the only lamp in the room was almost out of oil. The price of five silver coins for this dump of a place seemed quite steep, but the goat design on the sign out front did carry a good amount of value by itself. In other words, anyone that stayed at the inn would be under the protection of the ‘Whisperers’, the organization which had the largest influence in the area.
“I tried thinking of someone who was like a relative, and you were the only one who popped up. What a lonely life I live…” Leila let out another forced laugh.
Her master was a man full of mysteries. At first glance, he just looked like a skinny man of questionable age. If you tried, you could convince yourself that he was anywhere from thirty to sixty years old. Leila first met him over ten years ago, but his appearance had hardly changed the whole time. In fact, he even seemed to be getting younger.
It didn’t just stop with his age, though: his birth and upbringing were both shrouded in mystery. He also somehow mastered a wide variety of combat techniques and acquired knowledge that could rival that of all the scholars of the capital put together.
The master sighed overdramatically. “What happened to your beloved senior disciple?”
“Willem? He went back to Gomag to see Aly and the others.”
“Then why didn’t you go with him? If his adorable junior disciple asked I’m sure he couldn’t refuse.”
“Ahahaha, your jokes are as bad as ever, master.” Leila chuckled, but soon frowned. “If I asked that idiot such a thing, not only would he not refuse, he would actually try to treat me like family.”
“Probably. Something wrong with that?”
“The world is on the verge of destruction.” A short silence. “A place you so desperately want to return home to, but you already know you will never be able to. We all have a place like that. You, me, all my predecessors. It’s almost like it’s one of the minimum requirements to become a Regal Brave. So it would be bad if I had a home that I could return to, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, it’s not actually a rule.”
“But still, I was recognized by the Church of Holy Light as the unhappiest person in the world. That’s why I get to be a Regal Brave, isn’t it? So if I suddenly became the happiest person in the world, I would probably lose my privileges. Of course, with my overflowing power and talent I could still get pretty far in battle, but not against the Visitors.”
“You can’t just suddenly become the happiest person in the world…”
“No, I think I could. Right now I’m just lonely.” A brief silence. “You once said. That no one can keep up with the strength of the Regal Braves, so they will always be isolated. You were way off, you know? Right now, I’m so strong I even scare myself, but there’s this guy who won’t stop chasing me, even though he knows he can’t catch up. If I pause even a little and turn around, he’s always right there. Like what kind of bad horror story is this? He just keeps chasing and chasing, refusing to give up. He won’t leave me alone.”
“Do you hate him that much?” the master asked.
Leila stared off into space, groaning as she searched for words to describe Willem.
“Hm, I guess. I really do hate him a lot. Even though he’s grown up he’s still a child inside, even though he’s studying all these things he still does everything by brute force, even though he met you just a little before me he acts like the senior disciple, even though he was cute before now he’s too tall, even though he’s pretty aware he’s completely oblivious to girls’ feelings…”
Well, he wasn’t wrong. Leila thought that of herself too. She was grossly over exaggerating on some of her complaints, but what else could she do? If she didn’t, Leila Asprey wouldn’t be able to go on hating him. And the very moment she stopped hating him, she would probably fall for him.
Willem Kumesh was the type of person who couldn’t stand it when the people around him weren’t happy. Moreover, he didn’t discriminate. If someone, no matter who, told him they were lonely and asked him to stay beside them, he would obey, no question about it — even if that someone happened to be Leila Asprey. He might make a sour face, but he would still do it.
And if that happened, the great emptiness in her heart would be filled. She would have to throw away the title of unhappiest person in the world. And then, the Church of Holy Light would begin searching for the next person fit to become a Regal Brave. And then… she didn’t want to think about what would happen after that.
“Well, it wouldn’t be very kind to turn away an apprentice who came all the way to see me on their final night, even if you did choose me by process of elimination.” Scratching his head, her master grabbed the coat hanging off of the beat up chair. “This room’s not very good for having a long talk, so let’s go somewhere with some food. Tell me some stories of your senior disciple’s valorous deeds.”
“Sure. Do you know any good places around here?”
“Don’t get your hopes up. The restaurants that serve decent food are a minority.” He creaked his way over to the wobbly door and put his hand on the knob. “By the way, Leila. How did you know where I was? I don’t believe I’ve been reporting my recent movements to the Alliance.”
“Hm? Oh, well it was a lot of trouble.”
Before tonight, Leila had no knowledge of her master’s whereabouts. Honorary knight of Old Dineo and former 18th generation Regal Brave. Such a famous person would surely have a hard time traveling around unnoticed by the public. But meeting her master here in this inn was pure coincidence.
She had been searching for someone else: a dangerous character leading the remnants of the anti Imperial Capital religious organization they had crushed just a few days ago. This inn was one of the places that popped up in her investigation. And inside the inn, she just so happened to run into the master who she hadn’t been able to find, no matter how hard she searched.
— Leila wanted to believe it was just a coincidence. She wanted to blindly believe the people important to her. But she was not naive enough nor irresponsible enough to push all doubts under the rug in this situation.
“Oh yeah, just remembered. There’s something I wanted to ask you,” she said.
“Hm? What is it?”
Leila took a deep breath, and let it all out. After calming her mind, she asked, “The current leader of True World… it’s you, isn’t it, master?”
The man standing in the doorway to the dim, dilapidated room slowly turned around. He never responded with words, but there was no need to. Seeing the hints of caution and suspicion in his eyes was enough for Leila to confirm the accuracy of her guess.
This time, being right didn’t feel too good.