The long journey took a heavy toll on their memories. Their homeland grew farther and farther away, and their recollections of it grew fainter and fainter. The eons passing by no longer held any meaningful sense of time to them.
They set out on their journey because of some war or disaster, the details of which they could only vaguely recall. Driven out of their homeland, they set sail through the myriad stars on a boat. They visited many worlds along the way, only to leave them soon after.
Eventually, they realized that they had lost sight of the way back home. Looking behind only revealed a vast sea of darkness, with no trace of their ship’s wake. And the very moment that grave truth settled in, their desire to return home swelled up in their hearts for the first time. But that desire, having no path to realization, soon became no more than a wild fantasy.
All they could do was simply continue to reminisce, hope, and pray. They no longer had any memories of their hometown. To make up for it, they read and reread the ancient records carved into the walls of their ship and yearned for the visions inspired by those words.
Their lives did not know the end known as death. After an eternity of wandering, they finally gave up on finding their home. Instead, they built a miniature garden modeled after their homeland to sleep in for the next eternity.
And thus ended one story, but another began.
Those voyagers of the stars later became known as the Visitors.
Leila Asprey had prepared herself beforehand, but listening to her master’s talk proved to be far more painful than she expected.
“So this is the true creation story of the world? This sounds like some kind of delusional fantasy a teenage boy would make up! Come on, don’t you think you’re a little old for this, master?”
“Is that the kind of attitude the current Regal Brave should have? In the first place, I never tell a lie.”
“I know I know, it’s just kinda hard to listen to that with a straight face.”
With a faint smile, Leila took a big sip of mead.
The two were sitting in a cheap bar located in some sketchy corner of the 6th District of the Imperial Capital. Despite it being deep into the night, the bar’s lamps blazed bright as ever, and the cigarettes and sizzling meat produced enough smoke to cloud Leila’s vision. The place could not get any farther away from cleanliness and elegance, but the food itself more than satisfied her stomach. For his choice of eatery, Leila added one point to her master’s reputation in her mind.
“So anyways, according to your story, the Visitors all buried their souls in this miniature garden world that they created? The word ‘soul’ seems rather fishy and occult-like to me, but I’ll leave that alone for now.
After that, only two Visitors were left alive. One of them is Elq Harksten, the one we’re going to kill tomorrow. And the other–” Leila pointed her fork straight ahead, at her master sitting across the table. “– is our very own ‘foreigner’ Nils.”
“Don’t point at people with utensils. It’s rude.”
“Well, you’re a god, not a person.”
“Don’t point at gods with utensils either. It’s still rude.”
Leila turned her fork around and stuffed the meat still stuck onto the prongs into her mouth. The overflowing juices and bitter burn marks on the surface combined to produce a truly otherworldly taste. Turning around, she yelled to the kitchen, “This is good, old man! One more plate!”
“Besides, I’m completely different from Harksten and the others. Our homelands and the journeys we embarked on were different. I just happened to drift here to the same world as them.”
“As a normal human of this world, that doesn’t seem like much of a difference.”
“I’m not as god-like as Harksten and them. I’m not all knowing or all powerful. I do have foreign magic, but it comes with strict usage limits. Two more times and I’ll have to part with this world. Now, it’s true that I’m special. I’m super strong, super smart, and super handsome. But I can’t be anymore than that.”
I thought you never told a lie, Leila thought about saying, but decided to keep it to herself. Unfortunately, her master, Nils D Foreigner, really was quite strong and smart. She couldn’t really comment on the last part, but, well, maybe some people saw him that way. After all, beauty takes many forms, and Leila wasn’t one to judge.
“So I’m afraid I can’t be of much help in you guys’ upcoming battle. I’ll let you Braves take the spotlight while I clean up some boring stuff backstage.”
“… I see.” Leila munched on some vegetables. “Is that boring stuff related to True World?”
“Yeah, something like that,” Nils answered vaguely, then emptied the bottle of beer in front of him. “You know, at first, I created it as a secret society whose sole purpose was to protect humanity. I even spent two years carefully thinking of a good name.”
“Huh?” Two years? Two years for that!?
“But then I leave it alone for just eighty years and look what a mess it’s become.”
“Huhhh?” Just eighty years!? I guess that’s immortals for you…
“After doing this and that for too long, time’s started to really run out. Humanity’s destruction is approaching on the scale of seconds now. But as if the group wasn’t already enough of a mess, there’s been an internal split and we’re being forced to work in secrecy. We can’t do much in this state, but I contacted the leaders and gave them some orders directly. The clues that lead you to me were probably from that time.” Nils paused and narrowed his eyes. “Leila. Do you believe me up to this point?”
“Well, I don’t really want to believe it, but you’re not lying, right?” A nod. “In that case, there are two possibilities. Either you’re neck deep in your crazy delusions, or everything you said is true… personally, I’d really prefer the former, but…” Leila sighed. “If I do that, you’ll probably cry, and that would be pretty annoying too.”
“That way of talking… you and Willem really are alike.”
“That’s just because we’re both like you, master. You’re responsible for tainting our young, innocent minds.”
“Hey, you’re the one that wanted to be my disciple, I didn’t invite you,” Nils complained, but Leila didn’t seem to be listening. “Well, putting that aside.” After stuffing a chunk of something, whether it was meat or fat he couldn’t tell, into his mouth, Nils stiffened his expression. “Leila. Don’t go to tomorrow’s battle.”
“Don’t talk with food in your mouth.”
“Nn? Ah.” Nils paused to swallow. “Leila. Don’t go to tomorrow’s battle,” he repeated. “Elq Harksten is still young. She doesn’t have the knowledge to declare a purge of humanity by herself. One of the Poteau must be behind their offensive… I’m guessing Jade Nail.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve known him for about as long as humans have existed.”
“I also haven’t seen him for about as long as humans have existed.”
“The destruction of the world is near,” Nils continued as he started on a new bottle of beer. Leila felt his drinking was a bit faster than usual, but apparently, having a body immune to all poisons, he couldn’t get drunk. “To stop it, we need the corpse of a Visitor. Or more accurately, its soul. After that we need the knowledge and skills to process the soul and stabilize the original curse. If we don’t get everything ready soon, humanity will devastate this world in the not too distant future.”
“It’ll take too long to explain. Just accept it for now. So anyways, the Poteau’s reasoning is quite simple. They don’t want anyone to harm their precious Elq’s soul, so they’re going to crush humanity first.”
“Wait a second,” Leila cut her master off. “This sounds like a lose-lose situation. If we live, the world gets destroyed. If we die, then of course humanity is done for.”
“Not necessarily. I have the knowledge and skills to work the curse. We’ve already finished secretly building facilities to process the soul underneath some city. All that’s left is one Visitor soul…”
“I refuse,” Leila said sharply.
“… I haven’t finished talking yet.”
“I can tell where this is heading. If I can kill Elq then everything works out. Either you’ve talked with the Church, or one of our comrades is with True World. Either way, you retrieve the soul and do whatever with that curse. I’m guessing that was the original plan.
But since you told me to run away, that means you’re now planning to get the soul from somewhere else. Probably because I happened to show up tonight and your emotions got in the way.” Leila snatched Nils’ beer bottle and drained it. “You’re going to use your own soul, aren’t you? Since that wasn’t the original plan, I’m guessing the chances of success aren’t very high.”
No response. “I won’t let that happen. As the Regal Brave, it’s my job to sacrifice myself for the world.”
“I know. I won’t be able to defeat the Visitors without using Seniolis at its full strength. Killing them probably won’t be a problem, but the probability of me returning home safely is close to zero.” Leila smiled. She had confidence in her acting ability. “But most importantly, if I go all out, I can definitely win. My life and determination won’t go to waste.”
“There’s no reason for you to fight so hard,” Nils said with a bitter face. Leila fondly remembered hearing that once before, from a certain talentless fellow disciple on some battlefield years ago. “You carry the sorrow of losing your hometown, but you have no anger. You didn’t take on the fate of a Brave or the weight of a Kaliyon by your own desire.”
“That’s true.” Exactly like the previous time, Leila nodded in agreement, but her next words were different. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. If I run away, Willem will still insist on fighting, even if just by himself. And he really would go off alone, you know?”
Leila grabbed a fried potato and threw it in her mouth. While chewing, she began to state what she had realized some time ago.
“The Regal Braves are strong. No martial techniques nor spells can touch them. No monster can match them. So if they fight, they always win. Why is that?” Nils kept silent. “All the Regal Braves have a similar tragic background. They carry similar oaths, and similar wishes. Without those, one cannot become a Regal Brave. Only those with a storylike background can achieve storylike certain victory. I don’t know the reasoning behind any of this. I’m simply stating my impressions of the Regal Braves, but I’m pretty confident that I’m right–
Basically, Regal Braves are no more than copies of the life of a prototype hero who once existed.”
Nils still remained silent.
“We aren’t living our own lives. We’re just following someone whose life happened to be convenient for everyone else, with minor modifications. To defeat an enemy that only a ‘hero’ can defeat, all they need is someone who lived a life similar to a ‘hero’.
So we, as fellow ‘hero’ look alikes, wield greater power than anyone else, just like the ‘hero’ once did. Just like him, when we fight, we always win. And…”
Oh no. Leila felt danger approaching: her eyes were becoming warmer. She decided that she would no longer cry. She decided that she would always hide her true emotions, that she would always be that annoying girl who never opens up to anyone. She swore to herself, but… but… she couldn’t stop it.
“Just like the ‘hero’ used to… we’ll never be able to save the people we truly want to save… we’ll never be able to return home to the place we long for… isn’t that right, 18th Generation Regal Brave, Nils Didek Foreigner?”
Nils, the man sitting across the table from her, who lived a far more complicated and troublesome life than Leila, averted his eyes. “It’s not exactly a rule or anything.”
“You just said that earlier, you know?” Leila managed a vague smile. “Even though it’s not a clearly stated rule, you still can’t deny that things usually turn out that way.”
“Well, I’m glad. My determination wasn’t in vain. It’s true that I don’t feel any rage at having my home country and parents stolen from me, and I don’t think of my fate as one chosen by a Kaliyon to be that important, but, still, it’s not like I don’t have any reason to throw away my life fighting.”
It reached the point where she could no longer try to hide them, so Leila used her fingers to lightly wipe her tears away. Then, slightly amused at her own unfitting behavior, she let out a quiet laugh.
“Willem has a place he wants to return home to. He has people he wants to save. I’m different. And I think you are too, master.” With a quivering voice, Leila proudly declared, “I’ll never let Willem become a Regal Brave. That’s enough of a reason for me to fight. I carry on the title of Regal Brave for that purpose alone, and, tomorrow, I’ll defeat the Visitors for that purpose alone.”