It was early morning, few days after the fight with Alyosha. Tooru, Lucy, Riria, and Zed were inside their new carriage, resuming their journey to the west, to the place where the Demon Emperor resides, the Demon Continent.
They left the fort half an hour ago after having breakfast and saying goodbye to Commander Lazarck and the other knights. Sadly, Erina wasn’t there when they wanted to say goodbye to her for the last time. Although Tooru, Lucy, and Riria said that they wanted to wait for her before leaving, the Commander told them that Erina was not in the fort anymore. He, too, didn’t know where she had gone to. So, though the three were reluctant, Zed still dragged them into the carriage; after all, their journey was still too far off.
Like usual, within the carriage, Tooru was currently sitting on the driver seat, with Lucy and Riria on his sides. As for Zed, he was staying on the carriage roof, lazing around, trying to take a nap. The road so far had been pretty quiet, with neither Magical Beasts nor bandits trying to assault them. Nevertheless, it was also quiet because the three were not speaking at all; Tooru, Lucy, and Riria were still feeling sad as they couldn’t meet Erina anymore. After all, even though Erina was a knight, she was still a 16 years old girl, thus, the four were quite close in these past few days.
But then, suddenly…
Tooru, Riria, and Lucy shouted as they saw that Erina was standing on the side of the road 30-40 meters ahead of them. Tooru immediately hurried the horses to pull the carriage faster. Then, as the carriage went closer to her, they saw that Erina was currently wearing a leather backpack and wielding a spear on her hand.
“What are you doing here Erina?” asked Tooru as he jumped down from the carriage. “We wanted to say goodbye to you at the fort, but you weren’t there.”
Riria and Lucy got down from the carriage and stood beside Tooru.
Erina looked at the three in front of her. “Tooru, Lucy, Riria…” She hesitated for a bit, but then bowed and continued, “Please let me go with you!”
Seeing Erina suddenly bowing at them, the three was surprised at first, but then…
“Really?!” shouted Riria excitedly, “Eri-chan wants to go with us?! That would be great!!”
“Yeah, going with friends will be more fun!” said Tooru while smiling.
Hearing that, Erina hurriedly stood up and looked at the three with a disbelief look on her face. “Re-Really?! I can come?”
Lucy then nodded and said, “Yeah, of co-“
“No, she can’t…”
As Zed’s voice was heard, Tooru, Lucy, Riria, and Erina turned their head. On the carriage roof, they saw that Zed was looking coldly at them from behind the silver mask.
Riria then said, “B-But Zed, Eri-chan is-”
“No. We are not going there to play,” Zed cutted her off. “We are going there to kill Demons…”
“I-I am not going there to play either! I want to help you guys defeat the Demon Emperor!” shouted Erina as she stood straight and gripped her spear.
Staring coldly at her from above, Zed then said, “No. I already have to babysit three kids. Not like I can’t babysit one more, but I am just too lazy to do that…”
“I won’t become a burden!”
“Still, no. What will your father say if he can’t find you later?”
“Commander, I mean father, already agreed. Here is a letter from him, he said that you are the only one that could see the contents inside,” said Erina as she took out a letter from her breastplate. Then she walked forward and put it on the carriage roof.
Zed then took the wax-sealed brown envelope, opened the seal, and read the letter inside it slowly.
Your Highness, Prince Zedediah,
I, Lazarck, humbly apologize for not giving you my respect earlier. But, seeing that Your Highness is deliberately hiding his identity, I dare not ask or speak about it. Thus, I kept my silence.
Nevertheless, although Your Servant doesn’t know how Your Highness had managed to survive the calamity 11 years ago, seeing that Your Highness is now safe and sound, this Lazarck already felt happy and content, knowing that the blood of Knightley is still alive.
As for the matter of me, letting my daughter, Erina, go after Your Highness and his friends, It was because of a bet. Erina was my one and only family, there is no way that I would let her go to do something so dangerous like defeating the Demon Emperor, however, she made a bet with me; if she could beat me, then I have to let her go. I couldn’t refuse as she said that If I did, then she will still go after the Hero and his friends. So, I took the bet, and long story short, I lost.
Erina, although she is a girl, is already being trained by me since her mother left us when Erina was still a little girl, and on top of it, she is a really talented girl as well. Thus, even though as a father I do indeed reluctant to let her go, as a commander I can guarantee that she is a top-notch knight; that’s why, if Your Highness is willing, please let her be your Retainer Knight, I’m sure that she will be of some use for Your Highness.
Lastly, this Lazarck knows that he is being impudent, but I beg Your Highness to somehow protect this stupid daughter of mine.
Commander of Fort Lake,
P.S : I, myself, don’t know the real reason why she stubbornly wants to go with Your Highness and his friends, she said that she wanted to help the Hero and his friends defeat the Demon Emperor, but I somehow think that, there is something else beside that.
P.S.S : No one beside myself knew about Your Highness identity, so Your Highness can rest assured. As for why I knew it, It was because I worked at the Palace before. Back then, I had seen Your Highness once or twice, and, although it sounds rude, the fact that Your Highness can only use the spell [Fireball] was known to every single palace attendants as well. And not only that, Your Highness also resembles his Father, the Emperor, a lot. But still, the most definite evidence is that Your Highness doesn’t bother to change his name, the name Zed and Zedediah are really similar after all.
P.S.S.S : My daughter is still a virgin, so please feel free to take her as Your Highness’ concubine.
After Zed finished reading the letter, he burned it with a small [Fireball] while murmuring the writer’s name, “Samuel Lazarck…” He was surprised to see that someone actually knew his real identity, but, seeing that Lazarck didn’t want to bother him about it, he just sighed and accepted it. After all, it was his fault to not change his name, who wouldn’t realize that ‘Zed’ was taken from ‘Zedediah’?
“Zed? Is everything okay?” asked Tooru as he saw that Zed just suddenly burned the letter and sighed.
Zed didn’t answer him but just stared at Erina. “Erina Lazarck…” he then slowly said.
“I already read the letter that your father wrote.” Zed paused for a while before he then asked, “So tell me, why do you want to go with us?”
“…I want to help my friends defeat the Demon Emperor!”
“…” Erina fell silent as she gazed downwards at the ground. It seemed like she did have another reason to go with them.
Zed himself thought that it was definitely something like ‘falling in love with Tooru’, just like any other girl that they met along the way. And, if that’s indeed her reason, he would immediately forbid her to come. ‘It’s not like I am jealous or anything…’ he tried to convince himself.
Erina suddenly knelt down on the ground and bowed her head to Zed. “I want to become stronger, so please teach me Zed-san, no, Master!”
“Hmm? Then Riri too!” Riria suddenly shouted and knelt beside Erina. “Please make Riri stronger as well Master Zed!”
“Me too then!!” shouted Tooru as he, too, knelt down on the ground. “Please make me as strong as you Master!!”
“M-Me too…” said Lucy slowly as she knelt down beside Tooru.
Zed was speechless. His mind was jumbled as he never thought that it would somehow turn into a situation like this.
Then Erina suddenly said again, “Master Zed! You are the strongest person I have ever seen! Please, take me as your disciple!”
“Riri want to become Zed’s disciple as well!”
“Then, please take me as your disciple too!” said Tooru.
“A-Aren’t we already his disciple Tooru?” asked Lucy as he turned her head to look at Tooru.
Zed wanted to retort and scold them, but, seeing that the four were just kids, he then just sighed and said, “Stand up for now…”
The four hurriedly stood up and looked at Zed.
“So, what exactly do you guys want to learn from me?” asked Zed. “I’m a magician, you know?”
“Fufufufu, Riri want to learn super strength, like when Zed kicked the Demon away!” Riria laughed, and then shouted as she kicked the ground with her short leg.
“I want to learn how to move instantly!” said Tooru.
“I-I want to… I want to know how Zed was able to endure the pain, like when I s-stabbed Zed’s chest with the Holy Sword…” said Lucy nervously.
“I want to know how to release an aura just like the scary aura that Master released back then,” said Erina.
“Stop it with the Master, it gives me the chills…” said Zed before he fell silent and started to ponder about what the four had said to him.
Then, after a while, he sighed and said, “Well, firstly, Tooru, Riria; the strength and the movement, which I had used to defeat that Demon, is supposed to be something that I am not allowed to show to others, even less to teach it, and it is also something that you wouldn’t be able to learn even if I do teach you…”
Even though Zed knew that Tooru probably could learn it, as it would lead to something annoying later, he just didn’t want to teach it to him.
“Secondly, Lucy; if one fought Magical Beasts to the death every single day for ten years without a healer, then something like a stab or burn won’t hurt that much anymore…”
Zed himself didn’t know anymore how much scratch, wounds, or broken bones he already had for the past 10 years. He already stopped counting it after the first month.
“And lastly, Erina; I have no idea about the scary aura that you spoke about,” said Zed as he shrugged his shoulder and shook his head. “But sometimes, when I hunt Magical Beasts, the weaker ones will run or shiver when I glare at them, is it something like that?”
As he finished answering their question, Zed then looked at the four again. And different from his expectation, they were actually standing there, looking at him with wide opened eyes that were filled with admiration.
‘But I said that I won’t teach them, right?’ thought Zed as he looked at them in confusion.
Even though the four were actually dissapointed when they heard that they couldn’t learn Zed’s secret power, they were also astonished when they heard his story. They only now knew that, not only Zed was already fighting Magical Beasts for the past ten years, he was also able to chase Magical Beasts away with only a glare; seriously, what kind of glare is that?
Erina, knowing that Zed was certainly the right person that was able to make her stronger, felt that she definitely couldn’t miss this chance, so she then asked, “M-Master Zed…, I-I know that Master wouldn’t teach me his secret, but, is there no other way to make me stronger?”
Seeing that Erina was really obstinate about getting more strength, Zed frowned, however, as his face was covered by mask, she couldn’t see it. Zed didn’t answer her question, instead, he asked her, “Why? Why do you even want to become stronger? For what?”
Erina was speechless as she never even asked herself about this. Becoming stronger was already her purpose of life; since she was young, she was already being trained by her father, aiming to become stronger and stronger, so she could one day be able to surpass him. And now that she had already done that, she wanted to find a new peak, a peak that she could climb and conquer; and that peak was Zed, she wanted to become as strong as him. But, if she was asked, why she would do that, why she wanted to surpass him, she couldn’t answer, she didn’t have the answer. “I…I…”
Seeing that Erina was not able to answer him, Zed’s mood turned even worse; to him, it looked just like Erina was playing a game to get stronger. And this, was like an insult to him. “Erina… Do you know why I fought the Magical Beasts for 10 years?” asked Zed as his voice turned colder and colder. “…Do you know why I bathed myself in their blood for 10 years? …Do you know why I ignored my wounds and broken bones as I mangled their bodies with my sword? …Do you know…why I sought strength?”
Tooru, Lucy, Riria, and Erina shivered. At that moment, as they heard Zed spoke, they also felt the ice cold aura slowly sipping out from him. None of them dared to make a sound when they felt it. At that moment, they knew that Zed had lost his patience and was now infuriated at them.
“I did all of that… for revenge,” said Zed coldly as he glared at the four kids below him, “I trained myself for 10 long hellish years, so I can kill him…”
Revenge…was the fuel for his life…
He…was the one who destroyed the city…
He…was the one who killed the people…
He…couldn’t kill himself…
So he would kill him…
The Demon Emperor…
For his mother…
And that’s why…he sought strength…
But, what about her?
“I will give you one last chance…” Zed said frigidly, “Tell me Erina, why do you want strength?”
“…I…I don’t know…” said Erina as she helplessly looked down at the ground.
Zed, who was infuriated at her, seeing her looking down like that, felt slightly ashamed; to even get angry because of a little girl…how immature of him. Zed sighed and slowly calmed his mind. Then, as his aura was unconciously getting dispersed, he said to her, “Go home… I am grateful that you have saved us before, but I can’t teach you anything. Sorry…”
Erina bit her lip. She knew that Zed already made up his mind, he wouldn’t teach her anything. Though she felt disappointed, she couldn’t do anything about it. But still, “I know that Zed-san won’t teach me, but…can I still go with my friends?” she asked while looking at Tooru, Lucy, and Riria.
The three looked at her with depressed faces, they really wanted her to come along, she is their friend; however, Zed already said no.
“Erina…” Lucy then turned her head to look at Zed and said, “Zed…can she please come with us? I-I will protect her if anything happens…”
“Hmmm? But she is stronger than you, why do you even need to protect her?” said Zed to Lucy as he lay himself on the carriage roof.
“Then, why can’t she go with us?” asked Tooru.
“Why indeed…” said Zed as he looked at the sky above, “if I should say, maybe, it’s because she doesn’t have the resolve…”
“Resolve?” asked Riria as she tilted her head.
“Tooru, you told me that you are willing to die to be a real Hero, right?”
“…Yes, I do…”
“Well, resolve is something like that…”
“Then, what about Riri?” asked Riria again.
“…You…just can do whatever you want…” Zed said that because he owed her something that he couldn’t ever pay back, her family.
“I-I, too, have the resolve, I wa-“ Erina tried to speak, but…
Zed cutted her off, saying, “Resolve…is something that you have to show, not to speak about, isn’t that right, Lucy?”
At Zed’s question, Lucy then answered, “Yes…” She knew what Zed meant; he already said it to her before, if he deemed her unworthy to fight against the Demon Emperor, then he would take her back home. That’s why, she had to show him that she is worthy enough, both her power and her resolve. “B-But, if she couldn’t go with us, how can she show you her resolve?”
“Lucy is right! You have to give her a chance!!” shouted Tooru as he smiled wide, knowing that they had found a loophole on Zed’s argument.
“Riri agreed! Zed have to give Eri-chan a chance!!”
“Uuuuugh…” Zed grumbled as he furrowed his brows, pondering about what he should do. Should he really give her a chance? But they are not going on a picnic, killing the Demon Emperor is not a child’s play. Thinking that, he actually wanted to refuse, but he didn’t have a good reason for it. So, he was quite confused about what he should really do. But then, as his gaze fell on the faraway Beast Mountain Range, a smile immediately bloomed on his face as he just suddenly got an idea. He then sat right up and looked at the four again. He said, “Fine! I will give her a last chance! And this is going to be a test as well as a training for all of you!! If you fail, then you all will go home!”
As Tooru asked that, a silver mask suddenly flew and smacked his forehead.
“Don’t butt in when I am still speaking,” said Zed from above the carriage roof, ”You three were the one who wanted to give her a chance, so you also have to take responsibility for it! Am I wrong?”
Lucy shook her head and said, “No, it’s true… Erina is our friend, so it’ already natural that we help her.”
Riria nodded her head in aggrement.
Tooru, who was still dizzy after getting smacked, also nodded as he rubbed his forehead.
“Tooru, Lucy, Riria…” Seeing that the three were prepared to take the risk for her, Erina was moved.
“So, the road from here to the Passage of Death should take one month,” Zed said as he looked at the four, “but that’s if you go with the carriage. Now, what I want you to do, is to walk from here…to there…in two months.”
“”“Eh?!””” Tooru, Riria, and Erina were flabbergasted.
“B-But, it’s really far!” said Lucy.
“Of course it is, and there are lots of Magical Beasts as well,” said Zed as he tilted his head, “If it’s not hard, then it won’t be a training…”
The four were speechless as they realized how hard the test really was; not only did they need to fight against the time, but they also need to fight against the Magical Beasts.
Seeing that the four were not saying anything anymore, Zed hopped down from the carriage roof onto the driver seat, and said, “Well, see you in 60 days!” Then he pulled the reins and took the carriage away.
The four were still speechless and surprised as they saw that the carriage were going away. But then, after around 10 or 20 meters, the carriage suddenly stopped, made an u-turn, and ran back to their direction. Then, as it suddenly stopped in front of them, they heard Zed spoke, “Well, what are you four still doing here? Go! Run! Oh wait, let me take that first…” After Zed took his silver mask from Tooru’s hand, he then hurried the horses to run again. For now, he would just take the carriage back to the fort, and maybe after that, he would go and follow the four in secret.
When the carriage were finally gone from their sight, Tooru, Lucy, Riria, and Erina looked at each other.
“Can we really do this?” asked Lucy.
“We have to try,” answered Tooru.
“I am sorry… Because of me, you three have to do this as well…” said Erina as he bowed her head in apology.
“Didn’t Zed already say it? It’s a training, isn’t it? So Eri-chan don’t have to apologize! Now we can get stronger as well! Riri is really excited!!” shouted Riria.
“Hmm… Riri is right. It’s a training! So let’s do this!” said Tooru as he put his hand forward.
Lucy then put her hand above Tooru’s and said, “We can do this!”
Riria nodded and put her hand above Lucy’s. “Are you coming with us Eri-chan?” she looked at Erina and then asked.
Tooru and Lucy also looked at Erina.
Seeing her three friend’s excited faces, Erina was also not feeling depressed anymore. She then put her hand above theirs and said, “Please let me go with you guys!”
“Then let’s go!!” shouted Tooru.
““””OOOOH!!!”””” The four shouted as they threw their hands to the air, marking the beginning of their test as well as their intensive training.
But then, Erina suddenly sneezed and shivered without any reason.
Seeing that, the four looked at her in confusion. What happened?
Well, unknown to them, the cause was a few kilometers away from there…
Zed was driving the carriage along the dirt road, heading back to the fort on his own.
While scrubbing his chin, Zed was also mumbling to himself, “Hmmm, to take her as my concubine… well, she was indeed beautiful… but she was also tall, flat, and a bit tomboy… and… but…”
Zed kept mumbling to himself like that along the road, not knowing that it somehow caused Erina to shiver and sneeze again and again…
A.N. : Sorry if there are faults in this chapter. I was in a hurry because I need to go outside the town in 2 hours, so I haven’t had the time to rightly proofread it. If you do find some faults, please kindly put them in comments 🙂