“So… today is really the last day, right?”
Zed glanced upwards, looking at the orange sky. The day was almost over as the sun had already set on the other side of the mountain range. In six more hours, the sixtieth day would be over.
“Seems like I have to continue this journey alone… sigh… Well, at least they are still alive, so I don’t have to search for their bodies…”
Though Zed had said that he wouldn’t help them anymore, he still used his [Mana Web] to check on them regularly. And the last time Zed did, yesterday, those four was still quite a distance away from where he was now.
“Well, I better cross the passage while it’s still bright outside. Not like it matters though, after all, I can still see in the darkness…” Zed then stood up and turned to face the tall mountain range. ”Oh right, I better check on them for the last time.”
“……Eh? Hm? Five?” Zed, sensing that something was amiss, used his [Mana Web] again, however, the result was still the same, there were five mana source; Tooru’s, Lucy’s, Riria’s, Erina’s, and one others. Zed creased his brows.
“Strange… who is the fifth one?” Zed murmured as he used his [Mana Web] again and again. But just like before, there were indeed five of them, and not only that, they were also heading straight to his direction, and quite fast to boot.
“At this rate, they will be here by midnight.” Zed calculated inside his mind. “Though it’s a good thing, but who is this, really?”
Zed pondered for a while, but after realizing that he absolutely had no idea about it, he just shrugged his shoulders and gave up. “Well, I will just see it by myself later…”
Zed patted his dusty robe and lowered his body to sit. But then, as his bottom just touched the ground, countless roars of Magical Beasts were suddenly heard. Hearing that, Zed immediately frowned as he realized what he had done. “Ugh… I overused it…” Although Zed had used [Mana Web] to sense his surroundings, it would also provoke the Magical Beasts at the same time.
“Though I could run, the passage is right behind me…” Zed furrowed his brows and sighed helplessly. “Well, nothing else I could do, right?”
Fours hours after that, in the border of the forest.
“To-Tooru… aren’t we going too fast?”
“Don’t worry, we are almost there, Lucy.”
“Yeah! Riri could see the mountain already, it’s soooo huuugeeeee…”
“Riria, be careful or you will bit your tongue…”
“Ahahaha, Erina is such a worrywar-ach!! Id hurds…”
“Hahaha, Riri-chan is cute…”
“Oh! Look! There is light ahead. Roasted Meat, go there.”
“yawn…What took them so long? It has been 4 hours already…”
Zed sat lazily as he waited for Tooru and the girls. He hadn’t used his [Mana Web] again to avoid provoking yet another Magical Beast, hence, he had no idea where the four were currently at.
Suddenly, a rumbling sound was heard from the distance.
“Hmm? Another Magical Beast?” Zed lifted one of his brows. “I didn’t use [Mana Web] though, did it get attracted by the campfire?” He had made one for Tooru and the girls, so they could still find him in this darkness of a night.
“Eh? I think I have heard this voice before.” Zed folded his arms and tilted his head. “But where though?”
The sounds of tree breaking could be heard from the distant forest as the rumbling noises got even closer. Looking down from above, Zed focused his eyes to find out what exactly it was.
As the last tree on the forest in front of him broke, Zed saw a huge brownish-yellow-colored figure hastily running in his direction, 3 meters tall and 5 meters long, with a pair of long sharp horns protruding from the side of its head; it was a Buffalo, and looking at it, Zed somehow felt nostalgic.
“Roasted Meat, stop here!”
As the voice commanded, the huge buffalo immediately braked to stop its body. Although thanks to that, the four people who had been on its body, were immediately thrown away by the momentum.
“Kyaaa! Tooru, help!!!”
“Don’t worry Lucy, I got you!” said the white-armored boy as he did a flip on the air and landed firmly on the ground. Then immediately after, he lifted both of his hands and caught the falling white-robed girl in a princess carry.
As for the other two, a red-haired woman and a green-clothed little girl, they had already safely landed right besides the two.
“Oh, it’s you guys… Took you long enough,” said Zed while looking at them from above.
Hearing that familiar voice, the four immediately looked around, searching for the source.
Following it, they immediately looked up towards the peak of the small hill beside the campfire. There, they saw their friend, Zed, sitting at the peak.
Naturally, the four of them were Tooru, Lucy, Riria, and Erina. They had arrived right on the 60th day, finishing the test that Zed had given to them.
“Ahaha, hey Zed!” shouted Tooru while waving his hands.
Ignoring him, Zed indifferently said, “I never thought that you guys would arrive right on the last moment.”
“Ahahaha, we too never thought that we would make it if it’s not for Roasted Meat here.” Tooru laughed as he patted the buffalo’s huge head.
“Yeah, Riri’s Roasted Meat-chan is the best!” with her hands on her hips and a smug look on her face, Riria exclaimed.
However, even though Tooru and Riria were feeling quite exuberant as they had finally finished the test, the other two were feeling quite the contrary at the moment. Though disappointed was not quite the right one, but it was certainly complicated, because in front of them, was something that…
“…Umm…Zed, what’s that…underneath you?” Lucy, who couldn’t believe what she was actually seeing, suddenly asked.
“Hmm? This?” Zed looked downwards towards the small hill where he was sitting at.
“Ain’t those only rocks?” Riria muttered as she walked forward and smacked the small hill with her hand.
Suddenly, the rock under her hand, had its eye opened, glistening brightly with the light of the campfire that reflected on it. Then it moved, though slightly, but it did move. The small hill, that she thought was just a lump of big rocks, was actually moving, and even had an eye.
Riria was startled and jumped backwards. “W-What is that?” she stuttered.
Tooru and Riria immediately focused their eyes towards the small ‘hill’; as for Lucy and Erina, they both had already been staring at it since the beginning.
With the flickering light from the campfire, slowly, the four could see the ‘hill’ more clearly. And when they finally realized what it really was, their eyes opened really wide, while their mouths were agape. They were speechless as they saw that ‘bizarre’ sight.
The 15-meters tall hill in front of them was actually breathing; moreover, it was actually not even a hill, but rather a pile of Magical Beasts, that were stacked on top of each other, tangled and stuck with each other. Tooru and the girls couldn’t even begin to count how much there really was, but nonetheless, they believed that every single one of those Magical Beasts was certainly high-grade, because the smallest of them was still even slightly bigger than the buffalo behind them.
“A-Are they all dead?” asked Lucy.
“Hm? No, I just burned them and piled them up when they fainted.” Zed hopped down from the top and landed right beside the campfire. “I won’t kill if I don’t have to, or are you guys hungry? We can kill one and eat it. There is quite a lot of variety here. Let’s see.. there are spiders, birds, cats, dogs, lizards… oh, there is even a gorilla there…”
“N-No… I am not hungry…” said Lucy, feeling quite nauseous.
But Riria, on the other hand, turned her head towards the buffalo and said, “Roasted Meat, are you hungry?”
With a nod, the buffalo answered.
“It seems like I have seen that guy before…” Zed creased his brows as he stared at the buffalo.
Hearing that, the buffalo, who certainly remembered about the man who had stomped it until it was scared stiff, immediately tried to hide itself behind Riria though it was impossible considering the size differences between the two.
“Hmmmm…” Well thankfully, Zed couldn’t remember as he just shook his head and continued, “whatever, you tamed it Riria?”
“Yeah!” Riria nodded. “After we beat him yesterday, I used Taming Magic on him. I also named him Roasted Meat! Cute, right?”
“………Y-Yeah it is…” Zed immediately looked away, wanting to retort but couldn’t. “Well… you could tell him to help himself with the beasts behind me, but don’t forget to kill it before eating it though.”
Riria nodded and then turned her head towards Roasted Meat. “You heard him Roasted Meat! Go and eat all you want!” she said.
Roasted Meat immediately ran around towards the pile and began to feast on those scorched Magical Beasts excitedly. With the help of its sharp teeth, it began to tear apart its prey without even bothering to kill it first. Soon after, blood and guts splattered everywhere as the cries of those poor Magical Beasts resounded throughout the forest.
Seeing that messy scene, Zed could only sigh. “Even though I already reminded you-“
Hearing a sudden sound of something falling, Zed turned his head, and there, on the ground, he saw Lucy already lying unconscious.
“……” Zed speechlessly stared at the fainted priestess on the ground. After a while, he then said, “Seems like you guys still need some training…”
Tooru, Riria, and Erina were stupefied. They had just finished one hellish training and Zed already wanted them to do one more, more importantly, it was only because Lucy had fainted after seeing Roasted Meat eating. At that moment, the three of them started to feel doubtful while thinking, ‘Zed actually loves to give us training, isn’t he?!’
Their faces cringed as they remember the hellish two month they had gone through; fighting multiple medium grade Magical Beasts, running away from various high grade Magical Beasts, battling with broken bones and open wounds, trying to stay awake at night, trying to wake up early for Riria, trying to wake Riria up early, eating only dried food, and many other kind of horrible experiences.
Though nevertheless, they also gained some valuable experiences; e.g. with Erina’s help, Tooru had managed to learn the Strengthening Technique that a Knight normally uses; they also became more vigilant and could cooperate better; and through the dream, the Goddess helped Tooru to learn magic, thanks to that, they could finally take a bath after one month, the girls were especially overjoyed.
Well, all in all, they did become stronger. But, if they were asked if they want to go through something like that again, their answer is of course, “For the love of the Goddess, NO!!!”
But, at that moment, Zed was actually saying that they needed to train again…
So Tooru, of course, tried to refuse, “B-But Zed… We-”
“Hm? But what?” Zed suddenly cut him off and glared at him. But then, as if he had just understood something, he nodded his head and said, “Oh? So it’s like that… you guys want to go home that bad, huh?”
“Eh? No no no…” The three immediately shook their head.
“Hm? Then that’s good,” Zed smiled wide as he continued, “Tomorrow, we will begin the next part of the training, so you guys better go to sleep now.”
“Eh? B-But Zed?” Riria still tried to reason.
“Hm? Riria wants me to take her home? What a pity…Well, let’s depart tonight…”
“No no no no no!! Riri just wants to say that she can’t wait for tomorrow’s training! That’s all!!”
“Um, that’s good…” Zed nodded his head.
“U,um… Z-Zed-san, exactly what kind of training are we going to do tomorrow?” asked Erina.
“Hm?” Zed lifted one of his brows as he pondered. However, after a while, he just said, “It…will be a surprise… so just get some rest tonight…”
Honestly, he too hadn’t thought about it. Well, like master, like disciple. Without he himself realized, Sieghart’s teaching and habits had deeply ingrained into his brain. For example, even though Zed had always said that training them and taking care of them would be a hassle, he still did it anyway. And without he himself even realized, he was actually making them do all of this training as a revenge to what Sieghart had him do on those 10 long years.
So, as Zed was thinking about what kind of training he would have them do tomorrow, a wide and wicked smile was unconsciously pasted on his face. And as they saw that smile, Tooru, Riria, and Erina, all had the same thought, ‘Zed… is definitely having fun with this…’
The three then looked at Lucy. However, it wasn’t because they were thinking of blaming her; after all, they now realized that Zed was actually having fun ‘torturing’ them, and they knew that he would still have them do something like this eventually. So, on the contrary, they were looking at her because they were jealous; because if they were unconscious like her, then they wouldn’t have to see his smile…
Feeling quite depressed, the three then reluctanly turned around, finding a place to sleep. If anything they had learned in the past two months, it was to sleep anytime they could, being tired against Zed’s training is suicide.
After an hour had passed.
“Hm? You are not going to sleep, Erina?” Zed asked as he saw that Erina was just sitting while looking the campfire and not sleeping like the other two. Tooru was already fast asleep, while Riria was snuggling under the blanket beside the fainted Lucy, even Roasted Meat had already fallen asleep after eating until its belly was full.
Erina shook her head and said, “No, it’s usually my turn to watch over the camp, so I am not sleepy. Zed-san can sleep if he wants.”
“Just Zed is enough…” Zed said, “…and go to sleep. I know you guys have been through a lot these past two months, so for tonight, just sleep and don’t worry about anything.”
“……Okay.” Erina nodded her head and laid herself down as her gaze looked towards the sky, looking at the countless stars that were shining brightly on the night sky.
It was really quiet, the night was serene without a single sound except the sound of the campfire, burning the branches that Zed threw into it.
“I think… I have found my reason to get stronger…”
“……and that is?”
“I……want to protect them… Lucy, Riria, Tooru, my father, my comrades, and also you, Zed-san…”
“I don’t think that I can protect every human like Tooru… But…I want to get stronger so I can at least protect my friends and my family. Is…my reason good enough?”
As their conversation ended, Erina closed her eyes and fell asleep, so deep… that she couldn’t hear what Zed had then said.
“To protect, huh…” Zed murmured as he looked towards the sky. His memories started to play backwards to the time when his 6-year-old-self was speaking with his father in the library.
But Father… I don’t know what else I should do… I will never become a strong emperor like you… I don’t have the strength to become one… I will never have…
You don’t have to become an emperor… No one ever said you have to… What I want you to do, is the same as your mother… to become a man strong enough to protect the one you love…to protect your mother…
“Father… I am sorry…“ A drop of tear then slowly dripped down from Zed’s eye as he was remembering the scene of that burning night. “I… have failed you… I have protected no one… not even Mother…”
All he had wanted, was to become stronger so he could ‘protect’. But now, all that was left, was to become stronger so he could ‘revenge’…
‘Demon Emperor… wait for me…’
AN: Sorry for the slow pace, sorry for the lateness, and sorry for the shortness, I just couldn’t find a better ending for this chapter.