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 < Running Away from the Hero! 157 #18. What did I even do? (6)>

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The ‘dragon’.

The strongest lifeform in the world that didn’t require any further explanation.

Humans who call themselves the rulers of the continent, and even the self-proclaimed strongest race, the demon race, would all clamp their mouths shut and hurriedly run away when a dragon showed up.

And here was a bunch of shameless bastards busy pleading with their fellow human being to hunt down a dragon. Even if that human was Sir Hero…!

“We beg of you!”

The problem right now was that the shameless bastards were deeply bowing their heads. And the one leading them was the prince of this kingdom, the first in line to inherit the throne, no less.

In other words, a prince scheduled to become the next ruler of this nation was busy lowering his head in full view of his future subjects!

-But master, if we’re talking about social pecking order, isn’t your disciple placed higher than the prince?

-Nope. That punk is still officially a commoner.

In a normal circumstance, the hero’s social standing would be higher than a prince from some small backwater kingdom like this one.

First of all, the ducal household of Raina that ruled a duchy in the Karuan Empire exercised an even greater influence than this kingdom did.

This kingdom was so small and weak that it couldn’t even dare to invade its direct neighbour, the weakest nation on the continent Belseruk Kingdom.

The thing was, though, our Sir Hero strictly hid his background as a scion of House Raina. Even his family didn’t seem all that keen to have him back now that he became a renowned hero. Understandable, when the succession row between the brothers there had already been decided by now.

Thanks to that development, even the ducal family chose to strictly hide the true identity of Sir Hero! Which meant that he was known as just another commoner for the time being!

Even then, the prince before our eyes was bowing his head.

“We beg of you, Sir Hero.”

Yup, we got sucker-punched real good this time.

The hero party probably figured that nobles residing nearby wanted to offer their greetings to the hero and came to the village.

But who in their right minds would’ve guessed that it was a prince of all people and that he’d start bowing his head!

“Your Highness, please raise your head.”

“We know that this is a shameless request, Sir Hero. However… For the sake of my younger sibling…!”

The hero was doing his best not to display his fluster while requesting the prince to raise his head. But the latter roundly ignored that request.

Heck, the prince was getting even more ardent with his pleading, going so far as to get ready to kneel!

“Your Highness, you’re putting me in a difficult spot.”

“I apologise for my unseemly conduct, Sir Hero. However, for our kingdom and my younger sibling, I…!”

The prince had been repeating that for some time now.

If this had been any other time, the hero would’ve feigned reluctance while humouring the request. But our potential opponent this time was a dragon!

-But master, if it’s a dragon, we have Coco right here!

-What the? You actually trying to compare a hatchling less than a year old to an elder dragon?

-Elder dragon? How do you know that, master?

-I told you before that an evil dragon lives nearby here, didn’t I?

-Aaaaah… Right, that insolent overgrown lizard who dares to use two syllables of this wonderful goddess’s name!

Dragons usually never told others where they lived. But other races did their utmost best to figure out where dragons lived.

Weeeell, mistakenly provoking a dragon could result in a small kingdom getting erased off the map, after all.

And if the neighbouring nations raised a fuss about it, saying that you made the dragon angry for no reason, then they would definitely not accept your asylum applications later.

When all those things happened, you’d have no choice but to let the dragon rob you of everything you have until other dragons showed up to calm their irate compatriot down. But that’s not all! Those other dragons then would demand compensation for intervening, robbing you of even more of your hard-earned wealth.

Even so, it was still better to get robbed of your wealth.

That’s because it would be other dragons showing up to mediate for you, even if the process itself might take a bit longer than you’d like.

But our problem was with the identity of the dragon living nearby. The evil dragon that even other dragons were reluctant to get involved with, Arcadia… N-no, wait. I meant Arketai!

-…Master, why does it feel like something that will make me unhappy happened just now?

-It’s just that, your feeling. Nothing more.

I got names mixed up and thought of the wrong one this time. But the metal bat sniffed that out like a damn hound or something.

“Your Highness. Please raise your head for the time being and tell us the full story.”

“Ah, aaah… Thank you, Sir Hero.”

What the heck. The hero simply asked about the backstory here, so why did the prince sound like we have already accepted the dragon raid quest?

This… isn’t this almost on the level of that scummy insurance salesman phoning me that one time?

I definitely rejected him in… a ’roundabout’ way, but he kept pestering me to take a quick gander at the contract first. And when I did, he suddenly said I consented to join the insurance scheme! How flabbergasted I was back then…

What was that? You also want to teach that insurance salesman what the old idiom of missing your millstone handle means? [1]

“Allow me to be brief, Sir Hero.”

What the heck? Even the prince’s follow up is exactly the same as the insurance salesman!

That man called me on the phone out of the blue, didn’t even say what he wanted, then proceeded to ask me if we could speak since it wouldn’t take long! But then, when I checked the time, thirty minutes flew by without me realising it!

“It happened about half a year ago, Sir Hero.”

And as expected, the prince’s story was not brief at all.

No, hang on a sec. My painful memory from that day… That thirty-minute-long phone call with the salesman… And the prince’s storytelling took twice longer than that!

“If you don’t mind me clarifying the events that happened so far, Your Highness… The Evil Dragon, Arketai, has heard about the world-renowned beauty of your princess and invaded your kingdom, demanding her to be handed over. Is that the gist of it, sir?”

“Yes, Sir Hero.”

And our kind hero, hoping to help out other listeners, greatly simplified the prince’s hour-long heartfelt tale.

“The Evil Dragon, Arketai…”

As I have suspected, the dragon they wanted us to hunt down was one of the elder-est of elder dragons, the twenty thousand-year-old Arketai!

-We better give up, then. No one in their right mind would want to challenge an elder dragon, after all.

-You’re right, master. No one in their right mind… But, uh, master?

-What now?

-He’s your disciple, so is he really right of mind, I wonder?

Right there and then, this deathly-cold chill overtook my senses.

The moment I heard the metal bat’s question, the faces of around ten people suddenly popped up in my head. It’s like those faces were grinning brightly while waving their hands in my direction.

“We’d like to tell you the details back in the royal castle, Sir Hero. My sincerest apologies, but would you mind accompanying us back to the castle, sir?”

“Understood, Your Highness.”

H-hey, dear Sir Hero? What horsesh*t did you just say?!

Doesn’t that sound like you are saying yes?!

It was right at that moment that the smiling faces of my disciples inside my head all spoke up at the same time.

-Have a good journey, instructor…

Yes, I will. I will enjoy my journey… to freedom!

“Oh, and Your Highness? This gentleman is my dear instructor, my mentor. He is an important person and as such, I’d like you to pay closer attention to his needs, please.”

Why did the hero’s request for more attention sound like they need to closely monitor me?

Could it be because of my current mood? It has to be, right? Right?

-Nope, master. I think he’s been angling for this all along?

-You think so, too?

The hero was smiling away, but his eyes were definitely asking for ‘assistance’ right now.

Dammit, you dumb kingdom! You should’ve dealt with the problem before you could request the hero for help. Why did you have to cause a scene and drag me into it, too?!

“Oh, oooh! I see, so this gentleman is Sir Hero’s teacher!”

Blooming hell, the prince shifted his target from the hero over to me now!

“This one is called Naruan, Your Highness.”

“Sir, you’re the teacher of the Hero of Light, Swinn! The sole hope of our kingdom who will save us from our darkest hour! As such, there is no need to be so formal with me, good sir.”

The prince was talking as if we’d save his kingdom for sure now.

“That’s not true, Your Highness. I’m simply accompanying the hero for the time being as we’re old acquaintances, that’s all.”

And let me tell you, I’d love to put some distance between me and the hero right now.

I wanted so badly to get away from the hero, and that desire had gotten intensified even further with the introduction of a dragon into the mix.

-Master~? Even though there’s a dragon here calling you its grandpa?

-It’s fine up until they are ten years old!

I believe that a hero could definitely go against a dragon hatchling. If the threat was only that much, I wouldn’t have minded quietly waiting back in the kingdom’s capital.

-Aha, so you never planned to go with the hero, master?

-Well, fighting a dragon is insane no matter how you cut it, after all.

Sure, winning against a dragon hatchling was amply doable so I could’ve waited back in the kingdom, no problem. But that was now an impossible dream since we were dealing with a twenty-thousand-year-old elder dragon.

If such a creature got pissed off, it’d definitely invade the kingdom, that’s for sure!

And that’s why I was planning to flee when the time was right, but then…

“Y-Your Highness! The Evil Dragon has invaded the kingdom!”

“What did you say?!”

…The dang dragon seized the initiative first.

 

#3 Their circumstances: A certain hero’s circumstance

 

While sitting inside the horse carriage making the rhythmic clunking noise, I… dazedly wondered to myself.

Why am I sitting here?

What is the purpose of my current actions?!

It’s to fight a dragon, that’s what!

“Sir Hero. Do you think we can do it?”

Hill sitting next to me worriedly looked at my face.

Are you asking me if we can do it?

“We don’t know yet, Hill.”

Of course, it’s utterly impossible. But I couldn’t readily say that out aloud.

That’s because the prince was also riding in the same carriage with us!

“As expected of Sir Hero’s teacher… What stunning coachmanship this is. Even though we’re moving so fast, to think that the carriage remains so stable…”

Maybe the prince wanted to lighten the dreary, stuffed atmosphere in the carriage because he began praising the instructor out of nowhere.

Sure, that was indeed a stunning riding technique.

The instructor learned the horse riding techniques from both the strongest nation on the continent, the Karuan Empire and the (former) top evil organisation, Howling, after all!

“Yes, Your Highness. He is an amazing person.”

Right. Veeery amazing, indeed. So amazing that if I take him back to the empire, surely they would reward me with a very handsome compensation.

Hang on, maybe it’d exceed the level of ‘handsome’? Why am I getting the feeling that it could even rival the amount reserved for hunting a dragon down?

“…As such, my instructor will no doubt play a crucial role in this subjugation effort, Your Highness.”

“Is that so, Sir Hero?”

This person who introduced himself as the prince sure has some colourful expressions, doesn’t he?

Which was one of the special traits of a scammer, according to my instructor!

Scammers that pretended to sympathise with your story all the while sneakily redirecting the conversation towards the destination they desired!

The instructor taught me that such people were the most dangerous ones to look out for.

That’s why I better shift the attention over to my instructor, pronto. “Yes, he is indeed an amazing person. He was my teacher before I became the hero, but even so, his teachings have saved my life over and over again no matter what the situation was.”

I wasn’t exaggerating at all here.

Rather surprisingly, things I learned from the evil organisation helped me out a lot during my time as the hero, especially when it concerned infiltration and pursuit of targets.

You could say those two techniques were an absolute must for any hero out there.

Most folks requesting heroes for help were commoners while most of the time, their enemies would be the members of the nobility.

Heroes acknowledged by the religious orders were also acknowledged as high-ranking aristocrats at the very least, regardless of which kingdom they went to.

But it was just that, an acknowledgement and nothing more.

The acknowledgement didn’t come with any perks. This meant that if you didn’t have the evidence to back you up and the noble in question denied everything, you couldn’t hold that noble responsible.

The techniques I learned back in the villainous organisation came in handy in these kinds of situations!

By infiltrating, acquiring all the evidence, and then accusing the nobles afterwards, the matter could be resolved as painless as possible.

See? How wonderfully useful are those techniques, then?

Thanks to that, it became possible for me to handle my quests far quicker than most other heroes.

Sure, Hill would often nag me about how illegal my actions were, but whenever that happened, I’d say this to him.

How could some measly laws cooked up by humans be more important than the Great Cause of the hero chosen to carry out the goddess’s will!

It’s all good, anyway. We still hadn’t gotten any oracles telling me to stop.

On top of that… I was about to have a showdown with a damn dragon, all thanks to my job as the ‘hero’!

“The strongest hero, and the strongest instructor who has trained the hero! With this, our Neidon Kingdom can breathe easy now.”

No, wait! Don’t start breathing easy already, damn it! Even if we bring together every hero in the continent, we still don’t have any guarantees of defeating the elder dragon, you know!

I was betting my everything on one thing right now.

And that was the instructor’s metal bat. If it’s that thing, it might really be able to bring down a dragon!

Even something as scary as a dragon was still a living creature, so it should howl in pain just like everyone else. So, once the metal bat manages to land a strike, the dragon should collapse to the ground in pain, I’m sure of it!

That’s why this fight was doable as long as I could borrow the powers of that metal bat for just one minute!

…That was what I had been thinking once upon a time, everyone.

“…How many days has it been since the dragon invaded, you say?”

“It’s been ten minutes, Sir Hero.”

“Not ten days, but ten minutes?”

“Yes.”

I stared at the royal castle, my face filled with a hollow expression.

That’s because the castle had been wrecked.

Even if the scale wasn’t comparable to that of the empire, these castle walls were still supposed to protect the royal family of this kingdom. Yet they had been half obliterated.

“Not broken down, but… it seems that the walls have been melted down.”

I spent few minutes dazedly staring at the castle walls melted down by the black dragon’s venom. And then, I shifted my gaze over to the exterior of the castle itself that looked as if someone, or something, had ever so slightly gouged out one of its walls.

“Sir Hero, the report says that the dragon invaded the princess’s quarters and snatched her away.”

Huh, huhuh. Even if the dragon’s size wasn’t as big, to think that we now had to fight a princess-kidnapping dragon that could wreck a castle in less than ten minutes!

Could we really win even if I managed to borrow the metal bat’s powers?

“…Eh?”

Just as my dazed eyes shifted away from the melted castle walls towards the metal bat…

I looked to my right, left, front and even behind, but… no matter where I looked, the metal bat wasn’t there.

“Hill, where is my instructor?”

“I’m sorry? Sir Naruan… is not here?” Hill quickly looked in the direction of where the carriage should’ve been, then began looking around in a fluster, too.

“It can’t be…?”

“Again?!”

Just as we began staring dazedly at the royal castle royally wrecked by the dragon, it seemed that my dear instructor had come to a swift decision.

The decision to escape…!

 

 

[1]: It’s an old Korean saying. Imagine a scene where you’re about to mill some grain using millstone but then, the handle is nowhere to be found. You feel flabbergasted/stupefied. Hence the saying.

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