Evade the Hero and Flee! 185 #21. The Stories of Others (4)>
#5 Their circumstance: A certain religious order’s circumstance
“Hah-ah… To think it’s the empire…”
An old man kitted out in a pure-white priest robe was racking his brain while staring at a letter.
“It’s not exactly a problem, but…”
“That, in itself, is the problem, isn’t it…”
In the world where gods presided, men and women of cloth exercised undeniable influence on all people. Even kings and queens would find it rather tough to reject a religious temple’s request.
However, the ‘opponent’ this time happened to be too powerful.
Not to mention…
“It’s impossible to predict what the empire might or might not do, so…”
“Indeed, we can’t carelessly step in front of them.”
Before they earned the label of the strongest nation on the continent, the Karuan Empire was known as that one nation that loved to stir up trouble. And the current problem was related to that trouble-loving empire.
“There are plenty of nations possessing great military might and not much else. And there are many wise nations, too.”
“However, Karuan is both powerful in its military and wise in its tactic. Yet no one can even remotely predict what they will do next from their erratic behaviour…”
The empire oh-so nonchalantly did many acts that most normal people would’ve said, ‘No way, they wouldn’t do that!’. Such decisiveness and swiftness would’ve been evaluated as ‘terrifying’ if it was done by a ‘regular’ nation, but the empire also possessed actual military might and abundant wealth to support their actions!
Besides, the Order of Nature didn’t even have a pretext to complain regarding this matter either. The letter stated that the ‘guests’ were being treated royally under the careful ‘protection’ of the empire. With the way the letter was worded, what exactly could the Order do now?
“One of the hero’s comrades was an Elf, wasn’t she? How are the Elves responding to this?”
“It seems that they are also waiting, watching what will happen next. The empire is the most trusted ally of all the non-human races, after all.”
Plenty of nations existed on the continent, and more than a few of them treated other humanoid races very poorly, with the justifications of them not being actual humans.
Things were especially terrible during the last great war; the entire continent was embroiled in warfare back then. Human treated their fellow humans horribly during then, so it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the treatment of non-human races would be even worse. Countless many people from those races were forcibly enslaved or thrown into various war zones.
The two races that had it worst were the beastmen possessing excellent physical specs and regenerative abilities, and dwarves, reputedly blessed by the God of Blacksmithing.
A handful of kingdoms actually focused more of their attention on capturing slaves instead of fighting in the war – so much so that it became difficult to distinguish whether they were participating in the war to capture slaves, or were capturing slaves to fight better in the war.
While the whole world was mired in confusion and chaos, only the Karuan Empire acted differently from the other kingdoms by starting a slave emancipation campaign.
The empire’s forces quickly mobilised to dismantle all the hidden slave markets found throughout its territory. After successfully conquering enemy nations, the empire freed all the slaves regardless of their races, and they even pressured their allied nations to do the same.
Quite literally, the empire was the saviour to all non-human races!
Of course, their actions did raise a few heated complaints. Those complaints mostly consisted of, “Why are you butting in the domestic affairs of other kingdoms?!”
The empire would simply nod at all those complaints before using their mighty military to wipe out the complainers from the face of the earth.
At the beginning of this campaign, everyone was still mostly oblivious. As more and more ‘victims’ piled up, however, other kingdoms had no choice but to clamp their mouths shut and hold their tongues.
The most notable incident during such tumultuous times was the attempted kidnapping of the High Elf, an existence meant to serve as the Elf race’s chief priest and to protect the World Tree.
A mysterious group tried to kidnap such a High Elf during the early days of the great war, but it ended with the empire’s forces finding & rescuing the victim.
This incident led to the Elves acknowledging the empire as their greatest ally, and since then, the two parties have been maintaining lively diplomatic ties.
Was that why? An Elf tasked by the High Elf with a sacred duty was currently captured by the empire, yet the Elves hadn’t made a move so far.
“Does that mean we don’t have a choice but to act independently…?”
Even the Order of Nature found dealing with the empire rather burdensome.
“Just where did our sir hero disappear to…”
“Indeed, if only he was here…”
Priests constantly sighing away began bringing up the hero almost at the same time.
“When you confirmed the truth with the empire, they said that our saint and the Elf came under their protection right after sir hero vanished without a trace, yes?”
“Yes, that’s correct. A freakish turn of events led to sir hero and his companions getting kidnapped, but the empire informed me that they managed to rescue the companions.”
“But our sir hero is a dragon slayer. Can anyone even kidnap such a powerful warrior? Is it possible that the empire did something to our hero…?”
“I don’t think that’s the case. If that’s true, the Goddess of Nature would’ve sent us an oracle.”
Excluding crises dangerous enough to threaten the balance of the world, gods chose not to interfere with the ongoings of human society. That was their rule, but some gods did interfere here and there when their believers were experiencing unfair treatment.
However, the victims this time were none other than the Goddess’s one and only hero and the saint accompanying him. If something untoward happened to them, the Goddess of Nature would’ve surely sent an oracle to tell her believers and inform them of what the heck was going on.
“Which can only mean that the current incident is within the range of what our Goddess deems as still tolerable. Or she has acknowledged the parties involved. Which leaves us with the potential candidates as…”
One priest piped up, but that prompted the others to shut their mouths up instead.
Their hero defeated a dragon by himself. Not just any dragon either, but an elder dragon that had been alive for twenty thousand years. Just who would be capable of kidnapping such a powerful hero, then?
“Could it be other dragons?”
“I don’t believe they have a reason to make a move. That elder dragon, Aruketai, was designated as an evil entity by the dragons themselves. They made great efforts to distance themselves from evil dragons.”
“That’s normally true, but the achievement of our sir hero must be very threatening to them. A human just over twenty years old managed to bring down a twenty thousand-year-old elder dragon. Such an event is more than enough to cause other dragons to become very wary. Don’t forget, they are referred to as the strongest species alive.”
“Mm, sounds plausible…”
“It’s already questionable if anyone among humans… No, not just humans but from other races too. None of them is even remotely capable of defeating our hero, so how can a human try to kidnap him? Dragons are the only real suspects in this situation.”
“Indeed, that sounds about right. Even if Sir Swinn ran into, say, a Demon King, he’s still good enough to make his getaway, after all…”
Without a doubt, dragons were powerful existences that no human would dare to approach. However, they were still denizens of this realm of existence, despite their powers putting them at a level where even gods found it hard to interfere.
“Even so, I believe we should continue to offer our prayers to the Goddess until she’s ready to reply. It certainly won’t hurt us to try.”
“Mm… Our benevolent Goddess does respond to our questions often, so she could possibly tell us something.”
That’s how the meeting of the Order of Nature came to an end. It was meant to find solutions to the mysterious disappearance of the hero and the saint half-imprisoned in the empire, but the conclusion was…
The Order’s top representative, the pontiff, prepared to the best of his abilities and began offering his prayer to the Goddess of Nature in his room.
“Oh, dear Goddess of Nature. Your servant desperately seeks your guiding light. Please tell us the way forward.”
Maybe the pontiff’s desperation somehow reached the heavens? He could start hearing the Goddess’s voice just then.
“I beg your pardon?”
⸢Giving up now will make it easier for you.⸥
But that voice was so feeble-sounding that it couldn’t have come from a godly being at all.
#6 Their circumstance: Certain Elves’ circumstances
Known as the people of the forest and a member of the fairy species. A race charged with protecting the World Tree.
Their patron god, the Goddess of Benevolence and Commitment, sacrificed herself to stop the evil god from driving the world to a deadly crisis. To follow the will of such a god, the Elves did their best for the sake of this world.
Unfortunately, not everyone acknowledged all the efforts put in by the Elves. Actually, several evil humans exploited this point and turned Elves into their personal slaves or as cash cows.
Even if Elves followed the will of their Goddess of Benevolence and Commitment, they were still living beings capable of emotions. Several Elves who willingly went against the will of the great Goddess began emerging from their ranks, their purpose in life to help out their families or friends.
But things were different now. The best possible ally one could have, the Karuan Empire, was currently protecting the Elves, after all. With this protection, the Elves were finally able to put down the weapons always gripped tightly in their hands.
The strongest, most affluent nation on the continent was protecting them, and it seemed that no humans were ballsy enough to try something with the Elves these days.
Sometimes, Elves were forced to pick up their weapons again when a small number of humans chose to do something inexplicably moronic. However, most of such incidents were swiftly resolved by the empire’s forces. As such, it was safe to say that Elves had no reason to fight lately.
That demonstrated the empire’s seemingly-endless goodwill towards the Elves. In return, Elves worked hard to reward such goodwill with something even better as per the will of their Goddess of Benevolence and Commitment.
The relationship of trust between the two was sturdy and unbreakable, in other words.
Such a view was widespread throughout the continent. And this view was responsible for the Order of Nature’s guess on why the Elves hadn’t made a move yet.
However, the reality… was somewhat different.
“Goddammit! Selena is no longer with the hero?! In that case, what about the hero’s teacher, then?!”
“What about our plans, then?! The one about Selena secretly sending us information, then we pounce on that man as soon as he steps foot in our forest!”
Elves were currently mired in confusion.
“Goddammit! I knew it, that da*n empire! That stinking, evil, vile empire!”
“Damn it all to hell! This is exactly like the bloody empire we all know, isn’t it!”
While using the worst insults they could think of to slander the empire, the Elves glared at the letter sent by the currently-imprisoned Selena asking for help.
“Can we do it with our powers?”
“How about temporarily halting the export of magic stones?”
“Diplomatic pressure, huh? Don’t you think we have more to lose by doing that?”
“In return, we will get to preserve our sanity.”
“If you don’t like the idea, you can always go and report directly to Lady Lirelia yourself.”
“…Ah. My bad, then.”
These Elves had pored through the letter’s contents once, twice, dozens of times, but they still couldn’t think of a way to resolve this.
“Dammit! Selena was a trustworthy combatant, but to think that events unfolded this way…”
“It was the empire, after all. That damn empire!”
“Sh*t! To think that being weak would be this unfair!”
These Elves began lamenting their own lack of strengths, but truth be told, almost no one in this world thought of Elves as weaklings.
Each and every Elf could live for a long time. Which meant that they had been swinging swords around for decades upon decades for training purposes. They even spent as much time practising magic, ostensibly as a hobby to kill time!
Even your average Elf was an excellent swordsman/woman or a magic swordsman/woman. And among the ranks of Elven warriors, you’d often find mages that could either be labelled as knights on the similar realm as swordmasters or archmages without any problem whatsoever.
Was that all, though? Of course not. Elves had natural aptitude towards spirit magic and were talented in the field of summoning, so it was nearly impossible to estimate an individual Elf’s combat prowess.
But the problem currently was…
“Bloody hell. Even Harian has failed, so what now…”
“Ah, now I remember. I heard that Harian tried to resign again only to get a scolding. Was that true?”
“To think that it’s so awful there that even a loon like that begged for a replacement…”
“As expected of the empire.”
Despite the excellent combat capabilities of Elves, two of their best warriors were helplessly held captive by the empire right now – the summoner Harian and the warrior, Selena.
“Let’s just give up on Harian. Don’t you remember how that poor Elf we sent as a diplomatic student to the academy called Yugrasia turned out?”
“…Right. That was horrifying.”
Yugrasia was famed for turning you into one of the greatest summoners, no questions asked, as long as you got admitted. Elves, having played a part in the creation of that legend, decided to send one of their own to study in that academy.
“I hear that that poor Elf still goes into convulsions the moment someone even dares to bring up the topic of studying.”
“Yes, you heard right. That Elf’s condition of trembling in fear at the sight of tree branches has improved a lot lately, but they still mumble in fear at the sight of logs and things similar to that.”
A certain scene was deeply engraved in the memories of the Elves gathered here today. And that was the sight of the Elf student who went to Yugrasia for a year of studies getting terrified by a tree branch, diving into a corner and muttering, ‘I hate the bat. I hate it! I’m so scared!’
“When we lodged a complaint to the empire back then, we got a very colourful reply, didn’t we?”
“Right, I also remember that. The empire replied that one year isn’t enough for our Elf student to develop the necessary tolerance yet, didn’t they?”
“Yes. They even added that in around two years, our Elf student would’ve learned to give up on everything and thus learn how to overcome the trials.”
“Although that reply sounded utterly nonsensical, even Harian ended up acknowledging it, so what else can we say about that topic…?”
Just what the heck was the empire’s academy doing?
As the prominent figures of the Elves attending this meeting began thinking about that question…
“How are things going, everyone?”
That was a simple enough question, but the voice asking it was so beautiful and melodious that it could’ve been a musical instrument.
That voice was indeed like a heavenly instrument. But the Elves listening to it began trembling in fear instead.
“Oh, my? I wonder, why are you all acting like this?”
“W-well, it’s nothing. ma’am…”
One of the Elves tried to hide the letter behind his trembling figure, but too bad for him, such action was way too eye-catching. Unsurprisingly, the woman before their eyes spotted it, instantly understanding the intention behind such a move. Well, she was an existence that Elves, famously referred to as the fairies of the forest, couldn’t even compare to, after all – the High Elf!
“Oh, my. It seems something has gone wrong?”
Lirelia gazed at the trembling and silent Elves with a warm gaze on her lips. “It’s quite alright. Can you tell me what happened?”
With her gaze still fixed on the paralysed Elves, Lirelia acted first.
Elves couldn’t dare to bring themselves to reject or push aside Lirelia’s hand reaching out to them. In the end, they had to watch as she snatched the letter away. Their expressions resembled the convicts about to walk into an execution chamber as their heads hung low.
She let out a short exclamation. But that brief sound was more than enough for the Elf higher-ups to feel that their necks were placed under the guillotine.
‘I’m so dead.’
‘I have no regrets, though.’
‘Dear wife, please look after our children.’
‘Ah, ah… But I don’t want to die…’
And so, just as these Elves began watching the revolving lanterns flash by before their eyes…
“Well, it doesn’t really matter, anyway.”
The executioner wielding the axe… No, the royalty of the Elves, Lirelia put the letter down on the table with an unconcerned face.
“That person is destined to come to me soon, after all.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Her totally out-of-character response prompted one of the Elves to dazedly mutter out. Even then, Lirelia proceeded to oh-so cheerily resolve his curiosity.
“That person will come to find me very soon. I can tell because I have a feeling.” A radiant grin bloomed on her face as she continued on. “Just like back when I first met His Highness the Prince… It’s our destiny.”