I swallowed down the saliva that had stuck to my parched throat.
Then, in my blurred vision that was beginning to take in reality, I saw Azel bewildered on the other side of the hero.
“Ah… Shal, you…”
Our eyes met, and I called his name.
Azel gasped when he was called and took a step forward, shaking with disbelief and a tense expression on his face.
Oh, no… He’s realized something. He’ll find out.
Why… No! I didn’t want you to find out… Just you… Please. Please… Don’t ask—
“Hey, you. That summoning… was it… eight years ago…?”
“Huh? Yeah! It may not seem like much to a demon lord who lives for hundreds of years, but to me, it was eight years of life and death! I’ve been swapped positions with this man who’s not even a hero or anything. It was like hell!”
—He finally knows.
At that moment, he knew that it was not only the hero whom I, who was not supposed to be in this world, had taken the place of.
In place of the benefactor of his precious memories, it was I whom he had loved.
I wanted to cower and cover my ears, and become so small that nothing more could be provided.
It was as if I were scolding my legs, which had long since reached the limit of their strength, reprimanding them while relying only on the lingering attachment to stand.
“Ahh… I’m, I’m sorry… Just don’t, please… I’m sorry, I’m sorry… Ah, I really am, so please forgive me…”
I couldn’t breathe.
I was struggling for air.
My heart was in pain.
My whole body was cold.
I didn’t know if the apology I muttered head-on, knowing I had no right to look down, was intended for the hero or for Azel on the other side.
I was just a nobody, and learned that I had robbed someone of their place of belonging because ‘I was lonely’.
That sin had taken my breath away and cursed me to spit out nothing but apologies.
I could see Azel’s face slowly contorting into a crumpled mess as he was unable to swallow the truth that had suddenly come to him.
Just like me—he was holding his chest in pain and trembling.
“Hah… Wait, wait… That story’s not enough for me… Then, my… You’re… Shal… Sh…al…?”
“A…zel… Azel, you’re wrong, I’m Shal, I’m… I’m…”
“Shal… It, hurts… I don’t understand, I… I…!”
“How… How come it’s not you…?”
As he muttered this, transparent tears that melted his emotion ran down his white cheeks.
I made him cry again. It was an irrevocable betrayal of what came before, and my ignorance had torn him apart from his most important person.
It was a decade’s worth of feelings that he had been holding on to, keeping warm, and cherishing like a treasure.
Azel would dream of that one day. He had been wholeheartedly, perhaps even foolishly, waiting for that one person he had only met once.
He became unsure of where those blinding thoughts would lead him to. Unable to sort out the information, his confusion turned into tears, which began to fall.
The hero was so enraged that he couldn’t even see what was going on with us. He roughly grabbed my pale, trembling arm as if I was about to collapse.
“…You’re not Shal. Your name is borrowed. It was the name of the hero before me. He was a prominent hero whose life ended two months before we were summoned. They didn’t want to cause confusion among the people, so… in order to hide the fact that he was dead, they decided to call you by the same name until the time a new hero came.”
“My job here is done. I’ll kill you some other time, you crybaby demon lord. I’m going to borrow your treasure, which you’re rumored to be so obsessed with.”
The hero spoke sharply and quickly struck the hilt of his sword hard before any of us could respond.
At that moment, a magic circle spread out at our feet. As someone familiar with magic circles, I knew immediately what it was. It was a transporter.
“Don’t come after us, okay? It’s not like it matters. He’s just a fake treasure, anyway.”
As the hero finished his words, we vanished without a trace to the place where the magic circle was connected.
I didn’t know where we were going. However, it was a complex, one-time transporter magic circle that could only be bound to a fixed location.
If he didn’t know where that was, there was just no way he could catch up to us no matter how fast he would run. There was no way he would follow us.
—And at the moment we vanished…
I had a feeling that Azel, crying while holding his chest, reached out his hand… But it must have been just a dream that my mind had at that instant.
I’m not a hero. I’m not your benefactor either.
I’m worthless. Even my name was borrowed… Just who am I in this world?