The sun had set, and the skies darkened.
After setting up camp, we started to take a meal around the burning firewood.
But the hero was the only one eating.
He even took the trouble to put the rope from my back to my front so I could use my hands, but I had no appetite and refused to eat.
Normally, I wouldn’t have felt that way. I walked all the way until the sun went down and cried so much that my throat should be dry.
But I didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything at all, so I just stared silently at the flames, adding wood from time to time to keep the fire going.
The hero looked at me like he couldn’t read my true intentions and gulped down a bowl of soup with stewed preserves.
He leaned forward as he emptied his bowl and sneered.
“You’ve got such a damp face… Looks like that demon lord was so obsessed with you that he cried. Hah, you’ve played him very well, haven’t you? It’s shameless of you to flatter a demon to save your life.”
“…Hmm, I guess… I think he mistook me for his benefactor, my predecessor, and I kind of soaked it in.”
“I see. Your names are the same, so it was just the perfect way to trick them and sneak in.”
I couldn’t respond to his annoyed voice.
He was right. I probably would have been too scared to tell him, even if I had known the truth sooner.
I wanted him to love me, even if it meant taking his place. If he hadn’t found out, I would’ve just closed my eyes and smiled.
“…Hmph. You can’t forget about that demon lord’s thing that you regret it so much? I knew it. You’re just a scumbag who would take advantage of a country’s weakness to do whatever he wants for himself.”
“You’re right… If I knew I would suffer this much, I should’ve just died when they kicked me out of the castle. I should’ve given up on myself before we met.”
“Hah? What are you talking about? You were so selfish that you left the castle on your own. Are you stupid?”
I should have gone away before I could hurt him.
The hero glared at me dubiously as I muttered these thoughts.
I had no idea what was going on and blinked my eyes in confusion.
I don’t remember leaving the castle myself, but… I looked away, thinking it didn’t matter anymore.
“One day… The king told me to defeat the demon lord and drove me out alone. I was locked up in the tower all my life except for work, so I had no friends to come with me.”
“And then, the demon lord told me to stay by his side… Once I knew how delightful it was to have somebody beside you, I could no longer breathe unless I was next to him…”
My hoarse, pained voice was accompanied by the crackling of the fire.
The hero furrowed his brow and looked grim and bewildered.
It wasn’t a metaphor. My heart had been screaming ever since I parted with Azel. I felt like I was going to die at this rate.
I was willing to die. If I wanted to live, there would be nothing left for me after saying our farewells.
Azel lost the reason to love me. I couldn’t see the value in myself anymore.
“H-Hey, don’t cry, you shit…!”
The hero, sitting on my left while keeping an eye on me, hastily grabbed my arm and pulled. I reflexively turned towards the direction I was being pulled.
I placed my hand on my cheeks to see if I had been crying again without realizing it, but they were not wet.
“…I’m not crying.”
“The way you cry gives me the creeps!”
Despite saying I wasn’t crying, I obediently apologized to the hero, whose veins were popping and eyes full of anger.
I tried to cry as quietly as possible so as not to let anyone notice me, but… it was still bothersome.
Most people would be terribly confused if someone cried right in front of them.
I stared at the hero without shaking off his grip.
He was younger than me but lived in a world harsher than mine. He looked back at me with a serious expression.
“According to the king, you’re a piece of shit. But it doesn’t look that way to me. I don’t want to regret it. Tell me every single one of the eight years you lived.”
The wood crackled. The full moon shone brightly above my head.
The eight years I had lived. The cold prison I slept in alone and the clean-up job labeled as a shallow hero work.
All of my precious memories of this world were packed into these past four months.
It didn’t take long for me to talk about the time before that.
“…Everything’s the other way around that it’s hard to believe.. My head can’t keep up… They locked you up, made you murder people and fight wars, kept you useless, and then threw you into the demon realm when things went bad…”
“You don’t have to force yourself to trust me. It’s painful to think about who’s right, isn’t it? Besides, whether I’m a hero or not didn’t matter to me the moment I got thrown away.”
“Well, I guess you’re right. For you, the fact that you are not the hero from ten years ago, and… that you are not the Shal that the demon lord wanted is probably why you didn’t resist and walked silently to be executed.”
The hero of the current era—Luoh, let out a breath.
Even if he listened to my story, he wasn’t certain if the past was true or not. However, he seemed to understand that I really do love Azel.
I added to my story how Azel’s benefactor was my predecessor, Shal, and that he had a decade’s worth of thoughts and feelings for him.
I also told Luoh that Azel wasn’t coercing the monsters but that they were just simply doing as they pleased.
Demons were not cruel and inhumane. They also had feelings. And, it wasn’t the entire demon realm’s will to have monsters in the human realm.
I thought that if the truth were conveyed to the human realm from Luoh in this way, assassins might not be sent to the demon realm.
I was restricted from using magic, carried no sword, and wasn’t a hero either. I could only protect Azel in this way.
But even if I was going to die, I wanted to do whatever I could to help him.