“This can’t be…”
Despair overcame Maho, one so powerful it almost robbed her of her sight.
These were Longmann and Mary after all, both of whom she’d trudged through highs and lows with. And then there were Laladi and the Master, who had given her emotional baggage some levity.
To Maho, both parties – disregarding Longmann, to some extent – were comrades very dear to her heart. Now, they were both acting as if some deadly stand-off was sure to ensue.
The light chuckle that cut through the tension was pleasant to listen to, like the ringing of a bell. It had come from Laladi, whose smile seemed strangely bewitching.
“Lala’s been following Master’s orders so far, but she sees she can finally get rid of your annoying little troupe. Mhm… That feels so good to know.”
Laladi’s demeanor was wholly unchanged. She had never viewed the people of the hero party as allies to begin with, not by any stretch of the word. Therefore, she could hardly deem this to be a betrayal on their part.
“Whoa there, sweet little Laladi. You don’t seriously think you can win against this many people, do you? Why don’t you, say, become my woman? Then I’d be happy to work things out with His Highness in your favor.”
“There’s no difference between one guppy and a school of guppies. Besides, becoming your woman? There’s no one out there with standards low enough to want that. What are you, brain-dead?”
It was only the sheer force of numbers on his side that gave Longmann the confidence that he could bring the girl down, even if she had only just felled an ogre. Her body was young and far from shapely, true, but her outward appearance was strikingly pretty, and the extended offer did nothing to hide the man’s obscene desire for her. She refused without a thought.
‘So maybe Lala hasn’t gotten the Master’s seed yet, sure, but you’re still not even up for consideration.’
Laladi’s expression was twisted with distaste. She turned her eyes away from Longmann and Mary despite their already declared animosity, instead focusing on Maho and Yuuto, whose respective stances on the matter remained unclear.
“Well? Which side are you gonna join? Oh, them, right? Obviously. Well then, time to kill – O-ow?! …That hurts.”
Laladi eschewed engaging anyone in dialogue, preferring instead to sort the two into Longmann’s camp of her own accord. Her constant surveillance of them was getting to be too annoying for her, in any case. She’d finally be relieved of her duties if she killed them there and then.
If she could pull that off successfully, she’d be the only member of Yelquchira with free time on her hands, and then there wouldn’t be any need for pretenses. She could just make use of her time by fooling around with the Master. There would be dissenters who would try to get in her way, naturally, but close as Laladi was to her prospective reward, there was nothing that could stand in her way.
That was how she felt about the issue, in any case. The Master, on the other hand, had delivered a well-placed chop to her head. Now, he was known for his predilection to spoil his girls rotten, and so it was a given that he was careful not to hurt the girl in any way. Infinitely more damaging to her was the mental shock of being scolded by the Master.
Master turned away from Laladi, who had fallen into a state of shock, and began to speak.
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– – – – – Do you really see us as enemies, Maho?
“E-Enemies… The Master’s…. I mean…”
– – – – – You and Yuuto. I like the both of you, I really do. I don’t want to see you die. But if you’re against Laladi, then I’m afraid you’re also against me.
“Mashter! Lala really likesh you too!”
The unfolding scenario was enough to blow away all built-up tensions. For one thing, the despair that had been so palpable on Maho’s features was now gone, replaced by a slight coloring of her cheeks and an expression that could only be called ‘maiden-like.’ Likewise, Laladi was bursting with uneven giggles and letting drool leak from her mouth.
Even the Master’s usual smile wasn’t spared from a minute shade of gloom.
– – – – – I’m not asking you to join our side or anything like that, mind. I just don’t want us to be on opposing sides.
The undiluted sincerity behind the Master’s words were their own appeal to reason. It was obvious that he wasn’t simply offering empty words because he would rather avoid a confrontation against Yuuto and Maho.
He was legitimately worried about the two, from the bottom of his heart. Maho, who was already harboring the faint beginnings of true affection towards the Master, was far from keen on the idea of engaging him in combat.
Having been introduced to Laladi’s methods when she had taken care of the ogre, she was even less prepared to fight against her. The image of herself melting away just like the ogre had was at the forefront of her mind.
The presence of Longmann, whom she’d trusted little in the first place, offered a further factor, as did Mary and her sudden reveal of her true colors. This factor was only amplified by the mass butchering of innocent villagers committed by the kingdom knights and grey guild members in their efforts to lure the Master and Laladi into a corner. Now more then ever, she would rather be on the Master’s side.
“Yuuto? What about you…?”
A quick peek at Yuuto, that same kind young man who wore his heart on his sleeve, revealed that he was hideously torn on what to do. Was he to choose his close comrades or the group he’d only been traveling with for a short period of time?
Under any normal circumstances, the former would be an immediate and undisputed answer. Still, Yuuto was a hero. He found himself completely incapable of abandoning either side to die.
Though his general indecisiveness had mildly irritated Maho in the past, all she could muster now was a feeling of compassionate understanding as she looked at him.
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That was when Mary tossed him aside.
Neither Yuuto nor Maho quite understood what had just transpired, despite Maho playing the onlooker. This was more understandable in Yuuto’s case, as he had been the victim. Mary had turned to face away from them, her expression now unreadable.
“What’re you two goin’ on about, huh? You’re both on their side, aren’t you?”
“N-Now hold on a minute! Neither of us said anything! Not me, not Yuuto!”
Maho felt nothing but anger towards Longmann as he gave a self-satisfied smirk.
“Oh? Is that how it is? Pretty sure I saw you two getting all chummy with the Master, though. You sure you’re not more comfortable on his side of the fence?”
Maho couldn’t wrap her head around what Longmann was telling her. Why was he so adamant on making them out to be the enemy?
“You’re seriously getting on my nerves.”
Yuuto raised his question as he swayed where he stood, unsure on his feet but still moving closer. Longmann practically spat the answer back, his words acrid in their tone. His face was one of relief, as if he had wanted to say that for ages.
“Hero Party this, Hero Party that. You’re always the one who takes the reins, Yuuto. Can ya blame me if I get frustrated?! We’re in another world, for crying out loud! I’m the lead, the protagonist! Where does a brat like you get off getting more attention than me, huh?! It pisses me off!”
Out of the three who had been summoned to this world, Longmann had been the quickest to adapt to it. He had certainly been on edge at first, but soon enough his thoughts had begun to wander and cast a more positive light on his situation.
He was the protagonist here. He had to be, and so he was obligated to help the other two. They were just children, after all. If the people around him could see how kind he was, all those otherworldly heroines would flock his way in no time.
One of the two brats in his care – Maho, specifically – wasn’t half-bad to look at. If he ever built himself a harem, he certainly wouldn’t mind letting her join in.
That had been his line of thinking for a time, but whatever self-conceit he’d accrued at that point was quick to shatter. When they had been assembled to have their powers revealed to them, the only one deemed fit to wield the holy blade was Yuuto. What Longmann received instead was an immense aptitude for defense and a tank role which was much more suited to a supporting character.
The grand delusions he’d had about going about life as some gallant hero crumbled away without mercy. Things went further downhill when Yuuto was being showered with praise while he was wallowing in self-pity.
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“I’ve never liked you, Yuuto. Never.”
Seeing him so taken aback Longmann only grew more lively, his laughter turning to a bellow. In his mind, had Yuuto never been summoned, he would have been the true hero.
If Yuuto had never been summoned, he could have gotten as close to Mary and Maho as he would have liked. Perhaps he would never have formed connections with the shadier side of nobility from which any hero ought to keep a distance.
Perhaps he would have never needed to dirty his hands with such unforgivable crimes, crimes which had left a chain of slaves and women in no position to repudiate violated without exception.
“It’s all your fault, Yuuto.”
The statement was entirely void of validity. It was nothing more than his attempt to cast off any responsibility and heft it onto Yuuto.
But for Yuuto, who had always viewed Longmann as a good friend, the words were enough to break a part of him. His shoulders slumped, his eyes grew dim. In his satisfaction at Yuuto’s anguish, Longmann’s breathing became a volatile, rapid huffing of air. He looked at Maho.
“You really piss me off too, Maho.”
Maho started. Her whole body shook.
You heard me. You keep going on and on about how you wanna go home, never stop moping about it. ‘Course you’d piss me off.”
“O-Of course I do! Anyone would want to go back home, that’s just normal!”
“Oh, shut it! You never stop sayin’ that, either!”
Longmann’s voice was loud enough to drown out her argument. His life back home had been painfully average, dull to the day. It had left him unfulfilled, unsatisfied.
Maho had also led a fairly average life as any student would back in her world, but unlike Longmann she hadn’t once thought of it as unfulfilling or tedious.
Those bygone, unremarkable days had been a source of joy for her, really. There was nothing odd to her about wishing to go back to those times, nothing at all. Longmann, however, could only think of what he wanted for himself. He had never even attempted to look back and commiserate, to see things from her point of view.
“This is a real opportunity. We’ll kill you and that dark guild, right here, right now.”
Longmann had borrowed an axe from a nearby grey guild member and tossed it towards Maho, letting it hit the ground close to her feet. The sight of the axe now buried to its shaft in the earth proved to Maho just how seriously Longmann was treating the situation.
“…Sheesh. Are you done talking things out over there? Lala really couldn’t care less.”