Episode 94

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
1 week ago
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When the tent was lit by a faint light, and the sound of birds chirping could be heard.

Having barely escaped the deep sleep of the two, I decided to take a moment to catch my breath by the campfire.

Damn, thinking about it again, it was absurd.

It was hard enough with one person, let alone two. Why on earth did I make such a choice yesterday?

“Good morning, young man.”

As I sat alone by the fire, calming my mind, a shadow started walking from the bushy area beyond the hill.

I was a bit wary at first, but soon realized he was Jang, who had agreed to help me, and felt relieved.

Had he been standing watch until now and come to wake me up as it was time to get up?

“It seems the two young ladies are still sleeping in the tent… Waking up this early, the burden must have been quite heavy.”

“Haha… Yes, well, both of them are more charming than I deserve.”

“Such charming young ladies have taken this arduous journey to find you. I thought you’d mingle with them if the situation arose, but maybe this old man was meddling unnecessarily.”

“…No, it’s not your fault, Boss.”

I was grateful for his help, but ironically, this wasn’t a problem that could be solved by such consideration.

The fact that the two fought over me showed how serious their feelings were for me.

And the guilt I felt watching that, knowing that my heart and effort couldn’t be divided between them, was weighing on me even more.

“It’s just that I’m indecisive. If I had a firm heart, I could make a clear decision.”

“…So your concern is that you can’t make a firm choice.”

“It’s unavoidable. That’s how human relationships are.”

Even though we had formed a close bond, I began to feel hesitant about getting too close to each of them out of consideration for each of their feelings.

Even if I wanted to repay one who had sacrificed much for me, being true to that feeling meant that I must give up on the other.

And that meant hurting the other party.

I couldn’t even consider taking one of them out of my daily life, not wanting to hurt either.

“Having to hurt one of them. It’s only natural to be afraid, isn’t it?”

“Being afraid…”

As I felt pathetic about myself, Jang was poking the fire with a fire poker.

That nonchalant action seemed as though he knew the answer to my serious concerns.

“It seems, young man, you’re thinking about it too hard.”

“Thinking too hard? What do you mean?”

Yes, living a long life brings wisdom.

With such a hopeful expectation, I asked again, and soon he answered with a faint smile.

“If it’s too hard to choose one of the two, why not just aim to choose both from the start?”

“…What?”

“It’s not that strange. Even the most diligent family men commit adultery, after all.”

Adultery?

Even though I was torn between two people, wasn’t this an inappropriate thing to mention in this situation?

If it weren’t a joke, it would be offensive, but there was a calmness and gravity in his voice.

“It might be hard for ordinary people to form relationships with several people, but among nobility, political marriages, and concubines are common. Even in the wild, the alpha usually monopolizes the females in the group.”

“That’s… true in some cases, but isn’t that a story from a world too different from ours?”

“What does it matter if the world is different in a crumbling world? If anything, to adapt to such a world, you need to become accustomed to breaking the common sense you know.”

As if accepting even that sense of dissonance lightly, he laughed heartily and turned to glance at me.

His face was full of wrinkles, yet he had sharp eyes that seemed to pierce through my retina.

“Young man, I also highly regard your upright character. Such a mindset in this chaotic world is worthy of being called a ‘quality’.”

The seriousness emanating from him told me immediately.

That what would follow was an adage forged from the years he had lived.

“But what you adhere to is ultimately just an ‘artificial concept’. Morals and notions formed for convenience, nothing more, and they can break at any time depending on the situation.”

“…So, the more chaotic the world, the less one should cling to common sense?”

“If it harms you, then yes. In reality, many people think this way and thus engage in affairs.”

It was a narrative I could understand.

Fallen heroes, murderers, etc…

They, too, show extreme actions in this chaos, firmly believing that this is the way to survive in such a world.

“…It almost sounds like you’re encouraging me to commit wrongdoing.”

According to him, society maintained order through artificial concepts.

In a world where such concepts were gradually destroyed, not ignoring common sense might be more of a poison.

Such a sharp comment, combined with my current indecisiveness, felt like deep self-criticism.

“It’s also a call to become a hero.”

The following words, however, denied my self-pity as if uprooting it.

“…What?”

“Young man.”

Clatter.

The campfire was still burning.

I forgot to add more firewood for a moment, but Jang continued speaking in a serious tone, unconcerned.

“Even if there is no place left for humanity to live, I believe there will still be those who maintain an attitude like yours in this world. And if such a world really comes, I believe it will be rebuilt around those with a character like yours.”

“No. That’s too much praise. How could I possibly…”

“Surely, everyone will yearn for the past.”

I felt confused by his inscrutable demeanor.

But when I looked back, I could see an inexplicable regret in his eyes.

“People will want to return to a time when common sense prevailed and protect the traces that lead back to that time.”

“…Boss.”

“And no matter how chaotic the world becomes, those with something to protect will never hastily stray. Do you know what those who choose not to stray commonly seek?”

The embers slowly died down, leaving only a few glowing ashes.

He, who had withdrawn his gaze from the ash pile with nothing left to burn, turned to me quietly and said,

“Power.”

Even more than the previously brightly burning campfire.

His intense gaze, more powerful and prominent, unwaveringly met mine.

“Power…?”

“Yes, if you wield greater power, in any world, in any situation, you can bear the responsibility for actions that defy common sense.”

It was incredibly simple, and in a way, even nihilistic…

But for that reason, it was advice that could be considered a truth penetrating this world.

As someone who had felt powerless until now, it struck a deeper chord with me.

“So if you have concerns, whatever they may be, first focus on cultivating your strength. If you do so, a foundation will be formed that can handle what you desire.”

Chirp, chirp.

The birds’ tweets were becoming clearer.

With the sun rising to replace the extinguished campfire, casting its light on the scene, Jang, imprinting that light in his eyes, stood up and turned his back to me.

“It’s about time, so I’ll go catch something for breakfast. You wake up the young ladies.”

“Ah, yes. Be careful.”

Tap, tap.

The sound of his walking staff tapping away was growing distant.

As I listened to him leave, I quietly looked at my hands in the place he had left, imprinting his previous advice deep in my heart.

“If I…”

If, as he said, I were to wield power.

“If I become a hero…”

If I become strong enough to be a hero.

I felt the belief blossom within me that I would no longer be troubled by all the concerns I had at this moment.


After finishing the morning preparations, our journey resumed.

Naturally, the luggage compartment was still cramped, but the journey thereafter was not as stifling as it was initially.

Although the previous advice didn’t provide a clear solution, it did help to somewhat reduce my aversion to the two.

“Um, Hyo-sung…? This seems too much for you…”

“It’s okay. Compared to working as a porter, carrying two people is relatively light.”

Airi asked with concern, but I paid it no mind and sat down on my legs, then pulled her body as close to me as possible.

This way, there would be some space for the two, reducing the feeling of constriction, and more importantly, direct intervention on my part would lessen any quarreling between them.

“After all, if we proceed with our journey, there will be harder tasks than this, so we should get used to it now. Are you okay with that, Merilyn?”

“……”

“…Merilyn?”

“Y-yes? What did you just say?”

Merilyn turned to me, startled.

But her usual bright smile was almost absent.

Instead of her characteristic smile, there was only a blush coloring her stiffened face.

“No, I was just asking if it’s okay to continue like this.”

“Yes, yes. It’s fine.”

Merilyn passively responded, placing her hand on the arm wrapped around her body.

Her usual playfulness seemed subdued at this moment, as if she hadn’t expected me to act this way.

Come to think of it, was this typically her reaction when I took the initiative?

“Well…”

Reflecting on this, Merilyn, who had been watching me, cautiously shifted her weight towards me to close the distance.

“If it’s not too much trouble, may I come a bit closer?”

“Ah, yes. If it’s okay with you, Merilyn… Airi?”

As soon as Merilyn closed the gap, Airi immediately buried her head in my embrace.

Then, fidgeting with her hands, she tightly closed her eyes and whispered quietly in my arms.

“Th-this should be okay, right?”

Gulp.

Swallowing hard in my dry throat, I quietly pulled her closer to me with more force.

“Yes, yes. It’s okay.”

Yes, it was something I needed to get used to in the future.

If I gained strength, I wouldn’t have to give up one of them, and thus, I could secure an opportunity for an even more special relationship than this embrace.

So, to reinforce that mindset, I must pay more attention to my relationship with the two from now on.

“Stop!”

The thrilling journey was interrupted when a shout came from outside the carriage.

Thinking it was about time to arrive, I got out of the carriage before the others to assess the situation and stared at those blocking the road.

A checkpoint was situated on the path leading to the garrison area. It was guarded by heavily armed soldiers.

“This area is currently a garrison zone under the control of the Imperial Army. Entry is restricted to those with unclear identities. If you haven’t received permission to enter, kindly turn back!”

Leading them and shouting was a veteran clad in red armor.

Despite appearing old, the strength of his voice echoed through the valley.

Yet, there was a strangely familiar quality in his commanding voice.

“Who is that person…?”

It didn’t take long for me to realize why.

The one at the checkpoint was Legion Commander Marcus Cradle.

One of the leaders of the ‘Legion,’ the core force of the Imperial Army, whom I had seen before when following a hero on a quest.

Back then, I was just a porter, watching from a distance, but he was one of the key figures of the Empire, not to be taken lightly even by someone like me.

“Heh, this is something. Trying to get inside by doing something as unfitting as courier work.”

To such a distinguished figure, Jang, who had risen from the driver’s seat, approached nonchalantly.

“If I had known you’d be stationed here, I wouldn’t have bothered with a cargo moving request… This is why one should keep in touch with acquaintances, I guess.”

“…Jang, is it?”

“Yes, it’s been a long time, Marcus.”

Jang, leaning on his staff, closed the gap between them.

In the ensuing greeting, tinged with longing, even I, eavesdropping, could sense the weight of the names being mentioned.

“Isn’t it more than just ‘a long time’? It seems like over 10 years since I last saw you.”

“Heh, it’s already been that long since we followed Tacchia around? Half a century ago, time really flies.”

Tacchia?

Did they follow the Tacchia I knew about half a century ago?

…Or was it that child?

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