Once, there was a young girl in this world who was called a “Hero.”
She battled malevolent demons that appeared from another realm who had seized control of half the world and drove humanity to the brink of extinction.
She defeated these evil beings, saved the people, and reigned as a symbol of hope.
That was the Hero.
She was believed to be a special existence chosen by God, endowed with immense power and a resilient spirit from birth, destined to be the hope of humanity.
That’s no joke.
She was just an ordinary girl.
A typical girl you could find anywhere.
She just happened to be chosen by God and granted special powers at birth.
Sure, she must have had the mental fortitude to continually battle the terrifying demons using that power.
But she was certainly not the perfect superhuman “Hero-sama” everyone thought her to be.
There’s no way it wasn’t difficult for her to be thrust into a battle that held the fate of humanity, bearing the expectations of the people.
I thought as much when I later came to know the path she had walked.
I was made painfully aware of how much she cried, how much she suffered, how much she was scared, yet still fought on, in places where the cheering crowds couldn’t see her.
The Hero is the hope of humanity.
Therefore, she is not allowed to show any weaknesses.
She is constantly expected to seek victory and to continue demonstrating an unyielding spirit.
She can’t even show a tearful face when her comrades die.
Because if she does, everyone won’t feel secure.
That’s just too much for one human to bear. . . . . .!
Still, she pushed through the thorny path and continued to fight.
She routed the Demon King’s Army, defeated its top generals known as the Four Heavenly Kings, and finally reached the Demon King himself.
But her victorious advance ended there.
The Hero, in her final battle, was defeated by the Demon King and was killed.
It was a reckless battle, challenging the Demon King while bearing permanent wounds and after losing all her comrades.
She lost that fight and died.
I was dumbstruck when I heard the news in my far-off hometown.
I couldn’t believe it, and didn’t want to believe it, so I left home and set out on a journey to find evidence that she was still alive.
But what I saw on my journey was the Demon King’s Army, once weakened by the Hero, regaining its strength and attacking towns and villages.
What I learned on my journey were the realities that the newspapers, which only published convenient facts, had hidden; the true circumstances behind her successful campaign.
A staggering number of casualties.
Even the “Holy Warriors,” companions of the Hero, had died one by one in the battles against the Four Heavenly Kings.
I felt dizzy.
The world I believed in had completely turned upside down.
I felt sick to my stomach.
Thinking of the unimaginable suffering she had gone through while I was nonchalantly “training” back in my hometown.
I regretted it.
That day, when her fate changed forever.
Why didn’t I insist on going with her instead of staying back in our hometown?
She and I were childhood friends who grew up in the same rural village.
It was a peaceful yet dull place.
There were no other kids our age in the small, sparsely populated village, so we always played together.
As kids, inspired by a wandering minstrel’s song about heroes, we promised to leave the village and become adventurers someday, even playing at training.
Even back then, she was incredibly strong, and looking back now, maybe that was an early sign of her Heroic power.
Always defeated by her, I would sulk, and she would gloat in victory. It was frustrating, so I would train more and challenge her, only to be beaten again.
But in the end, those were fun times.
Days like that continued, and I thought that through our endless sparring, we would both grow stronger and eventually become adventurers together.
However, that routine suddenly shattered one day.
When we were 10 years old, our village was attacked by demons.
Likely, they were stray demons that had gotten separated from the Demon King’s main army.
Looking back, they were probably low-level demons.
Still, a demon is a demon.
They were nothing like the weak monsters around our village that anyone could hunt if they were armed. These were real monsters that had been fighting heroes on the battlefield.
There was no way the villagers could win. The village was utterly devastated. . . . . .or so it seemed.
That’s when she defeated the demons.
Unlike me, who was paralyzed by fear, she gathered her courage to protect her family and acquaintances.
Pulling out a sword meant for hunting weak monsters, she swung the oversized blade and challenged the demons.
It was a reckless fight.
Any normal kid would have surely died.
In fact, if I had been the one fighting, I’m confident I wouldn’t have lasted a second.
But she won.
I can never forget that moment.
Was it because she stood against humanity’s enemy, the demons, or because her survival instincts exploded in the face of life-threatening danger?
Or perhaps it was because she gathered the courage to protect someone and made up her mind.
At that critical moment, she awakened the hero’s power sleeping within her and slew the demons with a sword clad in light.
It was amazing.
It was cool.
I couldn’t help but feel proud as her childhood friend and sparring partner.
I carelessly felt relieved, thinking that with that power, she would never lose to demons.
Even my jealousy was blown away. A dazzling light called the hope of humanity clouded my eyes.
Now I understand.
That was the biggest mistake of my life.
A few days later, important people from the kingdom visited our village.
Apparently, they had sensed the birth of a hero through some divine revelation and had come to fetch her.
I deeply regret the words I said to her at that time.
[Go ahead. I’ll make sure to protect the place where you can return!”]
I meant it as words of encouragement.
I really had that resolve.
If the village were to be attacked again, I would be strong and protect it.
That was my spirit in maintaining a place for her to return to.
But that wasn’t it.
That wasn’t the case.
The words I should have said at that moment were. . . . . .
[. . . . . .I understand. I’ll leave the village in your hands! So, leave the Demon King to me!”]
The words she replied with.
If I had looked closely, I would have noticed they were bluffs.
But the dazzling power of the hero and the sense of security I felt at that time clouded my vision.
Although I should have been looking properly.
Even when she was trembling as she stood against the demon, I should have been looking properly.
The overwhelming strength I saw afterward erased that weaker side of her from my stupid head.
And so, she set out as the hero.
I remained in my hometown, continuing to train to fulfill my promise. Occasionally, I would go to the town and see her achievements in the newspaper.
She saved various countries, repelled the Demon Army, and defeated the Four Heavenly Kings.
While I trained in what could only be described as lukewarm practice, I would see such articles and think to myself, “Indeed, my rival!” I want to punch that version of myself from those days who could only engage in pretend training.
As I continued to live those days, I finally saw an article stating that the last of the Four Heavenly Kings had been defeated, leaving only the Demon King.
I thought the day when she would defeat the Demon King and return was near, and I was looking forward to our reunion. But then, a special edition with the headline “Hero’s Death” suddenly appeared.
It was a bolt from the blue.
I couldn’t believe it.
And so, I set out on a journey to trace her path, learning just how much she had suffered. Regret gnawed at my heart, and I was consumed by anger and despair at my own foolishness, crying out.
In the end, an uncontrollable rage and hatred towards the Demon King who killed her welled up within me.
Only those dark emotions drove me forward.
I lived the rest of my life, vowing to avenge absolutely.
Train, train, train, train.
It was different from the training I did in my hometown; it was hellish training that exceeded the limits, continuing to forge myself, trying to become stronger than anyone and defeat the Demon King.
But it was impossible.
I had no talent.
Even if I put in ten times the effort to those who truly had talent, let alone special beings like heroes or Holy Warriors, I couldn’t even reach their feet, no matter how far I went in my growth.
So, I changed my way of thinking.
Instead of becoming strong, I strived to become someone who could kill the strong while remaining weak.
I trained myself even more in hellish conditions.
I challenged labyrinths, demons, and monsters, constantly facing opponents stronger than myself and almost dying while honing my skills as a slayer of the strong.
How many years had passed in such a life?
Ten years, twenty years?
I no longer counted, I no longer remembered.
Even if I spent all that time just training, I couldn’t imagine defeating the Demon King.
But I decided that if I spent any more time, my body would deteriorate, so I launched an assault on the Demon King’s Castle, intending to take the Demon King down even if it cost me my life.
And. . . . . .
“Myself…! Finally, even though I finally defeated the hero…!
Facing an opponent like you, a weakling without divine protection, in a place like this. . . . . .”
At the end of a fierce battle, the Demon King fell while cursing.
Impaled through the heart by my blade of destruction, the Demon King had completely breathed his last.
“I. . . . . .won. . . . . .”
I was lucky.
Or rather, ninety percent of it was thanks to that guy.
The Demon King was weakened.
In the final battle with him, the wound inflicted by the Holy Sword, said to be the Demon King slayer, had not yet healed.
Both of his arms were missing, and he was forced to attach them to the arms of some monster.
Both of his eyes were crushed and lost their light, there was a hole in his stomach, and he was in a state where he was unable to even use magic, probably due to the intense pain from the continuous burning of his wounds.
This is the damage she did in exchange for her life.
The Demon King’s Army itself had also been significantly weakened, having lost many demons, including the Four Heavenly Kings. That girl was truly a hero.
“Ugh. . . . . .”
But I wasn’t unscathed either.
Despite being in a pitiful state, the Demon King managed to inflict lethal damage on me.
One arm was torn off, one leg was bent, my heart was pierced by deep claws, and half of my face was gouged out.
It was undoubtedly a fatal injury.
Or perhaps, if the world’s greatest Healing Magic user had been here, things might have been different.
“Haa. . . . . .Haa. . . . . .”
I exhausted my strength and fell to the floor, just like the Demon King.
On the floor of the Demon King’s Castle, which had been completely destroyed in the aftermath of our battle.
Perhaps that girl died here too.
I had avenged her, and now, I could die in the same place as her.
That was my wish.
My wish, but. . . . . .
“. . . . . .Empty.”
Those words unintentionally spilled from my lips.
Even if I had achieved revenge, she wouldn’t come back.
I had fought all this time to settle my grudge, but now that I had settled it, there was nothing left for me.
“If you were alive. . . . . .If I could have protected you. . . . . .We could have had a happy ending. . . . . .”
With such a profoundly sad thought in my heart, I died.
[You have done well to defeat the Demon King]
A strikingly beautiful voice spoke.
A woman’s voice.
[To think that you, without even the regular divine protection, could accomplish what even the hero couldn’t—defeating the Demon King—I never thought it possible]
My consciousness was fuzzy.
It was like the moment just before falling asleep.
In that state, I heard the strikingly beautiful voice of a woman.
[You have defeated the Demon King and saved the world. You are the savior of this world.
As a token of my gratitude, I shall grant you one wish.
You, who defeated the Demon King without receiving my divine protection, are qualified to receive a divine miracle in its stead.
However, there are limits to what my power and constraints can achieve]
A wish. . . . . .will be granted?
Then, I want to see her again.
This time, I want to protect her.
I want to be by her side.
This time, for sure.
[Very well. I shall send your soul back in time.
Do as you please, create a new timeline.
I pray that your wish will come true]
The woman’s words were lost in my fuzzy consciousness, leaving no trace in my memory.
But I felt she had told me something wonderful.
The next moment, a gentle warmth enveloped me, and with a sense of comfort like that of a child held by their parents, my consciousness fully fell into sleep.
“Hey, are you alive?”
When I woke up, I felt something poking at my head, and heard a familiar voice coming from above me.
Annoying, but a voice I deeply love.
The voice of a childhood friend I thought I’d lost long ago.
The voice of someone I once considered my best friend.
The moment I realized who it was, I quickly sat up.
Apparently, I had been lying on the ground amidst some grass.
As a result, our foreheads collided when I looked up at the person peering down at me.
Both of us screamed simultaneously.
While enduring the intense pain in my forehead, as if I’d hit a rock, I stared at the person I’d collided with.
She was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl with striking features.
A face too familiar.
The face of someone I used to see every day.
The cherished face of my childhood friend that I could never forget, no matter how many years pass.
“Ouch. . . . . .Don’t headbutt me as soon as you wake up! You’ve got some bad sleeping habits!”
Ah, she’s still as sassy as ever.
Is it. . . . . .really you?
“. . . . . .Stella?”
“Haa?! Why are you suddenly calling my name, ah. . . . . .?!”
By the time I realized, I was hugging her.
Undoubtedly, this is Stella.
The great hero who met an untimely death while saving people.
My precious childhood friend whom I thought I’d lost.
I’m so glad.
So glad we could meet again!
“What, what, what are you doing?! This isn’t something you do until you’re older. . . . . .What’s going on?”
Ignoring Stella’s protests, I kept hugging her as tightly as I could.
It’s okay, she’s tough.
The future hero isn’t just for show.
Even if I hug her with all my strength, she probably won’t feel any pain.
“Hey, seriously, what happened to you?! Are you acting weird because you hit your head?!”
“. . . . . .I hit my head?”
Now that she mentions it, my head does hurt a bit.
Ah, yes, now I remember.
Today, a bard came to the village and sang a song.
A song about a hero, an adventurer who valiantly slayed vicious monsters and conquered a grand labyrinth.
That got both of us hyped and. . . . . .
[I’ve decided! Someday, I’ll become an adventurer!]
[Me too! Then let’s train to become stronger!]
After a conversation like that, we started sword fighting with sticks from nearby trees.
Then, I was shocked by her unexpected strength, got hit on the head, and fainted.
. . . . . .Was that a dream?
Stella becoming a hero, getting killed by the Demon King, and me regretfully embarking on a journey to avenge her.
Was that a dream?
“. . . . . .It might be. I had an eerily realistic dream because you hit me on the head.”
“Huh? Dream? That’s why you’re hugging me?”
“. . . . . .Haa~!, so you were scared and hugged me! Cute, little Allan-kun is a scaredy-cat~!”
Damn, annoying. . . . . .!
But I can’t let go.
If I do, I feel like I’ll lose her again.
“Hey, are you really okay? You’re shivering and not even arguing back. . . . . . What kind of dream did you see?”
“I dreamt you became a hero and died. And it was incredibly realistic.”
“What?! That doesn’t make any sense!”
It doesn’t make sense to me either.
But I can’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t just a dream.
For some reason, I had the unpleasant certainty that it would become a reality.
“Even if that happens, I’ll protect you. Absolutely. Definitely.”
While tightly hugging the flabbergasted Stella, I made up my mind.
No matter what happens from here on, I resolved to protect this idiot until the very end.