15.0 Grayscale_Chapter 3: Shade

The sun was out but the trees covered the sky, casting long shadows on the ground. I stood in the shade and the dark robed guy stood under the sunlight. I stared at him, cursing inwardly when he called me Ms. Hero.

If he knows who I am then he’s stronger than me, I thought, quickly calming down.

There was no need to be afraid. I’d dealt with stronger guys before so I knew exactly what to do.

Rule 1: Don’t break eye contact. You don’t wanna miss a punch or something. I met his dark brown eyes with mine.

Rule 2: Always be ready to jump back and start running, in case they’re crazy, perverted, or stupid. I shifted my weight and pressed down on the ground.

Rule 3: Be ready to defend yourself in case they jump at you too fast. Maybe kick some dirt in their eyes or…

The ground was wet and grassy so there was no loose dirt to kick.

…kick their nuts.

He stepped forward. I took aim. He stopped.

Damn it, did he find out? Won’t work if he’s expecting it. Gotta distract him.

“Hey uh, are you sure you aren’t confusing me with someone else?” I said.

“No, Ms. Lilith Grayscale. You are most definitely the Hero,” he replied indifferently.

Fuck, he really does know. I took a deep breath and lifted my chin at him.

“Fine then. Since you know that I’m the hero, you better stop stalking me, you creepy stalker!” I said confidently.

“Creepy stalker? But I’m not-” he said, flustered.

I inwardly grinned because I’d finally broken his poker face.

“Look, I’m busy right now. I have important hero stuff to do. Tell you what, send me a letter when I’m done and I’ll give you an autograph for free. Sound good? Okay, bye!” I waved at him while slowly taking a few steps back, but never took my eyes off him.

He stared at me and I saw some confusion in his eyes. He seemed a lot less scary now that his facade had been broken. He looked at me for a little longer before he smirked, chuckled and turned around.

“Oh well, guess it can’t be helped. I’ll just send you a letter when I find the way back home,” he said, as he started walking away.

“What did you say?” I said.

“Oh? I said I’ll send you a letter.” He stopped but didn’t turn around.

Jerk. I thought, as I bit my lip. But if what I heard was true…

“Are you an earthling too?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I waited for him to continue but he just started walking again.

Asshole!

“Hey wait! I just remembered that I have to find a way back to Earth. To… um beat the Demon Lord!” I said, as confidently as I could.

“Oh? How does that work?” He chuckled.

“Well um…” I stammered. “…that’s a secret!” I finished lamely.

Fuck! I broke his composure but he regained it way too quickly. Gotta steer this conversation somewhere else.

“Anyways, I’ve never heard of any Earthlings being summoned here except for the hero and the demon lord. So unless you’re the Demon Lord-” A sharp pain stabbed my chest, along with the urge to fire off my strongest skill.

He still hadn’t turned around and for a moment I couldn’t help thinking this was a good thing. It made it easier to drive my knife into his back.

“No, I am not the demon lord,” he replied calmly, as if he didn’t notice my growing killing intent. “If I was, I would have killed you right away. You must have realized that I’m stronger than you? Besides-” He held his arm out to the side and a few drops of water started falling from it. “I’m a Water mage. Although I have absolutely no talent in magic.”

The pain in my chest faded a little. “The hero and the demon lord can use all types of magic to an extent. This doesn’t prove anything.”

“True. However, why would the demon lord come to the middle of the Light kingdom?” he asked, still facing his back towards me.

“I don’t know, to gather intel? Maybe kill the hero before she’s strong enough to beat you?”

“Well, I suppose I can’t reason my way out of this. I’ll just have to tell you.”

The pain in my chest intensified and I unconsciously reached for the knife hanging around my waist.

Fuck! He really is –

“The Demon Lord is dead.”

“What?”

“It was announced about a month ago in the Dark Kingdom but it took a while to reach the Southern continent. I only found out because I happened to meet a merchant from the North. The demon lord died under mysterious circumstances, just like the past twenty or so Demon Lords. So rest assured, Ms. Hero, I am not the Demon Lord,” he explained, finally turning around and flashing his creepy smile at me.

I felt numb for a second as the pain in my chest suddenly dissipated. Then something else vanished too; a vague purpose or goal that I had kept in the back of my mind. A little part of me had wanted to kill the demon lord. Had wanted to be the hero.

But now I didn’t have any reason to stay in this world. I had no excuse to stay here anymore. But I didn’t want to go back. Because going back meant facing Dusty. I’d tried to avoid thinking about him because every time I did, a frenzy of emotions overtook me and made my head hurt.

After my mother died, no one had cared about me at all. The strangers I begged from, the policemen who shoved me away from the richer parts of town, and the other beggars on the street – none of them cared.

But Dusty was different. He was the first one to talk to me after I came to the orphanage. He cared enough to do so. He introduced me to the other kids, let me play with them. He played pranks on me so I got mad and whacked him with the old lady’s stick. And then the old lady whacked me for messing around with her stick. He was with me when we made our first heist, after the orphanage started running low on money.

We did everything together. We always had each other’s back. He’d been my friend. My best friend. Maybe more than that.

I still didn’t know if it was true though. The shopkeeper could have been lying. But if he wasn’t, meeting Dusty again was not something I looked forward to.

So I had been trying to put off the question. Trying to avoid the decision. Did I really want to know if Dusty had betrayed me? Did I really want to go back and find out? But now there were no excuses. There was no demon lord to vanquish. The only demons left were my own.

“So,” he said, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Do you want to go home?”

I paused.

“Maybe.”

He looked at me, frowning at my response. “Well, why don’t we look for a way back first. You can decide on the way. Does that sound good to you?”

“Fine.” I nodded. “Where do we start?”

“I don’t know,” he said, smiling.

“Then what the fuck are we supposed to do?” I asked, the corners of my eyes twitching.

“Why, we go ask someone who does know, of course!” His smile grew wider.

“And who would that be?” I asked.

“A Goddess!” he exclaimed.

I paused and thought about what he’d said. The Goddesses might know about a way back to Earth, but why would they tell us? After all, they were the ones who brought us here in the first place.

Well, it’s not like I’ve got any better ideas.

“Alright, but how are we gonna find one?” I asked.

“We can visit a shrine, perhaps. The Light Goddess’ shrine isn’t open to the public, so there’s no point in going there. However, the Fire Goddess does receive visitors and it’s fairly close by, maybe a couple of weeks on foot, I’d say.”

The Fire Goddess?

“Alright. Let’s do that.” I nodded.

“Great! We should stop by Fohil and grab some supplies first, and maybe buy a carriage if we can scrape together enough money,” he said.

I grinned. “Perfect. You take care of the supplies, and I’ll acquire a carriage.”

He blinked a few times and looked at me with an uneasy expression but then shrugged it off and started laughing.

“Interesting, very interesting. At least I won’t be bored on this trip, Ms. Hero,” he said, flashing his annoying smile again.

“Stop calling me Ms. Hero, you already know my name! Call me Lily!” I exclaimed.

“Iya ha- ahem. Very well, Lily.” He coughed.

What the fuck was that? I thought, feeling slightly…weird.

He started walking down the road.

“Hey! You’re supposed to introduce yourself too!” I said, angrily.

“Oh? I apologize, it completely slipped my mind.” He turned around.

He doesn’t look sorry at all!

I glared at him. He smirked.

“My name is-”

“Found you!” A loud shout interrupted him.

What the…?

I turned towards the voice.

A large ball of fire was shooting through the air, coming straight towards us. I stood still, mouth agape, until the heat from the incoming meteor snapped me out of it.

Shit! Gotta get outta the way!

I looked at the dark robed guy in front of me, but he was just as surprised as I was.

“Run!” he shouted, but I was already ahead of him.

We ran as fast as we could, but the fiery meteor kept following us.

“Stop!” it yelled.

Hell no!

We kept running, but the fireball kept getting closer. The air getting hotter, and a sizzling sound filled my ear. I didn’t dare look back. That guy looked at me as if he was thinking about something. He moved his hand towards me as the fireball passed over our heads.

It crashed into the ground, throwing a large cloud of dust into the air and causing the ground to tremble from the force of the collision. I shielded my eyes against the dust.

What the fuck is going on?

Something warm pressed against me, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable. In fact, it felt vaguely familiar.

“I finally found you! Why did you run off without me? It seems you need a little more training, doesn’t it?”

“Teacher?” I asked.

As the dust settled, I could finally make out the woman who was hugging me. She had long, red hair that fell all the way down to her waist, bright red eyes that shone with a fiery light, a perfect face, a perfect body, and unblemished olive skin.

Simply put, she was beautiful. She finally let go of me and held me at arm’s length, staring at me with her bright red eyes.

“Do not even think about running away again. I have to protect you, after all.” She gave me a warm smile.

Even though she was probably only a year older than me, she always acted like an overprotective mother. She wouldn’t let anyone hurt me at all. Of course, she beat me up herself all the time.

“Teacher! Why are you here?” I asked, still recovering from her shocking entrance.

“Like I said, I am here to protect you,” she said.

“Protect me? From who?” I asked.

“From –” She stopped and her eyes widened as she suddenly turned around. She pointed a large red sword at the dark robed guy.

When did she take that out?

“You! Who are you?” she shouted.

I looked at the dark-robed guy and surprisingly, he didn’t look flustered at all. In fact, he was wearing his poker face again.

“It’s rude to not introduce yourself first,” he said.

Hypocrite.

“What’s the matter teacher? Why are you pointing your sword at him?” I asked.

“Listen Lily, his name is Runir Candela and –” She started coughing and choking.

The dark-robed guy, Runir, gave her a startled look. “You can see my status?”

Teacher cleared her throat and glared at him.

“What are you –” She coughed and her angry glare intensified. “Leave! Or else…”

He looked at her for a little while before smiling.

“No.”

“Leave!”

“Why should I?”

“Because –” She started coughing again.

He kept smiling but his eyes were lost in thought.

“Teacher, what is going on here?” I asked.

She suddenly started glaring at me instead.

“Were you traveling with him? Is he the reason you left the castle so suddenly? Do you even know who he is?”

“No, I – we just met. I left the castle because I wanted to. And he’s from my world and we’ve decided to look for a way back together! Wait, why do I have to tell you all of this anyway? You’re not my mom!” I pushed her away.

She blinked, obviously confused by my actions. Then she turned to glare at Runir. But he just smiled at her.

“You know, it’s about time you introduced yourself. After all, we’ll be traveling together from now on, won’t we?” he said, still smiling.

She kept glaring at him for a while before she took a deep breath and sheathed her sword. Seeing this, Runir held out a hand.

“Runir Candela, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

She looked at his hand and snorted. I shook my head at her childishness.

“Teacher, I don’t want to have to call you teacher all the time. Can you please just tell us your name already?” I said.

She brought her gaze to me for a second, and then back at Runir. Finally, she sighed.

“Very well. You may call me Amy, Amy Genis. And if you ever try to hurt Lily, I promise to make your death as slow, and excruciatingly painful as possible. Understood?”

“Understood.”

The three of us stood in the middle of the road, staring at each other for several minutes as an awkward silence descended around us.

Well, now what do we do? Wait, what’s that sound? Is someone… snoring?

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