31.0 Zero_Chapter 10: Raft

I lay on my back, closing my eyes as I drifted on the sea. The waves lapped gently over my body, pushing me further and further away from the shore.

But I didn’t mind. In fact, it was strangely relaxing. As if, for a few moments, I could forget everything that ate away at my mind and soul and let the world take me where it wanted to.

I’d yearned for power on Earth and cursed my inability to protect my parents and my life’s work. But ironically, now that I had the power I’d yearned for so desperately, I found myself longing for the exact opposite.

Now that I could control my own destiny, I wished for uncertainty and doubt. Now that I possessed unimaginable strength, I desired vulnerability. Now that I could fix everything with a thought, I thirsted for a challenge.

And now that I knew what I had learned on the Hill, the thing that I craved for the most was ignorance.

I let the waves carry me for a little longer, but I knew I couldn’t stay there, not when the others were flailing about in the water.

The Hero, the Demon Lord and a Goddess; some of the most powerful people in this world but none of them know how to swim. Kinda sad isn’t it? I sighed.

Right, time for lifeguard duties.<re:write.self.equip=raft>

A sturdy, wooden raft appeared below me, lifting me out of the water. It had a small white sail that flew uselessly in the gentle sea breeze but I wasn’t planning on using it anyway.

I had already found them through a combination of Map and a new favorite called ‘Locate.’ I could have picked them up one by one or teleported them all straight to the raft but I didn’t want them to know the extent of my power just yet.

So I rewrote the ocean.

Waves surged and pushed them towards the raft while also keeping them afloat. I pretended to maneuver the raft towards them as they drew nearer. Soon, I pulled out a coughing Amy and a choking Runir and let them rest on the raft. I found Lily splashing around violently and had to shout for her to calm down before rescuing her.

She coughed out water and lay down on the raft like the others. For a long time, none of us said anything. But I was certain that we had different reasons for our silence.

“Do you think he’ll follow us here?” asked Lily, breaking the silence.

“I don’t think so. I doubt he knows where we are but I get the feeling that he wouldn’t care to follow us even if he did.” I replied.

I could feel the tension in the air dissolve as the realization hit them-they were safe.

I suppose it was a new experience for all of them, in a way.

The unbeatable Goddess had been beaten. The genius tactician outmaneuvered. And the tenacious thief subdued.

They’d survived by the skin of their teeth but they knew that their enemy hadn’t fought them seriously. In fact, that indifference made them feel even worse about their powerlessness, because it made them feel like they weren’t even worth the trouble of killing.

“The girl. I saw her fall off the cliff. Where is she?” asked Amy.

I sighed. “She’s pretty tough, she’ll be fine.”

“But-”

“She’ll be fine.”

She still looked unconvinced, but dropped the matter for now. She stepped back to lean on the sail which was fluttering uselessly in the gentle sea breeze.

“What is he? Some sort of God or phantom? I don’t remember him at all.” asked Runir, sitting up.

“Remember from where?” I asked.

“Books. I’ve read a lot of books since I came to Erath but none of them mention someone like that.” he said, quickly. “So what is he?”

“I don’t know. But whatever he is, we can’t hope to beat him. At least not yet.”

No one spoke for a while, silently mulling over the disheartening truth.

“How did you manage to hit him? Everything I tried went straight through him.” asked Lily.

“Secret.” I said, winking.

“Kai. This is not a joke. That guy blew up a shrine! A Goddess’ shrine. He took over Ashpoole and I’m sure Beigo can’t resist him for long either. The Fire Kingdom is…” said Amy, her words trailing off.

“Kai, this is serious. I know you don’t like talking about your Ability but we need to know how to beat him and for that, we need to know why you can hit him.” said Runir.

“Alright, but even if I tell you how to hit him, do you think you can hit him hard enough?” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Do you want me to spell it out for you? You’re weak. Too weak. There’s no point in telling you how to fight him if you can’t even scratch him.”

“Hey, you didn’t do so well yourself, you know?” Runir retorted, grimacing.

“Be that as it may, you have no chance against him. None of you do.”

Lily frowned. “You can’t know that. If Amy used that spell she used in the end, but you know, managed to hit him, we might be able to-”

“No,” said Amy, her voice barely audible. “It won’t work.”

“Why not?”

“We can’t fight him. No one can. He’s Fate.” she whispered, dejectedly.

“Fate? Damn it, why does everyone in this world keep saying that? You decide your own fate, not the other way around. Your decisions, your choices, they make you who you are, not Fate or whatever.” said Runir.

“If that is the sort of world you come from, then I must admit that I envy your people. But here on Erath, our destiny is tied to what we’re born with. Fate decides who we are and what we can do,” she continued.

Runir grit his teeth and was about to reply but I stopped him.

“That’s not important right now. Regardless of whether you can resist Fate, one fact remains indisputable- you guys are far too weak.”

Runir glared at me. “Well, that’s kind of your fault, isn’t it?”

“My fault?” I asked, frowning.

“Yeah, I haven’t leveled up once since I met you and I’m sure Lily and Amy haven’t either. And now that we can’t go to the shrine to get the Fire Goddess’ blessing, Lily isn’t going to get a convenient Hero boost either.”

“And what do you want me to do about it?”

“Stop scaring away the monsters.”

I stared at him, disappointed.

He knew why I didn’t want to kill monsters. He’d seen the Ashfiend, he’d heard Vandrake’s reluctance to attack. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Even Amy and Lily looked uneasy, but since they didn’t outright reject it, it meant that they were considering it.

The thought made me sick.

“If someone is born evil, does that make them evil or unfortunate? If someone is born good, do their actions merit praise or is that just a matter of course? These monsters kill because they have to. They are monsters by nature. But if you do this, you will be monsters by choice.” I said, coldly.

We stared at each other for a while. No one spoke, letting the sound of the sea fill the silence.

“Fine,” Runir muttered, breaking his gaze.

“But then what do we do?” asked Lily.

“Well, we may not be able to go to the Fire Goddess’ shrine, but the Air Kingdom is just on the other side of the sea.” I replied.

“But the Air Kingdom is a part of the Dusk Alliance. Taking the Hero there would be dangerous.” said Amy.

“I agree, it would be very risky,” said Runir.

“Of course it will, but-”

“Let’s do it.”

I turned towards Lily.

“I admit, you will be the one in the most danger so you should get to decide but don’t make this decision lightly. Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked.

She nodded. “I can tell, you know. You punched him, Amy nuked him and Runir tried to make a plan. You guys fought him with everything you had but all I did was stare like a fucking doll. Despite all that crap about being the Hero, I’m just a burden right now. I need to get stronger.”

I smiled. “Great! Since you’re so determined, we should make the most of our journey and train along the way.”

“Training? It takes forever to level up with training. It’s not worth the effort.” said Runir, dismissively.

“True. Normal training can only take you so far, but, what I have in mind isn’t normal.” I smiled.

“I have a bad feeling about this…” muttered Lily.

“You should join in too, Runir. You could use the workout.” I said, ignoring Lily.

“Er, no thanks. I’m good.” said Runir, taking a step back.

“You sure?” I sighed and shook my head. “Oh well, your loss. Here you go Lily.” I tossed her a pouch.

Runir’s eyes followed it into Lily’s hands.

“Hey, Kai…is that a-” he began.

“Thanks Kai! It’s beautiful!” she said, flashing the ring on her finger.

“Um-”

“Glad you liked it.” I smiled at her.

“Kai…”

“Yes Runir?”

“Where’s my ring?”

“I’m only giving it to her because she’ll need it for the training.” I explained, forcing myself to wear a straight face.

“Does that mean you’ll take it back after we’re done?” asked Lily, hiding her hands behind her back.

“No, you can keep it.” I said.

Lily smiled happily while Runir stared at the ring. She noticed his stare and smirked at him.

“Fine, I’ll do it,” he sighed.

“Glad you came around,” I smiled, tossing him a ring.

He put it on and admired it with a grin.

“Now then, get in the water.”

“What?” asked Lily.

“No way.” said Runir.

“You agreed to the training, didn’t you? Now do as I say or I’ll take back those rings.” I said.

“But I don’t know how to swim.”

“Me neither.”

“It’s okay, the rings will keep you afloat. Now get in.” I said, pushing them into the water.

They screamed and flailed about for several minutes and tried to climb back onto the raft. Of course, I mercilessly pushed them back in every time. Eventually, they gave up and held onto the sides of the raft, coughing out water and gasping for breath.

“Alright, first things first, you need to learn how to swim. Hold onto the raft and start kicking with your feet.”

They hesitated for a while before giving up and kicking the water leisurely. I scolded them and made them kick harder while telling them to keep their back straight. Soon, the raft was moving along at a reasonable pace.

“Hey…Kai…” said Lily, panting.

“Yes?” I said, reclining on my beach chair.

“How…much…longer….do…we…have…to…do…this?”

“Until we reach the Northern continent.” I replied, sipping my lemonade.

“That’s….bullshit!”

“Stop complaining and kick harder. Look at Runir, he’s giving it his all. Try to learn from him.”

“Fuck…you….Kai….” Runir groaned.

I chuckled and looked out towards the sea. I’d made sure that we were traveling in the right direction and estimated that we’d reach the Northern continent in a week or so, which was more than enough time to train them to a decent level.

I looked over at Amy, who was sitting on the raft with her head between her knees. I’d offered her a chair but she didn’t respond, which made me feel concerned.

“Hey Amy.”

She didn’t respond, but I knew she’d heard me.

“Just because you couldn’t beat him this time, doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless.”

She still didn’t respond.

“You just have to get stronger.”

She stirred but didn’t say anything.

“It doesn’t matter how strong you are, you can always get stronger. That, I can promise you. So why don’t you start training too?”

“…okay.” she said, lifting her head and taking a deep breath.

“Great! Here you go,” I tossed her a ring, “start kicking.”

The moon was shining in the dark night sky, drawing silvery lines on the calm waters below. Lily lay curled up in a sleeping bag, muttering in her sleep, and I was sure I knew what she was saying.

Amy was sitting with her back to the sail, pretending to be asleep. Her legs kept twitching for some reason. I mean, all she’d done was kick for a few hours, shouldn’t a Goddess have more endurance than that?

Runir was sitting on the edge of the raft, his feet dangling in the water as he looked out to the sea. His eyes were unfocused, reflecting the silver moonlight dancing on the waves below. Even though he’d just spent the whole day kicking the water, he didn’t look tired at all. In fact, he looked sad and melancholic.

It wasn’t surprising really; Lily was never shy about her emotions and Amy didn’t have enough experience with them to hide them, but Runir always bottled his feelings up-never letting anyone see what was inside his heart.

I walked over and sat beside him. He flinched but didn’t say anything, and neither did I. We sat there on the edge of the raft, gazing at the moonlit sea and enjoying the cool seawater washing over our legs.

“Admiring nature is one of my hobbies.” I said, breaking the silence.

Runir grunted, and gently stirred the water with his legs.

“Hey…” I said, splashing some water on him.

He frowned in annoyance and glared at me. “What now?”

“Wanna hear a story?” I continued, meeting his gaze.

“Oh, is it my turn to cry then?” he sneered.

I heard Amy shuffle closer but Lily’s colorful sleep-talk continued undisturbed.

“Nah, this one won’t make you cry. This time, it’ll make you think.”

 

 

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