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No one is a Hero

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“Are you… a child of Starfall Hill?“ were the first words the Dark Lord spoke from his throne. Not a threat, or a grandiose speech. Just a question he should not know to ask.

The Hero steeled his expression. Not many were aware of those children, the ones that appeared at the hill. The ones that went on to be Heroes.

All of them went on to be Heroes. Without exception.

Above the Hero and his party, the Dark Lord. Raven black hair, billowing red cloak, large demonic wings. And, oddly, an eyepatch on his left eye.

It‘s not the large imposing figure they all expected, though the hallmarks of a Dark Lord, the three cursed items, were present, so it had to be him. Instead, the Hero noticed how much the Dark Lord‘s form resembled a statue he'd seen in his hometown.

A statue of the Hero who came before him.

A brave soul, they always said, such devotion to the cause. It‘s a shame he was taken from us so soon.

The Dark Lord‘s expression contorted when he spoke next, as if the mere act pained him, “I was… too.”

“What does that mean?” the Mage whispered to the Hero. The Hero said nothing, as he often did.

“My name is…” the Dark Lord gasped and clutched his throat. He coughed and coughed, until he finally rose.

His arms and legs, they moved. They moved to move the Dark Lord, yet his elbows and knees hung slack. As though someone pulled his hands and feet forward.

Then, the pain faded from his face, replaced with a wicked grin. “The war must continue! You will end me here and now!

Something’s not right.

Before the Thief could finish her exclamation of “Wait a second-” the Dark Lord leapt forward on his puppet joints.

His single visible eye, black sclera with a red iris, shone in the torchlight.

The Priest clutched his hands in prayer and the Mage raised her staff.

Just as the Hero jumped back, narrowly avoiding one of the many cracks in the floor, the Black Book strapped to his waist murmured something to low to hear.

How the Hero met the Black Book had been odd. It – or rather she – was a SAVE book identical to those found in places of worship, with the large advantage that she was both sentient and portable.

He found her early in his journey to gather allies against demons. She’d lain in the forest of monsters, beneath the Great Tree. Abandoned.

Ever since then, she complained and chided at her leisure, always something to say. Odd thing was, she fell silent as soon as the party reached the Dark Lord’s castle.

After deflection the Dark Lord’s claws – he swung his limbs as if they were made of cloth – the Hero shot the Black Book a questioning look.

“Go for the cursed items. Crown, Ring, and Staff. He’s powerless without them.”

The Hero nodded and told his allies as much.

“And…,” the Black Book’s single eye shone, “please don’t kill him. Please don’t kill Brane.”

Brane.

Brane, the hero before you, was everything a Hero could be. He swung his sword as swift as the wind, his magical potential even made mages jealous. Monsters fled at the sight of him. You should learn from Brane.

He was everything you’re not.

He was a true Hero.

And look where that got Brane. Because Brane. Was. Dead.

While his thoughts absorbed him, the Hero fought on autopilot. Dishing out orders, dodging blows, throwing out items he amassed so carefully. His team worked in perfect harmony.

The Dark Lord, with no allies to call his own and moving like a man possessed, stood no chance.

How odd. How odd. All treasure chests in the castle were empty. All locks had already been picked. Each dungeon, castle included, was littered with cracks and scratches and stains of blood.

Reused.

The Dark Lord, it seemed, was reused too.

A lull in action appeared. The Dark Lord retreated back before his throne. He hunched and panted. Burns both fire and holy, slashes from dagger and sword, littered his skin.

“My name is…,” he rasped once again,” Brane. I am Brane. I am not the Dark Lord.”

“That’s nonsense!” the Priest replied, “Brane was a Hero, and he is dead!”

The Dark Lord smiled, wistful. An expression unbefitting of a ruthless destroyer. “I died. I died and was revived wrong. Body stitched together from a demon.”

He lifted a hand to his face, and, with the flick of a claw, his eyepatch floated to the ground.

One eye was a demon’s. Black and red. The other… white and purple, one of the rarest colors on the continent.

Before the current Hero, the last pair of purple eyes belonged to the Hero Brane.

“I… am wrong. I couldn’t forgive them, for letting me die. I killed them. The Mage, the Priest, the Thief. I didn’t want to. I had to. Because now I am an abomination.”

The Dark Lord limped across the battlefield. The Hero raised his sword once more, yet the Dark Lord collapsed on all fours.

He lowered his head and presented his neck to the Hero’s blade.

 

“So please, end me.”

 

“You didn’t keep your promise, Brane.”

The Dark Lord looked up, not at the Hero about to end him, but at the Black Book.

“I don’t care about what you did. I don’t really forgive them either. But you broke your promise. If you die here, you can’t come save me, right?”

The Hero realized why the Dark Lord’s eyes shone. They shone because they were filled with tears.

 

“Thief, now!”

 

In a flash, the Thief snatched the Crown, Staff, and Ring from the Dark Lord faster than the eye could see. She’d snuck up behind him while the Black Book distracted him.

Something shattered around the Dark Lord. His wings faded, his hair turned from black to blond, the Dark Lord’s clothing revealed the tattered garbs of a weary traveller.

 

Before the Hero laid Brane.

 

“I’m sorry,” Brane said. “I didn’t want to be the Dark Lord.”

The Hero flinched when Brane moved forward. However, instead of attacking the Hero, he unlatched the Black Book and hugged her.

“I’m sorry, Retina!” Brane sobbed and cried like no Hero before.

Heroes didn’t cry. But Brane wasn’t a Hero anymore.

“It’s alright,” the Black Book – Retina – cried as well, “I may not forgive them, but I forgive you.”

The party remained at a distance, silent witness to the spectacle of a former Dark Lord and a Black Book sharing their tears.

Brane wiped his eyes with his shirt and lifted himself off the floor. “Let’s leave this place. Let’s all go home.”

 

The Hero wanted to dance with joy, yet remained stoic. Home.

The Hero never wanted to be like Brane.

The Hero hated Brane, for being the perfect Hero. For being a Hero so perfect, it killed him.

The Hero wanted to go home to his friends.

And since the Dark Lord was gone,

no one is a Hero anymore.

 

Not the Hero, but the boy relieved of duty smiles.

 


"At the tail-end, the former Hero returns to Rimott Village. He is met with a feast celebrating his safe return. On that same evening, he runs into his friend's arms and confesses his love to her. His feelings are reciprocated, and his friend cries from relief, because she feared that, like the woman who raised her, she would be left alone by the boy she loves. Together they spend the rest of their days in peace.

Brane, meanwhile, enters the Castle Town without fanfare. He is not let into the Castle, so he sneaks in through a familiar tunnel instead. Upon arriving at the fated room, the Black Book disintegrates and Princess Retina rises from her slumber. She does not take the throne, as a prince had been born in her absence and had already taken her place.

After he informs the people of Rimott Village that he is alive and speaks his thanks to the simple Painter, Brane and Retina move to a small village in the south, devoid of humans. Together they bridge the gap between human and monster, living the rest of their lives in a hard earned peace.

Beneath the Great Tree, they find a mysterious egg. They raise it with care (and Neme's help) until a beautiful bird hatches. It flies circles above the monster village, and if it eats a butterfly or two, no one notices."