Who Killed the Hero? Volume 1 Chapter 1 Part 1

Leon’s Chapter

 

 

“He was my friend,”

was his concise answer when asked about his relationship with the Hero Ares.

Even through his clothes, one could see his well-trained, tight body. His trimmed blond hair, neatly groomed beard, and handsome features overwhelmed others with his powerful gaze, indicating he was no ordinary man.

Friend—their relationship should have been more complex than that simple word. Going back to their school days, they were party members who had stared death in the face countless times together.

Leon Mueller. Known as the Sword Saint Leon, he was once considered the top candidate to become the Hero.

“It doesn’t have any special meaning. Just that before I met him, I didn’t have anyone I could call a friend. Because I was born into a relatively high-ranked family. When you’re born into a noble family, human relationships are only above or below. You either revere or are revered—that’s how you evaluate the people you meet. It’s pretty awful, isn’t it? That’s what nobles are like.”

As he said this, a mischievous smile crossed his face.

The current Leon lacked any uptight noble airs. If anything, he is known as a frank, upright man who made no class distinctions. Even with me, he spoke casually, not making me feel any difference in status.

—So how was it when you first met Ares?

“I was still a noble then. No, I’m still technically a noble, but back then I was a creature of nobility. And I was a candidate for Hero. I was also quite full of myself, thinking no one could surpass me with a sword, and that I would definitely become the Hero. My surroundings saw me that way too. So…”

Leon’s eyes darkened.

“I hated the guy. A commoner who waltzed into the Pharme Academy, which only nobles could enter, wearing muddy shoes. And he was a man with no outstanding features. I didn’t even want him in my field of vision.”

—The Pharme Academy, which still exists today, is famous as an institute for training Heroes, but it’s supposedly not only for nobles. In fact, it opens its doors to anyone with sufficient ability.

“It was different back then. The founding principles had been lost, and it had degenerated into an institution for nobles to give their children polish. Of course, you could enter if you had money, so technically social status wasn’t required for admission, but hardly anyone crazy enough to try and enter a place like that did. If you wanted to get stronger, there were countless other options—enter a private tutoring school, become the disciple of a famous swordsman, gain experience as an adventurer, and so on.”

—So why did Ares enter the Pharme Academy?

“It’s simple. Because he wanted to become the Hero. There were countless ways to become a strong warrior, but to be recognized as the Hero, this was the only way. Well, thinking about it now, it wasn’t like he had to enter the academy to become the Hero, but that’s what was believed at the time, and that’s what he thought too.”

—What happened when you first met?

“I’d like to say I don’t remember, but I still see it in my dreams. With one glance, I contemptuously said to him, ‘You don’t have the qualifications to become the Hero.’ “

—How did Ares respond?

” ‘Even so, I have to become one,’ he said. I was furious at being talked back to by a commoner in that way. I felt like cutting him down on the spot, but a teacher stopped me. Causing bloodshed on academy grounds would have been problematic. While the teachers did see him as an uncouth person who didn’t belong there, they must have thought it would leave a bad taste to kill him.”

—What kind of student was Ares?

“He was mediocre. From what I heard, he had done some adventuring before entering the academy, so he had decent combat skills. But his sword forms were self-taught, so he had to start over from the basics. We dueled countless times before graduating, but I never lost to him.”

—It’s believed that even as a student, the Hero Ares had outstanding grades, but…?

“That was embellished later. After he defeated the Demon Lord, acquaintances from his school days lavished him with praise, saying ‘Even as a student, he showed the brilliance of a Hero.’ He didn’t shine at all back then. But he was abnormal.”

—Abnormal?

“In mock battles during lessons, he would either win or keep fighting until he was truly knocked down. He wouldn’t give up from just a little damage. He would seriously take on even the teachers. If there was anything he didn’t understand about the material taught, he would pester the teachers or classmates until he grasped it. He would practice repeating the forms late into the night.”

─ That’s all you can say about him, isn’t he just an enthusiastic student? As a Hero’s legend, he might actually be considered weak.

“It’s not just dedication. He had no concept of rest. He had no free time. All his time was spent on “becoming a Hero.” He wasn’t sleeping; he just pushed himself to his limits and collapsed. Some people used to bother him because he was a commoner, but they quickly stopped getting involved with him. Anyone could see it was an extraordinary level of determination.”

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—With that much effort, could he really have been that average?

“Well, he did grow to some extent. Or rather, it was only natural he’d achieve some results with that much effort. But differences in talent can’t be overcome no matter how hard you work—that’s an unchanging truth. In the end, like how he couldn’t surpass me with the sword, he was never number one in any other field either. Of course, his grades weren’t bad. But anyone could get grades at that level with the extent he worked. …Though I guess there aren’t many who could put in that kind of effort.”

—Certainly, at graduation Ares wasn’t the valedictorian. The valedictorian was Leon, correct?

“I was able to become valedictorian because I had the backing of being a count’s son. If there was a member of the royal family in my year, they probably would have taken it instead. But my grades were suitably excellent.”

Leon smiled roguishly. Mischievous, but a smile that loves people.

—By the way, you called Ares your friend, but when exactly did you become that close?

“It was near the end of our third year, during a field training excursion. As a final test of everything we’d learned in three years, we went on an expedition to the Rozolof Great Forest to fight monsters.”

—Even now, the Rozolof Great Forest is known as a demonic domain where monsters still appear. Even today, the Pharme Academy continues this field training as a tradition.

“Even if you call it a demonic domain, the strength of the monsters varies greatly depending on the location. The forest stretches over enough land to contain several countries. The area students go to has relatively weak monsters appearing. Experienced adventurer teachers also go along, as well as knights to act as guards. It’s practically risk-free…or so it should have been. But one demon targeted that training.”

—That story is famous. It became one of the Hero’s heroic tales—that the members who would later form the Hero’s party defeated the attacking demon despite still being students.

“It wasn’t a picturesque, heroic tale like that. Almost all of the teachers and knight escorts were killed. Of course, there were student casualties too. Frankly speaking, it was a blunder by the kingdom. To cover that up, the students who survived were glorified as heroes.”

—Certainly, by emphasizing the demon’s strength, and because students were able to drive it back, it highlighted the bravery of the Heroes despite their youth.

“To put it simply, that demon wasn’t that strong among demons. It was just crafty. It probably aimed to build up achievements at minimal risk by killing students who might become the Hero. If the teachers and knights hadn’t been forced to protect us, they probably could have put up a better fight too.”

—Even if weak, demons are still considered the strongest race among monsters. How were the students able to defeat it?

“It’s simple. Our abilities were already sufficient to win from the start. Skills of me, Maria, and Solon already stood out, even though we were students. But we completely lacked actual combat experience. We could take down weak monsters, but didn’t know how to work together to take down monsters stronger than us. I charged in alone and got easily defeated. Solon was in disarray because his prided magic didn’t work. Maria stood dumbfounded in front of the unhealable corpses.”

—The Saintess Maria and the Sage Solon, certainly famous members of the Hero’s party. But at this time, they had yet to demonstrate their abilities. So how was Ares?

“He immediately instructed everyone to flee upon seeing the demon. To scatter and run, not sticking together. I thought it was the behavior of a coward to not fight at all and just run away. But the students who followed those instructions survived, while the ones who tried to stand against it died.”

—What about Ares himself?

“He was blocking the demon that tried to chase the escaped students. He didn’t directly confront it, but kept his distance to hamper it. He probably wanted to save as many lives as possible. So when I was defeated by the demon, he jumped in during that opportunity. I would have died if he hadn’t come.”

—Did Ares also try to let you escape?

“No, to me he said, ‘Stand up! And fight!’ How awful is that?

Telling me to fight when I just lost to the demon? I thought there was no way I could win if I fought.”

—But you did fight.

“It was the first time in my life I’d been so thoroughly beaten down, and my pride was in tatters, but still, a commoner was fighting alone. As a nobleman, a count’s son, I couldn’t run away.

And also, he said this to me—’Didn’t you want to become the Hero?’ With what little courage I could muster, I stood up.

Thinking about it now, that was the first time in my life I ever showed courage. Until that training, I’d never faced and overcome difficulty in my life. So when I was confronted by the threat of the demon, my spirit was easily shattered and I resigned myself to death.”

—How did you fight an opponent you knew you couldn’t beat?

“I fought the same way he did. Not charging straight at them, but keeping my distance and watching for chances to strike. It was a way of fighting I had mocked as being for weaklings, unbecoming of a knight. However, by trying it I realized it was an effective way to fight an opponent stronger than yourself. For monsters individually stronger than humans like demons, we should have fought like that from the start.

With the two of us watching for chances to strike the demon’s openings, Under Ares’ direction, Solon started using magic to attack the demon. Maria also focused on healing us as we fought. And that’s how we won.”

—So that was the first time the Hero’s party functioned in battle?

“It’s simple when you put it like that, but at the time I didn’t think we could win at all. I couldn’t even tell if our attacks were having any effect or not. But since he fought without any hesitation, we could fight too. He had been knocked down over and over as well. But no matter how many times he fell, he immediately stood back up to keep fighting.

Later I realized he had probably envisioned this kind of combat from the mock battles in class. That’s why even when he lost countless times in those mock battles, he didn’t casually admit defeat and kept fighting until he won. While we just vaguely went along with the lessons taught, he had learned many things. That difference came out in that field training.”

—Did you think of him as a friend because he saved your life?

“Maybe, maybe not.”

Leon glanced vaguely into the distance.

“At that time, I thought ‘Oh, so he’s the Hero.’ Don’t take this as sour grapes, but after regrouping, I dealt the most damage to the demon. In terms of pure skill, I was still stronger than him. But it’s not about that. The Hero needs strength, but that alone isn’t enough. Of course, social status was completely irrelevant. What’s questioned is the Hero’s way of being.

I wasn’t the Hero. And for the first time, I acknowledged another person—not as above or below me, but as a fellow human being, as an equal.”

—Why did the Hero die?

“That was probably his destiny as the man named Ares. Nothing more than that.”


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