Thanks to Ilmera, who took them to the village of the dark elves, Kyle and his group were soon able to join up with Elina.
Elena had been crying out of worry for Kyle, but when she found out that everything had worked out well in the end, she clapped her hands with joy.
The rest of the dark elves were also relieved to hear that the dragon threat was gone and that the poachers, who had turned out to be Melra believers, had now been killed.
【"...Makes you wonder why none of them's here to see us off, huh."】
Said Seran cynically.
Even though Kyle and the others were about to leave, the only ones who came to see them off were Paserane and Roas. The other dark elves were either absent, or at best, watching from a distance.
The truth was that Kyle and the others, including Ilmera who was waiting in the back, were like an unforeseen hazard for the dark elves, so, now that everything was over, they probably wanted them to leave as soon as possible.
【"Paserane, thank you for everything."】
Elina deeply bowed to Paserane.
【"No, you don't have to thank me. Rather, you're the one who saved my life... Say, Elina, don't you want to come back to the village? Given your contribution to this whole matter, I'm sure they will cancel your banishment. Besides, I'll personally ask them to receive you, too..."】
Although the intensity of Paserane's tone showed how much she wanted her to say yes, Elina shook her head.
【"I can't, my mother is in Linecol."】
Elina's mother, Luctera, was a human being. Elina now had no reason to return to the dark elves' village, especially since her mother had fallen ill.
【"But... This is still my birthplace, and I will not forget it."】
As Elina said so with a wide smile on her face, Paseran also smiled a little and then turned towards Kyle.
【"Kyle, was it? I'm entrusting Elina to you."】
Paserane spoke to Kyle with some power behind her voice.
Paserane had not overlooked the fact that Elina's cheeks would redden a little whenever she looked at Kyle. That could be attributed to the fact that he had come to her help at the perfect timing when she was troubled in various ways, but Paserane knew what it really meant.
In short, what Paserane was telling Kyle was that he had better not make Elina cry.
【"Sure, I'll do everything in my power to help her."】
However, Kyle had failed to notice the true meaning behind Paserane's words, and what he actually meant was that he would deal with Luctera's disease.
【"I'll take that as a promise."】
Paserane made sure to put emphasis on how serious this was.
Once everyone had said their parting words, Kyle and his group mounted on Ilmera's back and departed.
【"Until next time, fair maidens."】
Roas loudly bid farewell to Lize and the other females in the group.
【"They're gone, huh."】
Paserane answered Roas with a weak tone of voice.
【"...Why did you ask Elina if she wanted to come back? Didn't you strongly agree with her banishment?"】
When Roas said so, Paserane looked surprised.
【"So... you knew. Whenever Elina is in my presence... I end up hating myself."】
Paserane did indeed used to be nice to Elina, but that was a calculated move, she had just been scoring points with the child of the person that she admired.
After the death of Elina's father, Paserane had recommended to Elina to leave the village but that wasn't out of worry that life would become too difficult for her here, rather, it was because she would fall into a spiral of self-loathing whenever she was in her presence. Paserane felt too guilty about exploiting her.
However, that sense of guilt was boosted even more when she met with her after a long time and realized that Elina still loved her just like she used to.
【"Then, why did you tell her to come back?"】
【"This time... This time I wanted to become a sort of older-sister figure for her... Without making any sort of calculations..... No, I actually wanted to do it for myself. To take a burden off my chest... it's disdainful, isn't it?"】
Roas was flabbergasted by Paserane, who was drowning in her own thoughts.
【"What are you saying? Elina is probably somewhat aware of that. And yet she still likes you.... You don't need to feel like you're indebted to her."】
Surprised by Roas' words, Paserane looked towards the direction where Elina and the others had flown away, before muttering to herself.
【"I want to meet her again... Then, we'll hopefully be able to talk a lot more. This time, I'll be sincere."】
【"...Even when distressed and troubled, maidens are still beautiful."】
Said Roas with a nod to himself as he looked at Paserane.
『I have returned.』
After carrying Kyle and his companions until they were near Linecol, Ilmera came back to the "Dragon nest" and returned to Zeurus, who had turned back to his dragon form, in order to make his report.
『I see that you have worked hard... How was it to cooperate with a demon and humans?』
There was some anticipation behind Zeurus' question.
Ilmera was high in Zeurus' esteem, so much so that Zeurus was thinking of making him the advisor of Gruldo when he would become the head of this land.
However, perhaps because he was too serious or too stubborn, Ilmera was inflexible on certain points. Moreover, part of him looked down on human beings, although that was not limited to Ilmera.
Zeurus' case was different, he had already acknowledged human beings since he once had an experience that involved the ancient magic kingdom and the magic ruler Sildonia.
Therefore, in order to make Ilmera understand that feeling and make him change ever so slightly, Zeurus had sent him with Kyle's group with the pretext that it was just to observe them.
『I only spent a little time with the humans... And as expected, their actions were particularly uncivilized and foolish.』
Said Ilmera, likely referring to the Melra worshipers.
『Is that so....?』
Zeurus nodded with a bit of regret.
『However... However, like you said, I also did learn a few lessons from the humans.』
『Oh, what kind of lessons?』
Asked Zeurus as he leaned forward.
『...For instance, the law can apparently be interpreted in many different ways.』
『Is that what you learned?』
There was a hint of worry in Zeurus' voice.
『That human, when he asked me to carry Gruldo, he said "Dragons don't serve the law, it's the law that should serve the dragons. The law must not become a burden that chains you down!" ...I was shocked and ashamed to have not considered that. That must be how humans think.』
『That's not wrong. It's certainly not wrong in itself, but...』
Zeurus wondered if Ilmera's change was a good thing.
(It will be a problem if he abides by the law blindly, but I wonder if looking for loopholes within law is the right attitude for him to take.) He thought.
Incidentally, Kyle's words slightly sounded like something that would have come out from the heroic tales that were famous among the humans. Upon hearing that line, Lize and the others had showed both shock and wry smiles. However, those words, which had been said at a perfect timing right after the rescue of Gruldo, seemed to have resounded in the mind of Ilmera.
『I will think about this deeply.』
『I-Is that so? ...Well, that's probably good.』
(I still don't know if it's a good change, but what's certain is that something has changed in him.) Thought Zeurus.
【"In the end, I just feel like I've been manipulated."】
Several days after the fight with Gruldo, Kyle was muttering a complaint to himself inside a room in one of Linecol's inns.
The only ones currently staying in the room were Kyle and Minagi. Lize and the others had left outside for shopping and other purposes, and Elina was nursing her mother.
One of the reasons Kyle had not gone out was that Minagi was about to report to him what she had investigated in the past several days, but the main reason Kyle had not gone out was that he couldn't.
【"You look like you're in a very bad mood, mister 'dragon slayer'."】
【"Stop it... I'm really not in the mood to hear that right now."】
Kyle seemed to be very displeased by Minagi's teasing.
【"What? Isn't 'Dragon slayer' the greatest title when it comes to raising a warrior's fame? That kind of title will circulate for years and years."】
Minagi was right. More than a hundred years had passed since last time a human had managed to be recognized as a 'Dragon slayer', and yet his heroic tale still remained to this day. Similarly, Kyle was likely also going to become a legend.
【"...How are things outside?"】
【"It's pretty amazing, you're the talk of the town. If you take even one step outside, you'll probably be surrounded by a crowd of people on the spot."】
Minagi was obviously enjoying the situation.
Kyle's reputation among the adventurers appeared to have suddenly and drastically changed.
The adventurers believed in one thing above all: strength. And they had no choice but to acknowledge Kyle's strength now that he had defeated a dragon one-on-one. Apparently, some adventurers like Getsuga had even said that they wanted to buy Kyle a drink.
At first, there was a big fuss about the fact that another dragon came to retrieve the corpse and that Kyle followed said dragon, but the talks about that matter had calmed down for the time being.
【"Overall, the rumors are considerably in your favor... People's interpretation seem to be going in quite a convenient direction. They're saying that a different dragon came to thank you for exterminating the dragon that had been troubling the humans..."】
【"And that means...."】
Although she had been speaking in a teasing manner so far, Minagi's face became serious at this point.
【"Yeah, that change in the rumors was obviously intentional... and the Melra worshipers definitely have something to do with it. To be frank with you, I can't do much else than what they've already done in order to improve your reputation further."】
【"Do you not like that? It's the ideal development for you, isn't it?"】
【"Yeah, it doesn't matter whether it's my side or someone else's that manages to raise my fame, but...."】
For Kyle, becoming a hero was not an end goal but a means to an end. He did want to become a hero no matter what, but what actually mattered to him was what he was going to do after becoming one.
【"... But I feel like the Melra worshipers are much too active behind the scenes in this town..."】
Minagi's face turned slightly bitter upon hearing those words.
【"...To be honest, I was too careless and inexperienced and I suppose I can only admit that they were a step above me."】
Minagi seemed mortified.
Even since the group had come to the Edos country, Minagi had been thoroughly investigating everything that had to do with the Melra faith, but she had hardly found any traces of them. And yet, nearly a hundred Melra worshipers had been hiddenly taking action.
She did end up finding them at the very end, barely at the right time to intervene in their fight with Urza and Lize, but she had still nearly made an irreparable mistake.
Although that did not show in the way she spoke, she was actually filled with regret inside and her pride had suffered a serious wound.
【"This blunder is all on-...."】
【"I have faith in your skills, Minagi. If you do feel responsible, then just make up for it with your future actions."】
Kyle interrupted Minagi, not letting her finish what she was saying.
In response to this favor, Minagi vowed to herself to never make a mistake again, and that this was the only time she would allow herself to depend on Kyle's indulgence.
【"Besides, you were of great help. If it hadn't been for you, Urza and Lize could have been in danger."】
Ever since that day, Lize and Urza's attitude towards Minagi had considerably improved.
Perhaps that had to do with the fact that she had saved them in a visible manner, but it also certainly had to do with that fact that they had fought alongside each-other.
【"About the thing you asked me to check out... you were right. Although that Luctera looks like she's suffering from some kind of disease, she was actually poisoned... by a Melra worshiper."】
Kyle frowned, he had a foreboding feeling.
As far as Kyle knew, in his previous life, Luctera never had a disease that put her on the brink of death, so he had Minagi investigate that just in case.
【"She and her daughter live in a tenement house, and the person living next door to them was a Melra worshiper, and of course, her doctor was working for him."】
【"So, that Melra worshiper..."】
【"He won't be a problem anymore. I also confirmed what kind of poison was used on her, she should be recovering soon."】
Kyle felt sincerely relieved.
【"... So, why do you think they went through all that trouble?"】
【"Well... She married a dark elf and had a child with him, so they surely consider her as an enemy... But if that was why, it would have been meaningless for them to pass off the poisoning as a sickness all this time."】
Minagi was trying to think of a reason.
Kyle, who was thinking at the same time, stumbled upon an answer.
When Luctera fell ill, it was obvious that Elina was going to rush to raise money.
If someone showed up at that exact time, looking for someone to guide them without any regard for the price it would cost, she was sure to jump on the opportunity no matter what that entailed.
Elina was an indispensable piece for the dragon subjugation to happen, and that was a play orchestrated by the Melra worshipers' side.
Without Elina, it would have been impossible to find the world tree, or at least, it would have taken more time, which would have made Kyle unable to negotiate with Paserane and the dark elves.
However, that was too far-fetched.
Kyle had come in contact with her in a natural way, he also did not believe Elina was being manipulated by someone. Therefore he did not think that the Melra worshipers were involved with that.
The same applied in Gruldo's case. Even Kyle himself had not anticipated that he would go face Gruldo at that exact time.
And yet, Locfarl had confidently declared that everything had happened as the holy father of his religion said it would.
(Was it all a coincidence? Seems to me like that would have involved way too much luck when considering that everything went their way. Or maybe...)
【"It's like that holy father can know things before they happen, that sure would explain everything."】
Said Minagi with some doubt in her voice, having likely followed the same thought process as Kyle.
All of that would not have been possible if it wasn't for the instructions of the holy father of the Melra religion.
Being able to read the future... Although any normal person would laugh at the idea and say it was stupid, it was impossible for Kyle to laugh.
【"To follow up on the report, I found out that the unicorn horns have been taken outside of the country, as I thought."】
【" I see...."】
Kyle wanted to gather the horns and return them to the dark elves if possible, but there was nothing he could do about it anymore.
【"Besides that, I've also learned that the Melra faith as a whole has been changing its policy in the past half year. Before then, it seemed like they had been reducing their activities little by little, and then they suddenly started becoming much more active."】
【"Can you think of a reason?"】
【"Yeah... The best I can think of is that that holy father took over and then changed their policies himself? I mean, most of their activities are due to that holy father's instructions. "】
【"In the end, it all comes to down to that holy father... I guess I need to meet him."】
【"...Wouldn't that be dangerous?"】
Minaki spoke with a concerned tone of voice.
【"I don't know why but he seems to think well of me. I'll take that gamble."】
【"He does seem to like you in a bizarre way... What's your story with him, Kyle?"】
【"I'm the one who wants to ask that... seriously..."】
Kyle let out a heavy sigh.
【"But how are you going to meet him?"】
【"That's... I'll think about that later. Seeing how things are, he'll probably do something about it himself."】
(Either way, I'll have to meet with him no matter what.) Kyle made that decision to himself.
The other thing that was on his mind was the demon called Targ.
If Yulriga had been telling the truth, then that would mean the demon king had yet to understand what Targ was doing.
But the most important point was the fact that it was very likely that Targ had a connection with the next demon king, who could also be called the main cause of the 'Great invasion'.
Although faint, there was now was a possibility to cancel everything that was going to occur, by defeating the next devil king before the 'Great invasion' could even happen.
However, even if the next devil king happened to currently be in the human territory, it was very unlikely that Kyle would get any information about him.
【"The demon territory... I'm gonna have to go there sooner or later."】
【"....I don't know where that came from, but don't you think that would be too insane?"】
Having heard Kyle's mutter, Minagi questioned his sanity.
【".....Say, what is it that you want, Kyle?"】
Asked Minagi with a serious voice and face, like she was confronting him.
She was aware that becoming a hero was not his goal but a means to an end. Still, from her perspective, his actions were far too abnormal.
However, she also knew that he had a firm resolve and that his actions were aimed towards a clear purpose.
Hence why she wanted to ask him, what was it that he was seeking?
After thinking for a little while, Kyle answered with a serious face.
【"....To die happily of old age, I guess."】
In response, Minagi put all her betrayed expectations into a strike to Kyle's head.