༺ Abandoned by my Childhood Friend ༻
The driving force that ignited a fire in my heart was rage and powerlessness.
When I was young, I was just an ordinary child in a rural village. Like many other children from a hamlet, I admired the heroes and knights in books and dreamed of becoming one.
A roughly snapped branch served as my sword, and a brass bowl I stole from the kitchen without my parents knowing was my helmet. We boys formed a group and played happily in the hills behind the village, pretending to be heroes and demon kings.
It seems ridiculous now, but among the boys who played together, there was a girl who played the role of a princess.
Her name was Ella, the only daughter of the village’s only innkeeper.
Ella’s mother had been a maid in a noble family before moving to the countryside with Ella’s grandfather, her father. Having inherited her mother’s beauty, Ella was the prettiest girl in the village.
Perhaps because she was from the capital, her skin was fair and flawless, unlike the freckled rural children. Thanks to the good education she received from her mother, she spoke gently and seemed like a lady from a noble family. Of course, she was not really on par with a true noble lady, but she seemed so to the unsophisticated country bumpkins.
Ella had trouble fitting in with the other village girls due to her unique appearance. It was probably jealousy. As a child, I couldn’t bear to see Ella alone, so I brought her to join the group of boys, albeit somewhat forcibly. She seemed secretly pleased by my actions.
I was the strongest and most athletic among the village boys, so the role of the hero who protected the princess always fell to me. Naturally, Ella always played the role of the princess. The shy smile she had when I put a flower ring on her left ring finger was more than enough to steal the heart of an ignorant country boy.
Ella never hid her longing for the capital. Whenever she had the chance, she would tell me about the beautiful streets of the capital, her friends she had mingled with there, and how gorgeously the people of the capital dressed.
Listening to her stories, I used my limited imagination to picture the city. I imagined Ella walking through the beautiful city, not a place like this full of weeds, and myself beside her.
I wanted to wear real swords and armor, not branches and brass bowls, to become a splendid knight and take her to the city like a princess.
“Someday, I will take you to the capital.”
“Really? Will you promise me?”
“Yes, I’ve heard there’s a royal palace and balls in the capital. I’ll take you to all of them. I promise.”
It was a foolish dream for a country boy who would never see a royal palace or a ball in his lifetime, but at that moment, Ella’s dream was also mine. Ella smiled brightly and nodded at my sincere promise.
We hooked our pinky fingers together. It was a secret promise the two of us made, hidden from the adults. I devoted myself to training to become a knight, believing in that promise wholeheartedly.
Since there was no one in the village to teach swordsmanship, I focused on building my strength first, climbing the hills behind the village every day. Though my training was crude, I became strong enough that no one in the village, including adults, could defeat me. I thought that if I became strong enough, I would be able to keep my promise with Ella someday.
As time went by, Ella…
One day, Ella ran away from the village with a mercenary group that had stayed at the inn. She left behind only a brief note saying she was going to start a new life in the city and not to look for her.
“Please tell Eon to take care.”
That was the only message she left for me.
No matter how much I denied reality, Ella never came back. The promise we had made as children had been taken seriously only by me, in my naivety. It was painful to be in the village where traces of Ella remained everywhere, but she was gone.
Unable to bear the resentment and loss, I left the village and enlisted in the army. I hoped to be assigned to the front-line unit near the border. I wanted to be as far away as possible from my hometown, filled with memories of Ella, and the capital, where Ella might be.
New recruits usually didn’t have the freedom to choose their assignments, but the front line was always short of personnel and avoided by soldiers, so I was able to be assigned to a front-line unit as I wished.
I lived there like a man who couldn’t find death. During the day, I fought against the monsters that came from beyond the human territory, and at night, I devoted myself to training, swinging my weapon until my muscles trembled. Even the veteran soldiers in the same unit were surprised by my behavior, saying they had never seen someone like me.
Everyone said that if I kept fighting like this, I would die soon, and that even someone who had lost their parents to monsters wouldn’t fight like me. There were people who genuinely advised and cared for me, but at that time, I didn’t have the capacity to accept their kindness. As I pushed everyone away, it was only natural that I became alone.
I couldn’t understand why I was so desperate. Was it because I wanted to succeed and make Ella look back at me? Or did I want to make her regret leaving? Did I want to become stronger because I was disappointed in my helpless self? Or did I simply want to die, disheartened by everything?
Perhaps all of those reasons were correct. The rage and sorrow, with nowhere to go, drove me relentlessly.
I lived like a ghost within the unit. Naturally, no soldier would want to be friends with someone who was bound to die soon. My reputation as a rude and unfriendly person only made it worse.
After surviving several intense battles that could have killed me, strange rumors began to spread among the unit. They said I was cursed, that I brought misfortune wherever I went.
So, no one approached me. Except for one person.
Sister Charlotte, a nun serving in the military. She was the only person in the unit who cared for me.
Charlotte was a pure imperial citizen, not from the Theocracy, but her faith in God and her skills in divine magic were not inferior to the priests of the Theocracy. I had never met a priest from the Theocracy, but the soldiers who had been treated by Charlotte all said the same thing, so even a country bumpkin like me could tell that she was exceptional.
For some reason, she took more interest in me than any other soldier. During the day, she prioritized treating my wounds in battle over others with more serious injuries. At night, she used her divine magic to heal my muscles torn from excessive training. If it weren’t for Charlotte’s divine magic, I would have died or become crippled long ago.
At first, I pushed her away, but Charlotte stubbornly clung to me, citing bizarre reasons like religious doctrine and a cleric’s duty. I wasn’t foolish enough not to notice her genuine care and kindness, nor was I ungrateful enough to simply take her divine magic and ignore her. Naturally, we grew closer.
Charlotte and I gradually opened up to each other about stories we had never shared with anyone. She had lost her parents to monsters at a young age, grew up in an orphanage, and volunteered to serve on the front lines so that no more children would have to go through what she had.
Her dream was to create a world where people didn’t need to fear monsters.
I also opened up to Charlotte about my past, which I had never shared with anyone before. Until now, I hadn’t had the courage to talk about Ella. I was certain that if others knew that my motivation to fight was just heartbreak, both Ella and I would be ridiculed, which was not what I wanted.
After telling her, I regretted it for a moment. I shouldn’t have said anything. I was afraid of how she would see me. Compared to her noble mission of protecting people, I might seem like a foolish child who came to the battlefield for something as trivial as heartbreak. It wouldn’t have been surprising if she looked down on me or even despised me.
Charlotte didn’t laugh.
“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”
She embraced me with a sad smile.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
No, it was my fault. If I had been stronger, more reliable, then Ella wouldn’t have left me. However, I cried like a child in the arms of Charlotte, feeling the warmth and affection of another person for the first time in a long while. Although I didn’t believe in God, at that moment, I felt as if a long-held knot in my heart was being washed away, like I had been saved.
From the next day on, I changed my mindset. I still took on dangerous missions, but I stopped throwing my life away because I now had a place to return to. As I stopped pushing people away, I gradually gained recognition from those around me, earned honors, and was promoted.
I didn’t become a knight, but I did become a decent soldier. It wasn’t a stable job, but after spending years on the front lines, I managed to save enough money to buy some land and livestock. Maybe it was time to return to my hometown. I had only one wish: that one person would be by my side.
“I’ve decided to follow the Hero.”
Charlotte joined the Hero’s party.
“…Let’s not meet again, Eon.”
With those words, she left my side.
The Demon Army crossed the border. The war between humanity and demons had begun, and the prince of the empire, chosen by the sacred sword to be the Hero, gathered comrades to defeat the Demon King.
The addition of a nun, known as the “Holy Maiden of the Battlefield” for her exceptional divine magic, was met with cheers and praises from all the people of the empire. All except me.
What had gone wrong? Was it wrong to wish for stability? Was it wrong to try to be happy despite my weakness? Was it wrong to give my heart to someone? In the empty space left by Charlotte, I was left alone, endlessly blaming myself, regretting, and seething with anger.
If I had been as strong as the Hero, Charlotte wouldn’t have left me. It was because I was weaker than the Hero that I couldn’t hold onto her. The sense of powerlessness ignited another spark in my heart.
I went beyond the front lines to the territories taken by the Demon Army, and even ventured into the land of demons, where no human had ever set foot. And I continued to kill any enemy I saw, stabbing, slicing, and killing them.
I still didn’t know why. Even if I killed more monsters than the Hero and stained my hands with blood, it wouldn’t change the fact that Charlotte had left me. Nothing would change even if she looked back at me now. Amidst these unanswered questions, I relentlessly pushed myself.
I went through countless battles. I witnessed countless deaths. Most of them were by my hands. I achieved feats that seemed unbelievable for a mere soldier. Some even called me a hero.
Years went by like that, the war ended, and several more years passed.
I no longer felt any emotion when I thought of Ella and Charlotte. The heart-wrenching pain, the emptiness, and the burning rage all faded away.
The last embers in my heart had finally been extinguished.
“…I should retire.”
That was the first thought that came to my mind.