"What… What are you doing?" Alice asked, her eyes wide.

"What does it look like?" Heinrich said. "I'm not going to kill you. Not today, not tomorrow, never!"

These words caused Sylph to materialise and cheer loudly. She was soon followed by the other three spirits, who were more subdued but still approving of this decision.

"But it has to be done!" Alice insisted. "The people won't accept anything other than the hero killing the tyrannical Monster Lord!"

Alice trembled. "But there's no other option – "

"There is," Heinrich said. "The people don't need the Monster Lord to be dead, they only need to believe that. In that case, all we have to do is fake your death! And with all that damage to the castle, they'll definitely believe that I killed you in battle!"

"That's – but someone will find out, once they investigate – "

"Then all we have to do is spread some of your blood around!" Sylph said. "They'll all think you got blown to bits! No one's going to go out of their way to check!"

Gnome took several deep breaths, then said slowly, "I can't say… that I know how you feel… But I've seen too many people die already… I don't want any more…"

Alice lowered her head and said nothing for a few moments.

"That idea might work. But… I don't deserve it. I've killed too many people, created a rift between humans and monsters that will take decades to heal. I can't be the only one to get a happy ending."

"Alipheese the Eighth, I understand that feeling, but I cannot agree with it," Undine said. "There are many in this world who have done things that they later regret. That applies to any monster who has lived since the last major war – including ourselves. If you truly regret your actions, do not take the simple path of death – live on, so that you may atone for them."

"I'd say something to cheer you up as well, but I know you the least out of us," Salamander said. "So I'll leave it to the one who knows you the best."

Heinrich sheathed his sword and approached Alice.

"You wanted me to go along with your selfishness, right?" Heinrich said. "Sorry, but I refuse. Instead, I want you to – "

Suddenly, Heinrich's sword and armour glowed with white light.

The next few moments were a confused blur. First, Heinrich felt his body move against his will, with his hand grasping the hilt and drawing the sword. Then a gust of wind slammed into his arm, causing him to drop his sword. Finally, he was pinned down by two pairs of strong arms.

"What the hell is going on!?" Sylph asked.

"Holy energy – the sword and armour, they were a trap!" Salamander replied. "It must be – dammit, stop moving!"

Heinrich's body continued to move, struggling against the restraint of Salamander and Gnome.

"We have to cut it off!" Gnome said. "Sorry, Heinrich, this will be – "

A sudden feeling of weakness struck Heinrich, as if his limbs had been severed and all of his senses blocked. Though he still struggled unwillingly, two spirits now had no trouble restraining him.

They… cut off the contracts from their end, Heinrich realised.

"We need to remove the armour as well, it also has the curse," Undine said. "Heinrich, my apologies, but we will have to be rough…"

The Four Spirits removed each piece of the armour, cutting, tearing, and burning at the straps, until it was all gone. Heinrich suffered a few injuries in the process, but for someone who'd fought in a war this was nothing. Once he was no longer being controlled, the spirits released him.

"Heinrich…" Alice said, holding her head in her hands. "It's all my fault… I should have known it was just too good to be true, meteoric equipment doesn't just turn up – "

"No, it's my fault!" Heinrich said. "I'm the one who accepted it, who brought it in here even when there was no more need for it – if it hadn't been for the spirits, I – "

A series of nightmarish images invaded Heinrich's mind. He saw himself cutting down Alice, unable to resist the manipulations of a cruel goddess. He saw himself being congratulated by the people of the world for slaying a tyrannical warmonger. And he saw Ilias appearing before him, disappointed that he hadn't obeyed her orders –

Wait, 'orders'? That never…

No… I remember now. That time, she…

"And it's my fault as well, I was there too, remember?" Sylph interjected. "And – wait, there's one more person who should be here!"

Sylph flew to a nearby door, opened it and entered the room on the other side. There was muffled shouting, then Sylph returned, accompanied by another monster. This one bore a distinct resemblance to the late Monster Lord, though her hair was platinum blonde, she had a pair of insectoid arms underneath her humanoid ones, and she wore a black evening dress.

Dinah Fateburn looked around at the bizarre scene: at the spirits, at the hero, at the abandoned sword and armour, and at her very much alive sister. She ran towards the last of these and punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground.

"I can't believe you did that!" Dinah shouted. "After everything we went through, you just tried to get yourself killed! Let me guess, you thought it was necessary for world peace!"

Dinah reached down and pulled up her elder sister so that they were face-to-face.

"You're an absolute, incurable idiot!" Dinah continued. "I thought that you'd grown up lately, but you're still just as much of an idiot as always! If you had just bothered to wait one more minute, I would have told you about my plan to fake your death! But no, you put me to sleep and tried to die! You're lucky that your boyfriend wasn't as stupid as you! If – if you hadn't been so lucky…"

Then Dinah pulled Alice into a forceful hug. Both of them were trembling.

It took several minutes for the sisters to settle their issues, during which Heinrich and the spirits reformed their contracts. Once this was done, they explained what had just happened. Undine also analysed the discarded equipment and discovered another aspect to the curse: if the spirits had still been in Heinrich's mind when the curse was activated, they would be trapped inside until the curse ended. It was an incredible stroke of fortune that they had materialised before that had happened. Heinrich also revealed a memory that had been suppressed until now.

"And Ilias appeared to me, when I was asleep after the meeting of the kings in San Ilia," Heinrich said. "She told me that I needed to – to kill Alice, that it was the only way to stop the war. After it was over, I couldn't remember what happened, as if it was a dream."

"But it wasn't just a dream," Dinah said, scowling. "I've read about this kind of thing in the older history books. Ilias was known for appearing to her followers and encouraging to hate monsters, to fight us with all their strength. She hasn't stopped… in fact, in hindsight she was almost certainly responsible for helping start this war."

"But she was completely wrong!" Sylph said. "Heinrich didn't go through with it in the end!"

"But she also had a plan for that…" Gnome retorted quietly.

"Indeed… Ilias always has backup plans in case of any eventuality," Undine said. "However, as this incident has shown, she is not infallible."

"Speaking of which, what should we do with her trap?" Salamander said. "It could still let her work tricks through it. We can melt it down if we use enough heat, even if it is meteoric metal."

"While I'd prefer to do that, it should be kept and studied to prevent anything like this happening again," Dinah said. "I'll put it in the most secure vault of the castle. Moving on, what do you plan doing, Alice?"

The Monster Lord jumped when she was addressed. She had been staying out of the conversation until now. Even at this point, she still looked hesitant.

"You're not still thinking about suicide, are you?" Dinah said.

Alice lowered her head. "It's true that I could fake my death, and nobody would notice, but – "

"Then what are you waiting for?" Dinah said. "If you still think you don't deserve to live – think about it this way. I don't want you dead, Heinrich doesn't, the Four Spirits don't, Edina wouldn't if she was here, and – if she returned as an undead and was capable of seeing this – mother definitely wouldn't. If you die, we'll all be miserable. Is that what you want?"

Alice couldn't stop herself from smiling slightly at these words. She extended several tentacles and pulled everyone in for one big hug.

"No, it isn't."

"Finally," Dinah said, her voice muffled. She pushed her sister back. "Alright, that's enough time wasted. Any more and the people outside will get suspicious. There's an easy way for you to get out of here without being spotted, you just need to hide inside your size-shifting cabinet and Heinrich can take you out of here. He can get out of here and, once he's shaken off the crowd and finds a safe location, he can let you out."

"Actually… there's something else I need to say," Heinrich said, taking a deep breath. "I've been fighting for two years and… and I'm tired of it. And after what happened just now, I can't keep going."

"Wait – no!" Alice cried out. "You can't, Heinrich!"

"I don't mean that!" Heinrich said quickly. "I mean that I can't keep going as a hero with everyone's expectations on me. Now, I just want to live in peace… with you."

"Heinrich…"

"Alice…"

"Okay, now's not the time for this!" Dinah interjected. "If you want to disappear as well, it'll make things a bit more difficult…"

-ooo-

The next few minutes required them to move quickly. First, Alice and Heinrich cut themselves and spread their blood over some of the rubble. Next, Alice contacted her last remaining friend to tell her about what had happened. Finally, they hid themselves inside the size-shifting cabinet, trusting Dinah to carry out the next step of the plan.

Dinah was to leave the castle and address the waiting crowd, lying to them that the hero and the Monster Lord had killed each other in combat. As evidence of this, she would hold up Heinrich's scabbard and point towards the significant damage of the castle. She would announce herself as the new Monster Lord – hoping that none would dare challenge her claim – and order monsterkind to cease fighting. Then, as soon as she found an opportunity, she would find one of her trusted agents and give them one more mission: to deliver the cabinet to a deserted alley in Remina, ostensibly to be picked up by another agent there.

The plan was a success. Fortunately, it was possible for people inside the cabinet to sense it moving around and to hear nearby sounds. When the cabinet stopped moving, the two of them waited ten more seconds to confirm that there was nobody around, then disguised themselves and emerged.

Alice stretched her limbs. "Ahh… this is the first time I've had the chance to relax in two years."

"I feel the same way," Heinrich said.

They stepped out of the alley and into the streets of Remina. News of the events at the Monster Lord's Castle had already spread to here. Everyone – human or monster, male or female, young or old – was celebrating the end of the worst war in five hundred years. The air was filled with the sound of music, the smell of good food, and the spectacle of fireworks.

Though it does feel strange, since they're all celebrating my death, Alice thought. But I'm not afraid anymore. As long as there are people who still believe in me, I can keep going.

They headed for Remina Castle and snuck in. The castle naturally had significant security, which had only been increased during the war, but no security was perfect. In her childhood, Alice had been brought here by her mother for official visits. During these occasions, she'd played with Edina and learned all about the castle, including the gaps in the security that allowed even children to get around without being spotted. She'd passed on this knowledge to Heinrich to assist him in secretly meeting with Edina. Now, with the two of them working together and the guards relaxing due to the celebrations, it was even easier to sneak in.

They found the princess of Remina sitting alone in a room and surrounded by documents. Rather than join in the celebrations, she was working to keep the city functioning.

But then, out of the two of us, she's always been the more responsible one, Alice thought. And… recent events… would have only made her more responsible.

When Edina looked up, she immediately stood up and ran over to hug Alice. She continued hugging her for over a minute, eventually separating with tears in her eyes.

"I guess this is goodbye, then," Edina said.

"Wait, you're not going to yell at me for… for trying to get myself killed?" Alice asked nervously. "I thought you were just waiting to do in person."

"I thought of that, but I figured that your sister would have already done enough of that," Edina said. "So I'll just be glad that you're safe."

"Well, I'm not going to complain about not being yelled at," Alice said. "But are you really fine with this? Heinrich and I are going to go off to some distant place where no one else lives, we probably won't come back ever again. We won't be able to communicate except using telepathy. We won't see each other again, and…"

"I know what you're getting at, and it's fine," Edina said. She looked at Heinrich. "It's true that even now, I still have these feelings… but you don't always get what you want, especially when it comes to love. That's just how the world works. And… really, the two of you are perfect for each other, I would only get in the way."

Alice shook her head. "But it shouldn't have to be this way."

"Perhaps not, but the world doesn't always go the way you want it," Edina said. "It's not like this is the last time we'll ever say anything to each other. And besides," she leaned closer to Alice, "after two years of not getting any, don't you want some time alone with him?"

Alice blushed to the tips of her ears, as did Heinrich.

"Even now, you're still easy to tease," Edina said. She then hugged both of them. "It was nice seeing you again. Farewell."

After the meeting was over, Alice and Heinrich snuck out of the castle. The celebrations in Remina were even more intense than before, with thousands of people milling about in the streets. In the eastern sky, the first traces of dawn could be seen.

They left Remina. Taking on the appearance of a succubus, Alice picked up Heinrich and flew away, blending in among the countless other monsters flying around. She flew southwest, reaching the coast and continuing on above the sea.

They flew for several hours, long enough for the sun to rise above the horizon, and eventually came across a small island. It was barely big enough to fit a small town, even excluding the space needed for fields. The coast comprised sandy beaches, while the interior had several groves of palm trees and a couple of small hills. The island was far from any settlements or travel routes. A quick examination confirmed that there were no humans or monsters present. There was no better hiding place than this.

Alice landed on the island and set Heinrich down. The two of them sat on the beach and watched the sunlit ocean.

"You know, there's one thing I didn't do back then," Alice said. "I wish I could visit mother's grave and apologise to her for… well, everything."

"It's not too late to go back and do that," Heinrich said, not entirely seriously.

"No, we can't risk revealing the secret, not after coming this far," Alice replied.

Heinrich grasped Alice's hand gently. "This might sound clichéd, and I might not be the right person to say this, but… if your mother was still here, I think she'd be proud of you for what you accomplished, considering the circumstances you were in."

"Maybe," Alice said. "Let's move on from that. There's also the question of what to do about – about Ilias."

Heinrich's expression hardened at these words. It was no wonder – while Alice had been forced into tyranny and nearly killed by the light goddess' manipulations, Heinrich had been directly controlled by her.

"I've been wondering that as well," Heinrich replied. "But it doesn't look like there's anything we can do. No one's ever invaded Heaven before – unless that did happen and just wasn't recorded in human records?"

"There's no records of that happening in monster records either," Alice said, shaking her head. "And on top of Heaven itself being inaccessible, there's Ilias herself. No matter her actions, she's still a goddess when it comes to power. Even the most plausible of our records describe her as being able to throw lightning bolts that can annihilate cities, to cross the span of the world by teleporting through light, and being unaffected by the attacks of entire groups of Queen-class monsters. And then there's her angels as well… even if we could unite everyone of the surface world, monster and human, behind us, it wouldn't be enough to take her on."

"There's also stories of her being able to see anywhere in the world, through any kind of barrier," Heinrich said, glancing at the sky.

"It's probably true, considering how she activated her trap when you were right next to me," Alice said. "And she might still be watching us now. But she hasn't done anything since then…"

Heinrich let out a long, exhausted breath. "Well, it's up to Dinah now. With the cursed sword and armour, she should be able to learn more about Ilias' ways and hopefully figure out ways to stop her trying anything like this again."

"I'm sure she'll manage," Alice said. "In the past, I always said that she would make a better Monster Lord than me."

They fell silent, continuing to watch the gentle waves. The wind picked up, though it didn't exceed the level of a refreshing breeze.

Eventually, a thought occurred to Alice's mind. She had been embarrassed about it before, but now that she'd had time to properly relax, and with no one else around…

"Hey, Heinrich?"

"What is it?"

"I won't judge you for this, but…we were apart for two years. And you hated me for a major portion of that, for perfectly good reasons. So… it wouldn't be surprising if you – "

"I didn't!" Heinrich cried, sitting up quickly.

"That's a relie – erm, I mean, I see."

Suddenly, the Four Spirits materialised. They left the couple and moved to the other side of the island without saying a word… nor did they need to.

Alice took a deep breath. "Well… in these two years, I wasn't with anyone as well. Even if I'd wanted to, with the act I was putting on, it would have just been disturbing… My point is, now, if you're okay with it…"

Alice extended a few tentacles towards Heinrich cautiously. He reached out one hand and grasped them.

-ooo-

The next morning, they got up from the beach and reunited with the spirits – though not without a considerable amount of teasing.

Over the next two days, they constructed a small house. It was one storey tall with four rooms plus a basement for storage, and was made out of mudbricks. The couple's capabilities meant that they could have easily constructed a more elaborate home, but there was no need. And the thought of living in a large building reminded Alice of things that were better left forgotten.

Life on the tropical island proved to be remarkably luxurious. There was plenty of space to swim and fly. The sea contained a seemingly endless supply of food – though they were careful to avoid taking too much of any one type, ensuring that the ecosystem could recover. The land didn't provide enough food on its own, but the occasional coconut or seabird egg added variety to their diet. And, at least once each day, Alice would contact her sister, her childhood friend or both.

One week after they settled on the island, a visitor arrived. Said visitor crossed the sea by riding a large flat-topped chunk of stone, which skimmed across the water's surface in cheerful defiance of buoyancy. The visitor slowed down as they approached the island, giving the couple plenty of time to prepare for her arrival, then lightly stepped ashore.

Shaking her nine tails to remove the water from them, Tamamo said, "It's been a while since we last met. You seem to be doing alright for yourselves."

"I could say the same for you," Alice said.

"How is Yamatai now?" Heinrich asked. The spirits had returned to his mind, just in case.

"Just fine, thank you, it lasted through the war without any damage," Tamamo replied. "But that brings me to the reason I came here. You see, after fighting off the first assault on the village, I decided to leave it in secret and investigate the reasons why the war began in the first place, trusting the villagers to defend against any further attacks. I discovered that the war was started by Ilias, for the purpose of trying to make one of you kill the other – this much you already know. More recently, I also discovered why she used such a convoluted method."

Tamamo explained how the cursed sword was designed so that, when activated, it would fill the victim with Ilias' holy energy. This would allow her to take said victim's soul, even if they were a monster. Ilias had been trying to take the soul of a monster in order to reshape it into a loyal slave.

This explanation filled Alice with a mix of emotions, with two being dominant: fear that she had narrowly avoided such a horrific fate, and anger at the one responsible. She wanted to fly up to heaven, the impossibility of the task be damned, and punch that corrupt goddess right in the face. Judging from his expression, Heinrich was of a similar mindset.

"I discovered this through talking with both your sister and with… an old enemy from the time of the Great Monster Wars," Tamamo said. "To properly explain this… I suppose you deserve to know the truth. It's the least I can do after everything you've suffered."

Tamamo's next move took them by surprise. The kitsune chanted, "I ask thee, eternal time... My body, shackled by the powers of creation, I beseech thee. Return my true body to me!" and transformed into an adult version of herself with vastly greater power. If the power of Alice, Heinrich and the Four Spirits was combined, it would still be less than that of the being before them.

"My true identity is Tamamo-no-Mae, one of the Six Ancestors, Mother of Beasts," Tamamo said. "I've hidden this for a long time, wanting to live a quiet life – much as you two are now doing. But recent events have made me realise that I can no longer simply hide from the world."

Tamamo continued her explanation. First, she confirmed that she, along with her sisters, was indeed as cruel as the stories portrayed her, and it was only her current lack of killing intent that kept the couple listening to what she had to say. She revealed how, at the end of the Great Monster Wars, Ilias had threatened to keep fighting even if it meant the destruction of the world, forcing the Dark Goddess and the Six Ancestors into a contract: they would seal themselves away and in return Ilias would cease trying to exterminate monsters. Tamamo had exploited a loophole in her seal to escape, though at the expense of a weaker body, so that she could watch over the world. During this time, she had softened and become the person she was today.

A few days ago, Tamamo had visited the Monster Lord's Castle to speak with Dinah and examine the cursed sword personally. Shortly afterwards, she encountered one of the enemies she'd fought many times before: Lucifina, one of Ilias' three Seraphs. Lucifina had admitted to being Ilias' agent and the one who'd passed on the cursed sword. Through talking with her, Tamamo had learned Ilias' true goal – apparently, Ilias had screamed about this failure to her Seraphs for some time. Ilias needed a Monster Lord to manage the flow of dark energy, which would allow her to exterminate monsters without releasing the seals on the Dark Goddess and Six Ancestors. Lucifina also claimed to have now abandoned Ilias, since the goddess' recent failure had shown that she was far from infallible. At the present moment, Lucifina was wandering the world and enjoying herself.

"I can't believe something on that scale was happening," Alice said, shaking her head.

"Indeed… it's probably for the best that beings such as myself stay out of the world's affairs," Tamamo said, now back to her child-like form.

"If Ilias was willing to go to such lengths, she's not going to stop," Heinrich said. "She'll definitely try again and – "

"Actually, I believe that she will not," Tamamo said. "At least, she will not try anything towards you two again, now that you are wary of her. And the loss of one of her Seraphs is a major blow that will keep her from attempting any major actions for at least a few centuries. For now, there will be peace. You two should relax… you have certainly earned it."

Tamamo gave a bow and then left on her improvised boat.

"Goddesses, Seraphs and Ancestors… to think that legendary figures like them were acting in secret this whole time," Alice said. "It makes everything we've done seem pathetic in comparison."

"I wouldn't exactly put it that way, though you do have a point," Heinrich said. He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Hmm… from what I, and the spirits, could tell, Tamamo was telling the truth. Did you get the same feeling?"

"I did, why?"

"For the past few days, I've been talking to the spirits about whether we should end our contracts," Heinrich said. "We decided against it because of the risk that Ilias might try something, but if that's not going to happen…"

Alice understood why Heinrich wanted to do this. During her brief tenure as Monster Lord, she had seen more veteran fighters return from war than most Monster Lords would see in their entire lives. While their behaviour varied, one common pattern was for them to reject anything that reminded them of combat, such as weapons. And while the Four Spirits were living people, not simple weapons, they were still inextricably associated with the legend of the hero Heinrich… and Heinrich had fled with Alice to this island in order to leave this legend behind.

"If that's what you want, then I'm okay with it," Alice said.

Heinrich nodded and the Four Spirits materialised around him.

"It's a shame that it's time to go, but as long as the wind blows, we'll always be connected!" Sylph said, circling around Heinrich and Alice.

"Thank you… for everything," Gnome said, shaking hands with the couple. "I'll return to Safar… and rebuild it into something even better than before."

"While I have only known you for a short time, Alipheese the Eighth, it has been a pleasant experience," Undine said. "May the blessings of water be with you."

"It'll probably be centuries before I get a contractor who's half as good with the fire as you, Heinrich," Salamander said in a tone of mock complaint. "Well, time to say goodbye! And when you have kids, make sure you call me over so I can help name them!"

The Four Spirits transformed into their respective elements and dispersed into the earth, the sea and the atmosphere.

Heinrich breathed slowly and deeply, in a way he hadn't done even after arriving on the island. "Even though it's sad to part with them… I still feel relieved. Now I'm not the legendary hero Heinrich, saviour of the world… I'm just me."

Alice held her lover's hand. "And there's nothing wrong with that."

The two of them sat on the beach and watched the sea. The strong wind created large waves which crashed on the beach, and all of this was bathed in the warm light of the sun. Even though they'd seen this sight countless times before, it was something that they could never tire of.


AN: This is the real happy ending. With this, The Tyrant and the Hero is complete.

Writing my first fanfic has been an exhilarating experience. There were times when I wasn't sure I would finish, and I changed my plans so often that this is nearly unrecognisable from my original ideas. But ultimately, I don't regret writing this.

Thank you to everyone who's reviewed this story.

For now, I think I'll take a bit of a break from writing.