The center where two sides of mercenaries are facing each other off was moving in the direction of the Empire’s favor.
The fact they had been able to hold the frontline and the Kingdom having the upper hand so far was thanks to Ardis. Of course, even after Ardis left, the other mercenaries aren’t weak. But just that the numbers are already unbalanced originally, it’s inevitable they are being pushed back.
「I thought I knew this already but, Ardis’s strength was really significant huh. 」
「I mean, they really did start pushing us back just as Ardis left. 」
The words of the thin swordsman, Jio was replied with the only female, Konia. The leader Gresche and the members of 『Costas』 felt the increasing pressure from the Empire mercenaries as time went on.
「But we aren’t the novices that we used to be. We can do at least this much. 」
Among the four, the most tough looking man, Ralph had a giant axe on his shoulder while he said so, and Gresche nodded.
「Of course. The fact that we can perform in a war too, let’s prove it in this war! 」
Three persons responded to the leader’s orders, and increased their cooperation, facing off the Imperial army.
In fact, the Costas’ strength is real. Even if they can’t match Ardis, they are still considerably skilled among other mercenaries. They who are called young prodigies by other had shown their fighting techniques are greater than other normal mercenaries.
But for the members of Costas, it wasn’t the fact that the enemy had an advantage over numbers that are making them miserable.
「Still, it’s quite painful fighting with familiar faces. 」
Gresche’s depressed mutter reflected their thoughts.
Mercenaries do not take in mind of their affiliation with any country. Even for those that normally active around Thoria, there’re many of them who took the Empire’s side. The familiar faces that come into view sometimes made their will dull.
「Hii! Please spare us! We are all mercenaries from Thoria! 」
But that should be the same for the opponents.
One of the remaining mercenary begged for his life after his party members had fallen under Costas’s battle with the Empire’s mercenaries.
「So, Gresche? 」
Ralph who was troubled sent his gaze to Gresche for his decision.
「We are mercenaries from the same Thoria. Even if casualties can’t be avoided in a war, there’s no need to kill someone who isn’t going to fight. 」
「That’s how it is. Go now quickly. 」
Receiving Gresche’s decision, Ralph chased out one of his own.
「S-Sorry! I will repay this grace! 」
The enemy mercenary that had received sympathy quickly scrambled away from Gresche and the others.
「Fuu, that was close. I guess they’re still soft as ever, hehe. 」
The mercenary that was spared by Costas found himself a safe place, and grinned as he looked over the battlefield.
There is the scene of slaughtering without mercy between the two sides of mercenaries. Although majority of the mercenaries aren’t familiar, there’s still some that are familiar faces that he’d seen in Thoria before.
But they are different from the Costas. Even if they were once drinking at the same table in the same tavern, it’s nothing of a concern in this battlefield where the friends and foes are clear.
It’s natural to kill the enemies. Kill or to be killed, it’s a natural concept.
「I mean, they were strong, but with that, they’re just fools. 」
The mercenary laughed without a sliver of appreciation.
When all of his comrades had fallen and he couldn’t retreat, he tried begging for his life at Costas, and they would spare the enemy of him easily. For someone who stands at the same battlefield, that is soft beyond saving.
「Good timing. It’s not strange for anyone to die in this war. They were already an annoyance before. 」
With a cynical smile, the mercenary started calling out one mercenary after another who are from Thoria that he’d identified.
「Let’s teach them a lesson on the difference of fighting against a human and demonic beings. 」
In the battlefield where the two armies clashed, the mercenaries that are often active in Thoria started to gather and form a group.
Costas who was able to get through albeit hard till now was suddenly thrown into a tight spot at a pincer attack from many mercenaries.
A big group of people came at them without any prior notice. A total of eighteen surrounded them. Even if the members of Costas are more than average in abilities, they can’t possibly do anything against four times the number.
The first who got on her knees was Konia. Konia usually fights against enemies using her small physique and agility, but on the other hand, she couldn’t hope to match in sheer strength. Leaving aside avoiding attacks, her legs were stopped because of the shield bash.
Ardis would’ve pushed through everything with sheer strength, but that’s a feat difficult for a small physique girl like her.
「Konia! Tch! 」
Then, Ralph got hit with an arrow in his leg. If there were only one or two arrows, he could’ve avoided them somehow but with all four arrows coming at him, he couldn’t avoid all.
In the same fashion, Jio was also done in by three other mercenaries that sandwiched him.
「Ralph! Jio! 」
Gresche’s impatience appeared.
A large number of enemy mercenaries lined up, and all of their targets were Gresche and the others’ lives. They could’ve won if the numbers are same but, they were overwhelmed and couldn’t do anything.
Gresche admitted their defeat as he knew it would be helpless going against them. But at the same time, he felt lucky. It was because the Empire mercenaries that surrounded them were all familiar faces.
「We surrender. We will not resist so please treat us as prisoners. If possible, considering we’re friends from the same town, please spare us. 」
All of them are mercenaries that looked familiar from Thoria. For them too, they must be reluctant to kill Gresche and the others who are not resisting. There’re even mercenaries that Costas let off a while ago.
There’s a possibility that they would let Gresche and the others off the hook, even if not, there’s no mistake that they would be treated rightfully as prisoners of war.
Gresche thought so.
But the fact that he was mistaken, was showed by the enemy mercenaries’ next actions. There wasn’t anyone who lowered their weapons. The bow drawn, the blade of the sword, the heavy axes, all of them are still pointed towards Gresche without mercy.
On their faces, there wasn’t a sliver of tragic determination that they would have to end a friend on their own, but rather a scoffing smile.
「Did you hear that? 『Considering we are all friends』. 」
One of the enemy mercenaries looked around the other mercenaries as he repeated Gresche’s words. Suddenly, laughter burst out of the surrounding mercenaries.
「Is he an idiot? 」
「Saying such soft and naïve things now. 」
「Leave the sleep talk when you’re sleeping. 」
Gresche panicked at the unexpected responses.
「W-Wait a minute! We are all mercenaries from Thoria right? Didn’t we let you go just now! 」
Seeing that there’re mercenaries that Costas had let go in the war amongst them, Gresche complained.
「Yeah, thanks for that just now. My life was saved. 」
「But that’s a different matter? 『Let you go』? That arrogant thinking had been pissing me off for a while already. 」
Gresche lost his words at the obvious hostility he felt from the mercenary he’d just spared a while back. And towards such Gresche, the other mercenaries started speaking one after another.
「Don’t be arrogant just because you’re a little famous! 」
「A-Arrogant, there’s no――」
「I was hit with the ban to enter the commercial guild thanks to you lot! 」
「That’s……! It was because of your overexaggerated report to the requestor――」
「You don’t have the right to barge into someone else’s request! 」
「That, that request wasn’t even anything worth compensating in the first place――」
Gresche defended the action of Costas one after another, but all of them fell on deafened ears.
「Let us be clear, all of us here already thought you lots are an annoyance long while back. 」
「……What are you going to do? 」
「It’s not like we’re going to do anything special. We’re in a war, and we are enemies. It’s natural to take your enemies’ lives, there’s no one who will say it’s wrong. Everyone is out here to kill each other, it’s just a matter of executing orders in a war, right? 」
「Even so, there’s no need to kill another fellow mercenary……」
「Ha-haha! You’re really an idiot? Hesitating against enemy mercenaries just because they’re familiar faces, hah―, ridiculous. 」
「Lucky that you’re on the kingdom’s side. I wouldn’t want a messed-up bunch like your party on our side that would only dull the pleasure of war. 」
Gresche who was stunned couldn’t find any words.
Konia was restrained on the ground by one of the mercenaries, Ralph and Jio had received wounds that would hinder them in a fight. Gresche is still fine but, he’s not conceited enough to think that he can win against seventeen of them by himself.
The thought of wondering why did it become like this went pass his head for a moment but, he must find a way to get out of this situation first. But, there’re no solutions even if he thought hard. And of course, the enemies aren’t so kind to wait Gresche to come up with an idea.
「Shall we finish it already. It’s not good to be stationary in a war after all. 」
With that word as the signal, the mercenaries took up their weapons, and started chanting magic.
「Participating in a war, killed by the enemy army. Isn’t it the perfect way for a mercenary to meet his end! 」
With a wide double-edged sword in his hand, a mercenary swung at Gresche.
Of course, Gresche didn’t plan to sit there and be killed. Deflecting the slash with his shield, he even swung his sword back as a counterattack.
It would be an easy task if there was only one opponent. If there was only one, that is. The mercenary Gresche went against took a step backwards, and now other mercenaries came at him one after another.
Gresche took a step towards the mercenaries on the right, and met swords, making use of it, he put his weight into his sword and swapped position with the enemy. Then, pushing away the enemy, he jumped backwards from another sword that came from his left.
Leaving aside the enemy that crashed into another, Gresche who was about to move his sight to another one felt a burning sensation at his back.
He was cut.
Just as he realized it, he threw himself forward to avoid the additional attacks that came behind.
The wound is shallow. He can still fight. But――.
「How long can you still stand? 」
The enemy mercenaries are watching at Gresche with a distorted smile.
Many versus few. Even though Ralph and Jio is continuing to resist despite their injuries, their performance is lacking than their prime. Even if they put up a good fight, only their injuries increased when attacks came from all directions nonstop.
Not even a few minutes had passed and Gresche is covered in blood and his breathing is ragged.
His body won’t move as intended. It’s a fight where he can’t see victory even if he’s in his best condition. Even a small chance couldn’t be seen.
The enemy mercenaries that saw Gresche reaching his limit spoke the ending words.
It was when Gresche thought it was up to here and gave up. Suddenly, a soft noise of cutting wind is heard barging into the noisy battlefield.
Suddenly, an arrow was found on one of the enemies.
The arrow that pierced deep in his cervical vertebra was fatal as proved with the volume of blood fountaining out. In the next moment, along with the arrow, a bastard sword that appeared from nowhere completely blew the head away.
The head fell on the ground with a thud. The fountain of blood gushing out. Seeing the owner of the bastard sword, Gresche muttered the name.
「Yo, looks like you’re still alive a little. 」
Ted swung his sword in a wide arc with a huge grin. Another one of the enemy mercenaries fell down after receiving a grave injury.
It was a mutter among the enemies. There was an obvious fear in their voices. And another arrow pierced through the air without regards to the tense atmosphere. The target of the arrow was the head of the mercenary who was holding down Konia.
The enemy mercenary that was unlucky was pierced with the arrow in his left eye socket, and fell over after letting out a dying scream.
Without giving a single chance for the enemy mercenaries to stand up, there’s an upper-grade wind spell hurled at them next. The mercenaries beside Gresche who were targeted by the archer and the magician from afar were slashed by countless wind blades till their breaths became shallow.
「『Bright star of White Night』 !? 」
One of the mercenaries screamed out in fear.
It was the party, 『Bright Stars of White Night』 known for their abilities in Thoria that appeared when Gresche and the others are in a grave pinch. In front of the enemies who are in dismay, Ted and the other two members continued to cut down one life after another. Orphellia’s 『Wind blades』, Norris’s arrows, and Ted’s bastard sword finished off mercenaries one after another.
Eventually, when Norris and Orphellia had arrived beside Ted, there was only one enemy remaining.
「S-S-Spare me……. Please spare me……! We’re friends from Thoria right……? 」
The enemy mercenary that fell from the advantageous position in just a few moments begged for his life. It was the same exact mercenary that Gresche and the others of Costas let go a while back.
Gresche had an ugly expression as he felt bitterness in his mouth. The mercenary that he’d let go once, came back at him and pushed him to a corner, and now the mercenary is begging for his life again. What exactly had gone wrong, Gresche was down but Ted continued talking with the enemy mercenary.
「Guessed so, you look a little familiar. A face that I’ve seen in the taverns before. 」
「R-Right? We are both from the same town, so please spare me! 」
Ted raised his bastard sword without any hesitation.
「What about that? I’m participating in the Kingdom’s army, and you’re in the Imperial army. We’re enemies, right? 」
「N-No! We’re friends right!? Spare――」
「Just give up. It’s your bad decision to have chosen the Empire. 」
Stopping the enemy mercenary’s useless begging, Ted declared along with severing his head off. Another head fell with a thud. At such Ted that decided to ignore his begging of life, Gresche started complaining unintentionally.
「T-Ted-san! You didn’t have to kill them……! He wasn’t resisting, and he’s had lost his will! 」
Ted glared at Gresche with a tired eye.
「Are you even clear with what you’re saying? We are now in a war? 」
「Even so! Is there a need to kill someone who isn’t resisting!? 」
「What a spoiled brat you are. 」
With a huge sigh, Ted sent a gaze to Norris. That gaze held the meaning of 「He’s being annoying, so you deal with it」.
Norris who came near Gresche and the others with gazes on him named their first flaw.
「How should I get this clear―. You will die of betrayal if you keep thinking like that? 」
「……What does that mean? Norris-san. 」
「It’s just as it sounds. Well, it’s cruel to kill an opponent who isn’t resisting, but we’re in a war? Are you thinking you guys are strong enough that you can simply let people off just because you sympathize them? 」
「It’s not a matter of strong or weak! He wasn’t resisting, and isn’t he also one of the people from the same town! 」
「Ahaha. And you let him off with that kind of reasoning, but got attacked again? 」
「Eh……, how did……? 」
「It was a coincidence. I saw you lots let that guy get away just now. 」
Norris’s words made Gresche’s face clouded.
「So? He just repaid your grace with dirt? And you were about to die if we weren’t here. In the first place, someone like him with such a dirty personality, he would definitely come back for more even if you spared him? 」
「I will say it again, we’re in a war. Are you guys strong enough that you can spare sympathy to the enemy, and protect you and your comrades’ lives, and win in the war? 」
Gresche had no choice but to be shut up without any words to say back.
「If you are strong enough that you can get through by yourself just now, then that thinking of yours is tolerable. It’s not a bad thing that you’re trying to extinguish the fire without excess killing. But that’s if you have enough ability to back it up. Like if you’re on Ardis’s level or something. 」
Yes. If they’re as strong as the absurd Ardis, then they would’ve been able to fend away those mercenaries even if they came hundred times.
But even Ardis wouldn’t have such generosity. Even if he had the strength to easily repel them no matter what, he would spare no thoughts at sending them to the afterlife if they came with killing intent.
「But you lot have no such strength. Maybe you’re better than the average mercenaries, but that’s just in comparison. Honest opinion, you all are overestimating what you can do. 」
Norris continued speaking without any intonation. But every single word of his hurt Gresche deeply.
「Do you know what’s that called? It’s overstepping your own boundaries. 」
That was the finisher. Gresche was looking the other way while grinding his teeth.
「I heard your party was with Ardis for a while, did you not learn anything from him? 」
Norris followed up with another strike. Orphellia who couldn’t see it any more interrupted.
「Isn’t it fine already, Norris. They need some treatment too. 」
「Oh right. You all should get back to the rear and receive treatment. 」
Ted called out to Gresche who replied without energy.
「Hey, Gresche. 」
「……What is it? 」
「Remember this. People’s emotions, especially ill, don’t underestimate it. Jealousy, envy, hatred……, those negative emotions are much more threatening than those Despairs you fight. Don’t forget. 」
「Yes……. I will remember it……」
Gresche’s reply was on the verge of disappearing.
Ted’s words had made Gresche remember what happened four years ago with Ardis. The mercenaries who tried to steal the prey from Ardis and Gresche was treated as bandits by Ardis and thereby annihilated.
It’s certain Ardis had the power to repel them without killing. But as Ardis said, that wasn’t the way to solve everything. This time, the mercenary that had received Gresche and the other’s grace responded with dirt.
Then, what about those mercenaries that became bandits four years ago.
What would’ve happened if they were spared that time? Would they have thanked Ardis’s grace? Will they change anew, and become an upstanding person?
No, it’s more probable they wouldn’t.
If they’re such mercenaries, they wouldn’t have teamed up with muggers and became bandits. They would without doubts hold hatred for Ardis and Gresche and his party.
If it’s Ardis, even if that hatred became ill will, he wouldn’t be hurt by it. But that hatred would probably not be directed towards Ardis who is overwhelmingly strong, but at the novice mercenaries that they were.
The fact that Ardis responded so fiercely, it probably wasn’t for himself, but for the sake of Gresche and the others. Gresche finally understood what Ardis said that time.
『Worse, they would be having a grudge』
『No doubt they would try to take revenge. With more elaborate plan the next time. 』
Although their ill wills will have never done any harm to Ardis, he still extinguished the seeds of trouble for their sakes. Without noticing that, Gresche that time blamed Ardis, and as the result, they fought and left each other.
「Ardis thought up that much for us……. And I treated him so……」
Gresche felt ashamed of himself that had no growth in the past four years.
Gresche and the others had been accumulating hatred from the other mercenaries in Thoria without knowing. If they’re mercenaries, that itself is unavoidable.
When they get famous, praises and envy will come at the same time. Depending on how they interact, a grudge might be formed.
But the problem was Gresche and the others were too unprepared for that. Even if they became strong enough to hunt Despairs, even if they’re regarded as one of the best mercenary parties, he didn’t realize the graveness of his actions until falling in a predicament and pointed out by another. The same for four years ago, and now too.
Norris’s words of 『Overstepping your own boundaries』 stabbed at him again. The more he understood the person called Ardis, the more he realized how small he was.
「One day, can I catch up……」
That day, the name of Ardis inside Gresche changed in a meaningful way. Rather than a strong mercenary he knew, it became an existence and a target far away that he wished to stand beside one day.