A quiet darkness where nothing can be seen and heard. Because of Elion’s arts, Ardis felt like he was drifting away with a mysterious sensation.
Uncertain to open his eyes or not, he couldn’t even tell if he was standing or on the ground.
But the indescribable situation didn’t prolong. A silent cry that felt like it was tearing his entire body reverberated, as he felt a sense of lost without knowing what was lost exactly.
Eventually, the darkness around his vision finally lightened up. Having his sense of direction back, his voice became the proof of his existence. Ardis saw dry and cracked reddish-brown ground.
Regaining his sight, Ardis came to know that he was on the ground. He slowly raised his pained body and looked around.
There are only boulders and earth all around. The reddish ground had spots where grass was growing from. Rather than the smell of grass, there was only smell of dried earth.
Ardis was stupefied at the scenery that seemed to go on forever. It is nowhere near the fortress where the fight had taken place, nor was it anywhere near the town where his mercenary band based in. At the very least, Ardis wasn’t familiar with the scenery around at all.
Remembering what happened before he lost his consciousness, Ardis inferred.
A teleportation art that no one had succeeded in before. The genius that had made that possible just by himself had chosen to use it on Ardis rather than saving the brother he had been growing up together with ever since he was born, all while leaving the rest to Ardis.
There was only a weak rebuke from Ardis. There were no tears.
Sark and Elion are probably dead by now.
(The others too……)
The woman general was obviously expecting Ardis and the others to arrive. He realized that their supposedly surprise attack failed, and all they had been doing is dancing on the enemy’s palm.
Now he’s the only one alive. Losing his only loved one, his only seniors that had taken care of him, the juniors that he had taken care of, comrades in arms that he had left his back to, he had lost many of them and only himself lived. Rather than sadness, Ardis could only feel that it is a suffering.
He hates that woman. He will never forgive that woman. He wants to kill that woman. No matter how much he has to sacrifice, he would do it if it meant making that woman disappear. Even if he spends all his remaining life, or exchanging it with his own future, he must, make that woman taste karma.
That’s why, he must live. He can’t die yet.
――He must survive first.
――Endure the time where he must live in obscurity.
――He must obtain enough power.
One at a time. Even if it meant taking a long time. This is the result of them having rushed everything. That’s why, rather than being impatient with his desire to revenge, he must obtain all of the assets required.
Everything will become a spear to corner that woman. Holding back his intense feeling of wanting to find the woman general immediately, he kept the flames of revenge burning quietly in his heart and stepped out.
How much time had passed since then? With his mind numbed at the flow of time, Ardis continued walking.
Seven dusks and dawn had passed. He had passed through the dry earth with only boulders around, got out of a forest, and found himself at an endless grassland, yet no human settlement was found.
There were countless times beasts attacked him on his path, and he killed all of them every time. He couldn’t remember what kind of beasts they were.
Even if he tried to recall it, his consciousness was fuzzy. There was only the feeling of seething hatred and wanting to do something for the sake of taking revenge. With that two elements pushing on his back, he advanced in silence, killing beasts that came his way, and continued advancing.
When was it that he had last drank water?
When was it that he had last ate food?
When was it that he had last finished off the beasts that came his way?
The sense of time completely crumbled.
(Did I, ……sleep?)
As he recalled the seven days after he had arrived here with the teleportation arts, he thought he hadn’t slept at all. On the other hand, there’re many times his memories are fuzzy. There are times he couldn’t recall what happened in the entire day, then he might’ve already slept.
Even if he tried to think, his thoughts are fuzzy, only impatient and hatred remained. The regrets that he couldn’t even do anything with a sword changed into self-resentment, along with sadness that seemed to be bottomless from himself.
Quick, his heart hurried him. Unforgivable, his soul cried out. Kill her, his inner voice roared. Driven by the hollow thoughts and emotions, Ardis’s body moved like a puppet doll.
(Where was I going to?)
He wasn’t able to discern that himself anymore, as he only continued walking, killing beasts, and walking.
(I have to return to our base quick)
Just as he thought about it, he once again felt the sensation of not being himself again.
Two children with light green pupils were looking at him.
A woman with Aliceblue hair, a tough looking swordsman, an archer with a young face, a magician with a hood, and a white-haired young man. Faces that seemed familiar but he had no recollections of flashed in his mind and disappeared.
(Was that……, a dream?)
While still feeling unrealistic, Ardis entered a fight again for the nth time.
Six legged beasts as his opponents. They’re carnivorous beasts known as Nedulos. Where did a bunch of them came from? There’re many.
Ardis pulled out the sword that had already lost its edge from the scabbard. Several Nedulos had started surrounding him.
He hates that woman to no ends. Will his sword able to reach that woman if he finished all of them.
He must hurry. No hesitation is allowed. Kill all of them. With a fuzzy consciousness, Ardis easily trampled on the Nedulos on the air.
He continued to strike down the Nedulos that came his way from all sides, with every strike containing his anger and hatred to the woman general.
Normally, Nedulos aren’t even Ardis’s opponent. He can easily dispose of them with flying swords, there’s no need for him to swing his sword personally.
There’s no better saying other than the Nedulos being unfortunate to receive the bulk of his anger. With their basic instincts and low intelligence, they have chosen a wrong opponent and is now getting punished for it.
Mostly moving unconsciously, Ardis who finished off Nedulos in the air noticed presences of people at a little distance away.
(Human? Two of them……, and a beast?)
Ardis glanced for a moment. Seeing the familiar golden color, Ardis decided there’s no need to guard against them and returned his focus on the Nedulos.
Eventually, Ardis had finished off all the Nedulos, he slowed down and landed on the ground. Facing the golden beast that seemed to have waited for him there, he spoke short words.
「Rona huh. 」
His partner that he had fought together with for many years. There’s no way he can mistake him. Rather than verifying his identity, it was only a conversation starter, but Rona asked back in wonder.
「What are you doing here, Al? 」
That moment, a sudden intense rage burned in Ardis.
Even though it was supposed to be a surprise attack, they were met with fully prepared defenses, and the lives of his comrades in arms scattered away. The commander that had opened a path against countless enemy soldiers even though he was gravely injured.
The hateful scorning gaze and smile of the woman general. Sark’s back that protected him even though he suffered critical injury. Elion’s smile that was swallowed by flames as he delivered his last wish to Ardis.
All the losses that he had suffered suddenly burnt at his chest. The anger that boiled up turned into words.
「What am I doing!? 」
Of course, Rona would’ve known that Ardis and the others went on an expedition to get rid of the woman general. If not for the injury he had suffer just before the operation, Rona would’ve undoubtedly participated in the effort as well.
If so, the intelligent Rona should’ve understood at a glance seeing Ardis’s state now. Ardis could only be furious at Rona who didn’t seem to have a clue at what happened.
What we had suffered, what that woman had done, did Rona forget it all. Was it a lie that Rona vowed revenge on the woman general.
「Of course it’s because we lost! I by myself, in this forsaken land, and fighting in this kind of appearance! Do you think I look like someone that had won against that woman! Do I look like I’m celebrating right now! 」
The words overflowed with his raw emotions were directed to Rona who was cowering.
「Our plan was known! That woman, she had laid her traps and waited! Everyone was just playing on her hand! Joan too, Dawatt too, Lexy too, they were all killed! Even Greihs with that wound can’t……! At the very least, that woman must……! But I can’t, I couldn’t do it! Elion and Sark, they even sacrificed themselves for me and then I’m just wandering in this place……! 」
As the rage passed, what came after was an intense emptiness and powerlessness unfolding.
Even the plan they had took much consideration and preparation in failed, leaving aside taking her head, he wasn’t even able to scratch her with his sword. The harsh reality was the deadliest enemy to Ardis.
It wasn’t enough. Ardis’s strength wasn’t anywhere close enough.
Even if they didn’t bother fighting fair, even if they employed lies and surprises, it probably wouldn’t have changed anything, Ardis would have still unable to kill her. When the rage and hatred that covered his entire view in red subsided, the long experience he has as a fighter told him the truth.
The woman general is strong, both as an individual, and as a commander of an army.
Then he has to be even stronger than that. He had to get overwhelmingly stronger, or have enough numbers to push through everything.
Either way, both options aren’t easy. There’s no knowing how much time it will take. Could his hatred keep burning for that long?
In the past few years, his hatred hasn’t dwindled in the tiniest bit. For few more years to come, Ardis’s hatred for the woman general probably wouldn’t change. But what about twenty years? Thirty?
Ardis was scared.
He was scared that his will to take revenge will get weaker. He was scared the pain of losing his loved one will fade in the course of time.
There’s a part of him that said that.
――But still, if that happened.
There was also a part of him that feared that. The two thoughts let Ardis regain his calm.
As he looked closely, there was the figure of Rona with his tail between his legs cowering. Seeing such Rona, Ardis finally regained himself.
「……Sorry. It’s no use lashing out on you. 」
As he apologized for his unjustified anger towards Rona, he asked the first question he wanted to ask when he met someone.
「Rona. Do you know what’s this place? 」
「Don’t know. I’m also looking a way to return. ……What about Al? 」
Rona seemed still afraid at Ardis as he replied.
「……No. I’ve been walking seven days already. Elion was the one that sent me here but……. 」
Although his thoughts are still not clear, he managed to recall some information from the past week.
It’s certain they’re in somewhere unknown. Ardis didn’t know where he was sent to by the arts that seemed to be a teleportation. Elion himself might know but, there’s no use for Ardis to ponder about it now.
「That bastard, if he had that kind of trump card from the start, he could’ve just sent me to that woman……」
At the same time, there was anger towards Elion as well.
If he could send people with teleportation arts, then there’s no need to siege the fortress with so many people, sending few people to the woman general’s room to assassinate would’ve yielded higher success rate.
Though of course, there’s no guarantee that the people sent will survive, so he couldn’t force anyone to take part. But still, even if there’s a chance they can’t survive, if that was an option from the start, Ardis would’ve taken it no matter what.
It wasn’t a method that is praiseworthy at all. It might be seen as cowardly. But what about it. Even if he’s called cowardly and condemned because of it, Ardis would regret nothing if the woman general can be killed.
At this point, it’s not an exaggeration to say the reason of his entire existence is to kill the woman general.
「Hey Al, do you know the name Nere? 」
Rona’s voice interrupted his dark thoughts. A name he had never heard before yet seemed to ring something.
「Who’s that? 」
「Fillia, Riana, or Kyrill, do you remember them? 」
Ardis’s head tilted as it felt like he heard them before but not. It felt like the pain in his chest subsided for a little.
「Name of the recruits? Sorry but I don’t know well about the recruits. There was no time to do so, neither were they allowed on the mission this time. 」
There’re about two hundred people that are in Ardis’s mercenary band. It was about a month ago when Ardis who had left the band for a while returned.
Although he knew the faces of the comrades in arms that he would fight together with, he didn’t talk with the recruits that aren’t allowed in the operation. There’re probably ten or twenty names that Ardis didn’t know.
Ardis who thought so by himself answered simply, but there was still something that seemed to catch on his mind.