Angry cries of battle could be heard, as well as the sounds of metal colliding, blood splattering everywhere, and severed arms flying into the air.
The mercenaries who roamed around for the sake of killing or being killed turned a town into a battleground.
Two months had passed since Ardis who had nowhere to go joined Wisteria officially.
Being recognized as a proper mercenary, Ardis together with the others crossed many battlefields in various places. A mercenary’s job is to fight.
They fought their enemies whether recruited by a country, a feudal ruler, or sometimes a millionaire, or religious group.
There were various sizes of battlefields, as well as good and bad jobs.
The honorable battles, such as the recapture of ground taken by the enemy, are normally left to the regular army.
But, despite it being the furthest thing from a mercenary’s mind, there are exceptions sometimes.
Cases where the regular army cannot be repositioned for strategic reasons, or when the size of the area to be reclaimed is insufficient to justify deploying the regular army.
Currently, Wisteria is responsible for the latter. In a previous feudal lord war, the enemy lord had managed to conquer a town with the help of mercenaries, and it is their goal this time.
Because the friendly army is headed for a full-scale war with the enemy, they had no soldiers to spare and could only recruit Wisteria to repel the enemy mercenaries.
They were recruited to repel hostile mercenaries, not to recover the country; this is how nobility generally approached the mercenaries.
Even if the land is regained, it would take a considerably long time before the residents could return because it has been entirely pillaged by enemy mercenaries.
There’s no incentive to rush to recapture the town that was taken either because it was not strategically crucial land.
It wasn’t so much a practical motive to recapture the land as it was a question of the feudal lord’s face and honor.
Even if they used their regular army, their opponents are mercenaries.
Even if they catch the mercenaries, there’s no ransom, and since it’s their own territory, they can’t even pillage the land.
If so, the feudal lord may have decided that employing mercenaries to drive away the enemy mercenaries was a better option than moving the regular army.
Even if the friendly mercenaries made a mess in the town, it can be written off as something that the mercenaries did without his knowledge.
The feudal lord would bear none of the consequences.
Ardis gripped his sword with a bitter emotion after hearing such a story from a fellow mercenary.
The current him can only maintain his position through battling. Whatever the feudal lord’s intentions were, Ardis needed to eliminate the enemies in front of him.
After all, if he doesn’t, he’ll be the one to die.
「Tch, purple! 」
One of the mercenaries with ragged equipment charged at Ardis, with his right hand wielding a heavy looking double-sided axe.
The mercenary’s right arm swelled in response up as he raised the heavy axe against gravity. However, it was too late. Ardis analyzed his moves in an instant and leaped forward instantly.
Compared to the other mercenaries Ardis often spared with, there were one or two more unnecessary step in the mercenary’s movements. Nowhere near comparable to Greyth or Victor.
In response, the mercenary panicked and attempted to defend himself.
He was trying to block Ardis somehow with the shield on his left hand.
However, Ardis created a rock with arts and smashed it into the enemy’s armored left foot as he jumped in.
With a fist-sized rock smashing into it, he can’t get by safely, even if he’s wearing tall boots reinforced with metal plates.
Ardis didn’t let the enemy mercenary who was staggered and showing an opening get away with his toe distributing his weight crushed.
His sword drove into the enemy’s body as he dodged the shield that came down reflexively.
「This brat! 」
From the side, another attacker attempted to slash at him. Ardis swiftly pulled his sword that was stuck, bending his upper body to avoid it.
The blades collided and lightly scratched against one another. When the tip of his blade collided with the enemy’s handle, the enemy lost two fingers in the process.
「F-Fingers! My fingers! 」
Ardis’s sword tore apart the throat of the vulnerable mercenary holding his hand with missing fingers.
Ardis’s uniform darkened as blood spurted out like a fountain. However, Ardis who was breathing through his shoulders, had no time to rest.
Another attacker with a spear was rushing towards Ardis right away. Parrying the incoming spear tip upwards, when he swung his sword back down, he took the enemy’s arm with him.
But then, Ardis who tried to deal the finishing blow was forced to stop.
「A kid……? 」
The enemy that lost one of his arms had a face of youth. With a slender body undergoing growth on the ground, his eyes were looking at him fearfully.
His age looked to be around twelve. He was possibly even much younger than Ardis, who among the mercenary band is still treated like a child.
Was it from pain, or from fear? His remaining hand was pressing on the spot where his lost arm used to be, while his sobbing eyes were glaring at Ardis.
Enemy. In front of his eyes, he’s an enemy mercenary. He’s not a person that can’t put up a fight. He’s an enemy that aimed for Ardis’s life with a weapon in his hand.
That’s why, even if Ardis cut him down here, no one could blame Ardis’s actions.
However, even though he was on a battlefield, facing a younger opponent who had lost an arm and his weapon, Ardis hesitated.
Even if he understood logically, Ardis couldn’t do it ruthlessly.
After a while of hesitation, Ardis eventually decided to let the child go. Averting his gaze, turning his head around, and finally his whole body following suit to leave the scene.
It was at that time.
「Careful, Ardis! 」
A warning came from his comrade. With no room to be surprised at what happened, Ardis immediately bent his body.
At his side, something hot passed through. No, it wasn’t something hot that passed. At that moment, Ardis saw a lump of ice created from arts.
The heat felt was the secondary effect of the pain.
His skin was split away by the ice lump that grazed his arm.
Ardis faced the enemy, towards the child who had lost his weapon and one of his arms, while shielding his damaged left arm. The child was stretching his palm towards Ardis while still crying.
「Is it you? 」
Rather than a reply, Ardis got another arts. On the child’s hand, a piece of sharp arrow-shaped ice emerged, and this time it was aimed at Ardis’ neck.
As expected, having seen it coming, dodging it is easy. This time, Ardis dodged it with plenty of room and closed the distance.
Before the child could activate his arts for the third time, Ardis’s sword stabbed through his chest.
The discomforting sensation passed through the sword and to Ardis’s hand.
「What a blunder, Ardis. On a battlefield, showing unnecessary mercy only leads to self-destruction.」
A familiar man appeared in Ardis’ vision as he turned around.
「They are desperate as well. It’s still ten years too early for you to be thinking that you can judge someone to be harmless and spare them out of mercy. 」
Greyth approached him, grievingly looking at the youngster who had died.
「Even if it’s a little girl, a person that hasn’t lost their will can still easily get your life. 」
While biting his lips at his own mistakes, Ardis’s eyes widened at what Greyth said.
「What, you didn’t notice? 」
Greyth added on. Ardis turned around and stared at the child that had lost the light in her eyes.
「A girl…… and even this young to be on a battlefield……」
「I mean, it’s probably because she can use arts. Just as you saw, even if they are children, they can still be a reckonable force. After all, they might even be able to take a naive good man to the grave if they’re lucky, and I’m sure that’s how most mercenary bands think.」
「Well, don’t get too comfortable just yet. This is a war; you just have to perform your duties. 」
Ardis bit on his lips.
「If she would have just run away…」
Even though he instinctively killed her to protect himself, Ardis was planning to leave the scene behind in the first place.
If she hadn’t started attacking using arts, then she wouldn’t have had to die. Ardis certainly didn’t have any personal hatred towards her.
He couldn’t comprehend why she’d risk her own life to keep fighting. While Ardis was contemplating, Greyth said something unexpected.
「This girl herself might’ve been tired of living. 」
「Hear this, Ardis. You might not know this since you only know us, but normal mercenary bands consider children as mere disposables. They’d be thrown into battlefields without any proper equipment, and even if they managed to survive, the loop would continue. On top of that, for a girl like her, the night is probably hell too.」
Ardis inquired because he couldn’t understand Greyth’s meaning.
「A girl like her age is usable enough. She was most likely purchased for that reason included. Even if she managed to stay alive on the battlefield, the night is another kind of hell. If that’s the case, it’s simple to see how she’d become depressed and desire for death.」
Greyth’s vague explanation finally helped Ardis catch onto what he meant. Day and night were a living hell for the girl as long as she lived, used as a throwaway shield during the day and as a reliever at night.
Ardis’s rage grew steadily. But then he recognized that he didn’t have the right to be enraged in the first place.
After all, even if the girl’s bad days continued, as long as she lived, there was still a future.
It might’ve been possible for her to escape from her hellish days, and grasp her own happiness, ― such a possibility was still there.
However, it was none other than himself who killed the girl and robbed her of her future.
Ardis, who had shut off her only feasible future, had no right to be angry for her.
His heart was pierced by a thorn that would never go away. That was Ardis’s impression.
「In a sense, you saved her from that hell. Even you don’t believe it, just think like that. 」
Greyth consoled Ardis with a convenient logic. However, Ardis couldn’t bring himself to accept that easily.
「Something so arbitrary like that…」
「It’s impossible to continue as a mercenary if your mind isn’t strong enough. It’s helpful advice from your senior. You don’t have to understand everything right now, just keep it in your head.」
「Be stronger if you can’t stomach it. If you get strong enough that your enemies appear to you as harmless children, there may be a way to avoid killing. Sparing someone when you can’t overpower them is a mentality that will lead to your death.」
Ardis wordlessly nodded. Greyth placed his palm on his head while he looked at Ardis’s immobile arm.
「The bleeding on your cheeks isn’t as serious huh. Go to the back and get treated.」
「No, I can still fight. 」
「Don’t be stupid. With you in that state, fighting will only be a bother to the others. The fight is almost over already, and the enemy mercenaries are starting to retreat. It’s not like one less person will cause anything to happen.」
Like Greyth said, the fight is calming down. Realizing their disadvantage, the enemy mercenaries are moving to retreat.
「Don’t worry, there’s still mountain loads of stuff to do. Go calm your head down first. Don’t forget to get treated as well. 」
「……Got it. 」
Replying hesitatingly, Ardis neared the girl he killed and pulled his sword out. Warm blood spilled out of her corpse.
What he saw fueled more regret in his mind. Ardis bent down and shut her eyes.
「Greyth……, let this girl be……」
He wanted her to be buried at the very least. Without even speaking, Ardis’s thoughts were probably obvious.
「No. There are still mountains of things to do before that. We don’t have time.」
After scolding him sternly, he then muttered softly.
「…… You do it after everything is over.」
When Ardis returned from his treatment at the bank, the opposing mercenaries had already left the battlefield, leaving just the aftermath.
Even though Wisteria had only agreed to repel the mercenaries invading the town, that doesn’t imply that they can leave and go on their own once the task is completed.
There’s no guarantee that the enemy mercenaries won’t return and it’s possible that the enemy will send another group.
Wisteria had no choice but to stay in town because no new orders had arrived from the employer, yet staying in a dysfunctional town will be difficult.
Although not used to it, Ardis and the others were helping the residents in restoration work.
「In any case, this is a little……」
「Those people, making a mess out of everything.」
Beside Ardis who was tied for words at the town’s miserable state, Lexy had a tired expression.
The town is in a horrible state thanks to the enemy mercenaries. Ardis and Lexy and about twenty more others were trying to rescue any survivors but, the ones they found were all dead bodies.
Charred corpses left in burnt down houses, and were they resisting against the mercenaries, there were bodies of men killed and hung upside down on the streets as a show.
「Go look in that house. I will be going through this one. 」
Receiving Lexy’s instructions, Ardis headed to a house where he found traces of people.
A corner of the room had numerous woolen blankets, half-eaten bread, and a knocked-over cup with remnants of alcohol on the table.
One group of the enemy mercenaries most likely used the house. The house’s illegal occupants were no longer present. Either they’ve died or they’ve escaped and won’t be seen again.
「The room in the back……」
Suddenly, Ardis noticed presences in one of the rooms deep in the house.
He considered calling for the others, but the war had already concluded with the invaders fleeing.
If the people inside are skillful, they would’ve already escaped long ago. Ardis drew his blade and approached the room, his footsteps muffled, after becoming convinced he could handle it on his own.
Nearing the door, he tried to listen. No sound. Ardis stood beside the door and silently turned the knob.
However, it seems like it was locked. Although there is most likely a key for the door someplace in the home, this is not the time to look for it.
Ardis kicked open the door after destroying the keyhole with arts he was still inexperienced in.
Several women screamed from the room at the same time. While on alert, Ardis looked inside.
There were several people inside. However, seeing their figures, Ardis was immediately assaulted with displeasure.
All of them there were young women, exposing skin without a single clothing, and many new bruises were still visible.
The obscene smell that filled the room stimulated Ardis’s nose. The women retreated further into the room, afraid of Ardis’s appearance and with fearful looks.
A house where the enemy mercenaries stayed in. Young women that were stripped of their clothing had been found locked in one of the rooms.
Ardis could only guess what type of treatment they endured after seeing their terror of man, and his rage, which had nowhere else to go, erupted once more.
「We are from the Wisteria mercenary band, hired by your feudal lord to repel the enemy mercenaries that occupied the town. They are no longer here. 」
Ardis couldn’t think of anything more to say to them, so he just gave them the truth and walked away.
As a man, Ardis would only scare them further. Suppressing the feeling of wanting to hit something, Ardis stepped outside to call for Lexy.