「She’s not here either……」
「The pursuers are almost here, Al. 」
With the only light in the room coming from the small window, Rona urged Ardis who was looking discouraged.
「I know. 」
Replying shortly, Ardis turned around and went back through the pathway.
Behind Ardis who walked together with the four-footed golden beast, the doors and bars were all destroyed, leaving only a vast empty space with no obstacles around.
Even the prisoners who were confused at first had fled with joy after coming to realize they were just given unexpected freedom.
Four years had passed since Luciel had went missing.
Four years ago, they never found Luciel within the ruins of the facility, and with no other clues to go off with, they could only leave with disappointment.
Ardis who returned to Wisteria immediately departed to find Luciel.
No one from the mercenary band had held him back after knowing what had happened, and even Greyth had put his hands on Ardis’s shoulders, saying 「Come back at any time」. He pushed his back.
With Rona as his only companion, Ardis left on the journey of finding her ever since.
They were participating in a foreign country’s war after hearing about a black-haired female mercenary, as they were looking to locate any young female magician if there were any rumors.
As if venting his anger, he had thoroughly demolished any other places that were like that facility, releasing those who were imprisoned within.
If it was the past Ardis, even with Rona’s help, he couldn’t have taken such a radical approach.
However, the battle he came across every day without stop had heightened Ardis’s abilities regardless of his intentions.
Singlehandedly dealing with ten or twenty guards, and turning a facility into a mountain of rubble isn’t too difficult of a matter for the current Ardis.
Just like that, Ardis had demolished five facilities of various sizes, and had now become wanted.
Luckily, even within the Rodelia Kingdom, only a minority are involved with those facilities, and so Ardis was never issued a warrant from the country publicly.
He was pursued by those under the jurisdiction of Rodelia’s woman general, Jelia, who came up with the idea and operation of the facility, ―― or maybe other independent parties.
Although it’s fortunate that he hasn’t turned the entire Rodelia into his enemy, that doesn’t mean that there are no problems.
At the very least, whenever Ardis assaulted one of their facilities, there would immediately be pursuers on his tail. The opponents weren’t able to ignore his threat.
The facilities he had come to destroy after four years could not be counted even with all of his fingers or toes.
As the result, many children were saved, but for Ardis, it didn’t serve as any sort of consoling.
After all, the whereabouts of what was most important for Ardis was still unknown.
「Ruu, where have you gone」
Ardis was silent, having heard the same mutter from Rona for countless times within the past four years.
Despite searching this much, they had not found a single clue about where Luciel went.
Could she be in a state where she can’t move freely?
Or did she run away from the days of fighting and had gone dark.
Or maybe she had found a way to return to her hometown.
Or somehow, she had lost her memories, and forgotten all about Ardis and the days she was in Wisteria.
Even so, that would still be better.
Even if it meant their paths never cross again, just having her safe was enough for Ardis.
While averting his eyes from the possibility of a worst-case scenario, it was a rather hopeful story that had picked up Ardis who had only kept wandering.
But the path Ardis was on has no ends in sight.
She must surely be alive, but this thought that is closer to a desire never allowed him an end.
However, it is also certain that searching for Luciel with no clues for four years had been shaving at Ardis’s heart.
Ardis’s tension was so severe that it felt like his rationality could snap at any trivial matter.
Regret and self-blaming, but despite being crushed by his own foolishness, he never allowed himself to stop.
What Ardis obtained after continuing his endless journey like a doll carrying out its mission, were the fighting techniques that arise from experience, the skills to earn travel funds, and finally a connection to an information broker.
「So, the new information about a black-haired girl that you want――」
「How much? 」
Ardis, who met with the information broker he had been acquainted with in a town where he occasionally rests at, instantly demanded the price, cutting short what his opponent was saying.
「Right, being quick to understand is a great part of yours. 」
After showing an honest smile, the information broker man returned to his business face.
「It’s very credible information this time. Give me three thousand Cals. 」
Despite having a high price tag for a piece of information, Ardis had not raised a single complaint, but piled up coins from his travel funds bag in front of the man.
「Being generous is also a great part of yours. 」
「No need for your flattery. Quickly spit out what you’ve got. 」
「Being impatient is a bad part of yours……well, since I’ve gotten the payment, I will properly do my job. 」
Storing the pile of coins into his pocket with a fluid motion, the information broker man looked around, before starting to talk in a volume only Ardis could hear.
「North end of Rodelia’s territory, there’s an old fortress near the neighboring country border. Since they have a newer fortress now, the border guards use that mainly, but other than that, the place is still used to station and train their troops. There’s a woman that has been imprisoned at the underground jail there for many years. 」
「Many years, specifically? 」
「I heard it was more than three years. Probably closer to four years. 」
Ardis’s brows showed a little movement.
「Anyways. The most important point for you here is the imprisoned woman, right? Her age is about mid-twenties. Long black hair and even paired with black eyes. Well, it’s just that I don’t know why she was imprisoned there for so many years. There are occurrences where the border guards temporarily detain any suspicious person, but if they’re going to imprison her for years, moving her to another place would be normal. 」
Not just the hair, even her eyes are black. Moreover, with an age in mid-twenties, there’s a high chance that the person in question is Luciel.
Ardis calmly asked, controlling himself from the hope that was about to boil over.
「That woman…… is she still alive? 」
「There’s no use imprisoning a dead person, right? 」
「……I suppose that’s true. 」
Agreeing with the information broker’s counter question, Ardis confirmed various details about the fortress before leaving.
Reuniting with Rona who was waiting outside the town, they aimed north next.
「Let’s go, Rona. 」
「Did you find anything? 」
Rona who seemed tired of waiting and very bored yawned and asked.
「Yeah, but it costed three thousand Cals. 」
「Three thousand? That’s quite the price you’ve paid. 」
「But it is information regarding a woman with black hair and black eyes being imprisoned in an underground jail for three or four years. 」
Rona’s eyes narrowed at what Ardis said.
「Hmm, where? 」
「He said an old fortress that’s located near Rodelia’s north border. 」
Rona’s expression became complicated for a moment.
「That’s quite the faraway place……」
Then, he directed a caring gaze to Ardis and asked.
「……Do you think it’s Ruu? 」
「I think it’s likely. The time matches after all. 」
As Ardis answered so, Rona started stretching his body like doing gymnastics.
「We’re going right now, right? I bet he would sell information regarding us anyways. 」
「That’s what an information broker would do after all. But we have the advantage of striking first. We just have to settle the matter before our information reaches the fortress. 」
「Well, that’s true. 」
Their series of exchanges and answers was as expected for both of them.
Having always been together for four years, they could understand each other without many words.
「Are you getting a horse? 」
「Unfortunately, I just paid three thousand Cals. 」
「Then it can’t be helped. Let’s go from the sky? 」
「Yeah, that’s the fastest way. 」
「Make sure that we take breaks on the way. It’s exhausting after all. 」
「If it’s within the extent of possibility. 」
「It better be……」
While sounding very suspicious about Ardis’s answer, Rona created an invisible foothold in the air and jumped on it.
「Let’s go. 」
Similarly, Ardis jumped onto a foothold he created in the air and spoke.
Creating a foothold with a hole-shaped depression on its underside, and then creating an explosion with arts within the hole, he launched the foothold along with himself into the air.
After gaining enough height, they then changed the direction horizontally, and launched themselves with the same method to gain the initial velocity.
It’s a pseudo flight technique where they just have to cast strong wind intermittently from behind after that.
Although it can’t be used in combat since making small adjustments aren’t possible, it’s most suitable to travel a long distance in a straight line.
The scenery within Ardis’s vision passed by at incredible speeds, and even the town he was just at, exited his range of perception rapidly.