By the time Ardis regained his consciousness, the dawn already broke. The enemy group that attacked in the night had been annihilated by the main unit, and Luciel who was hidden was also secured safely in the day.
Though, most of the non-combatants were killed in the fight, only a total of five people even when including Ardis survived. The incident of losing more than twenty people was great damage to the Wisteria.
Especially with Luciel, it seems like she’s more passionate in training after the attack.
There were mercenaries watching such a Luciel warmly, and their distance shrunk more than before. Of course, Ardis is also painfully aware of his own powerlessness.
If Greyth had not returned at that time, without mistake Ardis would have died. He’s not clinging onto life but, at the very least, he wanted his death to have some meaning.
If so, he mustn’t be a person that easy to go down. Although he thinks his life as something that doesn’t matter, he was confused at his feelings of not wanting his death be meaningless.
His grip on the sword continued as if to swing away that confusion.
「Aren’t you trying hard, kid. 」
How much time has it passed since he started swinging the sword. Having called, Ardis finally noticed that he’s drenched in sweat.
「Trying so hard even when instructor Victor isn’t around, no one will praise you though? 」
The owner of the voice is a mercenary with the name, Darwat. One of the most capable mercenaries in Wisteria, it seems like he’s like an assistant for Greyth.
Darwat who has a large scar on his cheek made a teasing look.
「……It’s not like I’m doing it to get praised. 」
「Kak kak ka! I can see that of course! 」
Then is there a reason to ask, Ardis who wanted to say that instead swallowed and continued to swing his sword.
「Ou ou. Unlike that girl, I’m not getting any attention huh. 」
Although he doesn’t know what Darwat’s business is, at the very least, he’s being an annoyance to Ardis currently.
Not having even the slightest intention to attend to him, Ardis ignored him and continued focus on his sword.
「Well, I guess whether you are sociable or not, the one who dies will die, and those who won’t can’t die for some reason. 」
Not knowing what he is intending to convey, Ardis continued swinging his sword without bothering.
Watching such Ardis, Darwat suddenly mentioned.
「Your footing is bad. 」
「Spread your legs about two feet apart. At that position, it’s easier to connect to another move. 」
Darwat pushed apart Ardis’s legs with his own foot.
「In an actual fight, there’s no way you are swinging a sword stationary. Not just swinging, think about what happens before and after you swing. 」
「However, Victor said 『Hammer swinging a sword into your head first』. 」
「Of course, that’s not a mistake. It’s better to temper it with time. However, we’re mercenaries and this is a mercenary band. Where we are heading are battlefields, it’s likely a battle can happen at any time.」
His goofy expression changed into a serious one. Hearing Darwat’s seriousness in his voice, Ardis accepted the advice obediently.
However, it seems like he’s at the age of getting shy when expressing gratitude over anything.
「No problemo! Having a kid die on me is depressing after all! 」
Kak-kak-ka, Darwat was violently ruffling Ardis’s head. With his sweaty hair made into a mess, at that moment, Ardis’s forehead was visible.
「The heck are these scars? Looks like characters to me. 」
Seeing the numbers carved on Ardis’s forehead, Darwat tilted his head. As if hiding from his gaze, Ardis faced away and muttered.
「It’s just…… a scar. 」
Ardis who replied simply immediately left the place as if escaping from Darwat. Heading to a small river near the camp, he washed away the sweat on his head.
Raising his wet hair, staring into the calm water surface, there was a familiar face on the verge of crying.
The number on his forehead. It’s as if there to remind that he’s not a human.
Despite getting cut will bleed, hunger will come when time passes, and sleepiness will come at night. He felt himself was something like a human but not a human.
Even though he knows he’s there, his mind was still anxious as if it might all just be a realistic dream. While feeling nauseous in his thoughts, soft footsteps interrupted him.
A familiar voice called his name.
「Did you finish for the day? 」
Ardis stood back up, and replied shortly facing away from Luciel who was beside him.
「Why won’t you look at me? 」
Luciel circled to the other side and peeked at Ardis.
「No…… it’s nothing……」
Ardis immediately covered his forehead. His forehead that is normally covered by his bangs are now exposed because of the water.
Even though it looks like a scar to someone else, Ardis himself knows that it’s a brand. It didn’t feel right showing it to someone else.
「The number, you don’t want it to be seen? 」
Ardis who faced the other way to escape from Luciel’s gaze reflexively turned around hearing those words.
「You can read it? 」
「Isn’t it the number, 『8』? 」
Even though it looked like a character, there was no one in the mercenary band that recognized it is a digit till now.
Luciel for some reason could tell it is a digit. But Ardis who received a considerable impact can only squeeze out meaningless words.
「…………Is that so. 」
At the same time, it confirmed his own suspicions. Since there’s not a mirror anywhere, Ardis could only see a distorted reflection on the swaying water surface.
Moreover, he couldn’t be sure since all he could see by himself is a mirrored image.
However, Luciel’s words now confirmed it. The digit 8 carved on his forehead. All his other selves had different digits, and there were also some digits missing.
One of the missing digits was 8, and that digit is on himself. Now that it has been proven, in other words, Ardis is the eighth unit of mass production.
Even though knowing it already, he was once again reminded that he’s nothing but a serially numbered laboratory animal.
That fact alone had gouged more than expected at Ardis’s spirit. However, Luciel never knew Ardis’s circumstances.
「Ardis. Overdoing is not good, okay? 」
She changed the topic as if it wasn’t significant.
「I’m not overdoing. 」
Luciel’s voice suddenly became louder getting Ardis’s reply.
「You are! Swinging a sword all day even after Victor-san’s training is over……. Even back then……」
Back then, she probably meant the event where the non-combatants were attacked in the night.
Escaping into the mountains with Luciel, to protect her, Ardis became a decoy to lure the enemies away.
「Nee. Why did you purposefully show yourself to the pursuers? 」
「There’s no meaning in being a decoy if the enemies doesn’t come right. 」
Ardis who was only stating the obvious made Luciel’s brows go up.
「But then it would be too dangerous for you! I even heard that if Greyth-san didn’t return, it would’ve been disastrous. 」
「Rather than both of us getting captured, isn’t securing even one the most logical move? 」
「Even I was taught how to fight by Lexy-san! I mean, it was the first time I saw someone killed so, that……, putting up……, a proper fight is hard but. 」
Recalling how she threw up seeing someone getting killed, Luciel’s words lost momentum.
「I wasn’t really bothered. But it’s apparently normal to be like that. 」
「Was Ardis…… different? 」
Although there were several similar scenes in his vague memories, he can’t even discern which of them are the earliest.
In the first place, he didn’t think he is human enough to be upset and vomiting when seeing someone getting killed.
The thought of being a numbered laboratory animal stopped all of those thoughts.
In a sense, that’s probably an excuse to himself.
Because he’s not a human, there’s no need to think about the future. Because he’s not a human, there’s no need to wish for anything. Because he’s not a human, there’s no reason to reject death.
That’s why in an impulse and with an unbothered attitude, he enjoyed being like a human playing house and protecting the girl.
He’s empty. Since he realized that he’s empty, Ardis had been averting his eyes from that truth.
While averting his eyes and having the great excuse of protecting Luciel, there will be no time for him to despair if he dies doing so.
「I can only be baggage now but……. I will put in effort so I can protect myself. 」
But the person herself didn’t allow it.
「That’s why, don’t rush into danger by yourself, please. 」
Luciel tries to stop Ardis’s pretentious spirit. The black eyes that only conveyed sincerity shook Ardis.
Thinking that he’s only an imitation product, a consumable for experiments, the identity he made up with such excuses shook easily.
「I don’t matter anyways. 」
Not knowing what to do, Ardis who replied in monotone only invited Luciel’s anger.
「It totally matters! 」
「It doesn’t! 」
Upset, confusion, repulsion, shame, impatient, all kinds of feelings mixed together, Ardis who couldn’t process all of it muttered something.
「After all, I’m not…… a human. 」