It was when the western skies turned sunset that Luciel returned.
Her return was celebrated by Reina and Kyo, but the person herself had a gloomy expression.
「What happened? 」
Luciel’s voice trembled with a pale face as she drew Ardis, who had inquired, away from the others.
「They were thrown out……」
「Thrown out? What were? 」
Ardis was perplexed by Luciel’s words and inquired.
「I don’t know. ……But something humanoid. 」
With a voice too fleeting, Ardis finally understood.
What Luciel saw when scouting the facility ahead of time were probably the subjects that no longer had any use.
A result of what probably used to be humans.
In other words, the facility had once again restarted its horrible experiments.
「That means they restarted their work……」
The research facility――rather, that experimenting facility had suffered immense damage because of Wisteria’s attack.
However, two months had elapsed, and the facility was most likely fully restored and had restarted operations.
「A cart came out of the facility……and there were a lot of people that didn’t move at all in it……. Then they were dumped, like garbage into a hole they dug near the building……something like that……is just too cruel……」
Ardis made up his mind, hearing Luciel’s intermittent words.
「Let’s hasten up our schedule. 」
The preparation to infiltrate the facility was already done.
They’d discussed it with Greyth and Victor already.
Although they could not expect help from Wisteria as a mercenary band, they had permission to temporarily leave the mercenary band.
「I will go talk to Greyth now. Luciel, you can prepare first. 」
Lightly hugging Luciel who nodded firmly, Ardis headed towards Greyth where the other executives were around too.
When he found Greyth chatting idly, he wanted to raise his voice, but another loud voice that overwhelmed his reverberated.
「Greyth, it’s our chance! 」
It was Sark that rushed in with a charging momentum.
「What’s so sudden―― rather, you’re all beaten up!? 」
「Who cares about that! It’s an unprecedented chance! 」
「No way that no one would care but……. Oi Elion, can you explain in a manner that we can understand too? ―― Wait, you’re injured too? 」
Greyth’s gaze went towards Elion who arrived a little later.
「It’s the biggest chance that we’ve ever had, captain! 」
「You’re saying the same thing as Sark……what is it? 」
「Rodelia’s general, Jelia, is now returning to the capital! 」
Rodelia’s Crimson Catastrophic Butterfly.
The instant Elion said the name of who might be regarded the nemesis of everyone in Wisteria, the look on every mercenary’s face altered.
Ardis, who had come to discover Greyth like Sark and Elion, asked for elaboration.
「There was a coup d’état that happened in the royal court. Although the coup d’état itself ended as a mere attempt, the royal castle is now in disarray, and they are summoning general Jelia back from the front line urgently. 」
「It’s probably to suppress the uncertainties in the royal court by utilizing the power of Catastrophic Butterfly. With the royal order coming straight from the king, even that Catastrophic Butterfly wouldn’t bring an entire army back to the capital. I’m sure she will have lesser escorts now. 」
Sark added on to Elion’s explanation.
As Sark said, leading an army back to the royal court where a coup d’état was just attempted would only bring suspicion onto herself.
It’s natural to think that to not provoke the delicate situation, she would have to head towards the capital with a small number of troops.
「Could it be another trap? 」
「It’s information that we’ve finally gotten after infiltrating the Kingdom’s military command office. As expected, it’s unlikely for the entire country to be setting a trap just for us. Moreover, a coup d’état attempt paints a bad name for the country. 」
「So that’s why you two have those injuries. 」
「Since when did you guys turn into spies……」
「Sark is right, it’s unlikely for the country to take a hit just to set a trap for a mercenary band like us huh……」
They know Jelia has a personal grudge against themselves.
By now, Ardis and the others are already irreconcilable enemies with Jelia.
However, they weren’t particularly enemies with the Kingdom itself.
If Jelia is not there, they thought the Kingdom would still be a big client to do business with. They had kept such a distance with the Kingdom.
「If we depart now, we can catch the Catastrophic Butterfly before she arrives at the capital. If we have fifty of us, it’s not impossible to subdue her. 」
After considering Sark’s words for a bit, Greyth made his decision and announced his decision.
「Leaving aside fighting for real or not, we will circle around and lie in wait for that woman. 」
「If winning seems possible? 」
One of the old timers asked, and so Greyth immediately answered without any frills.
「At that time, kill her with no hesitation. It’s revenge for our comrades that were used as rags. 」
Hearing his words, the mercenaries around the area were raising their voices and cheering.
「Then we must hurry! 」
「Quickly prepare! 」
「Lessen your equipment! Idiots that have heavy equipment will just be left behind! 」
「It’s finally time to get revenge for them! 」
Without any instructions from anyone, everyone voluntarily scattered around to start preparing.
As Sark said, between Rodelia’s capital, the battlefront where Jelia is at, and their own position, there’s a need to depart immediately.
There’s no room to chat idly here at all.
Since they had decided to go, they must depart as soon as possible.
Ardis thought inside his mind.
Just a while ago, he had promised Luciel to rescue the children in that facility together tomorrow morning.
However, hearing what Sark and Elion just said, he thought it was certainly an unprecedented chance.
It’s true that the children should be rescued as soon as possible.
Ardis himself too had no intentions to abandon the children.
Because he was never offered a helping hand, he wanted to be the one that offers a helping hand to the children awaiting rescue. That feeling itself is not a lie. In the past two months, he had been moving for that sake after all.
However, from how Luciel and him were imprisoned in another facility, he knew there are multiple facilities of this kind.
Even if they rescued the children from this one facility, they would again need time to gather information about other facilities for a few months before able to make a move.
If they can subdue the Catastrophic Butterfly that is the root of the facilities――.
Hesitation found its way inside Ardis.
Thinking about the bigger picture, subduing Jelia should be able to rescue more children.
In the investigation they did in the past two months, they were able to determine that the facilities are solely Jelia’s doing.
If Jelia herself is taken down, then the whole plan would likely crumble, and even if it doesn’t, the plan itself will surely turn upside down.
Of course, he thought rescuing the children in front of them right now is needed.
However, thinking about the casualties that weren’t visible yet, hitting the source of it would result in more people getting saved.
As Ardis who concluded like that turned around, there was Luciel with an expression full of unease.
「Are we really going to sortie? 」
Despite his words were tied for a moment, Ardis affirmed.
「Is Ardis planning to go as well? 」
「Why? Didn’t we just decide to rescue the children! 」
With a face as if not able to believe it, Luciel rushed towards Ardis.
「The source of everything is that woman general. It’s not just one facility that exists. If we can take that woman down, it might indirectly rescue the other children in other facilities. 」
「I know about that! But Ardis, the children that are in there need our help immediately, right!? 」
「We can infiltrate in that facility at any time. But the chance to take down that woman is not always there! Surely Ruu didn’t forget about it! How our comrades died in those terrible ways! 」
「I never forgot! I never forgot but……that isn’t the case, right? Rather than saving the children, is taking revenge more important for you? 」
「I never said that. Even I wouldn’t think taking down that woman would solve everything. It’s true that I want to take revenge. But if that woman is gone……as long as she disappears 」
「That’s not it, right? The most important thing now is not taking revenge, right? Rather than taking revenge, what we are supposed to do now is rescue the children, right!? 」
Ardis doesn’t intend to abandon the imprisoned children.
But, more importantly, his rage for Jelia, who played with the lives of his companions with whom he shared smiles and tears, triumphed.
Despite having been in the same situation, Ardis had escaped on his own power, and Luciel had escaped because of someone else.
That small difference might’ve been the cause of the discrepancy between Ardis who prioritizes striking the source, and Luciel who prioritizes saving the victims that she can see sooner.
Luciel’s expression was filled with sadness at Ardis who could not say anything.
「This can’t be right……」
With her left fist wrapped in her right hand on her forehead, Luciel muttered.
A distant voice from another comrade sounded in the awkward atmosphere.
「Oi, Ardis! Quickly get ready or you’re getting left behind! 」
「Yeah, I know! 」
Ardis who answered, approached Luciel, and was trying to embrace her.
「I will be back. Let’s go rescue the children together when I’m back. 」
However, Luciel rejected Ardis’s attempt.
Pushing him back with her hands, she said with a face on the verge of tearing up.
「This can’t be right, Ardis. 」
With those weak words left behind, Luciel ran, leaving Ardis behind.
Even while worrying over Luciel who remained in the camp, Ardis accompanied Greyth and the others to move towards the Rodelia capital.
With no regards to the day or night in their march, they had finally arrived at their destination, and laid in wait.
As they planned, they were able to circle around and make it in front of Jelia’s route. However, something unexpected to them happened.
「Why are royal guards immediately under the king with her……」
Ardis noticed a troop of twenty cavalrymen clothed in spectacular armour while waiting for Jelia to pass through.
That would be the royal guards that normally guard royalties when they leave the castle.
The royal guards that passed by Ardis and the others a while back were now returning with Jelia in the center of the group.
「That woman general must be really liked by the king. 」
Greyth muttered irritated.
The job of the royal guards is to guard royalties.
Normally, it’s impossible for them to be escorting anyone other than royalties.
However, the scenario now showed Jelia of the Crimson Catastrophic Butterfly marching gallantly with the royal guards escorting her in front of Ardis and the others who were lying in wait.
Then escorting the royal guards were about ten cavalries probably brought by Jelia from the frontlines.
That itself demonstrated that Jelia was being treated like royalty.
It was exceptional treatment for a general of common birth.
「What now, Greyth? 」
「Tch, we can’t fight the royal guards either……」
If they were able to target only Jelia, then they can justify it as a personal grudge, but if they attacked a group with royal guards, it would inevitably turn the whole Rodelia Kingdom into their enemies with no questions asked.
In the first place, Ardis and the others had only about fifty people here.
It was because they betted that Jelia would be accompanied by a small number of escorts while hurrying back to the capital.
In fact, there were only ten calvaries excluding the royal guards.
In that case, Ardis and the others had a chance to win.
However, the story was different with another twenty royal guards adding onto the opponent’s force.
Despite still having an upper hand in numbers, their opponents weren’t normal soldiers.
They were elites reporting directly to the Crimson Catastrophic Butterfly, who is also noted for her power, and the royal guards.
Even if the fight is fifty versus thirty, there’s nothing saying they could win for sure.
「Shit, should we have chosen to lie in wait a little earlier? 」
「But that would’ve meant we wouldn’t have time before engaging in a fight. 」
「And the royal guards might appear when we are fighting. 」
They can’t fight a strong opponent in a fatigued state.
For that sake, Ardis and the others had chosen a spot that they could rest themselves fully before engaging.
However, that was what caused their failure this time.
「No choice, we can only give it up this time. 」
With Greyth’s decision made, there were sighs coming from all sides.
「There will be another chance. The time to prevail is not now. It’s as simple as that. 」
Although Greyth said this himself, Ardis could clearly see that he was also disappointed.
It might’ve even been that he said it for himself to hear.
In the end, Ardis and the others did nothing and returned with empty hands.
Unlike the morale-boosting sortie, the group that was surrounded by a gloomy environment returned three days later to the camp where their other companions were waiting, where Ardis, who wished to alert Luciel of his homecoming, couldn’t find her.