As Ardis returned to the camp with a gloomy atmosphere, only a piece of note left behind by Luciel awaited him.
『I will return right away. Don’t worry, I’m not attempting anything dangerous or reckless』
The moment he read that, severe cold and fear ran through Ardis.
He ran around the camp looking for Luciel, asking the people he came across about her whereabouts, but finding nothing of use.
「Sorry, Ardis. 」
It was Sark who stayed behind and was responsible for the camp. He called out to Ardis suddenly.
Elion was also beside him.
「Do you know something!? 」
Ardis grabbed onto Sark’s shoulders and rushed his response, but it was Elion that explained with a dark expression.
「She probably went alone……」
Hearing what happened from Elion after he departed the camp, Ardis couldn’t help but yell angrily.
Why did you not stop her, the words that were on the verge of exploding were held in.
Both Sark and Elion had warned Luciel not to do anything reckless.
Despite that, Luciel had ignored their warnings and left on her own.
She’s not a child that can’t think for herself.
As a person who is recognized as a full-fledged member of the mercenary band, she ignored the warnings, and left without permission. Naturally, the responsibility falls entirely on herself.
It’s not right to blame Elion here.
Even if they wanted to chase and bring Luciel back, they were bound by Greyth’s order to look after the entire camp.
Because they were two of the strongest members in the camp, there weren’t many mercenaries that stayed behind to guard the camp.
Luciel who was included in the calculation had already left on her own.
On top of that, if either one of the twins left the camp, the risks for those who are left in the camp would become even greater.
They could never selfishly behave in a way that would expose other non-combatants in danger.
Because he understood that, Ardis suddenly lost a target to vent his feelings.
Holding an indescribable emotion, Ardis then turned around.
「Hold up, Ardis!? 」
「Tell Greyth that I’m sorry. 」
Turning his back to Elion who tried to stop him, Ardis finished the bare minimum preparation quickly before dashing out the camp.
There was no destination written in Luciel’s note.
However, it was obvious to him that her destination would’ve been the facility.
He knew it is impossible to catch up with Luciel who departed three days ago.
Even so, Ardis couldn’t help but rush forward.
「Al, I’m here too. 」
While running towards the destination, a golden beast lined beside Ardis.
Ardis looked like he was about to say something but closed his mouth, before opening his mouth again to respond briefly.
「We must hurry. 」
「Yeah, I know. 」
Ending the conversation with that much, a man and a beast were sprinting with legs enhanced by mana without uttering a word.
They cut through a forest and passed through a town. Ardis was pushed to take the shortest route because of the overwhelming sense of urgency in his chest.
Three days had passed since Luciel left the camp.
They weren’t chasing after some people enjoying their trip leisurely.
Considering the situation, Luciel must’ve headed towards the facility in a hurry too.
Enough time had passed that it isn’t strange that she had already arrived at the destination.
「Shit……if I knew……! 」
Despite understanding that there’s nothing regret could do at this point, Ardis couldn’t help but hate his decision.
At the same time, he wanted to hit his past self.
『The most important thing now is not taking revenge, right?』
Though too late, Luciel’s question asked him again.
At that time, Ardis didn’t answer that question.
His hatred and anger for the person that trampled upon the first ever place he belonged, and the companions whom he shared pain and joy with created hesitation and clouded his eyes.
「I’m……such a fool! 」
What was most important at that time, Ardis had lost sight of it.
For Ardis, both Wisteria where he belonged, and the comrades that he was always with were irreplaceable existences.
It’s true that he thought his mission was to save the children who are imprisoned with a similar situation as he once used to be, but making the woman general pay for playing with and killing his comrades that are family to him is already his second nature.
But what was most important is just one single girl.
The person that Ardis swore to protect first, Luciel.
The Luciel who gave him a reason to live.
The two boy and girl should have eventually become a man and a woman that could walk together side by side after spending a long time together.
It was as if the time of retribution for Ardis had come, as a punishment of losing sight of that.
Because of his stupid decision, he will lose what he can’t lose.
As if averting his eyes from himself, he sole-mindedly chased after Luciel.
Fatigue would naturally accumulate, regardless of whether he strengthened his body or not if he continued to abuse it.
However, no matter how his body complained of the limits, he didn’t stop his legs, and continued to run day and night with only the bare minimum of resting time in between.
It was about the second night after he left the camp, Ardis finally arrived at his destination.
What only awaited Ardis who ran here only praying for Luciel’s safety was the sound of wind carrying the dry air.
And the unexpected scene of the ruins of the facility that turned into a pile of rubble.
Rona asked the stunned Ardis.
「Al, this is the correct place, right? 」
「This place……. There’s no mistake…… but……」
Within Ardis’s vision, there were only rubbles of various sizes.
The building that was once five times taller than himself had crumbled apart as if the internal space itself was pulled out.
Previously when Wisteria assaulted this place, it wasn’t at this state of ruin.
What could have happened.
There’s no way of knowing.
What was certain was that the facility was already destroyed. The fact itself was presented in front of his eyes, giving him no room to doubt it.
「Ah……Ruu…………. Where’s Ruu? 」
While having a monologue and remembering his purpose here, his face turned green.
The rubble and the silence itself were like a gravestone, the only sounds he could hear were insect noises.
The place Ardis was at was such a place that it’s unlikely anyone alive would be there.
While heading towards the pile of rubble, Ardis expanded his mana into a web and tried to search for any people around.
There, he swallowed his breath.
「Al……. There’s no one……」
Rona who similarly searched for any mana reaction said this with his words muddled.
The result of searching the entire area which wasn’t very wide was that there were no mana reactions that would indicate a person.
Rather, there were no reactions of any living person.
Suppressing his emotions that swelled up, Ardis started removing the rubbles at his feet piece by piece.
Blowing away the smaller pieces with wind created by mana, carrying away larger pieces with his strengthened limbs, crushing and removing pieces that are larger than himself with a shockwave created by mana.
Seeing Ardis work silently in urgency, Rona as well shut up and started helping.
Eventually, the rubble that was probably the ceiling was removed, and the corpses underneath was found.
A man with white coat that is likely a researcher.
An armed man with a large stature.
A small child with black hair.
Lastly, a grotesque body that doesn’t resemble a person.
After carrying the corpses that they dug out to a flatter place a little distance from the rubble, Ardis once again faced the mountain of rubble.
How much time had passed since then?
With not a single thought spared to care about the spent time, Ardis only focused on digging up the corpses buried within the rubble.
Eventually, each piece of rubble was removed, and more than fifty corpses were lined up. Ardis fell to his knees as his voice trembled.
「……She’s not here. 」
The corpses that Ardis and Rona dug up from the rubble.
Luciel wasn’t among one of them.
「She’s alive. 」
Ardis had told himself that.
「……Ruu must still be alive. 」
Luciel couldn’t be found anywhere there.
This means her survival isn’t clear at this point.
However, Luciel wasn’t buried within the rubble.
In other words, at the very least, Luciel’s death wasn’t certain yet.
The fact that Luciel’s corpse was not at this place also hinted at the possibility of her survival.
It’s a tiny bit better than the worst-case scenario Ardis thought.
That tiny reassurance alone was what made Ardis think that there was no greater fortune.
However, that is also but an illusion.
Although not the worst-case scenario, it’s still very much close to it.
It was Rona’s muttering question that brought Ardis back to reality from the momentary relief of knowing the possibility.
「Then, where could Ruu be now……? 」