A/N: 【Warning! 】 Depictions of cruelty, sexual abuse, there’re various shocking expressions. Those who can’t tolerate, please skip along while reading.
Inside the darkness where sunlight doesn’t reach, the imprisoned appearance of Ardis’s loved one was illuminated by his arts.
However, there were no joyful words from Ardis’s mouth.
A moment when it felt like time has stopped.
His heart rejected what reflected in his eyes.
However, his reasoning understood that it was the undeniable reality and didn’t allow him to escape.
There was a silhouette hung in the prison.
The only life in there.
「Ruu…… is it you? 」
Ardis stepped forward, a little stumbling.
With the second and third step, Ardis’s expression distorted from the silhouette that became clearer.
The chains that were buried in the cell’s wall drew a curvature, connecting to a person, grasping onto her body like a curse.
The jail cell was overflowing with the odor that he had smelled countless times in battlefields―― or rather, in the towns that are laid waste afterwards.
Women were trampled upon until only a shell of them remains, it was a familiar odor that was often found in the aftermath of battles.
The silhouette had none of any clothing that covered her body.
The bulge on her chest and the curvatures emphasized that it was a female, while the wounds and scars that are left on her expressed her sufferings thus far.
The metal shackles circled around the neck from the right to the left shoulder, and tied around the upper body, all of them supported by six different chains, lifting the person herself a little higher than a standing posture.
With not a single protection over her skin, the portions of the skin that were bound by shackles were dull in color.
There weren’t any shackles on her wrist or legs.
No, she had none of them to be shackled with.
Her arms abruptly stopped at the upper arm, and there were no legs past her knees.
The reason why the shackles were binding her abdomen was because all her limbs were severed already.
With their stumps looking very old, they were not severed just one or two months before.
Ardis stumbled as he approached.
As he did so, her hair color and facial features became clearer, and so did Ardis descent into the depths of despair.
Even after four years, he will never forget.
A small pointy nose, slightly long eyelashes, ears that would turn red even at a little teasing, and the thin lips that would form a kind arc when smiling.
The face that had once smiled at Ardis was now in front of him again.
Tears appeared within Ardis’s vision.
A dry sound reverberated as he took a step forward.
Ardis feet crushed a small piece of human bone.
Looking at the skull beside it, he realized it was the remains of a child.
There were three skulls.
All of them were likely babies that were barely born.
The obscene odor that wrapped the surroundings described the brutality that happened regularly.
Ardis’s expression distorted even more.
Standing at an arm’s reach in front of Luciel, he called out while looking into her black pupils.
But there was no response.
Her eyes were not shut.
Although Ardis saw his reflection in those eyes, Luciel didn’t seem to see him at all.
Not responding to Ardis who was just in front of her, her eyes that lost focus were just staring into somewhere far.
Her eyes were only opened.
But nothing was reflected on her pupils.
Ardis fearfully touched Luciel’s neck.
His fingers certainly felt the warmth and pulse.
But his voice wasn’t rejoicing at all.
His tears were overflowing.
The tiny bit of joy he had was drowned by regret and grief.
Luciel who had her mouth half opened had lost all her teeth.
Only the quiet sound of breathing could be heard from the cracked lips.
「What…… is this」
Rona’s rage burned silently.
「Cruel, this is too cruel……」
It was Luciel who first found Rona.
Bringing him back to the mercenary band, Luciel had taken care of the small Rona till he was an adult.
Although Ardis knew her the longest, for Rona, Luciel is the human that he is the closest with.
That’s why, the rage he felt when seeing Luciel’s miserable appearance is a matter of fact.
「She’s not dead but……, she’s not acting alive at all! 」
Not dead and being alive is not the same thing.
Not answering any of their calls, her pupils reflected nothing.
With her mind lost, is she really alive, or just not dead?
「Let’s go home…… Ruu」
Ardis hugged Luciel gently.
He could feel her warmth.
But that alone was too much of sadness for him to bear.
Stepping back a little, Ardis drew his sword out, and swung towards the cursed chains that bound her.
However, the chains that looked feeble at first showed unexpected toughness.
Ardis tried again with greater speed and power, but his attempt failed again.
Ardis’s expression showed a look of impatience.
「Let me do it. 」
Rona offered to do it instead.
However, even with the blades made from arts, like Ardis, Rona couldn’t cut off the chains at all.
「They’re not normal chains……? 」
「Al, let’s destroy the wall instead. 」
The two changed their aim to the wall.
Even if they can’t sever the chains, if they could at least dislodge the portion of the wall that anchored the chains, they would be able to bring Luciel out.
It’s not too late to remove the chains and shackles afterwards.
「The hell is this wall! 」
The strike that Ardis delivered along with irritation could do nothing to the wall.
There was a tiny mark on the wall but, that’s it, the wall was abnormally strong.
「We can’t take any more time than this, Al. 」
「I know! 」
If they had time, they could probably break the wall.
Perhaps a method to cut the chains wouldn’t be impossible either.
However, Ardis was currently infiltrating an enemy fortress.
Their deadline is when the people of the fortress realize their infiltration and use mana detection. The time they had wasn’t much at all.
「Wait, Al. 」
Rona stopped Ardis who was going for another attempt to pick the wall down.
「This is bad, there are movements from the fortress. They might’ve noticed. 」
Having pointed out by Rona, Ardis too tried using mana detection.
Although there’s quite a distance to the fortress from where they are, Ardis could still sense a portion of the fortress.
「They’re heading here. Looks like it’s the five stronger people. Al, at this rate――」
「Then tell me what to do! There’s no meaning if we can’t bring Ruu out! 」
「Our odds are too bad if we face five of them! And there’s a whole bunch of enemies with them too! 」
「I know that! 」
Although they could handle facing one or two people, if they had to battle all five of the stronger enemies at the same time, Ardis knew they wouldn’t win at all.
Still, he had arrived thus far after looking for a whole four years.
He couldn’t give up that easily.
Rona spoke in a low volume towards Ardis whose thoughts seemed to be stuck in a loop.
「It’s too reckless to face five of them with just us. Even if we win somehow, the reinforcements from the fortress will come immediately. But there’s no time left to set Ruu free now. 」
Rona stated something that should be obvious to them both.
He looked into Ardis’s eyes seriously.
「There’s no other options to choose now. Either we take Ruu out of here immediately――」
「I would’ve done so if I could! 」
Rona continued, against Ardis who was indignant.
「Or…… relieve Ruu from her sufferings now. 」
Ardis’s expression petrified.
Not able to accept Rona’s words, his head was shaking back and forth unconsciously.
「W-hat…… are you, saying, Rona……」
「If bringing her out is impossible, then at the very least, we must relieve her of her sufferings. 」
「You’re saying we…… kill Ruu? …………Are you telling me, to kill Ruu! 」
Ardis who finally grasped the meaning behind Rona’s words lashed out immediately.
「Don’t fuck with me! 」
「I’m not! 」
Against him, Rona as well raised his volume to the maximum.
「Why do I have to kill Ruu! 」
「Then are you saying we should leave her here like that!? 」
With the question full of daggers pointed towards him, Ardis lost his words.
「Even I know what they’ve done to Ruu. 」
Rona’s eyes reflected the same rage present in Ardis.
For Rona, Luciel should also be an existence like a family member.
With all her dignity trampled upon, treated horribly till her heart broke, no one can be fine seeing their family member hung in chains in an underground jail cell in this kind of miserable state.
But somehow, he still held onto his reasoning when compared to Ardis whose thoughts for Luciel is too strong.
「If we left Ruu here, you understand that she will continue receiving the same treatment, right? Is Al fine with that? There’s no way, right? 」
With those words, Ardis regained some of his calm.
「For so many years, so many years did she suffered here. If we don’t relieve her now, she will continue suffering. Leaving her like that is just…… too pitiful」
Rona’s voice was trailing off.
The reason why Ardis and Rona could’ve made it here this time was solely because their opponents weren’t on guard.
But now that they know of this attempt, their security will be tightened after this.
Depending on the situation, they might even transport Luciel to somewhere else.
There’s nothing guaranteeing a second chance.
Moreover, after this long―― after spending four years, the two finally found her.
If they left Luciel at this place, there’s nothing saying they can find her a second time.
Ardis called out to Luciel with attachment.
He wanted a response.
Anything is fine.
However, there was not even a single moan that could be heard from her.
He wanted her to look at him.
Just a single moment when her black pupils can catch his figure.
However, those pupils were looking into the empty space, no longer able to see anything.
「Are…… you……………. Not there already……? 」
The questions that never got a response was directed to himself too.
「Al, they are almost here already. We don’t have time! 」
Rona hushed his decision.
They might not be able to find her the second time.
No, there might be a way to heal Luciel back to herself.
But there’s no way the two can win against five people of that league of mana reaction, more so when they are not engaging in a surprise attack.
Still, he didn’t want Luciel to suffer any longer.
Unforgivable, the people that forced such a living hell upon her.
But if Ardis were to die here, who would save Luciel in his place.
――――Who would exact revenge for her.
It was far from a logical thinking, as fragments of emotional outburst filled Ardis’s mind.
The fragments crashed into each other, tangling chaotically, and causing further confusion.
He was looking at the ground while his fist tightened.
The pain of his nails digging into his own hand was not something he could feel at that point.
His eyes shut as his teeth gritted.
As if not able to bear the tremendous load, his molars were letting out strange noises.
Desperately suppressing the urge to yell in pain while hugging his head, he forcefully pushed his emotions back that wanted him to escape from reality.
Even so, he must decide now.
There was no time to think given to Ardis.
Rona hushed his decision again.
Ardis stared at the nonresponding Luciel’s eyes.
The lines of sight that will never intersect burned Ardis’s chest.
A momentary silence.
At the same time, fragments of emotions poured out endlessly.
Ardis touched Luciel’s cheek and squeezed out words that wouldn’t reach his loved one.
「Ruu………. Let’s go home……」
Caressing her cheeks gently, Ardis took up his sword with both hands after retreating three small steps.
Twisting both of his arms along with his upper body backwards, his posture stopped at half a rotation.
Holding back the tears that muddled his vision desperately, he forcefully adjusted his ragged breathing that came naturally.
He doesn’t want Luciel to suffer anymore.
A single blow that is too fast that there’s no time for pain to be recognized.
Failure is not an option. Ardis will not allow himself to do so.
He held his breath.
At that short moment, his tear-riddled vision strangely cleared up.
Ardis’s sword drew a horizontal trajectory, ripping apart space, and headed straight towards Luciel’s neck.
The sword cut through flesh, broke through bones, and reappeared on the other side.