The sensation that he should have already experienced several hundreds, and thousands of times shook Ardis’s heart.
The sword fell from his trembling hands.
With the dry sound reverberating in the cell, Luciel’s neck swayed.
Her inclined head separated from the torso, and as it was starting to fall, Ardis caught it with his entire body.
But he was not even allowed the chance to ease the pain in his heart now.
What Ardis must do now is not mourn nor weep, but to bring Luciel back.
Ardis carried Luciel’s head in his arms like a treasure and started a fire on her body still bound by chains with his arts.
He didn’t want to leave even a single piece of Luciel’s body in this place.
Wrapped in intense flames, Luciel’s body turned dark quickly.
「Let’s go, Al. 」
Nodding wordlessly to Rona, Ardis picked his sword back up while his other arm held onto Luciel.
Using mana detection, the reactions from the enemies were significantly closer than before.
However, it’s still not a distance where they would get caught.
「And we’re going the other way, right? 」
There’s a reason why Ardis is convinced that there’s another exit on the other end of the passageway with prison cells lining both sides.
In the end, there was no prisoner in that place other than Luciel.
And the sole prisoner, Luciel, let alone escaping, it was doubtful whether she even had a mind left for it.
Despite that, they had assigned soldiers to keep watch at the basement entrance.
Rather than preventing prisoners to escape, it was more likely that they were on guard against outside infiltration through the passageway.
That’s why it’s likely that there’s another exit at the other end of the passageway.
Ardis and Rona ran away from the direction of the fortress, while their pursuers were approaching from the direction of the fortress.
Eventually, intermittent angry voices reached them faintly.
「――d! Tha――intrude――! 」
「――Catch! Don――escap――! 」
It seems like they had noticed their presence here.
However, there’s already quite a distance between the two groups.
Even if they started sprinting at full speed, they can’t catch Ardis and Rona.
「Al, there are mana reactions ahead! 」
「Three…… they aren’t that strong. We’ll just mow them down! 」
As Ardis predicted, the end of this passageway wasn’t a dead end.
Although they aren’t as weak as the recruits, they aren’t as strong as veterans too, and three of such mana reactions were grouped in the same place.
They’re probably soldiers tasked with guarding the other end of the passageway.
Forcing their already strengthened physical ability to speed up, they closed the distance before the group realized their presence.
The two caught a glimpse of the outside.
It looks like the exit on this side is disguised as a natural cave.
Three armed men were standing at the irregularly shaped exit.
「Nn? What was――」
One of them turned around, noticing Ardis’s and Rona’s sound as they drew close.
However, at that moment, his head separated from his body.
They didn’t allow the remaining two to yell even if they realized the irregularity.
Ardis’s sword stabbed between the gaps of the soldier’s armor below his arm, while the other soldier had his throat tore open by Rona.
Discarding the three people that collapsed in a pool of blood, Ardis and Rona restarted their sprint.
After all, they noticed the presences of their pursuers drawing closer.
After exiting from the underground passageway, they found themselves in a dense forest.
It was the best environment to lose their pursuers.
Ardis jumped into the woods with no hesitation, only running without looking back.
The pursuers’ voices were still faintly audible.
There’s no chance they can catch Ardis and Rona if they escape into the forest.
However, while running between the woods, Ardis suddenly felt like something was catching on his mind.
The angry voices of the pursuers were somehow familiar to him.
Ardis and Rona who dodged the pursuers in the forest ran quite a distance before stopping.
Having secured their own lives, eventually, the emotions that they held back till now overflowed.
Hugging onto the final piece of his loved one, Ardis fell on his knees.
Regret piled on regrets, not knowing how to process the regret that continued to pile on, Ardis cursed the world.
「Why did something like this……! 」
The tears that stopped temporarily restarted.
He sacrificed many things, spending four years where he focused solely on retrieving Luciel.
He won’t say that he would be fine as long as she is there.
But now that she is not here, how much meaning is left in his life.
For Ardis, Luciel was such an existence.
But despite all of that, he had cut her with his own hands.
The golden beast who is his partner for long years approached Ardis who was weeping without words.
「Al. Let’s clean up Ruu. Leaving her as is will be too much. 」
While his face was wet with tears, Ardis created water from arts, and carefully rubbed off any filth from Luciel.
Her skin that was once glossy was now turning blue black, and the hair that had always caught his attention when the wind blew is in tatters.
While occasionally sobbing, Ardis’s hand scooped up Luciel’s hair when her face became clean.
Two ribbons were tying up her hair.
One of the once violet-colored ribbons was made clumsily by Luciel herself.
While the other one was gifted by Ardis.
After having everything robbed from her, all Luciel was left with were only these――.
Ardis undone the two ribbons, taking off his own headband, he used it to tie Luciel’s hair together.
Shutting Luciel who is now tidy and clean in a chunk of ice crystal, nighttime came as they finally stopped her time.
The next morning, Rona’s first line was a question.
「So, what are we doing now? Naturally we can’t back off like this right? 」
「Without saying. 」
When the sadness had passed, all that remains is rage that burned like fire.
Ardis is willing to become a demon or devil at this point.
「I felt something stuck at the back of my mind from yesterday. 」
Rona explained his thoughts to Ardis who was determined.
「The people that were pursuing us yesterday, I felt like I heard their voices before……」
「You too? 」
「Too, so Ardis also felt the same way? 」
Since both thought the same way, it was not Ardis’s own imagination.
Moreover, if it’s someone both Ardis and Rona knew, then the possible suspects are only a few.
「I actually have an idea. 」
Ardis rushed for a response from Rona.
「Who? Who is it!? 」
「……Remember about Marty? 」
Ardis searched for that name within his memories.
It’s definitely a name he’d heard somewhere.
「When I first met Al and Ruu, they were in the mercenary band for a while. 」
「It’s them! 」
Hearing the details, Ardis finally recalled.
The remnants of another annihilated mercenary band, the leader of the five-man group that temporarily joined Wisteria.
Causing a fight, it was the name of the mercenary that couldn’t use arts and was expelled for attempting an assault on Ruu.
『Just stay still and it will be over! Though it will take thrice the time with all of us here! 』
The voice of the pursuers matched the vulgar voice that Marty had in his memories.
Ardis’s expression distorted further.
「There were five stronger people in the fortress, right? Aren’t they the five people that got expelled? 」
Now that it was mentioned, Ardis became convinced.
Certainly, the five of them were strong.
Despite not able to use arts, they had strength as powerful as the elites within Wisteria.
「Those…… fuckers! 」
Ardis punched the ground.
Although his power wasn’t that strong without mana physical enhancement, the ground nonetheless sunk by two fingers after receiving Ardis’s rage.
「I will make sure they think dying is better off……! 」
「I’m on the same page, but as expected, facing all five of them at the same time is impossible. 」
Ardis then declared what would happen with pauses, to Rona who was just calmly comparing their abilities.
「One by one, slowly, they are, going to hell. 」
「Well, that’s what I thought. 」
Expecting such an answer already, Rona too showed a ferocious smile with his fangs exposed.