T/N: This was basically a chapter replay of 163, but since the context became clearer than before, some sentences were modified to better suit the context.
「Getting in my way again! 」
The icicles that Elion released bounced off Jelia’s barrier.
Chipping away at her foothold by transforming mana into shockwaves, Ardis attempted another slash.
Although the coordination wasn’t at the level of Sark and Elion, Ardis has had many experiences fighting alongside the twins. Even though they haven’t fought together in five years, this much coordination doesn’t break a sweat.
Jelia dodged the incoming sword by leaping before her foothold broke, but it was what Ardis was aiming for from the start.
From a direction diagonally above Ardis, Sark’s voice rang along with bullets of light raining.
Retreating to not get caught up in it, Ardis’s vision was filled with countless light bullets.
However, even with Elion’s surprise icicles, Ardis’s slash, and Sark’s light bullets linked together with coordination, there was not a single wound on Jelia.
「Stop being so annoying! 」
「Even that didn’t go through! 」
Sark clicked his tongue seeing the light bullets blocked by Jelia’s sturdy barrier.
「What an incredible pair of annoying bugs. I don’t ever want to see that face of yours again. Get lost already! 」
「How miraculous we’re on the same page…」
「Just how I want it! I’m going to let you never be able to see anyone’s face ever again! 」
Jelia and the twins exchanged arts.
「You should be the one to get lost! 」
Ardis casted arts of wind blades from the side.
「A mere scrape with his arts! 」
As if Ardis’ attacks were not worth her attention, Jelia simply waved her hand, and the manifested crimson blades cancelled them out.
While Sark and Elion demonstrated their forte at arts, Ardis supported them by using his sword, controlling, or using arts as a restraint.
However, even with these many attacks linked together, Jelia’s defenses didn’t shake at all.
All their strikes were either blocked by barriers or silver spheres, and counterattacks with greater strength than theirs were always returned.
Just a little further.
She was at a level that couldn’t be attained even with three Wisteria elites battling at full strength.
Still, that doesn’t become a reason for them to give up.
Ardis had finally reached here after sacrificing many things.
Even if they manage to survive this place, Wisteria had probably met its end as a mercenary band already.
Losing most of their elites in this assault, it was even unknown how many comrades had survived the onslaught from the monstrosities.
If the outcome couldn’t be decided here, it was more obvious than looking into flames that their lives after this wouldn’t be great.
She’s not an opponent where sparing effort was possible.
Neither was it a situation for them to think about what happens after the battle.
Facing against one absolute foe, it was unknown for how long the three had fought with their whole.
A moment that could only be considered a miracle was brought forth by the coincidence of many overlapping factors.
The tiny gap that opened from Ardis’s attack, Elion’s attack stabbing into that point powerfully, and one light arrow that Sark created squeezed past that miniscule gap.
Jelia might’ve loosened her guard too.
The unexpected coordination born coincidentally made it past the gap in Jelia’s defenses which would’ve never been possible, grazing her cheeks slightly.
Tension suddenly appeared on her expression that had formerly looked like she were teasing her three opponents without breaking a sweat.
The color of red that was even brighter than her hair trickled down her cheeks.
Jelia’s voice trembled as she realized what had happened to her face after touching it with her fingers.
Her lips moved slightly, as a barely audible voice could be heard.
「How dare you……」
Jelia’s expression turned into rage.
Her ridiculing leeway expression disappeared, as she now directed a gaze filled with killing intent towards the three.
「You dare, how dare you to do this to my face! Not just once, twice! Unforgivable! Unforgivable! Unforgivable! I will never forgive you even if you crawl on the ground and beg! Die here! Regret that you have become my enemy and slowly rot while you die! 」
At that moment, Jelia’s mana suddenly swelled up.
Ardis immediately retreated at the obvious precursor, but was still hit by Jelia’s shockwave.
An impact so powerful that it felt like his entire body was being crushed through his barrier.
Even though Ardis covered his head with one of his arms, her overwhelming power still couldn’t be shielded against, and shook his brain mercilessly.
Losing his consciousness momentarily, Ardis’s vision covered in darkness.
How much time had passed since he lost consciousness?
As Ardis reopened his eyes from being assaulted with pain, he immediately saw Elion nearby.
「Great. Are you awake, Ardis? 」
「Elion……was I…… 」
「You were out. Just for a little though. 」
Ardis was told that it hadn’t been long since he lost consciousness.
Passing out in a fight where even a moment was fatal, it was too critical of a mistake for a mercenary.
「What about Sark? 」
Asking while ashamed of his pathetic self, Elion replied with a short answer.
「He’s holding that woman down. 」
Hearing Elion’s reply, Ardis shook his head and looked around.
How far away was he blown away?
At the fringe of his vision, he saw the guy offered as a shield turn into bits of flesh.
Despite feeling a little regrettable about it, his existence soon disappeared from within Ardis.
He found the figure of Sark and Jelia fighting with their arts at a little distance away.
Since Ardis and Elion both withdrew from the frontline, Sark alone was now fighting Jelia.
「Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a baggage at all……」
「Nah, the one that is going to be a baggage here is me. 」
Following Elion’s gaze and words that didn’t fit him, Ardis swallowed his breath.
「You, that leg……」
Diced into pieces from knees down, Ardis lost his words when he saw Elion’s right leg in such a miserable state where even his bones were visible.
「My luck ran out. Where I landed wasn’t great. 」
Ardis cursed to stop his heart that was on the verge of shattering.
「Ardis is the only hope we have now. I will use my secret ultimate on you, so stay put for a while. 」
「But Sark by himself――」
「Sark can’t hold for long. That’s why it must be now. 」
Elion appealed with a serious face, and after glancing at Sark that was still fighting on his own, Ardis accepted the deal.
「……Got it. Make it quick. Even if it means taking each other out……that woman will never……! 」
Elion nodded wordlessly at Ardis’s words and started constructing his spell.
The effects of the spell weren’t explained at all.
However, Elion was a person with greater talent than Ardis. He’s a person that has showed actual results without betraying expectations on many battlefields.
Be it strength or personality, there was not a single reason why Ardis couldn’t put his trust on him.
It was arts that Elion chose to use even if it meant delaying help for Sark.
Then the only thing left here was to fully trust Elion on it.
Mana drew a wide circle around Ardis as the center, and small symbols that lied on its line while facing outwards started to unfold and glow.
Ardis felt that it was on a scale grander than what he expected.
「Ardis, both Sark and I have always regretted it. 」
At that timing, Elion suddenly started speaking.
「What is it, so sudden? 」
The words that were calm and unfit of spoken in a place of battle caused Ardis to question back as he couldn’t understand the intention.
「That time, when Ruu went out by herself……」
「……It’s not any of your fault. She chose to do it herself. 」
While grinding his teeth at the bitter memories, Ardis denied Elion’s words.
「Even so. We should’ve stopped Ruu even if it meant doing it forcefully. At the very least, one of us could’ve tagged along with her. It was completely our fault. 」
Saying that much, Elion closed his mouth.
What should he say to Elion with the awkward atmosphere in between, or should he maintain silence……? Not able to decide, in the end, Ardis didn’t say anything.
Meanwhile, the light and sound emitted by Jelia and Sark’s arts were rushing Ardis.
Unable to be patient, Ardis broke the silence.
「How is the progress? Sark can’t hold out any longer by himself. 」
「Constructing it and talking at the same time is not a problem. Rather, don’t try to change the topic. 」
As he said, Elion didn’t stop the construction of his spell at all even while speaking.
「It’s not something to talk about in this situation though? 」
「Yes, that’s right. It’s not something that should be brought up at the final battle. But still, it’s something I have to say now. 」
His serious face gave off an indescribable sense of impatience, Ardis felt.
「We must redeem ourselves for Ardis no matter what someday. We thought so, but it seems like the time for that has come. 」
「What are you saying, Elion? 」
It was not a situation for him to be expressing regret.
They should return to the frontlines to help Sark as soon as possible, but the chances of winning were already small and they were fleeting away with each second passing.
It’s not like Elion to not know that.
Seeing how he didn’t act as usual; Ardis had a suspicion that he couldn’t quite explain.
At that timing, Jelia who noticed something headed here immediately.
「What are a bunch of dying scraps trying to do here secretly! 」
「Don’t think you can do it! 」
To protect the waves of flames from Jelia, Sark stood in between and deployed a barrier to shield both Elion and Ardis.
「Stop being a bother! 」
Jelia cursed with an annoyed expression.
At the same time, the flames grew more intense, and they started wrapping the three of them despite the presence of Sark’s barrier.
The barrier shook and trembled. While it glowed in purple, it started to slowly crumble.
「Hurry up Elion! I can’t hold on much longer! 」
Ardis lost his words from the back figure of Sark who rushed Elion.
What Ardis saw was Sark who had a huge chunk gouged out of his abdomen, fully dyed in red.
It was not a light wound.
The heat from the flames may have perhaps hardened the blood and stopped any further bleeding.
However, the silhouette that was obviously unnatural for a person appealed to Ardis how grave the situation was.
As Ardis understood what he had seen, Elion thrusted the ruthless truth outwards.
「Sark and myself are already as you’ve seen. Winning and escaping are not options for us. 」
Ignoring Ardis who couldn’t accept what was happening and tried to talk back, Elion continued speaking on his own.
「I’ve experimented many times with it already, but the detailed parts haven’t been figured out yet. I wanted to designate a safe place, but you might be sent to some strange place, so I apologize for this first. 」
「Wait Elion! What are you trying to do!? 」
Not able to understand Elion’s words, Ardis tried to move, but noticed the presence of mana wrapping around him.
Ardis was confused at whether his intention was to bind him, but at the same time, he interrogated the culprit fiercely.
「Elion, what is this!? 」
Unlike Ardis who was confused, Elion had a calm expression.
「Ardis. It’s our loss today. 」
「The outcome hasn’t been decided yet! 」
「No, it’s a loss. We’ve looked down on that woman. Although we thought we didn’t, today’s outcome can only mean that. That’s why, it’s our loss today. 」
As if trying to entrust his will to a successor, Elion spoke to Ardis clearly word for word.
「Elion, what are you……」
「But Ardis. Us losing and that woman winning, something like that must never happen at all costs, right? There’s no way we can waste the lives of our comrades taking us this far, right? Although I’m still reluctant to push all of this onto you, it’s about time for Sark and me to step down from the stage. And seeing this much time has passed since we started fighting, no one has arrived here, so Greyth and the others must have already……」
Unable to understand the terribly calm atmosphere that Elion had; what Ardis could do at that moment was to shake his head.
「But Ardis, we still have you. Even if one of us survives, it’s not a total loss. If you are the existence that can lead us to a victory, then there’s only one thing I can do now. 」
Finally, Ardis realized what Elion was trying to do.
「Wait! Elion, don’t tell me――! 」
The mana infused in the symbols surrounding Ardis swelled up.
It was an obvious precursor that the activation of the arts was close.
The symbols that drew a circle started to glow dully, and mana started flowing inwards, towards Ardis who was in the middle, from the outside.
「Elion! Sark! 」
Unable to move, Ardis yelled from the bottom of his lungs.
Responding to his words, Sark glanced backwards for a moment, before replying roughly.
「Don’t die out there, Ardis! 」
Ardis’s vision started to distort.
The bleeding and eroding distortion slowly painted over Sark’s and Elion’s figure.
With a soft smile, Elion spoke his last words, just besides Ardis.
「That’s why, Ardis. For our portion too――――」
Sooner than he could hear the end of that sentence, sound vanished from Ardis’s world.
Elion’s face became distorted.
The space itself became distorted.
Even Sark’s figure that stood in front to protect himself and Elion, even the clashing sound between Jelia’s flames and the barrier, all of them swirled in the silence and distanced away.
Desperately moving his mouth, Ardis shouted their names at the maximum.
Even that seemed to dissolve into the void that appeared as if severed from the real world.
The last moment before everything――all his senses of vision, hearing, smell, and touch, were swallowed into the darkness.
The scene of Sark’s back engulfed in flames and Elion’s smile burned into Ardis’s eyes.
――The smell of grass.
――The chirping of birds.
――The texture of pebbles.
Slowly, Ardis opened his eyes.
Seeing the dimly lit earth with moss growing, Ardis realized that he was on the ground, collapsed.
「Out, side……? 」
As he tried to wake his body with a blurred consciousness, he swallowed his breath.
「Sark! Elion! 」
Even after looking everywhere, only the lush trees of a forest came into his eyes.
Leaving aside any person around, not even a single building was in sight.
「Where is this……」
Unable to grasp the situation he was in, despite being stunned, Ardis nonetheless moved his vision to try to find some clues.
And he felt a strange sense of obstruction from the equipment he was wearing.
「What is this……」
At the very least, he wasn’t within Jelia’s castle where Ardis and the others stormed into.
Could he be launched out of the castle from Elion’s arts? Thinking like that, Ardis who looked upwards at the sky without any intentions suddenly widened his eyes.
「What is that……」
What he saw there wasn’t a clear blue sky.
Not the night, not dusk nor dawn, it was only a white sky that was too bright to look at.
The luminance it had was distinct from the clouds, and the colors of the sky changed as if a board painted with colors on it was flipped around.
The pale whiteness unfolded in the sky had no signs of gradation, and the way it switched into pure darkness instantly as if a boundary existed between two sides gave off a horrifying sensation for some reason.
Seeing something that where he felt his common sense didn’t apply at all, Ardis was terrified.
「Where………… is this? 」