「How much longer is this going to continue? 」
Kyrill asked with an uncertain voice. It can’t be helped if Kyrill felt uneasy, as they have already proceeded more than hundred steps down the staircase.
「Who knows. Well, it’s definitely going to be quite deep. 」
In the first place, they have no idea where the underground passage leads to. If it’s just a food storage or storeroom, there’s no need to construct it this deep.
Ardis lightly smudged the wall beside him, his fingertips turned completely black. In the staircase that continued deeper into the earth, the walls and the roofs were all covered in black soot.
Certainly, the aboveground ruins are in tatters but, that’s purely dust and rubble. Compared to that, the underground passage is clearly covered in soot. However, the reason behind the soot is fire or could it be due to some kind of magic isn’t determined.
Finally, the long staircase’s end is in sight.
After descending down the long stairs, the passage finally opened up. It was an empty room about three meters in height, almost wider than the ruins aboveground.
Although there wasn’t any rubble on the ground as compared to the ruins above, substituting in its place were charred objects. Looking from the shape, it seems like they were tables or chairs in the past.
On the left and right wall, there were a total of six entryways that lead deeper. Except one, the others all had an arch that seemed to have the remains of a collapsed charred door.
「Where would the sword be in here? 」
「If the person who told you about the ruins is right, then it should be here. 」
Although Ardis is always on caution with his mana detection, he checked all the room one by one carefully just in case.
The first room seemed to be some kind of storeroom. Cutting open the charred door and entering, there were piles of decayed items by the wall.
As for the second room, it seemed like a workplace. There were barely recognizable tools and tables scattered all over the place.
The third room is the same as the first room, there were charred objects leaning on the wall. Looking at their thin shape and the dust in the air, it looked like the room was somewhere they kept books.
Stepping into the fourth room, Ardis immediately stopped.
「U-Uhh……, Ardis-san? What’s the matter? 」
Kyrill asked Ardis as he stopped walking all of a sudden. Just like what Ardis said before, Kyrill had only been walking behind Ardis as they explored the rooms.
The room looked much wider than the rooms they looked through before. When the ruins was still in use, there were probably many people that’ve used this room.
Inside the room was similar than the other rooms, it was filled with charred objects scattered as expected. But hatefully, their sizes were things that Ardis had seen many times before.
「……Nothing. It’s empty here. 」
After a short silence, Ardis answered shortly, and turned around as if to block Kyrill’s sight.
「Let’s go check the other rooms. 」
「Eh? Ah, yes. 」
As if chasing away Kyrill away from the room, they moved onto the next room. The fifth room, similarly to the other rooms, there were only wreckage scattered, there wasn’t anything interested around.
Finally, the sixth room. It was different than the other five rooms, the door had still held up despite its age. Although it’s charred the same, and looked like it was bent, the metallic door had stood against their advances.
Ardis used mana detection as soon as they arrived in the empty room and had confirmed that the source of the mana is indeed behind the sixth door. If there’s really a sword, then it should be there.
「Alright, let’s go. 」
Getting Kyrill’s attention, Ardis walked in front of the door.
「It feels like something will come out……」
With Kyrill’s comment, Ardis took some distance and used 『Springtime Mist』with sword magic. The blade enveloped in a yellowish green sliced at the aged metal door.
Slicing three times at the door, Ardis added on a mana shockwave from his arms. A deafening sound was heard in the underground space as the metal door collapsed.
With nothing hindering their path, Ardis stepped inside while still on his guard, the room inside was narrower than any of the rooms so far.
Although the walls and floor are still dyed in black similarly, it was different than the other rooms in that one can still imagine the original state of the room.
What was inside the room was only one thing. On the pedestal that’s about waist height in the middle, there was a sword in its scabbard lying. Looking at the length of the scabbard, the blade is probably about eighty centimeters. Although it didn’t have any frills or decorations, the intricate carving on its handle and scabbard gave it an elegant beauty.
Ardis could tell now that he’s this close that the reaction from aboveground is without a doubt from this sword. Even if it isn’t Ardis, any magicians or those who are familiar with mana could tell that there is a strong mana enveloping the sword.
「Ah, that’s it! It’s the sword Ardis-san! With this Nee-san can……! 」
In front of the sword that he had been looking for, Kyrill’s excited voice resounded. Kyrill seemed like he would leap out at any time but, peeking at Ardis who is still standing still, he asked.
「Umm……, wouldn’t there be some kind of trap that activates when someone touch it, or it’s actually a cursed sword……? 」
What Kyrill said was right on point. Places like treasuries of a ruins, most of them had been armed with traps to deal with invaders. On top of that, what they are after was an unknown item. There’re no less occurrences that the treasure in ruins were actually cursed items.
For treasure hunters who live by exploring ruins, they might be able to discern it, however, for Ardis who’s only a mercenary, he didn’t have the knowledge to tell.
「What now? I don’t really know since I’m not a treasure hunter after all. 」
「……What should we do? 」
Having said so, it’s not like they can return without anything after arriving at their destination after a dangerous expedition. Leaving aside if there’s something wrong with the sword or not, the outcome that they will return with the sword is determined.
「……Well, let’s try first. 」
Ardis muttered by himself, and tried to move the sword on the pedestal with his mana. Clunk, the sword floated upwards along with its scabbard. Although Ardis had been cautious of the possibility of resistance, he successfully moved the sword easily.
Beside Ardis who was a little relieved, Kyrill’s surprised squeal came from the side.
「Nn? What’s the matter? 」
「A-Ardis-san! The sword! The sword moved by itself! 」
For Kyrill who had not known that Ardis was the one moving the sword with his mana, he probably feared the sword’s movement.
「Oh, I’m moving it with my magic. 」
「Eh……? Huh, is Ardis-san moving it? 」
Kyrill was meeting eyes with Ardis with his mouth wide opened, it seems like he who had finally grasped the situation complained at the companion who wasn’t considerate.
「Please say it in advance if you’re going to move it! It scared me so much, I thought it started moving by itself! 」
「Didn’t you see me controlling my swords like that before? 」
「Yes, I did see it before! But couldn’t you have given me a chance to prepare!? If Ardis-san just did it like that, there’s no way I can tell it’s being controlled by you! 」
Kyrill’s words are justified. Since Ardis mostly moves by himself, he’s lacking in being considerate for his party members. Come to think of it, Ardis recalled that he was scolded by Ted for something similar before as well.
「Sorry. My bad. I should’ve said it first. 」
Kyrill’s heart probably jumped up at that development just now, as his voice for his reply became weaker.
「Well then, there’s now a way to carry it back safely but……. The night had already come. Let’s rest for the night and depart in the morning. 」
If it’s just Ardis by himself, there’s no problem for him to power back to the capital in the middle of the night. But, with Kyrill here, his stamina probably wouldn’t hold up.
「Then, should we use this room? It’s a little narrow, but it’s better than the other rooms. 」
「No, let’s get out of the underground first. 」
Pushing forward Kyrill who was still tilting his head as to why they can’t rest here, the both started climbing back up the long staircase.
Certainly, it’ll be better if they rested in the room underground. But there’re rooms that Ardis didn’t want Kyrill to see. That scene, it was something that a child should never witness.
Taking more than double the time they used to descend, Ardis and Kyrill finally reached the ruins aboveground again. Although the ruins aboveground are in tatters, fortunately it’s still good enough for them to avoid rain and winds. Well, at the very least, it’s multiple folds better than camping out in the forest.
Ardis casted water magic on a suitable corner to clean it roughly, and dried it with wind magic, then collected some dry firewood to light a campfire.
「Umm……. How is the lookout going to be? 」
「Not needed. I will wake up immediately if there’s anything. 」
「……But, we’re in the middle of a forest? 」
「There’s no demonic beings or beasts around here, so you can stop worrying. 」
In the first place, if something does come out, it probably won’t be those demonic beings or beasts, as Ardis muttered in his heart.
A response like the wind blowing by came from Kyrill’s mouth. Albeit so, he could only follow Ardis who clearly has more experience in this business. Kyrill who curled up in his coat lied down, probably due to the fatigue that finally caught up, he fell asleep in just a few moments.
Ardis who saw that used mana detection once again just in case, after verifying that indeed there aren’t any dangerous monsters nearby, Ardis closed his eyes and lied down as well.
The wind blows by. Above a warm and peaceful hill. A small opening where the trees doesn’t connect.
Ardis had his body sprawled out on the grass as he stared into the sky.
Catching the clouds that passes by with his gaze, and when those went out of his sightline, he chased another instead. From time to time, the birds that flew by covered the sun, causing a shadow to be casted on Ardis’s face for a brief moment.
The distant voices of his comrades were heard.
Probably someone had done something idiotic again.
There were voices that sounded cold, laughter as if hugging their stomach, and angry howling. All of them were preciously annoying.
The happy memories that resided in Ardis.
The precious daily life that he could no longer return to.
Ardis realized even if the entire world is stained in blood, it’s somewhere that he belongs to, his hometown that he should return to, and, the cruel fact that he can never return.
Everything was because that he was foolish.
Everything was because that he was weak.
Everything was because that he couldn’t protect who he should’ve.
Ardis who was still looking up at the sky aloofly caught ears of the footsteps drawing nearer. The steps that sounded light as if dancing, Ardis knew who it was without looking.
Ardis’s eyes became hot.
「Ardis. How long will you be still sulking for? Didn’t the captain say to 『Not mind it』? Don’t be so down just because your timing on the assault was off a little. It’s not like there was any losses, why not stop that unhappy face? 」
Ardis’s view was blocked by a young girl’s face. The face that was reflected in his view upside down, she seemed evidently angry. She had the same black eyes and black hair just like Ardis’s. The long hair that flowed behind her is tied up with a violet ribbon.
「Come on, if you’re not hurry, then you’ll be late to the breakfast you know? Everyone aren’t that kind to leave a portion for their comrades that isn’t there after all. 」
The young girl extended her hand at Ardis while smiling lightly.
Tears started spilling from Ardis’s eyes. His gaze was shaken. Even though he wanted to see more, contrary to his intentions, his eyes blocked that.
As if fed up with Ardis who still wouldn’t get up, the young girl seemed angry as she warned Ardis with her hands on her waist.
「Geez―. Just wake up already. If you don’t, it might be dangerous soon……」
Ardis who opened his eyes wide suddenly immediately stood up and drew 『Skies of Myriad Colors』.
The campfire had already extinguished, only the illumination spells that Ardis casted before dimly lighted the insides of the ruins. At the silence that continued, Ardis used mana detection wordlessly.
There were reactions.
「When did they……」
Surrounding Ardis and the sleeping Kyrill, were multiple sources of mana.