After Zich and Lyla disappeared, Hans and Snoc searched the robed men’s bodies to look for more information or to find spoils that they could take. Of course, they learned to do this from Zich. They retrieved various goods such as a considerable amount of money, potions, and small items. Hans and Snoc took off the leader’s robe, reshaped it into a bundle, and placed their findings inside it. They planned to give it to Zich later.
When they were done with everything, they sat in front of the platform where Estellade was and waited. The two ate the dried meat they brought, and they also drank water when they were thirsty. Then, they stared at the darkness again. They didn’t know how long Zich meant by ‘for a while,’ but Hans planned to stay in the room until they ran out of food and water. They didn’t have much food and water since Zich had most of their supplies in his magic box. What they had was meant for true emergencies.
‘It’s good I brought some food and water with me.’
Zich had told them that they always needed to carry emergency food supplies.
“Where do you think Sir Zich is? Nothing will probably happen to him, right?”
Snoc and Nowem conversed with each other to kill time while they waited for Zich. But unlike them, Hans’s head faced the other way, and he stared at Estellade. Its pure white blade stood out to him. When Zich swung it around, he looked like a hero from a fairytale.
The holy sword that chose its owner. Hans really liked the sound of it.
‘I probably won’t be able to pull it out.’
Even though Hans hadn’t tried pulling out Estellade yet, Snoc had tried and failed. According to what Zich said, Snoc’s contract with Nowem seemed to be the problem, but at least the sword seemed to choose its owner based on a specific standard.
‘…But should I still give it a try?’
Even if he couldn’t pull it out, he wanted to try touching it. There weren’t many chances to touch a holy sword. He also didn’t have anything to do anyway, so Hans finally made up his mind and stood up.
Snoc asked, “What is the matter, senior?”
“I’m going to see if I can pull it out.”
“Ah, that Es…Este…”
Snoc had lost all interest in Estellade as soon as he couldn’t pull it out, so he wasn’t even able to remember the sword’s name. But he watched eagerly and hugged Nowem as Hans approached the sword. Hans reached his hand out to Estellade and then—
They heard footsteps that seemed to push back the damp air. Hans pulled his hands away from Estellade and stared at where the sound came from. Snoc stood up from his spot.
“Do you think it’s Sir Zich?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think the footsteps sounded like Sir Zich’s.”
Hans was at a stage high enough to differentiate people by their footsteps. Of course, his sensing skills didn’t compare to Zich’s, but it was still impressive. They heard footsteps from the other side of the passage. The concerning part was that the sound of the footsteps came not from the passageway that they took, but the one that Lyla and the robed figures came out of. And soon, they heard multiple footsteps.
“…It’s not just one person.”
“What if Sir Zich brought some people with him?”
“That would be great but...”
But the likelihood of that scenario was very low. The two raised their guards and waited for someone to enter their area.
A group of people came out of the passage. It wasn’t Zich or Lyla, nor people that Zich had brought. The two scowled as they saw a group of robed figures.
The robed figures looked around the room to assess their surroundings. There were four corpses on the ground; three wore the same robes they were wearing while one wore their battle uniform. All of them had their heads sliced off. Since all their heads were rolling near a robed body, they could easily see who these corpses belonged to—they were their companions.
They glanced at Hans and Snoc and found their leader’s robe, which had been transformed into a baggage holder.
“I saw the corpses.”
As the group talked in the silent damp air, Hans and Snoc could clearly hear their conversation.
‘There are five of them.’
There were more of them this time. Even if nobody among them was strong as the leader, an underling’s power was enough to pose a great threat to Hans and Snoc. However, the robed figures also hesitated to act first.
“Should we attack?”
“But our boss got defeated.”
The new robed figures thought that Hans and Snoc had defeated all their companions alone. Hans and Snoc hoped that they might be able to avoid this battle when the next words crushed their hopes.
“Remember our mission. Even at the risk of losing our lives, we have to finish it. Those guys are the only clues we have since all our companions are dead.”
At these words, the eyes of the robed figures filled with determination.
“And if they really are the ones who killed our companions, they might be tired from the fight.”
The robed figures finished their discussion and stood side by side. Then, they began to approach Hans and Snoc.
“Run!” Hans made a quick decision. The two turned tail and began to run.
“Chase after them!”
The robed figures gained confidence from seeing them run, and they quickly chased after Hans and Snoc. Hans and Snoc were fast, but the robed figures were even faster. Before they could even step out of the room, the two were cornered; and like that, a battle erupted between Hans and Snoc and the robed figures.
Clang! Claaang! Clang!
Swords and rocks collided against each other. Sparks flew out and lit up the dark room momentarily.
A sword scratched Hans’ arm. A burning heat traveled across his limb, and Hans groaned. The robed figures were strong. The underlings weren’t as strong as the leader, but they didn’t trail behind the first group of robed figures at all. Even handling one was difficult for Hans and Snoc, so handling all five of them was basically impossible. Hans glanced at Snoc. Snoc was wearing heavy armor made out of rocks and attacking everywhere he could. But even that hard armor was chipping away. His attacks weren’t hitting their marks, and he was struggling to survive.
The robed figures were no longer nervous about fighting Hans and Snoc; they seemed to be at ease instead. They had realized that Hans and Snoc’s skills weren’t even at their level.
“Don’t kill them. I have something to ask them,” one of the robed figures said to his other teammates. If the robed figures hadn’t wanted more information from them, Hans and Snoc would have turned into corpses a long time ago.
“Ugh!” Hans was hit in the stomach, and he stumbled back.
His feet tripped on something. It was the platform that Estellade was stuck in. Before they realized it, Hans and Snoc had been driven towards the center where Estellade was. The robed figures had driven them towards the middle so that they couldn’t escape and make it easier to capture them.
Hans quickly got up. Then, he got up on the platform and maintained his stance. The robed figures slowly moved towards Hans. He thought he could hear them laughing; no, they were definitely laughing at him. Even though Hans slowly moved backward, there was another robed figure waiting for him in the back. Like Hans, he also walked up the platform. Snoc was getting one-sidedly attacked from a distance—it was difficult to expect help from him.
While Hans was moving backward, he felt something hit his waist—it was Estellade. Despite the danger they were in, Estellade let out a subtle beam of light. Suddenly, Hans recalled how Zich looked; while wielding Estellade, Zich looked like a hero who successfully turned the tide around in a losing battle. Hans stared at his opponents who were coming closer to him. Even though he was slightly hesitant, there was no time for him to pause any longer. He moved his current sword to his left hand and grabbed Estellade with his right hand.
His enemies laughed at him; they all knew what sword he was holding. Even Hans didn’t think he could pull out Estellade; however, he recalled something Zich had taught him.
‘Give it all you can until the very end. It’s not too late to give up when you’re dead. Use any means until the very last moment—utilize any possible method you can to resist even if hope feels like an impossibility.’
Hans put strength into his hands. Surprisingly, Estellade fit very well into his hand and made him think that he could really pull it out.
Hans felt a pleasant sense of vibration coming from the hand that grasped Estellade, and Hans’ eyes widened. He had not been mistaken. Estellade was definitely moving. Likewise, the robed figures could not hide the shock on their faces. Their faces were exactly the same as the first robed figures when they saw Zich pull out Estellade.
With this sound, the sword completely came out of the platform and revealed itself to the world. Hans saw his opponents desperately rush towards him. The enormous strength from Estellade filled up Hans’ body.
Hans was elated. The holy sword he never thought he could pull out shone brightly in his hand. It felt as if his childish dream of becoming a hero, which had started to become real from Zich’s guidance, was becoming even more real with Estellade in his hands. There was no need for him to hesitate anymore. Hans swung Estellade at the robed figures.
* * *
Zich and Lyla opened their eyes. The first thing they did was check their surroundings.
“Is it just me or are we in the same place as before?” True to Zich’s words, their surroundings looked the same as the ancient ruin.
Lyla closed her eyes and tried to squeeze out mana. But she shook her head. “You’re wrong—this is a different place. But I also can’t cast teleportation magic here either.”
“I guess we have to keep wandering around. I hope it won’t be a maze like the ancient ruin in Violuwin.” However, Zich soon regretted his words. After walking a bit more, a crossroad appeared in front of them. And past that crossroad, another crossroad appeared.
“Don’t people tell you often that you should watch what you say?”
“Just leave me alone.” Zich waved his hands.
They walked forward to find the entrance. As they quietly moved forward, only the sound of their footsteps could be heard. But even this silence did not last long.
“I have many questions to ask you.” While walking, Zich started talking. “Even though I didn’t complain much when you didn’t properly answer any of my questions before, I want you to at least give me a vague explanation about why you were in the secret passageway of an ancient ruin, and the identities of those guys who chased after you.”
“Are you not going to say anything again? Why don’t you try talking for a little bit? If you think about it, didn’t I just save your life?”
“…I don’t know exactly either.” Lyla finally opened her mouth.
“What do you mean you don’t know? They’re your memories.”
“…Yes, it’s my memories.” It was not a completely satisfactory answer. Lyla let out a few sighs. It seemed as if she had something to say.
Then she turned around and looked at Zich. “…What’s wrong?”
Even though Lyla expected Zich to be staring at her with anticipation at the thought of hearing her answers, he was frowning and staring at his finger instead.
“To think about it, you told me that your finger hurt before, right?”
The two of them carefully looked at Zich’s finger.
“But there are no injuries?”
“Yeah, that’s the problem.”
“Does it hurt a lot?”
“Quite a bit.”
In reality, a burning sensation was continuously flowing inside Zich’s hand. If it had not been Zich who had a high tolerance for pain, any ordinary person would have grabbed their fingers and rolled around on the ground by now.
“If the outside is fine, maybe there’s something wrong inside. What if something is stuck inside your hand?”
“But I don’t recall something like that happening…!” While shaking his head, Zich suddenly stopped.
“Did you think of something?”
Zich did not reply. He took out his sword. He clenched his fist and only stretched out the finger that hurt. And then he brought his sword down.
He cut off his finger and blood splashed out. Lyla winced. She couldn’t believe that Zich immediately cut his finger after thinking that there was something inside it. However, Zich paid no attention to Lyla’s surprise and brought his bloody finger up. Then he began to pry into his fingers with great force. It was a grotesque sight. At the sight of Zich dismembering his own finger, even Lyla took a step back. But Zich stared at something that came out of his finger and approached her again.
“Is there something stuck…!”
Lyla stopped talking. She stared intently at what came out of his finger. Likewise, Zich did the same thing. His eyes were so wide that it was difficult to describe his expression with words. And then he took the thing outside his finger. The object was completely drenched in blood, and it showed off the same sharpness as the last time he saw it.
“…The Key That Distorts Destiny.”
The object that Zich should have never seen since his regression was stuck inside his finger.Previous Chapter Next Chapter