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My awareness grew sharper as the sounds of rustling entered my ears. It was with some effort that my heavy eyelids opened so that I could search for the culprit. What entered my vision was a face that poked through the curtain flaps to look at my face.
I rubbed at my eyes and squinted. Then I recognized her. It was Lauria.
There was something clearly suspicious about this. I yawned and looked around me. It was bright outside of the tent. There had been several others sleeping here when I had entered it…but they were gone now. That meant that I had been the last one sleeping, and Lauria had come to wake me…I think?
“So you came to wake me…hhhh…thank you.”
“Uh, oh, yes! Good morning!”
“…So. What were you attempting to do while I was asleep?”
She had no need to act like this if she were only going to wake me up. And she had been very close to my face when I first opened my eyes. I am not that thick-headed…and there could be no misunderstandings between us. I had to make her say it herself. But this wasn’t fun for me.
“No, I…you wouldn’t wake up, so…”
“Uh…I…I’m sorry…please forgive me…”
“No, no, no. I don’t even know what to forgive. Unless you tell me. How should I know how to feel if I don’t know what it was? Come now, you can say it. Can’t you?”
Lauria’s ears had turned bright red, and she was breathing heavily. I was wondering who of us would be asking for forgiveness in the end.
“Hey, you stupid idiot. Come on out.”
Tsk. We weren’t quite finished, but there was no helping it now that Daniela was here.
“Oomph… Lauria? How long are you going to stand there? Let us go.”
“Oh…I hate you, Asagi…”
Lauria was bright red as she followed after us. Daniela poked me in the head as we walked towards the center of our fortress. Many Adventurers had gathered there.
“So, did they find it?”
“Aye. Angelica and the others have just returned. They brought you a little present.”
I turned around with much interest at this. Daniela laughed mischievously.
“You will understand when you see it.”
I tried to imagine what it could be as we made our way through the group of Adventurers. I was sure that Virgil and the valley team would be lined up and talking about our plans.
“…And so, we will now head for their settlement!”
It was Virgil’s voice.
“The only thing left for us to do is to annihilate them! Do not let your guard down!”
I saw them just as Angelica’s voice rang in my ears. As I thought, Virgil and Angelica were there along with Olive and Oregano. And next to them…
Ness, whose location had been unknown up until now, was standing there with folded arms. The bastard was alive!
“Asagi. Sorry to have you worry.”
“Damn it. I was so worried that you were dead!”
“Hehe. Says the man who was sleeping all this time!”
Hmph. I couldn’t retaliate. But I was tired, and clearly not to blame!
The rest of the Adventurers were all split into units. As the only survivor of the surface team, Ness was put with light armor unit. As we moved, I asked him what he had been doing.
“So? What trick did you use to make it out alive?”
“One thing I will say, is that my luck was tremendous.”
After finding the tracks, Ness and the others had been ambushed. They had barely been able to realize it was coming, but could not react in time. The team was crushed and scattered. Ness had been lucky enough to escape without being chased and he had cautiously continued the search. Along the way, he had found another Adventurer who was running from the orcs. This was the other man that I had failed to find. According to Ness, the orcs killed this man.
Ness had realized that he could not fight so many orcs, and he continued to run. He went northward as if running away from the end of the valley, which was where we had speculated the settlement would be. And what he ended up finding, was a village surrounded in trees. It was the orc settlement that we had been searching for.
“I was running away from the orcs so desperately. I never would have thought that I would end up bumping into their home. I thought I was going to die then.”
However, once again, luck was on his side, and the scouts of the valley team found him. They had both been using Presence Detection and located each other. Who knows what would have happened if he were an ordinary Adventurer. It was really a matter of timing as well. Had he been any earlier or later…Ness would likely have been killed by the orcs.
After finding Ness, the valley team confirmed that it was the orc settlement, and then quickly retreated.
“So like I said, I was very lucky. Though it pains me that the others in my team were not…”
“It’s more my fault than anyone’s.”
I thought back on those three men.
“I heard. But Asagi, that was too much for you to do. Even Gardo would not have been able to carry three men.”
“Maybe… But for a moment, I was saving them. I can’t help but have regrets, you know?”
Then Ness looked straight at me and said:
“Asagi, I’m not telling you to forget it. But see it as it is. You don’t have to repress your emotions. But be realistic. If you don’t, it will eat away at you. You won’t survive that. I’ve seen it happen to other men. I know. One day, you will allow it to kill you.”
“…I…I’ve killed men before arriving in Replant. They were bandits who were attacking a carriage. It was my first time. I cut off their leader’s head. I felt quite depressed after that, but my killing of them resulted in a girl being saved. Seeing her live…it…I think that it saved me.”
I had held Marie Elle to my chest and said ‘thank you’ over and over again. Within those words was a feeling of gratitude for saving me from the pit of guilt.
“I feel like I have been thinking about life and death a lot more since then. I know that killing is often necessary. But I don’t think I’ve come to terms with the failure to save lives yet.”
“That’s it. That is what you must overcome Asagi, if you want to continue to live.”
“Yeah, I know. And I will overcome it. Well, I just think it’s going to take a while.”
Death in my heart. It was something I would live with. Not just the Adventurers. The bandits as well.
“Thank you, Ness. I’m really glad that you’re alive.”
“Save it. I’m alive for my own sake. Not for you!”
He said as he slapped me on the back. Ness too had survived with the death of his companions on his mind. But he had the greatest smile.