Message from the translator: If any of you were shouting “Eutis!” while reading this, I was too while translating. But, wow, what a way to end this part. Enjoy~
4-4. Campaign to Clean Up the Bandits
Fortunately or unfortunately, Dirgius refused to approve the formation of a suppression force.
Instead, he gave them a scouting order: pinpoint the exact location of the bandits’ headquarters with just the patrol unit first. The fear of being back-stabbed by their comrades was gone, but now there was the possibility that they would be discovered and completely annihilated if they messed up their scouting. Naturally, that was most likely Dirgius’ secret wish.
The party was equipped with a compact shield just in case as they advanced south on the main road. If the center of the forest was the bandits’ headquarters, then there was the danger of a lookout being there and firing arrows. However, if they were heavily equipped, they would be making loud, metallic sounds, alerting everyone of their presence.
While making an uneasy face at this shield he was unaccustomed to, Fin kept walking at the end of the line.
When they finally approached the fork in the road mentioned by the farmer, the scent of smoke faintly wafted through the air from somewhere. Several of the soldiers halted while the rest noticed and sniffed the air. Varte muttered.
“Looks like they’re nearby.”
Even though he looked at the treetops, there was no smoke coming from there. Were they trying to circumvent from being found? “What troublesome opponents,” Fin grimaced. Speaking of which, when he and the others were attacked before they entered Winea, he didn’t sense the presence of the group waiting in ambush from the other side of the hill until that moment.
Despite having a bad feeling about this, he still couldn’t say, “Let’s go back.” The children from Tetna may be out there. He at least wanted to confirm with their voice.
At Captain Varte’s instruction, several of them split off into groups and quietly entered the center of the forest. The air filled with the smell of dirt and animals laid stagnant in between the trees.
Without letting a single sign go by him, Fin strained his eyes and ears as he continued onward. The flutter of birds and the shadowy blur of lizards quickly running underfoot.
(Where are they?)
We have to find them before we’re found. His impatience became worse.
Before long, Varte in the vanguard looked back and beckoned with his hand. Everyone, rush that way quietly but quickly.
What laid in the direction the captain pointed to was several crude cabins built on the small piece of empty space. They were made from logs, dug slightly into the ground, and covered with grass and branches on top. They looked like they could be blown away with a slightly strong wind.
Several donkeys and horses were tied together near the cabins, most from likely the bandits’ spoils. There was a bonfire covered by a fern that was still smoldering, and pots and skewers were left abandoned. There wasn’t a single person’s shadow.
Were they all away? Or had they noticed the group?
Varte looked at the empty space with a grimace and hesitated. Since they had confirmed that this was the place, should he withdraw and come back later? Or should he take this opportunity to destroy their headquarters? If he did, then—
In that moment…
“You piece of trash, hurry up and fetch the water! Go, you imbecile!”
A child stumbled out from a cabin and fell over as if thrown outside by the taunts. Fin was not the only one who gasped. It was an orphan from Tetna. One of them opened their mouth to call out the child’s name.
The dirty and malnourished child staggered across the empty space with a heavy bucket disproportionate to their body.
Unable to bear it, a soldier silently called out. But his voice did not reach this lifeless child. Another soldier picked up a pebble and threw it at the child’s feet. No one could stop him.
The child had finally noticed, and when they looked with a surprised face in the direction the pebble came flying from…..
They stood still, frozen then panicked and glanced at the cabin behind them. Luckily, there was no reaction from inside. Within that short amount of time, the child was unable to determine the situation and was dumbfounded. But, no sooner did they come back to their senses did they start running. Without raising their voice, tears spilled out from their eyes.
The soldier who first called out to the child extended both of his arms to receive them. His eyes were only on the child running towards him. He was unaware of the fact that he was leaving the shade and stepping into the empty space.
Even Fin unintentionally leaned forward to get a better look at the child. Just when he needed just a little bit more, he heard a faint buzz near his ear.
Right after Fin and Varte screamed at the same time, an arrow pierced the child’s throat. The soldier who was going to embrace the child rushed forward and looked over his left to where the arrow had flown. And just like that, he received an arrow to the face and fell over with a thud.
“Don’t miss, you idiot!”
Although the bodies couldn’t be seen, jeers and taunts rose out from the back of the cabin. From the left side, a thick voice bellowed, “Shaddup! The next one’ll hit,” in response.
In the brief moment of shock, Varte dragged his fallen comrade’s body into the thicket and hoisted him up. He knew that the man was no longer breathing, but he couldn’t just leave him there.
“We’re getting away!”
He gave the order in a quick whisper, but the bandits had no intentions of letting them go.
“All~right, there! Shoot ’em!”
As soon as the bandit gave the order, simultaneous arrows rained down around the area where the patrol unit was hidden. Their accuracy was practically nonexistent, but it was enough to seal off the unit’s escape route.
“It’s impossible, Varte. We’re surrounded!”
Varte dropped his comrade’s corpse along with the utterance of a curse. After the volley, the bandits burst out to attack them.
“Idiots appearing like they don’t got a care in the world!”
“We already knew you were coming from all that banging you were making on the main road, retards!”
These were taunts made one step away from battle. The patrol unit gathered together in a circle, but after swords clashed with swords, the formation had already been broken.
Accustomed to fighting in open spaces, Fin was having a hard time fighting the things suddenly coming into view. The sway of thickets when people move next to it. Grass and twigs being thrown. Even the sounds were different from those on flat ground; there were many unnecessary noises. Nevertheless, he managed to finish the opponent right in front of him.
Without being able to assess how his comrades were doing, he defeated one and then another. By the time he got to the third one, he was finally given enough space to recognize faces, as well as being able to discern sounds with the far reaches of his consciousness.
With this, he caught his breath and surveyed his surrounding, seeing his comrades scattered around. The closest to him had to be Eutis of all people…..
Eutis’ back was full of openings, and a bandit was approaching from a thicket, aiming right at him.
This was all Fin perceived in that one moment, but more time was necessary to do something before that incident could happen.
This yielded hesitation. Should he save Eutis? Or should he abandon him?
Realizing his own indecision, Fin decided to immediately go save him in order to avoid this feeling of guilt. However, he didn’t know if he could be heard from behind or if Eutis would make it in time to protect his back? The only effective measure was ironically something Iguros had chosen to do before.
Fin shouted as he threw his sword right at the bandit. This move was only possible due to the way the army corps’ swords were shorter in design, valuing practicality over appearance.
Eutis turned around in surprise and was frozen solid in fear of the axe that was going to swing downward right in front of him. But luckily, Fin’s sword was faster.
The bandit let out a muffled voice before he fell. Eutis watched as if he lost all his energy.
On the other side, new enemies approached the now weaponless Fin as he raised his shield up in defense.
While his gaze was fixed on the enemy in front of him, Fin desperately shouted. He was expecting Eutis to do what he had done before: return the thrown sword back to its owner. However, Eutis wasn’t Fin.
“Eh? Th, thanks!”
Being told, “Thanks,” in such an inappropriate time caused Fin to be dangerously drained of his strength. In irritation, he glared at Eutis with a look that said, “Why the hell are you drawing a blank now of all times?” But that would cost him his life.
Eutis had his mouth half opened and questioned Fin as the thought of pulling out the sword didn’t come to mind at all. He just flopped around, lost and uncertain about what he should do.
Fin was shocked, and immediately right after, his whole body felt the weight of his blunder.
A direct blow to his left side sent him flying. He wasn’t aware of his own scream. His line of sight flickered with red, and he was assaulted by dizziness and pain. He had fallen and couldn’t get up. Nevertheless, Fin instinctively raised his shield above his head, blocking a blow from the bandit’s sword. He couldn’t support it with just his left arm, so by adding in his right hand, he managed to let the impact travel down his arm instead of flaring up the pain on his left side.
Someone screamed. His head rattled. Just as the pressure on the shield from the attack had suddenly disappeared, Fin had lost all strength in both of his arms. The weight of his arms falling down to the ground was the only thing he felt. His right hand unconsciously searched for the wound and applied pressure on it with his palm. It was clear that there was nothing he could do.
His hand touched the broken rib. Hot blood spilled out between his fingers.
“Sh•t,” Fin cursed himself between his clenched teeth. Sh•t, sh•t, to think that this would be the way I die. Why did I bother to save him? I don’t want to die. I don’t want to…..
The same words swirled in his head. He knew that Varte was crying out to him right beside him, but he couldn’t understand what was being said; all he heard was the sound of crying.
His sister’s face flashed in his mind. Next was his adoptive father’s and mother’s smiling faces.
(I didn’t call them….’Father’ or ‘Mother…..even once.)
Full of regret, Fin tried to recall everyone from the depths of his numb mind. If I’m going to die, I want to die while thinking of all those precious to me. But, when he concentrated with what little consciousness he had left, the ‘connective thread’ within his heart suddenly swayed, and the images of his family were blown away.
A girl’s voice echoed in his ear. In his blackening vision, a dazzling white light shined. Fin’s pain receded, and his eyes were wide open.
He couldn’t believe how hoarse of a voice he let out. Hot tears trickled down his ashen cheeks and to his purpled lips. The large droplet reflected the light from Leena’s body.
“Don’t die, Fin. I beg you! Please don’t die!”
He wanted to respond, “It would be great if that was possible,” but he didn’t have any energy left to do so. The best he could do was to twist the corners of his lips, forming a smile.
“I don’t want this. Fin, no……”
Leena sobbed convulsively, shook her head, and suddenly screamed.
“Don’t leave me alone! Swear that you’ll be by my side for the rest of your life; do it right now!!”
Fin vaguely tilted his head in confusion at this while his mind was still fuzzy. At least, that was what he tried to do. ‘For the rest of my life’? I only have a few mere moments left though.
Leena’s urgent cries reflected his from before. He mustn’t think of such questions as what or why. He wasn’t given any extensions to do so.
Fin whispered in a hoarse voice. He might not be able to finish until the end, but for his remaining time left,
“I’ll be…..together…with you…”
Besides, even after he dies, Leena was a spirit so she could discern and pick out his soul from the dark road to the underworld. In that case, he could be with her
Forever and ever.
His eyelids slowly closed, but Leena’s scream stopped it.
At that moment, Fin had already lost almost all sensation in his body and could only come up with this humorous thought: This is a bit too much, don’t you think? It was almost like having a wedding ceremony right before he died.
He scraped together what strength he had left and voiced the single phrase requested of him.
An impact that could invert the heavens and earth blasted Fin’s entire body and overwhelmingly smashed him into tiny pieces, reducing him to dust.
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