Message from translator: Sorry for the horribly long delay for this chapter. I’ll explain everything in an announcement post soon.
Anyways, welcome to the end of Volume 1! It took two years to get here, but we made it! Also, that ending. That’s the good stuff I look for.
Volume 1, 5-6: Evening Bell
Despite the simplicity of the goods the group had on them, the effect was great. The soldiers who had lacked the energy to even think about tomorrow were clearly at ease and were recovering their vigor.
After Fin had judged that everyone had relaxed enough, he stood up.
“Please hear me out for a bit.”
His quiet voice gathered everyone’s attention. He looked over everyone’s faces and slowly said.
“I want to confirm with each and every one of you here where you will be heading from now on. I believe Captain Varte had explained the situation already, but…it wouldn’t be beneficial to either of us if you are holding some kind of grand expectation of me.”
When he called her, the figure of a girl lightly appeared, along with the sound of fluttering wings. It appeared that Fin’s desire was conveyed just by calling her name.
Even though the flood of stares from the soldiers caused Leena to blink her eyes, she didn’t hide behind Fin like last time.
“She is the dragon who saved me. Her name is Dialphalena.”
A slight hint of surprise. A playful smiled appeared on Fin’s face for only a moment before he continued to speak.
“We call her Leena…..As you can see, we’re far off from the dragons and Dragon Lords of legend, and I want you to understand that, at the very least.”
Then, he turned to face Leena and asked her in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Leena. You formed a bond with me in order to save me. Because of that, I’ve recovered so much that it makes that near-death experience seem like a nightmare. But, can you tell me what else you’re capable of doing? What I mean is….can you invoke phenomena like the old dragons: manipulating tornadoes and causing flames and explosions?”
[But that’s not what you desire, Fin. Is doing such things necessary?]
[Of course I don’t want that. It’s just that normal people have it in their minds that all dragons can do such things. Thinking that they can do just about anything. Thinking that they are an omnipotent existence.]
Fin sensed her response to his explanation as astonishment. Leena blinked her golden eyes and looked at the people around her.
“Why must I do something so violent for no reason? It isn’t necessary. To break this world again after we’ve spent so much time and effort into arranging it…….The real reason we form bonds with other living creatures is so we can delicately utilize our power. By diffusing it through the heart of a smaller being, we can release our power without needlessly destroying or changing anything.”
Leena’s words brought forth images in Fin’s mind. Using a very thin reed tube to allow river water to flow into a meticulously crafted miniature garden. Sending over a gentle breeze without using a fan, but a bird’s wings. With those, new energy gathered in the garden, and everything came into life.
“So, what you’re saying is…”
Varte’s voice brought Fin back to reality.
“You can’t burn the enemy army, blow ‘em away, shake the city of Winea, or even send the Commander flying with a kick in the ass?”
“If it’s kicking someone’s behind, I can at least do that.”
Because Leena had answered so sincerely, there was only a short pause to take a breath before the soldiers’ exploded into laughter. While giving a strained laugh, Fin stroked Leena’s head. When the laughter had died down a little, Fin raised his hand to quiet the area and continued to speak.
“That’s right. Leena’s a dragon and I am the one she formed a bond with. However, it’s not like we can do anything that special.”
“At least for now,” Fin muttered to himself. If he let on the fact that he could see people’s hearts, what kind of reaction would this elicit?
“If you guys run away together with my family and me, you will all be treated as deserters and lose your citizenship. What you will get in return, however, is only the guarantee that you’ll be able to greet the morning even if you sleep outside. There is no money, food, status…..or a secure future to give.”
After saying that, Fin looked directly at Eutis before surveying everyone else.
“Those who want to return to Winea, please do this. First, shut your eyes and ears to where everyone else will be heading. Then, return back to Winea after staying here for a couple of days and report the following: You pursued us, heading north, but were attacked by the Beasts of Darkness on the 1st night. By the time you had realized it, you had been driven quite southwards by them. There were many injured and it didn’t look like you’ll make it back to Winea within that day, so you headed for the nearby crossroads. There, you warmly received treatment for your wounds by these people here and could finally return back.
Commander Dirgius will probably be furious either way, but at the very least, you would be dealt with better than if you were to say that you shamelessly let me escape.”
This way, there will be no need to silence anyone or for death. “This will be a beneficial move for all parties,” Fin implied. However, whether this was conveyed or not, Eutis only bit his lip and played around with his shirt sleeve.
“I’ll run away.”
The contents of this declaration weren’t this serious, but it was Plast who announced it this solemnly. He strummed his bowstring and continued to speak without meeting anyone’s gaze.
“I don’t wanna return north even if I could. I’m tired of Dirgius’ dictatorship as well. I dunno where you’re planning on running away to, but I’ll be traveling with you for the time being. It’ll be convenient for the both of us.”
He said, looked up at Fin, and raised an eyebrow.
“Did’ja know? Bow and arrows are pretty useful when it comes to getting food?”
This was too sharp of a jab to be a joke. Hunting birds and beasts to liven up an evening meal is a bow and arrow’s original purpose. Not a tool to murder people.
Fin managed to show a little smile and nodded.
“You’ll be a big help by coming.”
“I’m also going.”
There wasn’t even a pause in between before Varte had raised his hand. The members of the patrol unit looked at their captain.
“I already said this last night, but I can’t possibly expect to fool the Commander’s eyes. Nor do I plan to. Besides, our Dragon Lord here told us that he can’t do anything special; he’s just a youngster with some skill with the sword. Within just one month of coming to Winea, he’s already saved 2 people’s lives.”
Varte hinted, “Eutis and me,” as he slowly said. As expected, Eutis didn’t raise his face. Instead, the gazes of the 5 survivors from the pursuit platoon gathered on Fin. Fin was unsure of what kind of face he should make and ended up shrugging his shoulders in an ambiguous gesture.
Varte smiled at such a Fin and continued with a light tone.
“No matter where he goes, he’s capable. His head works…fine. Ah, and guess what; this boy can cook! There’s no harm in making him a comrade. I dunno how long or until where, but I’ll stick with ya.”
Following after the captain’s strangely upfront declaration, his subordinates nodded one after another, saying, “Me too.” The members of the pursuit platoon, with the exception of Plast, either exchanged glances or were full of determination.
At any rate, they can’t do anything by themselves, and if they were to be eaten by the Beasts of Darkness, that would be the end of things. Even if they do return to Winea, they would either be killed by Dirgius or be exiled and die outside. If they could at least arrive safely at some city….
Everyone had various reasons and expectations, but in the end, there was no one who wanted to remain. That was, with the exception of one: Eutis, the man who had been silent up until now.
“….I’m staying behind.”
His voice was so soft that it was barely audible, but it was still enough to silence the area. Eutis, bathed in everyone’s gaze, continued to hang his head as he continued in a spiteful tone.
“If I do go with you, I’ll definitely be abandoned soon after. You, the captain, and I’m sure everyone else here, hates me. You guys can go wherever you want; I’m going back to Winea.”
A dampened air hung over everyone. Some were shocked while others were indifferent and simply remained silent. After pondering for a bit, Fin approached Eutis and knelt down beside him.
“Whatever I’m going to say now may not mean anything to you; while it’s true that I don’t particularly like you, nor do I want you to come with us, but….I’ll be praying…for your safety.”
Eutis raised his face at these completely unexpected words. Fin’s feelings were a complicated mess, but he announced his true feelings without any deceptions mixed in.
“This at least is true. I really do hope you will survive.”
Eutis looked like he wanted to say something with his confused look, but in the end, he averted his gaze and bit his lip. It was quite clear from this action that the words he swallowed back had thorns.
Then, a young voice suddenly interjected.
“I’m also going back home.”
Fin’s face immediately turned grim, and he stood up. Fernaine, who was being held up in Oandus’ arms as he stood by the storehouse’s wall, pouted and glared at Fin like how a queen would look as she reprimanded a servant.
Fin stifled a sigh and unwaveringly declared, “No can do.”
“If you go back to Winea, Niardo may be there to greet you with sweets and flowers, but as soon as he gets tired of you, you’ll be killed. For example, if he gets distracted by another child or if you grow up after a few years, that’s it. When you’re an adult, you’ve lost your worth to him.”
“Then I won’t become an adult.”
“I’ll be a child forever. I won’t grow up. I wanna go home, take a bath, change my clothes, and eat sweets.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
Fin groaned as he held back his headache. Varte raised his voice and said, “Hoh,” as he looked back and forth between Fernaine and Fin.
“I see. So you noticed that pervert’s true colors and ran away, huh?”
“You know of Niardo?”
“The story about the sickening taste of the commander’s nephew and his friends is famous.”
Varte said, pushed himself up, and crouched down in front of the girl.
“Little lady, don’t be throwin’ a tantrum and causin’ us trouble. Phineas’ family may be nice and all, but I absolutely hate stupid brats who can’t listen. If you keep being this selfish, Imma spank your ass till it’s red. You won’t be able to ride a horse anymore and’ll have to walk. So, what’ll be? You can shut up and listen to the adults, or you can be dragged along with us, cryin’.”
Fernaine was already in tears at this threat. As there wasn’t a response, Varte roughly ruffled her head.
“Al~right. As long as you get it.”
Varte curtly let her go and lumbered his way back to Fin’s side. He noticed Fin’s threatening look, snorted, and whispered.
“Spoiled brats don’t understand limits or when to quit. There’ll be no end if you’re only nice to them. It’ll cause you trouble in the future. For both of you.”
Fin opened his mouth, but he reconsidered and only ambiguously nodded. He was going to ask if this was from his own personal experience, but Fin remembered that Varte’s wife and child were killed by bandits.
Perhaps Fin’s thoughts were exposed since Varte brutishly slapped Fin’s shoulder before turning to face everyone.
“Well, I believe we’ve all rested enough. Let’s get moving already! I wanna get some distance going before the commander suspects anything. The closer we get to the provincial border, the harder it’ll be for him to send pursuers. The south of the country is on edge and the east is always looking for an excuse to start fighting. If we can slip in somewhere, everything’s in the bag.”
Ambiguous cheers of Ooh’s and Aah’s resounded in agreement. Although they weren’t full of energy by any means, the soldiers each mustered up some willpower and lifted themselves up.
Got luggage? Salves? Water? They made preparations while noisily confirming with each other. The only one outside of this group was Eutis, who was absentmindedly standing there when he brushed the straw stuck to his behind. His eyes were averted from those who were once his comrades.
Fin caught a glimpse of this man from the corner of his eye and was not able to say anything. After deeply pondering that Eutis wasn’t exactly wallowing in misery, Fin per chance followed Eutis’ gaze. And it was then that he was met with a shock.
――He was wrong.
It wasn’t that Eutis was averting his gaze from his comrades; his eyes were focused somewhere else.
(It can’t be.)
Doubt sprouted in his heart, and a desire to confirm this feeling grew in his unconsciousness. At the same time, a mist fell over his gaze. Fin shook his head in a panic and looked away.
(Don’t do it. Stop. Don’t look!)
He tightly shut his eyes and tried to shut Eutis out of his mind.
He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to suspect Eutis any more than he already had. If he distrusts him, he would feel compelled to check, and if he were to look, he wouldn’t be able to hold back from being cautious around him. If that happened, he may end up driving Eutis into a corner, possibly leading him down the very path Fin was trying to avoid.
Fin raised his face at this gentle whisper, and Leena was there beside him, giving a lonely smile.
[Even if you avert your gaze, nothing will change. You can see it, right? ….He intends to betray you again.]
[You don’t know that for sure!]
Fin immediately refuted, but his empty words felt pathetic. The mist he had intended to shake off still seeped into his mind, like how smoke creeps in through the cracks of a locked door.
Ah, so that’s how it is. He’ll betray them again. He’ll probably tell the commander that he just so happened to come upon the abducted child. Through a simple sense of righteousness, and not being self-aware of it either. He believed that he was doing the right thing as he brought her back to the city as she wanted.
(To think I can see even this…)
Fin forcibly suppressed these emotions, stifling his grief. But that was pointless. His inability to endure this was conveyed to Leena, and a sorrowful, “I’m sorry,” was returned back to him. He shook his head and turned to Leena with a faint smile on his face as he gently ran his hand through her hair.
Fin whispered and began to walk. Towards Eutis.
(Even if I can see it, that doesn’t mean that the future is set in stone. If I arbitrarily decide such, then that would be the end of it.)
Solidifying his determination, Fin grabbed Eutis’ shoulders. Eutis was paralyzed in surprise, like a grim reaper had just touched him, as he turned around. His eyes flickered around, fearful and vigilant of Fin’s straightforward gaze.
The moment his name was uttered, his fidgeting eyes were drawn to the sight before him and remained there. It was as if he became enthralled by his own image being reflected on those ocean blue eyes.
Fin lowered his voice and spoke in a way to avoid other people from hearing.
“We’re going to cross through the Calsum Pass and head to the main country.”
Eutis gulped a little and stared back at Fin without even blinking. The two stared at each other in silence like stone statues. After taking a breath, Fin quickly relaxed his tension and smiled.
“Please pray for our safety. I’ll…be praying for yours.”
His spirit was devoured, and he answered, half in a daze. Fin strongly slapped Eutis’ shoulder before letting go.
Soon after, the group of runaways departed, leaving one person behind in the warehouse.
They headed west at the crossroads. That is, their destination was the town of Comillis, located at the western edge of the continent.
Max, who had been walking alongside Fin in front, took a peek behind them, anxious.
“What’s wrong, Max?”
“I was wondering if we were being watched by someone.”
Max dodged the question and shook his head.
“Even without having to do that, they could probably tell where we’re going by the sound of our footsteps,”
Fin let out a strained laugh. Max threw a suspicious look at Fin as he asked.
“Brother, could it be that you’re aware that he’s gonna betray us.”
“Who knows? It feels like that, but it’s possible that he might not. And even if he does, we don’t know for sure when the commander’ll be heading for us. If he’s troubled by even a day or a minute, it’ll allow us to gain more distance.”
“‘Troubled,’ huh. He…was looking at Fernaine. The moment Niardo’s name popped up, his look suddenly changed….Like he found a silver coin lying on the ground.”
Max frowned and kicked a pebble by his feet.
“The responsibility of protecting Fernaine doesn’t lie on only Brother. I’m also worried.”
“Yeah, sorry ’bout that.”
Even though his mouth was apologizing, deep down, Fin was pleased with Max’s reliability. His voice probably revealed his thoughts since Max looked at him; the gaze asking if Fin really understood what he was saying. Fin quickly fixed his face and looked ahead.
“It’s fine. I told Eutis that we’re going to cross through the Calsum Pass.”
“If you really think about it, that wouldn’t be the path a group of deserters would choose. Besides, if he listened to our footsteps, he could probably discern that we’re heading west. But since he clearly heard me say that I chose the pass, I’m sure he’s troubled,”
Whether or not Eutis informs the commander, the questions were what and how to relay this. Was the deserter’s destination south or west?
“But….Wouldn’t it be figured out soon after?”
Fin declared quietly yet with certainty.
He knew deep down that Eutis couldn’t bluntly cast away Fin’s words. While he may hold some incredulous feelings, he couldn’t reject the possibility of them heading south.
(What have I done?)
Fin slowly blinked and peered into the darkness in his heart for a mere moment. But he couldn’t see anything.
Since Fin had sunk into silent contemplation, Max could no longer continue to speak and shut his mouth.
The heat haze before them made the main road continuing west waver and shake. Just like their future, it was unclear and unsteady. They could lose sight of the path they must take, hesitate, and wander aimlessly.
(Despite all of that, we have to go. Surely….surely, there would a peaceful life waiting for us at the end of this road.)
And to reach it, they have no choice but to advance, one step at a time.
Fin looked over his shoulder to check on his family. When he did, he once again, steadied his pace and continued to walk ahead.
Around the same time, Eutis was still holding his head, sitting in the warehouse at the crossroads.
“Sonny, are ya the only one left behind?”
The farmer came around and asked, his tone caring, or possibly searching. But Eutis was completely unaware of this strangeness. His head was full, concentrating only on his own problems. He silently gave a small nod.
“When you heading back to Winea? If yer by yerself, I don’t really care how long you stay here. I’m sure that way’ll help the captain.”
“Just leave me alone.”
Irritated, Eutis raised a shrill voice. He was unsure of what he should be doing. One voice was telling him he should hurry back to Winea and immediately inform the commander. Another voice of reason asked him if he was willing to sell out a person who had said that they would pray for his safety.
But if he doesn’t bring the kid, the commander will be angry even if he told him where they were heading. If but he told him about the kid, then maybe the commander’ll praise him….
Because the various voices were fighting for their opinion to be heard, he couldn’t even think properly in this chaos. Eutis clawed at his head and moaned.
“It looks like yer worried ’bout something, though I don’t know what it is.”
The farmer said sympathetically, but right now, it was nothing but annoying. Eutis wanted to push him away, so he menacingly growled. However, whether the farmer was too thick-headed or not, it didn’t seem like he had any intention of leaving. Rather, he drew closer.
“Hey, sonny. I’m just a simple farmer. Yer know you can get wise words from yer elders. Though I don’t think it’ll be of much help.”
Eutis finally raised both hands and screamed.
“I said ‘Leave me alone’!”
While the end of his cry reverberated, his consciousness was cut off.
His forehead was split by a hatchet. His eyes were wide in both anger and shock as his body leaned forward and fell.
The farmer jumped back a little as it was about to fall on his foot. After taking a deep breath, he stooped down to check if the man was really dead.
“Haaah…..Glad it was only one of ‘em. Sorry ’bout that, sonny. If word of you guys being here reaches the commander’s ears, I’ll be the one in hot water.”
His tone was practically too friendly to be used for an excuse for the dead. However, the action of extracting his hatchet was done too indifferently. This hatchet that had cracked open the skull of one of the bandits glistened with fresh blood as if to announce that it was no longer just a hatchet.
The farmer looked a little disappointed as he looked back and forth between his hatched and Eutis. Afterwards, he slightly shrugged his shoulders and used his finger to sign a cross as a prayer.
“This is the kind of times we’re in. Yer luck was just bad. Well, I can’t give you a funeral, but I’ll properly bury ya.”
He tried to pacify the deceased with these words and turned his back.
His footsteps disappeared outside.
The sound of a bell from a temple far away rode on the wind, its echo announcing twilight.
(Volume 1 • Complete)
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