The visitor turned out to be Garuel. As soon as Lydon saw his face in the doorway, he shrank back and buried himself under the covers.
“Oops, I must have interrupted a good time.”
Entering the room, he raised his eyebrows pretending to be in trouble. Cadel sprawled on the floor, and Lumen embraced him. It was a misleading sight.
It was an irritating distance, at least to the man behind him.
It wasn’t just one guest. Van pushed Garuel’s shoulder from behind and strode toward Cadel. Garuel closed the bedroom door as he caught a glimpse of Van’s hideous profile as he glared at Lumen.
“I brought him here because he was making a scene as soon as he woke up, demanding to know where Sir Cadel was. You have done nothing but good, and it would be a shame to tarnish the image of the mercenary corps, wouldn’t it?”
Van locked eyes with Cadel, who was crouched down, his grim expression completely erased.
As he followed Garuel to Cadel’s bedroom, he learned that in the four days he had been unconscious, Cadel had not woken up either.
He felt like blood was rushing to his head. He regretted that he had left Cadel alone because he could not even keep his consciousness.
“Commander, are you feeling okay? Are you feeling any discomfort? You were too skinny……. Have you eaten yet?”
Grabbing Cadel’s wrist, he was at a loss and asked about his condition. Originally, it was so thin that he was afraid to even hold it with force — at least it felt that way to Van — but today the bones stood out like sore thumbs. If Van didn’t feed him something immediately, he might collapse.
Cadel met Van’s worried gaze and nodded quietly.
“I’m fine. I’m feeling better after a good rest. By the way, you found me as soon as you woke up. Did you just wake up, too? No wonder you were so tired. Are there any after-effects?”
“I’m fine. I slept too much unnecessarily.”
It was an expression of disappointment. After being so active on the battlefield, it was regrettable that he couldn’t hold out until the end. He was a greedy fellow anyway.
Cadel rose to his feet, relieved that all of his subordinates were safe, and Lumen supported him. Van also reflexively grabbed Cadel’s other arm.
“Move away. It’s uncomfortable for Leader to move.”
“What are you talking about? I’ll help Commander, so you go over there and deal with the nobles.”
“Don’t worry because I’ve dealt with them enough while you sleep.”
Predictably, as soon as they met, they argued about every single thing. It was a familiar repertoire. Cadel turned his head away from the loud shouting on both sides.
There was Garuel, leaning over the door with his arms crossed. His gaze swept over them, intrigued. His eyes met Cadel’s and he nodded his head slightly.
Cadel casually stepped out from between Van and Lumen. It was almost a relief to see them busy sneering at each other despite his absence.
As Cadel approached him with a sigh, Garuel’s lips, which stretched out coolly, drew a soft line.
“Thank you. It looks like you found me a place to stay and took care of me while I was unconscious…….”
“Umm, both of those are wrong?”
“First of all, this is a guest room in the royal annex, given by His Majesty the King to stay until the mercenary corps recover.”
“Ro, royal annex?”
“The healing was all done by royal healers, so if you want to show your gratitude, praise my integrity in keeping the king informed of the mercenary corps’ contributions.”
It was a royal annex. Cadel thought it was too antique to be an ordinary inn, but he couldn’t believe it was an annex owned by the royal family.
In an instant, his demeanor stiffened. Garuel stifled a chuckle at Cadel’s honesty and leaned the back of his head against the door. After a long moment of tugging at the corners of his mouth, he rolled his eyes and looked at Cadel.
“Sir Lumen was the first to awaken and see His Majesty, but His Majesty seems to be looking forward to speaking with Sir Cadel, as he has indicated that he would like to arrange an audience with you as soon as you regain your strength.”
“With, with me? An audience with me?”
“Of course. Aren’t you the one who killed the demon that even the ‘Twilight Knight Order’ couldn’t do anything about? The whole royal family was in an uproar.”
Cadel’s complexion turned white. It was definitely something to be pleased with that the mercenary corps’ performance was widely known. But face to face with the King.
‘This brings back bad memories.’
Viscount Stra of the Mainue Kingdom.
Coveted Cadel’s ability, he sought to recruit the magician who had saved him from his troubles into his faction. Instinctively, Cadel sensed that the King of the White Kingdom had similar ambitions.
A newly emerged faction belonging to no one. With the inclusion of Lumen Dominic, a nobleman from another country — though not yet an official member — it would be difficult to attract the entire mercenary corps, but a single Cadel would do.
It was a promising story, to be sure.
“You don’t look good. Are you nervous?”
“It’s weird not to be nervous, it’s His Majesty the King.”
“I thought you weren’t the type to care about that.”
“There’s a fine line between where I care and where I don’t.”
As soon as he woke up after a fierce battle, his work was piled up like a mountain. Cadel, who was resting his hand on his throbbing head, abruptly lifted his head.
“Sir Garuel. I want to ask you one question.”
“Don’t worry. Your face is cute even when you just woke up.”
“……You should be grateful for your talents.”
If it weren’t for his skill, he’d be a knight Cadel would throw away in a heartbeat. Garuel bent his eyes slyly, undaunted by Cadel’s bitter expression.
“So what do you want to ask?”
“When you healed me.”
Cadel’s gaze flicked between Van and Lumen. Finding them still in the middle of their argument, he cautiously tiptoed.
Garuel realized from the firm pressure on his shoulder that Cadel was trying to whisper, and he leaned forward willingly.
“Did you feel the mana in me?”
Garuel turned his head slightly, and his eyes met Cadel’s, serious and clear, devoid of desire. From a distance of less than half a span, Garuel looked straight into Cadel’s deep auburn eyes. It was a long, unflinching stare. The corner of his mouth twitched up in response, and he tilted his head toward Cadel’s ear, whispering in a low voice.
“Sir Cadel has a knack for making trivial things lewd.”
“What, you crazy bas — No, are you not in your right mind?”
“Hmm, what happens if I answer Sir Cadel here that I have gone completely nuts?”
“I’m afraid your nuts will be gone, then.”
“Oh well, I’ll hold out then.”
The unannounced gesture nearly made his grateful heart run away. Cadel groaned and bit his lip. Garuel merely shrugged with a smug expression.
“Don’t say anything weird, just give me an answer.”
He didn’t want to cause concern to Van who had just woken up. He also didn’t want to turn the atmosphere into a house of mourning at the place where all the mercenary’s members had safely gathered.
He asked hopefully, wondering if Garuel, the man who had healed him, would have noticed anything amiss with his body. If it weren’t for Garuel’s superior performance, he would have punched him long ago.
Garuel watched Cadel’s stern expression with amusement, not taking any offense, and then relaxed his response.
“Healing isn’t like normal magic. It’s a kind of restoration technique that finds and reverses wounds that never existed before, like trauma or internal injuries, or cleanses harmful energy, so I can’t detect it unless your mana is flowing backward.”
Cadel nodded, trying to hide his disappointment. There was still hope, of course. He just didn’t know what he could do to get the mana back, and that scared him.
And Garuel vaguely recognized the intent behind Cadel’s question.
“I think I know what Sir Cadel is worried about. You don’t feel the mana, do you?”
“……How did you know?”
“As you travel across the battlefield, you’ll encounter a wide variety of warriors and magicians. You’ll often see people who’ve pushed their powers beyond their limits and suffered disastrous consequences.”
An outstretched index finger pressed against Cadel’s chest. A tingling sensation traveled in a straight line across his upper body. Garuel’s white fingertip skimmed down his abdomen, coming to rest just above his navel.
Cadel hesitated, swallowing dryly, as if nervous at the unknown action, but did not pull away from the touch. Garuel stared intently at Cadel’s long lashes as they fluttered uneasily, then slowly withdrew his fingertip.
“From what I’ve seen, the odds are 50/50. Either you never get your mana back, or your empty body is filled with new mana.”
“……The person who obtained new mana, what method did he use?”
“He said that he managed to keep the ‘mana vessel’ inside his body from drying out. With the help of another magician, he induced the mana of others to circulate through his body.”
Managing the ‘mana vessel’ in the body with the mana of others. Cadel unconsciously rubbed his abdomen where Garuel’s hand had touched, pondering his words.
‘Since there is not a single drop of mana in my body, does that mean that the neglected mana vessel will dry out and become unusable?’
His ‘mana vessel’ was probably drying out in real time. It wouldn’t be strange if he lost his skills at any time, and the realization made him feel impatient.
“Well, I wish I could help, but unfortunately I’m a holy knight, and I can’t draw enough mana to fill someone else’s mana vessel.”
Garuel said as if emphasizing. He was no mere holy knight. If he used the ‘demonic energy’, he would be able to use more than enough mana to fill Cadel’s body, but that was a choice neither Garuel nor Cadel wanted to make.
“I can introduce you to a suitable magician if you need one. The problem is that we can’t guarantee how long you’ll have to manage the mana vessel……. In the meantime, your actions will be pretty limited.”
“……No. I think I can handle that one. Thank you, Sir Garuel. You’ve spared me the tragedy of my mana vessel being dried out.”
“You’re always grateful with words and no actions. This is a bit disappointing.”
It was a light tone with no feeling of reproach, but Cadel was immediately speechless. Because it was true. Regardless of the degree, Garuel had helped Cadel time and time again, and even saved his life. But Cadel hadn’t been able to repay him in kind.
When Cadel, who was embarrassed, just brushed the back of his neck for no reason, Garuel’s eyes softened. The persistent gaze of Cadel’s small, timid face filled with excitement.
“If you really grateful, tonight, just the two of us―”
But before he could fully reveal his pitch-black inner thoughts, Lumen and Van, who had just finished arguing, stepped between them.
A formal smile mingled with slight annoyance appeared on Lumen’s face as he grabbed Garuel by the shoulder.
“If you have nothing else to do, could you please go back? From now on, there is something private to the mercenary corps only.”
Receiving the gaze of two men who do not show even the slightest hint of goodwill, Gauel shook his head as if he couldn’t help it.
“That’s too bad, I’ll come back when I get a chance.”
He locked eyes with Cadel for the last time. And as he stepped outside, Van’s voice came from the other side of the door as if he had been waiting for it, something like ‘If this is between the mercenary corps, then you should leave, too’.
“They all get along pretty well.”
It must be nice to have such a close-knit group of subordinates. Garuel muttered softly as he whistled and crossed the hall.