* * *
Cadel didn’t even know how many hours had passed.
‘I finally broke free…….’
By the time he made it out of the praise prison with his damaged conscience, the sun was already setting outside.
“Commander, are you tired? Sorry. I can’t bear to throw injured people…….”
“Don’t throw even non-injured people…….”
But they keep putting their hands on Commander. Van’s mutterings were muffled. He looked downcast as if he thought it was his fault that Cadel was suffering. Well, Cadel couldn’t say he was not to blame at all.
With a small sigh, Cadel patted Van’s head lightly.
“Don’t let it get to you. It sucks to be praised for something I didn’t do, but it’s better than being criticized.”
“There’s no one in the world who can disrespect Commander, and if someone dares to try such a blasphemous thing, I’ll take care of it all.”
“What are you taking care of……. Forget it, I’m just here to talk to you.”
Withdrawing his hand, Cadel outlined what was to come. Anticipation flashed across Van’s face as he listened to the plan.
“This is my first time going to the Principality of Mystic.”
“I’m sure it’s the same for everyone. Since we have to go to the ‘Bloody Desert’ in the Principality of Mystic, I plan to stay nearby and wait for my mana to return while preparing for the adventure. I don’t know when I’ll regain my power, so the stay may be long.”
“Does not matter. Wherever I go, all I need is Commander.”
Van was always like this. He was sweet to the point of being overbearing, and he always secretly gave him a smile that was invisible to others. He often felt a tickle in his stomach whenever he realized how much favoritism was focused on him. Cadel said, slightly glancing at Van’s dazzling smile.
“By the way, are you going to sleep outside again tonight?”
“Pardon? Ah…… Yes. I think so.”
“……All right, then. I’ll pay you for the night. Find a nice inn and sleep. Don’t make yourself sick.”
Cadel was about to reach for the pouch of money when Van’s hand stopped him. Tilting his head at an angle, Van bent at the waist, carefully studying Cadel’s expression.
“By any chance, did anything bad happen at the palace?”
“What could go wrong.”
“It looks like there is.”
It couldn’t have been obvious. He was trying so hard not to show his emotions the whole time he was walking around.
His clutched money pouch wrinkled. The worried glance at his complexion triggered a memory he’d been trying to forget.
‘If Lydon gets his skills back, you won’t need my help anymore. So…… when that time comes, I’m leaving the mercenary corps.’
It was Lumen’s decision. Even if Van knew, it wouldn’t make a difference, and Cadel didn’t want to bother him with it. He wasn’t going to tell him. However.
“Can we sleep in the palace tonight?”
The urge to test Van’s loyalty was almost pathetic. He wanted to feel trust, to feel the connection he had felt with Van, to know that he wasn’t alone this time.
Even if it’s the den of the nobles he hates to death, would he be willing to join me if I wanted to? Isn’t it a lie to say that it’s good wherever I am?
It was an incredibly childish and poorly thought-out test. Van had already proven his loyalty to the point of exhaustion. He didn’t think there was anything to prove here. Fully aware of that, he thought, what more could he ask for?
Cadel shuddered at his own foolishness in waiting for an answer.
“……Of course, I’ll go if Commander wants me to, but are you sure nothing happened? Did anyone say anything? Did they ignore you because you’re a mercenary?”
Cadel bit his lip impatiently. To think he was so naively concerned for him, unaware that he had walked into a trap of his own making.
“Who ignores me? Everyone has that much conscience. It’s really okay, nothing’s going on.”
“Yeah. And you, just sleep at the inn.”
“What? Why all of a sudden…….”
“Come to think of it, I think it would be better to sleep at the inn. I’m going now, so don’t follow me.”
“I have to go get mana infused by Lydon. Get some rest, and I’ll see you later.”
The flip-flopping order should have been ridiculous, but Van didn’t press him further. After a moment’s hesitation, Van nodded meekly.
“I’ll do what Commander wants me to do, so…… If you’re having a hard time, don’t hide it, you have to tell me.”
Van was a man who needed no testing. Even if his favors were for the shell and not for himself, the sincerity of the offer was not to be doubted.
The corners of his mouth tugged upward, and Cadel turned away with a wave.
“Good night, Van.”
* * *
Rumors abounded that the ‘Scarlet Scales Mercenary’ had slain a demon that threatened the nation, but few knew who they were or what their individual characteristics were.
There were rumors that Lumen Dominic of the Kingdom of Mainue was one of the members, but they were usually dismissed as rumors.
It was all Cadel’s intention. He was extremely reluctant to expose the mercenary corps, and he refused to go to public places, let alone parties he was invited to. It was because, in many ways, it would have been better to leave only the name of the ‘Scarlet Scales Mercenary’ engraved in the world before entering the story of the Osma Empire.
‘I don’t want to be seen by a citizen of the Empire before the Mercenary has even been promoted to a Knight Order.’
Before the Emperor could catch and kill the bloodline of the traitor family, he had to create a ‘reason not to kill’. This would resolve itself as the story progressed, but until then, let’s try to hide his identity as much as possible.
For that reason, after bidding farewell to King Danila and the villagers of Baskin, Cadel found a trade ship bound for the ‘Principality of Mystic’ with minimal farewells.
“Take care of yourself, Sir Modeleine. I look forward to seeing you again.”
Before boarding the ship, Cadel exchanged a few words with Modeleine, who had come to see off the mercenaries, and smiled wryly as he rubbed at his dark circles, which were lighter than they had been at first.
“Our Commander sincerely wished to see Sir Cadel off. It’s just that he’s not feeling well…….”
“That’s okay, if it’s a farewell, he has done that before.”
Cadel was sure Garuel was drinking somewhere again. He didn’t expect Garuel to come to see him off.
‘We’ll see each other later anyway.’
Cadel comforted Modeleine, who was embarrassed and curled up in a ball in place of his debauched commander, and looked down at Finnett standing next to him. The child’s face was wistful as if he had grown fond of him. Perhaps it was because Cadel had been so sweet to him the past few days, sneaking him delicious treats from the royal court.
“Brother Cadel, you really have to come over later, okay?”
His eyes were pleading. Cadel’s cheeks twitched slightly at the innocent request.
Due to development, there was no way he would return to the White Kingdom. ‘Cadel Lytos’ never looked back, and his tracks always headed for places he had never trod before.
Therefore, he, whose goal was to see the end of the story, would never visit the White Kingdom again. Once he accomplished his goal, he would return to the original world.
“……Sure. I’ll be back. In the meantime, eat well and be brave.”
But he didn’t want to dash Finnett’s hopes by telling him the truth. Cadel feigned affection and made false promises.
Finnett, to his credit, didn’t shed a tear. He just nodded frantically with a face that looked like it was about to burst. Cadel stroked the child’s tiny head affectionately, then straightened his bent back.
Even if it was a short-lived relationship, parting was always regrettable. Especially if you never saw the other person again.
As Cadel stumbled over his steps, he heard Van’s voice behind him.
“Commander! They say they’re leaving soon. Please come up slowly.”
“……Yes. I’m on my way.”
Van and Lumen stared down at him from the deck. When Lumen made eye contact with Cadel, he turned and disappeared into the bowels of the ship. His demeanor was still blatant.
‘……Is it necessary to avoid me so openly?’
They agreed to act together until they broke Lydon’s seal anyway.
It was awkward to feel so low. Cadel forced a bright smile and gave a final goodbye to Modeleine and Finnett, then climbed aboard the merchant ship.