A system window popped up in front of Cadel’s eyes.
The unexpected timing and the unexpected number of people made him pause for a second. As he turned his head to locate them, he saw a plume of red smoke rising into the sky in the distance.
Red smoke from a flare. The location was to the northwest, the direction Van had moved.
Signal flares were promised to be fired when there was an unavoidable crisis. According to Van’s personality, he would never use a flare for anything.
Was it because he was tormented by an ominous feeling all the time? Cadel, who became contemplative, ran straight toward the direction where the flare was fired.
‘Lumen will come as well, as we decided to provide support as soon as we fire the signal flare. Of course, it is assumed that there is nothing special on Lumen’s side, but…….’
Did the fairies appear? Or maybe a monster living in the forest appeared. It was a daunting opponent even for Van. What the hell was the opponent’s identity? It shouldn’t be too late.
Cadel shook his head roughly as his thoughts began to tangle. Overthinking made it hard to prioritize. Right now, his priority was to help Van who was in danger, and get him out of the forest. No other reasoning was necessary.
After what seemed like an excruciating 3 minutes, Cadel spotted Van reclining on the trunk of a tree..
As he rushed to Van at once, he saw a pale, pained face in a cold sweat. Wondering what had happened, he examined Van carefully and saw his ankle beneath his folded pants.
A gaping wound ran down each side of his ankle, the flesh was torn and gaping open, exposing his blunt ankle bone through the damaged muscle. Every time Van flinched, a gush of dark red blood gurgled, soaking his shoes and the dirt below.
Cadel’s eyes widened at the sight of the horrific wound.
“Your, your ankle……. What happened? Were you attacked? Is it a fairy?”
“I got caught in a trap.”
“I was searching near the bushes……. At first, I couldn’t see anything, but as soon as I stepped on it, it suddenly took shape, and when I forced the trap open to release my ankle, it shattered and disappeared.”
It was a trap that was transparent and disappeared without a trace once used? Cadel couldn’t think of anything at all. However, it was not the time to be leisurely pondering the identity of the trap. Van was in serious condition.
Cadel first took a recovery potion from his bag and gave it to Van, then lifted the greatsword lying next to him and unwrapped the bandage covering the blade.
This bandage was the [Queen’s Bandage], a reward from the tutorial quest. It was better to wrap it around his ankle, as it would increase the healing power of the wound. Cadel unwrapped the long bandage and carefully wrapped it around the painful wound.
The pressure on the wound was agonizing, and Van gritted his teeth, pressing the back of his head against the wooden post. The muscles in his jaw twitched, and the cold sweat broke out like rain.
‘You bastard, if you got caught in a trap, you should have called me right away! He must have been fending for himself again.’
The amount of blood spread on the ground was no joke. It was the same with the bloodstains that continued from the expected area near the bush that Van had mentioned. He must have fired a belated signal as the wounds were getting worse and worse as he tried to endure it alone.
“Can you stand up?”
“I’d tell you not to push yourself, but right now we need to get out of the woods. We don’t know what else is out there. Get up. I’ll hold you.”
Van took Cadel’s outstretched hand and struggled to get up.
His center of gravity shifted with a short groan of pain as his injured right ankle hit the ground. Cadel wrapped his arms around Van’s waist and supported him with his arms around his shoulders. Van was much bigger than he was, and the weight of his body was no joke, but now was not the time for whining.
“Hang in there.”
He felt his heart go cold when he saw Van’s lips biting hard to avoid making a sound of pain.
‘……It’s because of me.’
Coming to this forest was solely for his own growth. It wasn’t a quest to help the mercenary corps, and it wasn’t a progression to the main story. It wasn’t training for the knights.
He didn’t want to miss the opportunity Mamil had given him, to become strong once and for all without hard training. He sacrificed his subordinates for his own greed.
Did it make sense? It was the worst. Cadel wanted to slam his head on the ground and die.
If he succeeded in getting the herbs and escaping the forest safely, his conscience would have been pricked a little, but Van was injured. Then he couldn’t take it any further than a prick in the conscience.
‘If it was the real protagonist, he would never do anything that would push his subordinates into dangerous places in order to gain power.’
Blinded by greed, he had done the unthinkable, and the realization was so horrifying that Cadel felt like strangling himself.
“Commander…… I’m sorry…….”
“Because I foolishly got caught in a trap…….”
Why can this guy make such a nice, absent-minded comment even when his ankle is dangling? Doesn’t he even resent the commander who made him suffer like this?
He was disgusted with himself and couldn’t stand it. Cadel firmly cut it off before Van could apologize further.
“It’s not you who’s stupid. Stop talking nonsense and save your stamina. Since we’re moving slowly, we’ll walk longer than you think.”
Cadel desperately pulled himself together. Yes. It was never too late to get past the self-loathing. If he hit his head on the ground and die now, it wouldn’t be him who suffered, it would be Van.
He walked with all the strength he could muster, keeping his body as erect as possible to make it easier for Van. In the meantime, to distract himself from his useless guilt, he thought about the system window he’d seen earlier.
‘There were 3 recruitable knights. 3 people……. Even though I didn’t have time to look for it properly, I couldn’t feel any signs. If they were nearby, I must have felt something.’
Maybe it was because he was distracted by the signal flares fired by Van. Contrary to the notice that they were nearby, the fairies did not even show their noses. When he met Lumen, he was able to find him quickly, which made the comparison even more compelling.
‘Ah, yes. Lumen. Where is he, and he still hasn’t shown up?’
It had been a while since Van fired the signal flare. However, Lumen was nowhere to be seen even while Cadel found Van and tended to his wounds.
‘At his speed, he should be here soon.’
At that thought, a crack appeared in his barely composed expression. His heart began to pound in an uneasy rhythm.
‘No way, Lumen too?.’
Lumen hadn’t fired a flare yet. But was that really a positive thing?
Van was only trapped and not attacked, so he had time to fire the flare. What if Lumen was in such dire straits that he didn’t have time to fire the flare? What if that was why he couldn’t find Van or ask for help?
‘I’m going to go crazy.’’
His head felt like it was going to explode. Cadel roughly wiped his sweaty forehead, supporting the increasingly heavy Van.
‘First, take Van out of here.’
Taking the injured Van to find Lumen was next to impossible. Right now, he needed to focus on getting Van out of there.
Cadel, who judged so, diligently moved on, trying to shake off the rising anxiety.