Cadel was completely out of his mind. Lumen froze for a moment at the sight of Cadel’s murderous face, which he had seen for the first time, but quickly regained his composure. He couldn’t let him go back there. It was hard to comprehend the situation, but it was clear what he had to do now.
Lumen spoke in a calm voice to the furious Cadel.
“Leader. Get a grip.”
“If you’re not going to help, get the hell out of my sight.”
“Van wasn’t there.”
Cadel asked, not sure what the hell was going on.
“All that was there was ice magic pouring down like rain, and Leader was running into its range.”
“Magic……? What do you mean…….”
He was sure that Cadel was hallucinating. So what he had to do now was pull his leader out of the hallucination.
“Open your eyes, Cadel.”
Lumen slowly approached Cadel. He looked confused, his lips pursed as if he were about to say something, but he couldn’t. The back of the hand that had been wiping his nose slowly drooped.
“This is the ‘Forest of Enchantment’, Leader. Everything Leader was seeing must have been an illusion. So calm down and don’t run away.”
Lumen approached cautiously, the current Cadel looked so fragile, like he could break at the slightest mishandling. Had he hallucinated Van was dead? Had he thought he was dead, and because of that, Cadel, who was never one to lose his composure under any circumstances, was this broken?
A strange feeling came over him.
It felt like anger, or something muggier. He couldn’t easily define it but it didn’t matter what he felt. What mattered was that Cadel regained his senses as quickly as possible.
As Lumen approached right in front of him, Cadel’s eyes, which had been staring blankly into space, moved.
“That was…… illusion? All of……?”
“Yes. Leader is just caught in a trap.”
Cadel reached out slowly, clutching Lumen’s collar tightly. A slight tremor ran through his fingertips. Cadel hesitated, looking up at Lumen. His eyes, once filled with hostility and confusion, were now watery as he asked, his voice so deep he could have cried at any moment.
“Van, Van didn’t die……?”
His gaze was a mixture of anxiety, nervousness, and a glimmer of hope. Lumen cupped Cadel’s cheek with a gentle touch.
“He’s not dead.”
That simple answer broke the tension he’d barely managed to maintain, and Cadel’s face contorted sadly, clear tears pooling in his trembling eyes.
His lips were white as he tried desperately to hold back his tears. Lumen gently lifted Cadel’s face up as he tried to lower his head, and pulled him into his arms. He stroked his messy hair, and patted his overworked shoulders. Again, and again, and again, Lumen comforted him as best he could.
There was no more crying, no more shaking from the sobs. Cadel buried his head in Lumen’s arms for quite a while.
“When you think about it, there were a lot of strange things.”
The edge of the forest and the outside world.
Cadel and Lumen had serious looks on their faces as they occupied an ambiguous position, neither exiting nor entering the forest. Lumen met Cadel’s calm gaze as he returned to his normal self and asked.
“First, the flare. I saw Van fire the flare and moved toward it, but you said you didn’t see it, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. I kept waiting for Leader’s signal, and then I went to look for you.”
Right. That was where it went wrong.
‘The timing of the signal flare and the system window was exactly the same, so if those annoying flies were around me then, they must have cast an illusion spell from there.’
The system window that told him which knights were available for recruitment only alerted him when they were nearby. So the signal flare he saw was the beginning of the hallucination.
“And Van’s wound. It was definitely a serious wound, but if it was the usual Van, he would never have asked for help even if one of his ankles had been cut off. He’s that kind of guy.”
“He wouldn’t have wanted to cause trouble. He’d have gotten out of the woods by himself somehow.”
At the time, it was unthinkable to consider the wounded Van as fake. It was all the more so since it was such a terrible wound that any normal person would call for support.
But if he thought about it, this was a guy who had a history of cutting his own body to save Cadel. The fact that he’d been searching for less than 10 minutes and still fired off the flare was suspicious.
‘And so it was with the Queen’s Bandage. If it was a proper item, it should have stopped the bleeding, but it soaked up blood just as quickly as a normal bandage. Since the annoying flies couldn’t possibly know the effectiveness of the Queen’s Bandage, they didn’t implement it.’
It was so full of loopholes that the more Cadel thought about it, the more he scolded himself for not realizing it.
‘Damn it! There’s a degree to being stupid!’
His fists clenched. If Lumen hadn’t come to the rescue at that time, he would have jumped into the pouring ice spear and met a miserable end. Cadel’s teeth trembled at his own stupidity.
But he couldn’t keep lamenting the past. It was clear that the Van he was with wasn’t real, and the ‘real Van’ still hadn’t shown up.
“Van is still in the forest, right?”
“I guess so. Either he was attacked by the fairies, or he’s wandering around looking for Leader like me. Now that the fireball has been launched, let’s wait a little longer.”
It was the most agonizing wait he’d felt in a long time. Cadel decided to try to assemble as many pieces of information as possible in the given amount of time. If they entered the forest again, they would inevitably have to deal with the fairies again.
‘That fly. If I’m not mistaken, it must have been Lydon.’
Lydon. A born S-grade knight who was considered to have the best performance among the fairies from the ‘Forest of Enchantment’.
……The one who killed Van he created with his illusion.
Just thinking back to the situation where that guy played with him made his fever run high. Cadel exhaled, opening and closing his fists repeatedly.
“Is there any way not to fall under the illusion spell?”
“Usually, warriors injure themselves directly. By feeling the pain, you come back to reality.”
“Not bad. But even that can be done only if you can judge that you are hallucinating. What if you are in a situation where you don’t recognize it like I did a moment ago?”
If there was an item with a special effect that only they knew about, such as the [Queen’s Bandage], it would be relatively easy to distinguish between reality and hallucination. Unfortunately, the current Cadel did not have such a thing. If he had to look for it, would it be the [Scroll of Fate] that Mamil gave him? It was expensive, but it was a common enough item. There was no guarantee that the fairies would not know.
As his legs trembled in nervousness, Lumen, who had been watching him, replied lightly.
“But we have two people on this side. At least one of us can tell the difference, right?”
“……I suppose so.”
“We can’t think of all the possibilities in such a short time, even if we tried, so let’s not overthink it and keep the goal simple for now. You want to save Van Herdos, Leader.”
“Then that’s all you need to think about. I’m confident in my ability to detect strange auras, so leave it to me.”
Cadel stared at Lumen across from him wordlessly. Lumen’s attitude remained the same even though Cadel had been making a fuss and had been attacking with the intention of killing a while ago. Rather, Lumen was even trying to soothe him who was anxious.
‘It’s hard to show the cool side of me. His favorability must have been cut by 10.’
He felt a little better when he had such a silly idea. Cadel nodded and decided to leave the reality distinguishment to Lumen.
What he needed to do now was figure out a way to take on the most difficult existence, ‘Lydon’, and come up with a plan to find Van.