Even if there was a quarrel, the search must continue. Cadel tiredly moved the fireball to light the way ahead, while Van stood by his side, silently scanning the area.
An eerie silence, not a breath in sight. It was Van who broke the silence first.
“I don’t think Commander has to blame himself.”
As if gathering his thoughts, Van stopped walking. When Cadel turned to face him, his golden eyes sparkled softly in the light of the small flame.
“……You don’t have to console me.”
“No matter what information Commander knows, whether you inform or hide it from your subordinates. It’s all Commander’s right. Whatever you choose, I won’t be disappointed. It’s Commander’s choice.”
Van reached out. His large hand grasped Cadel’s limp hand. Rough, careful fingers stroked the back of Cadel’s hand, smoothing the ring on his index finger.
“I trust Commander, and it would be nice if Commander also trusted me, but I think it’s up to me to create that trust. Commander has already given me your trust, so it’s up to me to reciprocate. So…….”
The gaze that had been holding the ring slowly lifted, and a hard gaze swept over Cadel’s tired face in a soothing way.
“Commander don’t have to apologize for your judgment. ……At least not to me.”
The voice was quiet and clear, and Cadel felt something stirring deep inside of him. He bit his lip and turned to face Van, then raised his arm to shield his eyes, not wanting to reveal the emotion he couldn’t bear. As he bowed his head, Van gently asked him what was wrong.
“There won’t be a commander as messed up as me.”
“What, why are you saying such absurd things about someone as perfect as Commander?”
The self-proclaimed protector pushed Lydon to the brink. He had shown no trust in Lumen, even though he already considered him his own. He was a pathetic human being with no leadership skills.
He thought to himself over and over again. The real Cadel Lytos wouldn’t have messed up like this.
“Commander is always perfect, both before and now.”
But when Van, the only one who had experienced the ‘real’ Cadel Lytos, said that…….
“You don’t have to try.”
“Still, I’ll try.”
He realized he shouldn’t throw away the knot just because it got twisted at least once. It was pathetic to give up like this and mess up everything.
Taking a deep breath into his clogged lungs, Cadel slowly raised his head. And he raised the corners of his mouth for Van who smiled at him as usual.
“Because I said I wouldn’t make you regret being my subordinate.”
* * *
Thanks to Van, he was able to control his nervous mind. Calmer now, Cadel continued his fruitless search, but with a calmer mind.
‘Except for the wilderness, which was the battlefield, it left a surprisingly unmarked trail. I don’t know about Ergo, but does it make sense that there’s not even a trace of Lydon’s blood?’
Cadel could still feel the blood running down his blindfolded hands. As they entered another forest through the wilderness, and found a new plain through that forest, there were no tracks, no footprints, let alone bloodstains.
He often covered his appearance through swamps of mucus, so Cadel was sure he was used to covering his tracks, but this was way over the top. The demon was spitting up blood and mucus when he searched with Lydon. He must have taken a beating in the battle with these guys.
‘He’s cautious. Now that he’s got Lydon, he’ll want to cover himself as best he can. I wonder where…… I would hide if I were Ergo.’
Where could he make a swamp and not be noticed? There were only forests and open plains around here. If he had to look for it, it would be in a den somewhere in the forest.
But the swamps stunk. If he made a swamp like that in a forest full of phytoncides, the stench would draw people in, and Cadel didn’t think he’d hide so flimsy.
‘He was a guy who had been waiting for the villagers to turn into monsters from the beginning. An annoying enemy has self-destructed, so there’s no need to move far.’
Soon enough, the villagers would become monsters, and Ergo would be able to use them to fight with ease. As the number of hands and feet increases, it would be much easier to build up power.
If he hung in there, he didn’t have to hunker down uncomfortably and tune out his senses.
‘A place where he can make a swamp without worrying about the smell, and where he can join the fastest as soon as the monsterization is completed.’
A flash of realization flashed through Cadel’s carefully considered eyes. An urgent voice called Van to attention, and Cadel, whose expression hardened, backed up a little.
“We need to get back to Baskin Village, now!”
The closest place he could get to humans who were already being monsterized, filled with the stench of the demon, was Baskin Village.
* * *
“All troops, increase your vigilance and focus on protecting the villagers! The designated knights are to join the search immediately!”
At Modeleine’s command, the knights moved in unison, the five search parties he’d assigned moving quickly in the direction he’d indicated.
And next to Modeleine was Lumen.
“The monsterization of the villagers was enough to make my head hurt, but I didn’t expect to hear that the demon was lurking in Baskin Village.”
“The situation has been tense from the start. Is Sir Garuel on his way?”
“I sent someone to Commander a while ago, and while he won’t hear anything important, I’ve told him the seriousness of the situation, so he should be here soon.”
Lumen nodded lightly and fiddled with the hilt of his sword out of habit. His numb gaze was fixed on the red thread that stretched out beyond the village.
While he was trying to convince Modleleine to resume the search quickly, Cadel and Van returned to Baskin Village. He wonder if they had given up on the search, but they hadn’t. Cadel threw in the fact that the demon was most likely hiding inside Baskin Village, and off he went to scour the village like a man on a mission.
Lumen could have followed Cadel right away, but he didn’t. For now, it was better to be by Modeleine’s side than Cadel’s in many ways.
“Do you intend to wait for Sir Garuel to arrive?”
“No, we can’t do that, I’m fully aware we’re in a hurry. Let’s start by searching the neighborhood.”
Humans could be turned into monsters. It was a luxury to be overwhelmed with emotion. With a perfectly straight face, Lumen followed Modeleine on the search for the demon.