His vision was warped so effortlessly, without the slightest bit of resistance. He felt like the ground beneath him was crumbling. It was just for a moment, but somehow it felt like a horribly long time.
Right as his feet reached the ground, he fell over. And it wasn’t just Yulifalet, Alhelm and Clementine were the same too. The commotion from their surroundings violently pierced his ears. The people around stared at the group of three people that had just appeared out of thin air. Some of their gazes were curious, some suspicious, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about that.
He spat out the name of the wizard who’d forcefully teleported them to this inn town, his voice sounded hoarse as if he was coughing up blood.
「That bastard, just screwin’ around!」
Alhelm struck his fists onto the ground. His body had gashes all over him, so it must have hurt. But Alhelm continued hitting the earth, not getting tired of it. Yulifalet couldn’t even try calling out to him, because he himself felt the same. Still sitting on the ground, he dumbfoundedly looked northwards…… In the direction of the northern primeval forest where they had confronted the demon just now.
Why, why, why? Why did he protect them? Yulifalet couldn’t help wondering about it.
They’d suddenly been forced into a hard fight by an attack from a high-ranking demon. Right as Yulifalet thought, ‘Is this it?’ Agedilus moved. Without warning, a magic square spread out beneath them. An invisible barrier suddenly enveloped their surroundings, and their feet lightly left the ground. Clementine was the first one to realize that this was Agedilus’s teleportation magic.
「Don’t mess around!」 the girl said in an unusually rough voice, hitting the barrier. He and Alhelm were doing the same. Watching them, Agedilus smiled. It was the first time Yulifalet had seen him smile on this journey. It was so out of place, like a child would smile after playing a prank. If they’d been in a different time and place, Yulifalet would probably have been enchanted by that natural expression.
He wanted to go back right then. ‘I have to go back,’ he thought. If he didn’t go back, no doubt he’d regret it for the rest of his life. But even so, his wounded and exhausted body wouldn’t move the way he wanted it to. He failed even at trying to stand.
The townspeople hurriedly rushed up to them, taking turns saying things like 「Are you okay?」 or 「They need help, fast!」 But Yulifalet couldn’t bring himself to care about that. In the time they were doing this, that wizard——Agedilus was left alone on the battlefront.
「—Princess! How do we get back right now……」
He started asking that to Clementine, a user of light magic. But before he could finish, it happened right then.
A dreadful crashing sound was heard from the north, as if something massive had fallen or exploded. Everyone fell quiet in a second and after a pause, began exchanging worried looks. What was that? He had nothing but a bad feeling about it. Yulifalet and Alhelm looked at Clementine’s face. Her already white face had gone pale, her petal-like lips trembling.
「……I’m not sure, but. I dare say that’s the great ancient magic of old. It’s a kind of magic that gives the user astounding power, in exchange for one’s life.」
A soundless voice escaped his mouth. Shaking off the hands of the villagers that supported him, Yulifalet screamed, his knees on the ground.
「I, I wanted to get close to you, but not in hopes you’d do something like this!」
Tears spilled down his face, falling to the ground. What kind of hero was he? He was unable to protect one of his companions on this important journey, just how could he protect the country, the world? It had been several months since they started their journey. He’d finally started feeling like he’d been promoted from (temporary) friend to friend. Now, he regretted it unbearably.
Alhelm struck his fist at the ground one more time. Clementine quietly cast her amber eyes downward, flopping down on the ground as if she’d lost her strength. And Yulifalet didn’t stop crying, even as he was carried on the shoulder by the townspeople to the inn.
The next morning, they were courteously nursed by the townspeople. Thanks to Clementine’s healing magic, they were able to move their body somewhat and they immediately headed towards the northern primeval forest. They hurried the horses they’d borrowed from the town to get there as soon as possible.
When they finally reached there, what they saw was a vast land, looking as if it had been scraped off completely. And stuck right in the middle of it was Agedilus’s wand. The magic jewel in it, the same sunrise color as Agedilus’s eyes, had cracks running over it. It was so fragile it crumbled the second it was touched, carried away somewhere by the cold northern wind.
That was the only sign that Agedilus had even been there. There was nothing else but the vast earth, windswept by the explosion.
「We have to report this to the capital.」
「Ah, come to think of it, that’s right.」
Clementine murmured that indifferently, and Alhelm carelessly agreed. Neither of their voices had any life in them, they were just the tones of people carrying out their duties.
Clementine took out a sheet of paper from their luggage, blowing some air on it. As she did, words appeared on that white paper, writing exactly what she had in mind. She carefully folded it and blew again on it, which turned the paper into a white bird that soared up into the sky.
It flew towards the capital with a speed that was no match for any horse. Yulifalet looked up at the sky, covered by massive clouds. He watched the bird as it disappeared far away in the blink of an eye.
Nobody said anything. The cold wind blew against them, as if piercing through them. It was torture for their already weary bodies. Yulifalet reached out to Agedilus’s staff, stuck into the ground in front of him, and pulled it out. Agedilus used to wave it about so lightly, Yulifalet didn’t realize that the wand was actually rather thick and heavy, as tall as him.
Holding that in one hand, he wiped the tears from his face. For some reason, the wand felt like it still had Agedilus’s warmth left over in it. It made tears well up in Yulifalet’s eyes again, but he managed to hold them back and mutter something.
「……He’s not dead.」
It was a whisper so quiet that everyone failed to hear it properly. Clementine and Alhelm tilted their head to one side. Facing them, Yulifalet tightly gripped Agedilus’s wand and continued, as if biting his lip.
「There’s no way that Agedilus died here. He’s gotta be alive, somewhere.」
The moon was bright that night. The image of Agedilus, holding that handkerchief from his fiancée as if it was so important to him, vividly replayed in Yulifalet’s mind. That wizard said to be the strongest one in history with his beauty, his intelligence, his jet black hair.
With his beauty coupled with his strength, he who was rumored to be incomparably cold and heartless. There was no way someone like him could die in a place like this. More than anything, it was impossible for someone who just smiled like that to die in that fight.
People could say, ‘stop being so foolish.’ People could say, ‘Stop getting your hopes up over nothing.’ But even so, Yulifalet decided to believe in Agedilus. Even though he knew it was a bad gamble and the chances were low. Even if everyone else decided to deny Agedilus being alive, Yulifalet decided he alone would believe in him until the end.
As he thought that, Alhelm approached him. Yulifalet had never seen Alhelm make an expression so serious. Even though Alhelm was the one who always playfully messed around in their group, he was in fact very realistic. To him, Yulifalet’s words must have been nothing more than sentimental sophism. Yulifalet might be told, 「Stop messin’ around,」 or if he was unlucky, he might get hit with a 「Come to your senses!」
Yulifalet tightly gripped Agedilus’s staff, staring right into Alhelm’s reddish brown eyes. Standing in front of Yulifalet, Alhelm uncharacteristically sighed deeply before petting Yulifalet’s head. He smiled wryly as Yulifalet was bewildered by the unexpected, almost rough gesture.
「Well, that’s right. No way that guy will die from something like this.」
‘Right, Princess?’ Alhelm looked over his shoulder at Clementine, who had been watching the two of them. Her lovely features looked like they were about to burst into tears any second, but she still nodded, a beautiful smile on her face. She didn’t respond with any words, but that reaction was more than enough.
After that, Yulifalet and the others returned once again to the inn town. They awaited the arrival of their new companion sent from the capital——Agedilus’s disciple, a boy named Widnichol Aide.
The boy arrived as soon as he could, out of breath from making full use of carriages and teleportation magic. He cried as they gave him his teacher’s wand with the broken magical jewel in it. When they told him that they still believed Agedilus was alive, he tearfully said, 「I think so too,」 nodding countless times.
If you asked all four of them whether they truly believed from the bottom of their heart that Agedilus was truly alive, they would probably have some doubts about it. There were no signs of Agedilus being alive anywhere. But there weren’t any signs of him certainly dying either – that’s why they chose to believe that he was still alive.
That became one of their few hopes on this hopeless journey to defeat the demon king. They would certainly meet him again. Believing that, they continued moving forward.
And then, they finally arrived at the demon city. Facing the castle in which the demon king sat, they were caught in a trap by the demons. Ensnared by their own shadows, the more they struggled the more they would trip over themselves, their shadows coiling around their bodies.
A demon, with features rather like the high-ranking demon they’d faced once, looked at them in that state and smiled.
「Well now, since you’ve taken half of me, I’m going to take my revenge on you fools. Are you done with your prayers to your useless goddess?」
Smeared all over that smile was the poison called hate. Its doll-like, lightless black eyes had a certain hatred in them as it continued.
「This time for sure, you’ll die in the depths of despair.」
The laughing voice pierced their ears, full of a dark joy, making them feel the same despair it spoke about.
It couldn’t end now, not at a place like this. But their bodies wouldn’t move, they couldn’t even speak.
The entire journey flashed behind Yulifalet’s eyes. This was no joke. Anger welled up within him. He’d come so far all the way here, was he really going to let it end now? He had only become a hero going with the flow at the beginning, but on this trip he’d learnt just how many people were being tormented by the demons. He’d learnt just how much hope he gave them.
It couldn’t end here. At least, never until he’d gotten one strike of the sword into the demon king.
Happily watching Yulifalet struggle in the shadows, the demon only deepened his smile.
The demon lifted a long, sharp nail and dragged it through the air, as if cutting off the heads of Yulifalet and the others. It was right then that it happened.
「What a shame, you’re the one that’s going to die.」
That was the same beautiful voice, the one no one would forget after hearing just once. At the same time, countless arrows of light pierced the demon’s body.
For a moment, Yulifalet couldn’t understand what happened. The demon was supposed to have the upper hand, but now its body shook, lurching over. The shadows holding them were unfastened, returning to how they were supposed to be naturally. Staggering, the party somehow managed to stand up again. And that’s when they saw that instead of a subordinate demon, beside the demon stood a masked man.
Spitting black liquid from its mouth, the demon looked incredulously at the masked man before crumbling to the ground. Its body was broken down, sizzling as if burnt by the arrows of light.
The man took off the thick hood he was wearing with his hands, enveloped in black gloves. He took off the mask that hid the upper half of his face. And the face laid bare before them was…
Was it Yulifalet who yelled that, or someone else? It didn’t matter. The important thing was just the reality that Agedilus Von Lancent really stood there. Although there was a new scar under his left eye, he was certainly the beautiful wizard with jet black hair, Agedilus.
Widnichol cried out in a tearful voice. His joy and surprise got jumbled together to the point that he could do nothing but burst into tears. Agedilus only responded with an irritated glance towards him. That was what made Yulifalet believe that this really was Agedilus.
「……I believed, that you were alive.」
He had believed that, all along. That there was no way Agedilus would die, that he had to be alive somewhere. Believing that all along, he had finally ended up here.
「Now you’re just cherry-picking.」
Clementine and Alhelm contrarily began cursing at each other, but neither of them hid the joy that ran through their voices. Yulifalet directed a beaming smile that spread across his whole face towards Agedilus, who he’d thought was one of the demons until now. Agedilus looked like he’d been caught unguarded, before making a cynical smile.
「A bit early to be so relieved, isn’t it?」
Holding a new wand in one hand, Agedilus muttered that as he looked at the demon king’s castle. Yulifalet wondered where he’d managed to get himself a new wand. He nodded at Agedilus, holding back the tears that welled up within him.
「I know. Let’s settle this off quick, and go home together.」
This time for sure, they’d go home with nobody left behind. Swearing an oath to that, the party began walking towards the demon king’s castle.